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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

The other platform that came to mind for digitizing this Tic Tac Total activity is Jamboard.

Tic Tac Total

Want this Jamboard template? You can make a copy by clicking here.

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) (2424 downloads)

Tic Tac Total (Editable Publisher File ZIP) (590 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.