Lessons Learned

Voice Card  -  Volume 29  -  John Card Number 8  -  Fri, Oct 1, 1993 7:01 PM

This is a response to VC 29 Suzanne 1 ("Uncertainty in Victory")...


Thanks again for your contribution to solitaire research; 384 games is nothing less than heroic! Through your efforts, and the efforts of the other Archipelagoans who participated, we are starting to lift the veil of mystery that has covered this game from its very beginnings.

One question we've answered already is how often do people win. The answer seems to be about 5 to 20%, with most players hovering around 10%. Betsy is our champion at 17%. I should caution that even several hundred games is not enough to establish a precise percentage. It does seem, however, that Betsy is more successful than you or I.

I'm still not sure about the right-to-left vs. left-to-right controversy. Betsy is a right-to-left player, like you. Unlike you, she does not usually play with the benefit of Margaritas. I am also almost constantly sober but play left-to-right and score about half way between your 8% and Betsy's 17%. Can we conclude from this that left-to-right is a 4% advantage when sober and a 4% disadvantage when, uh, more relaxed? As a scientist I think any such finding would be premature.

Betsy stands out in several other ways. For one thing she spends slightly more time on an average hand than the rest of us. Most of us spend about 4 minutes a hand, Betsy 4 and a half minutes. The one exception to this pattern is Janine who for some reason spends a whopping six minutes per hand on the average.

Another difference between Betsy and the rest of the pack is that a higher percentage of her winning games require more than 3 passes through the deck. For most of us this percentage is between 50% and 60%. For Betsy it is 74%. If the 3 pass limit was enforced most of us would be winning only 4% or 5% of the games, and Betsy's lead would evaporate. Curiously, the only other Archipelagoan with a high number of passes through the deck is you, Suzanne, (76% of your winning games required more than 3 passes), but you only win half as many total games as Betsy whether or not the 3 pass rule is enforced.

You also ask how long a person can play without going insane. At a record-breaking three hours of continuous solitaire in one sitting you are the closest to the edge. I finish a distant second at a mere two hours and five minutes.

Do we get better with more practice? I find no evidence of this. Our rate of success does not seem to either improve or decay in any obvious way over the course of games played during this experiment.

I invite all of you to use the various statistical methods provided in the solitaire stack to prowl through the data recorded so far - over ONE THOUSAND games! Perhaps you can tease out some subtle patterns.

The other questions Suzanne asks are intriguing and get to the heart of why Solitaire is as addictive as it is. I think this 10% success rate is typical of interesting games. Any game or puzzle is boring if it's too easy, and boring if it's too hard. I think most games have to fall near this 10% success rate to be interesting; that is, they should provide some sort of big payoff about 10% of the time. My hunch is that the payoff rate needed to make a game interesting does not vary too awfully much from person to person.

Reading through an issue of Archipelago is sort of a solitary kind of game. I conclude, therefore, that if 10% of voice cards are REALLY interesting, Archipelago will be a success! Or maybe Archipelago is a success because 10% of the cards are interesting. Something like that...