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Tic Tac Total Puzzle

I’m back today with a new puzzle, Tic Tac Total. This puzzle, unlike the Pair Ups Puzzle I shared recently, can easily be applied to the distance learning classroom.

It’s from the same excellent book Test Your Math IQ by Steve Ryan. I was able to borrow the book for free from the Internet Archive’s online lending library. I highly recommend this site for checking out various books before you commit to buying a copy!

Test Your Math IQ Book Cover

Like I mentioned before, the thing that made this puzzle stick out to me as I browsed through the book was the fact that the puzzle could be easily adapted to digital platforms. The puzzler is given three tic-tac-toe boards which have numbers in each cell.

The goal: To find a winning tic-tac-toe on each game board. Sounds easy enough, right? One game must contain a diagonal win, one game must contain a horizontal win, and one game must contain a vertical win. Additionally, each number from 1 to 9 must be included your three winning lines. That is the tricky bit.

In a Pre-COVID world, I would have definitely utilized my class set of dry erase pockets with this puzzle. There’s something magical about putting a dry erase marker in the hand of a student and giving them a task to tackle.


dry erase pockets

I cannot imagine teaching math without my dry erase pockets! They instantly make any activity more engaging and save me countless hours at the copy machine since I can use the same class sets of copies year after year.

Here are my current go-to recommendations:

If you don’t have a classroom set of dry erase pockets, you could also use heavy duty sheet protectors. But, I highly recommend investing in a classroom set of the pockets since they are so much more durable.

Tic Tac Total

For example, the solution below cannot be correct because the third tic-tac-toe board needs to involve a diagonal win using the numbers 3, 5, and 8. I did set down and solve this puzzle myself, and I found the logical thinking I had to go through to be quite enjoyable. I think your students will enjoy tackling Tic Tac Total.

Tic Tac Total

Digital Version

I can definitely see this puzzle serving as a fun intro or brain break for a Desmos Activity. Just toss the image in and have the students use the sketch tool to solve. Here’s my Desmos version of Tic Tac Total if you want to take a stab at solving the puzzle yourself!

Tic Tac Total

Download a Copy of Tic Tac Total Puzzle

More interested in a PDF to print or an editable Publisher file? I’ve got you covered, too!

Tic Tac Total (PDF) (3987 downloads )

Tic Tac Total (Editable Publisher File ZIP) (1314 downloads )

Puzzle Solutions

I intentionally do not make answers to the printable math puzzles I share on my blog available online because I strive to provide learning experiences for my students that are non-google-able. I would like other teachers to be able to use these puzzles in their classrooms as well without the solutions being easily found on the Internet.

However, I do recognize that us teachers are busy people and sometimes need to quickly reference an answer key to see if a student has solved a puzzle correctly or to see if they have interpreted the instructions properly.

If you are a teacher who is using these puzzles in your classroom, please send me an email at with information about what you teach and where you teach. I will be happy to forward an answer key to you.


Wednesday 11th of November 2020

Hi Sarah, I'm sorry if this is a silly question but I don't understand the Tic-Tac-Total problem. What makes the set of three numbers a winning tic-tac-toe? Do you choose a total ahead of time? I'm confused. Thanks in advance, Karen


Tuesday 1st of March 2022

@Karen, I had the same Question. Thanks for asking 💕


Wednesday 11th of November 2020

Not a silly question at all! You will know you have selected the winning numbers on each board if you end up using each of the numbers 1-9 once. Remember - you have to have one horizontal line, one vertical line, and one diagonal line. The word total is in the title is a bit misleading. Sorry about that. I was just using the same title as the original puzzle book.


Wednesday 11th of November 2020

Thank you Sarah these are great. I love what you do for math and the teachers.

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