Tri-Nim Game

This game, named on the case “tri-nim: THE GAME for COMPLEAT STRATEGYSTS,” was developed by brothers Bruce L. and Hervey C. Hicks. Hervey C. Hicks was a mathematics professor who, before his death in 1944, developed an early version of this game. Bruce L. Hicks, an applied physicist who was also interested in games, taught at the University of Illinois and in 1967 was appointed Research Professor in their Computer-Based Education Research Laboratory. TRI-NIM is based on one of many variants of an old game that was described by Harvard mathematics professor Charles L. Bouton in a 1901 article “Nim, A Game with a Complete Mathematical Theory” in the Annals of Mathematics.
Nim usually starts with piles of objects; players take turns removing objects from one of the piles with the aim of being the player who takes the last remaining object. Since the strategy for playing Nim involves binary arithmetic, it was among the first mathematical games to be played on dedicated machines and on computers. TRI-NIM is played on a board and introduces rules of movement to the basic idea of just removing objects in Nim.
The red plastic TRI-NIM game box contains a rectangular cardboard game-board cut like a jigsaw puzzle into four pieces. On the game-board there is an equilateral triangle cut into thirty-six small equilateral triangles. The three small corner triangles are white with “6 goal” in blue. Proceeding from the corners toward the center, the triangles are blue and are marked 5, 4, 3, 2, or 2’ in white. The center nine triangles form an equilateral triangle with the corners red and marked with 1 in white, and the remaining triangles are white and each is marked with a red 0. In addition to the game-board, the game box contains forty-five plastic chips—thirty-six are red and there are three each of blue, green, and yellow. The box also includes instructions for playing a basic game and three variations of it.
In TRI-NIM, the chips are placed on the triangles marked 0 in the center. The players take turns moving chips out from the center heading toward one of the three triangles marked: GOAL. While there are no restrictions on the number of chips to be placed on any pile at the start of the game, there are restrictions in how chips are moved. The strategies involved in this game relate to both the original placement of the chips and the moves made after that.
Over the years the name and location of the distributor of TRI-NIM changed, although the phrase “Games For Thinkers” has been associated with it from the start. Price lists in the WFF ‘N PROOF Newsletters (part of the documentation in accession 317891) indicate that at first the set of puzzles was distributed by WFF ‘N PROOF in New Haven, Connecticut, and sold for $3.50. In 1970 the price was raised to $4.50 and in 1971 the game was distributed by WFF ‘N PROOF through Maple Packers in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania. A firm called Learning Game Associates of Ann Arbor later took over distribution and donated this example to the Smithsonian in 1975. The Accelerated Learning Foundation of Fairfield, Iowa, then became the distributor.
Games For Thinkers Website.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Hicks, Bruce
Hicks, Hervey
Learning Games Associates
Physical Description
plastic (overall material)
paper (overall material)
overall: 2.5 cm x 15.25 cm x 12.5 cm; 31/32 in x 6 in x 4 29/32 in
place made
United States: Michigan, Ann Arbor
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Science & Mathematics
Mathematical Recreations
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Mathematical Recreations
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Learning Games Associates
Additional Media

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