2017.11.30

Solitaires

My brothers and I played a lot of board games when we were kids. We grew up in the ‘80s, with an Atari occasionally connected to the family television set, but no Nintendo.

We played Monopoly every New Year’s Eve as a thinly-veiled tactic to stay up late. We had half a dozen different versions of Trivial Pursuit. Still stacked in a shelving unit in our parents’s basement are Sorry and Clue and Scattergories and board game tie-ins for Home Alone and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Where’s Waldo. We played a lot of checkers and improvised chess on the same big wooden inlayed board.

Card games were usually played at camp. Around the picnic table, under the light of a blue tarp, we played endless games of Crazy Eights, with rules of our own making. With my grandparents at their trailer, I learned cribbage, though I was never very good doing math in my head. But my grandpa always let me move the plastic pegs around the wooden board. When the rain kept me from running around in the forest, I played solitaire.

Most of the solitaire I’ve played in my lifetime, however, was not played with cards. It was played on a Windows computer. For a generation of office workers, and their children at home on the family computer, solitaire has a green background, and a win isn’t a win until you see the cascade of cards.

I grew up calling that game “solitaire,” though it’s actually a variant called “Klondike.” And then, about a year ago, I learned that “solitaire” is a variant name, too. In England, the game is called “patience.” My British granny was a knitter, not a card player, so I didn’t learn this name until I read it in a book. I like this name. It tells a different story about why I love the game.

Instead of writing a novel this November, I set myself the challenge of designing 30 new games of solitaire. Most of them are designed to be played with limited table space or no table at all. One day, while eating a sandwich, I designed a game to be played one-handed. I wanted to stretch the idea of solitaire, beyond the table and into the world.

Klondike solitaire is easy, but it’s a lot of cards to set up, takes up a lot of space on the table, and you’ll lose more than you win. That’s fine when the computer is doing the dealing and shuffling for you. With a deck of cards in hand, it’s frustrating.

Two other favourites from my childhood—Pyramid and Clock—are fun and easy games, but require a big table which I don’t always have. So I went looking for a tiny solitaire game and found Mille Feuilles.

Despite the name, it’s four cards in a row, not a thousand, and every other card gets stacked on top. No discard pile required. It’s so quick and addictive, I started playing during commercial breaks instead of fast forwarding. I started changing the rules to make it different, the same way my brothers and I invented our own rules for Crazy Eights and chess.

Some of my games have barely any rules at all. Some of my games are more complicated than others. I’m sure some might be proven unwinnable. (I have never, personally, won my game, Plus Fours, and I’ve played it a lot.) But I don’t really care, certainly not enough to do the math. I enjoy playing the game as long as I can. And when there are no more moves to play, I can shuffle the cards and start again.

Solitaire isn’t about winning. It’s about putting the world in order, one card at a time. It only takes patience.