One, Two, Three - the Word Game Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

One, Two, Three - the Word Game

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One, Two, Three could also be known as 'The Game of Convergence in the Space of Words'. It's a co-operative game for two or more players that requires no equipment whatsoever, and can last anywhere from 30 seconds (a very quick game) to hours, the average being maybe five minutes. This makes it ideal to play during car journeys, waiting for the bus, etc.

One, Two, Three was invented in 1992 by some counsellors at Camp Winnarainbow, a circus camp north of San Francisco. From there it has spread through puzzle groups - The variant 'One, Two, Many' was invented by a group of people at the 2002 National Puzzlers League convention in Vancouver, British Columbia, the name coined by someone known as 'Codex'.

How To Play

With just two players, the game goes as follows:

Each player thinks of a word or phrase - some idea or object. For example: 'Christmas', 'Grass', 'The Statue of Liberty', 'Australia', 'Isaac Newton', or 'Postmodernism'. For simplicity this entry uses the word 'word' to refer to these things, though bear in mind they don't need to be single words.

When each player has thought of a word, they both together say 'One, two, three', and then together say their word. We now have two words. Next, the players each try to think of a new word that somehow links the two ideas - something that associates with the two starting words. When both players have thought of something, they again together say 'One, two, three' and then together say their new word.

Two things can have happened at this point, either:

  • The two new words are the same! Everyone wins!1... or:

  • We have two different words.

If we get two separate words (which is most likely), then again the players try to think of a new word to link the two latest ideas. And so we continue, trying to converge at some point to the same word.

A couple of extra rules: No word used previously in a game can be used again, and usually the new word should link to the current two words - words from further back are irrelevant.

Convergence in the Space of Words?

One way to think about what's going on when playing One, Two, Three is that there is some abstract 'space of words' floating around inside the players' shared culture and knowledge. Two words are 'near' to each other in this 'space' if there is some link between the concepts they are labels for. As the players play the game, they are navigating in this 'space', jumping to nearby words, trying to jump to a place in-between the two previous words, and hoping that the other player lands there as well (or at least nearby). If they do, the paths have converged and the players win!

One, Two, Many

This is a variant for more than two players. The start is the same - two people think of words and say them together. Next everyone tries to think of a word to link the words. When someone thinks of a word, they say 'One', when someone else thinks of a word they say 'Two', then those two try to converge. If they converge then the game is over and everyone wins2! If not, then as in the two-player version there are two new words, and again everyone tries to think of words to link the new words. In larger groups, you might try a rule that when two people try to converge, they are 'out' for thinking up the next words (to make sure everyone gets a chance).

One, Two, Many has the nice feature that people can drift in and out of the game anytime they want, without disrupting it.


Well, not so much strategies, more the sorts of things that can happen. There are very often multiple obvious links, and no good way to choose between them. The words can get very close as a result, but not actually converge, for example, 'ocean' and 'sea' are almost the same concept, and it's a matter of judgement on whether or not that's a convergence. Coming up with those words doesn't have the same sense of satisfaction as when both people say precisely the same words at once, so maybe that doesn't really count as convergence. Even if it's not that close, you might get to 'sea' and 'water' which are certainly close but not the same concept. Here, there is no obvious place to go linking the two, and the players can jump around the general idea of water without actually converging. The rule that you are not allowed to reuse words means that eventually all the water-related ideas are gone, and the game has to move off somewhere else. Using alternate meanings of words is very useful to get out of traps like this.

Getting too close means that there are too many choices for where to go next, so the players are unlikely to choose the same one. Being too far away makes it difficult to think of any sensible place to go at all, so you have to think of some word that isn't really that near to at least one of the old words. Ideally you want to be between these two cases, so that there is one sensible answer that both players will go to3.

Be careful not too get too obscure though, unless you know someone else playing knows about the words you're using. Otherwise nobody else will know anything about your word, and in particular will be unable to think up a new linking word. Obscure words are also going to be less likely to be thought of by both people, so are less likely to be a convergence, though if they are, it is extra satisfying. Sometimes there are certain linking words that are just right, and no matter how obscure they are they just have to be said. And then explained to everyone else. Of course it's not very good form to use words that come up in the explanation of why someone chose a word as a new linking word...

Example games

  • Christmas / Grass
  • Green / Green

A very fast game - two-round games are surprisingly common.

  • Shark / Sun
  • Ray / (something else)

This wasn't actually the end of a game, but it would have been a great ending if it was. Good use of alternative meanings.

  • Consumption / San Francisco (a standard random start to a game)
  • Electricity / Rice-a-roni4
  • Cooking / Stove (almost...but now we're too close)
  • Baking / Hotplate (still too close)
  • Oven / Pan
  • Heat / Pizza (trying to get away from cooking)
  • Insulation / Burn (insulation as in keeping your pizza hot while it is being delivered)
  • Bandage / Protection
  • Dressing / Cast
  • Injury / Net (a net is the first layer put on when making a cast)
  • Dolphin / Tennis (oh no! They're miles away from each other!) (dolphins get injured by fishing nets, tennis involves nets and injuries)
  • Ball / Ball (dolphins play with balls, as do tennis players)

Yay! Convergence!

1Short game!2Or if you really must be competitive then the two who converged win.3Assuming of course that you want to 'win' the game rather than carry on making obscure connections...4Rice-a-roni is a kind of food popular in certain parts of America - danger of being too obscure here.

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