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ETpro's avatar

When you lose a game of solitaire, who beats you? When you win, whom have you conquered?

Asked by ETpro (34550points) June 27th, 2012

This question came to mind when I was reading about where the idea for Monte Carlo type modeling came from. Computer modeling using the Monte Carlo simulation is credited to John von Neumann, Stanislaw Ulam and Nicholas Metropolis. They developed it in the 1940s while working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory on development of the atom bomb. But the core idea first crystallized in Ulam’s mind when he was convalescing from an emergency brain surgery after developing encephalitis. He played solitaire to pass the time as he was recovering. It occurred to him that rather than play out hand after hand, he could use a simulation of 100s of games and simply count the number of successful plays. From that meager beginning grew the entire idea of the Monte Carlo simulation, playing out a rule set over many iterations to calculate the statistical probability of a given outcome. When Ulam returned to work at Los Alamos, he and his colleagues, von Neumann and Metropolis realized that with the ENIAC computer at their disposal, they could use such a simulation to estimate the problem of neutron diffusion in fissionable material.

But when solitaire is reduced to that level of abstraction, why bother to play. Who wins on a winning play, and who is being defeated. Are you playing against God, an active agent who tweaks the cards, or is God/the Universe running like the work of a watchmaker, with no active intervention. Are you simply playing the role, albeit ever so slowly, of the computer running a Monte Carlo simulation? And please tell me that the Jellies that love to play solitaire aren’t put off their game by my admittedly odd thought process.

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23 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Since I usually play with real cards and cheat a lot, I always beat me.

digitalimpression's avatar

When you lose you are beaten by randomness usually. When you win, you have beaten randomness. There really isn’t much strategy to the game.

the100thmonkey's avatar

I don’t think you are winning or losing anything – that suggests competition.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Can schizophrenics play solitaire? Do they enjoy it?

YARNLADY's avatar

@digitalimpression There might not be much strategy, but knowing a few rules does help. When I first started playing, I played the cards randomly, but I found a game site that gave my some winning tips, such as always play the cards on the playing field first, and only resort to the slush pile when there are no more matches. Also, play the ace piles as soon as possible and try to keep them even, rather than run up one pile ahead of the others.

I play for points which allow me to buy chances to win prizes, so when I play, I’m playing for prizes. When I lose, I get no points, when I win, I get points.

wundayatta's avatar

Personally, I think solitaire is about pattern recognition. It is about keeping the mind occupied with an interesting problem. The problem is interesting because you can’t predict the outcome and because you can make choices that lead to better outcomes. So it matters how you do it. That’s all you need to make it a good way to pass the time.

Pattern recognition trains us for lots of things we have to do in life. We confront chaotic data all the time, and we have to instantly make sense of it and try to choose a good course of action. Human relations are one important area where we are faced with chaotic information. But we also see it in nature and at work, and in libraries and all kinds of places.

Our brains have evolved to be good at pattern recognition. We are so good at it, that we find all kinds of false positives: patterns we see that don’t exist. We see aliens or the power of the stars or tea leaves or all kinds of false correlations because our minds are so sensitive.

Winning and losing are kinds of McGuffins—apparent goals in a tale that turn out to be beside the point. They keep our attention focused, and sometimes that means we miss the point. Not that it matters. No one needs to know that the point of solitaire is not winning and losing, but passing the time in a way that keeps the brain’s attention. Solitaire works whether or not you know that.

This question is a McGuffin of it’s own sort. Good thing it is not in General, because my answer, while being a real answer, is not a direct answer to this topic. It’s kind of amusing to me when people ask, “is it this or that?” When it’s neither, you can’t answer that in General because that’s off topic.

Life is often like that. And we think we see patterns that don’t exist, but those patterns are so powerful that we decide they are real, and that the real answer is fake. When you play solitaire, you might think winning and losing are real, but they are fake. What is not fake is that you are training your mind to see.

YARNLADY's avatar

@wundayatta The last next to the last paragraph in your answer looks very much like a rant to me.

Supacase's avatar

@YARNLADY & @wundayatta I didn’t feel it was angry or antagonistic. Seemed like an example all flutherites could relate to. JMO

josie's avatar

It’s an equivocation on the words win or lose. There is no winner or loser. You don’t beat anybody, you lose to no one. You merely meet a goal or not. No one else is impressed or depressed because you are successful. It is a totally selfish exercise. Sort of like doing P90X. Who cares other than you?

YARNLADY's avatar

@wundayatta It’s not possible to flag one paragraph of an otherwise excellent answer.

ETpro's avatar

@gailcalled Way to go. Nothing like cheating at solitaire to render the game extra meaningful. So who’s getting cheated? :-)

@digitalimpression There is some strategy, and of course you could always just use @gailcalled‘s method.

@the100thmonkey I can see that viewpoint, but you do wither won or lose a hand.

@elbanditoroso I don’t know. I do know that Stanislaw Ulam lost his ability to speak after his brain surgery. I imagine he was using the pattern recognition necessary to play solitaire to help reprogram his brain and recover from the damage it had suffered.

@YARNLADY Thanks for providing @digitalimpression more detail on strategies.

@wundayatta Excellent answer. I wouldn’t have dreamed of posting this in General for just the reasons you note. Feel free to explore the outer limits of the question. I certainly did in the question details.

@Supacase If I know the average Flutherite, you’re right.

@josie Precisely. An equivocation that I found amusing and that set up the discussion of how playing solitaire to while away hours led to the beginnings of the modeling and massively parallel neural networks that, among other things, buy and sell more stocks and bonds these days than human beings do.

digitalimpression's avatar

@YARNLADY and @ETpro Strategy or no, I’ve not had trouble playing multiplayer games. To hell with Solitaire. XD

wundayatta's avatar

@YARNLADY Other people flag the whole answer all the time. Once it’s gone, no one knows there was anything good about it. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does the fat lazy sing?

wundayatta's avatar

—@YARNLADY Oops. Fingers had a mind of their own. Should have been “lady.” :-O

YARNLADY's avatar

@wundayatta OK, I’m fat and I’m a lady and I sing – but only when no one can hear me, because I am tone deaf and I sing off key.

wundayatta's avatar

@YARNLADY If I said I meant “fat lazy,” would you claim to be lazy as well?

Happily for you, I, too, am fat. In fact, I’m obese, according to the charts. I am lazy. I sign. I mean sing. I can carry a tune. Yet, if a tree were to fall in a forest, and no one heard it, I sincerely doubt you would find me singing about it. Or signing about it, for that matter. So I might as well not exit. ...errrrr, exist. Or maybe I should exit. But it’s hardly exciting.

ETpro's avatar

@wundayatta Well at least you have a mine of your OAN.

wundayatta's avatar

@ETpro Did you mean to say I had a mind of onan?

ETpro's avatar

@wundayatta I would never presume to say that for you. No, OAN is an acronym for Optical Access Network.

wundayatta's avatar

Mining my optical access network! Whatever will they think of next?

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