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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