Monday 22 March 2021

The Enduring Appeal Of Pegs


The Mastermind outing on my last post feels incomplete without its companion piece, the superlative board game, Master Mind. A staple in the Pipistrello toy box, Dear Brother & I would regularly test our genius against one another by moving its little plastic pegs around a brown plastic board. It sounds so, well, boring on the page compared the wizardry-gadgetry of today but it was rather clever, and not to mention utterly satisfying to solve the code in as few moves as possible*. 

Hunting about for a suitable pic, I discovered that not only was this game enormously and enduringly popular, (such that the models** in the iconic photograph were reunited to recreate the shot thirty years later), but this adaptation of the paper game Bulls and Cows was the brainchild of a Romanian-born Israeli postmaster and telecommunications expert, Mordecai Meirowitz, and is even the subject of a 2013 academic paper***. Between its invention, rights' sale then launch, and finally award of Game of the Year 1973 lay only three years, which must be some sort of game-development record, and proves that there's nothing more entertaining to a child than a bucket of pegs.

* Competition against a sibling three-years younger shall not be mentioned here as such shameless exploitation implies an ugly competitive streak in an otherwise blameless character.

** Enigmatic hairdresser Bill Woodward went on promotional tours with a passport in the name Mr. Mastermind and the über-chic computer science student Cecilia Fung now has the married name of Masters!

*** For the oh so curious, the often cited paper concerned with "the psychological relevance of a logical model for deductive reasoning" can be found here.

Image credit: via Google


  1. Love the photo, and those of the last post.
    We were more numerous and needed a game for multiple hands. Noise was a plus. Thus, we loved "Ker-Plunk!", in which sharply pointed sticks were threaded through the middle of a plastic tube, forming a net onto which marbles were placed. The goal was to pull out the maximum number of sticks without making the marbles crash. One of my siblings thought the satisfaction of the crash was far greater than the satisfaction of having the biggest pile of sticks, so you can guess how that went.
    This sibling and I spoke a long time yesterday about childhood hunting trips, that there was never any question of "do you want to" --he was assumed to go and I was assumed to stay home. He and the other males still hunt, and somehow the tale led to him showing me the photos of the time another sibling's truck rolled into the river and sank. A good laugh for us (only his bank account was hurt).

  2. At first I was confused by your recent Mastermind references, assuming it to be some aspect of recent popular culture that I missed out on. But today's photo dredged up hidden memories and cleared up the mystery. I remember we had this game, and the pegs, but have no inkling of how it was played or what the point of it was.

  3. Being older, our games were far simpler ..... pick up sticks, flying hats, jacks, Scoop ( that was a good game ... players were journalists and had to get a good story/headline ! ) As we got older, Monopoly, Cluedo and Trivial Pursuit arrived ! We got into the good stuff when our children started playing games ! We watch Mastermind now and again and I often wonder why I am watching four grown ups showing off their knowledge of random subjects with a bit of general knowledge thrown in !!!!! Was the game with pegs Solitaire ? I used to like playing that. XXXX

  4. ToF: Oh, I remember Ker-Plunk! Neighbours had it, and it was such fun. I can well imagine how things would play out when one kid played by different rules! We had Trouble, another irritatingly noisy game that drove our parents to distraction. In fact, I'm surprised it wasn't "lost" ... Now hunting trips is a far more exotic pastime than I could imagine - the closest we came to such wildness was teasing the caged ferrets the bigger boys next-door kept for hunting rabbits. How delightful you were reminiscing with sibling, too.

    Jim: Ah, yesterday's Mastermind was a tv-quiz show from decades ago for complete boffins and there were no prizes, save a champions trophy at the end. Todays's Mastermind was a logic and reasoning puzzle where you had to break a coloured code by guessing the colours and positions of the pegs, the codemaker "marking" your consecutive guesses with b&w pegs. I'm sure you would have played it at the time for it was enormously popular. But is there ever a point to games? Probably not!

  5. We had Mastermind. I was the one who was the youngest (by 5 years), so I did not get to play that game very often as my siblings weren't around much or didn't have the same interest in playing games by that time. I can still picture that brown plastic board and the little pegs, though! -Jenn

  6. Jackie: Scoop sounds great! And right up my alley for I do love a good headline. Why else does one blog, haha!! I haven't watched Mastermind in ages but it has a peculiar appeal, doesn't it? And funny that when you know an answer you have to shout it at the telly! The pegged game Master Mind was a code-solving puzzle requiring logic and deduction, and Cunning, as it declared on the box! But unlike the usual rowdy fare, it was a quiet game of concentration, so parents loved it! xx

    Jenn: A 5+ year gap can be a bit of fizzer for some games, and this one really needed a willing partner, and not always found in an adolescent sibling! Who would have guessed that brown would be a winning colour for a plastic game? Even if it was meant to resemble wood, it fell unconvincingly wide of the mark. The marketing must have been genius!

  7. We must have had Mastermind here as well, but I will be darned if I can remember it! Pre-divorce of the parents, we played a fair amount of Scrabble and Yahtzee. Post-divorce it was lots of Uno and Trivial Pursuit.

  8. Bea: That speaks volumes of the dividing of the spoils of war!

  9. There were no videos, computers or nasty on-line games when my siblings and I were young.
    TV did eventually arrive in Australia but only wealthy families could afford it at first. Even then, any programmes with guns were banned to us children.

    So instead my family had all sorts of board games, card games and intellectual puzzles. I loved them all. Still do!

  10. I had the exact same game as the one in your picture. Mastermind provided so many hours of fun. I once solved the colour code in two moves. It was probably more luck than genius.

  11. Hels: We also used to get those intellectual puzzles at Xmas, and I think they're rather dismissively referred to as Educational Toys these days. Lots of time spent caravanning meant no telly, too, so cards and board games were essential, for the adults too.

    Loree: I should like to say it was codebreaking genius on your part! I also remember occasions of solving codes in a mere handful of moves; rather indelibly printed, more like it!

    Then of course came TWISTER.........PIPISTRELLO did you par-take in that with FRATELLO BELLO?
    MASTER MIND was NOT in my REPERTOIRE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Contessa: I do remember the tv ads for the Doctor game, thinking it looked worth coveting but I can't remember anyone having it. Twister, of course, someone in the neighbourhood did have but it usually ended in tears. It was hard to make it look it did on the box, too, as all being a motley arrangement of heights and reach. It had a revival as a party game amongst some of my contemporaries post-uni, where the Hilarity was a consequence of drinking and hormones, hahah. xx


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