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game: 20Q
four star
posted by: Aaron Stanton
publisher: Radica
date posted: 12:00 AM Fri Sep 17th, 2004
last revision: 12:00 AM Fri Sep 17th, 2004

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I have a thing. It's small, and blue, and makes noises when I poke it. I have no idea what I'm going to do with this thing. Not only is it small and blue and make noise, it also has a curious effect on people. Take it out in a conversation and before long, invariably, someone will ask, "What's that small, blue, noisy thing you're waving around?" When I produced the thing from a pocket on a recent flight to California, it entertained the passenger next to me for nearly an hour, and when I flopped it onto the table at the bar, it earned me a free drink and a respected seat at the table with five pretty tough looking Rugby players from Australia. Yet it also has the power to impress first dates, speed up those boring lunch meetings, and read minds. No joke. About the size of a golf ball, with four buttons and an LED display, this little guy is like a supped-up magic 8-ball with additional "powers".

20Q, from Radica (www.radicagames.com), sells for less than twenty dollars, was voted hands down the most interesting E3 giveaway of the year by the GF! crew, and makes the perfect birthday or Christmas gift for any form of relative at any age. And after quite an internal debate over whether or not it's enough of a "game" to be reviewed on GamesFirst (almost four months worth of debate), I'm simply too impressed to pass up the opportunity to write about something as fun and innovative as this.

20Q is an electronic version of the old classic game Twenty Questions. You know the one; you pick an object, and others ask you Yes or No questions about it until they guess what you're thinking of, preferably under 20 questions. 20Q takes the role of the guesser, and you take the role of the person hiding the unknown object. With four buttons, Yes, No, Unknown, and Sometimes, you respond to the questions the little magic 20Q asks on an LED screen. So the typical session goes something like this:

1. You pick an object.

2. 20Q asks you a number of random, unrelated questions, apparently just to waste time.

3. After 20 questions, it then reads your mind and guesses your object.

Don't believe me? The list of items it has correctly guessed is impressive. It's gotten Satellite (we were thinking Sputnik, but it doesn't guess proper nouns), Black Hole, Fingernail, palm tree, and, get this, Yeti, even though I answered pretty much every question, Unknown. Is it brown? Unknown. Is it dangerous? Unknown? Can it climb? Unknown. That sort of thing. At one point we answered half our questions wrong, and it still guess our object. Think you can beat it? Let's give it a try, shall we? I've picked an object, and I'll answer the questions asked me by 20Q. At the end, we'll see if you can get it right. Ready? Here we go (the first question asks a variation of the classic question, is it a person, place, or thing, only it asks is it an Animal, Mineral, Plant, Other, or Unknown):

Question 1: Is it an Animal, Mineral, Plant, Other, or Unknown?
A: Other

Q2: Is it flat?
A: Unknown

Q3: Would you use it daily?
A: Yes

Q4: Does it bring joy to people?
A: Sometimes

Q5: Can it be washed?
A: No

Q6: Does it contain a liquid?
A: No

Q7: Is it something you bring along?
A: Yes

Q8: Does it use electricity?
A: No

Q9: Do you hold it when you use it?
A: No

Q10: Is it manufactured?
A: No

Q11: Does it move?
A: Yes

Q12: Are there many different sorts of it?
A: Unknown

Q13: Does it make sound?
A: No

Q14: Is it smaller than a loaf of bread?
A: Yes

Q15: Is it usually visible?
A: No

Q16: Do you know any songs about it?
A: No

Q17: Is it soft?
A: Unknown

Q18: Would you use it in the dark?
A: Sometimes

Q19: Is it used for communication?
A: Yes

Q20: Is it outside?
A: Sometimes

So that's twenty questions in. Have you gotten it yet? Any idea? The 20Q got it, first by asking a lot of questions that don't seem to have much to do at all with my object, and then, like I said, reading my mind. Last chance for a guess... no? It was an Electron. Bet you didn't get it, did you?

I didn't think so.

Charming though it is, and perfect for the causal gift (the sort I'd expect to get from my favorite uncle, honestly), the 20Q isn't 100% right. It does get some wrong, sometimes glaringly. Even though it guesses Electron, Unicorn, and Mountain bike (as well as a lot of more regular mundane items like soap, telephone, and sports car), the 20Q will sometimes miss the simplest of items. It won't guess microscope, for example, at least, not that we could get it to admit. Plus there are a number of things that 20Q tactfully refuses to guess. For example, when "a friend" tried to get it to guess various parts of the human anatomy, it responded by guessing, "Pussy Willow". Still, it's accurate an amazing amount of the time, and every once in a while, out of the blue, it will guess something right with an accuracy that just blows you away, and then you'll be hooked.

Despite its simple appearance, 20Q is one of those games that somehow show up again and again. Sort of like the magic 8-ball, which gets asked a question every time a room is cleaned and it's rediscovered lost in a corner, or every time a friend comes over to loiter on the couch, 20Q will be re-picked up again and again over the course of its life. Sure, it might be a novelty toy, but it's a perfect one for stocking stuffers, birthday gifts, and just random household bobbles. In one fatal swoop, 20Q has done most of my extended family Christmas shopping for me. Very nice. Very nice indeed.