The Spider and the Fly

Are We Not Men?

Of the free games included with Windows, none is more treacherous than Spider Solitaire. In the latest installment, the apprentice gnashes teeth, rends hair.


I fear that I have inadequately prepared you and so sent you along a path to failure, much like the old green Yoda and his young Jedi Skywalker—you are my Skywalker, Hyperion! And I, your wise, gnarled, vaguely amphibious Yoda.

Undo is not enough. I have taught you how to levitate upside down, but not the exciting technique of backflipping your way out of a lightsaber attack. You are a dead man, Hyperion. So select “Save the game in progress” and don’t make another goddamn move until you’ve read the following.

We need to talk about PRUNES. Specifically, now that you have been introduced to Patience, Recognition and Undo, it is time to move on to N: Not giving up. Hyperion, this might be difficult to believe, what with my relentless pursuit of SpiSo perfection and 52 percent victory rate, but in my life I am something—I’ll say it!—of a loser. When at the supermarket I am told by the cashier that my coupon for 20 cents off taco shells has expired, what do I do? Do I bluster and shake my fists and call for a manager? No, Hyperion, I do not. I calmly tuck that coupon back into my wallet and pay full retail price. I give up. And what do those tacos taste of, later, in my apartment? Shame.

Giving up is a trend in most things in my life, from romantic relationships to my pursuit of perfectly sculpted abdominal muscles. But when I play Spider Solitaire, things are different. And the main difference, Hyperion, is that you can go back in time and correct your mistakes. I think that my personal inadequacies are rooted in a fear of the future. You see, even in the moment I find myself looking forward to looking back, as it were, and imagining the regret I will later feel at home for having made a hysterical ass of myself in the checkout line. And so I capitulate, I duck my head and pay the extra two dimes, just like the fucking coward that I am.

But SpiSo offers something else, something that transcends cowardice. You can play and play and when something goes wrong you can go back in time to the point where things began to run afoul and reverse what you have done. This is the wonderful thing about Undo, Hyperion, even beyond what it offers in the context of the game. For with it we transcend the mortal world and its temporal restrictions. We become spirits, we float up into the ether like time-traveling angels—and return to earth again with wisdom and prescience. Suddenly, shifting that nine onto the 10 of clubs isn’t so clever, now that we know that beneath the 10 lies a jack of the same suit—and so over to the jack of hearts it goes, etc.

Hyperion, will you stop for one Christforsaken moment and think what this means? Forget Star Wars, this is the stuff of dreams! Now, please consider my words and go back to your gameplay. Honestly, you can do anything you want—always with the ability to go back and correct your mistakes.

We are no longer men, Hyperion. We have become something else.

I remain,
The Pigeon


Are we, Pigeon? Are we truly something else? Is SpiSo the metaphysical chrysalis; the soft, silky cocoon in which we can accomplish the almost alchemical transformation of the human soul? I have been searching for such a place.

As such, your entreaties do not fall on deaf ears, for like the alchemists of old, not-giving-up-edness is a quality that must by definition be central to our quest. Oh how your taco shell story strikes a chord in me! For I too have been in precisely the same situation (albeit with Bulgarian-style yogurt)! I too have crumpled under the weight of indecisiveness, pained by my lack of vim and vigor. “Yes! Oh, yes!” I shouted to myself upon reading your last communication. “SpiSo shall be my arena, I shall stand proud upon its sands and face the lions of Diocletian!”

I plunged with gusto into my game, so carefully saved, and was veritably laid low by the immediate evidence of your prophetic power, for lo and behold, the very first move I made was to slide the nine of diamonds over to the 10 of clubs and what did I find beneath it? What do you think? I found the 10 of diamonds… just as you foretold! I swooned and was only brought back to consciousness when my head banged on the desk (the dent remains, testimony to the minor miracle). I then frenetically shifted cards left and right, favoring the dirty moves above the clean, my left hand virtually cramping by repeated use of undo.

I believe that I tried every possible combination and permutation of cards, I flung them, flipped them, slung them around the board in an unseemly way, ever favoring dirtiness. I felt my mind begin to slip, astounded by the prophetic exactitude of your last communication. In need of further guidance, and inspired by our previous discussion about gods, I rummaged among my things until I found a Bible and despite my long-standing agnosticism did as my mother once taught me, opening it to a random passage so as to benefit from the guidance of its publishers. It fell open to Genesis, chapter 19:

Before Lot and his guests could go to bed, every man in Sodom, young and old, came and stood outside his house and started shouting “Where are your visitors? Send them out, so we can have sex with them!” Lot went outside and shut the door behind him. Then he said, “Friends, please don’t do such a terrible thing! I have two daughters who are yet virgins. I’ll bring them out, and you can do what you want with them. But don’t harm these men. They are guests in my home.”

This was clearly confirmation of your policy of dirtiness, for if the Bible itself lauded the piety of a man for handing his virgin daughters over to an angry mob so as to protect two drifters he had invited in for the night, then obviously your policy of putting black jacks on red queens was a mere piffle.

When my flurry of activity was over, when every undo had been undone, when every possible move had been tried, both dirty and clean, when the dust had settled and my pulse had returned to a more typical rate of 76 beats per minute, I found myself before the lay that is displayed in the adjoining screenshot. I think you will see, dear and prophetic Pigeon, that I cleaved tightly to your advice and did not, indeed, give up.

The first hand

I thirstily await your next lesson—oh my Yoda, my Prophet, my Master.


Kevin Dolgin is originally from New York and has lived in Paris for more than 20 years. He has published numerous works of short fiction and writes a regular travel feature for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. A book of his travel writing, The Third Tower Up From the Road, was released in June 2009 by Santa Monica Press.TMN Contributing Writer Pasha Malla is the author of two books: The Withdrawal Method (stories) and All Our Grandfathers Are Ghosts (poems). More by Kevin Dolgin & Pasha Malla