History of the solitaire card game
Like the origins of playing cards, the origins of solitaire are largely unknown as there are no historical records to support it. There is much speculation and controversy surrounding the history of Solitaire as to where it actually began. However, the first written documentation of solitaire did not appear until the late 16th century, and since then solitaire has had a long history and at times a less-than-stellar reputation.
Around the 12th century, the game “Al-qirq” (the mill, in Arabic), which later became the game “Alquerque”, was the most common game until about the end of the 12th century in Europe. Playing cards were first introduced in Italy in 1300. During this time they also became popular in Northern Europe. There is a card game called Tarok that was invented sometime around this time and is still played today. It is also believed that solitaire was first played with tarot cards, which would mean that solitaire most likely predates traditional multiplayer card games.
A French engraving of the Princesse de Soubize, showing her playing a card game, dates from 1697. Legend has it that solitaire was invented by Pellisson, a French mathematician, to amuse Louis XIV – known as the “Roi Soleil” (Sun King) . Another legend has it that an unfortunate French nobleman, while imprisoned in the Bastille, invented the game using a Fox & Geese board (the Fox & Geese board has been used for various board games in northern Europe since the Vikings). There is doubt about these legends, as Ovide wrote about the game and described it in his book “Ars Amatoria”.
The end of the sixteenth century was an active period for the invention of various card games. This was when the ace first appeared as high instead of low in the card rankings. Several new card games were invented during this time and new variants were added, so this is probably the time when solitaire was also invented and named.
The first known rules for playing solitaire were written down during the Napoleonic era. The author of War and Peace, Tolstoy, loved playing solitaire and mentioned it in a scene from his famous novel. Tolstoy sometimes used cards to make decisions for him in a somewhat superstitious way. Most of the early literature that mentions patience is of French origin. Even the word “Solitaire” itself is of French origin and means “patience”. The names of most early solitaires are also French names, the most famous being La Belle Lucie. When Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena in 1816, he used the role of Patience to pass the time. Deported to the island, lost in the ocean, he knew what it felt like to be imprisoned; he also knew how cards could comfort the lonely. During his exile in St. Helena, Napoleon Bonaparte played patience in his spare time. Some solitaires are named after him, such as Napoleon in St. Helena, Place Napoleon, etc. It is not known whether Napoleon invented any of these solitaires or someone else around the same time period.
Solitaire publications began to appear in the late nineteenth century. Lady Adelaide Cadogan is believed to have written the first book on the rules of solitaire and patience games called Illustrated Patience Games just after the Civil War (1870) containing 25 games. It is still occasionally reprinted even today. However, other non-English solitaire compilations may have been written before this. Prior to this, there was otherwise no literature on solitaire, even in books such as Charles Cotton’s The Compleat Gamester (1674), Abbé Bellecour’s Academie des Jeux (1674), and Bohn’s Handbook of Games (1850), all of which are used as game reference with cards. In England “Cadogan” is a household word for solitaire in the same way that “Hoyle” is for card games.
Lady Cadogan’s book spawned other collections by other writers such as EDChaney, Annie B. Henshaw, Dick and Fitzgerald, HE Jones (aka Cavendish), Angelo Lewis (aka Professor Hoffman), Basil Dalton and Ernest Bergholt. ED Chaney wrote a book about solitaire called “Patience” and Annie B. Henshaw wrote a book with the interesting title “Amusements for Invalids”. A few years later, Dick and Fitzgerald in New York published Dick’s Games of Patience in 1883, followed by a second edition published in 1898. Author Henry Jones wrote a fairly reliable book about solitaire called Games of Patience . Another Jones not related to Henry, Miss Mary Whitmore Jones wrote 5 volumes of solitaire over a twenty year period around the 1890s. Several other publishers of various game books have also added solitaire to their long lists of games in their titles. One of the most complete books on solitaire is written by Albert Morehead and Jeffrey Mott-Smith. Their latest edition contains rules for over 225 solitaire games and is used in this writing.
Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace mentions a scene from 1808 where the characters play a game of patience. Charles Dickens Great Expectations mentions solitaire in his story. In Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, a character plays patience while waiting for news of a death to reach London.
In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel [The Brothers Karamazov], the character Grushenka played a solitaire called “Fools,” the Russian equivalent of “Idiot’s Delight,” to get through times of crisis. A very popular solitaire game, spider solitaire, was played by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Somerset Maugham’s The Gentleman in the Parlor mentions Spider solitaire and cites the game of solitaire as a “frivolous temper. In John Steinbeck’s novella [Mice and Men], the main character George Milton often played solitaire on the road and on the farm. In Peter Duck, one of the books in Arthur Ransom’s Ladders and Amazons series, Captain Flint takes on the role of Miss Milligan.
In the 1962 film “The Manchurian Candidate,” Raymond Shaw is forced to perform specific actions through a brainwashing trigger that often involves playing traditional solitaire and finding the Queen of Checkers. In the Finnish TV series “Hovimäki”, Aunt Victoria loves to play solitaire.
Several solitaire games have gained fame through literature and other avenues. Some solitaire games are invented in unexpected places. A famous inventor of solitaire is Bill Beers. He was in a psychiatric clinic when he invented a variation of Cribbage solitaire. The prisoners had plenty of time to play solitaire, but could not use the traditional cards as they could be used as weapons. They were forced to use thicker card tiles that were bulky and difficult to work with.
A famous casino is responsible for inventing a very popular solitaire game. Mr. Canfield, who owned a casino in Saratoga, invented a game where a person would buy a deck of cards for $52 and get $5 for every card played to the base. He averaged $25 per game, but each game required some sort of dealer to watch the player, so the payoff wasn’t as high as one might think. The actual name of this popular game was Klondike, but the name Canfield stuck and is used almost as often as the word patience. Due to its difficulty to win, the time it takes to play, and the lack of choices along the way, Klondike has lost some popularity to other popular solitaires. Today, most people just call Klondike solitaire.
Both solitaire and the reasons why people like to play these shuffled cards have of course changed since the time solitaire first appeared. In today’s world, sometimes we need a break from the daily hustle and bustle and the boring treadmill. Solving solitaire games isn’t just a way to kill time; it’s also a surefire way to unwind after work. The long winter nights helped the characters of Jack London to entertain their free time. A great musician, Niccolò Paganini also favored solving solitaires; his favorite solitaire was later named after him.
A good solitaire game not only helps you relax and kill time; it’s also great mental gymnastics. That’s why solitaire appealed to mathematicians like Martin Gardner and Donald Knuth. As his contemporaries testify, Prince Metternich, a prominent 19th-century diplomat, sat and pondered intricate solitaires before beginning the most difficult negotiations.
Today, most people simply call Klondike “Solitaire.” Due to its difficulty to win, the time it takes to play, and the lack of choices along the way, Klondike has lost some popularity to other popular solitaires.
When we think of solitaire today, many people would immediately think of the digital versions for computers, for example solitaire for mac and solitaire for PC, but there are still millions of people who play the ‘old fashioned way’ with a standard deck of cards, perhaps similar to the deck of cards that Napoleon played with nearly 200 years ago.
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