Monday, July 22, 2013

Review & Giveaway: Mastermind: Games for Young Scientists

I love to watch my kids think.  It looks like this sometimes and I love it even more when they start talking to themselves to solve a problem.  Gayle thinks that this kind of self-talk is important.
WHAT: Mastermind and Ultimate Mastermind distributed by Pressman Toy Corporation
INVENTOR: Mordecai Meirowitz 
DOES: an educational game that gets kids thinking like scientists and has them practice reflecting on what went wrong
INVEST: $15 for Mastermind and $20 for Ultimate Mastermind (MSRP)
8+ (you can modify for younger)
TOOLS: Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, Lose and Win Gracefully
EXPERT OPINION: Dr. Gayle Herman, Child Psychologist
GIVEAWAY: Win both Mastermind and Ultimate Mastermind!

Mastermind, one of my favorite game finds this year just happens to be over forty years old and is an internationally-recognized blockbuster game. It is such a simple game that has lasted throughout the years. I think the story of its success is not only a testament to creativity but it's also the best evidence that they most exciting games are the ones that exhilarate your mind!

Recognize these two? If you do, then like me, you are probably ancient!

It's quite humorous to have read that the game Mastermind is really just a tactile version of a paper and pencil game called
Bulls and Cows.

Here is an example

Secret Number :   2  4  6  8
Your guess:          3  8  6  4

Thus the clue then is 1 Bull (6 is a correct number in the correct position)
and 2 Cows (4 and 8 are correct but in the wrong position)
You play until you get 4 Bulls or until you run out of usable guesses.

Apparently, there have been at least 17 versions of Mastermind including Word Mastermind, Grand Mastermind (5 colors and 5 shapes too and four holes), Mastermind 44 (up to four players!), Mastermind Super Secret Search)  WOW

Mastermind is played the same way as Bulls and Cows but with colors.  The original (what we have now) version is with 6 colors and like Bulls and Cows, it only uses 4 spaces.  So I guess it is slightly easier than the paper and pencil version but if you wanted, you can use less colors and use less spaces.  I don't know if Mastermind Junior works this way but if you wanted, you can do it like that. 

The Game For Young Scientists

If you think about it, there isn't a "science game" out there, is there?  There are kits with powders and test tubes and pretend dinosaur bones and dehydrated owl throw-up but there aren't too many "science games."  It's not really something I ever thought about until I talked to Child Psychologist, Gayle Herman about this game.  Gayle is an expert on testing children's abilities in a wide variety of areas including spatial reasoning, executive functioning, reading, etc... Lots of people call them IQ tests but Gayle evaluate way more than intellectual abilities. She looks at the whole child and the skills needed to carry out the duties of the life, not just school tests.  

You can modify by using less colors or less holes or buy Mastermind for Kids 6+

I thought she was going to tell me about how Mastermind can train a kid to problem solve better and she definitely said that and more.  "The game teaches logic, problem solving, strategy, application of algorithms in mathematics, and requires integration of feedback and learning from one’s mistakes," she said.  

Learning from one's mistakes?  Oooh, keep talking Gayle!  She says the game addresses these points:
  • the concepts of experimental design How will I place my pegs?
  • hypothesis testing: What changes might I make to my design to get different results?
  • interpretation of results: Were my assumptions correct? Why or why not?

"It teaches players to create well-controlled, systematic, experimental designs because changing too many variables (colors) at once makes it too confusing to draw conclusions," Gayle said.  This is really true. The more we played, the more we hypothesized the less we guessed!
So many different versions over the years.  This image is from Wikimedia.

Feedback- A Critical Component of Mastermind

Gayle said that we can learn from "negative data" (the cows or no cows/bulls) as well as positive results (bulls).  In a way, this is a very no-frills way for us to train our kids to create strategies as they move ahead.  In life, plans are meant to be revised. You can't keep doing the same thing if it doesn't work. Mastermind is a game where you can visually see that you made the same mistake all over again. It's such plain and yet such powerful evidence that doing the wrong thing over and over again is fruitless.  There is no judgment, no scorn, no grey area.  Players practice problem solving logically, without emotion, like Mr. Spock.

I am sure there are apps and electronic versions out there but if you want a lot of learning done in LESS time, I would opt for the real deal.  You will have made more sensory input (tactile, visual, propriceptive) when you play the "board" game. 

The logical aspect of this game is important because during each game, there is only one person doing the hypothesizing (Codebreaker), the Codemaker is just giving the clues and so while it's a one-to-one game, it's not a volley-like game of wit versus wit. Thus, there is less pressure on sensitive egos.  After making up a code, the Codemaker's sole job is to give clues and so in a sense, it is quite natural for the Codebreaker to not get riled up against the Codemaker.
Maybe this is why my kids just love Mastermind so much.  It gets those wheels turning in their head but there is less emotional bruising if you don't get things right.

I added the LEGO piece in there so you can see how much work their little fingers will have to do. 

The Difference Between Mastermind and Ultimate Mastermind

Both are very fun!  It really depends on you.  I like having both in my home because my youngest is less overwhelmed by the original version.


Ultimate Mastermind
108 code pegs in 6 colors, 30 key pegs in two colors
144 code pegs in 8 colors, approximately 40 key pegs
Four holes for codemaking, 10 tries for codebreaking
ve holes for codemaking, 12 tries for codebreaking
Roll-top shield flips down easily  *
Roll-top shield flips down less easily
Pegs are very simple, smaller, more fine motor challenges here
Pegs are taller, more easily grippable, less taxing fine-motor wise but still good exercise
Peg container shuts tight but only a rubber band will allow you to confidently keep it shut
Peg container shuts tighter but do not let young kids be responsible for it.
Shinier plastic
Plastic but more matte in color and colors look more updated
Number 2 Son’s favorite (he’s six). Four rows are a little too much for him but he is getter there!
Number 1 Son (9)and my favorite though number 1 likes the electric blue plastic of original Mastermind (left column)
Box is very thin but we still use ours. You can throw away your box because Mastermind is hard plastic so basically with an elastic band, you can easily store it away, without worrying about the pieces.  **
Box is hard cardboard but you can throw the box away. You can confidently store in on a shelf without having to worry about peg container popping open by accident.

Found this photo of Mastermind on the web.  I think this shows the very original version but I'm not 100% sure.  Either way, it's so simple!  Show kids that simple is spectacular.

* When they are 8+, most kids will not likely let it roll down by accident but if you are playing with younger kids or kids with slippery fingers (mine) then it is good to stick a little piece of Lego or something to keep it up.  It’s important to teach kids to be mindful of this as you can ruin a game if you reveal your code mid-way by accident.

**I use elastic bands on my games often even if things generally sufficiently because things do get loose after a while and with kids, you never know...  Ever try picking up a bunch of pegs on the carpet?

Mastermind Travel Size was part of our Top Travel Games Part 1 story.

Fun tidbits:
  •  Gayle says, "Mastermind can even be played in teams with the groups collaborating and talking through their logic and debating strategies aloud."
  •  Geek Out on the Math of Mastermind on Toby Nelson's site (Note: I don't Toby Nelson but he seems to be a big Mastermind fan.) 
  •  Information on the game Bulls and Cows 
  • Read other reviews with Gayle Herman's expertise: Sifteo, Yackety Smack, and Palette

And now try out to win your own package of BOTH Mastermind and Ultimate Mastermind!!!  How cool is that?
Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below.   

educational toy, best educational game, best educational toy, learning tools, toys for learning, toys are tools, child development, therapeutic toys, special needs toys, gifted children toys, games for gifted kids, 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Want to get it on Amazon? Remember to buy it through my links to support Toys are Tools!

Disclosure:  Toys are Tools was not compensated by the manufacturer for the publication of this review.  The reviewed items were provided to Toys are Tools to facilitate a review.  Reviews are never promised.  The giveaway prize is being offered by the manufacturer.



  1. Review the

    Pesky Pirates Game.

  2. I saw this game, and it's definitely not anything fancy, but my boy could use a lot of work on expressive/describing verbally and in details. This reminds me of "headband" in that sense. We have "Headbandz"...we should actually play that- don't think we ever did- pro a patience thing!

  3. I think that this game would be good, although again, not a new concept.

    I would actually like to see my son play these games with a friend. This could help with his sometimes inhibited ways....

  4. I would love to try the "Are you Normal" game. Looks like a great party game!

  5. Definitely review Dance Charades next!

  6. A real blog post with sufficient information. Thanks for sharing this article here with us. learning games children

  7. The Math of Mastermind will not let that happen I can bet on it. this is a real wastage of time. learning games children