Mind Games for the Math-challenged (or not


Huoyan Gao

Games that will help you to

better perceive the thoughts of others and

make sound judgments on controversial issues. In short, become people smart.

© 2008 by Huoyan Gao Copyright holder is licensing this under the Creative Commons License, Attribution 3.0. http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/

Electronic copy of this document can be found at http://ttt-games.com:8080/ttt/MindGames.pdf

If you do a google search of “mind games”, you will get three million hits. If you search Amazon, you will get tens of thousands of items for sale. With so many resources already out there (even if just 1% of these are excellent), could I produce something that is better?? That is a question for you to judge. What I can state at the outset, is that I will introduce to you not just a couple of new games, but rather a complete different kind of mind game. This eBook is free but its contents are not compiled from those available elsewhere on the internet, or anywhere else. It is original.

There are many mind games out there, and most have one thing in common: they have you answer hard (or tricky) questions and solve hard problems. The more questions you can answer and the faster you answer them, the better your score will be. There is nothing wrong with that. You should play these games if you like them. What I want to do, however, is to show you something that is different.

This eBook will introduce you to a new kind of game. A game that can be built entirely out of questions you know the answer to. Or better yet, built out of questions that any answer will be considered a valid one. Including, the answer, “I don’t know”. You might say, “oh, No!, I don’t want to play a game that I know all the answers to! That’s boring.
Even if I win all the time.”

I can assure you, it will not be boring, and you are not going to win all the time. Another benefit of this new game is that the play can involve issues that are interesting to you. Many brilliant games out there (chess, GO, bridge) are built with artificial pieces and artificial rules, which may or may not be interesting to you. There is a magic ingredient called “TTT” that will make games built with any questions fun, interesting, challenging and educational. Before we get into TTT though, let me first tell you a story.

An anonymous physicist X always boasts at cocktail parties that once he had paid a visit to Albert Einstein. They had lunch together and talked about everything from the atom to the universe. He learned a lot from Einstein, as one would expect. But Einstein asked the physicist a question about space and time. A question that only X knew the answer and he, of course, happily answered. So the learning seems to be mutual, anyway. What did Einstein ask?

What does the physicist know that Einstein does not?

Einstein asked, “How long did it take you to drive here?” Don’t laugh. The lesson for us is that a question can be very easy for you. But on the other hand, it could be incredibly hard for even the world’s smartest man to guess your answer.

More seriously, Will you vote Hillary Clinton for president? Yes or No? Easy question. right? Can you tell whether I (yours truly) will vote Hillary Clinton for president? Not so easy, right? But if I tell you (hypothetically, of course) that I had voted for George W. Bush twice, then the question becomes much easier, right? Of course, that is if you know just a little bit of current US politics. For someone who cannot tell the difference between republicans and democrats (believe me, there are millions or even billions people like that out there, and they are no fools.), it may still be a hard question.

General Patton famously said, “you don’t win the war by dying for your country. You win the war by making the other guy die for his country”.

Similarly, You don’t win a TTT game by giving correct answers. You win a TTT game by correctly guessing the other guy’s answers. In fact, there are often no defined “correct” answers in most TTT games. You would not automatically score points if your opponent said that the earth is flat, the theory of evolution is wrong or 1 + 1 = 3. Unless, of course, you guessed that he would give such answers. TTT aims to test judgment, not knowledge.

TTT is a much larger topic (TTT certainly has applications beyond education) so that I will not get into it in this eBook. If you are interested you can check the reference at the end of the eBook. For now, you can just think of TTT as “Turn-The-Table”: in TTT games, you have to answer the question for your friend (or opponent). Your score will be determined by your ability to tell how the other player will answer the questions. So much for the background. Let’s start to build some real games with some simple questions. Let’s start with a question “which of the two do you like better?”

TTT color game
Colors win you over more and more. A certain blue enters your soul. A certain red has an effect on your blood pressure. A certain color tones you up. It's the concentration of timbres. A new era is opening. - Henri Matisse

In this game (online at http://ttt-games.com:8080/ttt/color1.html ), an endless stream of two circles with different colors are displayed. Two friends take turns playing the role of color master and color detective. For every pair of circles, the color master selects the color that he likes better. This selection can be entirely abstract, based on color only. Or, the context can be agreed upon by the two players, e.g., as the color of a T-shirt. The color detective will guess the color master’s choice and scores a point whenever she correctly guessed his choice.

If one says "Red" – the name of color – and there are fifty people listening, it can be expected that there will be fifty reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different. -Josef Albers

TTT color game
The color game is just an example of the more general TTT “I Like” game. You can substitute the two color circles with two toys, two movies, two books, two songs, two baseball players (or teams), etc.. If you choose a topic that interests you, you will get an interesting game. And, yes, you can substitute the two color circles with an apple and an orange. It is often said that you cannot compare an apple with an orange. Yet, TTT is a perfect way to compare apples with oranges. Some people are apple people, they will pick apple over orange any day. Others are orange people, so given the chance they will always pick orange. Still others are “swing voters” who might change their vote from time to time, or even from minute to minute. TTT Is a perfect way to test understanding of personal preferences, biases, stereotypes, etc., without prejudging either the apple or the orange. If you understand this, you understand why TTT is revolutionary. Of course, you can substitute apple and orange with any thing that is interesting to you.

TTT word game
An ordinary man will understand what you said; An extraordinary man will understand what you wanted to say and what you did not want to say. - Confucius

There are many excellent word games. However, in most of these games players compete to show who knows more words. This often rewards players who simply know more less-commonly-used-words (obscure words).

TTT word game
The TTT idea naturally leads to a new game, a game that can focus on common words, words that students are learning right now. In this game, players compete not only for knowing more words and knowing the meaning of those words, but more importantly knowing what other players know about those words. The game starts with a list of words to be played, which we call “target” words. One player (A) will come up a clue, for each of the target words. Clues can be any thing: people, phrases or even just some other words, the only requirement is that A feel that he would like to use the original target word to describe the “clue”. The other player (B) will guess which of these “clues” are associated with which target words by A and will score points if he correctly guessed the association. Let me start with a banal example. Let’s play with two words: “red” and “blue”. One player may come up with the following clues: hot, cold, excitement, peace, republican and democratic, etc. The other player scores points when he or she correctly matches the hot, excitement and republican to “red”. If this seems too easy, it can be made much harder. We can start with an extended list of target words so players don’t have to give clues for every word on the list. Once the list becomes as long as fifty to one hundred words, the game becomes much harder. For advanced players, the target list can be removed completely.

TTT Category game
To categorize is human. -Terrence Sejnowksi

It is human nature to categorize things. It may even be said that we are defined by how we categorize. We may never know how another human being really feels and thinks (twins maybe exceptions), however, if we know how someone else categorizes the world, we feel somehow that we know that person. If we share how we categorize with someone then we may feel closer to him or her. Quite often, an expert is simply someone who can categorize objects in his field more finely than other people. This leads to a very simple TTT game. Pick whatever categories interests you and your partner and start to guess each other’s results. Let me use food as an example (you can substitute with anything that is more tasty to you). One can categorize food in so many different ways: sweet, spicy, nutritious, delicious, Emily’s favorites, David’s never-touches, grilled, baked, etc. and still more that can be formed by combining these basic categories. Often such categories are subjective. One man's meat is another man's poison. Players can guess each other’s categorization of a list of food items. In a group setting, it will be more fun to guess who will put what item in which categories. In a little more advanced version of the game, one player can simply give a list of items from a particular category without revealing what the category is and have the other player guess what the category actually is.

Education value of TTT Game
This and next page are the two most boring pages of this eBook. If you are under 16 years old, you can skip these two pages. However, if you are a teacher or parent, I strongly suggest you read them, they are the most important two pages.
Although any questions can be used in a TTT game, TTT works best on controversial, ambiguous, inconclusive, open-ended, uncertain issues, on personal preferences, biases, etc. TTT games are complementary, not competitive to the other classic, traditional, well-established games. While more classical games usually try to exercise one’s analytical, problem solving skills, the two main benefits of TTT game are:

Practice the skill to better perceive the thoughts of others.
There is no need to argue how important this skill is, for jobs from CEOs to waitresses. The TTT game gives one a chance to practice before on-the-job training.

Make study of “controversial issues” fun and help measure student performances in such study.
Google search of "controversial issues" AND “classroom” gives 150 thousand hits. There is considerable interest in introducing students to controversial issues in the classroom. However, it is hard to measure students’ understanding of controversial issues. However, just for the benefit of the student, it helps if the student has some idea how well he/she is doing. This is not a big problem for, say, a math class. Even if you don’t give students formal grades (A, B, C), by just handing out the answer sheet, students can tell how well they are doing and where they are weak.

So students can know where to concentrate and to improve. It is not a problem to test students with the following multiple choice questions and consider a YES as a valid answer. We all should respect each other. We want stop world hunger. A) YES B) NO A) YES B) NO

There are definite values in the above questions. But can you imagine the following tests and have one or the other choice as the correct answer? Hillary Clinton for president. Everybody should stop eating meat. A) YES B) NO A) YES B) NO

On controversial issues, since there is no “correct” answer to speak of, a student may not have a good idea how well he is doing by just giving answers. The usual way to measure performance in such cases is to have the student write an essay on the subject. Essay writing is time consuming, boring (to most of students) and problematic in terms of scoring. Essay scoring is time consuming and notoriously biased (which sometimes, ironically, turns essay writing into a TTT game as the students try to guess what the teacher likes to hear and so writes accordingly.). TTT suggests a way to measure performance simply, objectively and quantitatively. If a student has a reasonable mastery of the subject, he should do reasonably well in telling the positions of his classmates/friends. It is the nature of the controversy that you should not only know the different opinions (that’s easy), but can tell what kind of person will hold what kind of opinions (that’s basically what TTT tests for) and a TTT game built on the controversial topic provides a fun way to exercise for such skills.

A truly nonpartisan political game
Whenever a fellow tells me he's bipartisan, I know he's going to vote against me. -Harry S. Truman

There are surprisingly few games about politics. This cannot be attributed to a general lack of interest in politics. Considering the popularity of political TV, radio talk shows and political cartoons, I suspect the real problem is that there is no simple, fair way to score such games. TTT offers a way to score political opinions. We don’t have to all agree with each other. We don’t have to just agree to disagree (and put the issue aside). We don’t settle an issue by a simple or a 2/3 majority votes either. The TTT political game gives scores for correctly guessing how the other player will vote without asking them first.

A truly nonpartisan political game
If we substitute the color circles (in the TTT color game) with two politicians, we immediately have a political game. We can also substitute with “For Bill No. X’ and ‘Against Bill No. X’. If we have a small group of people, the game can become much more interesting.

Let’s first model a small committee. The group will consider various controversial issues and pass resolutions either Pro or Con on these issues. On each issue, everyone will secretly vote either “YES” or “NO”. The group’s position will be that of the majority. We will score each player this way: everyone will guess everyone else’s vote. If you guess anyone’s vote correctly you score a point. (Note, how you score does not depend on how you vote).

A truly nonpartisan political game
You've got to vote for someone. It's a shame, but it's got to be done. - Whoopi Goldberg

To really model the modern democratic process, we need to do more than just vote on issues, we need to vote for “representatives”. This can be easily done. In this version of the game, players still secretly take a “YES” or “NO” position but do not vote on issues directly. Each player will give one group member a vote. The group member who gets the largest number of votes is considered as the “elected representative” of the group on the particular issue. If you voted a group member that agrees on the issue with you, you score a point. If you voted for someone who becomes the “elected representative”, you score another point. However, in the game, just as in the real world, the “elected representative” may not share your position. You score points if they do. Of course, we can add more fun to the game. You score points if you become the “group representative”.

Is TTT just about becoming a mind reader?
No. Mind readers claim to be able to read the minds of strangers, tell their past or even their future. The TTT game, on the other hand, is first and foremost, played between friends, so players know a lot about each other. Even when strangers play a TTT game, as the game progresses, the players will gain information about each other from answers to previously posed questions. How to do well in a TTT game will never be an exact science. It takes intuition, judgment, being considerate (in the broadest sense) and experience. And practice definitely will help too. Sometimes the player’s ability to do well in TTT may seem to be magic but it is definitely not pseudoscience. When your parents (or children) give you a birthday present that you secretly wished for, when you and your close friend start to finish each other’s sentences, you know it is real. More than a hundred years ago, a horse named Clever Hans (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clever_Hans) became famous for the ability to “answer” arithmetic questions. It was found later, that the horse could not really do math, it just “mind-read” the questioner. It could guess what answer the questioner expected to get and gave the answer back to him. That’s all history. But the important point for us is
If a horse can do it, a human being should be able to do it better!

So, when you play a mind game, it does not mean you have to: (you are faced with games that are hard but less fun)

Or you have to: (these are all nice real games, but focus on artificial problems)

You may well just be: Playing real games on real issues (any issues that are interesting to you) with your friends anywhere and everywhere you go.

Acknowledgements: Pictures in this book are taken from Flickr Creative Commons and Wikimedia Commons, (see URLs below) unless specified otherwise. Cover picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jacksonlee/10192396/
From Wikimedia commons (URL start with: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/): p7: Image:Albert_Einstein_Head.jpg p9: Image:Pattonphoto.jpg p8 Image:Hillary_Rodham_Clinton.jpg p20 Image:CleverHans.jpg

From Flickr Creative Commons (URL starts with http://www.flickr.com/photos/) p12: p17 p18: p21: curt/383141356/ ajfranklin/37992698/ edwaado/76284977/ ajfranklin/37992661/ k9/78403495/ rreid/278645624/


drdrewhonolulu/298558346/ rajeshburman/68652598/ grantmac/292262245/ sauerlandthemen/107654149/ randycox/294235391/ bfraz/13726940/ puknuta_puntina/493737951/ grrrl/166031328/ hollyclark/2177315690/ ssanyal/323736020/ aleksiaaltonen/269742511/ nelsva/92997147/ dominicspics/176971797/ nozomiiqel/109606114/ tanvach/1709786046/ theysay/1105643430/ jenica26/2631710/




TTT actually stands for Turing Test Two, an extension of Turing Test. For more technical details and tips on how to run a TTT activity, you are welcome to check out our website

particular the white paper http://ttt-games.com:8080/ttt/TTT.pdf

Please direct any questions and comments to huoyangao@yahoo.com

Or you can comment on my blog http://mind-games-for-the-math-challenged.blogspot.com/ (English) http://blog.wenxuecity.com/myindex.php?blogID=33809 (Chinese)

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