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.”

“Elementary.”