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Season 15 | Episode 3

Epic Battles

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Tic Tac Toe Tic Tac Toe (smaedli/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

Every day, every moment, an epic battle is raging across the globe. This hour, we take a look at borders accidentally drawn and warring microcosms, from ants to phytoplankton to tic tac toe. 

First, we travel the globe in search of tic-tac-toe. Then, a strange twist of legal taxonomy causes a dispute over whether X-MEN action figures are toys or dolls and sparks a court case about what it means to be human. Next, we end up on a suburban sidewalk in southern California, where Jad and Robert witness the carnage of a gruesome turf war. Though the tiny warriors doing battle clock in at just a fraction of an inch, they have evolved a surprising, successful, and rather unsettling strategy of ironclad loyalty, absolute intolerance, and brutal violence.

Lastly, an arms race involving trillions of sea creatures--and why their struggle is vital to our survival.

Comments [13]

J from South Korea

That's not right in Korea. 'Eomok' is a different game, similar but different.

Jan. 08 2018 06:04 AM
Darya from Baltimore

Tic tac toe absolutely does exist in Russia! It's called "крестики нолики".

Apr. 07 2017 09:41 PM
Claudio Mueckay

In Ecuador is called "tres en raya" (three in a row)

Mar. 24 2017 03:04 PM
Matt Williams from Edmond, OK

I am a daytime NPR listener, rarely listening in the evenings. Tonight I just happened to be running an errand and thought "I wonder what NPR plays at night." And I tuned in and immediately heard a discussion on X-Men and a Wolverine case and thought "I sure do love NPR." Only here can I listen to politics in the morning and a legal review of X-Men action figures, complete with audio from the movies, the old Pryde of the X-Men special, and more. Thank you for an enjoyable listen!

Mar. 21 2017 11:38 PM
Ignacio. G from Potomac, MD

Your investigation about Tic Tac Teo started the incorrect premise that everybody knows the game by the same name.

In any Spanish speaking country you should have asked for the Ta Te Ti game. It is an staple game for rainy childhood days.

I just google it and show more than 178 K pages dedicated to the Ta Te Ti game.

Good luck next time.

Mar. 19 2017 12:52 PM
Lauren Ayers from Chico

Despite your sciency style, guys, and all the insights you bring to your program, your language reveals an unconscious Guys First paradigm. Not your fault, just how we are socialized from our first picture book to the fact that people get bachelor’s and master’s degrees instead of that shows how language guides culture without us ever noticing.

You already know that ants are mostly females, but your speech habits got the best of you, at least twice, in today’s program, when you referred to an ant as “he” instead of “she.”

Sigh. We “girls” have tried to raise men’s consciousness on how to get rid of the habitual Males Rule function of speech, but evidently our friendly advice has gone in one ear and out the other.

How about a program on how all of us together can get rid of dimorphic, hierarchical, and fundamentally wrong habits of speech?

Mar. 18 2017 06:28 PM
Carrie Mook Bridgman from Louisville, KY

My friend Reggie Chung, of Tifton, Georgia, invented a strategic board game based on tic-tac-toe. It's called Chung Toi. Each of the two players has three hexagonal pieces, each with four arrows on it. The game begins like tic-tac-toe, but you quickly run out of pieces, and usually no one has won by the time all the pieces are placed. Then you continue playing by either moving one of your pieces in the direction one of its arrows is pointing (you can jump), or turning a piece to change the direction of its arrows so you can move it later. You can turn a piece as you put it down, but not before you move it. The rules are simple; winning is not. The game is available on Amazon.

Mar. 18 2017 04:29 PM
Carrie Mook Bridgman from Louisville, KY

I would have been very surprised if tic-tac-toe had not been known by other names in other places. Even games that depend on words can travel a long way: when I was 15, I stayed with a Mexican family and was startled one morning to come out onto the sidewalk and find the neighborhood kids playing, "Mother, May I?" with the same words and actions: "Mama, me das permiso?"

On the other hand, they did not have a variation of "Duck, Duck, Goose." I didn't know the Spanish word for goose, so I taught them "Dog, Dog, Cat." I suppose it should have been "Cat, Cat, Dog," but I've known a few cats who could send an annoying dog off with its tail between its legs.

Mar. 18 2017 04:22 PM

As I was listening to the portion of the episode about the X-Men, to me it came across as sexist. The X-Men are given a lower tax rate because they are for boys. Dolls are for girls and thus cost more.

Mar. 17 2017 08:14 AM
Glenn A. Walsh from Pittsburgh

From the 1960s through the 1980s, Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science displayed a tic-tac-toe mechanical computer game which the public could play, as part of the Bell Telephone Exhibit.
More information:

Mar. 17 2017 02:30 AM
B-rad from Shameful nation of bigots

What are tic tacs called in stankonia the capital of Breath le ham?

Mar. 17 2017 12:52 AM
Alen from Zagreb, Croatia

you said no to tic tac toe in croatia?

i'm from the capital and there is not a person around me that don't know about that game.. it is called "Krizic kruzic"

if you search for 'krizic kruzic' on croatian google it takes you to tic tac toe google page..*

Mar. 16 2017 08:25 AM
Isaac C from Williamsburg VA

You spelled globe wrong.

Mar. 15 2017 06:27 PM

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