The Tic Tac Toe Clue

tic tac toe

© yarnspinnerr

Private Investigator Margurite Carter and her client, shipping tycoon Jeremiah Burton, were inside one of his waterfront warehouses sometime past midnight.

“You’re sure my partner is using this place to hide opium smuggled in from the Far East?”

“Yeah, but we still have to find proof before going to the cops.”

“Where do you suggest we look?”

“Try someplace besides my chest. My eyes are up here.”

“Sorry.” Burton wasn’t used to not being in charge of every situation and tried to look chagrined.

“Men.” Margurite rolled her eyes.

They stood in front of nine stacks of crates organized three across by three deep. “My source said it should be among these.”

“You trust the cook on the freighter that delivered this cargo?”

“He said he’d leave a clue. Wait. A sheet of paper’s stuck to the far right stack with a butcher knife.”

“Odd, but so what? It’s just a game of tic tac toe.”

Carter snapped her fingers as the proverbial light bulb illuminated over her head. “No it isn’t. It’s a map.

I wrote this for the 175th FFfAW Challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. The idea is to use the image above as a prompt for crafting a piece of flash fiction between 100 and 175 words long. My word count is 175.

Once again, I dusted off my 1940s “hardboiled detective” Margurite Carter who first appeared in The Haunted Detective and was mentioned in The Digital Muse. I couldn’t think of a story about a game of tic tac toe, but as a map or diagram describing which of the stacks of crates contained opium, it worked just fine.

To read other stories based on the prompt, visit

16 thoughts on “The Tic Tac Toe Clue

  1. It seemed to me an all-too-cryptic map. You said stacks of crates, three across and three deep, but without describing how many high, and you provided a two-dimensional clue for a three-dimensional puzzle. But even if this “map” were interpreted as a top-down planar view, and even if the opium were in every crate of a given stack it would be necessary to investigate at least two crates at the top of the stacks to determine if “O” or “blank” were the symbol indicating where to look for it, presuming that “X” was intended as a negative. If the opium were known to be a smaller quantity, say, in only a single box of the array, then it might be possible to search only the box at the top of the only stack with neither an “X” nor an “O”. Nonetheless, the mathematics of probable interpretations would require more information than the “map” diagram alone could supply. If the stacks themselves were also three crates high, then the placement of the clue could be deemed as reducing the problem by isolating only the nine crates of the right-most stack as viewed horizontally from the right side. If the map were mounted upside-down from the image as shown above, it could be indicating the top-middle crate. If mounted as shown, the crate in question would be on the bottom of the stack and thus harder to access, given the additional clue that only one crate contained opium. Regrettably, without such additional clues, your characters will still have quite a bit of searching to do.


    • All very good points, PL. One of the problems with flash fiction is the limited word count, though I admit, I probably wouldn’t have come up with so detailed an analysis of the puzzle.


  2. Loved the eyes up moment, after this week I may never be able to look at a game of tic tac toe without seeing a map.🙂


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