I talked about Jotto and one of its variants last month. JottoZendo is another Jotto variant that I came up with. The idea for it came to me in a dream (there was a time when I was doing a lot of Jotto programming and playing), but I don't remember anything about the dream.

Zendo is an Icehouse game invented by Kory Heath. As Kory says:

Zendo is a game of inductive logic in which the Master creates a rule and the Students attempt to discover it by building and studying arrangements of plastic pyramid-shaped pieces (known as "Icehouse pieces"). The first student to state the rule correctly wins.
There are many ways that Jotto and Zendo could be combined, but I picked a pretty simple one, one that gives just a flavor of Zendo rather trying to implement Zendo with five-letter words. JottoZendo is played just like regular Jotto, except that along with picking a secret five-letter word, the scorer (I guess I'll use the words "scorer" and "guesser" for the two roles in a Jotto game) also picks one of the letters in that secret word. For the duration of the game, this letter is only scored if another letter (let's call it the "key", which I guess makes the letter in the secret word the "lock") is also present in the word. The key may or may not be a letter in the secret word. The game is won when the secret word is guessed. (I suppose for a little extra challenge you could also require that the rule be guessed, but this doesn't seem like it would add much.)

For my computer implementation, the computer randomly picks a lock and randomly picks a key from one of the 13 most common letters (etaonisrhdlcm), which I thought would help make the game not too difficult. Keeping the difficulty level down is also the reason I restricted the rule to be of the form "only score $lock if $key is present", rather than allowing for many different kinds of rules (e.g., "only score $lock if it is in its correct position", "only score $lock if it is in position X", "only score $lock if it comes before $key", "only score $lock if $key starts the guess", or even crazier ones like "only score $lock1 if $key1 is present; only score $lock2 if $key2 is present; if $lock1 and $lock2 are both present, score 3" or "$lock1, $lock2, and $lock3 score 1, and $lock4 and $lock5 score 2").

So, here is a sample game:

guess  score
-----  -----
overt    1
lazes    2
cable    3
flame    2
caked    4
dance    4
cadet    4
cared    4
decal    4
raced    4
cadre    4
cedar    4
paced    4
caped    4
decay    4
arced    4
cades    4
faced    4
maced    4
decaf    4
caved    X
Man, that game sucked. The rule was "score e if a is present". Notice how I pretty quickly got to a score of 4. At that point, however, I didn't have any way of knowing if the fifth letter might be the lock, in which case the missing letter might be one I had already guessed and dismissed, possibly even in a word that scored a 4 (note that any anagram of the secret word is going to score 4, unless the key is also in the secret word (which happened to be the case here)). I'm a bit worried that this type of situation might happen regularly in JottoZendo games, which could lead to some rather long games. I don't know if it helped or hurt that the key was also in the secret word.

Here's a game where I decided to go back to my old way of playing Jotto, where I just changed one letter at a time (in the beginning of the game, anyway):

guess  score
-----  -----
sport    1
spore    1
pours    1
store    1
parts    2
pants    3
banks    3
clans    3
hangs    3
damns    3
swans    4
sands    4
spans    X
The rule was "score p if d is present". It turned out I had the p from the beginning but didn't know it, since p never showed up with a d. I'm not sure if I just got lucky with this one or if changing one letter at a time in the beginning helped me narrow in on things faster.

Here are two more sample games. In both of these, the lock was present early on, but the key never showed up with the lock. Also notice that I started off following Twisted Jotto rules (which is, if you recall, simply the way I play normally now) and then abandoned them when I was having problems coming up with words to guess that fit the Twisted Jotto rules. The rule in the first game was "score d if m", and the rule in the second game was "score a if o".

guess  score
-----  -----
place    0
ovoid    2
broom    2
shoot    3
nooks    3
goofs    3
swoon    4
woofs    4
woosh    4
wools    4
swoop    4
woods    X

guess  score
-----  -----
laugh    1
level    0
fruit    2
fatty    0
round    2
rumps    3
rumor    2
rusks    3
gurus    3
surer    3
auras    X
I've only ever played JottoZendo against the computer, and to my knowledge, no one else has ever played it (there probably don't exist too many games that only one person has played). If I get motivated (and encouraged), I may end up making these games available. There are already plenty of implementations of regular Jotto around online, but I think X-Jotto and JottoZendo might be fun to make available. And of course, anyone reading this is free to implement them or to simply play them with friends on paper. If you do, I would be happy to hear about it.

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