A blog for fans of Bananagrams, word games, puzzles, and amazing things

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My first Q-without-U word and Academic Games

I once played a game called LinguiSHTIK in a competitive situation. The other players were clearly veterans, and I was the rookie. They must have decided among themselves that they were going to take advantage of the newcomer. A big part of LinguiSHTIK is placing constraints on the word to be formed (e.g., must be four letters long, must be a noun, must contain a certain letter) while moving cubes with letters on them into either the ALLOWED or FORBIDDEN areas of the board. The other players made the requirements that the word must contain a Q and must not contain a U. Then at some point, one of them decided to CHALLENGE WIN, essentially saying that it was possible to make a word from the ALLOWED letters that satisfied all of the constraints. Fortunately, I had already come up with a word spelled with a Q but without a U - something I remembered from browsing through the Q section of the dictionary: QOPH (the 19th letter of the Hebrew alphabet). Somehow, I had managed to get the letters I needed into the ALLOWED set. When everyone revealed their words, the other players were kind of irritated: they had both been thinking of QAID (which was presumably the accepted Q-without-U word in that group) and they had never heard of QOPH. They challenged my word, but fortunately the dictionary contained the word QOPH, and I was vindicated.

WFF 'N PROOF, the manufacturers of LinguiSHTIK, have produced many other games, all having the same parallel-universe board game feel, probably because most of them have educational value as their primary design goal. These games do a good job of challenging the player while being fun enough as a game to suck the player in. Equations: The Game of Creative Mathematics is similar to LinguiSHTIK in that players are setting constraints and trying to find a solution that meets them, but with numbers and mathematical operations instead of letters and words. WFF 'N PROOF cites research suggesting that students who sometimes get to play Equations in math class skip classes less often and are better at applying math concepts.

The even more interesting claim is that another game boosts I.Q. test scores:
The first studies published (in 1972) on the effects of resource allocation games involved I.Q. tests on groups of students playing WFF 'N PROOF: The Game of Modern Logic intensively for three weeks in summer school classes. The average increase in the non-verbal I.Q. scores was more than 20 points. Although researchers have questions about the sort of intelligence actually measured by such tests, it is clear that there was a dramatic improvement in the problem-solving skills utilized in such exercises.

Another game that seems really compelling to me is Queries 'N Theories: The Game of Science & Language. It's the closest thing I have ever seen to a code-cracking game. One player makes up a "language" (consisting of fundamental allowed sentences and rules for transforming those sentences to other sentences). [Mastermind] It's a bit like Mastermind except that where Mastermind has one secret sequence of colored tokens that the player is trying to infer, Queries 'n Theories starts off with such a sequence (a "sentence") which the first player morphs according to his transformational rules (like, every instance of GREEN RED transforms to RED YELLOW GREEN) and then presents the result - a more complex sentence in the language - to the other players. The other players then try to figure out the principles of the language by proposing possible sentences which are then accepted or rejected by the player who made up the language.

Like most of the WFF 'N PROOF games, Queries 'n Theories can be scaled down in complexity for the younger part of its age range (only sentences of length four for 12-year-olds) or scaled up to challenge more experienced players (sentences of length thirteen!). The most appealing part about this game, to my mind, is that it teaches scientific thinking and inductive reasoning.

There are two organizations that allow students to play some of these games against each other in a regular tournament: The Academic Games League of America and National Academic Games.

You can buy these games directly from Wff 'n Proof or you may be able to find them more cheaply (particularly The Game of Modern Logic) through Amazon.

Further reading: My previous post on Q-without-U words and a reference to another game about logic, invented by Lewis Carroll.