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What is Solitaire?

Windows Solitaire, one of the most played computer games of all time, has celebrated its 31st birthday recently. The game rose to popularity in the early nineties, when all versions of Microsoft Windows were shipped with it. But did you know that the game’s name is technically incorrect?

The term solitaire refers to any tabletop game meant to be played alone. It is not just the famous Microsoft game of cards called the same name. The game known as “Solitaire” in Microsoft is actually called Klondike.

The Origin of Solitaire

Solitaire, as understood by many, is any card game played by an individual person. It is also known as Patience in England, Poland, and Germany or Cabale in Scandinavian countries. (Source: Britannica)

The game is played with a deck of cards by one person, whether by building card houses, flipping cards into a hat, or arranging them into mathematical magic squares. However, the most common understanding of the game is that an individual player starts with a shuffled deck of cards and attempts to arrange all the cards in correct numerical order, depending on the game’s rules he is playing.

The card game traces its origins in the latter part of the 18th century as some form of fortune-telling in the Baltic region of Europe. Many believed that the game’s origin was due to the emerging interest in cartomancy at the time. The earliest documentation of the game was on a 1793 German book, describing the game as patiencespiel. It was described as a contest between two players, taking turns playing what seems to be the grandfather patience game as bystanders place bets on who will win.

The oldest known collection of patience games was published in Russia in 1826, while the first English collections were published in the 1860s, which were mostly translations from French or German collections. It was even described in Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations, where the character Magwitch was playing a complicated kind of patience with ragged cards.

Solitaire on Windows

In 1990, tech giant Microsoft included a game in releasing the Windows 3.0 version to the public. The game was initially designed to teach computer users how to use a mouse. Users would grab the virtual cards on their screen and drop them in place. (Source: The Verge)

Microsoft intern Wes Cherry programmed the game. The deck was originally designed by pixel art and MAC GUI pioneer Susan Kare. It became pretty popular then, causing Microsoft to include other card games such as Spider and FreeCell on their systems.

The game was included in all Windows versions and was only removed in 2012 on Windows 8. It was returned in the Windows 10 version, including Minesweeper and Hearts because Microsoft discovered that these classic games had devoted followers.

By 2020, Microsoft celebrated the 30th anniversary of the first Solitaire game being released. According to the tech giant, over 35 million people still play Solitaire monthly, with over 100 million hands played daily around the world.

Despite being designed as a teaching tool for computer users in the nineties, the game was officially inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame and other famous computer games like Doom, Tetris, World of Warcraft, and Halo: Combat Evolved. (Source: The Verge)

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