The Noble Game of Tiddlywinks

A Brief History

The origins of this fine game are lost in the mists of time with a Victorian chap with the rather grand name of Joseph Assheton Finche, who in 1888, filed a patent application for the game. The Encyclopædia Britannica mentions it not at all, and whilst others have attempted to locate the origin in China, their claims are fatuous, as witnessed here:

"The Emperor Ch'eng Ti, B.C. 32-6, was fond of soccer; but his officers represented to him that it was both physically exhausting and also unsuitable to the Imperial dignity. His Majesty replied: we like playing, and what one chooses to do is not exhausting An appeal was thon [sic] made to the Empress, who suggested the game of t'an ch'i for the Emperor's amusement." -
In point of fact, the modern game began at the University of Cambridge (in England), with a fine body of students who modified the children's game known as "Tiddleywinks", devised in 1888 by Joseph Fincher. A number of undergraduates met on 16th January 1955 to devise a sport to represent Cambridge University, and settled on the game we now know as tiddlywinks. They created new rules (which will be briefly given here), formed the Cambridge University Tiddlywinks Club, and settled down to master the game.

Oxford University soon took up the gauntlet, and the tiddlywinks phenomenon quickly swept through the academic world. Even Royalty became involved - a Royal Charity Match was arranged in 1958, as the result of an article entitled "Does Prince Philip Cheat at Tiddlywinks?". The Duke of Edinburgh took up the challenge to clear his name, and nominated the Goons as his Champions. Cambridge, of course, easily won the match.

The English Tiddlywinks Association (ETwA) was formed in 1958, to codify the rules, raise public interest and organise annual championships, the famed Open Competitions. Other prizes are contested - National Singles, National Pairs and the Teams of Four. The Scottish Tiddlywinks Association (ScotTwA) was formed in 1992, and hosts the annual Scottish Pairs tournament.

The Play of the Game

A brief summary of gameplay and rules follows. The complete rules are too long to be given here, but reference to the ETwA home page is given below for those intent on pursuing the matter further.

Tiddlywinks is a game for four players who play in two pairs. In Singles matches each player operates two sets of coloured counters (winks) rather than one. There are 6 winks (4 small and 2 large) of each colour (blue, green, red and yellow). The winks are played by using a 'squidger'; this is any circular disc between 1 and 2 inches in diameter. Players use different squidgers for different shots (like selecting a club in golf). The game is played on a six foot by three felt mat, with a pot placed in the centre. Play is time limited. Pairs matches last for 25 minutes and Singles matches last for 20, after which each colour has a further five rounds, ending with the colour that started.

The aim of the game is to secure the highest number of table points ('tiddlies'). Three tiddlies are scored for each wink in the pot and one for each wink which remains uncovered by other winks on the mat. The player who scores most tiddlies gets 4 game points, the player who comes second gets two points, and the player who comes third gets one point. In pairs, partners add their points together. Thus there are always seven points in every game. In matches and tournaments points are usually added, so that the margin by which games are won, rather than just the number of games won, is important.

If one player gets all his/her six winks into the pot he/she is deemed to have won by "potting out". Any winks covered are then released and two more colours must also get all their winks into the pot to distribute the seven points. The side which potted out is rewarded by the transfer of one point from their opponents to their own score.

Although potting out potentially provides the best score for the winners, pot-outs are rarer than might be expected. The reason is that if any wink is covered by another, the lower wink is said to be "squopped" and cannot be played. It must be rescued by another wink of that partnership. A shot which starts on the top wink of a pile may continue through underlying winks and thus squopped winks may be rescued in this way. Why not risk the pot-out? The answer is simple. If the player attempting to pot-out misses one shot at the pot, his wink may be captured by the opponents. If several of his winks are already in the pot, he and his partner have far fewer winks on the mat with which to fight their opponents. The chances of rescuing the squopped wink are low, and the probability that the opposition will be able to manoeuvre themselves into a winning position is high.

Hence true winks is a game of strategy. A pair must capture and guard their opponents' winks whilst preserving their own. The basic skills of the game can be learnt in days, but the tactical knowledge of players takes years to acquire and can always be improved. Complex tactical games can develop with lots of small piles and the choice of where to attack; alternatively you may find yourself in a game in which all winks end up in a huge pile, or one of your opponents takes the calculated gamble of trying to pot-out... - from the Cambridge Club Tiddlywinks FAQ

The Spread of the Game

It was Oxford, not Cambridge, which took the game overseas. Sponsored by Guinness, the OUTS toured the United States in 1961, and found much support for the game, especially at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which later produced many fine, world-class players.

Serious challenges from across the Pond came in 1972, wnen an MIT team was highly successful against the British universities during their UK tour. The success of the Americans shocked complacent Britons.Subsequently, a challenge system was agreed between ETwA and North American Tiddlywinks Association (NATwA).

This has led to the formation of the International Federation of Tiddlywinks Associations (IFTwA), who have to date organised 52 World Singles contests. Initially, the Americans dominated, but the Britons reviewed their game, and now the top players seem to be evenly matched. A World Pairs event soon followed, and there have now been 22 World Pairs contests. International matches are not uncommon even in these times, when the game seems to have gone into decline.

A Glossary of Terms

As in any sport, tiddlywinks has its own jargon, the better to express the rules and play of the game. Some of the more common terms have been given here.

  • Blitz: an attempt to pot all six of your own colour early in the game (generally before many squops have been taken).
  • Bomb: to send a wink at a pile, usually from distance, in the hope of significantly disturbing it.
  • Boondock: to play a squopped wink a long way away, usually while keeping your own wink(s) in the battle area.
  • Bristol: a shot which attempts to jump a pile onto another wink; the shot is played by holding the squidger at right angles to its normal plane.
  • Carnovsky: a successful pot from the baseline (i.e. from 3 feet away).
  • Crud: a physically hard shot whose purpose is to destroy a pile completely.
  • Doubleton: a pile in which two winks are covered up by a single enemy wink.
  • Gromp: an attempt to jump a pile onto another wink (usually with the squidger held in a conventional rather than Bristol fashion).
  • John Lennon Memorial Shot: a simultaneous boondock and squop.
  • Lunch: to pot a squopped wink (usually belonging to an opponent).
  • OUTS: Oxford University Tiddlywinks Society.
  • Pot: (noun) the cup that is placed in the centre of the mat; (verb) to play a wink into the pot.
  • Scrunge: to bounce out of the pot.
  • Squidger: the circular disk used to propel winks.
  • Squop: to play a wink so that it comes to rest above another wink.
  • Squop-up: the situation that occurs when all winks of a partnership have been squopped.
  • Winks: the circular counters used in the game.
Enjoy yourselves, but remember, be careful - tiddlywinks is not a game for wimps.

Tid"dly*winks` (?), n.

Same as Tiddledywinks. Kipling.


© Webster 1913

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