Favorite childhood toys at auction
  • Golfing, divots and a game of pure fun
  • Poster for a Negro Leagues baseball game
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    Auction Finds

    That childhood game of tic-tac-toe

    I was wasting some time at auction recently, picking up items I had looked past on my first walk-through among the tables at the auction house. I was examining a group of items when I nonchalantly picked up a tic-tac-toe board made of dark wood.

    I hadn’t seen one of these games in ages (and the ones I remembered were hand-drawn with a pencil on paper). I turned it over and on the bottom saw the maker’s name:

    Berea College, Berea, KY

    Now, I recognized that name. I had bought several handmade brooms at auction that had been crafted by students at Berea College. The school had a long history of educating black students, starting at a time when the country’s attitude about education for us was downright hostile.

    The front of the 4-inch-wide board had round scoops in each of its nine spaces. On the side was a turn knob that I twisted around. Inside I found two round openings: one side had five yellow marbles and the other had five blue marbles. This appeared to be a handy tic-tac-toe game, perhaps for traveling.

    It was a lovely find. Who among us Baby Boomers and others don’t remember the countless hours playing against siblings or cousins at home or friends at school in a game of tic-tac-toe? Or by yourself when you couldn’t find a partner? I recall that I never won often against others or myself, because the game would always end in a tie. Sometimes, I tried my own little strategy – I would always choose the center space – but it went downhill from there.

    Tic-tac-toe was always a game of simple fun, a way to pass the time (like the peg game you play as you await your food at Cracker Barrel restaurants). I didn’t care much if I won or not. The game didn’t cost anything, and all you needed was paper and pencil to play it.

    The object of the tic-tac-toe game – which is believed to have originated in Egypt and is called Noughts and Crosses in some countries – was to get your X’s or O’s all three in a row. That could be done either horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Sometimes you had to block your opponent to do that, thereby jeopardizing your chances of winning but thwarting theirs.

    Today, you can play the game on the web against other players or a computer. One website noted that it’s tough to win against the computer, which has already computed all the possible moves and knows how to counteract them. Other sites offered ways to win the game (use the center square and the four edge squares) or at least tie it.

    At auction, I decided to bid on the Berea game, and got it in a lot with several other items for $5. Berea College Crafts sells it on its website for $12, along with instructions on how to play the game. The instructions recommend that each player take a turn to lead, and that they play fast for more fun: “It’s surprisingly easy to lose if one plays fast.” There are also instructions for a 3-D version that I did not see on the website.

    Here’s how most of us create our own game: pen (or pencil) and paper.  

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