Reading Your Lodden

A parlour game of feelings, the probabilities of decisions, and the cognitive space of your open browser tabs

Hello, friendly human. Every week, this dispatch helps you make better creative and strategic choices through the exploration of decision-making frameworks. It’s good to see you.

Yesterday I played a parlour game called Lodden Thinks.

Like all parlour games, it doesn’t require a board, or dice, or really anything beyond a desire to be amused. You can, however, place bets on Lodden Thinks, so keeping your Venmo handy can help.

The game begins when a person proffers a question with a numerical answer.

“I want to bet on how many miles there are from Earth to Jupiter," for example. Or, “Let’s bet on how many followers Billie Eilish has on Twitter.”

Someone then volunteers to guess what the answer is. To be the Lodden in Lodden Thinks. The Lodden doesn’t say their answer, however, because the players are going to bet on what they believe Lodden believes the answer to be.

That’s an unintuitive way to compete, so it bears repeating: the players bet on what they believe the Lodden believes, rather than what the actual answer is.

The game might begin like this: “Let’s bet on how many tons of gold physically exist in the vaults of New York City.” A participant volunteers to be Lodden, and the first bettor opens with a number, say 100 tons.

The second bettor can either accept the under—that is, bet that there are fewer than 100 tons of gold in NYC’s vaults—or counter with a higher number.

The betting then progresses upwards until the two players settle on a range. 

Here’s Maria Konnikova explaining the game and the origin of its name via an anecdote about Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey betting on what Daniel Negreanu thinks is Clint Eastwood’s age:

Brunson starts at 21. Ivey can now either accept the under or propose a higher number. He counters with 40. Now Brunson can either accept the under or go higher. Immediately, he counters with 60. Now things start getting more serious. Ivey stares him down a bit before offering, “62.” Sixty‐four, counters Brunson with a smirk. Sixty-six. Sixty-eight.

Phil reflects. “How dumb is Daniel … let’s see.” He knows his edge is to read his Lodden. He doesn’t need to have a clue as to Eastwood’s real age.

“You’re not signaling him, are you?” asks Brunson.

“In some way we are,” Ivey responds. Because of course, part of the game is watching the Lodden’s reactions and seeing what you can extract from his responses. Like so many things in life, this is a game of people, not hard truths.

The game ends when the players agree on a range and ask the thinker what he thinks the answer is

For the curious, Phil Ivey won by accepting the under on 74. Clint Eastwood is 77, but Daniel Negreanu thought he was 73.

The wonderful part of this game is that the fact of the answer does not matter—only the feeling that somebody has about a fact, and how you feel about their feeling.

Or, in other words, as Konnikova asks in her book: can you be the one who sees the world most clearly through the eyes of the thinker? 

The mechanism of Lodden Thinks is a gateway to all sorts of fun topics. Of course it opens up avenues of conversation in your parlour—why did you think that? What did you base your reasoning on? How did you guess what the thinker’s reasoning was?

The way you play Lodden Thinks, too, can reveal all kinds of cognitive biases in players and thinkers alike—e.g., the base rate fallacy and the curse of knowledge and extrinsic incentives bias.

More importantly, it reveals that how you make decisions must change based on the context of the decision. Yes, you need to have a good baseline strategy, but then you need to adjust that strategy based on the people you’re playing with, and then adjust again based on how those people are feeling at that exact moment in that exact game. And this is true not just when playing Lodden Thinks, but when playing any game.

That idea may be old hat to some. Since this newsletter is nominally about marketing, I should say it’s certainly old hat for brands, who tend to change how they advertise depending on which audience segment they’re advertising to—I.e., like Toyota did with their commercial for the 2018 Camry. The very fact that brands change their approach based on their audience is a good reminder that they realize an important Lodden-like truth: it’s not the fact of the product that matters as much as the feeling the product purports to give.

Anyway, long parlour game short: It’s not what somebody knows, but what they think they know, that lets you know what you should do.

Oh and there are 365 million miles to Jupiter, 4.5 million followers of Billy Eilish on Twitter, and 1004.2 tons of gold in New York City vaults.

Not that those numbers actually matter.

Sources and Further Reading

Gif by Martin Tognola

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Last week’s most clicked links:

  1. Yancey Strickler: A Framework for Your Ultimate Self

  2. Adult Swim’s Too Many Cooks

  3. Filling my PC with Beans and Hiring a Repairman to Fix it


  • Annie Duke on Poker, Probabilities, and How We Make Decisions
    Neuro-weirdo Tyler Cowen interviewed poker-champ-cum-decision-guru Annie Duke on his excellent Conversations podcast recently. Listen to the podcast, because the staccato rhythm of Cowen’s questions is half the fun. When Cowen asks how Duke how poker players can be happy, Duke responds with a timeless bit of process-oriented wisdom: You just see these examples of it all the time, where there’s this huge asymmetry between how sad people are when they lose versus how happy they are when they win. It’s one of those things that, unless you’re really focused on process, and I think this is a lesson for all of life, right? The way to happiness is to focus on process. Then the winning becomes secondary to that. It becomes a way to keep score on how you’re doing on the process piece. And to really focus on that as opposed to focusing on the end result, which is, what does the chip exchange look like at the end of the day? If you can’t do that, I think that you’re just not going to be happy playing the game, frankly.

  • Open Tabs Are Cognitive Spaces
    I adore the POV in this article, which argues for leveling up how browsers allow us to organize and use open tabs. The whole piece is interesting, but especially this bit: The Sitterwerk library in St.Gallen follows a serendipity principle. Every book has an RFID chip, so you can place books everywhere on the shelves - the electronic catalogue will update the location of the book accordingly. The visitors are encouraged to build their own collection, placing books that they used for their research together, thus enabling the next reader to find something relevant by chance, something they didn’t know they were looking for.

  • Pricing freelancing projects. Everything I've learned. A thread.
    You should read this.

  • Hollywood Diversity Circa 2020
    “Fortunately, thanks to corporate "About Us" pages, looking at the leadership of the studios and their corporate parents was just a few Google searches away.
    The results, as they say, were shocking. I was prepared for abysmal, but that turned out to be fairly optimistic.”

  • actually started listening to @planetmoney again because of their TikTok account

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