The Rules for the Parlor Game "20 Questions"

by Jessica Briggs
The game encourages players to use their minds to figure out what the secret object is.

The game encourages players to use their minds to figure out what the secret object is. Images

"20 Questions" is a parlor game that's been around for many years, but is still commonly played. The basic premise of the game is simple: The Answerer chooses an object to be asked about without telling the Questioner(s), and the Questioner(s) may ask up to 20 questions to figure out what the item is. There must be at least two players, one Questioner and one Answerer, but there can be any number of Questioners.

Yes-or-No Questions

All questions asked must be in a yes-or-no format. That is, the question must be answerable with a "yes" or a "no" response. This means you may not ask questions like "how many...?" or "what color...?" or "where...?" The only exception to this rule is that if a Questioner asks a question that the Answerer does not know, he or she may respond "I don't know" or "I couldn't know." However, this must not be abused in the interest of fairness, so that the Answerer does not respond this way multiple times to prevent Questioners from succeeding.

No Lying

An extremely important rule is that the Answerer must not lie about the object. This is not only unfair and unsportsmanlike, but can discourage other players from attempting to learn the answer and breaks the trust that Questioners must have for the Answerer.


Some variations of the game are played with specified categories. The common variant "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral" is one of these, but often other categories are specified at theme parties or to simplify the game for children, such as "candies" or "video games." When specified, these categories must be followed or the Questioner forfeits that question.


"20 Questions" is a fairly simple game, but there are a few strategies that may assist you. Don't use the modifier "usually" in your questions, which forces the Answerer to respond to the questions as though they mean "always" or never," which can work to your disadvantage. Also, think of the questions as a way of narrowing a field, not a spitballing session; ask related questions that proceed linearly, not randomly. Finally, pay attention to what other Questioners ask, as this may help you without using up your own question allotment.

About the Author

Jessica Briggs began writing professionally in 2011. She has written for high school, college and law school newspapers such as "The Justice" and "The Hoot" at Brandeis University. Briggs holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a joint Juris Doctor and Master of Laws in international criminal law and justice.

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