Tiddlywinks originated in England during the late 1800s. The name comes from “tiddly wink” which is English slang for an unlicensed pub. Tiddlywinks became popular in pubs as a diversion while downing a few pints, much like darts or chess.
The game consists of a mat with a small, round pot at its centre and several little discs made in four colours (blue, green, red, and yellow). Blue and red are always partners against yellow and green and are laid across from each other diagonally around the pot in alphabetical order.
Within each colour, there are six disks: four smaller ones called ‘winks’ and two larger ones known as ‘squidgers’. These disks are arranged by the lines of four boxes drawn at the corners of the mat.
The idea is for the players to shoot their winks into the pot by pressing a squidger down on the edge of the wink to make it flip towards the pot. The player can also keep the other players from reaching the pot by “squopping” one of their discs – by landing one of their winks on top of another player’s wink. The covered wink can’t be moved by its owner until it is uncovered.
Englishman Joseph Fincher first patented Tiddlywinks in 1888. He gave it the name “Tiddledy Winks”, one of many accepted variations for the spelling.
The name fell into the public domain in 1890 as the game’s popularity was picking up steam, which led to many different manufacturers in both the UK and America tarting the game up with various gimmicks.
The most popular gimmick was creating a ‘sports’ version of Tiddlywinks and stores were soon filled with tennis, football, horseshoes, bowling and baseball versions. To accentuate the sports theme, the playing pieces were often reshaped to resemble miniature tennis rackets, horseshoes, etc.
Tiddlywinks became a popular game for adults. Some people even threw Tiddlywink parties, but the novelty soon began to wear off and Tiddlywinks had lost its favour with the adult public by the beginning of the 20th century.
Its popularity endured as a game for children and certain pubgoers quietly kept the game alive for mature players.
In the mid-1950s, Tiddlywinks began to regain popularity as an adult diversion at colleges like Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard.
Today, Tiddlywinks leads a double life as a kid’s game on toy shelves and an adult pastime that is played by Tiddlywinks Associations around the world. There are even National and World Tiddlywink Championships for the enterprising Tiddly-winker.