Who Invented Tic-Tac-Toe? (Invention Timeline Explained)

We’ve all been stuck in a classroom on a lazy Monday afternoon with nothing to do. During the most boring times of our lives, a simple game like tic-tac-toe can save our sanity. It has been a part of our childhood. Since tic-tac-toe has simple rules, it can be played by almost anyone. It also doesn’t require any special board or specific game pieces like chess. You can play tic-tac-toe on tissue paper, carved in a wood, or at the back of a notebook. Nowadays, you can even play it virtually on your computer or smartphone.

Aside from being an excellent way to pass the time, it is also beneficial for children to learn critical cognitive skills. The game also helped the players to focus, strategize, and develop logical and tactical skills. Psychologists also use it to help older people who have cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s control their symptoms. You’ll be surprised to know more about this game. Let’s dive into the rich history of tic-tac-toe and discover how it became the gem it is today.

Who invented the tic-tac-toe?

Evidence shows that tic-tac-toe originated from the ancient Egyptians. Archaeologists found markings on roofing tiles that resembles that of a tic-tac-toe board.

The tic-tac-toe’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Ancient Egyptians
    The Origin of the Game

    The concept of tic-tac-toe originated from the ancient Egyptians. Archaeologists found roofing tiles with markings 

  • Romans
    Terni Lapilli

    One of the earliest versions of tic-tac-toe is Terni lapilli which means three stones or pebbles at a time. The Romans loved this game so much that game grids were marked all around Rome. 

  • Sandy Douglas
    Noughts and Crosses

    Sandy Douglas, a computer scientist, developed a video game called OXO or noughts and crosses. This computer game allows a player to play a game of tic-tac-toe against another human player.

  • MIT students
    TInkertoy Elements

    MIT students made a computer out of Tinkertoys. Their goal is to show the computational abilities of Tinkertoy elements. The computer they made can play tic-tac-toe.

  • Kubomatsu Katsukiyo
    Professional Tic-tac-toe

    Gomoku is the professional version of tic-tac-toe. Instead of 3 marbles or game pieces, they used five stones.

When was the tic-tac-toe invented?

The ancient Egyptians played a similar game of tic-tac-toe in the early 1300 BC. Markings of the grid were found in their roof tilings.

A brief history of tic-tac-toe: 

Tic-tac-toe is relatively easy to play. All you need is a 3×3 grid and six pebbles. You can also use paper and pencil to draw the grid and mark Xs and Os. A player’s goal is to make a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line using three similar pebbles or marks.

The earliest signs of tic-tac-toe were traced back to the ancient Egyptians. Archaeologists found markings in their roof tiles of 3×3 grids in their ancient roofing tiles. These game grids are dated around 1300 BC. The Romans also played a game similar to tic-tac-toe. They called it Terni lapilli, which means three stones or pebbles at a time. The game players had three rocks each which they moved around the grid. Their goal is to make a line out of their stones. Grid marks are found around ancient Rome, proving that the Romans used it as a pastime.

As time went by, the game earned different names. For instance, the British named it “nought and crosses.” The game was published in an issue of Notes and Queries in 1858. The funny thing is that the name “tic-tac-toe” has different origin stories. Some stories suggest that it was derived from an old version of backgammon called “tick-tack.” In 1884, a children’s game was called “tic-tac-toe” because of the sound of the pencil hitting a board. In this game, the players close their eyes and try to bring a pencil down a slot with a corresponding score. The US officially named the game “tic-tac-toe” in the 20th century.

As technology advances, tic-tac-toe also found its way to computers. In 1952, Sandy Douglas created “OXO” or “Nought and Crosses”, a video game that allows a player to play tic-tac-toe with the computer or another human player. In 1975, a group of MIT students made a computer game out of Tinkertoys. The program allows the player to play tic-tac-toe against the Tinkertoy computer. You can find this in Boston’s Museum of Science.

People still love the classic game of tic-tac-toe, even in this digital age. Different applications can be installed in smartphones that allow the player to play tic-tac-toe with other players worldwide.

The tic-tac-toe timeline

  1. 1300 BC
    Three In a Row

    The ancient Egyptians played a game with a similar concept as tic-tac-toe. 3×3 grinds were chalked on roofing tiles that were believed to be game boards for tic-tac-toe.

  2. 1st Century BC
    The Roman Empire

    Archeologists found grids scattered around Rome. Romans played tic-tac-toe on rocks, tiles, and walls.

  3. 20th century
    Officially Renamed

    The US officially renamed the game “tic-tac-toe” from its British name “noughts and crosses.”

  4. 1952

    The first video game based on the rules and concept of tic-tac-toe was made in 1952 by Sandy Douglas.

  5. 1975

    Since the rules of tic-tac-toe are pretty straightforward. Many programmers use it in creating prototypes. A group of MIT students built a computer from Tinkertoys, which can perfectly play tic-tac-toe.

Where was the tic-tac-toe invented?

The earliest signs of the game tic-tac-toe were found in ancient Egypt around 1300 BC.

The importance of the tic-tac-toe

  • Enhances strategic skills

    Despite being simple and straightforward, playing tic-tac-toe helps enhance the players’ strategic skills no matter how young or old they are.

  • Teaches players to concentrate and focus

    Playing tic-tac-toe requires players to observe their opponents. They need to analyze their moves and find ways to block them. This practice teaches players to focus and concentrate.

  • Stepping stone for more complex games

    Learning how to play tic-tac-toe is an excellent foundation if you want to excel in more challenging games. For example, it can help players to learn chess or Gomoku easier.

  • Slows down cognitive decline

    Older people are more prone to memory deterioration or cognitive decline. Playing a simple tic-tac-toe game can help keep their minds sharp and deal with the effects of cognitive decline.

The tic-tac-toe by the numbers

  • 2A tic-tac-toe game can be played by two opposing players, pairs, or teams.
  • 138There are 138 terminal board positions when considering the state of the board. If “X” makes the first move, there are 91 chances that X will win, 44 chances that O will win, and three chances that the game will be a draw.
  • 452Episode 45 of the famous show “This American Life” tackled the story of how a mentally unwell murderer. It tells the story of how the suspect was executed by a team of lawyers using a chicken who can play tic-tac-toe as evidence.
  • 1876In 1876, a song entitled “Tic-Tac-Toe” was released. George Cooper wrote it, and John Rogers Thomas arranged the music.

Five facts about the tic-tac-toe

  • Used by Secret Societies

    Tic-tac-toe is also known as “Cabala of the Nine Chambers” by different secret societies. They believed that the game held the secret of the universe. 

  • It Goes by Many Names

    Tic-tac-toe has several nicknames. Some of its names are “rota,” “naughts and crosses,” “XOXO,” “Os,” “three men’s morris,” “Xs,” “Tit tat toe,” and “ Exy-Ozies.”

  • It’s Magical (Yeah, it is)

    The pagans called it magic square. They used it to get number patterns or numerological messages which they used to cast actual magic spells!

  • Almost No Winners

    Unlike chess which has different possible outcomes, tic-tac-toe is a solved game. If the first person knows the technique, he’ll probably win no matter how the opponent moves. But since it is a solved game, it always ends with a tie.

  • Many Different Versions

    Tic-tac–toe’s rules are simple to understand. To make it more exciting, people made different versions of it. There are 3D tic-tac-toe, mathematical versions, qubic (4×4 grid), and numerical tic-tac-toe.

FAQ about the tic-tac-toe

  • What is the Tic-Tac-Toe trick?

    If you are the first player to put a mark, you’ll most likely be the winner. The strategy is pretty simple – put your pebble/mark in any corner.

  • Can you win over the Google Tic-Tac-Toe?

    You can try, but honestly, there’s no possible way to win a match against it outright. Sadly, it is designed to always win.

  • Is it possible to win tic-tac-toe if you’re not the first player?

    Yes. If the first player didn’t use the winning strategy (putting the mark in a corner).

  • Why is a draw game called “cat’s game”?

    Having a draw game of tic-tac-toe was compared to the fact that a cat cannot catch its own tail.

  • Who can play tic-tac-toe?

    Anyone who can understand its rules can play tic-tac-toe. Players can be as young as 3 years old. Older people are actually advised to play it since it can enhance cognitive skills.

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