Tiddlywinks: The history of the old-fashioned game people keep rediscovering


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From quaint Victorian parlors to competitive modern tournaments, Tiddlywinks has evolved into a surprisingly strategic and skill-intensive game.

While many of us may remember flicking plastic discs in casual childhood games, Tiddlywinks also has a competitive side that has intrigued players for over a century.

Come along with us as we look back at the fascinating history of Tiddlywinks, check out its (surprisingly) intricate rules, and see how a simple game has continued to captivate and challenge enthusiasts around the world.

No matter if you’re a seasoned squidge-off champion (as explained below) or are a newcomer curious about this classic game, join us as we journey through the playful past and colorful present of Tiddlywinks.

The basic rules of Tiddlywinks (from 1963)

Tiddlywinks is played on pile-free felt, measuring six feet by three feet. The object of each match is for each side to flick six winks, or small plastic counters, into a cup one and a half inches high and one and seven eighth inches across its top.

The first player to do so with his six winks gains four points, the second two points, the third one point. – Excerpted from the London Observer (England) December 22, 1963

Vintage Tiddlywinks

The history of Tiddlywinks, the tournament game (1988)

Excerpted from the Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota) July 19, 1988

Those within potting range of the game will recognize Joseph Fincher as the deviser, in 1888 in London, of Tiddledy-Winks.

A seemingly simple-minded game for children, Tiddledy-Winks featured a set of small discs that were maneuvered or snapped into a nearby pot or cup by the applied pressure of a larger disc, i.e, a squidger.

Tiddlywinks National Pairs - Downing College, Cambridge

Much as Trivial Pursuit would fascinate millions in the 1980s, Tiddledy-Winks, later tiddly-winks, overwhelmed the imaginations of game players in 1890.

The biggest difference between the tournament version of winks and the children’s game is a strategic shot called the squop, often described as the most important shot in modern tiddlywinks.

Up to four players, each controlling six plastic discs of either red, green, yellow or blue, begin a game by squidging toward a centered cup from the corners of the table.

Tiddlywinks National Pairs - Downing College, Cambridge
Patrick Barrie Singles World Champion at the Tiddlywinks National Pairs held at Downing College, Cambridge 28th Oct 2017 – Photo by jasonalpix via Twenty20

While the goal is still to “pot” winks, it is not the only goal. A player may shoot a wink onto another player’s wink, immobilizing it.

The game, played in a 25-minute period of sequential turns (20 for singles) and then a five-turn end game, becomes a battle for position and advantage, often featuring groups of winks piled on top of each other and calling for the most delicate of shots to free them with-out touching opponents’ winks.

At game’s end, winks in the pot are worth three points and those unsquopped worth one. The highest final score earns four victory points, the second two, the third one and the fourth none.

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Vintage Tiddly Winks - 1970s - inside

If that seems more complicated than you ever thought tiddlywinks could — or should — be, consider the above to be the most rudimentary of explanations, and consider that the game, as now played, includes a litany of terms rivaling the jargon found in an international arms-reduction treaty: pile manipulation, squidge-off, bring-ins, squopping, bristol shot, bombing the pile, hopping back in, blowing up the pile (not to be confused with bombing), a double wink bristol, squopped out, free wink, potting, a sub shot, an open field squop, boom, gromp, eyeball, piddle and, of course, your basic nurdle.

Tiddlywinks gains new popularity in England (1958)

From the Austin-American Statesman (Texas) July 5, 1958

Tiddly-winks used to be for kids. But in Britain lately the game has caught the interest of muscular athletes, intellectuals, and even the Royal Family. To play tiddlywinks you take a firm hold of a bone or plastic disk and snap other disks around a table.

At Cambridge University, there is talk, admittedly on the sophomoric side, of making tiddlywinks all event of the Olympic Games. Why the sudden upsurge in the popularity of the humble little game? No one really knows…

Vintage Tiddlywinks game box - Bull's Eye Tiddly Winks

So tiddlywinks is snowballing, and there are indications that there will have to be a world convention to lay down some rules. The kids, who up to now have monopolized the game, play it without umpires, or precise laws.

But in Britain, there is rudimentary literature of tiddlywinks, and one manual says: “Take an egg cup, and set it in the center of a blanket spread taut on a table.”

Then competitors each get five winks, the little disks which they lay on the blanket, and press down on them with the fiddly, the shooter disk, in such a clever manner that the winks are snapped and made to jump into the egg cup.

The wink is prone to kiss the lip, as in golf, and then dander off somewhere else.

Less expert players, the manual suggests, might start with a somewhat larger target, like a beer stein or a bowler (derby hat). There are all kinds of ways of counting points, and schemes for the organization of teams.

Vintage Tiddly Winks - 1980s

Then there are varieties of games. Rainbow tiddlywinks involves shooting at colors on a flat target board. Then there are horseshoe, shuffleboard and football versions of tiddlywinks.

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The really boisterous variation is tag tiddlywinks. Every player, on his feet and free to rush around the table, has a wink on the blanket. The contestant who is “it” tries to snap his wink in such a manner that it lands on another wink.

But the defending player tries to tiddle his wink out of danger, and the confusion that results breaks a lot of furniture. The best thought in Oxford is that there ought to be a world congress on ground rules.

Vintage Tiddly Winks - 1970s

Original instructions for vintage “Tiddle-dy Winks” from the Victorian era

Tiddle-dy Winks: The new game has become the fashionable fad (1891)

From The Eufaula Daily Times (Eufaula, Alabama) Feb 6, 1891

All the ladies are talking about Tiddle-dy Winks and learning to play it. In the east, it has become a veritable craze, and all the social affairs are considered dull and inspired unless Tiddle-dy Winks is introduced.

Already it is the prime subject of the gossip among the ladies of the city, and the first question the fair ones ask when they meet is: “How are you getting along with Tiddle-dy Winks? Have you learned it yet?” Then they compare experiences as to the best way of playing Tiddle-dy Winks.

Vintage Tiddledy Winks game

It is a very simple game, easily learned, and yet requires sufficient skill to make it interesting. There are many reasons why it should be the ruling winter game. New features are being added to increase the complications, and consequently, the skill required.

One of these features is a miniature tennis court, but the original Tiddledy Winks will be found sufficiently entertaining. The complications can come later, says the Cincinnati Enquirer.

One, two, three or four persons may play the game. It is all the more pleasant when the players are divided into partners.

It is necessary to have a table, covered with cloth. A round table is probably the best, as it enables the players to arrange themselves more comfortably.

The implements are Tiddledies, Winks, a wink pot and counters. A tiddledy is a thin disc of bone or ivory about the size of a 25 cent piece. A wink is a disk of the same material, but smaller, being about the size of a 10 cent piece.

A wink-pot is a little wooden vessel, like a tiny bucket, with an opening the size of a silver dollar, and about one inch deep. There are little pads, somewhat resembling the ‘cheating rags’ urchins used in playing marbles.

MORE: 50+ old-fashioned games: Take look back at what people played 100 years ago

Antique cute image of cats playing tiddly winks

The idea is to press on the wink with the tiddledy and make it jump into the wink-pot. Tiddledies are of various colors, with winks of corresponding hues. The pads are of colored silk and as pretty as taste may suggest. The counters are of colored pressed pasteboards.

When the players are ready to begin each takes a tiddledy and six winks, and the counters are equally divided among them. Then each contributes an agreed upon number of counters to a pool, which is placed in charge of one of the players.

The wink pot is placed in the middle of the table. The object is to jump as many winks in the pot as possible. Each player in turn to the left, the one to be lead being decided by lot.

The player places his or her pad at any distance from the wink-pot, and jumps six winks one after another, paying no attention to those which fail to go into the pot.

The winks lie flat on the pad, and the player holding the tiddledy by the first two fingers, presses with the edge.


Upon the wink as the tiddledy slips, it causes the wink to jump. The best result is produced by resting the tiddle-dy on the center of the wink, and drawing it back under slight pressure.

For each wink lauded in the wink-pot, the player receives one counter front the pool. If he sends four or more winks into the put in succession he makes a “run” and receives one extra counter from the pool for each wink over three he puts in on a run.

If he jumps six winks into the pot in succession, he makes a “sweep” and receives, besides the counters taken from the pool, one from each opponent.

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All counters received, except one for each wink put into the wink-pot, should be kept separately so as to tally the winks jumped into the pot. If the player fails on six jumps to land a single wink in the pot, he pays two counters to the pool.

Retro Tiddly Winks game

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After each player has jumped his six winks, then the first player takes any winks lying outside the pot, places it where he pleases and makes it jump. If it goes in, he tries another. As soon as he fails, the player next to the left proceeds in the same manner.

So the game goes on until all the winks have been jumped into the pot. The player putting the largest number of winks into the wink pot in one turn takes one-half the counters remaining in the pool, the remaining half going to the player having put the greatest number of winks, in the pot.

A tie is decided by the two contestants jumping six winks and the one winning that lands the most of them.

The counters may be given any value agreed upon, as in poker, or if the game is purely for fun, the player having the greatest number of counters when the last wink is landed in the pot, of course, wins. The game enables ladies with long tapering fingers to display them to the best advantage.

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. I remember playing Tiddly Winks with my grandma when I was a kid. I had no idea there were such complicated rules. I think we just took turns trying to get the winks into the cup.

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