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 https://www.facebook.com/redhilllutheran/photos/mrs-napiers-2nd-grade-class-of-16-students-performed-dont-forget-zero-play-about/1103634616398755/
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?
@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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_problem 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.