A great solitaire card game that you can play on a computer. Freecell is standard on every single computer everywhere. That might be an overstatement, but I know it comes standard on Windows, I've seen it on Macs, and it came standard on the Linux box I'm on right now, so it's fair to assume that almost everyone who uses a computer has access to Freecell. If you don't know what Freecell is, either play a game right now, or read what I wrote about it at the bottom of this writeup. Freecell is very addictive game. I play it all the time at my job. Someone told me once that all games of freecell are beatable, unlike some other, inferior, forms of solitaire. So never ever give up on a game of Freecell. If you keep trying, eventually you will beat it, or at least I have never run into a game that I can't beat. In theory, therefore, you can win 100% of the freecell games you play. I run around 95%, and I've kept that up for several hundred games now. Any game that I don't beat the first time around, I usually get on the second, or possibly the third. Supposedly, I've heard, there is a secret way to play some games on the Windows version that are not beatable, but I haven't found them. If you do, write something up in this node about it. Freecell is a great game, and if you've never played you should give it a shot.

How to Play Freecell

Freecell is a fairly simple game. All the cards are dealt out randomly into eight columns. You can stack cards red on black in descending order on these columns. There are 4 "cells"(usually on the right) on top that you can put aces on and stack the suit in ascending order on. You win by having all the cards stacked on those cells. On the left, there are 4 free cells, which you can put any card you want on. However, you must also use those free cells to move stacks of cards, by moving the bottom card on the stack, and then the second to bottom, until you get to the top card, which presumably can move onto another card on a different stack. The upshot of all that long confusing sentence is that you can move a stack with only one more card than the number of open free cells. So when all your cells are open, you can move a stack of 5 cards. When you have a card being held in a free cell, you can only move a stack of 4 cards. The basic strategy is to move cards that are in the way of building stacks on to your free cells temporarily. For a much better description, just play the game. It's probably on the computer you are using right now.
In fact there are unwinnable games of freecell (it's not too hard to prove this) and the selection of freecell positions that comes with a standard windows distribution contains an unwinnable game.

There was an international effort conducted over the internet to play all the games for the windows version and an unwinnable game was found. Really! The impossible one is number 11,982.

See also free cell.

The original Freecell executable was distributed as a test application that came with the Win32 dll for Windows 3.1. This allowed you to run 32-bit applications (such as Warcraft 2, etc) on the older operating system. It was originally written by Jim Horne for Microsoft. Contrary to popular belief, the games are randomly generated, but the games are generated the same way by the numbers as seeds, therefore they are consistent. The grid of cards was created with the knowledge that a few might be impossible, and was left vague on purpose.

The game was so popular that Microsoft packaged it with several of its Entertainment Packs, until it was finally included with Windows when Windows 95 came out. It now enjoys the status it does today.

There are two easter egg games in FreeCell, -1, and -2 (accessible from the select game feature off of the file menu). You can hit control-shift-f10 to bring up an abort-retry-ignore dialog to win, lose, or cancel.

To play the dastardly secret positions of Microsoft's Freecell, select game "-1" or "-2".

If you have trouble with either of these(or any other Freecell position), Ctrl-Shift-F10 can be used to gain an automatic win. This is great for "proving" to your coworker that you solved the infamous 11,982.

For more Fun freecell Facts, I recommend freecell.org


Trust me on these ones. I've played FreeCell basically nonstop for hours before. And these hints are the best I could come up with:

  • The best way to start is by not hitting right-click to bring all possible cards up to the top-right piles. (Note: I only know that the right-click trick works in the newest version of Windoze. Which, coincidentally, does not even deserve a name.) Only put cards in the top-right piles if they are no longer required, or you have absolutely no moves left.
  • NEVER use the four free cells at once, except if you are definitely going to move them back the next move. Even using three free cells is iffy.
  • Before clearing a column, think to yourself: "Hm. That three of diamonds can be moved onto the four of clubs... I can't do much with the seven of spades, so I should see if there's a red eight around... Nope, they're buried, and I only have one free cell." Don't clear that column.
  • Before you start the game, look where the small cards (ie. threes and below) are clustered, and where the high cards (ie. jacks and above) are clustered. If they're in the same spot, try clearing columns to start. If they're not, or if they're all scattered, try and get the lower cards going first.
  • Don't be afraid to build long columns (ie. in excess of ten cards), and certainly don't be afraid to build on a column that has an ace in it, if it means a column is cleared. If you play your cards right (pun fully intended) it'll all come out in the wash.
  • I tend to find that I can win games once I get rid of 11 cards (ie. 41 cards remain). However, this is certainly not true in all situations. Most, yes. Some people tend to prefer more, or less. YMMV.
  • Don't play it for hours on end. Otherwise, you'll go on to something easier to solve (say, a Rubik's Cube) but still have your mind on cards. Trust me, it doesn't work well to go from FreeCell to the Rubik's Cube.
  • Play it in real life as well. That way, you will learn just how many cards you can move with the free cells and empty columns you have. This is particularly useful when you're dealing with a version of FreeCell that doesn't show you illegal move hints, such as "That move requires you to move X cards. You only have enough free space to move Y."
  • If, for some reason, you're trying to move a pile of cards (say, four) with only two free cells (maximum of three cards), and there's a column with only one card, move that single card to a free cell. You have the same amount of empty spaces, but you can now move your four cards. Think about it.
  • Finally, IMHO it's good to look at each of your moves in terms of net gain or net loss of free cells and/or cards. Say you're looking at three cards, and you put two up into free cells to move the third, you have a net loss. Bad move. If you can move those two cards afterwards, it's neither a net gain or loss. Go for that move. If one of the two cards is an ace, it's a net gain, unless of course the other card has to be moved into a free cell and can't be moved back down again later. (You still with me? If so, you've done well. Have a marshmallow.)
Edit: Don't be afraid to break the rules. If these strategies aren't working out, go with an unorthodox approach to the whole thing. Go against your strategies, my strategies, Jim next door's strategies if you have to. Thank you for putting up with me yet again. Have another marshmallow.

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