The Euphemist

Reflections on Jewish Studies and many other subjects big and little, by a perpetual student who sometimes searches a little too long for just the right word ...

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Location: Minnesota, United States

Christian, truth seeker, husband, son, brother & uncle, Lutheran pastor, musician (cello, etc.), Jewish Studies grad student, intellectual historian, aquarium enthusiast & pet owner, philologist, astronomer, Norwegian-American, Ford pickup driver, buffoon.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The FreeCell challenge and me

Do any of you PC users out there spend a little too much time playing FreeCell, like me? When I first discovered it in about 2002, I became a quick devotee. It's not only a game, but has the quality of a problem-solving puzzle. I like puzzles. Furthermore, the standard-issue game that comes with Microsoft Windows has 32,000 different deals, each with its own number, so you can go back to the same deal if you didn't solve it the first (or 50th) time. Or you can do them in numerical order. Or you can just go with the random one that the machine picks for you.

For awhile I played lots & lots of it, and I think I got up into about the 300s doing the deals sequentially. Then I remembered that I had a life, and business to attend to. When I enrolled in the Jewish Studies grad program it naturally took over my FreeCell time, and the mental puzzle of my first choice is now my slow quest to master Hebrew. But I do still play the occasional FreeCell game (not to mention the occasional Minesweeper sortie), as it's a fun way to unwind, and the mental exercise is part of my ongoing campaign to avoid Alzheimer's.

These days if I play FreeCell, I just go with the deal the computer randomly gives me, but I usually try to figure out a deal before going on to another. I've been trying to improve my statistics as well - currently I'm up to a modest 45% win ratio, with my longest winning streak at 15, and losing streak of 22 (yeah, I know that's not genius level, but in baseball it wouldn't be bad). But the stats keeper somehow malfunctioned at a convenient time, because recently the computer dealt me Game #1941, and I'm sure I tried it about 25-30 times before I finally gave up and started looking for alternate routes around the obstacle. I started thinking, "is it just me, or is this the hardest deal?" So, I did a Yahoo! Search on "freecell 1941", which yielded 4090 hits. That was reassuring. The most useful link I found was Michael Keller's "Solitaire Laboratory", which has lots of good info on FreeCell, including lists of difficult deals and solutions written in an easy-to-understand notation. On this page Keller says, "From my own experience and reports from other solvers, I would nominate 1941 as the hardest solvable deal among the first 32,000." That was extremely reassuring. It wasn't just me.

That also made me wonder - how much time are people out there spending, playing FreeCell? "My own experience"? The first 32,000? If you spent 5 minutes solving each FreeCell game, you could spend 333 1/3 full eight-hour workdays doing nothing but playing FreeCell! And some of them take much longer than five minutes ... Like #1941 ... Keller also says, "Although there are many harder deals, I suspect that 617 is the first really difficult deal that many players encounter when playing the deals in sequence" and he goes on to say, "The first really hard deal past the first 32,000 deals is probably 35254. I've had seven people ask for a solution or ask whether it is solvable (it is; the next impossible is past 100,000). Danny A. Jones suggests 57148 and 739671 as two of the hardest in the first million." The first million?!? The first million? One million five-minute FreeCell games amounts to nearly 10,417 eight-hour work shifts! Forget about pajama-clad bloggers ... there's more to life than this ...


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