The Hardest Easy Game

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Edward de Bono is a lot of things — an author, an economic theorist, a physician — but he’s also a thinker about… thinking. His 1967 book “The Five-Day Course in Thinking” included a game that’s one of the hardest in the world, yet also one of the simplest.

The idea behind creating the perfectly simple, perfectly impossible exercise that turned into The L-Game was to distill a 2-player experience down to a constant churn of critical strategic decisions. By limiting the board to just 16 spaces with 2 L-shaped tetrominoes and 2 neutral pieces, the board can’t distract from the core task. And with so few rules — really, just that you need to move your L piece to an open space and then optionally move one of the neutrals — the focus is purely on thinking several moves in advance.

That level of abstraction is way, way harder than it seems. But by using experience to identify and organize some strategic guiding principles to moving in the L-Game, it’s possible for both players to play perfectly — and forever.

As de Bono demonstrates in his course, that’s the same sort of approach we apply to almost everything we value. We think strategically about the groceries we buy, the relationships we have or want… if it matters, we employ some form of strategy. And the better we are at strategic thinking, the more likely we are to get the result we need.

And it all starts with a 4×4 board, two tetrominoes, and a couple pennies.

*** SOURCES ***

“The L Game: Strategic Thinking”. The Five-Day Course in Thinking by Edward de Bono:

“Winning Ways for Your Mathematical Plays, Vol. 2,” by By Elwyn R. Berlekamp, John H. Conway, and Richard K. Guy:

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  • Just some clarification about only having 3 possible moves in the A, B, and C scenario — yes, there’s also a fourth move (the L down the left side from the top corner), but it just mirrors the situation we have in A and B. By simply reflecting the L vertically, we open ourselves up to another immediate loss as orange places a horizontal L on the second row and kills our chance to make another move. 

    Also, in move B, de Bono assumed that we would notice that Player 1 also moved the neutral piece from the top toward the bottom (since it can go in any of the open spots), which opens up a spot for Player 2 to go down the right half of the board. The neutral piece can’t be moved by orange before the L is moved, so that neutral piece had to have been moved by pink after Player 1 moved their L. 

    Thanks for diving deep into these details — and showing what strategic thinking is all about.

    P.S. — Whether or not I put my pants back on for the rest of the video is up to you to decide.

  • I played the game and won.

  • F aF a

    Author Reply

    That seems to be a game that is easy to brute force
    So it should be easier than chess, with (well, obviously) a much lower skill ceiling

  • 7f0g7f0g

    Author Reply

    V SARCE!!!

  • Is the name "L" from Death Note inspired from this game 🤔

  • It is possible to remember every single possibility and optimal play. He says that it is impossible. It is 100% possible. The truth is this is a fact because the brain remembers things that strongly point towards things that either hurt, or they cause some sort of distress. Those are the memories that are the strongest. This means that if you were to make a shock collar and shock the person every time they didn't make a precision play, that person would definitely remember to make a perfect play. This "perfect play" rather does not mean that the person has to trap the opposing team. This just means that the opposing team will have a disadvantage. End of the statement. The best way to gain a better apprehend is to make sure that the player has a strong memory for a "not perfect play".

  • Person who made the game: 5 days to master!
    Me: oh ok
    few minutes later
    Me: but dis is so easy

  • I feel like all your videos are the same title

  • plays it only thinking 1 turn ahead using the control the middle mentality, but otherwise blind, manages to beat the AI Yay! Probably not a perfect AI

  • Tetris was invented in 1984
    People before 1984:

  • U gae

  • Used to play this many years ago. After a while it's easy to play in a way in which you can't lose and which maximizes the chance of your opponent making a mistake. Rendering the game more a party trick than anything else. Similarly, The Three Spot Game (also by Edward De Bono), is (if memory serves) always a win for the starting player, with correct play.

  • Hey look, I beat the computer on my first game.

  • Can you lose the online game against the computer? I'm trying to lose on purpose and I can't… I just keep beating it accidentally.

  • wooooww (not a hater) thats just chess but simplified and the best way of thinkin is the same of chess

  • no one is talking about how kevin took off his pants

  • This game inspired me to make a game that's not super similar but it still takes a lot of skill its like a combination of this tic tac toe and a hint of connect four. its kind of complicated but once you learn it its easy.

  • 4:03 actually, no. You could also flip it horizontally.

    Ok I'll go now.

  • Strategic thinking, chess players:really?

  • я мозг сломала

  • 8:49 You mean like…after sexy time?

  • I liked the thing you said about guiding principies. I was playing a came not so many people play, and today I saw a video of 10 tips to improve your playstile. I was surprised because the video Said things that I dont usually care, and even with that I play quite well. But then I saw a comment in the description saying ANOTHER tips that he considers as a good player, someones contradicting the ones in the main video. Then I realised how we 3 people were playing the same game in ways totally different, being good in that way, and having learned how to master the game everyone in a very different way. Learning throught play ends being a completely different experience and leads people to different, even contrary, winning playstiles. I'm amazed by the way humans learn how to master something purely by experiences

  • 2:44 you can't do that it doesn't work

  • So you have to think ahead? How original, never seen that before in a game.

  • BaxiBaxi

    Author Reply

    4:12 there's a fourth one where you just flip the L left/right

  • I'm beating the ai like it's nothing.

  • I beat the game first try

  • So nobody is talking about the weird lighting on his face that looks like face paint.

  • 4:00 I see a dude perfect symbol

  • I think that way with any stratagy game i try to think 3 moves ahead

  • At 4:15, couldn't you just flip the purple L horizontally?

  • are you in prison? i feel like you are in prison

  • The tetrominoes all have letter names:
    L, J, O, S, Z, I, T

  • how did you get the music to sound from the left side of the room without me having headphones plugged in?

  • The only time I would want to take the L

  • i dont see the difference betweeen chess

  • Watch this fully reversed and…its like asking types of questions

  • so I’m a little confused here you said earlier that the player cannot move the neutral piece first, but at 5:27 you can see in the b row that the orange counter move the orange has moved the neutral piece first then moved the L into the the top right corner. And as you can see, pink did not move the neutral piece. Therefor if pink did not move the neutral piece first then orange did and the game is false or there was just a mess up in your work.

  • N GN G

    Author Reply

    This makes me feel stupid

  • simple chess ?