Friday, May 11, 2012

Orderly, Solvable

One of the great pastimes of my life is Freecell. I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but I swear to you it's true. When I'm working on a knotty game that takes me more than a couple of tries to get through, I consider it serious work, a genuine problem that has to be solved, to which I have to devote time and effort. No different from an equation. It's a hobby, yes, but I don't find it incidental.

It was early, the talent I developed for Freecell. High school. I had a friend ask me once about a game that he'd tried repeatedly to solve and couldn't get to the end of, and I had it done within three tries as he watched. He was openmouthed. It's stupid, but I'm still really proud of that look on his face.

Right now I consider it a sort of in-between thing I like to do. When I need a break from work, whether writing or copy-edit work, I tend to play a game or two to remind my brain that I can, in fact, solve problems, so I can move on with the less mechanical ones that need solving.

Something I had to learn about Freecell is that you can't really succeed if you play it safely. There are times when, in order to move forward in the game, you have to jump, fill up all four empty slots with no certainty that you'll find a space for everything waiting underneath. If you are very methodical, if you take the time to sort through all the possible combinations, going one card to the next to find out what'll happen when and if you make the next moves, there's no real risk involved. However, I don't know about you, but I can't keep all those what-ifs in my head at once. (Not in this head, which can remember ridiculous Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon trivia but can't always calculate 20% without painful concentration.) Sometimes I just have to leap.

It's occurred to me recently that this is a life lesson, too. There are times when I can't be certain that what I'm doing next is going to lead to ultimate happiness, but there are just too many possibilities, too many potential combinations of cards atop each other, for me to make reasonable predictions. You've gotta fill up the slots anyway, you know, take the risk, or it's not life.

One of the other things I've noticed, about Freecell certainly, is that problems seem to unknot themselves more easily if you walk away for a little while and come back later. Sometimes I'll take an hour between a stuck-place in Freecell and the next time I look at the game, and it's just completely different. Why didn't I see that this move and that one, too, are possible? Poof, everything's sorted out and finished.

Matt looked it up for me once, and I think there's a single unsolvable Freecell game programmed in with the other 37,000. If I were a sincere hobbyist, I would probably make a log of all the ones I'd solved and try to do them all in my lifetime. But I'm really not that obsessive. I just like Freecell; I like its orderliness, and I like the way it helps everything seem solvable, with enough time and enough thought and enough ctrl-Z. I still tend to be skittish about permanence, but there isn't much in Freecell and life that you can't reapproach, can't try to solve a different way. If all else fails, sleep on it. It'll probably look different in the morning.

Among other items I need to sleep on this week, Matt was hired by Neversoft. We're moving to California.


Denise said...

I saw this news on FB. Big change! What part of CA are you going to? I hope you're not too freaked out. When is this all happening?

I know it's silly, since I've never even been to your place, but it's kind of sad to me to know you'll be so much further away. On the upside, when I visit CA I can see you! <3

Katharine Coldiron said...

We'll be in Los Angeles. Matt's work is in Woodland Hills, so we're hoping to move there. The transition will be happening in early June, although a lot is up in the air still.

I'm sad, too. I'd venture that most of my friends are on this coast, and I wish that all of them had had the chance to see our beautiful house. But overall it's a change for the better.