The North American Tiddlywinks Association (NATwA), founded in 1966, is an organization that sponsors tiddlywinks tournaments, distributes winks equipment, recruits new players, and promotes the game in general. NATwA maintains tiddlywinks.org and in the past published the newsletter, Newswink, to keep winkers informed of recent events. NATwA maintains close ties with ETwA, the English Tiddlywinks Association.
The major offices of NATwA are the Secretary-General (president of the organization), Treasurer, Newswink editor, Archivist, and a Statistics Committee that keeps detailed records of every tournament game and compiles interesting and unusual statistical lists. Geographically, NATwA is based primarily in the northeastern United States, with most tournaments held in the Washington, D.C., area; in southeastern Ohio; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Ithaca, New York; and central California.
The winking season traditionally consists of three championships (Teams, Pairs, and Singles) and several additional tournaments throughout the year such as the Individual Pairs. The winner of the Singles has the right to challenge the current World Singles champion to a match in which the best score in seven games wins. The winner of ETwA’s National Singles is also eligible to challenge the reigning champion. Over sixty World Singles matches have been played since the first one in 1972. World Pairs and World Teams championships complete the winking world’s triple crown.
The original game of tiddlywinks was an adult craze in England, the United States, and Europe throughout the 1890s after its invention by Joseph Assheton Fincher of London. Fincher patented the game in 1888 and trademarked the name TIDDLEDY-WINKS in 1889. John Jaques & Son were the exclusive distributor of Tiddledy-Winks, yet other companies came out with their own versions under other names, such as Ayres’ Spoof. The game quickly fell into public domain, and a large number of variations on the basic game were marketed, including Tiddledy-Wink Tennis, Ten Pins, and Golf. Over 90 patents have been issued for tiddlywinks-style games since.
Tournament Tiddlywinks was organized at Cambridge University in England by Bill Steen and R. C. Martin in 1955, although it had been played informally there as early as 1949. The game developed slowly in England until Cambridge challenged Prince Philip to a match as a result of a curious headline in the influential newspaper, The Spectator, which stated: “Does Prince Philip Cheat at tiddlywinks?”. Well certainly Prince Philip Philip needed to defend his honor on this front, and he appointed a very popular radio comedy group of that time, the Goons, which included Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan and others, as his royal champions to compete against Cambridge. The extraordinary amount of publicity surrounding the 1 March 1958 match between CUTwC and The Goons excited considerable public interest in the game. As a result, the game became very popular in Britain. In 1962 a team from Oxford toured the United States, sponsored by Guinness, and defeated every team it faced, including one fielded by Harvard undergraduates. Though defeated on every front in 1962, winks lurked inside the USA until 1965, when Severin Drix discovered the game while at Cornell University and challenged his friend Ferd Wulkan at MIT to compete. Winks caught on in the USA shortly thereafter, and the North American Tiddlywinks Association was formed in February 1966. In that era, winks teams were active at many east-coast colleges including MIT, Harvard, Cornell, and Waterloo.
In 1972 a team from MIT made the first major US excursion to England, winking’s mecca, and defeated Southampton for the World Teams Championship. US All-Star teams have since visited in 1978, 1981, 1985, and 1988. The US dominated world play until the 1990s.
NATwA reached in peak in terms of number of players in the mid-1970s and has since declined somewhat, but there remains a nucleus of dedicated winkers who keep the game active. Since NATwA’s inception, there have been more than 200 official tournaments, over 9000 tournament games, and more than 600 winkers. On the other side of the Atlantic, our English counterparts are thriving, principally due to long-time winking traditions at Cambridge and Oxford.
Celebrations of the 50th anniversary of CUTwC in 2005 brought winkers from around the globe, many in tuxedos and in splendid accoutrements, and a splendid time was had by all. NATwA celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2006 at Cornell in Ithaca, New York, with winkers from all across America, plus some British winking friends. In 2008, Prince Philip designated members of the Savage Club to be his royal representatives in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first royal match on 1 March 1958, at which time Prince Philip designated the comedy troupe, The Goons, as his royal champions in this very seminal tiddlywinks event. NATwA celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2016.
Tournament Tiddlywinks is a game that requires both strategy and manual skill. This game differs greatly from “children’s” tiddlywinks. The children’s game involves merely flicking the winks into a cup. Tournament Tiddlywinks also uses this shot (known as potting), but has, in addition, two other basic shots. The first is the squop shot, the most important shot in winks. In squopping, a player shoots his wink onto opposing winks, thus immobilizing them. Any wink under any other wink (however slightly, possibly not even touching) is squopped and may not be played directly until freed. A player is allowed to hit winks directly under his playable wink so long as he strikes the top wink first; piles can be blown up in this manner. The other basic shot is the approach shot, in which a wink is sent to a key position from which it can protect friendly squops, attack enemy piles, or set up a strategic area.
Winks normally is played by four people, each winker controlling one of the colors blue, green, red, and yellow. In Singles games one player controls both colors of a partnership (red and blue play against green and yellow). Each color has six winks, two large and four small. Winks are played by pressing or flicking them with a squidger, a larger plastic disc one to two inches in diameter. The game is played on a three foot by six foot felt mat. A time limit of 25 minutes is used (20 for Singles), after which five additional rounds are played.
Games may be won by either of two methods: by getting all of one color into the cup (potting out), or if this has not been accomplished by the end of rounds, by establishing more points using a time-limit point system which is used to determine first through fourth places. Games can be won without having to pot any winks if most of the opponents’ winks are squopped. In tournament-level play the typical strategy is to gain control by squopping enemy winks rather than by focusing solely on potting one’s own winks. There are many intricacies in both the strategy and technical play that cannot be detailed here.
Winks has a lexicon and subculture all its own. For instance, you might overhear at a tournament “I can’t pot my nurdled wink, so I’ll piddle you free and you can boondock a red. But if Sunshine gromps the double, I’ll lunch a blue next time.” In English this translates to “My wink is too close to the cup to pot it, so instead, I’ll gently shoot you out from under the pile and you can shoot an opponent’s red wink off the table. But if Sunshine (a winker) captures two of our winks with only one of his, I’ll pot an opponent’s blue wink (sometimes a useful strategy) on my next turn.”
Players often go by their winks nicknames, some of which are L, Bozo, Horsemeat, and Dragon. A few winkers, such as Sunshine and Ferd, are known by nothing else, even in everyday life. Many winkers have computer-related jobs (due to the MIT influence) but professions range from carpentry to union organizing to psychiatry. NATwA consists of a wide variety of people, all of whom enjoy the fun and interesting aspects of winks.