The History of Tic-Tac-Toe is Pretty Fascinating Stuff

RealClear Staff


Tic-Tac-Toe is the world's simplest game, right? 

Not so fast! Turns out this simple game of Xs and Os has a really long and really fascinating past. (At one time people thought it held secrets to the world!)

Some Think it Started in Ancient Egyptian Times

Books have been written about it!

The Romans Certainly Played it, Though

It was called "Terni Lapilli" and dates back to the first century BC. In this game players only had three pieces each and had to keep moving them around until they got three in a row. 

Grids for the game have been found chalked all over the city's ancient ruins. 

Some People Thought It Was Magic

Medieval pagan rituals were often linked to the game. Back then, they thought the nine square grid held magical properties. 

Secret Societies Embraced it

In the Middle Ages secret societies called it "the Magic Square". This stems from the idea that the numbers 1-9 could be arranged on the grid so that their sums are the same horizontally, vertically and diagonally. 

These secret societies also called it "Cabala of the Nine Chambers" and believed the grid could hold secret messages about the world. 

Fast Forward a Few Hundred Years...

Finally, people sort of realized that wasn't true when the game resurfaced in England as a child's game called "Noughts and Crosses" around 1864. 

This is the modern version of Tic-Tac-Toe that we know. 

Where Did the Name Come From?

The word "Tic" is kind of an Americanization. In the 1800s, the game also had the name in England of "Tit-Tat-Toe". A "tit" was another word for a slap. "Tat" meant retribution, such as "going tit-for-tat". "Toe" was the name for a third thing in a row.

So, "Tit-Tat-Toe" was just a name for the three Xs or Os in a row. 

It Was The First Video Game

In 1952, the EDSAC computer had a program called "OXO" which was a crude Tic-Tac-Toe game. This became the world's first video game. 

It Even Made a Movie Better

Computer Tic-Tac-Toe was famously used in the 80s movie, War Games, to showcase the futility of fighting. 

No matter where it shows up, Tic-Tac-Toe is a game that stays with us for our lives and will outlive us for sure. 

What is your favorite memory of Xs and Os?



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