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Tic Tac Dough

By Wikipedia

Tic Tac Dough, billed as everybody's game of strategy, knowledge and fun, was a game show where contestants answered trivia questions to earn squares on a tic tac toe board.

Broadcast history

Tic Tac Dough originally ran during the 1950s (July 30, 1956-October 23, 1959 on NBC), but was cancelled, plagued by the quiz show scandals of that era. Hosts included Jack Barry (who produced the show with partner Dan Enright) and Gene Rayburn.

The modern version premiered at 9:00 a.m. (EDT) on Monday, July 3, 1978 on CBS as The New Tic Tac Dough, and moved into syndication that fall. It remained in production in syndication until its series cancellation in 1986, after 2,125 shows. Tic Tac Dough was hosted by Wink Martindale through 1985, when he left to create and host a new show, Headline Chasers, which would last only one year. Jim Caldwell emceed the eighth and final season.

A syndicated revival was tried in 1990 with Patrick Wayne hosting, but was a ratings failure (and also critically panned due to the inept hosting from Wayne and many unpopular changes from the original series) and lasted only half a season.

Jay Stewart was the primary announcer of the Wink Martindale-era episodes from 1978 to 1981, with Charlie O'Donnell announcing for the final five seasons. Johnny Gilbert, John Harlan and Art James filled in for the regular announcer (Stewart or O'Donnell) on occasion. The 1990 version featured longtime ABC promo voice and current KNX newsman Larry Van Nuys as its announcer, with James subbing for him for two weeks.

A British version, Criss Cross Quiz, ran on ITV from 1957 to 1967. Junior Criss Cross Quiz, without cash prizes, also ran alongside the main program for the whole of its run.

Rules of the game

The object of the game was to achieve a "three in a row" on a tic tac toe board (either across, up-and-down or diagonally), winning squares on the board by correctly answering trivia questions.

Tic Tac Dough used a "roll-over" format in its show (also sometimes known as "straddling"); there was no clear beginning or end to the game in any given half hour segment. Sometimes, in fact, a match between two players could run so long that it would take up multiple episodes.

Main game

A match between two players always begins with an empty Tic Tac Toe board, and the announcement of nine different categories. Standard categories are presented with a blue screen, and in later seasons, up to three special categories per round (like "jump-in" or "opponent's choice") are signified with a red screen (or a black screen during the CBS era).

The champion, playing 'X', begins a round by selecting one of the nine squares on the Tic Tac Dough board. If the player is able to correctly answer the question assigned to the space, he is awarded an 'X' for the space. Then the categories are shuffled and play continues with the challenger, playing 'O'. Play continues in this manner until one player achieves a "Tic Tac Dough" by achieving three 'X's or 'O's in a row, either across, up-and-down or diagonally; doing so ends the match. In the event of a draw, where no possible way to win exists, the board is cleared, and a new game begins. On the CBS version, when a tie game occurs, a toss-up question is asked, and whomever buzzed in with the right answer won the game.

Challengers are awarded $250 for every tie game should they end up losing the match.

For each won square, $200 is added into the winner's pot. The center square, however, being of the most strategic importance, adds $300 to the pot, but is a two-part question, with the player given ten seconds to think of the answers needed to win the square. In a tie game, the pot carries over into the next round.

As Tic Tac Toe, if played correctly, always ends in a draw no matter who goes first, the excitement in Tic Tac Dough resulted from the correct and incorrect answers given by the players. If one player was clearly better at answering trivia than the other, he would easily win. If, however, both players were equally matched in their trivia skill, a draw would likely occur. This could, in fact, happen multiple games in a row, pushing the value of the pot up dramatically.

Special Categories

The use of special categories, which appeared in red squares, began on the syndicated version beginning around 1980 with the "Secret Category", a mystery category that is announced by host Wink Martindale. A correct answer to that category doubled the value of the pot, and during one time, the pot would double to $10,000 or sometimes $20,000 or more. The double-value question boosted the pot to its highest during the five games that all-time Tic Tac Dough champ Thom McKee played against challenger Pete Cooper. After four ties, McKee eventually defeated Cooper in game five to win the largest single jackpot in the show's history -- $36,800. Cooper received $1,000 for the four tie games against McKee.

Eventually the "Secret Category" became the "Grand Question", which would add $1,000 to the pot with a correct answer.

At first, just one special category (starting in the lower center box) was used per game. Eventually, three of these appeared per game (in the upper center, center right and lower center boxes to start the game). These special categories added to the game's excitement, often because the outcome of the game could depending on a contestant's success (or lack thereof) in the given category be decided at any moment. Special Categories were never used in the center box.

Other special categories used are as follows:

  • Auction -- Somewhat similar to the "contract" on Bullseye. Players are read a question with multiple answers. Players take turns bidding on how many correct answers they can name. If the winning bidder can fulfill the bid, (s)he wins the box. If not, the other player only needs to give one correct answer in order to win the square.
  • Bonus Category -- A three-part question is asked, which, if answered correctly, gives that player another turn. More than once, a player obtained Tic Tac Dough without allowing his/her opponent a chance to play by selecting this category multiple times, which may have led to its eventual retirement during the final season. When that happens, the other player returns to play another game.
  • Challenge Category -- The player who selects this category may answer the question or challenge his/her opponent to answer.
  • Double or Nothing -- If the player answers the question correctly, he/she may either keep the box or risk it and try to earn another box. If successful, he/she gets both squares. If not, he/she loses both boxes. Like the Bonus Category, Tic Tac Dough can be accomplished by picking this category twice and a regular category on one turn.
  • It's A Dilemma -- Player hears a question and may ask for up to 5 clues. BUT, the opponent decides who answers the question. Not a popular category and is usually picked only for a block or for Tic Tac Dough.
  • Jump-In Category -- Both players put their hands on the red plungers in front of them and a question was asked to both players. Whomever buzzed in with the right answer won the square. An incorrect answer however, gives the other player a chance to win the box by hearing the entire question.
  • Number Please -- Somewhat like survey questions asked on Card Sharks. A player is asked a question that involves a numerical figure. The player who picks the category guesses the numerical number and his/her opponent then has to guess if the correct number is higher or lower. Whomever is closest to the correct answer won the box. An exact guess to the question won the square automatically.
  • Opponent's Choice -- Player answers a question from one of two categories. However, the opponent selects the category. When Jim Caldwell hosted, it was one question from one category or two questions from the other.
  • Play Or Pass -- The player could answer one question or pass on it but must answer the next question.
  • Seesaw -- Similar to that of Hot Potato. Question with multiple answers is read to both players. Players go back/forth naming correct answers until one player screws up, in which case, the other player earns the box. The box can also be won by giving the last correct answer.
  • Showdown -- Players hear a two-part question, using the plungers to ring in. First player to buzz in answers one part of the question. The other answers the other part. If one player answers right and the other player answers wrong, the player with the right answer earns the box. If both players answer right or both answer wrong, another question is asked.
  • Three to Win -- In this category, both players play by using the red plungers as a series of questions are asked. The first player to answer three toss-up questions correctly gets the square.
  • Top Ten -- Somewhat like Family Feud, in which a question with ranked answers is asked. The box is awarded to the player who guesses the highest answer possible, with the number one answer earning that player the box automatically. Renamed Top This during the final season.
  • Trivia Dare -- Multiple-choice question is asked. Player may answer or dare the opponent to answer. If the player who answers first is right, (s)he wins the box. Otherwise, the other player selects from the remaining two choices. If right, that player wins the box. If not, the other player wins the box.

Bonus round

The winner of a Tic Tac Dough match was given the chance to "Beat the Dragon." The Tic Tac Dough board was given nine numbered boxes. Behind two were the words "Tic" and "Tac." Behind others, six dollar amounts were available: $100, $150, $250, $300, $400 and $500. Behind the last box was the "Dragon" (and his mean growl).

The object was for the player to accumulate $1,000 or more; if successful, the player won a prize package that consisted of furniture, trips, jewelry and much more. The player automatically won by uncovering "Tic" and "Tac" (at which point the player also had his cash total amended to $1,000). However, if the player found the Dragon before reaching $1,000 (or finding both "Tic" and "Tac"), the game ended and the player lost the prize package and any accumulated cash. The contestant could stop at any time, take the money and forget the prize package.

During one short time in 1983, a player had to accumulate $1,000 exactly without going over. That rule was quickly scrapped.

For a brief time in 1983, members of the studio audience were invited onstage to play a special "Find the Dragon" game. Unlike the regular bonus round, the idea was to find where the dragon was hidden using the remaining numbers. The first player to reveal the dragon won $250 (but everyone who played got a Tic Tac Dough "Dragon" cap just for playing). For a brief time, two audience members play the game.

On the CBS daytime version in the '70s, the bonus round had four Xs, four Os and one dragon. The Xs and Os were shuffled and distributed so that there was only one way to win. The player started calling off numbers. Each X and O that appeared was worth $150 to the pot. The player had the option to take the cash and end the game or continue to play. Finding the "Dragon" lost the bonus round and the money. Finding 3 Xs or Os in a row meant the contestant won the money and a prize package.

If a player was fortunate enough to win five Tic Tac Dough matches in a row, he would win a new automobile, as follows:

  • 1978-1979 Buick Skylark
  • 1979-1981 Buick Century
  • 1981-1984 Chevrolet Chevette
  • 1984-1985 AMC Eagle
  • 1985-1986 Mazda GLC

Except for the AMC Eagle (which was worth $12,000), most of the cars were valued at around $6,000. Players remained on the show as long as they kept winning.

One player in particular, one Naval officer named Thom McKee (see picture on right), was a relative mastermind on Tic Tac Dough. Over the course of nine weeks on the show in 1980, he was able to win against 43 opponents, win eight cars and take home $312,700 in cash and prizes. Over $200,000 of that was in cash (adjusted to today's dollars would bring the value to more than $794,100 in total winnings), a syndication record for a solo player until 2002. His winning streak was a record for 24 years until Ken Jennings broke the record on Jeopardy! in 2004.


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Aired: 1978-1986

Cast: Wink Martindale, Jim Caldwell, Johnny Gilbert

Network: CBS

Genre: Game Show

Theme song

Image courtesy of CBS

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It uses material from this Wikipedia article, which is probably more up to date than ours (retrieved August 12, 2005).

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