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May 05, 2004

Women and Solitaire

Dear Friedrich --

Does your wife love playing solitaire? My Wife loves Spider Solitaire, my sister loves Freecell, a niece loves Strict Klondike, and a work friend has Forty Thieves on her Windows desktop 24/7. Based on this statistically significant sample, I'm working on a theory that women love solitaire card games.

There's something about solitaire (especially on the computer) that just ... works for women. OK, many if not all women. What do you suppose it is? When I asked The Wife, all she'd say was, "I don't know. That's a really good question. Did you know that FDR liked Spider Solitaire?" Me, I'm guessing that solitaire offers women something to focus their tirelessly churning feelings and energies on. First they exhaust (and delight!) their men; but long after we're in the grave, they'll still have solitaire.

I once accused The Wife (fondly, of course) of cheating when I observed her hitting the "Undo" button a number of times. Her response: "That's not cheating. They wouldn't give you an Undo button if it were cheating. Besides, it isn't a competition. It's about trying to figure the deal out."

Have you noticed that you -- or more likely the women in your life -- can now play all kinds of solitaire card games online? Here's one site ("Idiot's Delight -- the Solitaire Server") that offers more than 20 different versions of the game. But solitaire doesn't appeal to me at all. In accordance with my theory, I've decided to attribute my dislike of solitaire card games to my brawny and untamed hetero dude-hood. Does it hold any appeal for you?



posted by Michael at May 5, 2004


I guess I could play solitaire on my computer at home, but I'd have to push my wife and my two daughters out of the way to do it. Fortunately for our domestic tranquility, I have no urge to do so.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on May 5, 2004 07:19 PM

I cannot comprehend Solitaire at all (nor Minesweeper, nor any other games that come pre-installed on Windows). No Mac users that I know bother with playing that kind of junk. When I want to play games, I play real games. When I want to waste ten minutes... I read [blogs].

Posted by: . on May 5, 2004 07:55 PM

Yes the women in my life play Solitaire and similar card games, with occasional breaks for Tetris-like games. No, I don't understand it, but sometimes become quite paranoid about it.

"What are you thinking while you are doing that."
"That can't distract and absorb you, it is too simple."
"It does."
"Really, what is wrong?"
"Nothing, dear. Go away."

Posted by: bob mcmanus on May 5, 2004 08:41 PM

I've spent an entire lifetime playing solitaire on the computer. Somewhere, in an alternate universe, there's a me who has done nothing else.

It's a wonderful relaxing trance business. You're doing something, you're doing nothing. The mind roams, softly. Problem is, it sometimes - often - doesn't come back.

Spider solitaire, and I play with all four suits, is very hard to win. FreeCell, when you get the hang of it, is nifty and easyish. Minesweeper is only fun if you're going against the clock, trying to beat previous best times.

Don't even get me started on the virtues of Thief, that most wondrous of real computer games...

Posted by: Linus on May 5, 2004 08:45 PM

I find it incredibly amusing that I had just finished a game of Freecell before reading this post. It's deliciously liberating for the mind. It gives my mind just the right amount of stimulus/challenge alongwith a feeling of nothingness. It's perfect for unwinding.

Posted by: Neha on May 5, 2004 09:40 PM

I kind of like the computerized Mah Jong game myself. To really enjoy solitaire, I need a deck of real playing cards. Maybe an xx chromosomal thingy. My mom used to play solitaire whenever she was really stressed. Poor old deck of cards really took a beating. I can see her now: coffee, cigarettes and a deck of red Biker cards at the kitchen table; smoke circling her head and one-syllabled answers to my little girl questions.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on May 5, 2004 10:15 PM

Great word-picture CowPat!

Posted by: ricpic on May 6, 2004 07:25 AM

I like Freecell and Solitaire to a degree. I mainly use it when I have writer's block, which is most of the time. There is something very calming for me when playing Vegas style Solitaire and seeing how much money I can win and lose in a row. Allows me to focus and get back to writing (sometimes).

Posted by: Kevin on May 6, 2004 08:40 AM

"First they exhaust (and delight!) their men; but long after we're in the grave, they'll still have solitaire."

See, you do understand.

Posted by: annette on May 6, 2004 09:10 AM

The cool thing about solitaire is that, for the brief span of the game, the player has control over the game-arena -- in terms of how many times to play, how long to take over moves, what moves to make, etc. At the same time, it's not entirely predictable, so there's that minor back-reference to reality. And on the computer there's the added bonus of being able (sometimes) to adjust chance -- I'm sure some of you have noticed that Klondike works out MUCH more frequently in the standard Windows version than it does in real life!

Is there a male/female bias? I don't know: most computer games are solitaire, after all. And I would guess (without actually having checked the stats recently) a very large percentage of electronic game players are boys/men, though girls/women have muscled in on that market in recent years. I know lots of men/boys who play solitaire-type card games and lots of women/girls who don't go anywhere near that section of their computers. I have one friend who plays MineSweeper extremely competitively -- the last time I spoke to him, he was boasting about some incredible time-score, the 10x10 game in under 3 seconds or some such. I stopped playing MineSweeper years ago, so I've forgotten what is or is not a great (or even possible) score.

For anyone who likes addictive solitaire games, but not necessarily card games a great site is: -- funny/cute graphics with a large number of variations on familiar game themes.

I'm impressed that anyone plays the four-suit version of Spider Solitaire. Personally, I prefer the two-suit because it can ALWAYS be made to work out -- with enough recourse to the UNDO button. I don't know if that's also true of the four-suit.

Posted by: aliental on May 6, 2004 10:29 AM

I think it's the same level of cognitive addiction (to coin a phrase) as PlayStation is for men, except that women prefer to sort things rather than kill them.

When I play at work, it's because I have no real work to do and am trying to keep my brain from going to sleep just in case some real work should come along. When I play at home, it's to kill time or avoid writing.

The best, though, is playing with real cards. Then, it's all about the feel of shuffling and the exquisite "snick" sound of laying cards on the table.

Thanks for the post; it helps explain why the male bosses around here get so over-the-top irritated when they see one of us worker-bee gals glued to a game, but have little reaction to what I would consider greater offenses (chit-chat, personal calls, web-surfing, etc.). Hey, at least with computer solitaire, only the player is screwin' around - she isn't distracting anyone who would otherwise be working.

Posted by: Dente on May 6, 2004 10:54 AM

Another thought: traditionally-male careers often involve some measure of problem-solving skills, whereas traditionally-female careers don't. It's nice sometimes to have a little puzzle break between such exhausting mental challenges as faxing letters and typing numbers into charts, because it scratches that problem-solving itch.

Posted by: Dente on May 6, 2004 11:10 AM

Interesting, thanks. The Wife tells me that she likes the puzzle-solving aspects of solitaire-playing too. I watch her and get a different impression. You know the way women's minds bore in there and pull apart people's motives and figure out what people are up to and what's really going on emotionally between so-and-so and such-and-such? Powerful, awe-inspiring process. My impression is that The Wife has an excess (well, all's relative, of course) of such insight and energy, and that solitaire seems an effective and rewarding outlet for it. After all, I'm good for about 30 minutes of such discussions a day -- after that, I'm exhausted, I'm spent. And a girl has only so many girlfriends to compare notes with. But that relentless female-insightfulness-energy thing just keeps grinding on. Thank heavens for solitaire, come to think of it. Hmm, I wonder if what I'm referring to (in my exquisitely-articulate way) as "that relentless female-insightfulness-energy thing", I wonder if it's what The Wife means by puzzle-solving ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 6, 2004 11:37 AM

I won't go so far as to shout "Eureka!" but I think you may be on to something worthy of further exploration (I may even try to puzzle it out myself, if I can tear myself away from my game...)

Posted by: Dente on May 6, 2004 12:05 PM

Hmm, 'effective outlet of energy', on one hand and 'stimulus/challenge alongwith a feeling of nothingness...perfect for unwinding' on the other.
What do you think, Deb: I think we'll stick to knitting.

Posted by: Tatyana on May 6, 2004 01:56 PM

No, Michael, I don't think it's sex-linked; I think it's just you. :-)

I find that computer solitaire can be a great way to keep my forebrain busy while my backbrain is figuring things out. These days I flip between Spider (which I think of as a puzzle disguised as a solitaire game) and Canfield, but I've played my share of 40 Thieves and Gargantua in my day.

Posted by: Will Duquette on May 6, 2004 11:26 PM

I've been known to obsess with solitaire. Usually it is when I'm under a huge amount of stress and need something to keep my brain busy and off topic. I will also just sit and shuffle cards, which seems to help also.

Tatyana, yup, describes knitting perfectly. Also spinning on a wheel when you've got the draft going really well and you have a really well prepared fleece. Time goes away. Everything is concentrated into the movements of foot on the treadle and wool thru the fingers...

Posted by: Deb on May 7, 2004 07:59 AM

I think we like the fact that Solitaire occupies our worrying circuits but isn't itself stressful. The one time I went fishing (from a boat on a lake) it felt kind of like playing solitaire. It busied my mind (Hmmm, I wonder if there are any fish over there. Nope. How about over there) in a similar non-stressful way. But then there's the problem about where to pee...

Back to solitaire.

Posted by: Eloise on May 7, 2004 12:45 PM

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