Friday, February 26, 2010

the sexism of solitaire?

I first learned how to play solitaire by watching my Grandmother play at her dining room table. After she had made us a delicious lunch and we had eaten, and she had cleared the table and done the dishes, she would carefully, deliberately, lay out all the cards. She played a game she called Patience, reminding me that it took patience to play. She taught me two variations, "regular solitaire" and "with the whole deck," which, thanks to computer solitaire, I have since learned are called Klondike and Yukon. Somewhere along the line we picked up a foam solitaire lap stand, where you could deal the cards into the ridges in the foam, so that they would stand up, facing you. We never used it much.

Long after Grandma died and computers entered my life I downloaded the inevitable solitaire games to play. And I now even have some for my iPhone. I have since come to like the games Forty Thieves and Baker's Game, as they are more challenging, at least for me, but it's hard to beat Klondike or Yukon—they still get played the most.

Until I started playing solitaire on my iPhone I never wondered if it could also be sexist. In most games it doesn't matter how many rows you free up. If you can't find a King to start a new stack, you're out of luck. After a while just the sight of a Queen turned over from the stockpile is a letdown. Aces may start the four foundations piles in most games, but finding an ace can seem lucky, random. A King is a real find. Somehow seeing the little available squares on the touchscreen made this more apparent.

According to Wikipedia, Kings high may not always have been the case once the court cards were introduced:

In early games the kings were always the highest card in their suit. However, as early as the late 14th century special significance began to be placed on the nominally lowest card, now called the Ace, so that it sometimes became the highest card and the Two, or Deuce, the lowest. This concept may have been hastened in the late 18th century by the French Revolution, where games began being played "ace high" as a symbol of lower classes rising in power above the royalty.[citation needed] The term "Ace" itself comes from a dicing term in Anglo-Norman language, which is itself derived from the Latin as (the smallest unit of coinage). Another dicing term, trey (3), sometimes shows up in playing card games.

So maybe I'm just thinking too much. But every once in a while it's fun and illuminating to stop and think about even the littlest things. Like why can't I put that Jack in that empty space? Sheesh!

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