A small intelligent orb that guesses what object you are thinking of in 20 questions

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Why buy when you can play for free?

This one is the actual algorithm behind the balls: http://www.20q.net/

EDIT: The first link has been poisoned since I last used it, it’s not as good as it used to be.

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This device is not “intelligent.” It just has a good lookup table. I can remember a simpler version of 20 questions (more like 5 questions) programmed in BASIC in the 70’s.

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Huh, looking up how those things work on Wikipedia, it sounds more complex than I expected. I’d thought it was just approaching things like a binary search, always choosing questions that will eliminate about half of the remaining options. That would let it deal with something like a million objects, which seems pretty generous unless you’re getting into Akinator “the girl in the background in season 7, episode 9 of the X-Files” territory.

A coworker of mine from 6+ years ago had this thing. I’m a programmer so I get how it works but it’s still nuts.

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Never heard of Akinator, so I googled it, and thought of a character from the x-files as per your example “Knowle Rohrer” – it did not guess correctly.

My family had one of these, One of my aunts tried it and afterwards always referred to it as ‘an evil device’

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Yeah, it doesn’t know everything in the universe, but it used to be able to guess some pretty obscure stuff. These days–partially, I think, because people have tried to teach it so much obscure stuff–its hit rate isn’t quite as high as it used to be.

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I was given one of these as a gag gift years ago, it’s not that intelligent as it would often ask questions that it already had the answer to, something along the lines of asking if the thing was bigger than a loaf of bread (answered “yes”) then a few questions later asking if it was smaller than a deck of cards (obviously not). Despite that it did usually give the right answer.

I’m going to add “This device is not ‘intelligent.’ It just has a good lookup table. I can remember a simpler version of 20 questions (more like 5 questions) programmed in BASIC in the 70’s” to my lookup table as the response when someone makes the claim that something that is not intelligent is intelligent.


I know baby,
and I hate it.
The possibilities pretend to be endless
but they’re actually… >snap<
…I’m gonna bounce.
Burn down the house.
Mail me a hotel…

The device referred to in this post is about 15 years old, as anyone with kids born after 2000 will tell you. Still neat all the same. In fact next week, can we have a post about how cool Tamagochi are, please?


This (at leas the computer version) failed to get any of what I was thinking of. I am… not impressed.

“arch”, “platformer” (I guess I can understand this one), “virtual reality”, “simulation”, “network”, “window sill” (it actually got this one but took 30 guesses to do so),

Obligatory @codinghorror:


(How is there not a OneBox for Coding Horror?)


computer version couldn’t guess “camshaft”.

Akinator correctly guessed Kilgor Trout and Fatty Bolger when I tried. (Pretty good I’d say!)

I was having problems with Trixie the Triceratops from Toy Story

No kidding, I just now stumped that Akinator app with Gen. Wesley Clark.

They got my character after 30 tries (and two wrong guesses), although having represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest, campaigned in two national elections, brought out multiple albums and singles, starred in a movie and documentary and been an Ambassador for UNICEF Ireland since late 2009, I don’t think he’s all that obscure.

I only think in American, man.