Prevent Global Thermonuclear War: Play Tic Tac Toe with Tableau!

Ever since Noah Salvaterra raised the possibility that Tableau could become self aware, I’ve been unable to sleep. The thought of sentient machines is unsettling. But then it occurred to me: the first thing you must do with any sentient machine or program is to teach it to play tic tac toe (to avoid global thermonuclear war, of course).


…I taught Tableau to play Tic Tac Toe! And it (he? she?) is indeed really playing! I had to give her the data and a set of rules. And now she wins or at least comes up with a draw nearly every single time. (There is actually one set of moves that gets you a win – if you can suggest a rule that would avoid that, please let me know edit: it wasn’t a rule issue, it was a data issue — now fixed ).

This was no small task. It makes the Choose Your Own Adventure dashboard look like child’s play. And indeed, I promised to give some explanation on the workings of that dashboard and am delinquent (because I got caught up in this project!). I beg forgiveness and make another promise: I’ll return at some point to give explanation for that one after giving some explanation for this one.

The explanation won’t be brief. But it will be fun and, hopefully, enlightening.

There are only 255,168 possible outcomes of the game (not including board symmetry). But I needed data at the level of detail of every possible move that leads to those outcomes — which means I had 4,949,514 rows of data. That’s not big data by any means – but it does exceed the 1,000,000 Tableau Public limit! Oops!

So, in a series of future posts I’ll explain the gymnastics required to build this dashboard. It will include things like generating the data set, culling the data, data densification (both at the source and in Tableau), some crazy data blending, slicing up data sets, action filters, sheet swapping, heuristics, and more! Hang on… …it’s going to be a fun ride!

In the meantime: play some tic tac toe. And save the world!

6 Responses so far.

  1. David Baldwin says:

    Wow. For years I’ve been concerned that some supercomputer would force me into playing Tic-Tac-Toe and that I would not be up to the task. One false move as a result of heavy eyelids or some client pinging me or some other random distraction and the results could be devastating! Now I have a tool to ensure a draw every time. Now I can sleep again at nights. Thank you, Joshua! (And well done!)

  2. kranthi says:

    hi joshua,
    happy new year joshua.
    i donot know whether this place to learn about tableau from basics.
    because i do have very basic questions, which might irritate you.
    so, before choosing you as tutor and start asking you questions, i would like to confirm from you whether you are comfortable to reply my basic questions on tableau.
    i really have desire and want to set my career as analyst.

  3. Jason Wee says:

    Dear Joshua,
    I am a Lecturer in a learning institution in Singapore. Can I download your Tic Tac Toe workbook?
    My email is

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *