Who Moved My Empty Column?

Hem and Haw surveyed their progress. They had procured an empty column and only one row of cards had been dealt from the stock. Things were going well.

Every morning they would jog to the card room, analyse the current game state and find the best possible move (or a sequence of moves until they turned over a card). They had played for around 20 days and had every expectation of winning.

“The empty column is ours to keep,” said Hem.

“I agree,” replied Haw. “We earned it”

“With Empty Column E, the game becomes so much easier,” said Hem. “There are many more chances to expose more cards or build in-suit if you see e.g. a Six and Seven of Hearts in different columns. And the good news is we always get to keep our empty column”

Haw spots that Column 1 has a run from Eight to Ace, except the Five is missing.

“We can insert the Five of Clubs in column 9 into Column 1,”

Hem briefly searches for other possibilities but comes to the same conclusion: Haw’s suggestion is the best play.

<< a few days later >>

“Oh For 70,85,67,75,83 Sake!” shouts Hem.

“What’s wrong?” asks Haw.

“Our empty column is gone!”

“It’s not gone. I only count nine piles of car-“

It doesn’t take long for Haw to see the problem. It was no longer possible to expose a new card without using up Empty Column E.

The Little People survey the game state, searching for some hidden recourse – but in vain. Resigned to the inevitable, they stare blankly at the cards and stew.

Haw notices a giant mouse holding a red crayon and giving an oh-so-polite wink.

Year of the rat, 77,89, 65,82,83,69.

And then he sees it.

“Okay,” says Haw. “We need to give up the empty column for one more card, but what is our best option? We can shift a card in Column 1, 2 or 3, but it’s not great. At least we can expose a new card.”

“I noticed your supply of good moves was dwindling,” says the mouse. “I wasn’t surprised that you eventually had to give up Empty Column E.”

“True,” replies Haw. “But I wasn’t asking you. Besides, you didn’t exactly answer my question.”

Yes, the next few moves will probably be uncomfortable without Empty Column E, but if they play the cards well, they might find a new Empty Column N, maybe on the left half of the tableau. And a little luck wouldn’t hurt either. Unfortunately, the mouse isn’t of much help. Mice aren’t exactly known for their analytical skills and prefer to scurry from column to column and sniff out good moves by instinct.

After some thought Haw finds a different possibility.

“What if we shift the Two of Spades onto the Three of Clubs?” says Haw. “Then shift the Four of Hearts into the empty column and we build in-suit with 5-4 of diamonds. That way if we expose a Six then we get our empty column back. What’s your opinion? Hem? … Hem? …”

Alas, Hem had already tuned out long ago, oblivious to everything – his friend Haw, the mouse, the red crayon and the words “GET OVER IT” scrawled on the nearest wall.

To be continued …

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