Back In My Day: Guess Who?

Tuesday, 29 April, 2014

Words by Christian Orkibi
Illustrations by Tegan Iversen

A few years ago a high school friend got a secret girlfriend. Being the nosy little bastard that I am, I decided to sit down and figure out for myself which of the girls in the year level he had hooked up with. Armed with a pen, a spreadsheet, a yearbook and a box of ‘Guess Who?’, I undertook the most useless amateur detective case ever conducted.

She either had red hair and a big nose or she was actually a bald Italian bloke called George. Perhaps we’ll never know.

‘Guess Who?’ was developed by popular British board game company, Milton Bradley, in 1979. The two player guessing phenomenon was designed by husband and wife team Ora and Theo Coster.  They were, presumably, both visually impaired and struggling to figure out what  the other looked like. I’m not exactly sure that joke works.

Each player receives a board with 24 little ‘windows’ that you can flap up and down. A card with a unique face and name is inserted into each window and both players select an extra ‘chosen card’ that slots into a window at the base of the board. Players then take turns attempting to Sherlock Holmes their way into the opponent’s mind (Benedict Cumberbatch not included) by asking questions regarding the appearance of their chosen card. If you ask, for example, ‘does your person have rainbow eyes?’ and the answer is yes, you can flap down all the people that don’t have rainbow eyes. This reduces your chances of getting your final guess wrong.

Once a player believes they have narrowed down the identity of the mystery card, they can call out the name. If they are wrong then it counts as a guess. If they are right, they win the game.

The real fun behind ‘Guess Who?’ lies in choosing the right questions to ask and the home wrecking poker faces that are traded across boards. True fact, True Detective was actually inspired by a family murder case over games of ‘Guess Who?’.*

You always start with ‘are they a man or a woman?’ If you decid to forgo this question and MacGyver your way into beards and noses straight off the bat, then you’re pretty much screwed instantly. The other person will drop half their board in a single question. After you get the standard questions out of the way, it becomes a challenge as to who could come up with the most creative questions.

My brother and I would end up creating personas and backstories for each face on the cards to make the game harder. Terry was a cross dresser from Liverpool with a cocaine habit and Linda was a hipster who worked night shifts at the abattoir. Of course, once you’re that far off the rails, it’s only a small step to all out fisticuffs.

‘Guess Who?’ was the first board game that celebrated diversity and unique physical features. Red hair was red hair and big teeth were strategic assets. Kids played the hell out of it and parents stepped into the ensuing fights. There was really only one feature that I thought was missing…really big ears. Kind of like those of a certain unpopular political figure at the moment. Guess who?

*Not a true fact.