Ask eight of these people to stand in a line shoulder to shoulder, alternating male/female or blue tops/red tops, etc.
Announce that you would like the rest of the group to rearrange this line with four of one type standing shoulder to shoulder next to the other four on the other side, ie red-red-red-red-blue-blue-blue-blue.
Challenge your group to achieve this result in the fewest number of moves.
Explain that all moves must be made in pairs of (any) two people/objects standing next to each other.
When being moved, these pairs cannot be switched nor pivot in orientation.
When pairs are moved they leave an empty slot in the line which may later be filled.
The solution involves no gaps in the line.
Allow 20 to 30 minutes to problem solve and refine the most efficient solution.
How To Play Narrative
For such a simple set-up, this is one heck of a difficult problem to solve. And unlike most adventure programming activities, it comes with just one very specific solution. That is to say, your group will arrive at a solution, it just may not be the most efficient solution out there.
Start by forming one or more groups of 10 or 12 people.
Ideally, you want at least four men and four women in each group. That said, you don’t even have to use people to play this game (see Variations tab) so if you prefer, ask four people to wear blue tops or hats and the other four to wear red tops or hats.
Standing shoulder to shoulder, ask these eight people to alternate F-M-F-M-F-M-F-M.
Then, announce that you would like each group to rearrange these eight people so that they end up standing in two groups of the same type, ie F-F-F-F-M-M-M-M or M-M-M-M-F-F-F-F. No gaps.
And the challenge is to achieve this result in the fewest number of moves.
For now, do not reveal what the minimum number of moves is. Let them achieve a result first, and then inspire them to find a more efficient solution because it is highly unlikely that they will stumble across the minimum moves on their first attempts.
There will be questions, and all of them can be answered by understanding the following parameters:
All moves must be made as pairs. Any person standing directly next to another (no gaps) constitutes a potential partner;
When pairs are moved, they will leave a gap (or two empty spots;)
When being moved, these pairs cannot be switched nor pivot in orientation, ie if a male is standing to the left of a female, they must remain in this orientation as they are moved to another spot in the line.
Ok, that’s it.
Invite your groups to start their problem-solving and step out of the way. Your most useful role from this point forward, other than encouraging folks, is to review all of the various solutions your groups will want to show you.
With each solution, if it happens to be more than the minimum, encourage the group to keep at it.
I love this exercise because it demands lots of trial and error which inspires some wonderful conversation when I invite my group to reflect on their experience at the end.
In case you’re wondering, all members of the group are permitted to assist, but of course, it may be more difficult for those standing in the line given their fixed perspective. Oh, look, there’s another teachable moment.
Solution: For the record, there is a minimum of four moves.
If you can’t work out the sequence, contact me and I’ll send you the solution.
Practical Leadership Tips
I sometimes allow each of the eight people forming the line to stand on a series of rubber spots to make it ultra-clear who is standing next to who and how many empty spots are created when a move is made.
Most groups will struggle to find a solution involving anything less than 5 or 6 moves. Sometimes, I will demonstrate the first move, and encourage my group when I say that there are only three moves left (and only then if I want my group to know there are a minimum of four moves.)
In the highly unusual circumstance that a group manages to stumble across a solution involving (the minimum) four moves, I always ask them to repeat it. In 99% of cases, they cannot replicate it and are back to the drawing board.
Facilitator tip – remember the first two moves (which means there’s only two to go.)
Further to above and influenced by Karl Rohnke‘s advice – if you happen to forget the solution… “Don’t panic, just appear slightly amused or sagely intolerant, coupled with an occasional smile and supportive nod until one of your groups hits on the correct sequence.”
If you’re looking for the famed four moves, you won’t find it here. You need to write to me to request it. I promise I will share the precise sequence of four moves, but I invite you to struggle with it for a while first.
You could integrate Two by Four as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviours effectively in different situations and to achieve goals.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Having A Growth Mindset
Controlling One’s Emotions
Identifying & Managing Stress
Demonstrating Self-Discipline & Self-Motivation
Setting Personal & Group Goals
Use Planning & Organisational Skills
Taking Other’s Perspectives
Recognising Strengths In Others
Communicate & Listen Effectively
Seeking and/or Offering Support
Build Positive Relationships
Resolving Conflict Constructively
Demonstrating Curiosity & Open-Mindedness
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits of engaging with a lot of trial and error to solve a complex problem. The tangible benefits which flow from trying lots of different moves, especially when you can move physical objects, cannot be understated.
In a small way, you could connect this theme of trial and error to the development of resilient strategies. One must be patient and resist the temptation to be frustrated when trying to uncover the elusive four-move solution.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Two by Four could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Two by Four Objects: Replace the eight people with two sets of four different coloured items, such as black and red checker pieces. To this end, you can form groups as small as one or two people and manipulate the pieces on a tabletop.
Reverse Shuffle: Start with M-M-M-M-F-F-F-F and rearrange to appear as M-F-M-F-M-F-M-F.
Take a look at Quick Shuffle for another group re-shuffling initiative.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Use a synchronous digital application such as padlet (which allows easy real-time manipulation of virtual objects) to engage small groups in this fun problem-solving puzzle. Click here to view an example of what I mean – note, you will not be able to manipulate this particular padlet, but when configured accordingly, it’s a breeze.