The Spider and the Fly

Your First Lay

Of the free games included with Windows, none is more treacherous than Spider Solitaire. In the second installment of a new series, the master sets the tutelage in motion.


First, you will need a nickname—or a “handle,” as it were. Mine is “The Pigeon,” for my uncanny ability to bring the game home, 52 percent of the time. Think of something that best encapsulates your skills as a Spider Solitaire player. For now, I will call you: “Hyperion.”

Second, Hyperion, remember this acronym: PRUNES. PRUNES stands for Patience, Recognition, Undo, Not giving up, Excellence, and Statistics. These are the five pillars of SpiSo glory, and they are to the serious player what the stars are to the seafaring sailor, or the literally interpreted Bible to the Christian zealot.

Today’s lesson will be on The Deal, in which the P (Patience) of PRUNES figures significantly.

Hyperion, here is something to remember: “You will not win a game with cards that suck.” It is impossible. SpiSo is not like FreeCell, in that every game is a potential winner. Like children, many are innate losers.

When you begin any game of SpiSo, closely examine the cards the computer has dealt you. My rule of thumb on the initial deal is that if there are not two immediately possible “clean” moves (cards of the same suit that can be piled in succession), then I do not play; I re-deal. Also, I like to ensure there are at least two potential “dirty” moves, as well—a jack of clubs onto a queen of hearts, for example.

As you can see, Patience is important. Don’t go shuffling cards around if you’re only going to find yourself with sloppy piles every which way and no hope of further moves. Remember when we were young lads, Hyperion, and we used to shoot our wads all over our own tummies while our bemused lovers looked on, and then we fled shamefully from the room? Yes. Take it easy, my friend. Think of baseball, if that helps.

Also, keep in mind that unless you make a move, a re-dealt hand DOES NOT COUNT AGAINST YOUR STATISTICS. I cannot stress how vital this is—to your pride as much as anything. So feel free to re-deal again and again, until a hand comes up that seems right to you.

Your first drill is to do just this: Practice re-dealing and not playing. This will teach you Patience, and will also strengthen your finger muscles for later, more strenuous clicking. I repeat: You shall not play a card until I give you further instructions. Patience, Hyperion! Wax on, wax off. Soon you will be catching flies with chopsticks (metaphorically).

Please let me know how this goes. Next up (once you are ready): Recognition.

—The Pigeon


* * *

Dear Mr. Pigeon,

Might I first say that I am very pleased with the “handle” you have bestowed upon me. I do not understand it, and yet would not dream of changing it. To have been named—dubbed as it were—by someone of your stature is not something to be taken lightly, nor would I dream of imposing my own meager will in this matter.

I have done as you suggested, and am now quite proficient at pressing the F2 button. I can hit the F2 button very quickly now, so as not to let the ugly image of cards that suck linger on my screen. Initially, I was perhaps too excited by the whole affair and I realize that I was undoubtedly often premature in my banging on the F2 button, probably sacrificing potentially good deals to the rubbish heap of electronic oblivion. This, however, is undoubtedly less problematic than accepting cards that suck—am I right in making this assumption?

Your mail also raises another, more philosophical question: What is our ultimate goal? I assume we should strive to maximize our percentage of games won (as reported by the F4 button). Is this true? Is this the measure of ultimate success? Here then is a deep and profound question: Am I allowed to restart? If so, under what circumstances?

Perhaps these questions touch upon the strategy—dare I say, the philosophy of SpiSo—and as such I might be getting far ahead of myself. Perhaps you would like me to concentrate, in the short term, on the tactics of the game (the PRUNES, so to speak). If so, please don’t hesitate to put me in my place for you have already begun to instill in me an appreciation for the merits of Patience.

For this, I thank you.

—Mr. Hyperion


* * *


Excellent. You are already making progress—I had hoped you would yourself perchance across the Function keys without my guidance. Well done! They are an invaluable means of saving time and preserving the wheelie-ball or sophisticated laser in your mouse from overuse.

As per your questions, yes, there is no harm in refreshing the cards at any point before an initial move is played. This brings us to your second query: “What is our ultimate goal?” The ultimate goal, Hyperion, would of course be a 100 percent success rate, as gauged in the Statistics. Ultimate, in this case, being the equivalent of a world without war, or a diet comprising only bacon that doesn’t make you fat. As a wise astronomer once said, aim for the stars (100 percent), and perhaps you will reach the moon (52 percent). The stars would be nice, but have you seen footage of the moon, Hyperion? It is certainly wonderful in its own way.

So, by all means, F2 away! Think of your Statistics in this case like two consenting adults making love in an hourly rate motel that advertises free ice: What’s the harm? Put another quarter in the vibrating bed, it’s all in good fun! And, at the same time, there need not be any documentation, either.

But yes, let’s get back to PRUNES. Patience, it seems, you have grasped. How prodigal. I believe it is time to move onto Recognition—a skill, I think you will be the first to admit, in which you are lacking.

Recognition, along with Patience, cannot exist without a full understanding of the SpiSo Rules of Engagement. To refresh your memory: We require two “clean” moves and the potential for at least one “dirty” move to initiate play.

To begin, deal a game. (I trust you are only playing at the Expert, four-suit level, and not wasting your time with the other sophomoric versions geared to small children and the relentlessly unambitious). Now, before you begin hammering away at that F2 button of which you are so enamored, observe what the computer has on offer. Is this a playable game? No? Then by all means, Hyperion, re-deal! But hold on one goddamn minute—how about now? Two clean? At least one dirty?


Don’t you dare even think about making another move, Hyperion. Save the game and contact me immediately.

You have just Recognized a playable game. Glory could be at hand! But for you to begin now, without further instruction to guide your play, would be akin to an astronaut landing on the moon and bursting out of the space shuttle in swimming trunks and a snorkel. The lack of gravity will send you spiraling into the cosmos. Your head will explode. You could very well botch your Statistics. Do we want that? No.

Save the game, include a detailed account of what cards are showing in a message to me, and prepare for your next PRUNES lesson: Undo. This will undoubtedly be the one that will change how you think about SpiSo, and perhaps life itself.

I await your next message.

—The Pigeon

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