The Death of Freecell


I’ve never been much of a game player.  When I was younger, I did enjoy Scrabble and Monopoly.  I played Mancala in Africa and dominos in south Texas, and in the late 90’s I flirted briefly with the sailing version of Trivial Pursuit.  But I don’t make pilgrimage to Louisiana for the “gaming” found in casinos, and I don’t do video games.  There’s no Guitar Hero or Grand Theft Auto tucked into my bookshelf, and you won’t find Mahjong, chess or checkers.  The cribbage board is stored away in a box because my Dad and I used to play and it has sentimental value, but everything else – the decks of cards,  the assorted boards, the mismatched dice – simply have disappeared. 

The advent of cyber-gaming passed me by as well.  I have friends who spend hours on the computer playing games with people around the world, and they seem to enjoy it.  I’ve tried to become interested, but  it’s never happened.  I’d rather take a walk, go to a gallery or read a book.

The only exception has been Freecell.  When my first computer arrived in 1999, I discovered the folks at the factory had added a few games for my amusement.  I looked them over but didn’t play until one of my friends said, “You really ought to give Freecell a try”.  She’d become a fan when she purchased a computer with Windows95, the first operating system to include the game.  She seemed so enthusiastic I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so I set out to learn.

I played one game, and then two.  Then, I played a few more.  It wasn’t long before I’d play two or three games every night before bed.  One day I realized I’d played a hundred games, and then a thousand.   By the time I traded in my old Win98 clunker for a spiffy new duocore, I’d logged 6,754 games.  That’s not much in the shadowy world of Freecell addiction, but for a dedicated non-gamer, it’s enough.

As much a puzzle as a game, Freecell has a lot to recommend it.  The game can be as mindless or challenging as you want to make it, and it fits easily into those few minutes before bed or with a cup of coffee in the morning. Not only that, it has one of the highest win rates of any solitaire, which contributes to the fun and the addictive quality of the game.  

There are claims on the internet that almost every Freecell deal can be won.  When Dave Ring started The Internet Freecell Project, he attempted to solve all the deals using human beings.  The project was finished in October 1995, and only one game defied every human player’s attempt to be successful: game  #11,982, which has been shown to be unsolvable by several software solvers.

When I stopped playing Freecell on the Windows98 computer, my winning percentage was 71%,.  Now, on my lovely new computer with the zippy cards, sound effects and neat new graphics, I have a winning percentage of 75%.  But that increased winning percentage can be misleading.   Since my new computer arrived on January 16, I’ve played precisely four games of Freecell.

I played those four games during my first week with my new “infernal persnickity timesucker”.  Then, Freecell was set aside as I learned a new operating system, installed new software programs and peripherals and generally got accustomed to a radically new world.  Moving from Windows98 with dialup to Vista with broadband left me a bit breathless, amazed at the possibilities.  I watched YouTube for the first time, and found the time required to list an Ebay auction reduced from thirty minutes to ten.  While drinking one cup of coffee I could process a batch of photos, google my way into a topic and out again, answer my emails and tidy up my desktop, downloading a few files in the process.  There would have been great chunks of extra time for Freecell, except for this: I had decided to write.

I’d been doing a little light blogging on the WeatherUnderground website since October, 2007, and enjoyed it tremendously.  But I had a friend who kept whispering, “You need to do more.  Get on a real blog site.  Spread your wings.  Push the limits.  Expand your audience….’   After looking at assorted sites and  experimenting a bit,  I made a commitment.   I was going to write, and I was going to do it by maintaining two blogs.  At WeatherUnderground, I would continue with my more-or-less weekly posting, and on WordPress, I would try to update at least every three days.  It seemed a wonderful plan.  I had ideas galore, and energy to spare.

Now, two months and about twenty-five blogs down the road, I can’t help but think of my favorite quotation from Woody Allen: The longest journey begins with a single step.  The best journeys begin with a moment of temporary insanity.  In some ways, the writing has been the least of the craziness.  As I learn the vocabulary of “real” blogging (trackbacks? pingbacks? authority? tags? domain mapping?), struggle with html, keep a wary eye on the CSS project still waiting in the wings and keep adding to the list of drafts to be outlined and researched, I wouldn’t change a thing, and yet everything has changed.

Freecell was only the first casualty.   Television viewing was next.   I haven’t been to Ebay since January, and I’ve seen 2 a.m. so many times I think I’m back in college.  My mother rolls her eyes; my cat sits and gives me the evil eye.  No matter which one is around, when I head toward the computer, they sigh.   Neither is especially happy with my new enthusiasm. 

Nevertheless, for good or for ill, I keep writing, reading and learning.  Slowly, I’m developing a new routine.  The technical tasks are becoming easier, the site soon will look the way I see it in my mind, and the delight of sharing my vision and words with others is increasing exponentially.  Writing, I’m beginning to understand, can be something you do, or it can define who you are.  When I first saw one of my blogs republished on another site, with my name attached and the description, “writer and blogger” included,  I was amazed.  And yet, with every word, every paragraph, every entry, I’m filling up that description with a new and vibrant reality.  It may be a crazy journey, but it’s one of the best I’ve taken.

As for freecell, I suspect I’m not going to increase my winning percentage by much no matter how many games I play.  I believe I’ll let it rest, and just keep writing.  That way, I’ll be sure to stay ahead of the game.





COMMENTS are welcome.  To read previous comments or post one of your own, please click on the tiny “Comments” link below.  Eventually, I’ll learn CSS and revise the template, but this note will have to do for the time being.

© Text Copyright Linda Leinen, 2008 

15 thoughts on “The Death of Freecell

  1. Fun article, but I was having a hard time understanding that someone could be without a computer until 1999. My first computer arrived in 1982, but I would beg time on friends processors back in 76. Your point about the unsolvable puzzle has me intrigued, because I have a hard time believing things can’t be solved unless there is a proof.

    Today a friend lost a walking stick down a cliff in a valley of waterfalls. I was assured it was impossible to retrieve. I normally don’t shy away from a challenge and today was a day of renewing vigor; I sought out the stick and found a different approach made the task simple. I will hunt down this puzzle.
    (I left Freecell behind years ago.)

    Hello, and thank you so much for your comments.

    I know it seems strange to many people that some come very late to computers. But, when I was in college and then working in an office, we had no computers! (I am, as they say, no spring chicken!)
    When I began varnishing boats for a living, I had no need for a computer. So, it took me a while to understand that computers are now a fact of life and I needed to understand them.

    I like your story about retrieving the stick very much. It’s a wonderful parable for life, and an example of an important life lesson I received. A very wise man once told me, “Don’t ever say, ‘I can’t’. Instead, ask ‘How can I?'” It’s an important distinction!

    Again, many thanks.


  2. Welcome to the world of blogging. I still find time for a game of freecell – or rather many. It is an addiction, I am sure. A way to fill up “empty time”.

    For me blogging has been a necessary release. All those things I needed to say. And still need to, whenever I read something that is blatantly untrue or “spun”.

    One thing I recognise about your writing is that you have found your own voice and all you write is the truth. I look forward to reading more.

    I have never touched CSS – anymore than I have tried to reprogram the chip in my car!

    Good afternoon, Stephen,

    Lovely comments. You’re a busy man, if you’re attending to the “spinners” among us.

    I do have a sense of having found my voice, and I try to speak the truth. If you poke around my page, you’ll see that the one section still without an entry is called “Speaking my Heart: Vision and Truth in a Time of Change.” I know what I mean by that, but haven’t quite found the words to
    express it. That will come. I do believe that consonance between word and deed in life is critical, as is taking responsibility for the words we speak.

    As for the CSS, I confess: I have a friend who has sent me explicit instructions for redoing my template. I’m only waiting for a long, quiet weekend to see if I can fathom the mysteries.

    Again, many thanks for your response.


  3. In our house it’s Penny Poker for PA (55+)
    Canasta for MA and Scrabble is popular
    with the girls…

    Gracious! I’d forgotten about Canasta. It used to be a favorite among the ladies when I was growing up. Obviously, it’s still around. Thanks for the memory, and for stopping by. Enjoy the weekend!


  4. In the past I used to play rather freequently Freecell. Since the beginning I asked myself if it was always winnable. Well, it happened once that I couldn’t solve the game, and tried that same game again and again, until I realized without any doubt, having played all alternatives, that it couldn’d be won. So, I got the answer to my first question: Even if most of the time Freecell can be won, in a few rare cases it can’t.

    Hi, Trevisan,

    Who knows? Maybe you found that one game that even the computers haven’t been able to solve! But it is fun to try and solve such puzzles. I wish you much enjoyment with Freecell, or any other game you like to play.

    regards, Linda

  5. i think,

    i like hearts and spider solitaire

    and also pinball on win 95 plus :-P

    because i think it’s easier to play

    Now, pinball is something else I could enjoy. I used to play Pachinko with friends who had a machine and I did enjoy that. You mention one I’ve never tried – Spider Solitaire. I’ve heard of it, of course. I’ll have to go look! Thanks for stopping by and for the comments!


  6. Oh wow, what a trip down memory lane! Freecell and Minesweeper and Tetris! Those were my addictions until I also found blogging. I remember being so proud of my personal best on Minesweeper for the easy game being at 5 seconds. I could beat the large one in under a minute easily. Oh, I was *so* cool! ;-) I don’t think I have played a game in three years now.

    Hi, tpgoddess,

    Isn’t it amazing how things can be so much fun, and then just disappear from our lives! It’s just part of the way things are, I suppose. We change, and the things that attract us do, too. I did make the acquaintance of Minesweeper, now that you mention it. I wasn’t very good, though, and went back to freecell! Many thanks for stopping by – enjoyed hearing the story of “your” games!


  7. Writing is one of the most satisfying intellectual activities. I share many of your struggles in my own blogging journey as well.

    P.S. Try Tetris. You won’t be able to resist.

    Good afternoon, leafless,

    You have a nice page yourself. i enjoyed the little “apples or oranges” piece, and the story of the elephants was very good. Writing is satisfying, and also strewn with innumerable little dangers and predicaments that could fill a multitude of blogs!

    Hmmm…. this is the second reference to Tetris, which I don’t know. Yet. Many thanks for the greetings, and good luck with your writing.


  8. As soon as I finished reading this, I immediately opened Freecell, which I haven’t played for a long time.

    I think there is a place for games in our lives, and I agree that a few plays are a great way to wind down just at the end of the evening. I’m not very competitive, so I don’t care much what my scores are.

    To me, computer games lack the interaction that makes games with other people exciting and fun. I was pleased to find a computer version of Yahtzee, which I used to play with my kids, but now I find that I don’t care what my score is – I just mindlessly start another game.

    I, for one, am glad that you have substituted blogging for Freecell. I’ve enjoyed all of your posts, and I’ve spent time thinking about various points in many of them.

    Hi, NumberWise,

    See there? Just the mention, and down the primrose path we go, back to freecell. I’m getting the urge myself! Like you, I’m not particularly competitive. I’ve always played more for pleasure than for score, although that might have been different if I’d been involved in team sports.

    I do know this – I get much more pleasure from writing. It’s hard to remember that I’ve only been at this for 8 months – really six, since the first couple of months there was only a post or two each month. In a way – and a good way, I might add – it seems like forever.

    Maybe we need to see if there’s online scrabble. There probably is, and we could spend our evenings creating words of one syllable – you think????

    A great weekend to you!


  9. As a fellow blogger, I totally agree with you that like gaming, blogging is indeed addictive. However, there’s method in the madness and I think your fulfillment lies with seeking out the method, following through, and voila, you’re the ‘hawt post’!

    Congratulations Linda and keep up the great work!

    (p.s. More in the mail…)

    Hi, Arti,

    So kind of you to stop by. I thought of you when I included the Woody Allen quotation – simply because he is a director, and your blog has made me think more about directors than ever before.

    The seeking out of the method you speak of is so important. I think that’s what I mean by structure, and I’m always repeating the truth that the better your structure, the more content you can support.
    Whether the medium is the message – who knows? But no artist – painter, musician, poet, essayist, reviewer, scultptor – can communicate their vision and message without having control of their medium.

    In any event, it’s been a fun morning! Yesterday, I didn’t even know that a “hawt post” existed, and today I are one!


  10. You must have a better computer than me. Freecell is my mainstay: I can generally play two hands before any given web page I’ve clicked on actually loads.

    Evening, raincoaster,

    Honored to have you stop by. Ah, there were a few of those years for me, too. When I was trying to deal with sites like Ebay with Win98 I could make coffee, throw in a load of laundry, sweep the front step and pay a bill or two while waiting…. waiting….

    Surely have been enjoying all the forum chat. I’m finding the site and its folks congenial and helpful – wonderful for a “newbie”. My regards,


  11. Spider can be every bit as addictive as Freecell ever was. But, next rainy day, come over to the beach and we’ll play the Oceanopoly game I got at Hatteras!!!

    Morning, Ms. Barbara,

    Yet another addition to my knowledge base! The funniest part was googling Oceanopoly and reading this part of the description – “Every water-soaked deed is filled with fun facts” as “every water-soaked diesel is filled with fun facts”! We may have there the genesis for yet another fun-filled board game!


  12. Blogging is addictive. It is sometimes followed by writer’s remorse, that is, on the way to work, I’ll wish I’d written a particular phrase or inserted a different picture or reached out to others with some universal meaning.

    And, it’s “cheating” as far as publishing, kind of a quick fix while working on something that pays, too. But I love it, I am constantly surprised by the blog world, and I thoroughly enjoy stopping here for a read and a wonderful view.

    Good Morning, oh,

    And then, of course, there is the universal lament – ah, for more time! My head is filled with wonderful (?!) posts just waiting to “be”. A little more discipline may help!

    I must admit one of the greatest satisfactions is the exchange with readers. I love the comments, not only for the affirmation but even more for the additional stimulation they provide. There’s no shortage of roads to go down with readers pointing the way.

    Again, many thanks for your visit. I truly appreciate it.


  13. Good ol’ time, huh? Freecell rocks. Well, at least when no other game stays in your computer:-D
    I quit as soon as I found The Sims 2 — life game simulation is always much more addictive, mind you.

    As for surfing the world wide web and blogging, I use cellphone. Not because I have much money or something but , rather, no net access here in the jungle except wirelessly. Still, I envy you for that core2 thing. Wish I had more money or a someone hired me for a good salary :'( ^sigh^

    Good writing skill btw. Keep up the good work.

    big ape


    I have a friend who lives deep in the midst of the jungle called SimCity3. I get reports now and then, but never have taken machete in hand and followed. My view: why sim while real is still available?

    Being hired for good money is good. I fantasize about the death of a completely unknown, extremely fringe relative who has adored me from afar and thinks I might be worth, say, $250K. I know what I would do with my time!~

    Appreciate the kind words re: the writing. One of the writer’s best moments is discovering someone read.


  14. Hi,

    Really enjoy your blog, just wanted to say keep up the good work. I’ve even included your blog in my bookstore’s ezine as recommended reading.

    All the best,

  15. For the top commentator:
    #11982 has been proven to be impossible. Not only it has eluded thousands of human solvers, but at least SEVEN different computer solvers, which were designed to check out every single possibility, brute force, trial and error, have said “Unsolvable”: I think it’s enough. ;)

    I love FreeCell, but I’m a sucker for good games in general.
    IMO, you ought to hunt down and give these games a try:

    SubTerra 1 and 2 (start with the sequel, it’s easier)
    Myst (bloody difficult adventure game, but the atmosphere of being in an another world is perfect)
    Professor Fizzwizzle (a good indie shareware)

    Hi, Muzozavr,

    Thanks for stopping by, and for the info on attempts to solve that one, nasty free cell game! Thanks, too, for the tips on the other games. I’ve actually heard of Myst, which is saying something, since I don’t pay much attention to games in general. But, I’ve recently given Collapse a go, and there’s no reason not to try these!


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