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Patrick Carroll (Patrick)
Junior Solitaire Player
Username: Patrick

Post Number: 6
Registered: 5-2006
Posted on Saturday, May 27, 2006 - 7:24 pm:   

I have a question that will probably sound goofy to most people, but maybe someone will humor me.

The question is: Can solitaire be a good mental workout? But--here's what I mean by that:

I do a daily physical workout, and I've been getting great results from it for several years. When it comes to the physical body, it's "use it or lose it." And I suspect the same is true of the mind. Thus Nintendo's "Brain Age" fad:

I'd like to find a set of daily exercises that will do what the Nintendo "Brain Age" thing is supposed to do. But I'm a low-tech kind of guy, and I'm not about to buy a Nintendo machine just to do puzzles.

For my physical workout, I rely on bodyweight conditioning (calisthenics). I don't belong to a gym; I don't use weights or a treadmill or anything. The less equipment, the better. All I need is my body and a little floor space.

Same attitude applies to a mental workout: I want minimal equipment, maximum efficiency. And if there must be equipment involved, I want it to be as low-tech as possible.

A deck of cards is reasonably low-tech. I can live with that. But, can solitaire provide a good mental workout?

I'll bet the answer is yes. But here's the problem:

With my physical workout, it's easy to measure my progress. For example, part of my workout is usually a set of 35 push-ups, 50 (my current maximum) on Tuesdays. Four years ago, it was tough for me to do 10 push-ups, and 15 was my maximum. So, I've clearly made some progress.

How do you measure progress in solitaire? Especially without a computer?

I mean, suppose I play a game of Flower Garden, as I did yesterday. It's supposed to be a game that involves strategy and would be good mental exercise. OK, so I played and lost. What does that mean? Did I lose because of bad luck, or because I didn't think things through well enough? How can I be sure?

I was looking at Michael Bourne's solitaire game Cat's Cradle. It looks like great mental exercise, but supposedly even an expert player will only win one game in five or so. So, when I lose (as I often will), how do I know whether it was due mainly to skill or luck?

It would seem that in any solitaire game, I might overlook good moves and never know it. I used to shrug Klondike off as unwinnable, for example, just because I played mindlessly and almost never won. I wondered why people bothered playing it. Just recently I picked up a few pointers and discovered that the game can be won sometimes. But whether I win or lose, I still never know whether it was luck or skill.

Of course, I can always call it good skill when I win, bad luck when I lose. But that's no way to get a good mental workout.

Since I can't seem to figure out how to achieve this with solitaire, I'm thinking maybe I ought to switch to something like chess instead. Chess is a game that's always won by the player who makes the best moves. So, if I can always win on level 3 but sometimes lose on level 4, then when I get to where I always win on level 4, I know I've made progress.

Trouble is, that requires a computer, so I'm back to the high-tech Nintendo approach. I happen to have a chess computer (a couple good handheld ones, actually). But it kinda goes against my grain to use such gadgets.

OK, now that I've thoroughly bored you, I'll answer my own question. I suppose the thing to do would be to find a good mostly-skill solitaire game and research the win-loss percentage of skilled players. Then I can play that game and keep track of my own wins and losses. An individual game may never show much, but if my win-loss record improves in the long run, I'll know I've made progress.

So . . . which solitaire games would you suggest for a daily mental workout like this? And why?
Patrick Carroll (Patrick)
Junior Solitaire Player
Username: Patrick

Post Number: 7
Registered: 5-2006
Posted on Saturday, May 27, 2006 - 7:31 pm:   

OMG, I had no idea I've been wrestling with this question for at least four years! I just did a Google search that shocked me by turning up this old message--from me: -cards/msg01460.html
Thomas Warfield (Support)
Username: Support

Post Number: 1027
Registered: 12-2002
Posted on Monday, May 29, 2006 - 10:21 am:   

I think solitaire definitely can be considered a mental workout.

Luck is a factor in most games. Although there are some games like FreeCell where luck is pretty much eliminated as a factor. FreeCell may be your best bet for a mental workout. Although Spider is good too (more challenging).

You can research the win-loss percentage of a game just by looking at the scores at . For most games, it gives you a pretty good idea.

Finally, as a former tournament chess player, I can tell you that it's not entirely true that the player who makes the best moves always wins in chess. There are other factors there too.
Patrick Carroll (Patrick)
Junior Solitaire Player
Username: Patrick

Post Number: 8
Registered: 5-2006
Posted on Monday, May 29, 2006 - 2:18 pm:   

Thanks. When I asked this question four years ago in another group, someone recommended FreeCell and Calculation. This morning I tried Strategy. I used to love Spider years ago; that and Forty Thieves were my two standards when I first learned to play solitaire (some forty years ago or so).

I glanced at the posted scores last night, and I was amazed to see that someone had won 65,000 games of Klondike in a row. Is that for real?

And yes, my remark about chess was simplified. There are psychological factors and such. I just prefer to ignore those and play only on the computer, where I'm just testing myself against the AI.
Rachel Cohen (Rachel)
Master Solitaire Player
Username: Rachel

Post Number: 456
Registered: 2-2003
Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2006 - 7:11 am:   

When the PGMJ started, there was Pelmanism, the game that I had known by the name of Memory. I looked up the meaning of this name, do the same. Of course the scores here don't show how good your memory is, only that you finished the game - which happens always.

Comparing your personal achievements and measuring everything: When you see the score of somebody playing 65,000 games, it just shows you how meaningless it is, this measuring. You don't even know what the game is for a person, playing the cards, getting the name on top, maybe tricking the score program.

When you compete against yourself, that's simpler. And in the far future (80? 90? 96?), when you don't get better scores but just hold on to your old scores, memory or physical, that's the achievement itself.

Patrick Carroll (Patrick)
Junior Solitaire Player
Username: Patrick

Post Number: 9
Registered: 5-2006
Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2006 - 8:49 am:   

"When you compete against yourself, that's simpler."

Yes, and it'd be fine for me. What bothers me just a little is winning or losing and not knowing for sure whether it could have gone the other way.

I might win a game and pat myself on the back for doing such a good job--and then find out later that hardly anybody ever loses that game.

Or I'll lose a game repeatedly and complain that it's a lousy game because I get stuck so fast that it's hardly worth dealing out the cards. But then I'll later learn that other people manage to win that game fairly often.

But--solitaire books usually give a clue as to how often one should be able to win. And the scores in PGS--if I scroll down to the bottom instead of reading the huge numbers at the top--may be pretty good indicators.

So, I guess I've moved on to a new question, beyond the one this thread started with:

Which games, played with real cards, would make a pretty good overall mental workout?

Thomas mentioned FreeCell (but someone else said FreeCell is frustrating when played with real cards). Some time ago, someone recommended Calculation. What other games would be good to play regularly in order to exercise the synapses?

Rachel brings up Pelmanism (Memory), and that's a good point. I would think it'd be a good exercise to play a memory-testing game (though there's some of that in many games, since it's often important to remember where the cards are).

I don't know what other mental functions might come into play. Maybe calculation, deduction, pattern recognition, planning. . . .

If you were going to pick, say, three or four solitaire games to play regularly with real cards--and more for exercise than just fun--which games would you choose?
Jeralyn Taylor (Annika)
Advanced Solitaire Player
Username: Annika

Post Number: 80
Registered: 4-2004
Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2006 - 11:01 am:   

Maze is a great PGS game for mental exercise. I have never lost it, though I have to restart sometimes. I started playing it to see whether it could always be won, and I think it can, but not easily.

ActionSol is the best mental challenge, since strategy must be combined with speed, and time is reduced each round. Why not give it a try?

If you play bridge, try duplicate bridge. It is always a challenge, never dull, and one can never learn everything there is to know about it. You can play on line, too. Some sites are free, and you can play with people around the world.
andy (Pat_yen_se)
New Solitaire Player
Username: Pat_yen_se

Post Number: 2
Registered: 10-2007
Posted on Friday, October 19, 2007 - 10:58 am:   

It seams that this discussion has died, but anyway, here are my few cents ... First of all Patric, do not compete, just play and try to solve the puzzle which solitaire for sure is ... that's it ... relaks and try to think and it will be your workout ...
Try Black Hole and StripTease by David Parlett.
You will have a nice evening ... or Cheops, another mental vampire ...

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