Inspired by Mastermind

A few months ago we introduced Katie to the game Mastermind, a fun classic that both my husband and I played when we were close to her age.  In this two-person game, one player makes up a “code” consisting of four colored pegs (there are a total of six colors to choose from).  The second player then has to discover the code with as few guesses as possible.  After each attempt, the codemaker tells the codebreaker how many colors of his guess are correct, as well as how many of them are in their correct positions.

The game was immediately a big hit with Katie, and for a while afterwards she wanted to play it practically every day.  Interestingly, she preferred making the code to guessing it.

During last week’s lesson with Katie and Varya, we played a word game that in essence is quite similar to Mastermind.  One person would come up with a four-letter word and the other two would take turns trying to guess it.  After each guess, the word-maker would write down a score reflecting how many letters in the guess agreed with the secret word.

Here are the results of two of the games (in Russian):

I was the first one to come up with a word.  After the first guess, the girls proclaimed that they could not think of any more 4-letter words – we sat in silence for at least two minutes.  After that however, things started moving along fairly quickly.  After 15 guesses the girls weren’t very close to figuring out my word and were getting quite tired.  The problem was that even though the word was very common, some of the letters making up the word were rare.  Thus, after the 15 guesses the girls “hit” only two of the letters in my word.  This was something I had not thought through ahead of time.  At this point I just gave them other clues about the word and then they figured it out.

Even though the girls were tired of trying to guess my word, they still both wanted to have a turn at making their own word.  Varya made a few mistakes with scoring our guesses of her word, which added to the challenge.  The three rounds (each of us made up one word) took up the whole hour, and amazingly during that time there was very little whining.

Here are a few afterthoughts. For the most part the girls were guessing words fairly randomly.  Unlike mastermind, in this game the coming up with any guesses is a challenge in itself.  However, I did notice that the girls would occasionally try to figure out which letters were in the secret word, and most of the time they were right.  However, this knowledge was rarely incorporated into their guesses.  I think that the language aspects of the game were probably more difficult for the girls than the logic ones.  That being said, both girls are quite articulate and like words so that aspect also made the game more fun for them.

I enjoy thinking about presenting mathematical concepts to young children in exciting and engaging ways.
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4 Responses to Inspired by Mastermind

1. In addition to your thoughts do not forget the fact that there are only six colors but 26 letters. Maybe, you will start with ten digits.

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