Norb likes FreeCell a lot. Some might call him an addict - though I doubt he would. In the past two months, Norb's played 1,200 games. His win record is 20 in a row; his loss record is 8. This is on his current solitaire.
A few months ago, that old Dell hard drive gave up the ghost and a previous 36 consecutive win record was lost forever. My uncles furnished a new computer and with it came a new solitaire program and a new scoreboard.
"I wasn't comfortable with it," said Norb. "I did it. I didn't win as often. The other [solitaire game] kind of baffled me."
My cousin, a computer engineer, was ordered by the family to retrieve a copy of the original Windows FreeCell and install it on Grandpa's Windows 7-powered computer. Norb needed his fix.
FreeCell is, at its core, a game about order. All the cards in a deck are dealt into 8 piles facing upward. The goal is to organize the deck by suit from Ace to King in the four foundation piles. One card can be stored at any time in the four cell piles and groups of cards can be moved to columns in which the bottom card aligns sequentially.
An expert player is an expert organizer. They know, far in advance, where things fit. The basic gist is like organizing a filing cabinet, managing a bank statement or storing hundreds of reams of paper in a printer's warehouse.
For Norb and FreeCell, there have been good patches and bad, but hard work pays off more often than not. In a game like FreeCell, there is always a chance for success if you practice organizing everything, putting things in the right place, leaving room to adjust on the fly.
"When I started our [print] business, it was something I knew very well. I did it for 15,
16 years before I started my own business. And you need to have a complete knowledge
of what you're going to do," said Norb.
My grandpa hasn't always been the best FreeCell player, but he's certainly close now. His movements with the mouse resemble a champion first-person shooter player. I recently asked my cousin how he felt about having to find and install the original FreeCell for my grandfather. He thought the chore was funny at first, but after seeing my grandpa play, he understood.