Tacit tales of Tic-Tac-Toe

TicTacToe game
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A perfect non exertion of the mind that helps in such pursuits as the mindless whiling of one’s time are a variety of games that has existed through history as engagements for the easily bored human awareness. And while this level of the easiness that has come to characterise this general human boredom has only intensified over the years and through the ages leading therefore to also the invention, development and subsequent evolution of means and ways that can help set off such vulnerabilities of rather frequent distraction, games have continued to be a favoured medium into which the tides of time are allowed to lose itself in.

One such game of very widespread prominence, as also one that is fun and simple and bereft of much fanfare either in its traditional strategy or even in its modern day technological intricacy happens to be the rather amusing premises of what a play of the Xs and Os still span out as. A very basic two player affair worked out with the means of a mere paper and pen, or pencil as you so desire is this game noted in its play of certain X and O figures from which it derives of course its name. That however alludes to only one facet of its more global identity, with other reiterations of it finding expression in popular culture through such terms as Tic-Tac-Toe and Noughts and Crosses, even when a digital version pits the same even more simplistically as OXO instead. But however diverse might be the play of its nomenclature, it sure is certain that this essentially brief experience sprawled out along again a mere nine squared three by three grid is still marked by the universal appeal of it being one of the most fuss free exercises in gaming history.

One of the more ancient board game still in widespread play today, the evolution of both the game and its etymology is equally long drawn. Quite surprisingly also, unlike most inventions by humankind that go on to manifest itself in essence in a greater complexity with its every stage of evolution, this humble game enriched with an interesting history still has in fact been downgraded in its marking of the level playing ground along which it sees the Xs and the Os take position. First emerging in ancient Rome as terni lapilli, or three pebbles, was a version of this game played out with just three pebbles, or even tokens for use by each player which they had to move along the empty spaces to keep the game on as well. With ample evidence in the form of terni lapilli grids scrabbled all around the Roman cities of yore pointing to the widespread popularity of it at that time, this precursor of the tic-tac-toe is very evidently an ancient stemming though it might not be exclusively Roman at that. In fact there exist speculations that tic tac toe could be Egyptian in origin or even pertain to the somewhat unrelated civilisations of Middle Eastern reckonings. Also possible linkings of the game accrue to many a Native American identities, but even amongst all this uncertainty that govern the beginnings and continuation of this widely popular game of both yesteryears and today the 3X3 grid has remained its most consistent feature in manifestation.

The significance however of this grid of square dimensions has been subject to more varied and also more intriguing interpretations that has found reference of use as a magical aid during the medieval times. Linked to pagan rituals during the Middle Ages has been this game of supposedly immense simplicity, that found expression then as something called Magical Squares used in fact to cast spells through interpretation of its embedded numerological messages. Called also the Cabala of the Nine Chambers by a wide many secret societies who believed the grid to be guarding of secret messages about the world, the modern day tic-tac-toe has had thus been subject to such interpretations that seem very unlikely to be catering to its essentially and utterly ‘easy’ basis. Today, tic-tac-toe though is considered more appropriate as being a child’s play in very literal meanings of it, due to its essence resting in the premises of being a solved game where the rationally thought out optimal strategy capable of being devised by each player always ends in a tie. Of very converse basis is the otherwise similar also Roman game of the Rota that is played also with two players with 3 pieces for each that needs to be moved around the nine spaces until one player gets 3-in-a-row, meaning that a draw is never yielded as the end result.

Despite the repertoire of history amassed by this game of the tic-tac-toe, the development of it from the early ages to the modern times enroute of course the Medieval Period remains shrouded in some unclarity, if not mystery. Travelling from Persian territory to the European land in tow perhaps with some Italian traders to become a popular play among the middle class masses, it wasn’t however until the times of the Renaissance that it achieved even widespread popularity, and some sort of a resurgence as well. Even more prominent is the advancing years of the 18th century in the context of endowing upon the game an identity with which we are familiar today, during which time it came also to take on its present day name. The reference of tic-tac-toe though is still a draw upon a 16th century assertion of it as the slightly unidentical identity of the Tit Tat Toe. Tit meaning to slap and tat being the retaliation that followed, as in notions of tit for tat, while toe alludes to the third piece ensuing in the row that makes for the winning combination was what characterised the naming of the game in apparent reference to its strategy of play. Over the course of the following couple of centuries, it was another popular but unrelated game of tick tack toe that came to gain prominence. Played by blindly throwing a pencil at a number marked slate, the score of the game was what tallied up as the numbers hit by the pencil. Though no longer in play today, this particular game of different leanings somewhere along the lines of what would entail a play of the darts ended up lending its name to what is one of the most widely played of games by humankind. The name in turn derived probably from the sound made by the pencil upon hitting the slate, while the other variations of the identity that it encompasses today are also quite decipherable a draw on the elements employed to make the markings of play. That explains the Irish Xs and Os and the Brit Noughts and Crosses but somewhat inexplicable still tends to be the Norwegian understanding of the game as Twiddle and Bears. In all such myriad elaborations of it, the premise stands still- of the game being as universal and popular a pastime indulged in by us as what marked also the idle pursuits by our forefathers.

Even more advanced versions of this really simple game continue to be as popular as what their earlier and not so early precedents had been. Even as the digital OXO introduced in 1952 by a British computer scientist is one of the first known video games that pit human players up against a computer as the very efficient opponent, there have been developed variations of it designed across more expansive spaces of assertion, as for instance a bigger 3X3 grid or even a four or five square grid that allow indeed for some complexity to characterise this otherwise very mundane occurrence of play.

tic tac toe
Source: SiamMandalay

This predictability in exercise of the tic-tac-toe brought about by its nature rooted in simplicity however is something that makes it more than a game of half natured engagement. As a play the outcome of which is always known to end in a tie under optimal conditions, there seems to be no logic whatsoever to the pursuance of such markings. Which is why it is considered most apt as being a child’s play, in which capacity it still helps though in imparting young children some lessons in persistence, sportsmanship and some similar such life virtues. And yet, it is within this seemingly insignificant draw of the Xs and the Os within the more worldly, adult interpretation wherein lies an important life lesson, of salvaging a draw being at times as significant an outcome as the experience of the ecstasy of an win. In focussing for once on what might be considered a ‘lesser goal’ of not losing instead of going for the kill, the playing of the tic-tac-toe lends indeed some extraordinary weightage to the forever continuing adage of winning not being everything, whether it is a game of the noughts and the crosses or the greater gambit of life we forever are practising. Embedded also along the range of its rather simple strategy is also a lesson in the codependence and symbiotic attribute of human relationships. As the first player marks his move at the start of the game, they induce in turn a very expected response in their opponent who have to make their move along this dictation of the terms and conditions. But even in doing so, the second player as well elicits a response to their interest from their opponent, the first player, as a pattern of play that continues as long as the game goes on, which is really a very brief period of time. But even within this short span of engagement, a relaxed taking to this game of just a pen and paper teaches us more vital lessons of real life than what does many advanced courses in life management that claim to figure out the perfect way of winning at the game of life.


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