Nurdles and squidgers and winks, oh my!

Nov. 18, 2005, midnight | By Alex Hyder | 16 years ago

Blair junior among top 60 in world tiddlywinks rankings

In its long, storied history, Montgomery Blair has produced more than its share of dominant athletes. Gymnast Dominique Dawes, hero of the 1996 Olympics, attended Blair. So did Washington Wizard David Vanterpool and Orlando Magic point guard Steve Francis. Now, Blair is the proud home of another rising athletic star, a junior who, at age 16, has become a tour de force — number 52 in the world rankings — in his chosen sport.

His name is Max Lockwood, and his sport is tiddlywinks.

The sport of princes

Having just donated a pint of blood to the Red Cross, Lockwood, sipping a soda, looks exhausted. But when talk turns to mats, pots, squidgers and winks, the accouterments of his beloved game, he is quick to liven up. "Tiddlywinks is a sport," he declares insistently. "It takes physical skill. Obviously on a micro-level, but it takes physical skill."

"It started as a children's game," he explains. Tiddlywinks started out in Victorian England as a simple game of "squidging" small plastic discs called winks into a cup by pressing down on them with a round "squidger."

The game lay dormant as a pastime of schoolchildren until students at Cambridge picked it up in the late 1950s, modifying the rules to make the game one of strategy as well as skill. They devised a game where players vie to "pot" their winks, aiming theirs at the cup or trying to land them on top of their opponents' winks, rendering them inaccessible. The students standardized wink, mat, and cup sizes, devised a complex system of scoring and rules, and organized the first tournaments. Soon, the gained popularity "until even Prince Phillip started playing." The British royal, Lockwood explains, soon became a part of tiddlywinks lore.

"There was a headline in some tabloid newspaper — 'Does Prince Phillip Cheat at Tiddlywinks?'," he says with a laugh. The tiddlywinks club at Cambridge asked the Prince, in a letter, to send a team to defend his honor. "So he sent [the cast of] this popular radio show called 'The Goons' — with Peter Sellers, probably the most famous tiddlywinker — as his royal champions." Although the Prince's team "lost…miserably," Lockwood, who has been playing tiddlywinks since he was seven, notes that the incident gave the game a label it bears to this day: "ever since, it's been the sport of princes."

"After that, it was really popular in England for about 15 years," he says. During that time, it crossed the Atlantic, becoming a favorite diversion at New England colleges like MIT, where Lockwood's father, Dave Lockwood, who was once ranked #1 in the English Tiddlywinks Association's world ratings, picked it up as a student in the 1970s. Lockwood, who learned the game from his father at the age of seven, eventually became so enthused with tiddlywinks that he sought ways to share the game with those around him.

BATS at Blair

In stark contrast to the bitter cold outside, a warm welcome greets newcomers to room 345 this afternoon. Sporting jeans and a blue soccer shirt, junior Mihir Narain, Lockwood's friend and the Vice President of the club Lockwood founded, tears himself from a heated tiddlywinks game to greet visitors.

Lockwood's enthusiasm for the game led him to start his own tiddlywinks club at Blair in April of last year. "We unanimously agreed to call it BATS — the Blair Association of Tiddlywinkers," says Narain, who admits that the name is "whimsical, but we're about having fun."

Awash in the jovial atmosphere in the room, Narain offers a compelling reason for students to take up the sport: "unlike drugs, tiddlywinks is good for you." When questioned about the comparison, he explains that when Lockwood introduced him to the sport, "it was pretty addictive."

The club began as a group of Lockwood's friends who met to play tiddlywinks during 5b lunch. Although the club started small, word of mouth soon swelled the group's ranks with Blazers eager to try their hand at the game. "Don't tell any teachers," Narain says with a wry smile, "but it was so hyped that some people would skip their 5b class to go [play tiddlywinks.]" For the 2005-2006 school year, Lockwood was able to secure a staff sponsor so that the club could meet on Tuesdays after school.

After several weeks of meeting regularly, the club traveled to Ithaca, New York to participate in the American Singles Tournament, where Lockwood achieved his ranking by playing in ranked games. "Ithaca is a tiddlywinks Mecca," explains Narain, "so it was like a pilgrimage for us winkers."

At BATS meetings, players can experience firsthand the game Lockwood loves. In the middle of the room, experienced players work on specialty shots, trading jokes across the playing mat as they try to resolve the sticky situation of being "nurdled" — being in a poor position to make a shot. Meanwhile, neophytes at another table struggle just to keep their pieces on the mat. Though frustrated, they can't help but laugh off their embarrassment and try again.

"Honestly, it's a lot of fun," says Lockwood. "I've never met a person who tried tiddlywinks and actually did not like it." Although he is quick to point out that just about anyone can have fun playing tiddlywinks, he admits that the game is not perfect: "Just about the only thing it doesn't have going for it is the name."

Alex Hyder. Hyder, as he is affectionately (or, as is often the case, not-so affectionately) known, is thoroughly enthused about his position on SCO. A junior in Blair's Magnet Program, he is too lazy to write a more extensive bio but nonetheless finds the energy to write … More »

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