Teaching a game about Suffolk

Published 10:16 pm Monday, June 22, 2009

I’m addicted to the Game Show Network. Don’t judge me.

I just love watching people win money, answer questions and occasionally (OK, frequently) make fools of themselves. Cheesy, brightly colored sets, convivial hosts and dramatic music all help to seal the deal.

Some of my favorite game shows are “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” “Match Game,” “Newlywed Game,” “$100,000 Pyramid,” “The Price is Right,” “Jeopardy” and my all-time favorite, “Family Feud.”


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However, one of Game Show Network’s original offerings doesn’t quite make the list of my favorites. The network debuted the show about two weeks ago, and it just doesn’t live up to its Internet and handheld toy counterparts.

The game — 20Q — is based on an artificial intelligence game that originated on the Internet and spread to a handheld game made by Mattel. Its purpose is to have you think of something, and you then answer yes or no questions it asks in an attempt to guess what you’re thinking. The game learns by what players tell it — that is, if I tell it elephants are green, it will continue thinking that until other players contradict it enough to delete that “fact” from its memory.

Last week, I become bored with the traditional Internet version, and began playing some of the wackier variations — which include people, movies, the Old Testament and 20Q Earth. This last one, 20Q Earth, is the subject of this column.

The 20Q Earth version asks players to select a specific place on earth and answer the questions based on that place. Naturally, I chose Suffolk, Va.

I set off on the first round. Is it a state? That’s a definite no. Country? Nope. Does it have a zoo? Nada. Does it have wild animals? Doesn’t every place on earth have wild animals?

After 30 questions (10 beyond what’s required for the game to win), 20Q still didn’t have a clue. Imagine my shock when the game told me that it didn’t know much about Suffolk, Va.

Well, I resolved to teach it. However, some of the questions were a little more baffling. Does it have a large population? Well, compared to some places, yes. Who determines what “large” is?

Is it bigger than New York City? Definitely not, in terms of population. But what if it meant land area? I hit the Wikipedia article on the city for the answer — although admittedly not a reliable source, it indicated that the land area for New York City is 304.8 square miles. Cha-ching! Suffolk is bigger than New York in square miles. But wait! New York’s TOTAL area — including water — is 468.9 square miles. That makes it bigger than Suffolk.

Choosing no for population, I continue on. Now, the questions get really subjective.

Is it fun? Do teenagers have a good time there? Is it dangerous? Is it known around the world?

After I played the game about 20 times, thinking of Suffolk every time (that’s how you teach it about something), I finally got a guess of Suffolk on the 30th question. I now can claim success for having taught an artificial intelligence module about Suffolk.

Apparently, the game is more intelligent than I thought. The game is capable of automatically making extra connections via the answers that you give. My favorite: Does it have a vibrant nightlife? 20Q says Doubtful.

Play the game at www.20q.net.