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Twenty Questions

cartoon detective with magnifying glass and question mark
No. of Players: 2+
Type of Game: spoken
What you need: nothing


To guess a word by asking no more than 20 questions.

How to play

One player chooses a secret word (or phrase). The other players then ask the first player questions to try to discover the secret word. But they must do so with twenty questions or less. These questions must be answerable with a simple yes or no, and the questions must be answered truthfully. If the first player does not know the answer to a question, that question is not counted towards the twenty question total. The player who correctly guesses the word gets to choose the secret word for the next round. The player who wins the most rounds is crowned the overall champion. But if twenty questions are asked and the word is still unknown, the first player continues in his role for the next round.

Because initial questions usually aim to quickly narrow down the possibilities anyway, the first player can be required to broadly categorize the secret word before the questioning begins. For instance, he must tell the others if it is an animal, vegetable, or mineral. But even these categories can make for interesting gameplay, for a fur coat would then need to be categorized as animal, and a paper bag as vegetable.

This game is similar to Who Am I.


Amanda, Bruce and Carol agree that the answerer must tell the questioners at the start of the round whether the secret word is a person, place or thing. They draw straws, and Amanda becomes the first answerer.

Amanda: Ok, I got my word. It's a place.
Bruce: Is it in the United States?
Amanda: No.
Carol: Is it in Europe?
Amanda: No.
Bruce: Is it in Canada?
Amanda: Yes.
Carol: Is it the name of a geographical place, like a city or town?
Amanda: No.
Bruce: Is it in Toronto?
Amanda: Yes.
Carol: Is it a tourist attraction?
Amanda: Yes.
Bruce: Is it the CN Tower?
Amanda: No.
Carol: Is it the Eaton Center?
Amanda: No.
Bruce: Is it the Hockey Hall of Fame?
Amanda: Yes!

Gameplay continues, with Bruce becoming the next answerer.

Did you know?

If you ask most people to name their favorite detective, they invariably say Sherlock Holmes. And if you further ask them to name the first thing that comes to mind with this fictional character, they usually give you a half-serious look and say "Elementary, my dear Watson."

Sherlock Holmes book opened at title page, with magnifying glass

But while this famous phrase is universally attributed to Sherlock Holmes, it actually doesn't appear in any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 60 stories. The closest Holmes comes to uttering these exact words is:

  1. "Elementary" in "The Adventure of the Crooked Man"
  2. "It was very superficial my dear Watson" in "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box"
  3. "Exactly, my dear Watson" in three other stories

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