Playing with a Full Deck Ė A Review of the new Microsoft Solitaire XP

by Melinda Stuart


I am not much of a writer, so please bare with me. Itís a mystery to me why Iím even doing this, except for the fifty dollars part.

Last week I was with my friend Susan at a bar that she likes called The DownUnder. Itís a little drab for my taste Ė and so dark Ė but thatís beside the point. The point, if there is a point, is that I met this odd woman by the name of Barbara Ann Stute. Susan knows her a bit and waved. About a minute, she bought us scotch, something called Glen Levie, and pulled up a stool right between us.

Well, I hate scotch (Susan doesnít much like it either, but sheíll drink anything free), but this Stute woman, she just says Ďdrink ití, very dark and gruff, like ĎDRINK ITí. You can probably get a feel for the manner in which she spoke by the way Iím using both the bold and italics. So I drank it right down (it really was gross) and then had to order an Irish coffee with extra Kaluah just to get the taste out of my mouth.

Well, the upshot was that this person wanted me to write about solitaire and Iím like 'why' and she replies Ďbecause Mister Hoback said soí and Susan is poking me in the ribs and hissing Ďdo ití and giggling and Iím like Jeez I am so tired of everyone trying to push me around, even though I do like solitaire quite a bit and consider myself a very good player. Later Susan told me that this Stute woman was a big shot at Virtual Occoquan, which Iíd never heard of, and that she worked for Round Raoul Enterprises which of course I have heard of. And Susan says that this Barbara Ann is Mister Hobackís Ďpersonal assistantí (wink wink nudge nudge). Susan is gross.

 So, here I am to tell you about the new Microsoft Solitaire XP, and itís not an easy assignment. I think I mentioned earlier that I like solitaire quite a bit, but I like the old solitaire that Iíve been playing forever, not this new one, with all the disturbing deck designs.

It all reminds me of when I was young and they introduced the New Coke even though everybody already liked the old Coke, and then the old Coke totally disappeared and then they brought it back as Classic Coke and it never did taste quite the same. An outrage, and once itís been introduced into the culture, itís aftertaste can never be washed away, even through banishment. Much like that Glen Levie.

 Right now, I am sitting in front of my PC and starting up solitaire.  I am beginning the game with an orange colored deck that has a fucking frog on it. Well, this is just horrible. And no, itís not a crude but entrancing little bitmap, in the sense that the fish on the light blue card and the fish on the dark blue card are, itís a jpeg. And not even a jpeg of a real frog but a jpeg of some creepy dog toy frog thatís going to give me nightmares if I ever have to play this deck one more time.  I lose. Next. Next!

 Uhh. I find this new deck somewhat disturbing. I suppose itís a corollary to the old moonlit castle deck which also creeped me out. It portrays the full moon, rising over unknown desert dunes. No, wait a second, itís not really the desert at all, itís the entire world, you can tell by the curvature of the horizon, and the world has been devastated by some awful disaster. The world lies barren. Will somebody please tell me why on earth Microsoft would put out a deck of cards as depressing as this? Next!

 An astronaut deck? Boring and totally unnecessary. This has absolutely nothing to do with the game of solitaire.

 I am now playing another orange deck. This one is abstract with thin horizontal stripes. These are fall colors, the last splash of color before the death that befalls us in winter. And the stripes make the deck look fat.

 Whoa, hereís another thing you need to know. I just cleared the deck on this hand, and do you know what? Theyíve slowed down the victory dance. When you win, the cards move in extreme slow motion, jumping to a slugish but certain demise as they bounce creepily off the screen. Next.

 Oh. Toy race cars. Letís move on.

 Next deck. Just some clouds in a blue sky. Very realistic, however. Looking closer I realize that theyíre much like the clouds I saw on a November day just hours before the freak snowstorm that occurred one year during my childhood. We were snowed inside forever. God, how old was I? Umm, next.

 More blue, and the decks are becoming ever more abstract. You can really lose yourself in this one. Is that a windowsill I see?  Yes, but Iím seeing it from the outside, and blue curtains are obscuring the forms in the house. But curtains? Outside?

 Next. (Sorry. Lost my train of thought for a moment.)

 No. No more blue. And no checkerboard patterns either. Does no one at Microsoft know about Mondrian, and how he taught the rectangle to be interesting? I think not.

 Okay hereís the big purple deck that for some reason reminds me of the spaceship scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I canít help but think that this is intentional. I just canít figure out why they would do this. When playing the Dreyfus deck, I find myself falling into a daydream consisting of Bill Gates draped in mashed potatoes. Iím sorry. I canít play this. Next.

 Is it a rose, or is it a bloody, beckoning whirlpool. Next deck.

 Okay, this one is very nice. I like it quite a bit. Palm trees on a deserted island, crystal blue water, so inviting. Fluffy white clouds drift lazily across the azure sky. The palms rustle. Far in the background tiny figures wave. They wave, and yet there are no waves in the ocean itself, barely ripples. I am so reluctant to leave, and yet I mustÖ

 This is the last deck, and itís a fish! A fish from the ocean from the island that I just abandoned! It is free, this fish. Alone but content, the entire ocean itís domain. And like that fish, I, too, am once again free. Except for my wrap-up.

 So my overall grade for Microsoft Solitaire XP is mixed. For the novice computer user, this game might be okay. It certainly is colorful enough, and the play is surprisingly similar to the original version. But the experienced computer user will find it boorish, I believe. Well, tacky really, downright tacky. Okay, I used to complain about some of the old decks (specifically the robots), but most of those cards were classics. And just like the New Coke, these decks, I fear, will not stand the test of time.

 Melinda rates it: D+



© 2002, Mark Hoback