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The Many Names of Tic-Tac-Toe

CMG Staff / July 5, 2022
The Many Names of Tic-Tac-Toe

All over the world, people truly enjoy the entertainment that comes with playing board games. In many cases, you don’t even need an expensive or complex board to have fun. This is where the game of Tic-Tac-Toe comes in. 

Most people are familiar with this game of crosses and circles placed across a hatch or squared board, but you might be wondering– where did the name “Tic-Tac-Toe” come from? Read on as we delve into the game’s history, its variants, and some other games like Tic-Tac-Toe!

Tic-Tac-Toe Gameplay

Sometimes seen as a children’s game, Tic-Tac-Toe is a surprisingly deliberate paper-and-pencil game that gives your brain a workout at any age. Like other three-in-a-row games, there are many approaches by which a player wins, but a slight mistake can cost you the game.

Itc Tac Toe is a fun and strategic game where each player takes turns trying out a winning combination of symbols in either a diagonal row, vertical lines, or horizontal lines. If successful, the first player that draws a line across the piece of paper to connect the symbols, wins. 

Alternatively, a tie in Tic-Tac-Toe happens when both players end up without a full row, with the X’s and O’s scattered across the tie game. This Tic-Tac-Toe tie name for this situation is called a “cat’s game”.

What Is the Origin of the Name Tic-Tac-Toe?

The history of Tic-Tac-Toe’s name origin begins in ancient Egypt, where many games used the connected-symbol or token method of gameplay, as well as lining up game pieces in a row to win. These included classic games like Senet, Mehen, and Hounds and Jackals.

Later on, a game called Terni Lapilli from the ancient Roman Empire was made popular among citizens and legions alike, featuring nearly identical gameplay to our modern version. This Latin name for Tic-Tac-Toe itself translates to “three little stones”, and the goal was to get your pebble tokens lined up before your opponent– which should sound familiar!

In Viking Norway and Sweden, crews played a game called Nine Men’s Morris that involved placing tokens in the way of the opposition’s attempts to connect a line. Along with this, players could skip over other pieces as a sort of checkers-Tic-Tac-Toe hybrid ancestor. In fact, the latter is essentially a smaller version of the original Viking pastime.

However, if you wonder how Tic-Tac-Toe got its name, the answer might surprise you. While British players began to call it Noughts and Crosses in the mid-1800s, Americans referred to it according to the sound that the little wooden tokens bearing crosses and circles made when they played– clacking or “ticking” together.

Different Names for Tic-Tac-Toe

In the United States, Tic-Tac-Toe is the most widely accepted name in this category of pen and paper games. However, there are several variants on the title, so let’s briefly delve into the question– Tic-Tac-Toe is an alternative name for which game? 

Well, depending on where in the world you live, this game has different terminology for a virtually identical playing experience.

Noughts and Crosses

Also known as Naughts and Crosses, this British English phrase refers to the shape used in gameplay. It’s essentially the same game, with the only difference being the name. 

The first print reference to this title appears in the September 11, 1858 volume of Notes and Queries, where it states that among English schoolboys, “the only name for [the game]…is Noughts and Crosses.” As such, we can be fairly confident in this particular title found in England!

Tit-Tat-Toe, Tick-Tack-Toe, Tick-Tat-Toe

If you were to journey into the great white north of Canada, you might find children playing the same game we’ve been discussing, but under one of these alternative names. Similarly, in areas of the United States, people might also call it by one of these alternative names and spellings– some of which are a throwback to the 16th century!

X’s and O’s

Primarily used in North America as a short form of Tic-Tac-Toe, this name refers to the traditional symbols used as the player games their way across the squares, as a very literal visual description. 

Xs and Os

A variant that comes from Europe, the Irish English terminology for the game leaves out the apostrophes of the North American jargon. This could be due to Irish phonology and a simplification of consonant phonemes for different dialects, but Xs and Os is not a different game in itself. Boxin’ Oxen is another colloquial name for the pastime!

Twiddles and Bears

Thanks to Norway, we have this particularly adorable name for Tic-Tac-Toe. The reasons behind the title of Twiddle and Bears are unconfirmed, but we might be able to ascribe this unusual name to the act of translation between Norwegian and English.


While this certainly sounds like another name for tic-tac-toe as a paper version, OXO was the first computer program to host players, and one of the first video games. Programmed in 1952, this computer game was a major accomplishment for the time.

Games Like Tic-Tac-Toe

The connect-three or more system is quite popular throughout other games– including these games that are similar to Tic-Tac-Toe:

Dots and Boxes

This game relies on drawing single squares around stationary points on paper, with the player strategizing the most boxes as the winner. You can play Dots and Boxes right here at Coolmath Games!

Four in a Row

Essentially a more complex, vertical type of Tic-Tac-Toe, players race to layer discs and achieve four-in-a-row first.

Tic-Tac-Toe Today

From pencil-and-paper gameplay to a Nintendo Switch version, this game is still a popular way to pass the time. If you want to experience it for yourself, why not give it a try right here with Coolmath Games’ Tic-Tac-Toe! Then, check our Strategy Games to put your mind to the test with some of our other games that are similar to Tic-Tac-Toe.