Game on (2 May 2021)

This is the position from last week

This is actually an excellent deal. We get back our empty column and have no less than four guaranteed turnovers (Well done to Bart for spotting this). But before we get too excited, let us think in terms of our old friend: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Wants:

We have no problem with turnovers and legal moves. We have one empty column, and a decent chance of another if the last face-down card in column 7 is favourable. We only have to remember to clear column 6 before turning over the last card in column 7, otherwise any bad card would be rather embarrassing!

We don’t have a lot of in-suit builds – but at least we can easily obtain a number of in-suit builds in addition to those we already have. We should also check whether it’s possible to remove a complete suit. With so many face-down cards remaining we expect to hear the bzzzzzzt sound – and sure enough none of the four possible suits are close.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Wants tells us we should be looking at getting more in-suit builds and empty columns. However (as I alluded to earlier), we should not be focusing entirely on a single layer – our main thoughts are getting more in-suit builds but bearing in mind other layers e.g. (1) making sure we do get at least four turnovers (2) increase flexibility by playing non-reversible moves at the last possible moment etc.

We get the Queen of Spades. This gives us a second column but counterfeits the possible turnover in column 1 since we no longer have a spare King to access the Eight of Clubs in column 10.

We could turnover Column 2 without losing an empty column but costs a lot of flexibility since we commit to Jack-on-Queen, Six-on-Seven, Eight-on-Nine and finally Ace-on-Two. Instead I chose to turnover column 1, giving up the second empty column. Note that we should dump the 7-6-5 straight into the empty column since we can always shift the Queen of Diamonds in column 10 into the other empty column and expose the Eight, winning back an empty column. The advantage becomes apparent if we reveal an Eight of any suit. In fact we very nearly get an Eight – alas I can only count Seven pips in Spades.

We next turnover column 2, taking care to dump the Ace into the empty column. We can always get it back with the Deuce of Spades in column 5. We get the Jack of Diamonds.

We could take another immediate turn-over in column 2, but then we would lose the opportunity to exchange the 7-6-5 of Clubs and Queen of Diamonds in columns 7 and 10. Therefore we get back our empty column and exchange cards in columns 7 and 10 as described above. This is not likely to cost since there are two Sevens in columns 1 and 7.

The next card is the Queen of Clubs.

We only managed to increase our four guaranteed turnovers to a measly five. But at least we’ve managed to gain some in-suit builds as predicted. It’s time to bid adios to our empty column, assuming the next card also rot13(fhpxf). This means any last-minute tidying up that we tried to delay (to increase flexibility) must therefore be done now.

How would you continue?

BONUS QUESTION: With 20-20 hindsight, I think the Noble Spider GM has goofed. But let us pretend for a moment the Grand Master deliberately goofed to give the student an opportunity to test his or her critical thinking skills. Why do I say the Noble Spider GM has goofed?

A Closer Look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Wants

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Wants

Okay, so I goofed. The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted an embarrassing typo or two in my last post. Mainly because I made a last-minute decision to change “hierarchy of needs” into “hierarchy of wants” which led to inevitable consequences. This should be fixed now. Lesson learnt!

The basic idea of MHoW is that given our current game state we should assess how well or badly we stand with respect to each layer. Then we have some idea of which part of the game to focus on. Sure, there may be some trivial decisions such as making a reversible move to build in-suit but inevitably there are critical points in a game where the right or wrong decision can decide your fate.

I should point out the Hierarchy of Wants is not necessarily linear. Either two items should be swapped or you could work on them simultaneously. As an extreme example, you might be able to remove a complete suit without obtaining an empty column at any stage of the game – which would be a cheevo in itself! There is certainly no law forbidding you from doing so, if the card gods were kind enough to allow it. But for most hands I would expect the above pyramid to be a good approximation of how an expert player would plan to win. In any case, you should feel free to tweak this pyramid as you gain experience.

Let’s look at an example or two:

Example 1

If Simon Anthony from Cracking the Cryptic were playing, he might be waxing lyrical about some promising signs: a suit of Spades has been removed, we have plenty of in-suit builds and excellent potential for obtaining empty columns (most columns have no face-down cards). Meanwhile Captain Obvious is yelling at the Screen, vainly trying to convince Simon the winning chances are exactly zero. With MHoW we immediately see the problem: we have failed at the lowest layer of the pyramid – and everything above this layer is rendered useless.

Okay, this was admittedly a trivial example but I only mentioned it because most losses are conceded before the player actually reaches a game state with no legal moves (and therefore “at least one legal move” is something we take for granted). So, this is something to bear in mind.

Now look at a second example:

Example 2

We have plenty of turnovers already and no problem finding legal moves. Although we cannot turn over extra cards before the final deal, we don’t really need them. We have one empty column – and hence some flexibility – and some promising in-suit builds. Clearly, we need to work on removing suits. For instance, we can immediately see a long run of Clubs in column 4 so one possible plan is to look for the remaining clubs (K-Q-J and 2-A).

Third example:

Example 3

Things look fairly promising. We immediately see two empty columns in four moves and further analysis shows we can actually clear at least one suit of Diamonds. With only six face-down cards remaining, either the game is mathematically won or the odds are very much in our favour. Therefore, we can jump to the top of the pyramid and start thinking about cheevos.

This example demonstrates another important lesson: don’t be intimidated by the sheer number of face-up cards in the tableau: It may turn out your position is very strong without realising it.

As a final word: it may be tempting to monitor the number of cards left in the stock to help decide which layer of the pyramid you should be working on, but that only works “on average”. I’ve had games where I could only ascend to the second level with only 10 cards remaining in the stock – yet still managed to win. Conversely, I’ve seen things go sour after a promising start. Use your common sense, and if something in the tableau screams “not an average hand” then listen to your gut and watch your results improve.

Until next time, happy Spider Solitaire playing 😊 May all your builds be in-suit and may all your long-term plans come to fruition!

Game on (25 April 2021, Alternative version)

Once upon a time, there lived a dude named Abraham Maslow. He kept to himself and had few friends. He brushed his teeth three times a day and only drank orange juice and water. His grades weren’t brilliant – then again he wasn’t terrible either. But like most folk at University, he found the lectures were boring. He was okay with Statistics, but would frequently ask himself why he signed up for Commerce and Law subjects. And the less said about Psychology the better. He would much rather spend time playing good ol’ Spider Solitaire.

During his early years he fantasised about obtaining long suited runs of cards and clearing entire suits before the third round of the stock was even dealt. But over time Maslow realised such wild dreams were only for mediocre players who never progressed beyond the Two-Suited version of the game.

There were no really good books on how to achieve awesomeness at Spider Solitaire so Maslow had to work everything out by himself. After much self-study he developed a “Hierarchy of Wants” for the aspiring Spider Solitaire player. At long last, Maslow found he could beat Four-Suit Spider Solitaire about 40% of the time without rot13(haqb).

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Wants

Maslow’s theory suggested players often made two types of errors. Type I errors involved a player only focussing on stuff at the bottom of the pyramid. This often resulted in a player having no idea how to convert an empty column plus a handful of in-suit builds into victory. Maybe the game state rot13(fhpxrq) so badly in other respects so as to render the initial gains worthless. A Type II error occurred when a player laid too much emphasis on grand plans and triumphant C-major chords whenever a complete suit was removed (at least in the Microsoft Windows version). In other words, a winning player should be building on a solid foundation (hence the pyramid) before he starts thinking about the grand plans and triumphant C-major chords.

Typical flow charts for players committing Type I (top) and Type II (bottom) errors

Finally, Maslow realised that once the player obtained a decent win rate at the Four-Suit level sans rot13(haqb) he or she could attain further self-fulfillment with the attainment of cheevos, as described in a previous post.

Maslow gave the following example of Hierarchy-of-Wants in action. Maslow noted that the game-state allowed only one guaranteed turnover, and there is a desperate want for empty columns. There are few in-suit builds and only one run of three suited cards (in column 3). Therefore, the player should ignore the fact that the entire Heart Suit is visible except for the Four.

Maslow gives an example in his famous 1943 paper

After the usual cycle of constant revisions and rejections, Maslow was finally able to publish what was to become his famous paper “The Psychology of Achieving Awesomeness at Spider Solitaire”. And everybody lived happily ever after.

Game on (25 April 2021)

This is the position from last week

The obvious option is gf,gc turning over a card in column 7. As usual, the obvious option isn’t always the best.

First, we can improve this slightly by building in-suit with the 8-7 of Hearts. More specifically, ig,if,gf,gi,gc does the job. To be more succinct, we can use a “supermove” and write that as if,gi,gc.

We also observe that we can turnover column 1. Although there is no empty column and all cards in column 1 are off-suit we have enough “stepping stones” to achieve this. One advantage of this is it gets a difficult task out of the way. There is a much better chance we can turn over column 7 later. Whereas if we refused to turn over column 1 then we might have to wait much longer for another opportunity.

However, this is all moot – we could just as well turn over column 7 and if nothing good happened we could still shift the Six of Hearts in column 1 onto the Seven of Hearts. So Column 1 isn’t a problem after all.

Yet another option is to turn over column 3. This avoids dumping an off-suit Seven onto the Eight in column 6, so any Nine gives us back an empty column. A severe disadvantage is it exposes two Aces. Remember that nothing can move onto an Ace, and in some cases, too many Aces can be worse than too many Kings.

Bart recommends the following:

  • Shift the Seven of Hearts in column 7 onto the Eight, remembering to build in-suit of course.
  • Move the Six of Hearts in column 1 onto the Seven of Hearts.
  • Shift the Five of Spades in Column 5 onto the Six of Spades. This allows several in-suit builds, but at the cost of exposing an Ace.
  • Take the turnover in column 7 and hope for the best.

Note that we were able to do a lot of shuffling cards despite the lack of an empty column.

Bart has also noticed that we have all cards in Hearts exposed apart from the Four. I think it’s too early to play for Hearts since we still need several good cards to reach them. For instance, column 10 contains the only Nine of Hearts and we need any King to shift the Queen of Diamonds in column 10 etc. I would rather focus on turning over cards, remaining flexible and avoid exposing too many Aces.

I like to think in terms of a “Hierarchy-of-Wants”. The diagram below isn’t exact but should suffice as a rough approximation (you can tweak this as you gain more experience). Ultimately, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact we wanna to remove complete suits, win the game and land the cheevo(s). But we need to build on solid foundations. We have only one turnover and desperately fighting for an empty column. Now is not the time to think about completing the Hearts. However, we do have some flexibility – as evidenced by the fact we had so many options for shifting off-suit cards despite the lack of empty column.

My recommended move sequence is: if,gi,gc

We get the Seven of Clubs. Bobbins. After some tidying up, we deal another round.

You may have noticed I took the trouble to shift the 4-3-2 of Diamonds on to the other Five of Diamonds. This avoids having two “free” Fives in the same column. If something bad happens to column 9 (e.g. the King of Clubs!) then we may well end up with a shortage of Fives. Still, not the most important consideration here, but I’ve lost enough games to know the importance of attention to detail.

But we digress, once again it’s time to ask ourselves how should we continue?

Is Joe Bloggs Ltd a legit company?

Following the success with my Spider Solitaire Sudoku puzzle, I think now is a good time to talk about estimating the legitimacy of a game product.

We’ve all been there. We happily downloaded the latest match-3 game. The graphics are slick, the music is polished and – well – the game turns out to be completely rot13(fuvg). Those with good memories may recall the Evony controversy involving some interesting images that had nothing to do with their game play. And the less said about those incessant Hero Wars ads on Facebook, the better.

There are some really shoddy products out there. The worst I’ve seen is a game called “Jewel Swap” by Shanghai New Dragon Restaurant Ltd. Yes, that name is not a typo or a cut-n-paste from the wrong document. A restaurant means what you think it means and it has nothing to do with the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. One level had “6 purple gems” in the goal section increase to “7 purple gems” for no reason at all – and the player had to earn their purples. They also had a different game with the exact same levels, same music but different graphics. The lesson I learnt was some developers are so egregiously bad they don’t even know how to hide the fact they are cheating.

Here are some indicators of a good or bad game:

Location Location Location:

A company’s location must be easily searchable. If Joe Bloggs Ltd sells happy star widgets but I need to pay an arm, leg and sixteen hours of my life just to find its location then forget it. Similarly, if you were applying for a job at Joe Bloggs Ltd you ought to know where it’s located. Like it or not, we have a thing called “competition” and users can easily find a better product out there.

Check the reviews.

Ideally a review should mention something specific about the game, or at least give some impression the reviewer has actually played the game. Otherwise, it fails the lost-sense-of-smell-due-to-COVID test. In other words, if a review is favourable then ask yourself “is it plausible that Joe Bloggs was bribed to write a good review despite knowing nothing about the game play?” If it’s not plausible then there is a good chance the review is legit. If all the reviews mention nothing specific then the flag is coloured red. Reviews should obviously be independent of the company otherwise Joe Bloggs Ltd can cherry-pick the good ones.

Social Media presence:

A good game will have lots of positive user comments on Facebook or Twitter (or some equivalent). A great game will go the extra mile and find creative ways to engage users, e.g., an informal fan art competition. A good example of a great company is UsTwo (of Monument Valley fame). A bad game will have Joe Bloggs Ltd singing its own praises with very little interaction from users.

Does the game stink after a dozen levels?

This is a double-edged sword since it’s easy enough for poor players to throw around incorrect accusations of cheating. One interesting example is Backgammon NJ for the Android Phone. But if you know your match-threes (*) you can quickly get a sense of when something doesn’t add up. If the other dot points above point in the same direction, then the flag is definitely coloured some strong shade of red. Obviously “dozen levels” doesn’t really apply to Spider Solitaire, but you get the gist.

(*) or substitute suitable game-genre here

Does Joe Bloggs Ltd have form?

If the company has other bad games then that’s a strong indication something is off. Although I didn’t mention this in my paper, the company that developed the “rogue” Spider Solitaire software had an even worse “Mah-Jong Solitaire”. We all know how many words a picture is worth so I will dump this gem below and let the reader judge for himself. Of course, I am assuming the reader has elementary knowledge of Mah-Jong tiles.

Needless to say, the company that developed the Spider Solitaire server failed miserably on all the above dot points.

What are your thoughts about good or bad game products? Are any important indicators missing? Do you have any favourite examples worth sharing? Of course, favourite examples don’t have to be bad!

Game on (18 April 2021)

The obvious option is to clear all the cards in column 6 and then turn over a card in Column 2. We can improve this plan slightly by turning over column 2 first since the empty column isn’t running away regardless of the new card. Clearly the minimum guaranteed turnovers is 2.

A closer look reveals that we can obtain two turnovers in a completely different manner. We get the empty column, then dump the Eight of Spades in column 8 into column 6. This gives us two turnovers in columns 7 and 8.

Well done to Bart for finding both options.

One problem with the second plan is we will have an off-suit 8-7 in Column 6 so it will be much harder to recover the empty column. Also, the Three of Clubs is not as useful as it looks. There are plenty of Threes left in the deck and two of the Deuces are in a junk pile in Column 3 anyway. Yes, the obvious plan reveals an Ace, but we have plenty of Twos floating around. Still one can argue that in a poor position it makes sense to play for “best-case scenarios” and any Nine puts us right back in the game.

It’s hard to judge. Rot13(shpx vg). I’ll just roll the dice, or more precisely, use the Random Number Generator on my phone. RNG votes for the funky play. Funky play it is.

It’s time for the second knowledge bomb from this blog:

If you use the random number generator and lose you can at least blame the results on something other than what’s in the mirror

Knowledge Bomb from Edifying Thoughts of a Spider Solitaire Addict

We get the Ten of Spades. No turnover but at least we can use Column 4 and avoid having an off-suit 8-7 in Column 6. We get the Six of Spades, Three of Diamonds and Three of Hearts. That’s too many Threes so we don’t get our empty column back! But at least we have no more face-down cards in column 8 and from the previous knowledge bomb we know there is a fair chance of column 8 becoming a new free space in the future. At least we can get an extra turnover in column 7, but that gives us an offsuit 8-7 in column 6 – so now any Nine would be “right card wrong timing”. Them’s the breaks, if you pardon the terrible cliché.

Still, our position could have been a lot worse. How would you continue?

Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees (alternative version)

Forrest Gump, Treebeard (from LOTR) and the Elephant Man walk into a bar. Treebeard starts a game of Spider Solitaire with the others watching. He soon reaches the following position:

“This is not great,” said Treebeard. “What would you do here?”

“I’m not sure,” replies Forrest. “But I think we should step back and take a look at the big picture.”

Treebeard enjoyed the routine of computing minimum guaranteed turnovers, calculating outs (the chances of getting a “good card”), looking for in-suit builds etc. Long term planning was beyond his comfort zone. But Treebeard had to admit his win rate was rather lousy. Perhaps there was more to Spider Solitaire than computing minimum guaranteed turnovers, calculating outs, looking for in-suit builds etc

“We seem to have an abundance of various ranks and severe shortages in others,” said Forrest. “We have a million Twos and Fives, negative million Threes and Nines. Not to mention we have very few in-suit builds. In fact I don’t see a run of three cards in-suit anywhere.”

“Don’t forget about possible cheevos,” says the Elephant Man.

“Wow!,” replies Treebeard. “You remember everything.”

“They don’t call me Elephant Man for nothing.”

“Yes,” replies Forrest. “We shouldn’t forget the cheevos – you never know when they come in handy. Unfortunately I think at this stage of the game we will have enough trouble winning, let alone achieving a cheevo. So forget about cheevos for now.”

At this point a Muppet walks into the bar and joins the group.

“Allow me to introduce myself,” says the Muppet. “I’m Count von Count from Sesame Street.”

“Hey I remember you!,” says Elephant Man. “You appeared on a previous blog post by Spider GM!”

Count von Count places a glass of water on the table. Unfortunately, he never dared to touch a drop of alcohol. Imagine what would happen if he submitted to temptation and his fan club found out!

“Um …” says Elephant Man, “I’m wondering if you could contribute some meaningful comments for this game.”

“I’m not very good at this game,” says Count von Count.

“Don’t worry,” says Treebeard. “None of us are any good either.”

“I guess I can count the cards if that helps,” offers Count von Count.

Count von Count quickly takes out a crayon and sketches the following table on a piece of paper:

AceTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTenJackQueenKing
4623644414545

“Interesting,” says Forrest. “There is only one Nine exposed. So, there is a reasonable chance more Nines could turn up very soon”

“With two free Tens available,” says Treebeard, “a Nine certainly wouldn’t hurt.”

“Or if you had the same luck as me exactly fifty-nine days ago you might draw four Nines and three Threes on the next deal,” says Elephant Man.

“I only see one free Ten,” says Count von Count as he finishes his water.

“But we can put the Four on Five, Seven on Eight and free the Ten of Clubs, so we have two virtual free Tens,” says Treebeard.

“That’s why I’m not very good at this game,” laughs Count von Count.

“I should also mention the abundance of Twos may not be too much of a problem,” adds Forrest. “We have a junk pile in column 3. That takes care of two Deuces. So that’s a small piece of good news in a game that’s not going so well.”

“Thanks for your analysis,” says Treebeard. “I think I am finally getting to understand the secrets to improving at Spider Solitaire!”

“Now, where was I?” Treebeard asks himself. “Oh, that’s right. I was trying to work out what my next move should be.”

THE END

Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees

Having dealt three rows of cards from the stock, I think now is a good time to take stock (badumtish!) before thinking about our next moves. We don’t wanna miss the forest for the trees, if you pardon the terrible cliché.

The game state is deplorable. We have a million cards face-down and very few in-suit builds. Bart correctly points out we don’t even have a run of three cards in-suit anywhere. But at least we have an empty column and a turnover in column 2.

In the opening stages it is easy to approximate the chances of increasing our minimum guaranteed turnovers by assuming each rank from Ace to King occurs with an equal probability of 1/13. But with many cards exposed, this assumption is no longer reliable. We can still apply the usual routines of “computing outs” but we need to be careful.

AceTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTenJackQueenKing
4623644414545

We have a severe excess of various cards (Twos, Fives, Eights) and droughts (Threes and Nines in particular). The good news is once we turn over more cards, these inequalities should even out. But we need to turn over cards first!

We have some “good news” in column Three. Two useless deuces and aces are already used up, so this effectively makes a good junk pile. Basically our shortage of Threes is not as bad as it looks. Most of the buried cards are relatively useless – apart from that Three of Clubs in column Eight. Still, given our poor position, one “inefficiency” could be enough to consign us to a loss. If the Three of Clubs were at the front of column Eight instead of being buried our position would be much better.

Bart talks about “Market Value”. There are two Sevens available for the 6-5 of Clubs so Sevens are expendable. In contrast, there is only the Six of Hearts available for the 5-4 of Diamonds, so Sixes are not expendable. At least we get our hole back. We also have two Jacks that “want” the Queen in column Ten, so Queens are definitely not expendable.

If you have an incredibly good memory, you may recall that we started the game with the intention of listing a number of possible cheevos as a possible bonus. Unfortunately, we will have more than enough difficulty with winning the game, let alone pulling off a cheevo. It seems our most likely cheevo is getting someone other than Bart or George to contribute a meaningful comment, and I wouldn’t wanna bet my Ph. D. thesis on that happening any time soon!

BTW, last time, I yanked the J-T from column 1 in hopes of being able to shift the 7-6-5. My gamble was partially correct – we got our empty column back but the Two of Hearts scotched any dreams of column 1.

In the next week I will answer the question of finding the best play.

Awesomeness has been achieved!

I have finally achieved awesomeness! My Spider Solitaire Sudoku puzzle has been featured on Cracking the Cryptic.

For those who are interested in the puzzle only, here is the grid: if you’ve played any Spider Solitaire the rules should be guessable – and if you get a unique solution then you know you’ve guessed correctly 😊 But if you’re interested in the back-story then please read on.

If you follow this blog regularly, you are probably aware of a paper I published some time in 2019. I showed that a particular Spider Solitaire server was biased: if you win too many games then future games will have the cards stacked against you – and one could “prove” this using Statistics.

I use quote marks because the nature of Statistical testing always implies some degree of uncertainty. For instance if you are 95% confident of a hypothesis, then there is a 5% chance you made an error. But it is commonly accepted practice. If your experiment is sound and you get a sufficiently small p-value then go ahead and publish it anyway. You may be wrong, but – to put it in Poker terms – your results pretty much force you to call all the way to the river. If you are beat then you are beat.

Of course, getting the results you want is only the first step. We all know the academic publishing model is broken. The peer review model is hopelessly flawed. At best, peer review is based on good intentions and met the demands of research scientists 30 years ago – but certainly not today. It already takes long enough to get accepted into a mediocre journal, or even the dreaded arXiv. If you’re that desperate you might be willing to spell arXiv backwards. And don’t get me started on predatory journals. I won’t describe the ills of academic publishing in all its gory detail. Someone else can probably explain it much better than I can. In my case I ended up publishing into a high school journal. Parabola from UNSW to be exact.

But at the end of the day, publishing is essentially “a way to prove or showcase your research skills”. Once you complete your thesis (or minor thesis, 3-month vacation employment, etc) and may or may not be a major component of your career depending on your employment. (It is true that my Spider Solitaire paper is not relevant to my job, but that has nothing to do with the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus.)

Still, the Parabola publication still wasn’t entirely satisfactory. My paper wasn’t truly a publication. It was a story. I wanted to tell a story about how a certain Spider Solitaire was broken. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Parabola (with the possible exception of some really lame comics and puns), but try telling that to the average Joe Bloggs with an average job, has little aptitude for mathematical puzzles and swears by Nova FM. In fact, telling this story was the original motivation for me starting this blog in the first place.

Scientists don’t have a way of getting their work recognised. They have no way of “controlling the narrative” if you will. I can publish a paper in some journal. Or I can post something on a blog and have all the scientific evidence to back it up. But how many people are going to read it, let alone believe it?

Enter Cracking the Cryptic.

You may have already guessed I am a fan of CtC (not necessarily because of this blog!). I was vaguely aware of it last year. It seemed to be massive in the UK.  I tried one of the harder puzzles. Solving it was beneath my dignity – after all I scored a silver medal in the 1995 International Mathematical Olympiad. Okay I get it. There’s a pandemic going on. People are struggling in the UK. Some viewers have even commented on YouTube how watching episodes of two people solving Sudoku puzzles helped their mental health issues. I’m living in Australia not the UK. Australia really is the lucky country, so who am I to judge?

I then stumbled on this puzzle by Lucy Audrin.

This is a “Sandwich Sudoku with a twist”. Before solving the puzzle Mark briefly mentions Lucy’s website and eventually finishes the puzzle in just over 15 minutes.

You read that right. Lucy wanted to draw attention to her website. All she had to do is submit a half-decent puzzle to CtC and Mark will take care of the rest. To be fair her puzzle is more than half-decent and a good illustration of how one can keep the puzzles fresh by tweaking various rulesets (such as thermometer, anti-Knight, XV, arrows etc). If Simon and Mark only did classic Sudoku every day of the week, CtC would have finished long ago. I should also mention that Lucy can write much better stories than I can!

Great – if Lucy can draw attention to her website then perhaps I can do the exact same thing with Spider Solitaire.

This was much harder than anticipated.

It would surprise nobody if I claimed I could construct a correct Sudoku puzzle with a unique solution and Spider Solitaire theme. There was one obvious hurdle: if I submit my puzzle and it gets rejected – then good luck trying to resubmit the same puzzle a second time. I decided to play it safe by first submitting “test puzzles”.

It was a long process. Essentially I needed to “play the networking game” and gradually build up reputation. I spent a significant amount of time testing puzzles by other setters, joining the Discord server and chatting, signing up for Patreon, creating my own puzzles, etc. I submitted the above Spider Solitaire paper to the Discord a few months ago, but eventually realised that was not the same as submitting directly to CtC (submitting to Discord only means CtC have permission to do it, if it gets nominated). Yes, networking really did make things a lot easier in the long run. If you play nice and do all the right things then eventually people will help you when you need them to. If Sudoku is your thing then I heartily recommend you join the discord server. Great people, great puzzles, great jokes and cultural references. Occasionally somebody may attempt to pull off a rick-roll. What’s not to like? 😊

I emailed CtC my puzzle earlier this week and finally my luck was in.

So there you have it. If you follow my blog regularly, then I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did. Until next time, happy Spider Solitairing 😊