Mind Games

Length of Program

60-90 minutes

Program Description

Mind Games require teens to flex mental muscles as they strategize, recognize patterns, analyze, scrutinize situations, and use logic and language. This program begins with Sudoku puzzles followed by a spelling bee or a literature-themed trivia contest. Teens can test their own intellect and challenge each other in these brainy (but fun) games. They can also visit web sites that challenge their minds with anagrams, jigsaw and word puzzles, optical illusions, and more.

Developmental Needs and Assets

This program provides opportunities for teens to cultivate social skills. Teens can enjoy a healthy sense of competition and camaraderie in games that are intellectually stimulating. By challenging their intellect in analytical game play and strategy, teens build confidence in planning and decision-making. Teens learn to analyze a situation and to act decisively. They also build interpersonal skills by showing empathy and friendship through the interaction of game play. Teens learn to resolve conflicts in a responsible manner.

Books to Display

  • Secrets, Lies, Gizmos, and Spies: A History of Spies and Espionage by Janet Wyman Coleman.
  • The Great Brain Book: An Inside Look at The Inside of Your Head by H.P. Newquist.
  • Too Stressed to Think? A Teen Guide to Staying Sane When Life Makes You Crazy by Annie Fox.
  • Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrich.
  • How to Solve Sudoku: A Step-by-Step Guide by Robin J. Wilson.
  • Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel.
  • Rocket Boys: A Memoir by Homer H. Hickam.
  • The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester.

Books to Share or Booktalk

  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green.
  • Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer.
  • I Am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.
  • Multiple Choice by Janet Tashjian.
  • Spellbound by Janet McDonald.
  • Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz.
  • The Wright Three by Blue Balliett.

Bulletin Board

Visual Mind Games!
Grab the teens’ interest by posting a series of optical brainteasers on your bulletin board. For examples, see the PBS Virtual Mind Games web page at www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/mind/games.html#.


Select an assortment of puzzles, optical illusions, bookmarks, award medals, and key chains to give as prizes to the teens attending the program. Oriental Trading Company at www.orientaltrading.com sells a variety of puzzles and challenging games.

Games and Activities

Library Sudoku

Sudoku (pronounced SUE-dough-coo) puzzles are addictive brainteasers that have come to be known as wordless crossword puzzles. Sudoku has only one rule: fill in the grid so that every row and every column contains the digits 1 though 9.For an introduction to Sudoku, see www.spiritustemporis.com/sudoku/introduction.html.

  • Tables and chairs
  • Pencils with erasers
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Scratch paper
  • Sudoku puzzles
  • Basket

Print several Sudoku puzzles and answer keys at varying levels of difficulty. Puzzles are available at sites such as PDF Pad at www.pdfpad.com/sudoku/. Prior to the program, set up several tables with chairs for the teens and place the puzzles on the tables. If computers or laptops are accessible, you may set the web browsers to online Sudoku puzzles such as The Weekly Reader Sudoku Challenge at www.weeklyreader.com/teens/games/sudoku.asp.

Beginning the Activity

Sudoku puzzles can be used as an informal activity prior to or at the beginning of the program. As teens arrive, offer them a Sudoku puzzle to solve during the first 15 to 20 minutes of the program. Provide pencils/pens, scratch paper, and a pencil sharpener. As an incentive for completing a Sudoku puzzle, enter names of teens who successfully complete puzzles into a prize drawing. Ask teens to write their names at the top of their completed Sudoku puzzle sheets. Place all of the completed puzzles into a basket. Draw one of the completed puzzles from the basket and award a prize to the teen whose name is on the puzzle. A possible prize for the drawing could be a Sudoku cube key chain, available from Oriental Trading Company at www.orientaltradingcompany.com. If teens are unable to completely finish the Sudoku puzzles during the allotted amount of time, poll them to see who solved the most grids correctly and award the prizes accordingly.


Transform the basic Sudoku crossword puzzle into Library Sudoku using Microsoft Word or Microsoft Publisher. Match each of the nine numbers to nine library-related objects, such as a book, magazine, CD, computer, etc. Teens will need to determine which item corresponds to each of the nine numbers. To complete the Library Sudoku puzzle, teens fill in the grid so that every row, column, and 3 X 3 box contains numbers that correspond to the library-related objects. An example of a Library Sudoku Template and a Library Sudoku Answer Key are included with this program. In this example, headphones corresponds to the number one in each grid.

Spell It!

(Adapted from Books Appeal: Get Teenagers into the School Library by Karen Cornell Gomberg.)

Bee season is on! Get your teens abuzz with a teen spelling bee competition.

  • Prepared list of spelling words
  • A set of note cards with one spelling word on each
  • Dictionary
  • Microphone/podium
  • Tables and chairs
  • Self-adhesive nametags
  • Black permanent marker
  • Stopwatch
  • Buzzer or bell

Prior to the event, prepare a list of words. For possible words to use in the spelling bee, see the Sample Spelling Bee Word List included in this program, which features 30 words related to gaming, and/or Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee – Study Aids at www.spellingbee.com/studyaids.shtml. After you have prepared your list, print each word onto a note card to be used during the spelling competition.

Give the list to interested teens along with your library’s teen summer calendar of events. Keep a list of the words readily available at your library’s circulation or reference desk.

Register contestants in advance for the spelling bee. Teens not registered as contestants can participate as audience members. Depending on the size of your programming space, you may need to limit the number of participants.

In advance, write numbers on self-adhesive nametags with a black permanent marker. These will determine the seating order and the order in which teens will be asked to step to the podium to spell a word.

On the day of the event, set up chairs for the number of contestants registered. Place a podium with a microphone and a table for the judges between the contestants and the audience, as shown in the Spell It! Program Room Layout diagram included in this program. Place a list of the words, the note cards with the spelling words, a dictionary, and a buzzer/bell on the judges’ table.

Arrange for three staff members or volunteers to run the spelling bee. Two will act as judges. One judge will read the words from the cards, and the other judge will read from the dictionary. Another staff member will observe the audience during the program to ensure that no one is cheating and that the competition is running smoothly. For competition rules, refer to Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee – Suggested Rules for local spelling bees at www.spellingbee.com/rulesloc.shtml.

On the day of the contest, give each contestant a self-adhesive, numbered nametag as he or she arrives. The numbers will determine the seating order, and the contestants will step to the podium to spell words in the order in which they are seated.

The judges welcome the contestants and audience members and explain the rules of the competition. As each contestant steps to the podium, the judge gives him or her a word to spell. The judge may repeat the word only once, if requested by a contestant. The contestant may also ask for a definition of the word, which the other judge would read. Each contestant is given 15 to 30 seconds to spell a word completely. The contestant is eliminated if he or she cannot spell the word. This process continues until the last teen to spell a word correctly is left standing and wins the competition. In the case of a tie, a more difficult word can be chosen as a tiebreaker. Prizes can be awarded to the top three spellers. Award medals are available from Oriental Trading Company at www.orientaltradingcompany.com.

Battle of the Books: Numbered Chairs Trivia Challenge

Need an exciting game that tests both intellect and speed? Let teens form teams for a Battle of the Books: Numbered Chairs Trivia Challenge!

  • White paper for paper strips
  • Envelopes (large)
  • Microphone/podium
  • Tables and chairs
  • Tape
  • Cardstock paper for point value signs
  • Dry erase markers
  • Dry erase board
  • Easel

Select a theme for your trivia contest based on the interests of teens in your community. Prior to the program, promote the trivia theme to teens. For example, develop questions on a series such as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon trilogy, or Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Or, develop questions based on young adult books from the Texas Lone Star Reading List at www.txla.org/groups/yart/lonestar.html and/or the TAYSHAS Reading List at www.txla.org/groups/yart/tayshaslists.html.

Develop 30 to 50 questions for the trivia challenge. Write the questions, the answers, and cite the page of the book on which the answers appear. Once the trivia questions and answers are compiled, print a master list to use during the event. Gather the books and bring them to the program to settle any disputes that arise over the validity of the answers.

At the program, the teens will be divided into teams. Determine in advance how many trivia challenge teams will participate. Three to five teams, with two to eight people on each team, work well. Print the answers to the questions and cut them into strips. Prepare a complete set of paper strips for each team. Place the paper strips in envelopes, one envelope per team. To increase the difficulty of the trivia challenge, you may place false answers in the envelopes along with the correct answers.

In the front of your programming room, set up one chair for each team in a straight row, preferably against a wall. Label the chairs with big, laminated signs made from cardstock that indicate the point values of the numbered chairs. Fasten the signs to the front of the chairs with tape. To make the game more exciting, increase the value for each chair: label one chair 1,000 points, one 5,000 points, and another 10,000 points. Or, use words that relate to the theme. For example, number the chairs for a Harry Potter Numbered Chairs Trivia Challenge with galleons instead of points, as shown in the picture provided in this chapter.

Provide a table and chairs for each team. The tables should be big enough so that each team can spread out all of the answer paper strips. Place all tables an equal distance from the numbered chairs in the front of the room.  Place one chair at the front of each table and facing out toward the row of numbered chairs - this will be the runner’s chair.

During the trivia challenge, it is best to have at least three staff members fill the following roles:  a moderator to ask the questions, an inspector to verify correct answers, and a scorekeeper to tally the scores of each team. If necessary, one librarian can perform all three roles. Prepare a place in the front of the room for the moderator, ideally off to the right of the row of numbered chairs. If space allows, have the moderator stand and ask questions from a podium. To the left of the row of numbered chairs, place a dry erase board and dry erase markers on an easel for the scorekeeper.

The excitement builds with this game and as a result, the teens may become loud and boisterous. Depending upon your library’s equipment, it may be a good idea to have a small microphone readily available so that teens can hear the moderator ask questions over the noise.

At the beginning of the program, divide the teens into teams and instruct the teams to sit at their assigned tables. The teams can decide on a team name. Once the teams are settled at their tables, give an envelope containing answers to each team.

The moderator welcomes the teens, introduces the teams, and reads the following instructions to the group.

“Welcome to the Battle of the Books: Numbered Trivia Challenge! This is an exciting game of intellect, strategy, and speed. Please show sportsmanship to your fellow teammates and other team players. Please take notice of others around you to ensure that no one is injured. Each team has been given an envelope with answers to the questions the moderator will ask. The answers are on paper strips. Spread the paper strips face up on your table so that every team member can see them. Decide which member of your team will be the runner. The runner will sit in the chair at the front of the table, facing the row of numbered chairs. When I ask a question, find the paper strip with the correct answer. Once your team has the correct answer, hand the paper strip to your team’s runner. Holding the paper strip, the runner must choose a numbered chair to sit in. Your team will be awarded the number of points designated for the chair, provided that your runner is holding the correct answer. Points will be deducted from your team if your runner has the wrong answer. Remember, accuracy is more important than speed.”

The moderator will ask if the instructions are clear. When the teams all indicate that they understand the instructions, the moderator will ask a question. The teams search for the correct answer among their paper strips. When the teams agree on an answer and find the correct strip, they send a runner up to sit in one of the numbered chairs. The inspector checks each paper strip to make sure all of the runners have the right answer. The scorekeeper then adds or subtracts the number of points posted on the chairs onto the dry erase board. Once the scores are updated, the runners rejoin their teams. The moderator then asks another question.

To increase the difficulty of the trivia challenge, switch the numbered chairs around before asking the next question. The race to get to the high-point chair can get very exciting. Depending on how many trivia questions you have selected, the game can last for 30 to 90 minutes. For an exhilarating conclusion to the game, increase the difficulty of the last question and raise the point value of all the chairs to 50,000 points. The team with the highest point total wins the trivia challenge. Prizes, such as assorted bookmarks and medals available from Oriental Trading Company at www.orientaltradingcompany.com, can be awarded to each of the team members of the winning team.

Guest Speakers

Invite a local psychologist or high school counselor to explain how the teen brain works.

Web Sites

About.com: Summer Brain Games
Brain games to keep teens “in shape” during the summer vacation.
American Mensa Virtual Games Room
Online games sponsored by the American Mensa Organization.
BlackDog’s Anagram Creator
Create anagrams in a simple and quick manner.
Brain Food for Kids
Offers ideas and articles on various types of brain food.
Brain Food Pyramid
Learn about foods that nourish the brain.
Discovery School Brain Boosters
Features challenging brain games that teens can try to play or librarians can adapt as activities.
Etymologic! The Toughest Word Game on the Web
Presents word definition puzzles to solve.
How Stuff Works
Explanations of how things work including CDs, tanks, hypnosis, Game cubes, etc.
Teens can access lots of online jigsaw puzzles.
Magic Eye Inc. Image of the Week
Features 3D optical illusions.
Neuroscience for Kids - Nutrition and the Brain
Discusses the importance of nutrition in relation to the function of the brain.
Nova Online: Secrets of the Mind – Visual Mind Games
Features a series of optical brainteasers.
Weekly Reader: Sudoku for Teens
Features an online Sudoku challenge especially created for teens, plus other online puzzles and games.


Show these videos and DVDs or segments of them if you have public performance rights. Otherwise, display them for home use.

  • Akeelah and the Bee. (112 minutes)
  • October Sky. (108 minutes)
  • Spellbound. (97 minutes)

Professional Resources

Books Appeal: Get Teenagers into the School Library by Karen Cornell Gomberg.

Inside the Teen Brain
This PBS Frontline series summarizes research on the teen brain.
A subscription-based web site with cognitive games to strengthen mental muscles.
Mystery Corner
Librarians can read or tell the brief mystery riddles and ask teens about the solutions.
Oriental Trading Company
This supplier sells a variety of inexpensive novelty items that can be used as prizes.
Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee – Study Aids
Includes word pronunciation and word definition study aids as well as a spelling word list.
Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee – Suggested Rules for Local Spelling Bees
Provides guidelines for hosting a local spelling bee.
TAYSHAS Reading List
High school reading list sponsored by the Young Adult Round Table of the Texas Library Association.
Texas Lone Star Reading List
Middle school reading list sponsored by the Young Adult Round Table of the Texas Library Association.
Time Magazine: Secrets of the Teen Brain
Provides insight into how the teen brain works.

Craft and Game Materials

Library Sudoku Puzzle

Library Sudoku puzzle.  See long description.

Library Sudoku Answer Key

Answer key to library sudoku puzzle.

Spell It! Word List

Spell it! Sample Spelling Bee Word List.  See long description for list.

Spell It! Program Room Layout

Spell It! Program Room Layout.  See long description.

Battle of the Books: Numbered Chairs Trivia Challenge

Battle of the books chairs set up with numbers on the backs.

Page last modified: August 12, 2011