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Food For Thought

My mother called it Solitary rather than Solitaire. She taught my older sister Dorothy to play the game, and Dorothy passed it on to me when I was old enough to learn. Dorothy made up some of the rules, and I strongly suspect they were strictly to keep me from winning very often. Why would I think such a thing about the big sister who taught me to read and count and write in cursive before I was old enough for kindergarten? She also taught me that green was called orange, and vice versa. And she mixed up a few words such as was and saw so that I still have to stop and think about them and almost always type them backwards. Dorothy was very competitive and once threw a royal screaming, kicking, rolling-on-the-floor hissy fit because I could draw an airplane and she couldn’t. That’s why.
When I discovered The Book of Hoyle and found out that there were several different versions of the game, and that some of them had some of the rules that Dorothy had set out for me, I began to think that maybe she had made an honest mistake and inadvertently combined all the rules from all the versions. Until, that is, I caught her breaking some of those rules herself. Then I knew it had been sabotage.
Long before the days of computer games, Solitaire was something to do when you were laid up with a bad cold, or couldn’t sleep, or were waiting for time to pass in anticipation of an important event. Gathering up the cards after a game, shuffling and dealing them out again, arranging the rows neatly, and carefully moving runs from place to place– all those consumed time and concentration, helping time to pass and warding off boredom or anxiety. Then it became what has been called the most popular computer game in history. The cards were shuffled and laid out for you. Games that appeared unlikely could be banished from the screen with the click of a mouse. There was no need to sort cards, reshuffle and start all over. A player could view a game, reject or play it, many times over during the same time it used to take for one game. The computer even kept track of how many games you had played, won, and lost– something we seldom did when playing with actual cards.
Since those first computerized games of Solitaire, more conveniences have been added. Where the earlier games had allowed us to undo plays until we reached one that revealed previously hidden cards, the newer versions allow us to reverse plays all the way back to the beginning. They even provide a hint key that points out available moves we might miss on our own. We are given helpful suggestions about strategy and advised when there are no more available moves and that we have lost the game. The computer is a good sport even when it loses and kindly concedes your win and offers congratulations and, sometimes, fireworks in celebration. Things have gone too far.
I have never really understood why some people cheat at Solitaire. Who do they think they’re fooling, anyway? I do know that there are some people who need to follow through and make everything come out complete and tidy. These people may exchange a club for a spade in order to wind things up tidily, but they are just succumbing to their compulsion to have things orderly. They aren’t actually pretending that they won. The computer, of course, won’t put up with such foolishness, and tidiness and cheating are dealt with in the same ruthless fashion. When a game is lost, it’s over. Period.
Recently, I’ve begun to wonder where all this will lead. If the computer tells us we have lost after we’ve followed the advice and made the final available move, why did it point out that the move was available in the first place? Why didn’t it tell us that the only possible move would not help, and that the game had been lost several moves back? But no, it urges us to keep playing, to click the hint button, and to make the useless plays that are still available– even though it knows that it is too late and that we can never win the game no matter what we do. Even though I’m unaware that she could be involved in designing computer games, I seriously wonder if my sister had something to do with this latest version.
Do you think it likely that the day will come that the computer will simply play the game for us and we’ll just start the game and watch to see if we win– sort of like a slot machine?