Learn the history, rules, and strategies of Tiddlywinks.
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I don't know many people who didn't play Tiddlywinks in their youth. But I bet you didn't know that this game is actually taken quite seriously in some parts of the world. It is considered to be a game of skill, strategy, and luck. It has quite a popular following in the United States, England, and Scotland with its origins at universities like Cambridge and Oxford in England and MIT and Cornell in the United States.

It's in the Cards

A squidger is a piece used to press down on smaller pieces in attempt to propel the smaller pieces forward.

The origin of Tiddlywinks is unknown. One researcher, Fred Shapiro, on a quest to seek some ancient derivative, found reference to an ancient Chinese game called “t'an ch'I,” which appeared to be sort of Tiddlywinks game with the exception of one key factor: the squidger.

There is no evidence that this Chinese game had a squidger, and without a squidger, determines Shapiro, it just couldn't be Tiddlywinks. However, Shapiro did learn from a professor of Chinese at Cambridge University that in Chinese “ch'i” means chess and “t'an” means to snap, flick, or shoot down. But with all the possible English translations of Chinese, there's no way to be sure.

Most people believe that Tiddlywinks was invented in England sometime in the early 1800s. My guess is that it started as a university drinking game similar to the games that college kids play today. Whatever its roots may be, the game is played today and has quite an elaborate set of varying rules and ardent followers.

The rules indicated here were established by The English Tiddlywinks Association.

Piece by Piece

These are the pieces in Tiddlywinks:

  • Winks: Small round discs usually made of lightweight plastic.
  • Squidger: A larger disc used to propel the smaller discs into a pot (to squidge is the act of propelling the discs with the squidger).
  • The pot: The container into which the discs are to be squidged.
  • The mat: The surface on which the game is played—it should have two lines drawn at either end to indicate the baselines and indicate the boundaries of the playing field. The mat is usually 6 feet by 3 feet. The mat should always be placed on a flat, smooth surface.

Let's Play

Your winks should come in four different colors: blue, green, red, and yellow. Blue and red always play as partners against green and yellow. Partners are located diagonally across from each other on opposite corners of the mat. When played in teams, each player has one partnership color, and in singles games, the two players use both colors. There are six winks in each color—two being smaller than the other four.

The “squidger” is used to play the winks. This squidger is larger and thicker than the other winks. The pot is placed on the center of the mat.

The object of the game is to get as many winks into the pot as possible. The game begins with a squidge-off, to see who can get his winks into or closest to the pot. If you get your wink closest to the pot, you are the winner of the squidge-off and you get to go first. The plays then continue in a clockwise motion.

All winks are played from behind the baseline. A play is made by placing the squidger on a wink and putting pressure on it to propel that wink forward. Sometimes a wink may wind up on top of another or directly below it on the mat, making it difficult to squidge. This is when the game gets a little trickier and the rules a little more difficult to decipher.

When a wink lands on top of a wink or too close to a wink, the wink on the bottom or directly below another wink is referred to as “squopped.” It is even considered squopped if it is not touching the wink directly ahead of it. When this happens, according to the official rules, you can only touch the topmost wink in your color sequence, and a squopped wink can never be the first wink played in any sequence. This means that if all the unpotted winks are squopped, the game is complete. The score is calculated and a winner declared.

Potting Out

The official rules say that the game of Tiddlywinks should be timed, giving 25 minutes to pairs matches and 20 minutes for singles. The clock starts after the squidge-off and at the time of the first play. A game is over before the time limit when one color is completely squidged into the pot and the score is settled by potting-out. Potting-out means that the pot is emptied and points are scored based on its contents. The first color to pot-out receives 4 points; the second to do so receives 2 points; the third and remaining colors do not get any points. Partners' points are added up and 1 point from the losing side is given to the winners. At this time, all squopped winks can be unsquopped as long as they are kept at the same distance from the pot, leaving a distance of about two millimeters from one wink to the other.

The game can be continued until all winks are potted. Otherwise, the game is over when the clock says it's over. In this instance, each color has three “tiddlies” for each potted wink and one tiddly for each unsquopped wink. Unplayed winks do not count. The color with the greatest amount of tiddlies scores 4 points. The color with the second highest number of tiddlies scores 2 points. The third gets 1 point and the fourth does not get any points. Partners' scores are totaled and a winner is declared.

There are many variations to playing this game so you should be clear before you start as to which set of guidelines you will follow. You can even have a little fun making up your own rules. But one way or another, be sure to use the right words when referring to the pieces. They are fun words, after all, and you'll surprise your friends when you say “winks,” “squidgers,” and “tiddlies.”