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Mapping Tic Tac Toe-dom

Tuesday, September 06, 2011 - 07:00 PM

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

Writer Ian Frazier made a startling discovery several years ago in eastern Siberia: no one he met there had ever heard of tic tac toe. In this short, Jad and Robert wonder how a game that seems carved into childhood DNA could be completely unknown in some parts of the world.

When Ian Frazier was a kid, he (like most 6-year-olds) mastered the art of tic tac toe. Pretty soon, every match was a draw, and the game lost its magic.

Then one day, many years later, he met a 6-year-old named Igor who lived deep in Siberia. On a whim, Ian drew a tic tac toe board in his notebook and showed it to Igor...who had no idea what it was. Ian taught him how to play, then joyfully went about clobbering his new opponent.

Then, Ian started asking around...and it turned out none of the Russians he talked to had heard of tic tac toe. Could it be that huge swaths of the globe just didn't play? Jad and Robert wanted to find out just how widespread this seemingly universal game really is--so they rallied listeners from all over the world to help them do some legwork.

Ian Frazier's most recent book is Travels in Siberia.


Ian Frazier


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Comments [107]

Krestiki noliki is Tic Tac Toe in Russia!

May. 01 2015 05:12 PM
Sherlock Dickinson

That was very amusing. In all seriousness, however, they at least showed some strong scientific method. Not only did they run the test, but they checked it and admitted that they were wrong. The idea, however, is a very interesting one. What cultural things do we have in America, things we consider to be the base of normality, don't exist in other countries? Small things that are considered extremely normal, and so are not thought of, could actually show the basis of cultural distance. Taking that even further are questions on the names of things. The researchers missed the mark the first time because in America the game is called Tic-Tac-Toe, yet in many other countries, the names prove to be more apt. Translated from many languages, the game is either called "crosses and circles" or "X's and O's" or "three in a row." All of these names seem more relevant than Tic-tac-toe, so why is this the name that America uses?

Mar. 23 2015 04:54 PM
SG from United States

I was extremely disappointed with this episode - sorry Radiolab, I love you and I liked lots of other episodes.
Not only this episode is not interesting at all, but it starts from a silly/arrogant/ignorant assumption that a game should have the same English name everywhere in the world.

Then they make the "interesting" discovery that the same game has different names in different countries... Great...

Feb. 15 2015 01:27 AM
Anya from Canada

Sorry to burst the bubble, but of course Tic-Tac-Toe is known in Russia! We call it Crosses and Zeros ("Krestiki i Noliki"). Couldn't help but comment on this one!

Dec. 11 2014 03:13 PM
Matt from US

So, I'm a big fan of Radio Lab. But don't waste your time with this episode. Seriously, just don't. I can give you the short version of this episode; someone was "fascinated" when he went to different countries and found that people didn't know what he was saying when he said "tic tac toe". After about 15 minutes of jerking us around, they finally come to this part; after they asked about tic tac toe, and them not knowing what it was, they drew the set up for it. Then people knew what it was. It's a world wide game, just called different things in different countries. Congratulations, this entire episode is that. Coming to the conclusion that there are different languages throughout the world. Move onto to any other episode, I guarantee you will find it much better than this. I'm not quite sure why they even published this one...

Nov. 05 2014 01:17 AM
Jeff B from Santa Barbara, California, USA

This had me thinking about the stereotypical "uncle" joke played on people when you point (and lightly touch) an area below someone's chin. When they look down you run your finger up to hit their nose. The surprise often leads to laughter and a rolling of the eyes.

I have traveled to over 20 countries and often like to play this joke on people (yes, I haven't grown up).

The curious reality of this is ALL countries I've tried it in the people know the joke. They never suspect it from a foreigner, so my success rate of the joke is rather high. But the important piece is, they know it!

It would be fun to crowd source the joke to see which countries this "uncle" joke has touched.

Oct. 08 2014 12:52 PM
Sarah from At the top of the morning

By the way Ireland does know about ""tic tac toe"" and we don't call it noughts and crosses. Iv never heard anyone refer to it as that. It X's and O's always has been ha. And did yous make up that song at the end?? Shocked ha I don't even think the second guy yous spoke to was even Irish! I'm a big fan normally but really...

Jun. 12 2014 10:07 PM

Every kid in Russia of my generation now that game and it calls "Crestik - Nolik" (Crest- Zero).

Apr. 14 2014 05:12 PM
Marko Crnković from Croatia

The game exists in Croatia. EVERY kid in school knows this game! Elementary school, high school...

It's called "križić-kružić" and not tic tac toe.

Jan. 25 2014 09:12 PM

Hi all,
A more interesting short would be to ask people to find a child's game that is endemic. Someone mentioned thumb war. I've never met an American who knew mook chi pa, Korean which is rock paper scissors on steroids. When I was in Nepal, I learned a new variant of clapping game ( like "see, see, oh play mate").

Oct. 19 2013 01:44 PM
Alejandro Jiménez from Venezuela

In Venezuela this game is known as "La Vieja" -- "The Old Woman"

Mar. 04 2013 09:48 PM

Have you ever heard of telephone? No. Have you ever heard of telephone (in their native language)? Yes

Mar. 02 2013 02:24 PM

Oh I'm so frustrated by this one - kind of a silly episode... Exactly - not everyone speaks American English

Aug. 19 2012 01:34 PM

In Ecuador we call it "3 en raya." Pretty much everyone knows it.

Feb. 06 2012 02:49 AM
Isaac Witmer

So many comments!

Just adding, I found a few "data points" in my time in Africa. One in particular that didn't know the game. I taught him, and then taught him how to win every single time.

Jan. 19 2012 11:30 PM
Reuben Closson from Patagonia, Argentina / Bahia, Brazil / Denver, CO

I played it in Argentina all the time. I disagree with that answer.

Jan. 17 2012 11:01 PM
Erin from U.S.

I too wish this story had gone more deeply into the origins and spread of the game, but I'm quite surprised by the many commenters who see this as an example of American-centrism. Why wouldn't it make sense that "tic-tac-toe" be a name found elsewhere? It's a basically meaningless phrase in American English, and so many American children's games have English origins. That would suggest some kind of foreign origin.

I thought I'd look into it a tiny bit. According to the OED, a Boston magazine in 1864 lists both naughts-and-crosses and tic-tat-to as names for the same game. That same magazine in 1851 lists the common English nursery rhyme "tit-tat-to, three in a row." It appears that the separate English game that went with "tit-tat-to" was lost as Americans interchanged two English game names for the same game, and then over time the name shifted slightly to the modern "tic-tac-toe."

So, it hardly seems crazy for Americans to think that there'd be people elsewhere (at least in the UK) who have heard of the name. In fact, like the use of the word faucet, it's just another instance of Americans being really old-fashioned.

And having lived in Europe for a while as an adult, I'm not surprised that people didn't know that it was played elsewhere. Unless you spend time with 6-year-olds, when do you ever see tic-tac-toe being played? I certainly never saw it done while I was there.

Jan. 11 2012 11:18 PM

Go is exported to Japan from China (Made in China started long ago :), where it's called Wei qi (wei-chee). Omok is a derivative game of Weiqi, also called Renzu. In Chinese it's called Wu zhi qi (wu-zhi-chee).

Jan. 06 2012 07:43 PM
Jikhan Jung

As explained in a comment above, Omok in Korea is somewhat different from tic-tac-toe because Omok is connect-5 game on a 19x19 or smaller Go board, hence with more possibilities. Omok usually ends with a winner and a loser, which I think is the most important difference that separates Omok from tic-tac-toe.

Dec. 28 2011 01:40 AM
Orid from Oregon

I think it's funny how upset people were by this episode! The name of the game in some of the places, literally "eckses and ohs" for Turkey and Iran, two languages that do not call X "ecks" and 0 "oh", implies that this game IS an import. It would be highly unusual to have even such a simple game as this that involves writing to have arisen spontaneously in so many places, but the fact that many of these places use foreign words to describe it is a pretty solid confirmation that it is an import.

I've definitely lived places, usually rural, where neither children nor adults had ever seen the game. However, I've found "Rock, paper, scissors" --another import--to be almost universal, as is the game where you lay your hands on top of someone else's and then pull them away before they get a chance to slap them. I think the last game could be an example of independent development, but tic-tac-toe and rock, paper, scissors are almost certainly good ideas, like the wheel, that one group of people came up with and then spread between neighboring communities.

Dec. 03 2011 03:19 PM

Does anyone know who does the song @13:26 "tic-tac-toe we got three in a row"? It's stuck in my head and I have been unable to figure out what it is.

Dec. 02 2011 10:32 PM
Lori Eanes from SF

this was stupid, please don't do it again

Nov. 21 2011 05:47 PM
maryna from Boston, MA, US

Being from Ukraine, I was really annoyed by the first part of the program, in which the guest insisted that there was no Tic Tac Toe in Eastern Europe. I wanted to scream at the radio: C'mon, guys, are you for real? All you have to do is google it. How can you seriously believe that one American children play tic tac toe.
I got even more annoyed when in the second part of the program it turned out that in fact Tic Tac Toe does in fact exist virtually everywhere. And, oh yeah, it has a local name. For real? And you spent 20 minutes investigating it? For the first time ever I felt that the show was a waste of my time.

Nov. 05 2011 08:59 PM
Colin from Tulsa, OK

I was an ESL teacher in Seoul for a couple of years and my students had never seen the game nor knew what I was doing when I asked them to play. They mostly play games involving their hands; this may prove to be more common in historically "poorer" countries where pencils and paper are harder to come by.


Nov. 01 2011 02:42 PM
Tais from Portland, OR

Guys, I love you and the program - listen religiously :)

This program made me laugh so hard ;))
I was about to write a "furious" post about how "Of course, Russians know what it is", but thankfully listened until the end of the show ;-)

Oct. 27 2011 05:53 PM

Japan does also have go, which is like tic-tac-toe on steroids.

Oct. 20 2011 10:13 PM

you didn't even translate the dutch name for the game: "butter, cheese and eggs"! :0

Oct. 11 2011 03:59 PM
Elizabeth from from US, living in Portugal

I'm with the likers on this show, as a social psychologist who thinks in terms of teaching about science. I agree it is US-centric, but it is so rare that we talk about that incorrect, or even bad, ideas that we all have sometime. I guess I see this as being more specifically directed at a young US audience, but for that group, I think it is great. And hey, it also helps you all recognize that sometimes things that you think are new or interesting, are not (everyone has foolish ideas sometimes).

Oct. 09 2011 06:52 AM

XKCD has a map of the best strategy tic tac toe game for every situation. "The Book" of tic tac toe, one might say.
Here it is:

thank you for an amazing ride radiolab

Oct. 07 2011 11:13 AM


No, he seems pretty normal. I mean, he beat the stuffing out of that kid in a game; that's a pretty worthwhile endeavour.

Oct. 06 2011 04:19 PM

anyone else feel like this guy has some deep issues... i mean he feels proud about beating a 6 year old at tic tac toe...

Oct. 06 2011 03:39 PM
Emily from Wellington NZ

This is the only boring radiolab episode. Very boring and obvious.

Probably because I am from NZ, and have never called it tic-tac-toe, but I think it is funny how americans always do this...

Oct. 05 2011 05:38 AM
Skreekles from The Weasel Kingdom

Okay, so... where's the map? Or some data so someone else can create a map?

Oct. 04 2011 04:15 PM
Cornelia from Montreal

Don't you think it is fascinating that tic tac toe is a universal game?! I thought it was funny that you guys were disappointed that the game existed everywhere. As a cultural anthropologist, I can only think of how something like this increases the possibilities of making a connection across cultures.

Oct. 01 2011 08:02 AM

I can't believe people didn't like this! I have been a big fan for a long time, back before Jad was a genius, and this is the first time I'm writing, because I loved this show and because I believe I single-handedly brought thumb wrestling to China.

I'm sure you could prove me wrong--and get people to point out how boring this all is, apparently--but here's how I did it.

I was teaching in Beijing, and went to the tourist market where bored shopgirls call out Lady Lady Chanel Prada. One was particularly pushy, and grabbed my arm. So I grabbed her hand off me. And then she was afraid, because I was enormous and angry. Don't touch me.

So I smiled and took her hand in the thumb war position and said "One, Two, Three, Four, I Declare a Thumb War!" She was perplexed, so I showed her a couple times, and a crowd of bored shopgirls gathered, and I kept pinning her thumb down. Finally I said "I win!" and took a purse and pretended to walk away.

All the shopgirls laughed at this shopgirl, and then they all wanted to play, so I gave back the purse and played with a bunch of them. Then they started doing it with each other, saying "Yi, Er, San, Si, Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah": my Mandarin is terrible, but I think they were just faking the "thumb war" part.

Anyway, I went back a couple weeks later, AND I SAW GIRLS PLAYING THUMB WAR BEHIND THE COUNTERS.

You're welcome.

Oct. 01 2011 12:33 AM
Lauren from Seattle, WA

I loved this podcast! I work as a trainer in global health, based in the U.S.

In May, I was at a training in Tanzania. We needed a quick review game to use one morning at our training. I adapted Tic Tac Toe into a review game. I divided my group of 15 Tanzanian adults from all over the country into 2 groups, Team X and Team O, and to win a square for their team, they had to answer a review question. We played 2 rounds. It was pretty clear that none of them had played any version of this game before -- mostly because the strategy of winning, blocking, and such was totally new for them. My Tanzanian colleagues were impressed and excited about the game, and told me they had never played the game before. So -- perhaps no form of Tic Tac Toe has made it to Tanzania...

Thanks again for the great podcast!

Sep. 29 2011 10:19 PM
Lauren from Seattle, WA

I loved this podcast! I work as a trainer in global health, based in the U.S.

In May, I was at a training in Tanzania. We needed a quick review game to use one morning at our training. I adapted Tic Tac Toe into a review game. I divided my group of 15 Tanzanian adults from all over the country into 2 groups, Team X and Team O, and to win a square for their team, they had to answer a review question. We played 2 rounds. It was pretty clear that none of them had played any version of this game before -- mostly because the strategy of winning, blocking, and such was totally new for them. My Tanzanian colleagues were impressed and excited about the game, and told me they had never played the game before. So -- perhaps no form of Tic Tac Toe has made it to Tanzania...

Thanks again for the great podcast!

Sep. 29 2011 10:16 PM

In Brazil, it is called "jogo da velha", or "old lady's game".

Sep. 28 2011 02:22 PM

We used to call it knots and crosses in India- I wonder if that's a British thing- did you guys try finding out if there were other names the game went by in diff parts of the globe?

Sep. 27 2011 10:25 AM
Gervasio Goris

I am writing to correct some data on the Tic Tac Toe map experiment.

I hate to challenge your findings but apparently some of the interviewers did an incorrect sampling of the population.

In particular in Argentina ( where I am from) every single kid ( and adult of course) knows how to play Tic Tac Toe, only that we call it Ta Te Ti.

The age of mastering the art of Ta Te Ti is approximately six or seven years of age.
Just wanted to better I form you. Maybe the interviewer asked about Tic Tac Toe which no one knows , since it is called something else. Ta Te Ti is the game you should ask about. I wonder if this also happened in other countries as well

Sep. 24 2011 07:10 PM
lola baba

This is the first time that I am commenting to any of the shows. I have been in love with Radiolab for a year, I listened to almost all episodes, recommended it to my friends, discussed some of the issues with myself and with others, and I just can't believe that this particular episode was made by the Radiolab team that I respect so much, nor that it was even aired. Seriously, what's the point of this episode? It was not even funny!

Sep. 23 2011 08:36 PM
PCM2 from San Francisco, CA

You guys are being a little harsh, and most of you are totally missing the point.

Yes, as someone coming from a Canadian/UK background, I immediately recognized that they might also want to ask about "naughts and crosses." But I also had no idea how widespread (or not) the game might be.

What this short was was a great demonstration of someone coming up with a question and implementing a novel way of collecting data, which could then be mapped to find an answer to a question. It was science in action. The eventual result may have been a little disappointing, but unfortunately, that's how science often is.

To a lazy person who just wants to get some weekend entertainment out of a radio show, this may have seemed like a pointless exercise. To the intellectually curious, however -- and particularly to young people who have never thought about how scientists answer questions that there don't seem to be any ready answers to -- I think this would be an inspiring short about how you can go out and answer questions on your own, with a little cleverness.

And to the guy who suggested checking the Wikipedia page -- seriously? Are you sure you should be listening to a science program?

Sep. 23 2011 06:14 PM
Jack Zylkin

Yo what was the point of this?

Sep. 23 2011 01:10 PM
Sandra from Virginia

A few years ago I was teaching a computer class to some teachers who had not used computers before. To help them develop skills with the mouse, I had them play Solitaire thinking everyone knew how to play Solitaire. I was amazed at how many had never played before. These were college graduates who learned in my class not only the rudiments of the computer but how to play Solitaire!

Sep. 22 2011 03:13 PM

I wasn't aware that Radio lab was strictly a "Science Program". It does however; seem to have a very large "Science Centric" audience. Come on guys! loosen up a little. The show is fun, and no nothing of great scientific revelation, but still enjoyable.

I think some of you need to get out once in a while and learn not everything can be found in a science text book.

Sep. 21 2011 11:04 AM

In Hebrew it's call "Ix Mix Drix". FYI.
Love your show.

Sep. 20 2011 07:47 PM

In Korea, as heard on the podcast, it's called "omok". It's connect-5 game played on Go board.

Sep. 20 2011 12:53 PM

This show does illustrate the scientific process perfectly: we have to always make sure we are ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTION.

Surely that's how the show should have been framed? It'd certainly feel a lot less silly than the big reveal of "oh, people just call it a different name" which all your international listeners can tell you from the get-go.

Sep. 19 2011 07:38 PM
DMCj from Vienna, VA

I liked this episode; it shows that some ideas that seem brilliant at first can ultimately turn out to be obvious - or even a little dumb - in hindsight. (Hindsight, I might add, that was gained by taking the time to do a little research.)

Kudos to the gang for being willing to air the journey you took from Lightbulb! to Duh!

The payoff may have been underwhelming but the journey was fun. And now I know a bunch of different names for tic-tac-toe that I can drag out at the dinner table and bore my friends and family :)

Sep. 19 2011 04:41 PM

Conclusion was that other cultures call tic-tac-toe something different than USA :(

Sep. 18 2011 04:32 PM
Juan from UK

Shock, people in other countries speak different languages! Seriously? Amazing, people in other countries may not have heard of some of the things in your culture! Seriously? What might have been interesting was figuring out how come so many cultures have heard of it. But I am starting to wonder if you guys have left the states at all.

Sep. 18 2011 02:50 AM
James Badman from Australia

Love your show, pleased when I hear either of your voices on other show but what was this, The premise wrong, the research absent and the cultural cringe of America's inward looking nature (assuming everyone speaks American English) enormous. One which should not have aired.

Sep. 18 2011 01:31 AM
Calle from Sweden

@Magnus Lindgren

What are you talking about? I'm also Swedish and "luffarschack" does not mean "peasant's chess", it means literally "hobo chess". The game is not usually played with 5 rows, that's an alternative version of the game, the common version in Sweden is the universal 3-in-a-row version.

Sep. 17 2011 01:42 PM

Lame. Other commenters suggest it's a show about testing hypotheses; maybe, but it's not presented with any context, and the average radiolab listener has probably had a science class or two.

Without the good parts of the show, I was reminded of what I *don't* like about radiolab; the show is often just too cute. You too often put in bits of yourselves chatting and having a good time. I'm sure it was fun to be there, but it's boring listening to people laugh at one another's jokes.

I want fifteen minutes of my life back.

Sep. 17 2011 12:15 PM
João Castilho from Portugal

In Portugal is called "Jogo do Galo" which translated means Roster's Game.

Sep. 16 2011 06:34 AM
Andrea from Phoenix, AZ

I think a lot of people are missing the point here. The point is not that Americans are ignorant that people all around the world play the same game but under a different name. The point is that it's fun to test hypotheses using the scientific method, meanwhile connecting with listeners from around the world. Sometimes science finds predictable things, such as the fact that tic tac toe is fairly universal. I've heard other radiolabs with more interesting hypotheses being tested - but this one was still fun.

PS - I would love to hear a show on Negative Nancy comments ;)

Sep. 15 2011 04:52 PM

When I saw the title of this episode, I thought it might be related to THIS map of Tic Tac Toe:

...which, I gotta say, is immensely more interesting, at least to me.

Sep. 15 2011 04:01 PM
ian from Pittsburgh PA

Are you serious? You began your experiment with the presumption that everyone would call the game by the same name? And the point of the story: Careful you base your hypotheses on a sufficiently large dataset. That's it?

Sep. 15 2011 11:47 AM

Radiolab is one of my favorite podcasts, save for this embarrassing installment! Very disappointing.

Sep. 15 2011 06:14 AM
Magnus Lundgren from Stockholm

Great show on tic-tac-toe and the spread of human culture. In Sweden, the game is called "luffarschack", which translates as "peasant's chess". Here, though, one usually does not win before having a row of 5 x's or o's, which means it is perhaps a little more difficult to devise a foolproof way of not losing.

Sep. 14 2011 03:34 AM

Strange game, the only winning move is not to play...

Sep. 13 2011 11:40 AM

long time listener
congratulations Radiolab
you figured out that the rest of the world doesn't necessarily speak English, or uses Americanisms. tic tac toe make no sense what so ever...just about every language in the world literally translates into naughts and crosses-way to showcase you american-centrism-is that a word? no worries, even Radiolab is bound to lay a turd every once in a while.

Sep. 13 2011 11:38 AM
patrick from saint paul, mn

No science. Lame.

Sep. 12 2011 10:12 PM
Philip from burlington vt

This is a great map of optimal tic tac toe moves that was developed by a dude who does a great webcomic called xkcd. it's amazing.

Sep. 12 2011 06:19 PM
Asdis from Santa Barbara, CA

It def. exist in Iceland!

Sep. 12 2011 04:12 PM

This is the best radio show out there! Ignore all of the negative comments!

I do have a small detail I have to help you correct though... when talking about rooting for college basketball, you are talking about the Michigan State Spartans playing the Butler Bulldogs. Then you played the Michigan Wolverines fight song when talking about the back-and-forth about the game. As bad as I wish it were the Wolverines in the semi-finals of the NCAA tournament, it was actually Michigan State. It may not seem like a big difference to some, but the error is unfathomable to any UM or MSU fans.

Other than that small detail, keep up the good work! And Go Blue!

Sep. 12 2011 02:14 PM

This episode was not worth listening to. You're better then this.

Why air this?

Sep. 12 2011 08:55 AM
Ridhi angela D'Cruz from Portland, OR

I'm originally from Kerala, South India and I grew up in Bangalore, South India. My mama taught me the game when I was a kid. And she too called it "noughts and crosses".

My mom's mama used to work in Kuwait as an English teacher. So she's from a particular mileu.

But I want to ask my dad, who grew up a little more rurally (learnt the English language when he was 18) now about how he first came across the game.

So interesting.... :) Thanks Radiolab. Good opportunity to do some interesting poking around...

Sep. 12 2011 12:01 AM

There should be an episode investigating whether people are more likely to comment on things when they are unhappy with them. This might be an American term, "Negative Nancy," but it certainly comes to mind. (Negative Nancy, someone who focuses on the bad side of things) Would you prefer that they didn't run this podcast? I am American, and I happen to have known that Tic Tac Toe is a widely known game, with varied names. However, if people as smart and well informed as the Radiolab staff didn't know it, then I guarantee many other Americans didn't know it as well. You can be unhappy with that, but don't be unhappy with Radiolab for educating them. Think "Radiolab, making Americans less ignorant." I had a friend from South Carolina, whose Mom is a teacher. She had to inform her colleague who was a school teacher of over 20 years experience of well known fact. Alaska despite its location in a box next to Hawaii on the maps of the lower 48 states, wasn't a Pacific Island.

Sep. 11 2011 08:53 PM
Josh from Findlay, Ohio

I have to know, what is the song at the end of this ("tic-tac-toe, we've got three in a row"), and where can I get it? :)

Sep. 11 2011 10:35 AM
Evgeny from Russia

I am actually from Russia, and let me join the crowd of protesters. Did you seriously think that such basic game should be called "Tic Tac Toe" in Russian language?

Even if it was borrowed from English - Russian phonetic system is not quite capable of handling the "toe" sound.

As it was mentioned in the podcast, the game's name in Russian is pronounced "krEstiki nOliki", with the stress on capital letters. As in most other languages, it is translated as "crosses and zeros" to English. It is widely spread, every child played it in school during boring classes.

But having said all that, I am a long time listener and I love your podcast. "It's only those who do nothing that make no mistakes".

Sep. 11 2011 10:06 AM
Boony from Melbourne, Australia

@austin - i doubt many outside Australia would know the term "You've got Buckley's"

William Buckley (1780 – 30 January 1856) was an English convict who was transported to Australia, escaped, was given up for dead and lived in an Aboriginal community for many years.

Buckley's improbable survival is believed by many Australians to be the source of the vernacular phrase "you have got Buckley's or none" (or simply "you have got Buckley's"), which means "no chance", or "it's as good as impossible"

Sep. 11 2011 08:46 AM
Austin Adams from Australian temporarily in Singapore

I loved the style of the show, as always, but I agree with the many comments about American insularity. I don’t think a similar show could ever be conceived outside USA. It’s a tad galling to know that we know the American words for things but that Americans don’t know our words – try “You’ve got Buckley’s” for example. Oh, not all American words – I’ll never forget the faces on my U of Michigan grad-school friends when, my first week in USA, I asked, casually, “What’s a bagel?”
Guys…do be careful with USA-only words. The item on games had many. What, for example, is VFW?

Sep. 11 2011 02:28 AM
Rick Bragg from Johnson VT

I remember a while back you did an episode about the oldest living things on earth. It was amazing to lean about a tree that was about 5,000 years old, and tragic to learn about it's demise. However, I believe that your research was way off. Take a look at this:
It seems there are many living things far older.

Sep. 10 2011 08:57 PM

ditto, Josh -- as a cognitive scientist, I can't tell you how many times I have thought up some idea and gone out to do some reading or run a pilot experiment and realized that my idea had already been pursued or was absolutely ridiculous. The most important part of being a good scientist is being willing to be wrong and going out to test it. Because when you're wrong, oh well. You have learned something...and you revise your hypothesis or you move on. (e.g. so why didn't that boy know the game?) But when you're not wrong, that's when you have advanced science and pushed the boundaries of human knowledge. Radio Lab is out here showing us REAL science. They had this one datapoint - the Siberian six-year-old. They wanted to describe the hypothesis is that Tic-Tac-Toe-dom doesn't cover all countries. So, "let's test it," they say. They do. They were wrong. That's science. Thank you, Radio Lab, for not shelving that piece because it didn't turn out to be as interesting as you thought it might have been when you started.

Sep. 10 2011 07:33 PM
asdf from sdf

Love ya but not so much

Sep. 10 2011 06:01 PM
Claudio Mueckay from Saint Augustine FL

Hi guys,

In Ecuador we call that game "tres en raya", what it means three in a row.
I'd love to listen some topics in your program like: about dreams, superstitions, alchemy, crusades, gravity, sientific milestone errors.
Great show!

Sep. 10 2011 11:19 AM
Paddy from Stockholm (Europe)

This is very sad. This is exactly what we Europeans expect from Americans, and I'm sad to have my biases confirmed by the people at my favourite podcast. Seriously, WHAT were you thinking? How can it be a surprise that games have different names in different places?

As a previous commenter said, why not start with the wikipedia page next time?

Sep. 10 2011 10:58 AM
Susan from Hawaii

Just listened to the latest podcast while out walking, and had to fight an almost irresistible impulse to cut my walk short to go back and tell you that OF COURSE the game tic tac toe is known in other countries. I see that you finally got there, but it's such a basic idea (you have never heard of noughts and crosses? Really?) that it is almost insulting to your listeners to have taken the time to "discover" this. I can see why you're catching a lot of heat for this, and agree that it is not up to your usual standard. That said, I'll still listen to your podcast, of course. Just ... step up your game, ok?

Sep. 10 2011 06:56 AM

I was surprised to see so many negative comments with regard to this installment.

To me, the past few episodes define Radiolab, and to a degree - the scientific process.

Sometimes one sets out on a whim, on a faint idea, and despite the research: things do not pan out.

This show is honest with interviews (many bits other shows would cut out are left in, i.e. errors and mispronunciations). Why are we giving them so much flak for being honest with the pursuit of knowledge?

Sep. 10 2011 02:32 AM
Rose from Canada

Wow, this is why everyone else in the world makes fun of Americans.

Sep. 09 2011 06:40 PM
Jess from Venezuela from US

I grew up in Venezuela and the game there is called "La Vieja" which means "The old lady". Why the name? no idea!!!!
But I do remember playing and then learning the trics so I would win every time. After everyone learns how to win then it is not fun anymore and you just move on to different game.
Love your show !!!!!

Sep. 09 2011 02:27 PM
david from New Jersey

I love your podcast. But have you two lost your minds? You're surprised that a simple game exists in other countries by a different name? That was a twist in the story?

A) I'm pretty sure you guys are aware that in many other countries just about EVERY common thing goes by a different name.

B) Anybody who was poking around online while listening to your show and checked the wiki page, for example, knew the history of tic tac toe, its other names and variants long before your big reveal.

Sep. 09 2011 01:35 PM
Tim High from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

In Brazil, we have one of the more interesting names: "Jogo da velha", or "the old lady's game".

Can't imagine why someone over the age of 8 would play it, but there you have it.

Sep. 09 2011 12:58 PM

Can you just record a whole episode where y'all giggle the whole time, and then promise us you'll keep giggles to a minimum in the next season?

Sep. 09 2011 12:04 PM

hey this tic tac toe proadcast is really enjoyable :) i like radiolab!

Sep. 09 2011 10:02 AM
Rebecca from Sunny Florida

I actually find this really fascinating, because I had a similar experience when living in Haiti. They actually DO have a game called Tic-Tac-Toe, but it's a completely different game.

Sep. 09 2011 09:11 AM
Urbanorthodox from NYC

Seriously, the worst show ever. This is not Radiolab.

Sep. 09 2011 12:49 AM
Andrew from Australia

Naughts and Crosses...
Captain obvious called, he wants his job back.

Sep. 08 2011 07:43 PM
Bryan from Reno

Don't just that because they recognize the name of the game or the board that it's the same game.

In Denmark, I was introduced to a neat variation of Tic-Tac-Toe. There are never more than 3 X's and 3 O's in play at any time. The board starts out blank and players take turns placing X's and O's just like the version you're familiar with.

But after the 3rd move, instead of placing a 4th X or O, the player will move one of his pieces to an open adjacent spot (either vertically, horizontally or diagonally adjacent). Players continue to shuffle the three X's and O's around until someone can line up their three pieces.

Give it a try - it actually makes the game interesting.

Sep. 08 2011 07:39 PM
Barak from San Carlos CA

Wow, until recently, there was a little boy in Siberia that didn't know how to play tic-tac-toe. This is fodder for Radiolab?

Sep. 08 2011 06:19 PM
Donovan Kliegg

I think you are missing the coolness of this. The game is globally universal and learned at a very early age. It's an example of a perfect meme.

Sep. 08 2011 05:03 PM

oof. swing, miss.

Sep. 08 2011 04:02 PM
A.T. Vish from pittsburgh

guys, didn't you ever see the movie "War Games"? everyone in the world has probably seen that movie. i think world-wide distribution of Tic Tac Toe would be obvious.

peace out.

Sep. 08 2011 01:25 PM
Johnny from New York

Hey guys, remember when Radiolab was actually good?

Okay, maybe that's a little belligerent, but it's a fair reflection of how I feel.

Here's the thing: Jad just went on The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe and said that when he started Radiolab he wanted it to be different from This American Life.

For the past six to twelve months, Radiolab has been a poor man's This American Life.

Time for some soul searching. I don't want to have to consider not donating next time you guys do another drive.

Sep. 07 2011 11:44 PM
Dread Pirate Clinton from Montreal

A light and fluffy short :) is available by the way.

Sep. 07 2011 09:13 PM
Chris B from New Joisey

I'm going to add my voice to the chorus... The one and ONLY disappointing podcast...

Unless that was the point... You guys are nothing short of profound in every episode... I'm left wondering... what WAS that?

Was this a cautionary tale warning against the over-generalization of the anecdote? Or just an epic fail?

Sep. 07 2011 09:07 PM
Chris B from New Joisey

I'm going to add my voice to the chorus... The one and ONLY disappointing podcast...

Unless that was the point... You guys are nothing short of profound in every episode... I'm left wondering... what WAS that?

Was this a cautionary tale warning against the over-generalization of the anecdote? Or just an epic fail?

Sep. 07 2011 09:06 PM
Chris Pearson from Switzerland

Map of optimal Tic-Tac-Toe moves

XKCD consists of nerdy webcomics written by an ex-Nasa-staffer who seems to have a lot of time on his hands

In his own words:
"A webcomic of romance,
sarcasm, math, and language"

Sep. 07 2011 04:59 PM

Somewhere in the middle of the program I was about to write that of course this game is known in Russia (and much-much more complicated versions of it with lots of rules) but then I decided to listen until the end...

Sep. 07 2011 01:09 PM
Dan from Ukraine

I think criticisms are falling too much on cliches about natural languages all being different and are failing to recognize that artificial languages and simple concepts are what unifies mankind. The fact that Tic Tac Toe is universal says something about the relation between our brains ability to think logically and how we can encapsulate that ability in games. The fact that the games all use "x" and "o" shows that there has been cross cultural exchanges, because a game as simple as tic tac toe could easily be invented independently. This is an interesting fact in itself. Any game involving a grid of squares and alternating turns placing pieces is related in concept. Tic tac toe is the most extreme reduction of this where any strategy can exist. It's really in some ways an extreme reduction of "Go," which happens to still be a game computers can't beat people at. Tic Tac Toe is far from "Go", but without the principles of a grid and alternating turns you can't have "Go". Tic Tac Toe is a fascinating barrier, a 2 by 2 grid certainly can have no strategy and whoever goes first wins assuming the goal would be 2 in a row then. So the beginning of strategy in square grid games lies at 3 by 3. This episode shows that people all over the world have discovered that.

Sep. 07 2011 12:02 PM
Bob from USA

I thought it was really cool. I love hearing about who knows what where, cultural differences and whatnot. These guys rock.

Sep. 07 2011 10:53 AM
Tony from Not in the US

.. love the your show, but this one.. should have stayed in the vault.

BTW - in New Zealand we have money and we have cable TV and drive cars. (although we don't have netflix or AT&T)

The show felt like 3 american's who had no idea of the outside would - I know you're not, so it was a very odd show....

Still. my fav podcast in my weekly download of 60+ shows...

Sep. 07 2011 10:38 AM

Guys, you basically discovered that not everyone speaks American English. I love you, but this was silly.

Sep. 07 2011 09:29 AM
r k from canada

Disappointed by the topic, I love radiolab though.

Sep. 07 2011 04:13 AM
RascalLT from Spain

I love Radiolab too, but making a show about something, and not even checking its' Wikipedia page part where translations are? How does that happen to the greatest science journalists that I know of?

Sep. 07 2011 01:04 AM

I love radio lab, but I'm not really sure what the point of this podcast was?

Sep. 06 2011 07:45 PM

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