Keyboard Geniuses

FreeCell Hand No. 11,982

Board But Never Bored

The best of the week’s comment threads.

By John Teti • April 13, 2012

There was some debate over whether The Gameological Society should have comments at all, which now seems insane just two weeks after launch. The conversations have been enlightening and the quality of the comments is gratifying to those of us who produce the site. Everyone is quite welcoming to newcomers, too, which makes me especially happy.

It’s tough to single a few threads out for this roundup of prime comment-thread cuts, but that’s a good problem to have. By the way, we’re calling it Keyboard Geniuses now. It was called Letters To The Editor before, but “Keyboard Geniuses” was the headline next to Soupy The Comment Cat on the front page last Friday, and that’s what people ended up calling it. Keyboard Geniuses is funnier anyway. Let’s go with it.

Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.

11,982 Is The Loneliest Number

Chris Plante’s article about the 1994 crowdsourcing project to conquer a stubborn hand of FreeCell—the solitaire game that comes with Microsoft Windows—prompted a wide variety of discussions. Aaron Riccio (who provided the “loneliest number” line) latched onto the fact that FreeCell depends entirely on skill if you’re a good enough player. This reminded him of duplicate bridge, a variety of bridge in which the same cards are dealt to every table in a room, and players are scored on their performance relative to others. Since every group is playing with the same cards, the most skillful players rise to the top. Aaron elaborated:

One of the reasons I consider duplicate bridge to be the finest game in the world is that no hand is “impossible”—there’s a best solution, one that can be crowdsourced through repeated play into a more-or-less unstoppable bid and perfectly finessed hand. You’re ultimately comparing not the cards themselves, but your ability to play them.

Ring’s search in FreeCell may have led to defeat (though also to triumph), but my deck rages on in bridge.

Games can inspire us in unexpected ways. The dastardly Hand No. 11,982 in FreeCell prompted Jonathan Santore to break into song:

I’m a composer, and I wrote a piece about 11,982!

Worth a listen. Elsewhere, the commenters tried to figure out how many different deals of FreeCell were possible. As Chris wrote in the article, the Windows 95 version of FreeCell included 32,000 deals, but that’s a small subset of all the possible hands. LimeadeYouth had the skinny:

This page actually goes into the specifics of calculating the number of transformations resulting in functionally identical games.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is that the 32,000 games in question are not pre-selected; they are determined by a random number generator. So, when Horne said all 32,000 games were probably winnable, he really didn’t know.

Get On Board

Pandemic board game

The mention of a board game in Out This Week gave rise to a board-game recommendation thread that’s worth checking out if you like your gaming to have that fresh cardboard smell. One of the many good tips came from Stummies:

My wife doesn’t necessarily have the same jones for competitive spite that I so enjoy with many board games. So we just picked up Pandemic, and she’s obsessed with it. It’s a co-op game where the object is to stop the spread of four diseases before they kill everyone on earth. It’s players vs. the game, so everyone wins or everyone loses—works very well with two players but can be played with up to five, and the mechanics are such that you get a lot of nail-biting finishes. The game tends to beat you in sneaky ways when the players are just one or two turns from victory. Worth a try.

Better Late Than Never

In last week’s edition of Keyboard Geniuses, Mr Glitch posted an entire review of a vintage game: the misleadingly titled Warlords for the Atari 2600. Here’s a condensed excerpt, and you can click through for the full review:

Warlords is essentially a four-player competitive version of Breakout, originally released in the arcades in 1981. You play as a capital L surrounded by bricks in one corner of the screen, and you must defend yourself from attack by the capital Ls in the other three corners.

It’s a great enough game solo, but four-player matches are where it really shines. The ball changes speed and bounces around unpredictably, leading to some awesome moments of turnabout, such as when it smashes around inside your own fort. The paddles give you precise, instantaneous control over the ball, and yet you have to rely on well-aimed & well-timed bank shots, as you’re almost never given a direct shot at the other players. 

Just remember you’ll need two sets of paddle controllers for the full four player experience (it won’t work with joysticks) and working examples of those can be difficult to come by.

Wait For It

Wabbajack book

Joe Keiser’s reviews of the books in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim included a bawdy tale of human/lizard-people relations. Joe called The Lusty Argonian Maid “an unparalleled triumph.” (Don’t be surprised if that pullquote ends up on the back cover of the paperback edition.) Yet commenters like Mike Mariano are disappointed with stagnation in the genre:

I find it odd that the majority of the literature in Skyrim is well over 200 years old. Have there been no advancements in lizard erotica?

Raging Bear piled on:

Lizard erotica always goes too far, or not far enough. No sense of scale.

Basement Boy added:

…and never hot-blooded enough!

They’ll be here all week, folks; tip your waitresses.

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953 Responses to “Board But Never Bored”

  1. Pandemic is even better with the expansion, if you can find it. Adds new roles, allows for more people to play, and has some interesting new game modes.

    • Benjamin Reese says:

       Skip Pandemic and just go for Defenders of the Realm.  Pandemic feels ‘solved’ after you get good at it in the sense that there  really is one obvious best move to make.  Defenders of the Realm fixes that with random dice rolls for combat instead of 1 cure per action, side quests, and a slightly competitive gameplay element to become the King’s Champion (MVP). 

      • Stummies says:

        Don’t know Defenders of the Realm but I’ll check it out. Even after a few plays, Pandemic did feel a little repetitive – the players just kind of wind up using their respective special skills and doing little else – but I do love the ticking clock element. I’ve heard the expansions drastically improve it (per @facebook-16831741:disqus).

        Also heard good things about Fresco (as a competitive game) — anyone played?

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          Yes, I love “Fresco.” It’s worker placement, but with an interesting mechanic (“waking up”) that keeps the game balanced between first and last. The theme’s one problem is that there’s really only one way to “win” the game — by collecting paints and then using them — but figuring out the best way in which to do that is interesting. 

          I’ve also had fun with “Leonardo da Vinci,” “Stone Age,” and the grown-up “Agricola.” Also consider checking out the excellent “Year of the Dragon.” 

      • That’s only with the original version. With the expansion, the difficulty ramps up significantly and the play styles open up dramatically with the new roles available.

        And really, if you want a more complex and in depth version of Pandemic, you really have to play Arkham Horror.

  2. Basement Boy says:

    Cooool! I’m famous!! Does this mean I get royalties?

  3. Raging Bear says:

    Yay! My first pun in Keyboard Geniuses! First of many, if I have my wicked way.

  4. Mike Mariano says:

    Regarding Warlords, I miss the feel of those Atari paddle controllers, which were more durable than I thought they’d be.

    Is anybody making a quality PC paddle controller?  Or a quality controller, period?  Why is the solution to every PC gamepad question to plug in a wired Xbox 360 controller?

    • AuroraBoreanaz says:

      I thought that sounded familiar…they released an Xbox 360 version of that game a while back.  The thumbsticks aren’t terrible to control your paddles…I haven’t seen a paddle controller in decades.

  5. Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

    Ahh, so close to being featured. I did decide to stay away from coop board games after that thread and I’ll probably pick up Twilight Struggle next time i have some extra cash lying around. Thanks Gameological!

    • Cloks says:

      I was thinking of this comment. I forgot that you were featured for the steam group last week!

  6. Mr_Glitch says:

    Hi everybody, Mr. Glitch here with another classic game review! Before I begin, I’d like to say thanks to John Teti for mentioning me in today’s Keyboard Geniuses

    Today, I’m reviewing two Atari 2600 games released in 1982 by Imagic, a short-lived 3rd party developer responsible for some of the most impressive-looking and imaginative 2600 games.


    Your goal is to defend Atlantis by shooting down rainbow-colored Gorgon attack ships as they fly across the screen. You have at your disposal three gun emplacements: one in the center of the screen that shoots straight up, and two on either side that shoot up and across in an X pattern. Pressing the button by itself fires the center gun, while holding left or right on the joystick and pressing the button fires the guns on the periphery. Since the bullets from those guns fly diagonally across the screen, it’s harder to hit your target, but you get twice the points for each hit.

    Rainbow-Gorgons you miss drop down a level until they get low enough to vaporize one of your seven installations with its death ray. They target your center gun first, leaving you with only the outer guns to defend yourself. However, score enough points in each wave and you’ll earn back an installation, starting with your center gun. There are no power-ups in the game, but if you manage to hit the small fast fighter ship, its explosion wipes out every other enemy on screen and nets you 1000/2000 points. When all your installations are destroyed, the Atlantean survivors escape in a saucer to join the…

    Cosmic Ark

    Yes that’s right, it’s an actual sequel to an Atari game! In Cosmic Ark, you play a giant flying saucer tasked with rescuing endangered space critters from each planet you visit.

    The game has two parts: In part one, your ark, in the center of the screen, must defend itself from meteors that conveniently attack from one of the four cardinal directions. You zap the meteors by pressing the joystick in whichever direction from which they approach. If you take a hit, you lose some energy. 

    In part two, your ark hovers above a planet and dispatches a small shuttlecraft to beam up the two beasties running around the bottom of the screen. The planet’s defenses slide up & down the edges of the screen, periodically zapping any shuttles foolish enough to be caught in their line of fire. You have a short amount of time to catch the critters and return before alarms go off and your ark gets smeared by more meteors. Your ark then returns to space to blow up yet more meteors, rinse repeat. However, if you suffer too many hits & run out of energy, your ark explodes spectacularly, and the Atlantean survivors escape in a saucer to join the… Hell I don’t know–the Yars.

    Both games have impressive sound effects and detailed, colorful graphics. Both games are also of the play-till-you-die variety and they get very difficult very quickly. If you can manage more than fifteen minutes a game, you’re a better Glitch than I. Though Cosmic Ark gives you more to do, I prefer Atlantis. Its shooting mechanic is reminiscent of the arcade Missile Command, and the scoring is just fair enough to give you a fighting chance of earning back your last precious Atlantean outpost blown up by those damn Rainbow Gorgons. Both games are easy to find, dirt-cheap and well worth picking up to round out your 2600 collection.

    Thanks for reading Mr. Glitch’s classic game reviews. Next week, we fire plasmorbs over the horizon in Ballblazer!

    • HobbesMkii says:

      You’ve inspired me. I couldn’t think of any good games to review, though, so I made mine up:

      Solitaire 2: Escape to Cardageddon

      For 22 years, the Solitaire series has been conspicuously stagnant, with only a few updates to its UI and graphics. It’s something of a cult hit, never having gained much in the way of sales among gamers for some odd reason. Thus, executives over at Microsoft felt the moment was an auspicious one for the release of its sequel, Solitaire 2: Escape to Cardageddon. And boy were they ever right.

      To start, I have to mention the fact that there is something of a dream team in its development. The cards are illustrated by none other than Chris Metzen, and the game features writing by Eric Wolpaw and the whole project was helmed by Ken Levine, which gives the story a deeper feel in line with contemporary games while maintaining the humorous, playful edge of the original.

      Now, normally, I would recommend that you play the original before picking up most sequels, but I think most gamers will have no problem following the plot even if they done so (although obviously, the occasional reference to the events of the first game will go over such players’ heads).

      You play as “the Player,” a mysterious unseen force directing the events of the game, with your main purpose being to prevent all of existence from continuing to mundanely persist. Opposing you are the feared Joker brothers, a new addition to the almost overburdened cast. Of course, all the old favorites make return appearances, depending on how you performed in Solitaire (your save games are importable to Solitaire 2), including the Suicide King and the Seven of Clubs, who has some of the best lines in the game and is voiced by none other than Patrick Stewart.

      Players familiar with Solitaire should find much to like about the changes to gameplay in Solitaire 2: Escape to Cardageddon. Each card now features special abilities (like Seven’s ability to cannibalize other cards for special bonuses). One of the complaints with the original game was that the game lacked a proper “hard” setting for difficulty, so to compensate, the developers have introduced “Draw 5” mode, which we’ve known about since the game was introduced at E3 last year. I can tell you that it is excellent, and should provide just the right amount of challenge that die-hard Solitaire-heads have been desperately crying out for.

      You can’t really go wrong with Solitaire 2: Escape to Cardageddon. Whether it’s the characters you love, or the beauty of the sandbox open-world (built with CryEngine 3), or just the engrossing action of playing the game itself, everyone will find something to love.

      • Aaron Riccio says:

        You forgot to mention that for the optimum experience, players should first install it to their hard drive, as playing from disc can result in some nasty pop-ups in the middle of clutch card-laying sequences. And I’m surprised that you left out just how realistic they’d managed to make that table surface look, or the valid complaints about the Day 1 DLC that reskins the whole game in a retro ’80s style.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          As a imaginary reviewer, I have to breeze through this stuff, so some minor issues, like how the game’s purported ability to cure cancer only works half of the time, were left by the wayside due to time constraints.

          As for the Day 1 DLC controversy, I have to say that it’s largely the complaint of a minority of gamers who found the $60 price tag to be outrageous for a game in the Solitaire family.

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          Ah, but see, when you have to roll out a $50M marketing campaign to promote something as . . . essential . . . as Solitaire, you need to charge $60. And let’s be honest, what will ever love you more than an always-there-for-you staple like Solitaire? (Freecell, as we so recently learned, has been sleeping around, or as she puts it, “experimenting” and “doing research.”)

      • Girard says:

         While I appreciate this particular post, it’s also an exemplar of the type of self-indulgent comments that this feature is going to encourage (99% of which will be less clever and more hammy than yours)…

        • HobbesMkii says:

          Keyboard Geniuses will only encourage long, drawn-out jokes if Teti makes a habit of including them in Keyboard Geniuses.

  7. ClaraCWhitsett says:


  8. Loving this site so far. All of the features mentioned were really fun. I may have to start frequenting here.

    So once I was playing a freshly dealt mahjong solitaire game and could not for the life of me find any matches. I finally conceded and clicked the dreaded hint button, only to be told that I was all out of matches and would have to start over. I had been dealt an entirely unplayable game.