Mediocrity was invented as a game by Douglas Hofstadter and published in his book Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern. In its original form, it is simply a guessing game, similar to Rock, Paper, Scissors, but a rather cerebral version. By playing with some friends, I (Greg Weidman) have assembled rules that make for a simple, hilarious card game for 3 or 4 players.

For the theoretically-minded among you, this is a level-3 mediocrity game.


The object of Mediocrity is to be the most mediocre player.

The Deal

There is no particular dealer for Mediocrity. Each player starts off with an identical hand of 13 cards, all the cards from A (low) to K (high). It is generally easiest to divide a deck by suits, and then give each player all the cards of one suit. During the play, players cards are not mixed with other cards, so each round can start immediately after the preceding one without a shuffle or deal intervening. It may be easiest to arrange your hand sequentially.

By using more than one deck, 5 or more players theoretically could participate, but in truth the game isn't as much fun with more than 4 people.

The Play

Each player holds out in front of him a single card selected from his hand, face down. Once all the players have selected cards, they are all turned over, and the mediocre ones discarded. Determining which cards are mediocre is discussed below. Each player maintains his own discard pile, so as not to mix cards with other players. This is repeated until one or more players has no cards remaining. When this happens, points are recorded and play resumes with all players retrieving their original hand of 13 cards.

It is recommended that you play quickly and try to announce aloud the mediocre cards in unison, as this makes the game more entertaining. Beer helps.

Determining Which Cards are Mediocre

In general, the mediocre cards are the ones which are not extreme. So for three or four cards, all different, the ones in the middle are the mediocre cards. If four players played Q, J, 7, 2, then the J and the 7 would be discarded as mediocre. In some cases no card is obviously in the middle. In this case, repeated cards are mediocre. So, if three players played K, K, 7, then there is no card in the middle, but the Ks repeat, making both Ks mediocre. Note that being in the middle supersedes duplication. So, if four players played 8, 3, A, A, then the 3 is discarded as mediocre, and the As are not. (Remember that A is low.) If there are four players who play two pairs, such as J, J, 3, 3, then all cards are duplicated, and all are discarded. Certainly, if three or four players all play the same card, then that card is quite mediocre, and should be discarded.

Careful consideration will reveal that if you have the only A or K remaining on the table, then it will not be possible to discard it. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

All this may sound complicated, but in practice you get the hang of it almost immediately.

Scoring a Hand

When one or more players run out of cards, then the player or players who still have cards, yet have the least number of remaining cards, are awarded 1 point. So, with four playing, after one hand Aminda has 0 cards, Bashir has 1 card, and Cathy and Dziko each have 2 cards. In this case, Bashir is awarded 1 point. If Bashir, Cathy, and Dziko all had 1 card each, then all three would be awarded 1 point. If all players discard their final card on the same trick, no points are awarded.

Winning the Game

Eventually, one or more players will reach 4 points. When this happens, the player or players who have the most points, without having reached 4 points, is declared the winner. So, if after several rounds of play, Aminda has 3 points, Bashir has 2 points, and Cathy and Dziko simultaneously reach 4 points, then Aminda is declared the most mediocre player, and therefore the winner. Ties are possible and are to be relished as proof that you have very mediocre friends.