Browse Month: May 2011

Playing with genies

Two weeks ago, I arrived at my parents’ house for a visit, and found my husband and nephew peering at and giggling secretively over hubby’s Android tablet. “Think of a character!” they told me excitedly. I was puzzled, but after a moment of thinking, I settled on one and kept the name to myself. My husband began to ask me questions about the person I had in mind: ‘Is your character a real-life figure?’ ‘Is your character still alive?’ ‘Is your character a male?’ etc. I answered each question, intrigued. All of a sudden the questions became very specific: ‘Is your character Italian?’ “Does your character have a job linked with the arts?’ ‘Is your character a composer?’ ‘Has your character been portrayed in a movie?’ My jaw dropped: how could he be asking these particular questions? How could he possibly know whom I had in mind? After I answered all the questions, my husband asked me, “Are you thinking of Antonio Salieri?” I gasped and sat in shock while my husband and nephew laughed at me, pleased with themselves.

My husband isn’t a mind reader or a detective. Rather, he had the help of Akinator the Genius: a “twenty questions”-esque game application that can figure out the name of any character/figure you have in mind by asking a series of leading questions. Charmed, I downloaded it immediately onto my phone. When playing with Akinator the Genius (who is represented by an animated genie), you should answer his questions as accurately as possible so that he is not operating on a pile of misinformation. He makes it easy for you to do so: when he asks you something, you can respond yes, no, I don’t know, probably, and probably not. Interestingly enough, when I would play, there were times that I accidentally tapped the wrong answer and the Genie still arrived at the right answer. Smart one, that Akinator…He can correctly name a character from a novel, a television series, or film. He can name an actress who’s been dead for fifty years. He can name a real-life explorer or writer or game show host or TV presenter. Sometimes, he guesses incorrectly–if this happens, you can tell him he’s wrong, and he’ll keep asking questions until he gets it right.

Because the Genie is just as well versed in video game characters and recent pop culture as he is in Victorian literature and Classical music, kids get a kick out of this app. Unfortunately some of the questions aren’t kid-friendly. My siblings-in-law’s young children (ages 7 and 9) were instant devotees of the game, but it got a little weird when Akinator would ask something like ‘Is your character part of the Adult Sex Film industry?’ or ‘Is your character a porn actor?’

It’s addictive. You introduce the game to new people, just so you can see the wide-eyed looks on their faces when you start to home in on their thoughts. Classic. You start to think of more obscure figures, just to see if Akinator will come up with the right answer. I introduced the game to family during a recent visit to the Great White North. True to his claim that he can guess anyone you have in mind, Akinator figured out most of the characters my brother-in-law chose, from Wellesley and Sergeant Major Harper, to Jack Aubrey; he figured out my other brother-in-law’s Ronald McDonald, my sister-in-law’s Danny Zuko, all of my sister’s Dr. Who characters, and my younger cousin’s Kate Middleton, among many others (and I do mean many–this game can keep a group occupied for a long time). The Genie does get stumped sometimes, though. If he hasn’t figured out your character after asking you roughly 60 questions, he asks you to type the name of the figure you had in mind, and then promises to do better in the future, or he thanks you for introducing him to a new character. This happened a couple of times: he didn’t guess my brother-in-law’s late Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson, or a nephew’s particular wrestler (although my nearly-8-year-old nephew earnestly confessed the following to me soon after: “Aunt Lise, the Akinator never would have gotten that wrestler because it’s waaaay too hard to guess who he is, but he guessed all of my Pokemon characters!”). He also couldn’t figure out my Soames Forsyte or my Frank Ashurst–he kept mistaking them for Mr. Darcy and Charles Ryder.

So the Akinator does err–how human of him. But the Akinator is also dead-on much of the time. Is he human, or is he divine? Neither–the Akinator is internet machine, and you would do well to remember that when you find yourself getting overly annoyed with him. One evening, my dear brother-in-law started getting frustrated when the Akinator failed to guess his thoughts; his frustration soon gave way to anger. His statement: “I just don’t understand why he isn’t figuring it out! What’s wrong with him?” His wife’s sobering response: “You’re arguing with an iPod.”

The Akinator app works over Wi-Fi and cellular network. It currently sells for $1.99 in the United States. A fun way to pass time, and probably an app you’d want your friend to bring along for a road trip.