For the Love of Set!

We all have our nerdy pleasures. My brother, for instance, is the total man’s man—confident, athletic, good looking, by no means a typical nerd—but even he gets tickled reading his HTML manual and perturbed by the use of redundant acronyms like ATM machine. I, for one, get really animated about philosophies of metaphysics. I have a theory that all people harbor nerdy fascinations for many kinds of things. If you don’t agree, look at how people spend their leisure time. Though a general public, I would wager, much prefers watching TV to exploring an atlas, like my dad, there is a reason why most newspapers print crossword puzzles. Most everyone likes playing brain games, whether they are crosswords, Sudoku, or chess. It is with games where my true nerdom emerges: I am a Set Master.

Set is a game with patterned cards. I got my first deck of Set cards from my grandmother when I was little and I’ve been playing it ravenously ever since. I carry the deck with me when ever I go on a trip. It’s pretty grungy now, to be honest, but still quite useable. I teach everyone who wants to learn and then some. Set is one of those games you may hate but you still find it hard to quit. It’s truly addicting.

I figured I would give a quick tutorial on how to play the game here. You can also learn from the game website,, where an animated farmer will explain the rules to you in a flash presentation. There are also alternative rules for Set explained on the website, along with a daily puzzle where you have to find six sets in a layout of twelve cards. Embracing my nerdom, I confess I play the daily puzzle almost every day. I don’t like to brag but my best time is 22 seconds.

Here are some set cards:

Each card has four characteristics. They are





In order to find a set, you need to find three cards that are either ALL THE SAME or ALL DIFFERENT in each of the four INDIVIDUAL characteristics. The three cards above consist of a set because they are all different colors, all different shades, all different shapes, and all different numbers.

Here is a full layout:

There a few different real sets in this picture, and many non-sets. Let’s say we look at cards with two diamonds. In the upper left corner there are red stripes, and in the lower left corner there are a solid purple and a solid green. In many ways, this looks like a set, because they are all twos, they are all different colors, and they are same shape. But notice that the green and purple cards have the same shade. If the red card were also solid, or if the green or purple card were hollow, then we would have a set. Let’s look at another example. Take the single red squiggle, the two purple diamonds, and the three solid green ovals. This is a set, because they are all different colors, all different numbers, all the same shade, and all different shapes.

Get the picture?

You can play Set alone or with as many people as can fit around the cards. The person who collects the most Sets wins. In order to claim a set, a person shouts out the word “Set!” and then play stops for that person to collect the Set. The cards taken are then replaced by the dealer.

There are times when there are no sets to be found in the twelve cards. In this case, just add more cards to the layout.

In the event that someone yells “Set” and is mistaken, an optional rule states that this person has to give up one of the Sets he or she has won and replace it in the deck. If you play with this rule, be very careful before you make claims.

Not to deter you from playing this genuinely fun game, but I just thought I would give you an idea of how nerdy this game can get. Picture this: A science competition…ten competitors sit at a round table in some hotel in Albany, all of them leaning in over twelve Set cards, all of them hissing “S’s,” hesitant to actually claim a Set. You can cut the tension with a knife. Yeah, that’s right. I was there. And Proud.

1 Comment

Filed under Life, Life is good and here's why, Uncategorized

One response to “For the Love of Set!

  1. deopatriaeamicis

    We used to have marathon Set games at math competitions and home-school conventions. So that totally proves it’s not nerdy!……wait….never mind.

    Hope you’re having a great summer. Now that my own life has settled down post-wedding craziness, I’ve resumed posting occasionaly as well at

    – Sarah

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