Tic Tac Toe, or Noughts and Crosses in the UK, is often one of the first strategy games many learn to play as young children. This seemingly simple game can be used to pass the time and is the perfect game for players of all ages to join in on the fun.
Have you ever wondered where Tic Tac Toe came from? Or perhaps how the game is played in different parts of the world? In this article, we will take a walk through history to discover the origins of this universal game, understand how the game has changed over the centuries, and uncover some tricks to winning. Finally, we will discuss some of the most exciting adaptations of this ancient game that has launched Tic Tac Toe into the modern age.
Where it All Began
To the best of the world’s current understanding, Tic Tac Toe is believed to have originated in the Roman Empire sometime near the beginning of the first century BCE. Originally the game was called Terni Lapilli, which loosely translates to “three pebbles at a time.” This game was slightly different than modern versions of the game that allow players several tokens to play or X’s and O’s are simply written in each square in turn.
Terni Lapilli featured the familiar 3 x 3 game board but each of the players only had 3 game pieces. After playing the third piece, a player would then move one of their pieces on the board for subsequent rounds. It is easy to see how much more extensive this way of playing may have been.
A Game By Another Name
Sometime before the 19thCentury, the game had made its way to Britain but was called Noughts and Crosses. The game continued to spread across the globe to be known by several names until the name Tic Tac Toe was adapted in the United States around the mid-20thCentury. Here are a few of the ones we were able to track down, although there are probably many variations on the name that have gone unpublished.
Noughts and Crosses
X’s and O’s
Tick Tock Toe
A Computer Pioneer
Tic Tac Toe, called OXO at the time, was the first visual computer game. Developed by computer scientist Alexander S. Douglas at the University of Cambridge, OXO was used to demonstrate the computational capabilities of early computers and the potential for computers to play against human opponents.
Tic Tac Toe in many forms has been used to advance computer programming, including measuring processor speeds, integrated graphic design, as well as mathematical computations.
Modern Day Tic Tac Toe
Tic Tac Toe in its most widely known form, a gameboard consisting of 9 squares, 2 players each taking a turn placing a game piece or drawing their X or O, remains one of the most commonly played games around the world. You can find this simple game in puzzle books and on children’s restaurant menus. Physical versions with rotating panels can be found in children’s play areas the world over. Many game manufacturers routinely release tic tac toe games with reusable game pieces, including magnetic boards.
The game always begins with the X player placing their piece (or drawing an X) in the space of their choice. Player O then places their game piece. Play is then alternated between each player until one player achieves 3-in-a-row or the game board is full. If no player wins when the gameboard is full then the game ends in a draw.
The gameplay is the same if the board is 4 x 4, or more. However, to win the game a player must successfully fill a row, either across, down, or diagonally. Games using larger game boards are often played with the requirement of only 5 in a row for the win.
With the use of computers, or people way smarter than most, it has been determined that basic Tic Tac Toe provides an astonishing 362,800 unique combinations, including 255,168 of which are winning combinations. However, when you remove all of the combinations that are mirror images of combinations that occur simply by rotating the game board the number of winning combinations drops to just 138!
We would love to provide you with a step-by-step guide for every possible winning combination, but we’ll have to settle for providing you with a few hints to increase your winning chances.
Tips for X Players:
When playing against advanced opponents, an opening placement in a corner is the best strategy; the center is best against less skilled opponents.
A possible forced win or draw is possible for every game if no moves allow the opponent to set up a double win possibility, where no matter where the X is placed there is another winning combination.
Knowing that the X Player always has the upper hand, stronger players should often allow a weaker player that ability to be the X Player, otherwise gameplay can get mundane rather quickly.
When two advanced players are engaged, O Player’s best chance is to force a draw unless the X Player makes a mistake. O Players should always play defensively, thinking ahead to where their opponent may play next.
The most important move for O Players is their initial move. Follow these tricks for the best outcome:
If X opens in a corner, O plays in the center
If X opens on an edge, O plays in the center or one of the corners next to the X.
If X opens in the center, O plays in a corner.
Tips for O Players:
New Ways to Play
Adaptations of the game include larger game boards with an increased challenge, such as our XOXO Game or the ultimate 3D Tic Tac Toe for players of all ages.
Many other games have developed from the basic premise of Tic Tac Toe. Some of the most popular include Connect Four, Pente, Qubic and Quarto. Celebrity gameshows like Hollywood Squares, Beat the Teacher, and even The Price is Right to have included Tic Tac Toe in some form as part of their gameplay.
We hope this article has provided some interesting and enlightening information about one of the most widely played games in history. Tic Tac Toe continues to entertain players of all ages and skill levels and will likely be around in some form for another 2000 years or more.