Posts Tagged ‘Games’

Solitaire and Christmas films

yukon-solitaire-large

©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

¶You have my permission to skip this post. Just realize all the while that you probably will have missed something that someday might have helped you significantly.

Where’s the queen of hearts?

¶I have a confession to make in my cyberspatial confessional. I’m addicted to the Internet game “Yukon Solitaire”. It could be worse, I guess, if I had a smartphone. I saw on the Internet today that many Americans are addicted to that device, which I don’t have; just have a cheap old flip-phone. I tried a smartphone a year ago, but it didn’t respond to my fingers accurately enough, had a bunch of apps that I couldn’t afford to use, and ran out of juice too quickly.
¶But back to the solitaire. I know what many well-meaning folks will say: “Be happy! Playing solitaire can keep your brain rejuvenated! Keep you from becoming senile.”
¶That well may be, but I view playing the stupid game a major waste of time. I could be writing the “Great American Novel” or drawing masterpieces. Instead, I gaze at my monitor’s screen and try to determine if there is some magic strategy for attaining the “perfect win”. And that’s what I actually call it: “the perfect win”. It’s when I can get all the cards in their proper columns and complete down to at least the number “3” cards. Of course it is quite possible (and usual) to win when I’ve had to move several lower cards up to the top, but that’s just a “win”, not a “perfect win”.
¶I must admit that, besides the supposed benefit of keeping my brain active, playing “Yukon Solitaire” has revealed to me some interesting facts of life and facets of my personality. Probably the profoundest fact is that losing is as important an element of playing Yukon Solitaire — or, for that matter, any game — as winning. If I won every game or even several games in a row, boredom would quickly descend upon me. Of course, the opposite is also true: whenever I lose too many games sequentially I become frustrated and irritated and I resolve (for a day) to give up the game. But then that old lust to play returns and there I am before the computer again.
¶A year or so ago, I heard on one of the NPR talk shows a woman who had written a book (or maybe it was just an article) about how people can learn much about their own psyches from playing “Scrabble®”. I played that game only once, many years ago, and it bored me so much I never ventured into it again, so I didn’t listen very long to the radio conversation. However, I did attend enough to gather that it must be possible, indeed, to discover a lot about one’s personality and perhaps even improve it by playing Scrabble® and other such games.
¶Another thing I learned about the Yukon Solitaire game is that the outcome is not as much a matter of chance as in the original solitaire game. The player can calculate odds of moving certain cards as opposed to moving others at times when mutually excludable options exist. Also, one can begin to gauge which rows demand more attention because, if too neglected, they contain too many uncovered cards near the game’s end. Naturally, those rows tend to be the last three. Yet another insight is noticing that one’s odds of winning are proportional to the balance of red and black cards at the opening.
¶I could go on with my insights, but I don’t want to tempt my readers to try the game; for it truly is addictive, and I don’t want to be responsible for your fall.

* * * * * *

O Merry…Merry…something or other

¶While I’m still in the confessional, I guess I might as well admit to having spent a bunch of hours over several weeks in November and December watching Hallmark Channel’s massive array of Christmas romance movies. Even beyond the twelve days of Christmas.
¶It was all part of my attempt — only slightly successful — to escape the pall of gloom that fell over me and millions of my fellow citizens following the November 8 election. I was trying to avoid the news programs, which, in my case, is very difficult because I am something of a news and political junkie. I’m only a nominal Christian: a fellow who no longer attends a church and does not adhere to the Apostle’s Creed. Nor have I paid much attention to Christmas in decades. But this time I wanted to escape into some kind of cheery mythical world. And I found a bunch of that in several of those movies. Of course some were rather saccharine, but others were worth the viewing.
¶When one watches a series of films all pretty much about the same motif, one picks up on common elements. Two of the most common themes in the Hallmark Christmas movies are (1) the Scrooge theme, and (2) the real Santa theme. If you have seen the 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street”, you might recall that it contained both themes.
¶I am using “the Scrooge theme” rather broadly here, meaning that the storyline presents a case of a person who loved Christmas as a child but, due to some unfortunate experience in the past, now either denigrates or ignores it. The protagonist is not a “Scrooge” in the sense of being selfish or inhumane, although some might be business executives more intent on making money than on sharing cheerful hours with others. One, for instance, was the story of a developer who wanted to convert a building that, on one floor, had housed a music therapy center. In another, rather preposterous story — even by fictional standards — the reindeer Dancer is too ill to fly on Christmas Eve — so Mrs. Claus sends the North Pole’s handler in cognito to buy a replacement at a reindeer farm; when the farm’s owner declines to sell, she orders the handler to steal a reindeer. (Don’t be concerned: Mrs. Claus finally recognizes her fault and the whole situation is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.) In yet another, a Christmas tree farmer is about to lose his place because, due to bad weather, his crops have not sold well during the past two years, and the banker is set to foreclose on him; but he is saved by the story’s heroine, a marketing executive from New York who creates a “brand” campaign for his trees and drafts the farmer’s daughter and his friends to promote them countywide.
¶By far the most fascinating of the stories, however, is the fantasy tale of a nurse in 1945 who has not heard from her soldier husband. She worries that he is possibly a war fatality. After a few early scenes in which she reveals her charitable good nature, the nurse drives home during a blizzard and runs off the road into a ditch. After she crawls out of the ditch she stumbles through the snow to storage building, climbs through a window, and falls asleep. In the morning she goes to a local police station for help, but on the way she doesn’t recognize any of the vehicles on the road. During her interview with the police, they suspect that she has suffered some brain damage. Eventually, she comes to realize that she is in the 21st century, not the 20th. The police chief takes her home to spend Christmas with him and his family, and to further examine her to see is she is mentally off or perhaps is playing a confidence game. Through some ingenious detective work, the policeman concludes that she really has time-traveled; and the problem now is how to get her back to 1945.
¶I won’t take up the necessary time or space to explain it all, but the nurse’s situation involves a comet that passed by Earth in December 1945 and is scheduled to also pass it this December. So that policeman and the community — which has come to appreciate her because she has reminded them of their long forgotten customs of caroling and hanging Christmas lights on the town gazebo — accompany her to the storage building. She goes inside; and, after the crowd watches the comet pass overhead, they open the door to find she is no longer there. The last scene in the movie is of her shoveling the packed snow from in front of her car and her husband, in uniform and a duffel bag over his shoulder, showing up to help her.
¶Yeah, pretty far out but still heart-warming.
¶And now I, too, am back in the real world. Alas!

Finis

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Sports and Games

ancient-olympics

A foot race at the Olympic games in classical Greece (Bing Images)

© 2016 By Bob Litton

Back in my pub-hopping days one of the denizens at a Dallas bar described me as “that heavy dude”. He wasn’t referring to my physical frame but rather to my tendency to limit my conversations to serious topics. He had a fairly broad notion of what is considered as “serious”.

The immediate spur to his remark was my lament that all the local “watering-holes” seemed to be turning into sports bars, with multiple TV sets scattered throughout. One bar I used to frequent now has five TV sets on the walls of its two rooms, but the only time more than one person watches them is on Sunday afternoons in the fall when the gladiator contests known as American football are being  flushed through the cables. And they are attention-hogging during the endless days of the national championship events. Of course, baseball’s World Series and the triple-crown horse races draw a small bevy of viewers also. But mostly the TVs are there for “ambience” and to make you feel comfy when you’re the only lounger in the place.

I quit going to bars recently — even gave up beer — but primarily for reasons other  than the distraction created by those constantly blinking images on TV screens. Still, the sporting events were a significant part of my withdrawal. I’m just not a fan of sports, particularly of the contact sports such as football and hockey and especially the “extreme” sports that look to me like glamorized street-brawling.

Funny thing, though, is that, when the only stool available at the pub’s bar is directly in front of a TV, I get drawn in. If it’s a contact event I instantly begin to silently root for the “underdog”. If it’s a solo event, such as golf, I become hypnotized by the ball’s behavior. The ball takes front-and-center status only when it’s either  in a sand pit or lands on the green, especially on the edge of the green: that’s when the drama starts; it is rescue and putting time. I quietly gasp in awe as the seemingly self-determined white globe rolls serenely past the hole then does a U-turn, returns, and plops in (I’ve actually seen that). Now, that’s entertainment! But it’s all provided by the ball; I don’t give a hoot about the golfer; don’t even pay attention to his name.

To me, golf is not a sport. True, there is calculation, concentration and occasional slight exertion (at tee-off) involved, but no strenuous action by the body. No, golf is strictly a game.

This is where it gets complicated: What is the difference between a game and a sport? The terms are often used interchangeably by the players and the commentators. Both are contests, but in my view a game is a contest between calculations (aka “strategies”), while a sport is a contest between skills and endurances. There is a degree of calculation in sports, I acknowledge, but it is not what draws the fans and it is not the primary element in winning, while in games it is all that matters.

I read that over the past few years players of chess, poker and bridge have petitioned the International Olympics Committee to include those games in the quadrennial show. What’s next, tiddlywinks?

I also read that the field sports people also want to be included. I don’t know what the IOC has against their inclusion. Could it be that they require too much space? Or perhaps it is because those sports are not sufficiently universal. I am glad that auto-racing is not an Olympic event; it is really just a contest of mechanics’ skills and draws viewers who basically only came to see wrecks and perhaps be treated to the sight of a body being toted off the track on a gurney.

To me, the truest sports are those such as boxing, wrestling, soccer, tennis, swimming, and tumbling, where the human body is fully tested for strength and vigor; and the brain is tested for strategy and constant calculating. Also, in boxing and wrestling the “violence” is minimal and no harm to the opponent is intended; the victor wins on points, not on knockouts.

I recognize that my view of the Olympics differs from the original events in ancient Greece. The Greek city-states put a lot of pressure on their athletes: if a contestant dared come home without a laurel wreath, he was shamed; if he came home a victor, on the other hand, he was treated royally and became a celebrity. Also, the boxing events were bare-knuckled and bloody, pretty much like our modern “extreme sport” boxing.

I wonder if the IOC will ever include TV sports-watching in its lineup of events. I might try out for that, although I have no doubt that I wouldn’t even survive the preliminary trials.

Finis

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