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A Mastermind with Words – Jotto

created on by  in Printable word games

Jotto or Giotto is a pen and paper word game that is similar to the famous decrypting game Mastermind. That’s why it’s also known as Mastermind Words. Some versions are available under the name Bulls and Cows or Cows and BullsPigs and Bulls or Bulls and Cleots. 

Jotto’s Ancient History

Humanity has often been fascinated by riddles, cryptographs, and other hidden messages. There is even an art occupied with this issue. Cryptanalysis, derived from the Greek kryptós (hidden) and analýein (to untie), analyzes information systems to study the hidden aspect of this system. Beginning with the decryption if ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and ending in the present day, methods have changed over the years. Pen-and-paper methods are, however, one of the oldest ways to encrypt and decrypt a code.

Nowadays this method is still used not only by intelligence services, but also just for fun. One example is the word game Jotto. It was invented in 1955 by Morton M. Rosenfeld and went into production first with Jotto Corp and 15 years later with the famous game manufacturer Selchow and Righter, who also licensed Scrabble in 1952. Still later it was manufactured by Endless Games who stopped production in 1996. Luckily, similar games are now available for smartphones or online, and you can still print out the special Jotto sheets on your own.

How Do You Play Jotto?

The original game is a word game for two players. All you need is a pen and a piece of paper. The easiest way is to download the original Jotto sheet from the link above. Otherwise you have to spend some time creating the layout.

At the beginning both players have to think of a secret word consisting of five different letters (letters cannot be repreated within the word). The aim of the game is to decrypt your opponent’s secret word before he gets yours. To start, one player has to figure out the letters of the opponent’s secret word by first guessing a word. After this guess the other has to reveal the Jots, i.e. the number of letters that are in both the guessed word and the secret word. If the opponent’s secret word is MODEL and you guessed FREAK, he will reply with one because only the letter E exists in both words. You write down this number and consider this for your next guess.

A written alphabet where you cross out letters that are eliminated with Jot counts of zero and other tricks may help.

Jotto Variations

There are lots of possibilities to change the rules of Jotto. You can change the number of letters that have to be decrypted in each word. The most common variation uses words made up of four letters instead of five. As I mentioned before, players may only use secret words in which no letters are repeated so that everyone has an equal chance of winning. It is possible, however, for the partners to agree before playing if secret words are allowed to contain duplicate letters. This helps to avoid misunderstandings.

Word Master Mind combines the logical pattern decrypting of the game Master Mind and the word decrypting of Jotto. This version is played with six-letter words. The secret word in this game is sometimes called the target. The words you guess and the target must be verifiable in a nominated dictionary. And here comes the biggest change: after a guess you only get to know the number of letters that can be found in both words at the same position. Let’s say you guess MODELS, but the target is FREAKS, your opponent replies one. You guessed two correct letters, but unfortunately one of them is in the wrong position.

Lingo was both a U.S. and UK television game show that used the same rules as Jotto. The game was based on the five-letter original version. The contestants had to guess computer-generated words. On a screen they were shown which letters matched and which were in a correct or incorrect position. Unfortunately the show is no longer broadcast. The gaming concept was also adapted by lots of other international broadcasting organizations (e.g. Germany, Israel, Sweden, Spain, Poland). The French and Dutch versions are still being aired.

Kane Jotto is a form of multi-player Jotto where every player has a secret word. The winner guesses all words correctly. Here is an example of a three-player game.
So, if the words are:
and the first guess coming from A is MOLDY, you will get back the answers:
A: X
B: 0
C: 4
You can also play the game by allowing the person whose turn it is to report back the correct guess for his own word. In this case A would be well-advised not to try the word MOLDY at the beginning. Otherwise he would give away too much information about his own word.

Three-letter Jotto is played only in the head and without pencil and paper. This is a good way to improve your memory skills.

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image sources

  • Jotto Sheet: | Yortzec