What Is Tic Tac Toe?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Tic tac toe, also called noughts and crosses, is a two-player pencil-and-paper game that can be played by young children. Although strategy can be used, it isn’t necessary for young children to have fun. The goal of the game is to get three X’s or O’s in a row before your opponent does. The three marks may be placed in the diagram vertically, horizontally, or diagonally through the middle square of the diagram.

A pencil for playing tic tac toe.
A pencil for playing tic tac toe.

Preparing the Game of Tic Tac Toe
The game is played on a simple playing area drawn on paper. Two parallel lines are drawn vertically, and two horizontal lines are draw across them, dividing them in thirds, and creating a display with a box in the middle and eight partial boxes around the center with three columns and three rows.

Rock, paper, scissors may be played to determine who goes first in tic tac toe.
Rock, paper, scissors may be played to determine who goes first in tic tac toe.

Playing Tic Tac Toe
The players may flip a coin or play rock, paper, scissors to determine who gets to choose their mark. Traditionally, X goes first. Players take turns making their mark in a an empty square of their choice. A move can be used to advance a player’s own cause of getting three in a row or to block one’s opponent from attaining three in a row.

Scoring Tic Tac Toe
If one player succeeds in getting three marks in a row, he or she wins. Winning is sometimes accompanied by the comment or cry, “Tic tac toe: three in a row!” If no player succeeds in getting three of their marks in a row, the game is a draw, often referred to as a cat’s game.

Variations on Tic Tac Toe
The “board” games Connect Four® and Pente® are examples of variants on the game. There are also online versions, which vary in difficulty, and some of which allow you to choose a level.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


I remember the programming for tic tac toe became an important part of the plot in an 80s movie called "War Games". A computer receives orders to start a real global nuclear war, and won't override those orders. A young programmer figures out that classic tic tac toe is a game that neither side can win consistently. The computer plays out hundreds of tic tac toe scenarios and realizes what a "no win" situation really looks like.


When we were kids, tic tac toe seemed like a pretty challenging game. Whoever put his or her mark in the center square would almost always win tic tac toe, but there was always the chance of a draw. After a few years, however, just about everyone knew at least one guaranteed way of winning tic tac toe every time. It stopped being a challenge, unlike those newer games mentioned in this article.

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