Here we are in the dreaded Blue Screen Of Death. It is reputed to be the hardest version of the game, and even the Spider GM loses over half the time. And it’s got an ominous picture of a Spider web in the background. It ain’t called the BSOD for nothing if you excuse the terrible cliché. And we’re not aiming just to escape: we’re here to destroy the thing.
I am in the ninth column. Scanning the tableau I find only one other card of adjacent rank: the Jack of Spades. Perhaps he knows something I don’t (not likely since my rank is higher but you never know). I know from sad experience that the occasional victory is not enough to destroy the BSOD.
“Well, we do have The Prophecy,” says the Jack of Spades.
“A Prophecy?!?!?” I ask. “I didn’t know we had one. How do you know-”
“I had a strange dream. After we exited the White Screen in Part Two of this trilogy I heard voices.”
“What did they say?” I ask impatiently.
It is clear all the other cards are paying full attention. Otherwise the Four of Hearts would have already moved onto the Five of the same suit by now.
“Now if you are to break the Spider’s curse,” the Jack of Spades intones solemnly, “the value must be five percent or worse.”
“But – but that sounds lame.”
“True. But it’s the only prophecy we’ve got,” replies the Jack. “Or more precisely, it was the only thing I heard that vaguely sounds like some kind of prophecy.”
I repeat the prophecy in my head several times, trying to make sense of it but to no avail.
“Hang on,” I say. “This prophecy is written in the iambic pentameter.”
“You’re right,” says the Jack of Spades. “I wonder if that has any signif-“
“But the Ninja Monkey has reproduced the entire works of Shakespeare, so surely he knows a thing or three about iambic pentameter.”
The monkey enters, as if on cue.
“Good point,” says the Jack of Spades. “Maybe he can help us decipher Monkey the want prophecy to play! Monkey want to play! Play play play play play!”.
“Or maybe not,” I reply.
Ninja Monkey has taken maximum weirdification to the next level. This time he has brought along a friend named Ninja Mouse. Ninja Mouse controls a small arrow on the screen using his telekinetic powers, while the monkey caresses the mouse’s fur (presumably to keep him warm in this miserable cold weather). Spider GM clicks his fingers and the fun immediately begins.
And I must say, the monkey and mouse are 75,73,67,75,75,78,71 65,82,83,69. They have all of us sorted into the foundations in less than two seconds. They start another hand and again we’re sitting pretty in the foundations in less than two seconds.
“It’s all too good to be true.”
Now it’s my turn to hear voices – but to be fair, I should probably pay more attention to whatever’s inside the back of my head. Then I notice with horror the Monkey and Mouse aren’t playing properly. We’re neatly arranged in complete runs from Ace to King, but in different suits. They are pretending the game is one-suited. Clearly the Spider GM has given them the wrong instructions. And as luck would have it, the Spider GM is nowhere to be found.
“Ah, there it is, the 70,85,67,75,69,78,73,78,71.”
Hang on, I got distracted. I was supposed to be figuring out something. What was it again? Oh that’s right: the value must be five percent or worse. But what is this value? Perhaps every time we win a game (preferably Four-Suited sans 85,78,68,79) the Spider’s value decreases. The value could be a company’s market capitalisation. If that ever goes below 5 percent of GDP then we’re quids in … okay I’m clutching at straws if you pardon the cliché, but it’s hard to find a better explanation when the arrow is moving us from one column to the other at a million miles an hour (another terrible cliché I know). What I do know is that Monkey’s strategy is not improving, even with the Mouse’s help. If anything, it seems to be getting worse.
Then I pick up on something unusual. I started 100 consecutive games in exactly the same position: top of column Four after the third round of cards is dealt from the stock. It occurs to me that Spider GM has done this on purpose, and has given the monkey some special instructions. I’m not exactly in the mood to try to work out what the Grand Master is aiming for. At least the Monkey and Mouse play with their usual dexterity and I won’t have to wait too long until this saga is over. They complete 4000 games in a mere 2 hours.
Uh oh. This can’t be good.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Monkey is sad. Monkey is losing”.
Oh well, at least Monkey has fixed his bad habit of talking too fast and interrupting everybody else before they finish their sentence.
“Please don’t cry,” I say. “I want to help you – I can teach you how to play well at Four-Suit solitaire. I beg you, please slow down and only move a card when I tell you to.”
Spider GM kneels down and gives him a hug. Awwww … Unfortunately it looks like I won’t be teaching the Monkey how to kick 65,82,83,69 at Four Suit Spider any time soon. Oh well, so much for becoming the hero and saving the world.
“What happened?” I ask the Grand Master.
“Something is wrong with the Blue Screen of Death,” he replies. “The longer you play with it … the more difficult it is to win.”
I sense the Grand Master is also distraught, as he struggles to choose his words carefully.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Let me explain. Ninja Monkey played 40 hands and pretended the game was 1-suit, not 4-suit. He repeated each hand 100 times-“
“I gathered that,” I say. “I wasn’t born three days before yesterday.”
“So on each hand,” continues Spider GM, “we can estimate the chances of winning to be such-and-such percent.”
I nod in agreement.
“Would you care to pick two numbers between 1 and 40?” asks the GM.
“3 and 15”.
“Monkey won Game Three 88% of the time and Game Fifteen 45% of the time. That’s an inversion because Game Three is harder than game Fifteen. Pick again.”
“Okay, 5 and 32”
“That’s another inversion. Monkey won game Five 47% of the time and game Thirty-Two 11% of the time.”
“Hang on,” I say. “If the games are sorted by increasing winning percentage then there would be no inversions.”
“Correct, and if they are sorted in reverse order then there would be 780 inversions”.
I do a quick calculation: 40 * 39 / 2 = 780.
“Also correct,” I reply. “On average there should be 390 inversions.”
“Ninja Monkey says he got 468 inversions. That’s a lot bigger than 390”
Maybe that was bad luck,” I reply. “Besides, how do we know that a difference of 78 is reasonable or not?”
“But this is where statistics comes in. We can show that if the game were not biased then 468 or more inversions in 40 hands would occur less than once per 20 trials.”
I’m starting to get lost. At least the GM is talking English and is not saying something stupid like “Import Numb Pie As N. P.”
“Can you explain in more detail?” I ask.
Spider GM clicks his fingers. Ninja Monkey gets a large sheet of paper and cuts out 40 rectangles, numbered from 1 to 40. He then shuffles and deals them in a row. He counts 370 inversions and writes the number 370 on another sheet of paper. He then shuffles again and deals a new permutation of numbers 1 to 40. This time he gets 423 inversions, higher than the expected value of 390. He writes the number 423 next to 370. He rinses and repeats for one hundred thousand trials. Then he draws a pretty graph. Needless to say, all this in less than 25 seconds after Spider GM clicked his fingers. Only for 3558 trials is the number of inversions 468 or greater.
“You see,” continues Spider GM, “the null hypothesis says each hand occurs with equal probability. Assuming this is true, the chances of getting 468 or more inversions is 0.036. In statistical language we call 0.036 the p-value, which happens to be less than 0.05. Therefore 468 or more inversions is significant at the alpha equals 0.05 level.”
“What does that mean in layman’s terms?” I ask.
“It means we have evidence that The Game Is Rigged,” replies the Spider GM, adding a triumphant emphasis on the last four words.
“Hang on, what’s so special about 0.05? Why not 0.01 or some other number?”
Spider GM stands up and points to the exit. As Monkey and Mouse immediately scurry away stage left, the Grand Master clenches his fist and glares at the Blue Screen Of Death. I have barely enough time to convert 0.05 into a percentage and register that the prophecy has just been fulfilled.
Spider GM is a tower of strength as he slams his right fist into the computer screen.
He is a demigod who can do no wrong, and who gives a flying 70,85,67,75 if his right hand is bleeding profusely? Everything turns into a blur and I feel like we are being time-warped to somewhere new (why does this happen in every part of the trilogy?). But at least the curse is broken, so hopefully this can only be for the better.
Fast backward to 1965. No Limit Texas Holdem is the hottest game in the animal jungle, and personal computers and mobile devices haven’t been invented yet. A group of monkeys cheerfully shove large stacks of chips across the table without apparent rhyme, iambic pentameter, or reason. I guess I can try to reverse engineer the rules of Texas Holdem as the dealer turns over each card, but after listening to the Grand Master explaining Statistics 101 I am mentally exhausted. I surrender to their unbridled joy and delightful unconcern as a chimpanzee bangs away at the piano. The music sounds absolutely atrocious but nobody cares when everybody has a jolly good time. The Spider GM has no trouble maintaining law and order during poker nights. Nobody throws a tantrum after a bad beat and all the monkeys handle the cards and chips with the utmost care. Everybody lives happily ever after – except the guy(s) who designed the Blue Screen Of Death.
Yes, this really is a true story. The monkey correctly reproducing all of Shakespeare’s works, the mouse’s telekinetic powers and cards moving by themselves and speaking perfect English are all true. Even the part where I smash the computer screen with my right fist is true. And so is all the math and statistics. Okay, so I lied about time travelling back to 1965 but everything else is kosher.
If you still don’t believe any of this please check out my paper on Spider Solitaire.
I will however admit to never winning anything in a short story competition in my entire life. Not even an Honorable Mention. So if anyone can give me tips on improving my writing then please leave a comment or three 🙂