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/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?