Pico Fermi Bagels

This is a super fun game for a wide variety of ages. I found it in a great book called Family Math and I’ve played it with young elementary school students, middle school students, families, classes, small groups – you name it! I’ve been playing this game for probably twenty years and it’s really always fun, once you get the hang of it.

All you need to play is a piece of paper and something to write with.

The object of the game is to guess a 4 (or 3) digit number correctly.

The “leader” of the game will write down the secret number on a piece of paper. Don’t let anyone see!

Now it’s time for everyone else to guess. You can play with just one other person, with a small group or with a whole class.

As each person guesses, write down the guess. Then the leader will give response clues. The clues go like this:

“Pico” means a digit is correct but it’s in the wrong place value or location.

“Fermi” means a digit is correct AND it’s in the correct place value or location.

“Bagels” means nothing is correct.

(On a side note, you may be wondering about the catchy title. Where did those words come from?! I’m not 100 percent sure but here’s my best guess: “pico” means “a little” so when you get a pico in the game, it means you’re a little bit right; “Fermi” is the name of a famous Italian mathematician so when you get a Fermi in the game, you’re thinking like a mathematician and getting very close; “bagels”, well, think about it. What does a bagel look like? A zero! So, when you get a bagels in the game, it means you got zero correct.)

Keep going until you guess the actual number! When we play the winner gets to lead the next round.

a sample game

A couple notes about play:

Personally, I like to be tricky and not give the clues in order. If you’re playing with very young kids who are just learning, you could give them in order. However, this will make the game much, much easier because you will know which number is correct.

You can start with 3 or even 2 digit numbers to learn how to play.

Encourage yourself and others to look for patterns and to use strategies that will eliminate possibilities and narrow your choices.

Enjoy the game! This is a cool, mathy way to pass the time on a boring car trip or to use up the last ten minutes of class after everyone has finished a test.

Have fun with math every day!