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You know the game mastermind, where you have the four colored pegs and the other player is trying to guess the combination? I learned to play it as a pencil and paper game that uses numbers called "pecos foamy zilch". "Pecos" refers to a correct number in the correct position, "foamy" refers to a correct number in the wrong position, "zilch" refers to a number that doesn't appear in the combination at all. The origin of "zilch" is obvious, but I have no idea what "pecos" or "foamy" refer to, or even if that's how they're spelled. I've never heard anyone else refer to the game this way, and searching for that phrase has exactly one result, in which it appears to refer to a different game

I tried different spellings of the words, (because it's quite possible I'm misremembering it, this happened when I was 7) and I discovered that some people call it "pico, fermi, zilch", and still more people replace "zilch" with the word "bagel". But even the most common combination I can find, "pico fermi bagel", only gets around 100 results"pico+fermi+bagel"

Am I correctly remembering the name the teacher gave the game? If I'm not, why did someone else refer to a game by that exact name? Is there a canonical name for the pencil-and-paper version of? Why "pico" or "pecos"? Why "foamy" or "fermi"? Is it a reference to Pecos Bill? Is it a reference to Enrico Fermi? If you're going to replace one of the three words, why replace "zilch", the one of the three with an intuitive meaning? Was there a conspiracy to cover up the pen and paper version of the game to keep people from knowing they can play Mastermind for free?

Okay, earliest reference I can find to this terminology is a 1972 mainframe game called "bagels" (or, um, "bagles".) The fact that these terms spread at all is probably thanks to the game's inclusion in a 1975 book called "100 Basic Games".

"Bagel" definitely predates "zilch", and "pico" and "fermi" are definitely the standard spellings. The alternate versions I remember are either a corruption in my memory or a difference that teacher introduced. I find either option unlikely, considering a church on the opposite side of the country from me had kids play a game with a name that exactly matches the corrupted version I remember. Maybe that teacher moved to California and became a pastor.

What's still unclear is why those terms were chosen in the first place, and why it's not more widely known as a pencil-and-paper game. It's a better pastime than tic-tac-toe or hangman

@matt my guess would be bagel = zero, like how "love" in tennis came from French people referring to a zero on the scoreboard as "l'oeuf" (egg). Don't know about the other two. Maybe Pico as in a sharp point, i.e. exactly right?

@matt wait I got pico and fermi confused, so that's almost certainly not it

@robotcarsley Sorry, I got them confused in my original explanation (or the teacher explained them to me backwards). You're probably right about "bagel", I figured it was because it's round like a zero but I didn't know it was already used in tennis

I figure fermi must come from the fermi problem and is used as a word to indicate a good guess and pico is probably used to mean a little bit, as in "close but a little bit off"

@matt yeah those sound pretty plausible. If this originated from a university computer department I bet it was already slang among the nerds there.

@robotcarsley @matt other longshot guess: fermi as a corruption of the french "fermé" meaning closed, in the sense of "case closed"

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