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