Eleusis and Eleusis Express

by Robert Abbott

I invented Eleusis in 1956. The original version was fairly simple. The dealer devised a secret rule, and the players attempted to get rid of their cards by adding them to a line of correct cards. Figuring out the secret rule would help a player get rid of cards, but that was all it did. Only in later versions of the game could a player make a guess about the rule or declare himself Prophet.

Martin Gardner wrote about this original version in his Mathematical Games column in the June, 1959 Scientific American. He described Eleusis as one of the few games that call for inductive reasoning and he said, “It should be of special interest to mathematicians and other scientists because of its striking analogy with scientific method and its exercise of precisely those psychological abilities in concept formation that seem to underlie the ‘hunches’ of creative thinkers.”

In 1973 I started a rather long project to improve Eleusis. This resulted in a better layout—with sidelines that showed where mistake cards were played. I also added the Prophet. If a player thinks he knows the rule, he can declare himself Prophet and make the calls for the dealer. Martin Gardner wrote about that improved version in his Scientific American column for October, 1977. At first I called the game “The New Eleusis,” but I’ve since dropped “new” because it is now the standard game. After this column by Gardner, the game has been included in many books, and I have a list here.

I am also selling my own booklet that includes this full version of Eleusis as well as my game Auction. See my mail-order page. Currently you’d have to mail me a check for the booklet, but I should have PayPal working on my site in about a month.

In 2006, John Golden, a professor of mathematics at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, invented a simplified version of Eleusis. He intended it as a way for elementary school teachers to present the scientific method. The teacher could divide the class into small groups to play the game, then later the teacher can show how the students were using scientific method as they played the game.

I referred to his game as “Eleusis Express” to distinguish it from standard Eleusis and also because it is a small, fast version of something large and slow. Eleusis Express can be described in a couple of pages, whereas my booklet on the full-size Eleusis takes twelve pages to describe the game and another ten pages to give its history and say what it all means. A hand of Eleusis Express can be over in fifteen minutes, but a hand of standard Eleusis can take an hour and a half.

In my opinion, Eleusis Express makes a great game, quite apart from any use in the classroom. It’s also a fun social game, even if you need some brains to play it.

The chief feature of Eleusis Express is that if you figure out the rule, you simply say what it is. The dealer then says whether you are right or not, and if you’re right, you score extra points and the hand ends. This does not happen in the full-size version of Eleusis. Other people had suggested to me that I should change Eleusis to let players say what the rule is, and I always rejected that idea. I now see I had been mistaken. What led me astray is I wanted to keep more of the analogy of players-as-scientists. I reasoned that if a scientist publishes a theory, then (unfortunately) the heavens do not part and God does not declare whether the theory is right or not. Instead, you have to wait and see how the theory works in practice. I did, however, add the feature of the Prophet.

Eleusis Express is still something of a work in progress; so if you have any suggestions let me or John Golden know. We’re not sure whether 12 is the right number of cards to deal. Also, there might be better ways to do the scoring.

Click here for the rules to Eleusis Express. These are printable.

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