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What is Jotto?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2016
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Jotto is a pencil-and-paper word game for two players, It, who chooses a secret word, and the other player whose goal is to ascertain the word through a sequence of guesses and logical deductions. Jotto is best when played with four- or five-letter words, but three-letter words can by used for first-time players or children to acquaint them with the game, and longer words used for aficionados.

Preparing to Play Jotto
The first steps in playing Jotto are for It to choose a secret word and construct a diagram. The diagram has three parts. On the left, and running down the page are contiguous columns for the letters of the secret word. A space divides this from two scoring columns, which may be marked R for Right and RP for Right Place — though exactly what information is given and what it is called varies. Horizontal lines are drawn across both sets of columns, forming boxes in which to write the guesses and to score them. To the side or beneath — wherever it is convenient — a complete alphabet is written for the guesser to be able to mark to show letters that have been eliminated and those that are assuredly in the word.

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Playing Jotto
The guesser can tell from the diagram how many letters the secret word has. On each turn, the guesser writes a word with that many letters and no repeating letters into to top available row in the diagram. It indicates in the R and RP side both how many letters are correct and how many letters are in the right place. With this method, R should always be greater than or equal to RP. In some versions of the game, R only indicates letters that are correct-and-not-in-the-correct-place. Players must have a mutual understanding of the scoring system in use.

The guesser will usually take a few moments to absorb the feedback from the scoring columns, and then offer another guess, by writing a word in the next available row, which is then scored by It. The game may end when all the rows on the paper are filled or may continue until the word is guessed, depending on the situation. In either case, when the play is over, the secret word is revealed and the players switch roles.

Playing Jotto With Young Children
Jotto can be an educational game for young children who can spell a variety of three letter words. As you play, you can make the game easier as well as teach them for the future by:

  • writing their guesses for them
  • talking through each conclusion and what it means
  • showing them ways to mark letters that are definitely in the right place by, for example, circling them
  • helping them with strategic approaches, such as using an unlikely word to eliminate letters.
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