Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Girl, Mastermind

Okay, I’m a little nerdy, but this was a huge moment for us.

The Girl, who is 6, loves playing games with me. We usually play Connect Four -- at which she routinely cleans my clock -- or twenty questions. But lately she’s been on a Mastermind kick. Mastermind is a guess-the-pattern game in which one player constructs a pattern of four colors, and the other player has to suss it out through a series of guesses with feedback. If you get a correct color in an incorrect position, you get a white peg; if you get the color and position right, you get a red peg. If the color is just wrong, no peg. The game has six colors altogether, and as we play it, there are no repeat colors allowed in the pattern, so you couldn’t have three blues in the same row.

Over the last week or so, whenever I’ve been the one trying to guess the pattern, I’ve vocalized my thought process. “Let’s see, I only got two white pegs on that one. That means that both of the ‘wrong’ colors must be here, which means that they two colors I didn’t use here must be right.” I’ve even stopped and repeated it when TG looked puzzled.

Last night we had the breakthrough.

TG was guessing the pattern, and got two white pegs for one guess. The play-by-play:

TG: that means I must need orange and blue.

(tries another row, this time gets three white pegs)

TG: hmm. From the first row, I know I need green. That means the other color must be white. And from the second row, I know that orange must go here (places orange) and white must go here (places white). I’ll try blue here and green there.

(gets two red pegs and two white pegs)

TG: Ha! I’ll just switch green and blue.

(I reveal that she got it right.)

I was so excited I gave her a high-five. When The Wife came by, I had TG walk her through the process, and TW made a fuss, too.

Using a perfectly elegant process of elimination, she used clues from earlier rows to piece together the solution. She got it.

She was excited, of course, but she seemed a little surprised that we made as much fuss about it as we did. I thought it was HUGE. She walked herself through a non-trivial bit of deductive logic and found the right answer herself, without hints or lucky guesses.

She didn’t use numbers as such, but I think of the approach as basically mathematical. She was able to discern patterns, and to accumulate clues from multiple turns to narrow down the possibilities.

As a parent, I was fairly bursting with joy. A six-year-old was putting together the basic operations of deductive reasoning, and enjoying the “click” when things fell into place. And she was doing it in the context of a game with Daddy, where she got affirmation for walking deliberately through the thought process.

This must be how other Dads feel when a kid hits a home run. In my world, this was a home run.

Just had to brag a little.