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.

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:


“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.”


Game on (3 April, 2021) – Alternative Version

Joe Bloggs mulled over the possibilities. After a poor start, things were starting to look up. He had obtained an empty column for the first time. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite possible to expose a card in column One. He had to turnover a card in column Two, Seven or Eight, and in each and every case he would use up the empty column.

Joe Bloggs had a few hobbies: Spider Solitaire, Sudoku and binge-watching his favourite YouTube channel. He could wield a mean thermometer, kropki, anti-knight, little killer and he could even recite a little-known theorem concerning sets of squares containing identical digits – but he never had an aptitude for Spider. Despite his years of experience at the latter he had somehow failed to improve his game.

Joe Bloggs glanced at the sky. He saw some small strange object, or did he? Perhaps it was just an apparition and his eyes we replaying tricks on him.

Column 2 was an option. The in-suit build was tempting but Joe recoiled at the thought of revealing another Ace. This was not Texas Holdem. Aces and Kings were not your friends. Kings could only shift to an empty space and nothing could move onto an Ace. Column 8 was also not great. Certainly no need to expose a third Eight at this stage.

Suddenly, Joe realised his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him at all. The object was getting larger … and closer. He quickly whipped out a pair of binoculars and was able to make out the shape of nine giant red letters. He had barely enough time to work out the anagram of DEEGKLNOW before being forced to close his eyes, drop his binoculars and cover his ears.

Most bombs give off an unpleasant smell but this one had a strange but pleasant peachy-smelling perfume, inducing a drunken stupor. Without knowing why, Joe ambled slowly towards the debris and quickly caught sight of a silver shiny scroll. He bent down and picked it up. He slowly unravelled the scroll and found the following inscription:

Was that God’s way of admonishing him for being such a poor student of the game? Or was God deliberately insulting his intelligence? Maybe a lame attempt at a prank? Not likely – he couldn’t imagine God missing the 1st of April by two days.  Whatever it was, God surely could have used a bit more tact. After coming back to his senses, Joe realised the layout of cards had somehow remained undisturbed – although the playing hall had been totalled. Luckily he was playing with physical cards instead of a computer.

Joe studied the cards again, and decided the correct play was to yank the J-T from Column one onto a Queen. Even though he could not shift that stupid off-suit 7-6-5, he knew that the chances of doing so later were considerable. Column 6 would never contain face-down cards no matter how well or badly he played, and even he knew from experience that having no face-down cards to worry about would make it so much easier to win back the empty column. Finally, Joe thought to himself, he was beginning to understand the deeper secrets of the game.

Unfortunately Joe Bloggs exposes a Two of Diamonds and is forced to deal another row. “Rot13(bu sbe shpx’f fnxr)” shouts Joe as he angrily slams a fresh row of 10 cards onto the tableau.


Game On/Short Story (7 Feb 2021)

“Oh I love trash!”, sings Oscar The Grouch. He is especially proud of the ever-growing stacks of cards in columns 1, 5, 9 and 10.

“But what is so good about the ever-growing stacks of cards in columns one, five, nine and ten?” asks Grover.

“Well,” replies Big Bird. “The more cards you have in those columns, the less you have in others. So it is easier to get spaces in columns 2,3,4 or 8. “This is why Oscar likes his trash piles”.

“That is true,” replies Grover. “But we did not get a good deal. We can not get more than one empty column.”

“But I want to know what’s the best move!” cries Elmo, who is clearly impatient with the discussion about how best to proceed.

Count Von Count walks in, together with a couple of human guest stars – today they happen to be Bart and George.

“Before we can work out the best move,” begins Count von Count, “we need to count the cards!”

Count von Count gets all the children to name the cards, starting from the left-most column and working towards the right. As the kids eagerly announce the rank of each card, Bart draws a tally mark next to the corresponding symbol.

“King! … Queen! … Jack! … Six! … Five! … Four! … King! … Queen! … Jack! … Ten! … Nine! …”

It takes a while, but Bart eventually ends up with the image below. Meanwhile, the others are busy contemplating whether it’s possible to remove a complete set of Clubs.

“We can do it!” shout the Bad Idea Bears. “We can remove a complete set of clubs!”

“Not so fast,” says George. “That would cost us our only empty column.”

“Besides,” adds Bart, “You ain’t welcome here, you’re from the wrong crowd.”

“Awwww” groan the Bad Idea Bears. They reluctantly leave the playing hall.

 It seems a better plan is to partially complete the Club suit and wait for better opportunities. If for instance we find the other Ace of Clubs, then we need not shift the Three in column 1. Or if we expose the second Club King then we could look forward to a new card more useful than the Eight of Spades.

“We should turn over a card in column 7,” says Big Bird.

“I agree,” says Count von Count. “There are four Tens unseen and that would give us two empty columns.

“Yes,” says Spider GM. “It is more important to take the card in column 7 than to remove the Club suit. Now it’s just a matter of working out the detailed sequence of moves.”

Spider GM is pleased that all his students are contributing to the discussion.

“Don’t forget,” says Count von Count, “that we are aiming to win this game with a score of 1000 or better. I believe we have played 143 moves so far.”

“Finally!” cries Elmo, as we start to move some cards around.

We reach the following position and are about to reveal what will probably be the most important card in the history of Four-Suit Spider Solitaire. If it’s a Ten then we’re in business.

And the final card in column 7 is … the Two of Hearts. It’s not the best card – then again it certainly isn’t the worst.

We now reach an all-too-familiar endgame scenario. We can easily get back a space in column 7, but we can’t turn over a new card. Fortunately there are still 10 cards in the stock, else it would be game over. How would you continue?

The Final Problem (short story)

SH and JW were at Holmes’ Baker Street diggings, reviewing the proceedings of today’s losing session with Moriarty. Heads-up Spider Solitaire had become the hottest game in town ever since the success of The Office, starring Creed Bratton. Yes, Bridge also had its fair share of followers in the good ol’ U. S. of A. but nothing could beat the strategic complexity of Spider Solitaire, which had twice as many cards.

In heads-up Spider Solitaire, two players alternate playing 10 hands and each hand is worth a certain stake agreed beforehand by the players. Whoever won more hands would win the stake multiplied by the difference in games won. For instance, if the stake was $300 per game, the maximum possible winnings for one player is $3000.

JW arranged two decks of cards in the critical position below, with the help of his photographic memory.

“This was the final hand of the night,” mused JW. “I had a difficult choice. I could turn over a card in column f or j. I chose column j, thinking to procrastinate the option of moving the 3-2 of Clubs onto one of the Fours. Of course I revealed the dreaded King of Spades, and never recovered. Do you think it was better to try my luck in column f?”

“Neither play was correct” replied SH. “Your plan did not meet the requirements of the position.”

“But it was one column or the other,” said JW. “Might as well have flipped a coin. At least Moriarty allowed me to boop after conceding. We found that column 6 would have revealed a Nine of Hearts, also a bad card.”

SH put down his pipe and narrowed his eyes, as though about to admonish a poor student for repeated failures.

“How many times do I have to tell you – when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever re- ”

“How many times do I have say that smoking is bad for you!” retorted JW.

“I can’t help it!” snapped SH.

After some robust discussion they eventually reached a bargain: the great detective would give up smoking and his protégé would pay more attention to his teachings.

“The laws of Spider Solitaire do not compel you to reveal a card whenever you have an empty column,” said Holmes. “Consider the play of <hb,eh,ce>.  It is much easier to win back an empty column when you have 7-6 in-suit rather than offsuit in column e. With six Queens unseen, we can also reasonably hope to clear column b. Moreover if we can reach the Jack of Spades in column h then we might get four turnovers. There is also the potential for developing a suit of Hearts. It would be nice if we can obtain a run of Hearts from Jack to Ace, but the rules unfortunately don’t allow that – so this is the best we can do. We only need to win back one empty column and find at least one missing Queen of Hearts on the next row of 10 cards to put ourselves in fine shape.”

“Amazing, Holmes. I would never have considered that play.”


The Watering Hole

“Thank you for leading me to the Watering Hole,” says the Horse. “Unfortunately I rot13(fhpx) at Spider Solitaire.”

Despite my best efforts, I can’t make my newest student to think more than two moves ahead. Through my peripheral vision I notice a demotivational poster saying “Training is Not the Cure for Stupidity”. The horse looks dejectedly at the cards on the table. He has just been forced to deal a new row of cards and has no idea what to do. He takes another swig from his glass. It seems drinking is not the cure for stupidity either.

“I was the local champion at Klondike,” continues the Horse. “Got the hang of it pretty quick …”

“Local champion,” sneers the rot13(Fzneg Nff). “Only because you were up against the likes of the rot13(Qhzo Ohaal), Bad Idea Bears and Ninja M-”


I angrily swipe the cards off the table and glare at the rot13(Fzneq Nff). Fortunately Ninja Monkey is able to restore the correct position in less than three nano-seconds thanks to his photographic memory and extremely fast metabolism.

First of all, let me begin with the response from Bart Wright:

I’m finding this really fun — applying all those competing considerations that only arise in a real game.

This is where the game often starts getting tricky… sometimes the moves before the first “deal” feel like following a chess opening, and here I go off the opening and have to think harder. I know sometimes I get to a position where I say, “Darn, if I could think far enough ahead I bet I could do better, but I can’t pull off the mental effort required”. But I don’t think this is one of them.

Bart says the moves before dealing a row of 10 cards feel like following a chess opening and in some sense, he is right. Before the first deal, all face-up cards are always in descending sequence (a knowledge bomb from Edifying Thoughts of a Spider Solitaire Addict) so analysing a particular position is not so difficult. But after dealing a row of cards, the descending sequence property is lost, and it takes much more effort to determine minimum guaranteed turnovers, let alone the best move.

In this case, we have only two guaranteed turnovers – that’s the bad news. The “good” news is we probably don’t have to think too far ahead to determine the best play.

Bart also mentioned that in the last post, I shifted the Q-J of Diamonds from the King of Diamonds in column 5 to the other King of Diamonds from column 1. He thinks it’s better to leave it in column 5 because of the consideration that we get an empty column if we remove a full set of diamonds. The reason I moved it to column 1 is to avoid a possible long-term problem with “One-Hole-No-Card,” a situation where you can’t reveal a new card despite having one or more empty columns. I’m still not sure about my decision – but what I do know is that anyone who plays long enough will eventually encounter the situation of One-Hole-No-Card.

To determine the best move, we need to visualise several moves ahead and also calculate (or at least estimate) various probabilities, such as chances of drawing a good card.

Meanwhile the Horse unsuccessfully tries to stifle a yawn as Bart and I study the cards in front of us. We all know yawning is contagious, especially when it’s the Bad Idea Bears setting a bad example.

Here are a few options to consider:

  • Five of Spades onto the Six of Diamonds, the easiest turnover.
  • We can shift both Threes in column 3 to expose a second card.
  • Jack of Hearts onto the Queen, Four of Hearts onto the Five of Hearts, Five of Diamonds onto the Six in column 1. Seems very attractive with three more in-suit builds.

But there’s a catch: we also wanna “insert” the Queen of Hearts in column 2 between the K-J in column 7. If we choose the last option, we will end up with Ks-Qh-Jh in column 7 and 9s-Qh-Jd in column 8 (unless we reveal some good cards). It is clearly more desirable to have Ks-Qh-Jd and 9s-Qh-Jh, so column 8 is easier to shift later on. Therefore we have to sort out the K-Q-J mess first.

In other words, we have to sacrifice many moves before turning over a single card in column 6, and this not only hurts our goal of 1000+ but also may affect our chances of winning the game since we commit ourselves to several irreversible moves before gaining information from the new card.

For this reason, Bart suggests we turnover column 3. Note that “killing” the Five of Spades in column 10 isn’t a big deal because we already have a Five in column 9. We would only regret it if we turned over two Sixes – that is heavy odds-against with only two guaranteed turnovers.

Unless anybody other than Bart can come up with a different suggestion within the next few days, I’m turning over a card in column 3. Any takers?

“Hi,” says the rot13(Fzneq Nff). “I’m rot13(Fzneq Nff)”

I’m Bart,” replies Bart. “Rot13(Rng zl fubegf!)”

Uh oh, I think we’ve all had a bit too much to drink, including myself. Then again, we could all use a bit of laughter after what’s been a rotten year.


Winning with score of 1000+ (short story)

Oh goodie! I have three more students signing up to my Spider Solitaire classes. This time they are humans.

“Hi, I’m Simon”

“Spider GM,” I reply. “Nice to meet you”

“I like to see the game as a logical puzzle,” says Simon. “With sufficient thought we can deduce the proper play in any given position – or at least something reasonably close to optimal. I call this logical deduction”

Simon is a down-to-earth bloke who clearly knows the game. He plays guitar way better than I do. And he can play a mean game of Starcraft. A teacher’s pet if you pardon the terrible cliché.

“I’m Mark,” says Mark.

“I’m Spider GM, nice to meet you”

“I like the use of rot13(haqb) …”

Uh oh, Mark is probably not one of my better students. But he is an approachable dude with a wry sense of humour. He definitely knows his Cryptic Crosswords. I once gave him “At first condemn our very feeble excuse for everything that follows constant negative press (7)” and he got the answer in, like, less than three nano-seconds.

“especially with a variant that requires the player to complete all eight suits with a score of 1000 or better,” continues Mark. “So if I make a bad move, I can still rot13(haqb) but lower my score since each move or rot13(haqb) costs 1 point. Rot13(haqb) also makes sense in a Spider Solitaire Speed-solving championship. I call this rot13(ovshepngvba).”

“I call it blooper-reeling,” I reply. Mark and Simon are known for their witty banter and occasional pranks – and unlike Starcraft I can mix it with the best of ‘em.

I have never been a fan of rot13(haqb) and I have certainly never heard anyone use the term of rot13(ovshepngvba) to describe the cardinal sin of Spider Solitaire. Still, I will concede Mark has a point. With a target score of 1000+ or better, rot13(haqb) can only be used sparingly so we could still have some interesting scenarios with non-trivial decisions. But I have already started this game, so no rot13(ovshepngvba) for now. Maybe in a later game …

“I’m Eugene,” says a third person.

“I’m Spider GM … hang on, you’ve brought a chess set with you. Another one of my hobbies!”

It doesn’t take long for us to set up the pieces. My other students watch with great interest. Despite having an International Master title, Eugene somehow rot13(jubbcf zl nff) ten times in a row. This guy is something special.

I take my king in my right hand and offer it to Eugene, as though it were a Christmas gift.”

“It’s your game,” I say. “Take it.”

Eugene is puzzled. “I thought the pieces were supposed to go back in the box.”

“You never watched the Queen’s Gambit?”

“Never heard of it.”

“Name of a movie, or more precisely, a mini-series. Named after the opening of course – White plays d4, Black d5, White c4.”

Eugene struggles to locate the squares d4,d5,c4 on the chessboard.

“But – but there’s nothing defending the pawn on c4,” says Eugene.

I suddenly realise Eugene was wearing a “magic hat” during our 10-game series. If my intuition is correct, he will probably call it rot13(purngvat). Eugene can play a mean game of chess (or several), but doesn’t understand basic social principles such as Maintaining Eye Contact 101.

“Wait a minute,” I say. “You’re the guy who also plays Sudoku?”

“Yes,” replies Eugene. “Been a while.”

I quickly scribble a Sudoku grid with only the digit in row 5 column 5 missing. There are no quirky rules like thermometers, arrows, disjoint sets, killer clues or sandwiches. It takes him a good minute or two to deduce the missing digit is a Six.

In the distance I notice the Bad Idea Bears giggling to themselves. They hold a strange device that was clearly meant to communicate with Eugene during our chess games. I later find out the BIB thought it would be hilarious to troll Eugene by deliberately giving him the wrong digit in the easiest ever Sudoku puzzle in history. Normally I don’t condone this sort of behaviour but given that they exposed yet another cheat in this sorry state of the world I can forgive them today. However, if this trend continues …

The End

Tower of Hanoi (alternative version)

“I can’t do it,” sighs the Ninja Monkey.

“Now what?” I ask

“It’s the legend of the Flowers of Hanoi,” replies Monkey. “Something I learnt from the Bad Idea Bears.”

“I know you often mention the Flowers of Hanoi during Spider Solitaire lessons,” says Bad Idea Bear #1. “We asked our friends about it, and eventually figured out the rules.”

This cannot be good. Yes, the Bad Idea Bears have inquisitive minds, an essential quality for anyone who does a Ph. D., but it’s a pity their math fundamentals are 83,72,73,84.

In front of the Monkey are a pile of five flowers, surrounded by a large square. Each flower lies atop another flower of slightly smaller size. There are two more squares of the same size, but do not contain any flowers.”

The Bad Idea Bears say I should be able to shift all the flowers to one of the other squares in 30 moves, but the best I can do is 31.”

“Shouldn’t be too hard,” I say. “After all, thanks to an extremely fast metabolism you are able to complete 200 games of Spider Solitaire in three minutes if you pretend it’s played at the one-suit level. But this puzzle only involves five flowers instead of 104. How hard can it be?”

“But there’s a catch. You can only move one flower at a time – and no flower can be on top of a smaller flower.”

“Of course if this were Spider Solitaire then you can do it in one move, since all flowers are the same colour.”

“Yes that is true,” chuckles Ninja Monkey. “The game does have similarities with Flowers of Hanoi. I find I often need to make many moves just to expose one more card. But perhaps my Random Move algorithms aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ve already achieved a lot with Four Suit Spider Solitaire. Everybody treats you with respect, and we won $3000 dollars from the Eagle last …”

“For 70,85,67,75,78 sake,” says the Eagle. “You don’t need to bring that up every third day of the month.”

“Why do the Bad Idea Bears think it’s possible in 30 moves?” I ask.

“I was wondering about that as well,” says the Bad Idea Bear #1. “But we finally figured out the pattern. We started by considering what happens with fewer than 5 flowers.”

BIB #1 draws a large circle in the dirt. He chooses two random points A and B on the circle and draws a line connecting the points. The two resulting regions in the circle are labelled 0 and 1.

“With only one flower, it takes one move to shift all flowers from one square to another,” says BIB #2

I nod in agreement. So far no ground-breaking discoveries yet.

BIB #2 draws a new circle in the dirt but with three vertices A,B,C and lines connecting all pairs of points. Now there are four regions numbered 0,1,2,3.

“With two flowers, we need three moves to shift all flowers to a different square.”

Again I nod in agreement.

The Bad Idea Bears draw three more similar diagrams but with four, five, and six vertices and lines connecting all pairs of vertices.

“Continuing in this manner,” says BIB #1, “we find seven moves are required to shift three flowers, fifteen moves for four flowers and thirty moves for five flowers. In every case Ninja Monkey has found a solution with the correct number of moves – except the last one.”

I examine the BIB’s artwork carefully. They have indeed correctly counted 30 regions in the last diagram. And they can draw diagrams faster than the Wise Snail, I’ll give them that.

“At first we thought it should be 29 regions in the last diagram,” says BIB #2 “but we eventually figured out that no three lines should intersect at a single point. Unfortunately Ninja Monkey has never been able to do it in 30 moves. He can do 7 moves with three flowers and 15 moves with four flowers but the best he can do is 31 moves with five flowers.”

I look in the Monkey’s direction – unfortunately he seems to have knocked himself out, and it doesn’t take long to work out why.

Oh well. At least I was brought up right by Mom and Dad. For one thing, I never scratch my 66,85,77 and/or pick my nose in public.


How Can I Win This Game? (Alternative version)

It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon. The sun was shining and he had plenty of spare time on his hands. True, there was the small matter of a chemistry assignment due tomorrow, but that could always be done after dinner. A perfect time to play some more Spider Solitaire.

The play had started well, but things started to sour when four Kings appeared in the third deal. The fourth deal brought no luck either with no face-down cards unable to be exposed. Resigned to his fate, Joe Bloggs reluctantly dealt the last row of ten cards and surveyed his prospects.

How can I win this game? Joe asked himself.

There was some good news: an empty column (or “hole” as he liked to say) was available in the ninth column. And he could turn over a card in Column h. But at this stage of the game Joe realised he would need a good miracle or three to win.

“What is the best card I can hope for in Column h?” Joe asked himself.

This brings him to the bad news: there would be plenty of calculation to look forward to, and given the stock was empty any mistake, no matter how small, could be fatal.

Suddenly Joe Bloggs spots a bird staring at him through the window.

She’s been wallowing in the mud for way too long. Don’t ask me why.

Joe Bloggs briefly considers giving the poor thing a nice warm bath.

“Oink oink,” says the bird.

“87,72,65,84 84,72,69 70,85,67,75?” replies Joe Bloggs.

Through his peripheral vision, Joe Bloggs notices a flock of shiny pigs floating in the air. Thirteen of them shift into the foreground and form the shape of a happy face. After winking at Joe Bloggs, they chase each other in circles for a good half-a-minute. Then they gradually accelerate until whoosh – they shoot up towards the sky!

“Oink oink,” repeats the Bird.

Joe Bloggs stares at the bird again. Perhaps she is trying to tell him something, but he can’t work out exactly what. His chemistry assignment? That wouldn’t make much sense.

Joe studies the cards again. He soon notices that every card in the Spade suit is visible in the tableau. An Ace in column 5 or 6, Deuce and Three in column 6, Four-Five in column 8 and so on. Perhaps it is possible to remove a complete suit of Spades with the correct sequence of moves, regardless of the permutation of face-down cards. Not likely, given they were scattered all over the place, but perhaps his best shot anyhow.

“Aha,” says Joe Bloggs, after some thought. “The correct move sequence is <bg, id, ih, ia, jf, dj, cd, ch, jd, cj, d2=j1, hc, hc, fg, fd, fh, fa, d1=f1, f2=h2, hc, cj>”

Joe Bloggs executes the move sequence <bg, id, ih, ia, jf, dj, cd, ch, jd, cj, d2=j1, hc, hc, fg, fd, fh, fa, d1=f1, f2=h2, hc, cj> and whoosh – he triumphantly slaps the Spade Suit onto the foundations!

True, his position was still very bad after removing the suit of Spades but no matter. He had already won the war: thanks to this hand his skill had improved considerably and the actual result of this game was rendered moot.

The Big 104 (alternative version)

The Grand Master, the principal adviser to the King, had maintained a blog about Spider Solitaire for a whole year.

“Thank you, Grand Master, for this most wonderful blog,” said the King. “I enjoyed reading your silly stories. However I can’t claim it has improved my game tremendously so I can only offer you a small reward.”

The King gives the Grand Master a sack of wheat.

“How dare you offer such a modest reward for the world’s best blog on Spider Solitaire!” replied Spider GM. “As far as I know, I am the world’s best player of Four Suit Spider Solitaire sans boop. This is a travesty!”

“What nonsense!” retorted the King. “I have several men who can wield a mean deck of cards – or two.”

The King corrected himself at the last minute, recalling that Spider Solitaire was played with 104 cards, not 52.

The Grand Master offered to play a 30-game match against each of the top ten players chosen by the King. A 30-game match would consist of 15 games by each player, Four-Suit sans boop and whoever won more games would win the match. Spider GM offered “draw odds” to every player, meaning that if both won the same number of games it was tantamount to the Spider GM losing the match. Not surprisingly Spider GM wiped the floor with each and every one of them.

Sensing the King was utterly humiliated, the Spider GM suggested the following deal: he had to publish one blog post for the first card, twice that for the second card, twice that for the third, and so on. Once all 104 cards in Spider Solitaire were accounted for, Spider GM would enjoy 104 consecutive nights in a palace with 104 dancing girls per night. Spider GM was allowed to count the 104 articles he had already written towards the however-many-were-required needed to reach his end goal.

The King knew the arrogant 66,65,83,84,65,82,68 had a couple of blog posts lined up already, perhaps between 50 and 100, but reluctantly agreed to the bargain.

THIS IS GONNA BE WILD, the Grand Master thought to himself. He was well on the way to completing the next square, which will be marked 128.