Tapatan & the Towers of Tutankhamen

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Project by vipond33 posted 12-17-2011 09:37 PM 3679 views 19 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Here are two small games for your building and playing pleasure, sure to fit your wood and time budget to a T. All alliteration aside, both are fun to play for adults and kids alike and easy to build from scrap.

First up is Tapatan, an ancient game from the Philippines that superficially resembles that hoary old children’s classic, Tic Tac Toe. But while Tic Tac Toe is quite boring to anyone older than a first grader, Tapatan is anything but. Using the same grid – on my own build just being imaginary – three pebbles each are placed alternately with the aim of forming three in a row. But after all pieces are down, then they may be moved to any adjacent point. “There are 1,680 ways for each player to drop each of their 3 pieces on the board”.(Wikipedia) Quite a bit more than your childhood game.

House rules sometimes say you may not initially drop on the centre point, or, you may not win diagonally, or, only diagonally. You may also win by trapping your opponent in a corner.

My particular version was fashioned from a single block of something or other tropical hardwood, waste drilled out and then finished with a very very long router bit. A sliding dovetail ebony lid completes it with a bullet catch added for security. The obverse side is dimpled on the points for playing on the bed or in the car, as polished stones will slide very easily. And I really can’t resist, but in Sweden this game is called Tripp Trapp Trull.

Next up is a game more commonly referred to as The Towers of Hanoi. A single player game, with sideline kibitzing or coaching often enjoyed, it has the object of transferring all the discs from one post to another but never placing a large one over a smaller one. You may play from one to eight pieces as your skill increases but with the stiff warning that the number of moves increases exponentially. To illustrate, I’ll let take over here.

“The puzzle was invented by the French mathematician Édouard Lucas in 1883. There is a legend about an Indian temple which contains a large room with three time-worn posts in it surrounded by 64 golden disks. Brahmin priests, acting out the command of an ancient prophecy, have been moving these disks, in accordance with the rules of the puzzle, since that time. The puzzle is therefore also known as the Tower of Brahma puzzle.
According to the legend, when the last move of the puzzle is completed, the world will end. It is not clear whether Lucas invented this legend or was inspired by it. If the legend were true, and if the priests were able to move disks at a rate of one per second, using the smallest number of moves, it would take them 264−1 seconds or roughly 585 billion years. It would take 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 turns to finish”.

Well. Your playing time will be considerably shorter I should think. Four discs takes 15 moves for a perfect game, eight discs requires 255. Buy a cheap handheld counter if you want to go crazy.

My own game is re-named from the original because I found a stunning piece of discarded white ash, just the right size, containing a figure resembling the boy king’s death mask. A bit spooky, really.

The pegs are cherry and the “discs” are rosewood and bird’s eye maple.
Traditionally, these pieces were circles, but squares are so much easier to fabricate and make pretty than circles, unless you’re a turner of course. My initial run of hole sawed discs were a bear to clean up and so abandoned.

The finish on both games is Tried and True with varnish, Goddard’s wax.

Tapatan 5”x5”x1” About 3 hrs.
Towers 11”x4”x3” About 4 hrs.
Build on LJ’s.

Some links:

Tapatan history:

Towers game online play with optional computer solutions:

A close up:

On the road:

-- gene@toronto.ontario.canada : dovetail free since '53, critiques always welcome.

8 comments so far

View peteg's profile


4423 posts in 3023 days

#1 posted 12-18-2011 12:20 AM

What a greta series & a lot of fun for one & all, never heardf these ones gene, that is a lovely box in the cover shot, verty nice creative work as usual, :))

-- Pete G: If you always do what you always did you'll always get what you always got

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3508 days

#2 posted 12-18-2011 12:47 AM

Really unique and quite clever. I saw a version of the second game in a DVD I rented this past weekend…The Return to The Planet of The Apes. The Ape named Cesar solved it.

View JoeyG's profile


1275 posts in 2825 days

#3 posted 12-18-2011 04:13 AM

These are some really cool games. I see more projects for me and my kids. Thanks for sharing and the idea’s you have giving me.

-- JoeyG ~~~

View clieb91's profile


3521 posts in 4135 days

#4 posted 12-19-2011 03:28 AM

Gene, Thanks for sharing. I am always looking for variations of common games and the first one is most certainly that. I do also like the idea of the squares as opposed to disks.


-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View mafe's profile


11741 posts in 3289 days

#5 posted 12-27-2011 11:54 PM

Wauuu I love that Tapatan you made it is so beautiful!
You are by fare my favorite woodworker, you always amaze me with the level of detail, finish and shape.
I will have to make a Tapatan game for travel.
Thanks for sharing this with us here.
Hope you are fine and with a smile on your lips these days.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View rance's profile


4266 posts in 3360 days

#6 posted 01-23-2012 02:35 AM

The Tapatan is much nicer and I’m sure took more time than it might first appear. The grain pattern and construction method stumps me. Maybe I’m making more of it than there is. I can see this being built by several methods from simple to complex. Judging from your past projects, I doubt you took the simple route. A picture of the rear with the curved corners might explain some things before you actually spill the beans(or rocks in this case). And your ” dovetail free since ‘53” tag line appears to be telling a myth with this one. No? :) Well done on both of these projects.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View vipond33's profile


1405 posts in 2697 days

#7 posted 01-23-2012 04:08 AM

@rance – What we’re talking about is discrete dovetails, ugly joinery thingy’s, meant to be hidden on first class work and never to be used on decorative cases. Sliding dovetails though are like the Delta blues, slick working and high feeling. Now can I come to your shop and find a hand-plane anywhere, no matter how well hidden?
No mystery on the game block, it is as described with a very nervous session on the router table, with the dovetail cut after I regained my composure. The rounded ends came after I mitered the corners and did not like at all.

-- gene@toronto.ontario.canada : dovetail free since '53, critiques always welcome.

View rance's profile


4266 posts in 3360 days

#8 posted 01-23-2012 06:14 PM

The two I’ve purchased in the last 18 mo are still in their boxes, unused. Yeah, I stand guilty. Again, very nice work.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

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