Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only person who spends absurd amounts of time thinking about subjects like whether all the games on Freecell can be solved, but then, every once and awhile, there's a brilliant moment of validation, like "Unbeatable," a feature on The Gameological Society (a new spinoff of the AV Club, which was a spinoff from The Onion). It turns out, only one game is unbeatable, #11,982:
Members reported other troublesome hands across the participating newsgroups. Hand No. 285; No. 1,941; No. 21,320. These took time, but eventually they were cracked. Hand 11,982 remained. With 31,999 hands completed, Ring called an all-hands on the final hand. A week later, No. 11,982 still stood unbeaten. It was over. They had lost.
Or not. Ring never regarded winning every hand of FreeCell to be the project’s goal. To him, Turpin’s post, along with Horne’s vague help file, was more a question than a challenge.
So when that final push on No. 11,982—an effort aided by humans and even a handful of game-solving programs—met with failure, Ring celebrated. Is every hand in FreeCell winnable? No. Thirty-one thousand nine hundred ninety-nine hands are winnable. And one isn’t. He proved that. He had solved one mystery of the universe.