Following a web version, handheld electronic game, and even a recent television game show adaptation, the artificial intelligence-based phenomenon known as 20Q has arrived on the iPhone App Store as 20Q Mind Reader. Via a series of questions, the game attempts to guess the item or object on your mind, and this new portable iteration throws in bonus anagram puzzles and other unlockable features for added value.
Of course, the game can't actually read your mind — it simply conducts a process of elimination by asking questions about the size, color, and use of the item, amongst other queries. In the Classic 20Q game, you are asked to think of a common item or thing and place it into one of these categories: animal, vegetable, mineral, other, or unknown. From there, the A.I. will ask away, and if the game cannot determine the correct item after about 20 questions and a few guesses, you'll be deemed the winner.
Having the game correctly name what you're thinking of is certainly a minor thrill, and it's especially fun to play with a friend, as you'll both be tempted to come up with more interesting terms and see what happens. 20Q Mind Reader attempts to create an enemy out of the computer A.I., depicting a self-aggrandizing robot-like face that taunts you when it wins. But when the game was unable to guess common terms like “sausage” and “globe,” I didn't feel like I beat the system — rather, it simply made the application seem like a failure. Luckily, it does seem to correctly guess simple terms much of the time, but whatever the individual outcome of each round, the main mode in 20Q Mind Reader offers no middle ground: it either succeeds or it doesn't.
However, the app does include a couple of additional modes to keep players interested between standard 20Q sessions. Most notable is the Anagrams option, which gives you one of hundreds of jumbled words split between four categories (animal, vegetable, mineral, or other) and lets you use the touch screen to drag-and-swap letters to form the correct word. This mode takes a few liberties with the categories (such as “ninja” in the animal category), but otherwise does its job and holds the key to a couple of unlockable bonus goodies. Also available from the outset is the dull Guess It mode, a multiplayer offering that has each player unlock a letter in the hopes of being the first to correctly guess the word — it's sort of like a very simplistic take on the Wheel of Fortune formula.
20Q Mind Reader utilizes a simple, clean interface with touch-screen commands used to answer questions, select menu options, and move letters around the screen. I had a couple of minor issues with the touch recognition, however, as I'd sometimes have to press a response option three times in the Classic 20Q mode to have it register with the game. Solving anagrams is made slightly easier by the neat option to adjust the placement of the letters by shaking the iPhone, though the lack of an on-screen indicator means actually dragging and dropping letters can be an inexact science if you try to play quickly.
Like previous versions, 20Q Mind Reader is an interesting little toy that is certainly fun for a couple rounds here or there, but is unlikely to be something that you'll play for long stretches of time. Fans of solving anagrams will get a lot more out of it than other players, but for a quick bit of amusement on your commute or between playing meatier apps, 20Q Mind Reader isn't a bad option for the currently discounted price of $2.99.