Game for a laugh

Everyone I knew as a child had, in their house, a photo of the same bearded chap staring smugly into the camera while a beautiful young woman stood behind him

Peter Edgerton
PETER EDGERTON

Everyone I knew as a child had, in their house, a photo of the same bearded chap staring smugly into the camera while a beautiful young woman stood behind him, presumably enamoured of his beige, crimplene suit. This was the box-lid design for the game Mastermind and no home in the 1970s was without it.

Mastermind consisted of a brown plastic board with rows of holes in it and some coloured pegs and, er, well, that was it, really. Not exactly Grand Theft Auto, I'll grant you, but it would keep us amused for hours on end and not just because you could cause mayhem by dropping the pegs down the back of unsuspecting siblings' shirts. No, the game itself was actually quite entertaining too. In a nutshell, you had to progress down the board with rows of pegs trying to divine the right colour sequence while the other player let you know which ones were correct but in the wrong place or, if you were lucky, correct and in the right place.

Anyway, lo and behold, some clever bean in New York has invented an online word game, Wordle, which is very similar - the objective being to work out a five letter word in six tries while the computer tells you where you're going right or wrong. Down at the pub, if the conversation runs dry - or, worse turns to mortgage rates - we whip out the biros and encourage all assembled to Wordle themselves silly. Everyone seems to enjoy playing, so what could possibly go wrong?

Well, a computer boffin party-pooper dude could appear on the scene to pour a bucket of cold water on everyone's fun, for example. Apparently, some bloke - probably in his mother's basement - has invented an algorithm to solve these word puzzles with the minimum effort. Where on earth did he find time to do this, in between jumping in with the punchlines to other people's jokes at parties and yelling "He's hiding behind that tree!" in cinemas up and down the land?

Luckily, the game can be kept out of reach of geeks and algorithms and other such nasties by the simple expedient of employing old-fashioned methods like pen and paper, although if anyone under thirty is present you may have to explain what these are and offer a few rudimentary writing lessons.

The big question is what will be the next craze inspired by 1970s toys. Space Hopper Olympics anyone?