8

The story I specifically remember was called (I think) 20?S or 20QS. It was about someone who had written a computer program that could play 20 questions. I think it was written by the child of a professional computer programmer, and the father was blown away that it actually worked.

The twist was that the kid looked at the last letter of the question and if it was an "e" or some other letter, answered Yes; otherwise no. The theory was that no one would waste a question they already knew the answer to, so in this way they'd never get caught.

I believe it was in a collection of short stories, all about tech, SF and computers. I seem to recall it was connected with Creative Computing magazine, but all of the Amazon & Google searching I've done around this was to no avail.

Does anyone have any ideas or leads on where to look?

  • 1
    Please give away the twist at the end. The title as you recall it was literally "20?s" and not something like "20 questions" or "twenty questions"? – user14111 Apr 25 '17 at 1:01
  • 1
    You should really give away the twist, under a spoiler tag if you think it's necessary. Twists are usually memorable and might make someone remember the book. – tobiasvl Apr 25 '17 at 1:01
  • Thanks. SPOILER -- the twist was that the kid basically looked at the last letter of the question and if it was an "e" or some other letter, answered Yes; otherwise no. The theory was that no one would waste a question they already knew the answer to, so in this way they'd never get caught. And yes, I believe the title was actually "20?S" but maybe "20QS" or something. Thanks – Dave Rodger Apr 25 '17 at 1:12
  • Nothing like that in either volume of "The Best of Creative Computing". It was fun looking in them again though. – Organic Marble Apr 25 '17 at 1:22
  • Right. The volume I'm thinking of wasn't in the actual magazine, but I seem to think it was maybe by the same publisher, or the same editor, or something else. It was a paperback bound book, collecting maybe 20-30 stories. – Dave Rodger Apr 25 '17 at 1:25
6

And the answer is:
"XX?S" by Brian McCue, in the volume: Tales of the marvelous machine: 35 stories of computing (Amazon Link)

"How does it work?"
"Oh, well, I'm not really sure, I mean, it was almost three days ago that I wrote it."
"None of that! How does it work?"
"Very simple..."
"I might have know."

"... it takes your question, ignores the question mark, and looks at the last letter. If that letter is an 'e' it responds 'YES': otherwise, it answers 'NO'."

"But that's not playing Twenty Questions!"

"It might as well be. Since a smart player like you, Mr. Hertz, would never ask it a question if he knew the answer, he would never give it a chance to be inconsistent. And when he gets a YES to a direct guess about what the answer is, he won't wait around and ask more questions, he'll get out of the program. So the computer never selects an object at all; it just lets the guy create one."

I had to think about that for a while, but it finally made sense.

  • You can (and should) add more details and then accept your answer once the 48 hours is up. – FuzzyBoots Apr 25 '17 at 11:39
  • FWIW, "Tales of the Marvelous Machine" was brought up in a (probably incorrect) answer at scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/2635/…, which was how I knew where to find the Internet Archice copy to get the quote. – FuzzyBoots Apr 25 '17 at 12:25
  • Nice job! Incidentally, when I was researching this, I saw in the April 1980 issue of Creative Computing an article by David Gerrold on making BASIC game program input more user-friendly! – Organic Marble Apr 25 '17 at 13:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.