Compiled by Patrick Barrie

The current version of this FAQ is available on the World Wide Web at: https://etwa.org and various archiving sites throughout the world. Some other tiddlywinks pages on the WWW are listed at the end of this FAQ.

Subject: 1. Table of contents

This FAQ contains the following sections in an attempt to provide brief answers to some of the more frequently asked questions about tiddlywinks:

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

Subject: 2. 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.

Subject: 3. What are the rules?

The rules are too long and tedious to put here. Copies are available from https://etwa.org for those who are interested in reading them. Here, however, is a brief description.

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 game is played on a six foot by three felt mat with a pot placed in the centre. The winks are played by using a 'squidger'; this is any circular disc between 25 and 51 mm in diameter. Players use different squidgers for different shots (like selecting a club in golf). A player normally only plays a single shot in each turn, but is rewarded with an extra shot if they happen to pot a wink of their own colour. Play is time limited. Pairs matches last for 25 minutes and Singles matches last for 20 minutes, 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'). At the end of a normal game, 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 four game points, the player who comes second gets two game points, and the player who comes third gets one game 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 their six winks into the pot they are 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 based on who comes first, second and third in the potting race. The partnership 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 are pot-outs fairly rare? The answer is simple. If a 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...

Subject: 4. What is the history of the adult game?

The game of tiddlywinks can be traced back to late Victorian times. The earliest patent application for the game was filed by Joseph Fincher in 1888, and the subsequent trademark application (for "tiddledy-winks") filed in 1889. 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.

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 various national 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. 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 Cambridge and London. There have also been tournaments in Scotland from time to time.

The game spread across the Atlantic in 1962 when Oxford undertook a tiddlywinks tour of the United States under the sponsorship of Guinness. The North American Tiddlywinks Association (NATwA) was formed in 1966 with founders from both USA and Canada. 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.

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 74 World Singles 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, and there have now been 47 World Pairs contests. International matches have been played occasionally since 1972. Most recently, England defeated America in September 2010.

During its brief history, winks has enjoyed variable levels of interest. Today the strongholds in Britain are at Cambridge, York and London, with occasional activity in other parts of the UK. In America, there has been a tradition of tiddlywinks in Washington DC, Boston, and Ithaca. The standard of play at national competitions is extremely high even though the number of participants is lower than, say, 10 years ago. All it takes to start a club is a couple of keen people in the same place at the same time, so it is hoped that winking interest will rise again.

Subject: 5. 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:

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. Now published roughly once a decade.
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.
WINKS: the circular counters used in the game.
WINKING WORLD: the official journal of ETwA. Published twice a year.
WP: abbreviation for World Pairs.
WS: abbreviation for World Singles.

Subject: 6. How can I find out more?

Further information and contact addresses may be found on the following web sites:

Other sites that contain some useful information are:

  • Julian Wiseman's tournament format and scoresheet page, http://www.jdawiseman.com/papers/tournaments/tournaments.html

Subject: 7. How can I join ETwA?

Please use this Google form to give us your contact details; we'll be in touch shortly after with information on how to pay. If you like we can also subscribe you to the ETwA mailing list and post you copies of Winking World; we won't use your details for any other purposes without your permission.

Annual membership of ETwA costs:

  • £10 per year for people with a job
  • £5 per year for unwaged people, or for students who are rejoining
  • £3 per year for new student members
Members pay reduced entry fees for tournaments, receive printed copies of the official magazine Winking World, and get the privilege of voting in ETwA Council election and on rules changes to the game.

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