Friday, October 23, 2009

What's Old Will Become New

I was sitting in my family room watching the news this evening.  The story they were covering at that moment wasn't particularly interesting, and my mind began wandering.  I started thinking about how I haven't played Solitaire with an actual deck of cards in years.  Make no mistake, I play lots of Solitaire, but its all on the computer now.  I have my oft repeated computer routines.  I bounce back and forth between news, commentary, finance, e-mail, and the occasional Google search on this topic or that.  Perhaps you're like me.  The transitions between these various endeavors are often punctuated with several games of Solitaire. 

Now I know that there are a myriad of variations on the game, but I am a purest.  I only play the original version.  Its not that I doubt the appeal of the newer games, its just a matter of habit.  Or, as his detractors often said of former president George W. Bush, perhaps you would accuse me of a lack of intellectual curiosity.  I prefer to believe that I'm simply an old fogey who is comfortable with my current practice , and I'm not going to fall victim to every new fad in single player digital entertainment that comes along.  I won't even play the version that comes with Vista.  When you move a card in that version, the program automatically flips over the hidden card underneath.  I hate that.  I prefer to do that myself with an additional click of the mouse as is required in the previous XP version of the game.  Is it just me, or does that make anyone else crazy?  Playing the Vista version for me is like kissing with your eyes open.

But that is not to say that I am totally lacking in imagination.  I have always introduced my own subtle twists to the rules of the game.  When I was young, I used to play with a conventional deck of cards.  But I soon came to appreciate that this could be very frustrating indeed, as I would typically lose far more games than  I ever won.  This was especially disappointing when I was a child.  I soon hit upon the perfect solution.  I would cheat.  I would change the order in which I took the cards from the deck to facilitate making progress in the game.  Or I would peek at one of the hidden cards to gain an advantage.  These, and any number of other liberties with the conventional rules, were sanctioned in my version of Solitaire.  And then I would count the number of times that I cheated in order to eventually complete a successful round of the game.  This way I had the satisfaction of always winning.  And the fewer cheats required, the greater the satisfaction.  And to win a game without cheating at all?  Well, that was a rare, and exhilarating experience.

Of course these days, that's impossible.  The digital game won't allow you to cheat.  I don't understand that.  Could I be the only one who cheats at Solitaire?  I can't imagine that everyone didn't occasionally "revise" a move and try another one that was more conducive to  victory.  How hard could it be to program in a "Cheat Option" for Solitaire.  C'mon Microsoft.  Surely I'm not the first to suggest it.  Maybe I'll write a letter to Apple.  Even with eighty gazillion I-Phone apps, I bet there is room for one more.  But even with Microsoft's Solitaire, my wife and I have our own peculiar rules.  And oddly enough, our rules make it even harder to succeed rather than easier.  Before I started playing digital Solitaire, I didn't even know that there were rules to keep a numerical score.  But on the computer, every move of a card earns points.  Each time you flip over a card in the lower array after having moved the card on top to another column, you earn five points.  Each time you find a place for a card from the deck in the lower array of cards, another five points.  And every time you bring a card from the lower array up into the four stacks on top, that garners you another ten points.  The maximum score, therefore, is 745.  That is a perfect game.  But to accomplish that, you can never move a card from the deck directly onto the upper four stacks.  If you do, you forego the five points you would have earned for placing it on the lower array first.  My wife and I will intentionally ignore the opportunity to move a card from the deck directly to the upper four stacks because that is essentially conceding defeat.  In addition to those scoring rules, the game also starts to deduct 20 points for every rotation through the deck after the fourth.  Once we have been through the deck four times, and we get to the last card, we'll usually just start a new game.  We will not see the Promised Land on this journey.  Time to start anew.  There is no telling how many games we could complete if we didn't follow these additional rules.  Notice I said how many we could complete, not how many we could win.  To us, a completed game with a score of less than 745, is just that; a completed game.  It is not a win.  To you, a glorious victory; to us, victory perhaps, but a hollow victory.

When we do win, though, my wife and I have a ritual that we share.  No victory lap, no loud celebrations, no back slapping, or trash talking one another with arrogant braggadocio.  We simply leave the completed game on the screen with the prominent 745 displayed at the bottom of the playing field, and walk away.  We each just walk away and wait for the other to haplessly wander to the computer screen to be greeted with the taunting proof of the other's triumph.  A testament to our superior skill.  A subtle, if somewhat mocking, "in your face".   Always good for a grudging smile.

Now let me back up just a bit.  I started this post with the revelation that I had not used an old fashioned deck of cards to play Solitaire in years.  That in turn led me to this epiphany, and the reason I started writing this piece in the first place.  There are probably children today who have never used a deck of cards to play Solitaire.  Someday soon, if we're not there already, there will be children who don't even realize that it is possible to play Solitaire with a deck of cards.  I am looking forward to the day when I can interupt my grandchildren playing computer Solitaire with the words, "Let me show you a card trick."  Then I'll proceed to deal out the cards in the standard Solitaire arrangement, all the while watching their faces and waiting for that look in their eyes when they first spot the familiar pattern. Then I'll start moving cards here and there according to the accepted rules, and in a few minutes, I'll invite one of them to take the deck and finish the game.  If I've misread the likely outcome, they'll groan and say, "Not now grandpa.  Were playing on the computer."  But in my imagination, they're fascinated with this new and totally unexpected discovery.  They'll demand that I teach them how to deal out the cards, as the computer game does that for them, and they'll have no idea how to proceed.  Pop quiz:  How many columns do you deal out in the lower array?  Once they've mastered the rules, they'll argue with each other over who gets to play the next game.  They'll beg me for a second deck of cards so they can both play at once.  They'll take a deck of cards to school with them to teach their friends this "new" way to play Solitaire.  They will thrive on the attention, as all their friends gather around in admiration to learn the secrets that only they can reveal.  What's old will become new.  And who knows; if they get frustrated with the new game, as we all do from time to time, maybe I'll even teach them how to cheat!


Quiz Answer: 7