Flexing your Brain’s “Seeing” Muscles

mental tic-tac-toe illustration

So here’s a little game a friend and I came up with when finding ourselves bored, in a car, stuck in the middle of traffic. I’ve found it to be quite relevant to honing the practice of visualization, and garnering problem solving skills that come in handy in any creative field. It’s mental tic-tac-toe. Amazing. This otherwise simple game, when played without pen and paper (and while operating a moving vehicle) can be quite the thriller… not to mention a bigger challenge than expected.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Decide the numbering of your grid’s boxes, for identification purposes. (Whether the numbers run horizontally top to bottom, or verically left to right, or sprial from out to in.)
  2. Take turns to call out numbers. You have to be attentive enough to remember the different spots that have already been claimed. (This is really a three person game… the two people battling it out in their heads need to be monitored by an impartial third party who acts as the umpire, keeping a record of their moves.)
  3. Once you get used to playing tic-tac-toe in your head, try adding a little twist. Literally. In the middle of the game, rotate the grid left or right, flip it, reflect it. It turns out to be harder than you expect, keeping all this in your head. I think my friend and I lost it after one rotation and a couple of flips…

They say practice makes perfect… but I wonder if this principle applies to the art of mental game playing… and let’s not limit this to tic-tac-toe. Who knows? After enough tries, we could start playing, say, chess in our heads. You’d just see two people sitting on a bench in a park, their brows knitted in concentration, mumbling numbers back and forth and occasionally shouting “check mate!’ in a state of triumph. Genius.