The 1997 FreeCell Challenges

freecellFreeCell Challenges

For those who are addicted with the original Microsoft game!

IF YOU HAVE a copy of the Microsoft FreeCell game you can take up the FreeCell challenge. (The game is part of Microsoft Entertainment Pack: Volume Two and came with Win 95+, and is even available for Windows PocketPC. There are many "improved" versions such as FreeCell Pro, and Championship FreeCell which offer numerous additional options - their game numbers are unfortunately often different to the original game.)

The 1997 Three-part FreeCell Challenge

Challenge One: Play my "hard" games: numbers 169, 617, 3701, 3710, 4806, 6837, 10623, 12384, 12445, 16624, 17565, 18938, 19253, 22272, 25206, 25450, 25995, 27478, 27657, 28138, 28588, 29788 and 30663, and my "extra hard" games: numbers 454, 718, 1941, 6182, 8591, 13867, 14548, 15562, 20630, 21283, 21365, 21491 and 25856. (Press the F3 key to enter a game number.) Let me know if you can get them all out. No-one has been able to crack the "impossible" 11982 game. Note that non-Microsoft variants of the game may use different numbering - the layout of the "genuine" impossible 11982 is as follows:

freecell11982

Challenge Two: Play 14239, 17871, 18492 and 22574 with a 52 card flourish - that is all the cards need to go to the destination cells in one automated move. (14239 and 17871 were identified by Steve Masterson).

Challenge Three: This is the killer and may be impossible. The original third challenge was to prove or disprove the assertion that there is always a way to solve a standard Freecell game. It has been demonstrated that there are many possible random distribution of cards that can't be solved - but as there are only 32,000 combinations offered in the original Microsoft game, it is not certain that one of these is unsolvable. (Of course there has been a fair degree of work since this challenge was formulated in 1997. Not being able to solve game number 11982 is the crux. A major collaborative effort, called the FreeCell Project, combined a number of players over the net and solved all the games apart from 11982. Three computer programs have failed to solve 11982 - one being able to do so with five free cells. One person used a computer program to deal out and play ten million FreeCell hands (continuing beyond the 32,000 in the Microsoft game) with 136 failures or a 99.999% success rate. Still want to take up the challenge?)

FreeCell Life Quests

Richard Brian writes in July 2007:

"I started at the beginning in 1995. Today I finished #23205. Over the years I have tried # 11982 over and over. I reasoned that the algorithm for the generation has to begin with the card in place in the top right box and deal them backwards to the board, scrambling them as it went. Hence, no unsolvable problems. Since most of the problems do not have unique solutions, I considered that this must have one and I just couldn't sort it out. Shall we assume that this problem was especially injected into the mix as someone's signature? The iconoclast in me requires that when I lay a tile floor I must break the pattern somewhere.

Incidentally, I was very distressed when Windows XP turned up with 1,000,000 games. I was 64 when I started this project and I figured that I could finish the lot of 32,000 before I went senile. I haven't changed my goal to do only the 32,000.

I am trying to discipline myself to do ten games a day so that I will be finished by my 80th birthday."

FreeCell Trivia & Cheats

The Windows version of this game was written by Jim Horne of the University of Alberta, Canada. So perhaps we have Jim to thank for not including any "undo" option beyond undoing the latest play with F10. (I have heard that the NT version doesn't have even this.)

Have you noticed what the king at the top of the screen does while you are busy nutting out the game? He's not giving hints unfortunately. It's nothing critical to the game, just something Jim thought was interesting.

Have you worked out the ways to beat the statistics record? Other than by clearing it, that is. I think there are a few tricks (or were with the operating systems at the time these were identified). You can quit Windows (rather than quitting FreeCell) and you won't be tallied with a loss game. You can (courtesy of Julien Pallassio) press Ctrl+Shift+F10 during a game and when you get a dialog box saying "Choose abort to Win...". Choose Abort and move any card to the top and see what happens! You can also (courtesy of Jonas Thorngren of Sweden) hit CTRL+ALT+DEL and choose FreeCell and then terminate this program (exit) - do this twice in a row and choose exit (instead of wait) to exit FreeCell without adding a loss to the statistics.

More professionally, according to Yair Ofer from Israel, if you use the Restart Game option until you do get a game out, you will only score one loss despite numerous attempts.

And for the heavy approach, Ernie Haynes advises how to change the scores via the Registry Editor as follows (do this at your own risk and I would suggest saving the Registry first just in case):

  1. Open the registry editor. The easiest way is to go to Start | Run and type "regedit".
  2. From the Edit menu at the top, choose "Find".
  3. Type in "FreeCell" and click the "Find Next" button. This should bring up the registry entries for FreeCell. It may take a few seconds.
  4. Right-click on the name of the stat that you want to change, and choose "Modify".
  5. Put it the hex values for the numbers you want. (For example, for Wins put in FF FF, which is hex for 65535).
  6. Be sure "stype" (Streak Type) is 01, which stands for "wins".
  7. Exit the registry editor and start FreeCell to see your new stats. (Note that 65535 is the highest score - win one more game and it rolls over to zero!)

Alternately, Bugsy tells me he has developed a Visual C++ program that helps you alter the registry - see his software page (again do this at your own risk and I would suggest saving the Registry first just in case).

For more information about FreeCell and its variants, visit the ultimate FreeCell site maintained by Michael Keller, Denny Cronin's Freecell.com site (which includes the java based NetCell version which centrally records your scores), Freecell.org, or if you prefer Italian visit Edoardo Varese's page. Michael's site even contains solutions for the harder games - but try them yourself first!