In advance, download the puzzle clues from the Resources tab and print each of the 12 clues on separate pieces of paper.
Gather your group and ask them to sit or stand a small distance away from one another.
Distribute one clue (small slip of paper) to each person.
Instruct each person that they may read their clue out loud to others, but they must never show or display it to anyone.
Announce that the group now has all of the information it will need to solve the problem.
Explain that their first task is to identify what the problem is and the second task is to solve the problem within the allocated time frame.
Allow 30 to 40 minutes (or other timeframe as you choose) for your group to solve the puzzle.
Remind your group that the solution is found within the clues.
In conclusion, invite your group to reflect on their decision-making process.
How To Play Narrative
As a logically inclined individual with a penchant for puzzles, I love this group initiative.
Already you should understand that this activity will attract those in your group like me, and may frustrate those who struggle with logic or complex thinking tasks. And that’s okay because this is a team event and only by way of collaboration will the team succeed.
First, you need to download the 12 short puzzle clues from the Resources tab and then print and cut them into small slips of paper. For example, this is what is written on one of the clues:
Of all the countries toured, Anne likes Austria best.
Tom, Sheila & Jim spent the first evening discussing
the day’s countries and reviewing the maps.
When ready, assemble your group and invite them to sit or stand in a position that will not only be comfortable (because they will be busy for the 30+ minutes) but offer a little bit of space between others. This last qualifier is to prevent folks from seeing what others are about to be given.
Hand out one slip of paper (set of clues) to each person. Announce that everyone has a unique set of information or clues and that as a group, it has all of the information it needs to solve the problem.
Importantly, instruct each person that they are not permitted to show what is written on their paper to anyone else. They are entitled to read it aloud to the group, but they can never show or display what is written to others at any time.
At this point, you can expect a set of wide eyes peering back at you, purportedly saying “Is that it?”
Yes, this is it.
Explain that as a group, their first task is to identify what the problem actually is. Then, their second task is to solve the problem within the allocated time frame.
As with all group initiatives, you should set a timeframe that will challenge your group. For reference, when I present this to adults, I typically allow 30 to 40 minutes for them to solve the puzzle.
Remind your group that the solution is found within the clues. Manage any questions that will inevitably arise, before handing it over to the group.
Perhaps armed with pen and paper, your group truly has everything it needs to solve the puzzle.
In the case of this particular problem, the solution is best represented by a table of names and countries (the solution is supplied with the Clues download.)
From this point forward, your primary role is to watch and listen.
As soon as a solution has been offered, or the time expires, look for opportunities to invite your group to reflect on a whole range of group dynamics including leadership, communication and decision-making processes.
Practical Leadership Tips
If you have less than 12 people in your group, simply supply two or more clues to each person.
If you have more than 12 people in your group, choose to distribute a single clue to partners, or better still, create multiple small groups of 12 people solving the same problem. In this latter case, you may need to physically locate each group away from others.
To be fair, each of the 12 clues consists of 2 clues, so you could produce up to 24 separate clues if you wanted to.
It is noted that pen and paper are optional, but in truth, all groups prefer to use these resources to help them visually solve the logic.
To be sure, the secrecy parameters of the initiative mean that group members can verbally share their clue’s information with others but they cannot collect the clues or visually display them to one another, ie this precludes writing it on a whiteboard for all to see.
You could integrate Twelve Bits as part of a well-designed SEL program to help your group understand the perspectives of and empathise with others including those from diverse backgrounds.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
In addition to exploring critical SEL competencies (see Social-Emotional Learning tab,) there are ample opportunities to invite your group to reflect on and develop their critical thinking, leadership and decision-making skills. In addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, you could pose the following questions to help your group reflect on these skills:
How did your group approach this task?
Did you develop a particular method of collecting, organising and interpreting the twelve bits of information?
Did a leader emerge in the process? Why?
What did leadership look like during the exercise? Was it useful?
Did your group verify or double-check its assumptions regarding the information you were processing?
What was the impact of making an assumption? Be specific.
Full Value Agreement: Go to the Resources tab to download a similar group puzzle focused on the attributes of a common full value contract, as popularised by Project Adventure.
Bank Robbery: Go to the Resources tab to download a fun team puzzle to solve the mystery of who robbed a bank. With thanks to Chris Cavert and Karen Whittaker for this variation (coming soon.)
Take a look at County Fair to enjoy a similar deductive-reasoning puzzle (coming soon.)
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
In advance, send a bunch of emails containing one of the clues to each of the twelve people involved in this task. As above, none of this information can be shown or displayed to the rest of the group, but only shared verbally.
Encourage your group to create a shared online document (eg Google Docs) to record their thinking and solutions.
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Useful Framing Ideas
One of the greatest joys of being an experiential trainer and author is that I have travelled all over the world. I am grateful for having visited and delivered training programs in 15 countries or more so far, but I must admit, it’s hard to appreciate which countries I like the most. This just happens to be the exact premise of your next problem-solving activity for a group of four fictitious characters…
If you love problem-solving puzzles or deductive-reasoning challenges, then you are going to love this next group task involving just twelve bits of information…
You know those lateral thinking exercises that appear to give so little information, but you are told you have everything you need to solve it? Well, that is exactly what I have in store for you now…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after leading this intriguing team puzzle:
Describe what first happened once the task was described to your group?
At what point did the task or problem start to become clear? How?
How did individuals support one another during the process?
Did you feel that you and your data were fully appreciated or acknowledged during the exercise?
Was there a significant moment when the solution was becoming obvious?
What advice would you give another group trying to solve the same problem?
How might this activity teach us a lesson about making decisions?
The inspiration for Twelve Bits was sourced from the book Adventure in Business (out of print) by Anne Smolowe. It is understood that the original version of the activity was introduced by Jim Hassinger and Barry Carden.