Voice Card  -  Volume 26  -  John Card Number 3  -  Sat, Dec 19, 1992 1:49 AM

I have a confession to make. For years now I've been addicted to one of those insipid computer solitaire games. Paul has recently confessed that he, too, is a solitairolic. I know Betsy is and I suspect several other Archipelagoans are as well, if the truth be known.

And for the life of me, I can't explain why! Even as a life-long ponarvian and time waster extrodinaire, I am embarrassed by this habit. The game is absurd! It's all but mindless. And yet, once I start I have a hard time stopping. And I start all too easily.

There's something very restful about it. And of course I cannot help but to notice that each game corresponds to a vast maze, with each layout corresponding to a room. Playing solitaire is like strolling through a garden maze, with the occassional fork in the path, and an almost inevitable dead-end.

One of the reasons it's so hard to stop is that a terrible sense of irony pervades each dead-end. I always seem SO CLOSE to the promised land. Surely one more try is all it will take!

As I wander through game after game, I often wonder if there is any strategy to this nonsense. There are, after all, some subtle decisions to be made:

  • When given the choice, should you remove cards from left to right, from right to left, or try to remove them evenly? Does it matter? If so, how much?
  • How aggressive should you be in piling cards on the aces? Under what conditions should you refrain? Is it dangerous to let one suit pile up way ahead of the other three?
  • Given the choice, should you uncover a card from the main spread or from the deck? Are there any guidelines?
  • Are there any guidelines for placing cards on the main spread when you have a choice? Should that four of hearts go on the five of clubs or the five of spades?
  • Is it possible to estimate your chances of winning based on your starting situation? And what ARE the odds of winning anyway? I probably win one game in ten. Is this good?
  • How much difference can a good stategy make? 1%? 10%? What percentage of starting positions are unwinnable?
Many of these questions are surprisingly hard to answer. Solitaire is much more resistant to mathematical analysis than many other popular card games. While it's true that you can represent each game as a maze (or "graph"), the graphs are so VAST as to defy analysis. There are an almost infinite number of possible games.

Nevertheless, I have recently become persuaded that this embarrassing habit is worthy of study. Are any of you interested in contributing to that study?

I would very much like to hear any theories you have about the game and best guesses to any of the questions I asked above. Please respond to this card.

If anyone expresses even a passing interest, I will try to construct my own HyperCard solitaire game. I could then program the game with competing strategies and have each play a thousand games (a "Monte Carlo" analysis). I can also shuffle the deck in such a way that a victory is always possible and then play the game to see how often I win.

Any takers?