Why Solitaire Is Still the Game to Beat

Solitaire

hide captionThe payoff for users is middling — but solitaire is still bizarrely addictive.

When Josh Levin set out to detail the history of computer solitaire for a Slate article, he first had to stop himself from playing it.

"I'm happy I got around to writing the piece," Levin says. "It was really hard to transition from playing solitaire to writing about it."

Even with the advent of newer and fancier games, computer solitaire remains remarkably popular.

The earliest inventor Levin could track down is Paul Alfille. Levin says anyone who used a computer in the 1970s, when the game was developed, would understand why it lent itself so naturally to the era's primitive graphics capabilities. And because portraying cards on a screen was such an easy task, Levin says versions of solitaire began to proliferate widely.

Even though solitaire is an application that can be found on nearly every computer today, Levin says neither Alfille nor the Microsoft intern who first coded solitaire for Windows saw any real money.

The payoff for users playing the game is similarly middling — but it's still bizarrely addictive. "You don't win that often, but you have these incremental victories," Levin says. "When you do get the jackpot, or cards bouncing on the screen, it's super-exciting."

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