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Tic-Tac-Toe (Noughts & Crosses): Origins, History, Evolution,… 

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

stone detail tic tac toe
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The sad reality is that most of us don’t take the time to get to know a little more about our favorite games. If you put in the effort to delve a little deeper into where your favorite games come from, what inspired them, and if there are embedded lessons in them, you might come to have a deeper appreciation for them. Today, we are going to take a closer look at Tic-Tac-Toe. 

Origins and history of Tic-Tac-Toe in brief:

  • Three-in-a-row games (like Tic-Tac-Toe) were played in Ancient Egypt (around 1300 BC).
  • Tic-Tac-Toe is thought to derive from Terni Lapilli, a game played in ancient Rome in the 1st Century BC.
  • An early version of the Tic-Tac-Toe is also said to be similar to a 1558 version of Backgammon called “tick-tack”.
  • Tic-Tac-Toe has become a universal paper and pencil game that takes less than 1 minute per round. 

This is just a brief overview of Tic-Tac-Toe’s history, origins, and more. If you want to learn everything you need to know – which is highly recommended – read on. 

Let’s Talk About Tic-Tac-Toe

Playing Tic-Tac-Toe is quick, easy, and fun. It’s the game for everyone. While most people call it Tic-Tac-Toe, it also goes by “Noughts and Crosses”. If you want to learn more about the origins and history of the game, all you have to do is read on. Below, we discuss more about the game in a bit more detail.

How to Play Tic-Tac-Toe

Most people know what Tic-Tac-Toe is and how to play it, but if you have a rusty memory or haven’t been exposed to the game, the following break down on how it is played will help. 

Tic-Tac-Toe follows a very simple gameplay:

  • The game requires a grid of 3 squares by 3 squares (9 squares in total) and is only suitable for 2 players.
  • One player is assigned X, and the other player is assigned O.
  • Each of the players takes turns to put their mark (either X or O) in an open square on the grid.
  • The game’s objective is for a player to get 3 of their marks in a row on the grid, before the other player. The marks can be in a row in a straight up-down line, diagonal line, or across.
  • The game is over either when one of the players achieves the main objective, or all 9 squares have been filled. 

The Origins of Tic-Tac-Toe

Terni lapilli or ancient roman tic-tac-toe
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If you start scouring the internet for information on where Tic-Tac-Toe comes from and who invented it, you may find a few conflicting stories. The most believable of the options is that an early version (ancestor) of Tic-Tac-Toe used to be played in the Roman Empire in the First Century BCE. Back then, it was called “Terni Lapilli”. 

The name “Terni Lapilli” actually translates to three pebbles at a time. The game in those days was played in a similar way, except players had 3 pieces each to play with. These pieces would be moved around. As such, in the First Century BC, the game was not a paper and pencil game as it is today…and it was far more difficult than the version we play today. The reason it is so believable that Rome was the birthplace of the Tic-Tac-Toe is because the game “Terni Lapilli” can be seen marked all throughout Rome. 

The History of Tic-Tac-Toe

Most people want to know when Tic-Tac-Toe made its way to their country. How the game made its way around the world is quite unclear. In the 18th Century, there are vague records of children’s games very similar to Tic-Tac-Toe being played. It is believed that the game made its way to, and became popular in, America and the rest of the world as England colonized areas and the British people immigrated.

It was in the mid-1800s that Britain started calling the game “Noughts and Crosses”, and only later, during the 20th Century, the USA began to call the game Tic-Tac-Toe. It is believed this name became more popular than “Noughts and Crosses” because it was called after the repetitive sound of righting or ticking as players played the game. 

More Interesting Info on Tic-Tac-Toe

Something that’s really interesting about Tic-Tac-Toe is that many countries refer to it fondly by other names completely, even though they also know it as Tic-Tac-Toe. Take, for instance, Norway, where it is called “Twiddles and Bears” or Ireland, where it is called “Xs and Os” and “Boxin Oxen”.

If you want to learn more interesting facts about Tic-Tac-Toe, we suggest reading the following article

Tic-Tac-Toe Variants

Three-dimensional wooden voluminous field for tic-tac-toe
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Another point of interest is that over the years, several variations of the game have emerged. Some of the variants (there are too many to mention in just one article) are listed below:

  • 3D Tic-Tac-Toe: This game is played on a 3x3x3 grid instead of a 3×3 grid. 
  • Word Tic-Tac-Toe: This version of the game is played with 3 letter words instead of just an X and an O. Some examples of words include “bee” or “eat”. To play, 9 words must be chosen. Each player must choose three words that have the same letter. The words are then placed on the grid in a way that when a player gets 3 in a row line, they win.
  • 4 Tic-Tac-Toe: This variant of the game is similar to the typical version of the game, except with a twist. The grid contains 4 x 4 blocks, and players can win by placing 4 Xs or Os in a straight line, in a diagonal line, in a diamond shape, or even in a square shape.

Last Word

After reading the above, your knowledge of Tic-Tac-Toe should be greatly improved. Next time the game comes up in conversation, you can speak about it with confident authority! Knowing where it comes from and that there are several variations to try should also make the game more intriguing to you. Enjoy!

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.