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What you might not know about Tic-Tac-Toe

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Whose turn is it again?

It's designed to be unwinnable, has the strategic depth of Jersey Shore, and stops being entertaining right around when you stop
believing in Santa Claus. As a kid's diversion, it's genius, but as a grown-up game, it's the pits.

It's tic-tac-toe, the definitive zero-sum game.

But it's more interesting than you think.

It ruffled PETA's feathers.

Appearing in numerous casinos over the years, the "Tic-Tac-Toe
Chicken Challenge" pits a live chicken against hopeful gamblers in a good,
old-fashioned game of tic-tac-toe. Confined in a glass cube, the chicken goes
first, pecking away at an X or an O while the human taps out a retort on a
video screen. Several moves later, and we have a winner -- usually the chicken.
Sound crazy? It certainly did to PETA, who protested on the grounds that the game treated its avian adversary inhumanely. Unfortunately,
their efforts didn't pay off, as the game is still being played in casinos
across the country.


I
t's old. Really, really old.

It might be a simple game, but tic-tac-toe's roots run deep. Scholars suggest ancient Egyptians played it as far back as 1300 B.C., though it also bears a striking similarity to an ancient Roman game called Terni Lapilli. 


One game, thousands of outcomes.

You place an X, I place an O, and away we go, filling in the board's nine spaces before throwing our hands in the air and cursing whoever invented this thing. But how many different ways can that board turn out? Without diving too deep down the game theory well, the most widely accepted answer is that there are over 26,000 possible outcomes in a game of tic-tac-toe -- enough to let you play one game every day for over 70 years and potentially see a new outcome each time.


It can be played by Tinkertoys.

You read that correctly, although to be more specific, tic-tac-toe can be played using a computer built out of the classic children's construction set. Created in the '80s by some truly inventive MIT students, the towering contraption can legitimately play tic-tac-toe -- with a little human intervention. It's currently housed at the Museum of Science in Boston.

It's got many names.
Care for a game of Noughts and Crosses? Maybe some Exy Ozys? How about a few rounds of Twiddles & Bears? If you're living in Great Britain, Ireland or Norway, respectively, you'd still just be playing tic-tac-toe. So where did North America dig up its hyphenated variant? That's up for debate, though many believe the name "tic-tac-toe" is derived from a 16th century backgammon game called "ticktack."

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