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Twenty Questions

Several years ago, my sister-in-law, Georgia, insisted I open one of my gifts on Christmas Eve night, so I opened a shiny box and found a small, round, red plastic object that had four buttons and “20Q” stamped on the front.

Georgia prompted, “Think of something, anything, and then answer the questions with the buttons — yes, no, sometimes, or unknown.”

I looked over and saw a marshmallow bobbing in a mug of hot chocolate, and so the game began.

20Q asked, “Is it an animal, vegetable, or mineral?”

“Oh, I get it!” I said, “It is like the game ‘Twenty Questions’ that we played on road trips when we were little kids.” Georgia nodded.

The little game continued asking questions.

Is it flat?

No, a marshmallow isn’t flat.

Would you use it daily?

Probably not.

Is it flexible?

Yes, sort of.

Can it be used more than once?


Does it bring joy to people?

Yes, marshmallows have always brought joy to me. I love them.

Is it outside?


Does it roll?

No. Some of the questions weren’t relevant.

Can you eat it?

Yes! Absolutely!

Is it usually colorful?

Not usually. However, there are those mini-marshmallows that come in pastel colors.

Does it get really hot?

Well of course, as it’s melting into my hot chocolate.

Was it used over 100 years ago?

No, I don’t think so.

Can it fit in an envelope?

No. Well, maybe you could smash it flat

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and force it into an envelope.

Does it come from something larger?


Does it come in a box?

No. We usually purchase marshmallows in plastic bags.

Is it smooth?


Is it straight?


Is it brown?

No. Oh wait! Marshmallows can be brown when you are roasting marshmallows over a campfire.

Does it contain a liquid?


Can it be washed?


And then 20Q said, “I’m thinking that you were thinking of a… MARSHMALLOW? That was easy. I win!”

“HOW DID IT DO THAT?!” I shouted, and I stared at my sister-in-law in disbelief, my mouth wide open. “How did it get MARSHMALLOW from the answers to those questions?” I was screeching as if I was on the verge of some type of breakdown. “Of all the things in the world, how did it know?” I demanded.

And then 20Q said, “I bet you want to try again… don’t you?” And I did! I was immediately addicted to this little game. I wanted to stump the 20Q device. None of the night-before-Christmas chores got completed that evening. We were holed up all night on the sofa cradling 20Q in our hands, thinking of clever words and answering its every question. To our amazement, 20Q won almost every time. Besides marshmallow, it successfully guessed kite, shoes, stapler, Frisbee, computer, moon, cantaloupe, golf club, ring, soap, clock, needle, paper, and Spiderman — just to name a few. We took the new toy to my mom’s house on Christmas day and shared the addiction with my family. Within minutes, it became everyone’s priority to stump the 20Q device.

The following week, my mother bought her own 20Q so that she could share the addiction with her friends and family in South Georgia. On the phone a few weeks later, she said, “You know — we won’t even say the word out loud any more — just in case it can hear us talking …” I took it to work for showand- tell with my coworkers. The engineer who sat next to me played twice and calmly placed it back on my desk saying, “After it guessed my words, it taunted me by saying that it was smarter than me. That was simply uncalled for!”

The little 20Q device was quite arrogant.

Stumping 20Q was certainly a mission in my circle of friends and family members for a while, but like all fads, it faded away as quickly as it had emerged. I hadn’t thought about the little amazing device until yesterday. As I was browsing the app store, looking for a particular app to load on my smartphone, I saw a free app named “20Q.” I loaded it and played a few rounds. It still fascinates me.

Funny how a little game can fill me with wonder and make me feel like a child again, but that’s what 20Q does. For the next few weeks, I’ll play here and there and try to stump it. Indeed, I just thought of a tough one. Wind chimes. It’ll never guess wind chimes.

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