Shit My Dad Plays

Shit My Dad Plays
Grandpa Holds the Cards

Chris Plante | 22 Feb 2011 09:50
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At some unknown point in the spring of 2001, however, my grandparents decided to make the vacation permanent. The house in Toledo was sold and the couple became residents of the Sunshine State by July of the same year. The snowbirds had nested.


With 1,050 miles and 18 hours of road between Norb and his former career, retirement was official. What would he do? He enjoyed early-bird meals with his wife, long walks in the sunshine together, and social engagements with new friends. But he found himself faced with a new reality of "alone time," too, suddenly solitary. It's no surprise what came next: He picked up a deck of cards, and played solitaire.

Norb and Pat were and still are notoriously bad with cell phones, so to create a direct line of communication between Florida and Ohio, my uncles purchased them their first computer: A Dell. "The guy who came and installed it asked me what I liked to do," explained Norb to me in a conversation for this article. "And I told him I loved to play solitaire. And he said, 'Then this is the easiest and best game.'"

That was the day my grandfather discovered FreeCell.

FreeCell and solitaire are, in fact, not the same, at least not in the way we laymen traditionally talk about card games. Solitaire is an all-encompassing term for any game in which cards, tiles, or pegs are laid out in set order and then organized. The specific game that most people call solitaire is actually Klondike.

No matter how good you are at Klondike, you won't always win. FreeCell is always winnable. There are a number of differences between the two games, but this one is the most important.

It's quite unusual that Klondike has become so popular, considering no amount of skill guarantees success. That, to me, would be like taking up bowling knowing that every few frames you'd be forced to forfeit a roll.

I've yet to find a study that provides a rock solid percentage of solvable deals in Klondike, but there are plethora of people in solitaire forums and college math programs who put the number as low as 63% and others as high as 92%.

In the original Windows FreeCell, all but one of the 32,000 deals have been solved. According to, only deal #11982 remains unsolved - its "winnability" is still up for debate. So, sure, FreeCell's not perfect, but close enough.

The sense of acquiring skill and, more importantly, winning hooked my grandfather. "I win once in a while," he told me, "that's what I like about it."

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