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Patrick J Barrie

Apr 14, 1993, 12:55:50 PM4/14/93
Archive-name: games/tiddlywinks
Last-modified: April 1993


Compiled by Patrick Barrie (
All suggestions for improvement are welcome.

This FAQ answers the following questions:

1. Is tiddlywinks a serious game?
2. What are the rules?
3. What is the history of the adult game?
4. What do all these silly words mean?
5. How can I find out more?


1. Is tiddlywinks a serious game?

The short answer is yes, but it's great fun as well. The first thing to
state is that it's not just about flicking counters into a cup. It is in
fact a complex game of strategy and tactics, which involves a fascinating
mixture of manual dexterity and intellectual activity as well. It's a bit
like chess in a way, but on an infinitely squared board, and you have the
added difficulty of actually playing a piece to where you want it to go.
Oh, it's also got an added dimension- height. In tiddlywinks you can
capture enemy counters (winks) by covering them up with one of your own.
Thus winks often get stacked on top of one another to form 'piles' during
a game. There's no sport quite like it in this respect (you try stacking
snooker/pool balls on top of each other!).

Anyway, tiddlywinks is taken seriously by all those who play the adult
game. There are regular tournaments in Britain and the USA and even a
world title. Enthusiasts have been known to practise endlessly before an
important event. Others just play in the tournaments and thoroughly enjoy
themselves no matter whether they win or lose.

2. What are the rules?

The rules are too long and tedious to put here. Copies are available from
me on request. Here, however, is a summary:

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 colour that is potted 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...

3. What is the history of the adult game?

The game of tiddlywinks can be traced back to late Victorian times, and
the earliest patent application (for 'tiddledywinks') was filed by Joseph
Fincher in 1888. However, the birth of the modern game can be traced to a
group of Cambridge (UK) undergraduates meeting in Christ's College on
January 16th 1955. Their aim was to devise a sport at which they could
represent the university. Within three years Oxford had taken up the
challenge, and the popularity spread from then on. During the sixties as
many as 37 Universities were playing the game in Britain. A British
Universities Championship was established by HRH Prince Philip in 1961
(the Silver Wink) which is still competed for to this day.

Prince Philip himself had became involved in winks at the time of the Royal
Charity Match of 1958. This match played an important part in establishing
recognition for the game in its early days. The match resulted in a challenge
to the Duke from the Cambridge club after a press article posed the question
"Does Prince Philip Cheat at Tiddlywinks?". The Duke nominated the Goons
as Royal Champions and massive publicity surrounded the ensuing match.
The match was easily won by the university, but not without more than a
little controversy.

The game spread across the Atlantic in 1961 when Oxford undertook a
tiddlywinks tour of the United States under the sponsorship of Guinness.
The game took particularly strong root at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, and the early development of most American players can still
be traced to MIT today.

While the basic elements of the adult game were devised by Cambridge
University Tiddlywinks Club in its early years, the rules have continued to be
modified under the auspices of the English and North American Tiddlywinks
Associations. The English Tiddlywinks Association (ETwA) was formed in
1958. ETwA coordinated the game throughout the boom period of the sixties
when winks flourished on both sides of the Atlantic. A decline in interest in
1969-70 led to the establishment of the three national competitions which
have been contested to date, namely the National Singles, National Pairs and
the Teams of Four. There are also annual Open Competitions, notably in
Oxford, Manchester, Cambridge and London.

The first serious trans-Atlantic contact was established in 1972, when a
team from MIT toured the UK. The success of the Americans shocked
complacent Britons. Competition started at the highest level, the World
Singles, in 1973. A challenge system was agreed between ETwA and the
corresponding North American equivalent (NATwA). The supreme ruling
body in world contests is the International Federation of Tiddlywinks
Associations (IFTwA). To challenge at world level, a player must win one of
the national titles, or finish as the highest placed home player behind a
foreign winner. There have been 36 World Single contests to date. The
Americans dominated all the early matches, and it was not until the 22nd
contest when a Briton won for the first time. Since then the top Britons
and Americans have been closely matched.

After the establishment of the World Singles, a World Pairs event followed.
In common with the World Singles tournament, the Americans had the early
successes, but the current holders are British. International matches have
been played occasionally since 1972, while tiddlywinks tours across the
Atlantic are now fairly common.

During its brief history, winks has enjoyed variable levels of interest.
Today the game seems on a very firm footing. New clubs are forming in
Britain to boost the traditional strongholds at Oxford and Cambridge.
National competitions are now better attended than ever before, with a group
of enthusiastic young players joining the stock of experienced British players
who have now proved themselves at the highest level in world competition.
America still has many of the top players, though with rather less strength
in depth and certainly less new blood than Britain. As for the rest of the
world, I don't know what they're waiting for...

4. What do all these silly words mean?

Winks has a very colourful vocabulary. Here is a glossary of some of the
most common terms that are in use (I apologise to my American neighbours
for using predominatly British terms in this list):

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.
BRING-IN: An approach shot.
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.
CUTwC: Cambridge University Tiddlywinks Club (UK)
DOUBLETON: a pile in which two winks are covered up by a single enemy wink.
ETwA: The English Tiddlywinks Association.
FREE TURNS (and FAILURE TO FREE): far too complicated to go into here.
GOOD SHOT: named after John Good. The shot consists of playing a flat wink
through a nearby pile in the hope of destroying it.
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.
KNOCK-OFF: to knock the squopping wink off a pile.
LUNCH: to pot a squopped wink (usually belonging to an opponent).
NATwA: North American Tiddlywinks Association.
NEWSWINK: The NATwA magazine. Published roughly once a year.
OUTS: Oxford University Tiddlywinks Society.
PILE: a group of winks connected directly or indirectly by squops.
POT: (noun) the cup that is placed in the centre of the mat; (verb) to play
a wink into the pot.
ScotTwA: Scottish Tiddlywinks Association.
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. Free turns result (q.v.).
StATS: St Andrews Tiddlywinks Society.
SUB: to play a wink so that it ends up under another wink.
WINK: the circular counters used in the game.
WINKING WORLD: the official journal of ETwA. Published twice a year.

5. How can I find out more?

The easiest method is to post to and wait for someone
knowledgeable to answer. You can also contact any relevant national
organisation, and they'll be able to tell you about equipment, tournaments
etc. Useful addresses are:
NATwA: Larry Kahn (; Rick Tucker (rwtu...@org.MITRE.starbase)
ETwA: Charles Relle (; Patrick Barrie (
ScotTwA: Graham Turnbull (

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