by Severin Drix
(Originally printed in The Missing Wink, August 1974 and February 1975.)
The history of NATwA shall be the topic of a series of Articles in The Missing Wink. Comments are welcome, whether on the style, format, or contents of these articles. If anybody has further facts or corrections to make, please send them to The Missing Wink. These articles and the corrections will form the basis for a series of pamphlets similar to On the Mat and Winks Rampant, the pamphlets that describe the history of winks’ origins in England.
This article will be a general outline of our history, providing a context for future articles, which will go into much more detail than this one. It is also important to keep in mind that NATwA’s history does not exist in a vacuum, but is only a part of the history of winks. The development of the modern strategy game out of the Milton Bradley- style nursery game, and the step-by-step evolution of our current rules, tournaments, and teams is a process whose most important stages occurred in England. The pamphlets mentioned above are very interesting reading, and reading them would greatly enhance one’s appreciation of the history of NATwA. Back copies of the Winking World (available in Boston from Bill Renke and in Ithaca from Severin) would also help to give a picture of the history of the English Tiddlywinks Association (ETwA), whose offspring we are.
Winks began in North America in the summer of 1962. It is possible that individuals may have existed here who knew the Marchant rules (that is the name of the rules we use), but as far as is now known, the summer of 1962 was the first time that teams and matches existed based on these rules. Although Cambridge University is the mother team for England, and therefore for all other winkers as well, it is her archrival, Oxford, who is more directly the mother for North America. Oxford sent a team to tour the U.S. in the summer of 1962, and they played against the New York (football) Giants, a collection of people randomly selected at a hotel, and other teams, including several colleges. Needless to say, they trounced all challengers, but they left behind them some publicity (Time magazine did a story), equipment, and newly-converted winkers.
Roughly speaking, we may say that there have been three NATwA’s. The first “NATwA” was not really a formal association at all, but we may use the word to describe the winks community in North America from the summer of 1962 up till February 1966. It was not much of a community either, actually. The only real winks team was Harvard, other “teams” being collection of inkers scattered at various places, who might play an occasional game, but who mostly played winks only when Harvard suggested and organized the match. In all this time, no match involved more than two teams, and one of those teams was always Harvard. Right after the Oxford tour the level of interest was high among the people who had just been shown the game, and there were many matches. By 1965-66 this first “NATwA” was dying out. The first year there had been enough games for Life magazine, in its big article on Harvard winks, to speak of a full Ivy League (!). There were about a dozen teams across the country, plus freshman teams, and there was national TV publicity. But the next year saw only about three matches, and this pattern continued up until 1965-66. That year marked the second wave of British winkers to hit North America, and this replenished the stream that the first wave had created. Charles McLeod, a Scottish winker, came to the University of Waterloo for graduate studies, and founded a team there, as well as the nearby Waterloo Lutheran University. Meanwhile, Mike Crick (son of the famous biologist, and, with Phil Villar top pair in England) came to work at MIT, and spent a lot of time with the Harvard winkers, slowly changing their attitude, getting them to spend more time both playing winks and trying to organize it on a more stable and lasting basis.
The second NATwA, which was truly an organization, was formed on February 27, 1966. This date should be commemorated each year by celebration and lots of winking, for it marks the real birth of NATwA. Harvard had split into two teams, Harvard and Harvard Med School (where many winkers had graduated to), and there were a few Radcliffe winkers as well, forming sort of a team. The two Waterloo teams came to Boston that weekend to play the two Harvard teams, in what was considered to be the first Continentals ever (final standings: Waterloo, Harvard Med, Waterloo Lutheran, Harvard). They then formed NATwA, with Radcliffe also being listed as a member of NATwA. There are several differences of some importance between this organization and NATwA as we now know it. These differences are big enough, and the changes occurred around the same time, for it to be reasonable to refer to what we now have as a third NATwA. The main difference is in personnel and life-styles. Almost all winkers in North America today can trace their lineage, teacher to student, in a direct line to Severin Drix. Severin started the Cornell team in the fall of 1965, completely independently of the existing winks scene. He knew no other winkers, had no official sets (the first equipment Cornell started with was a Trix cereal set and a scarf!), and had only the 1962 Life and Time articles to go by, plus a bunch of campus rumor, for any knowledge of the winks scene and of winks rules (e.g. he did know about squopping). Ferd was then a student at MIT, had been Severin’s friend since high school, got involved in winks primarily through Severin, and ended up starting the MIT team in the winter and early spring of 1966. All current teams, except Toronto, are offshoots of either Cornell or MIT. Toronto got started as a result of Waterloo, but there was little contact between those teams, and Toronto (this is the old Toronto: Bryon Alexandroff et al.) stayed in winks primarily due to the activity of the Cornell and MIT teams, as all the previous ones, the ones of the second NATwA, died out. The Cornell and MIT winkers of those early days knew each other, and their friendship was the foundation for the sense of community which distinguishes NATwA from many other types of groups (even if this sense of community is not as strong as we’d like it to be). Yet though Cornell and MIT formed one social crowd, they hardly got to know any of the Harvard and Waterloo winkers at all. This was partly due to the fact that these teams were already fading out of winks. Crick’s appearance only shored Harvard up for a while, and soon he too dropped slowly out of winking. Even at that first “Continentals”, Harvard had not been able to field a full team (which was eight in those days, as it still is in England), and when Cornell came to Harvard a week later, Harvard had only four players, plus one from Radcliffe. Harvard and Waterloo were like the late Roman empire, seemingly more powerful than ever before, but the process of decay already evident, at least in retrospect. The only person from those teams that the Cornell and MIT players got to know at all was Mike Gottesman, the Harvard captain, who was chosen Secretary-General of NATwA when it was founded. None of that pre-Cornell crowd is still in any sort of contact at all with NATwA, and though this history will be quite accurate about all the events that involved the Cornell-MIT group and their descendants, all information about prior events is tinged withuncertainty, and is second hand at best, rumor-inspired at worst. The earlier winkers were more of the 1950’s type of student. They wore jackets, vests, and ties at matches, which were often held in plush cocktail lounges, with cheerleaders. Their style was a mixture of English properness and Ivy League. The Cornell-MIT crowd was really the first indigenous American winks movement, and the people in it were more the ’60’s type of student; not necessarily all freaks, but a group in which freaks could be, and were, an organic part. In general, a much, looser, more informal atmosphere came in with the new winkers. The earlier winkers also inherited their ideas about winks structures from England. The NATwA championship was a challenge cup, as most titles still are in ETwA: like the boxing crown, you became champion by beating the old champ, and the champion arranged the time and place (usually a home game) for any challenge match. Matches were generally for two teams, and there was no overall to either guarantee that matches would occur (such as many “traditional” dates we now have, e.g. HOTT, BIT, Regionals, Continentals, etc.) or to give any sort of standings for the teams. In those days, also, there were very few games in a year, no pairs or singles events, not even an annual Congress or other means to all come together or even select a new Secretary-General. NATwA at the time was an organization of teams, not persons. A team would join NATwA, pay $2 dues for the year, which would entitle it to play other NATwA teams and at some point challenge for the championship. There were no B-teams, and winks activity mainly centered around “club play”, rather than at matches. There was also no winks publication at the time. Most of the changes in structure since then were the result of Severin’s and Mitch Wand’s ideas, and represent a centralization of activity (as opposed to the more feudal system of earlier times), and an attempt to permanize it.
While the Cornell team was growing and playing winks (a strange mixture of Marchant and Milton Bradley rules) in the fall of 1965, they made repeated efforts to contact this supposed winks league that they’d read about in the Life article. The only team consistently mentioned in the rumors of a still-existent winks league was Harvard, so Flint, a Harvard student and a friend of Severin and Ferd, was set to the task of finding this not too active Harvard team. This was not an easy task, as the team was small, not too active, and not well known; it took him several months. Around December he found them, and joined their team (probably the first new recruit they’d had in a very long time). Through him, Cornell established contact with Harvard, found out where to get legitimate sets and mats (and rules!), and arranged to play their first match at Harvard in early March. At that date, which turned out to be only one week after the founding of NATwA, Cornell was trounced, and then joined NATwA. When Ferd formed the MIT team about a month later (he had come to the Cornell- Harvard match and met Mike Gottesman), they became the seventh team in NATwA. In early May 1966, Harvard was to come to Cornell for a rematch, but too many of their players crapped out for a variety of reasons. Instead, the new MIT team brought four players (Ferd, Bob, Jeff, and Mitch), and lost badly to Cornell.
(You can stop sitting on your thumbs, folks; here is the Grand Old Memory’s second installment of Winks History…)
The next winks season, 1966-67, was not nearly so productive as the previous one had been. The first match was in February 1967, at MIT, the “triangular” match in which the disastrous showing of a Harvard team that had combined all three previous ones (undergrad, Med school, and Radcliffe) stunned everyone, and turned out to be Harvard’s last winks match. The score was Cornell 150, MIT 135 1/2, Harvard 50 1/2. Cornell then made repeated efforts to set a date for a match with the champions, Waterloo, but nothing came of it. The only other match that season occurred when MIT clobbered Columbia that April. Columbia had just started a team and joined NATwA; after that one match they were never heard from again.
The 1967-68 season was even less eventful: only one match, though it was a big one. It was the first match ever to be called a Continentals, and all NATwA teams were invited. It was held at Waterloo, during the celebration of the anniversary of the founding of that university, so that the University paid for hotel accomodations for visiting winkers, as well as free lunches. Charles McLeod had left North America, and there was by now only one team in Waterloo. Harvard at the last moment said they couldn’t come, and no word came from Columbia. The teams that came were Cornell, MIT, and the newly-formed Toronto team. That match was also the North American debut of Phil Villar, who was playing for Cornell with Rosie, his old team- mate back at U. of London. Up to this time, winks had modeled itself after other campus sports and clubs, and though nothing in NATwA explicitly stated that team members must be students, that had been the practice. Precedent already existed in England for non-students playing with the most convenient team around, but this marked the first time such a thing was done here. This expansion of the definition of a team to a group of people rather than a group of students paved the way for our current informal definition of teams, including teams like Hyth, Zoo, and Rivendell. Waterloo did not like this idea, partly on principle and partly because Phil’s superior play led Cornell to victory over the home team favorites. After the match, Ronald Rumm, the Waterloo captain, answered no letters, did not send the official score sheets as promised, didn’t send the local publicity as promised—and his check for Waterloo’s $2 NATwA dues bounced!
Following the Waterloo tournament was a frighteningly long lull in winks activity. The next winks match was the Continentals at Cornell in December 1968, over a year later. At Waterloo, the consensus had been to switch from the old challenge cup format of tournaments to a yearly Continentals, with round robin play to determine the next champion. Cornell, as the new champ, was to be the site of the next Continentals, and it was up to them to arrange the time for this event, some time in the fall of 1968. Cornell, however, was in a state of disarray. The captainship had shifted from Severin to Fitz, who didn’t really want it, and accordingly did next to nothing. No new players were recruited, many old ones were lost to graduation, or moved away, or dropped out of winks, and meetings were poorly attended. The team had once had 15-20 active and semi-active players, but by December 1968 it had to struggle to find eight players, several of them quite green, to form the team. Meanwhile Mike Gottesman was still theoretically Secretary-General, but nobody heard from him at all, and he had dropped out of winks. Attempts to contact Harvard, Columbia, or Waterloo all failed, and so the realization slowly came that NATwA consisted solely of Cornell, MIT, and Toronto. So these people, seeing that the leaders they had looked to no longer existed, held the Continentals and at that meeting re-formed NATwA. This event marked the real beginning of the third NATwA, when leadership officially passed over to the new winkers, and when many important changes to NATwA’s structure occurred. MIT won the event decisively, becoming the first champion not built around a British superstar; in fact, none of the three teams present had any British players at all. (Rosie had left Cornell for Ottawa, and she and Phil had lost contact with NATwA. Around this time she reported in a letter to Winking World that winks in America was dead—she was not far from the truth.) A new Secretary-General was finally chosen to fill the void: Mitch Wand. Mitch had succeeded Ferd as MIT captain and had continued the steady growth and activity of that team. He had also introduced some new ideas and a remarkable capacity for hard work and efficiency. As Secretary-General he was to be a great success. At this meeting (the second Congress ever held, the first being the meeting where NATwA was formed) it was also decided to fix the date of the Continentals, to insure that they would occur, since the 1968 Continentals had been repeatedly postponed (someone or other not being able to make any of the tentative dates), almost into 1969. That fact bothered us (the Waterloo triumph at NATwA’s founding was considered the 1966 title, and Cornell’s win at Waterloo the 1967 title), so we decided to move the Continentals from the fall to the spring, so that even if scheduling problems forced a postponement, the championship for a year would still be held during that year. We chose Washington’s Birthday weekend since it was the only spring semester date we could think of that gave a travel day without being a long vacation. That meant that the 1969 Continentals was going to be held in just a little over two months from the 1968 Continentals, but this awkwardness was felt to be well worth the chance to get winking back on a firm footing. The site, as in times past, was to be that of the champion, namely MIT this time. In all, it was a very fruitful Congress, and it laid the cornerstone for NATwA as we know it today.