The 20 Questions game has been popular for a long time, and it’s played everywhere from large parties to the backseat of cars during long road trips. But, as with many favorite games, lots of people aren’t sure of the “official” rules.
How do you play 20 Questions?
We’ll explain! Or perhaps you know the rules but want better strategies on questions to ask in 20 Questions so you can improve your odds of winning? We answer that, too! This guide covers everything from how to play 20 Questions, different versions of the game to try, over 100 ideas of things for others to guess, and a variety of great questions to ask.
What Is the 20 Questions Game?
20 Questions is a classic guessing game that people have been enjoying for decades. The basic premise is that one person chooses something (really anything) and gives the category it belongs to (such as person, place or thing).
Then, the other player is allowed to ask up to 20 yes/no questions to try to determine what it is.
Why do people love 20 Questions?
- It’s easy to learn (you’ll see in the next section)
- It doesn’t require any materials
- It works for a variety of age groups
- You can play it practically forever without repeating mystery objects
How to Play 20 Questions
To play, you need two people. If you have more than two people, one person will come up with the mystery object, and the others will guess as a team. You can also play the Forehead Detective version, which we describe in the next section.
One person chooses a mystery object without telling anyone else.
They then give the category the object belongs to.
In ye olden times, the categories were animal, vegetable, or mineral, but people usually use different options now. Stating whether it’s a person/place/thing is common, and you can create more specific categories depending on how easy/hard you want the game to be. The broader the category, the harder it is to guess correctly! In our sample ideas below, we’ve used five common categories.
Once the mystery object has been chosen and the category has been given, the other person can begin guessing. They are allowed to ask up to 20 questions before making their guess as to what the mystery object might be.
Every question can only be a yes/no question.
The idea is to gradually narrow down the potential options until you feel confident that you know the correct answer. Whenever you think you know what it is, go ahead and make your guess, even if you haven’t asked all 20 questions yet.
Some people award a point as long as you correctly guess the object, and in other versions you get an additional point for every additional question you didn’t ask. So, if you only needed 15 questions to guess correctly, you’d get one point for your correct guess, and five points for each question you didn’t need to ask. If the person guesses incorrectly and still has questions left, the incorrect guess counts as one question, and the game continues. If the object isn’t correctly guessed after 20 questions, the person who came up with it gets a point.
Here’s an example of how the game works.
In this instance, two players are playing 20 Questions, and one person decides to choose a cheetah as their mystery object.
They’d give the category as “animal” (or something similar, depending on the categories you’re playing with), and the other person would begin guessing. The questions could look like this:
Question 1: Is it a bird?
Question 2: Is it a mammal?
Question 3: Is it a common pet?
Question 4: Does it eat meat?
Question 5: Does it live in large groups?
Question 6: Does it live in North America?
Question 7: Does it live in Africa?
Question 8: Does it have spots?
Question 9: Is it a cheetah?
Yes! That’s the correct answer.
Variants of the 20 Questions Game
Because 20 Questions has been popular for so long, it’s no surprise that different versions of the game have sprung up. Here are four variants you might want to try out.
In this version,
you only guess famous people
(fictional people may or may not be allowed, depending on your preference). The player who came up with the mystery person reveals their initial, and the guesser can then ask up to 20 yes/no questions to correctly identify the person. Depending on how you want to play, you can give the person’s first initial, last initial, or the initial they are known best for. If you’re playing based on best-known initials, the initial you’d give for Madonna would be “M” (her first initial) but “B” for someone like Sandro Boticelli (who the game is named for).
Vermicelli and Vespucci
These two variants are similar to Boticelli, but
in Vermicelli, players guess different foods, and in Vespucci, players guess physical places.
You can choose to begin with the first initial of the mystery food/place as you do in Boticelli or, to make the game harder, have the guesser start with no hint, as with the classic 20 Questions game.
Forehead Detective is similar to Boticelli, but
it’s often played at parties because it’s a great version for large groups of people to play.
One person (typically the party host) writes the names of famous people on slips of paper or Post-It notes (one name per piece of paper). They then attach the slips of paper to each guest’s forehead or back. This way, everyone else can see the name other people have, but they can’t see their own name. The guests can then ask other guests yes/no questions about their mystery person. The first person to correctly identify their mystery person wins. This game is often used as an icebreaker for groups because it’s a great way to get conversations started between people.
147 Good Ideas for 20 Questions
Need some help with suggestions for the 20 Questions game? We’ve got them!
Below are over 100 ideas, organized into five categories.
We aimed for ideas that were tough, but not impossible to guess. You don’t want to choose something your guessing partner has never heard of, because it’s not fun if they don’t have a fair chance. Similarly, you also need to choose something you know a good amount about, otherwise you won’t be able to correctly answer the questions! Read through them and see which ideas are best for you.
Common animals for 20 questions are usually elephants, lions, dogs, etc.
The animals listed below are a bit less obvious, but still species most people will know.
- Vampire bat
- Humpback whale
- Snapping turtle
- Polar bear
- Snowy owl
- Fennec Fox
- Snow leopard
- Komodo dragon
- Great white shark
- Peregrine falcon
For this list,
we aimed for a list of recent and historic, real and fictional characters,
although you can always set more specific parameters to make guessing easier.
- Mark Twain
- Amelia Earhart
- Tom Hanks
- Albert Einstein
- Katniss Everdeen
- Margot Robbie
- Richard Nixon
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Ringo Starr
- Ebeneezer Scrooge
- Jane Goodall
- Malala Yousafzai
- Darth Vader
- Michelle Obama
- Jackie Chan
- Queen Victoria
- Quentin Tarantino
- Misty Copeland
- Thomas Edison
- Billie Eilish
- Genghis Khan
- Elvis Presley
- James Bond
- Joan of Arc
- Robin Hood
- King Tut
- Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
- Martin Luther King Jr.
- Celine Dion
- Homer Simpson
- Freddie Mercury
The places in this list are all
well-known and specific locations,
although, if you prefer, you can always include more generic ideas like a school or hospital. Whatever works best for you and the people you’re playing with!
- Grand Canyon
- Times Square
- Mt. Everest
- Death Valley
- Amazon Rainforest
- Machu Picchu
- Taj Mahal
- The White House
- Disney World
- The North Pole
- Pearl Harbor
- Yellowstone National Park
- Great Barrier Reef
- Angkor Wat
- Mount Rushmore
- Niagara Falls
- Mariana Trench
Whatever you do, don’t pick pizza!
It’s by far the most popular 20 Questions food guessed. You can allow any kind of food/drink if you prefer or narrow your options by only allowing individual foods, rather than recipes with multiple ingredients/names (i.e. allowing sweet potatoes but not sweet potato casserole).
- Whipped cream
- Pigs in a blanket
- Swiss cheese
- Tater tots
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Corn dog
- Bubble tea
- Bok choy
- Apple pie
- Sweet potato
This is the broadest category,
so you may want to refine it even further by creating categories like “nature objects,” “household objects,” “famous objects,” etc.
- Hula hoop
- King Tut’s mask
- Rocking chair
The Mona Lisa
- Light bulb
- Palm tree
- The Crown Jewels
- Wrapping paper
- Fire extinguisher
- Northern Lights
- Christmas tree
- Stained glass
- Hollywood sign
- Tennis court
Good Questions for 20 Questions
Now here’s some help for the person on the other side.
If you’re the one who’s guessing, what are good questions to ask?
We’ve come up with five questions for each category. No matter what your partner has chosen, these questions will get you closer to the answer. As for the other (up to) 15 questions you’ll need to ask? Remember that they can only be yes/no, should start off broad and get more specific, and, ideally, each question should eliminate a large number of options until you get to the final few 20 Questions game questions.
- Is it a mammal/bird/fish/reptile?
- Is it big/small?
- Can it fly?
- Does it eat meat/grass/bugs?
- Does it live in Africa/North America/Asia?
- Are they a real person?
- Are they a man/woman?
- Have I met them?
- Are they alive?
- Are they a movie star/athlete/politician/etc?
- Is it famous?
- Have I been to it?
- Would I need a plane to reach it?
- Is it a hot/cold/wet/dry place?
- Is it often crowded?
- Is it a raw food/cooked dish?
- Is it a fruit/vegetable/meat?
- Is it sweet/sour/savory?
- Have I eaten it before?
- Do I like it?
- Is there one in this room?
- Is it light enough to pick up?
- Is it rare/common?
- Would it be expensive to buy?
- Is it used more for fun/work?
Summary: Good Questions for 20 Questions Game
The 20 Questions game is a long-time favorite because it’s easy to learn, requires no materials to play, and can be tailored to different ages and knowledge levels. Wondering how to play 20 Questions? One person chooses any person/place/thing/etc. and gives the category it belongs to. The other person then can ask up to 20 yes/no questions to correctly identify the mystery identity. Wondering how to win 20 Questions? Good questions for 20 Questions are those that allow you to cut out large swathes of potential answers with each question so you gradually narrow down your pool of potential answers. In our guide, we give good questions for 20 Questions players to ask, depending on the category they’re using.
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