During the 1990s and early 2000s, it was the nation’s favorite way to kill time. That was, until smartphones and social media came along. Yes, we’re talking about the procrastinator’s perfect game – solitaire.
Solitaire was, of course, hugely popular in the 90s, especially when it was first included in Microsoft’s software. Players would spend hours sitting at their desks in front of their cube-monitor PCs, digitally shuffling cards while playing solitaire when they should’ve been working.
Of course, solitaire is far from a digitally exclusive game as it has been enjoyed for centuries. What a lot of people don’t realize however, is that solitaire has had quite the impact on society over the centuries, and that impact is still felt to this day.
To some people, solitaire is merely a card game (though technically it’s a collective term for numerous different versions, but we’ll have more on that later) yet to others it is one of the most iconic games ever created.
To show you just what an impact solitaire has had on the world over the centuries, we’re now going to take a detailed look at the role of solitaire in literature and pop culture.
Don’t worry, we’ll be looking in great detail at the influence that solitaire has had on literature and pop culture a little later on. Before that however, we need to travel back in time to enjoy a brief history lesson about the origins of solitaire.
Even if you’re not considered a solitaire expert, chances are you’ve played the game in the past, at least a variation of it, even if you didn’t know what you were playing.
Solitaire is a fairly simple game to play, which is perhaps why it’s so popular. It’s also a fantastic game for playing solo. The premise is very simple: You place your cards face down in various layers, shapes, or patterns, and then turn them over to try to build foundations and sequences. It sounds fairly simple, because it is. It’s also an enormous amount of fun.
Now, like most things in life, the exact origins of the solitaire card game are unknown. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, for example, the first reference to solitaire can be traced back to 1746. Historians believe, however, that this was a reference to a game played with pegs and marbles, known as ‘Peg Solitaire’.
What historians can agree upon, though, is that the version of solitaire that we now know and love, can be traced back to the late 18th – early 19th century, in Baltic Europe. Interestingly, it was originally not thought to be a game at all, but rather, an early form of fortune telling. As fortune telling, tarot card reading, and other forms of divinity by cards increased in popularity, so too did the popularity of solitaire.
Solitaire goes by many forms, and although one is similar to the last, there were once a number of key differences which we need to understand.
In the UK for example, particularly in England, you will see a close variation of the game, known as ‘Patience’. Patience originated shortly after solitaire became popular in Europe, so it is almost certain that the game was, and is, based upon solitaire. It could even be that the rules were slightly misunderstood, resulting in the game now known as ‘patience’.
The game was thought to have originated around the start of the 1800s, where it is believed to have made its way over from France. It was first mentioned in English in the year 1822 when the Countess Granville wrote a letter. In a section of said letter, she stated ‘we were occupied all yesterday evening with conjuring tricks and patiences of every kind’.
The Industrial Revolution was thought to have played a key increase in the popularity of the game, especially as more rural locations began to be industrialized. Now, workers would play card games on their breaks, as well as in pubs after work, and even around the dining table with their friends and family members.
That’s all well and good, but what about the poor souls who didn’t have anybody to play cards with? Did that mean that they had to spend their free time twiddling their thumbs? Absolutely not. Patience, and indeed, solitaire, can be enjoyed by yourself.
Because people would play the game in groups, as well as while alone, this is one theory for why there are so many different versions of solitaire now in existence. The more the game was played, the more the rules would be altered, and eventually new variants of that same game were created.
As we’ve mentioned several times already, there are multiple different types of solitaire currently being enjoyed, and although similar, each one is slightly different to the last, and has a different name.
While historians are unsure about where a lot of the names for these versions of the game came from, it’s obvious that some take their name from the shapes that the set-up forms.
‘Spider’ for example, takes its name from the fact that to win you need to form eight foundations. Spiders, of course, have eight legs. ‘Pyramid’ is named as such because the dealt cards form a pyramid shape, and so on.
By now you’ve listened to us drone on and on about how there are so many different types of solitaire to choose from, but so far we’ve not really covered them in any great detail. Well, grab yourself your favorite beverage, put your feet up, and get comfy as we talk to you about the most popular versions of solitaire.
Before we go any further, just be aware that there are so many versions of solitaire to choose from, that we couldn’t possibly cover each one in any great detail. What we’re going to do instead, is look at four of the most popular versions of solitaire that you’re most likely to encounter.
We couldn’t possibly talk about popular versions of solitaire and not mention the solitaire OG – Klondike.
Klondike solitaire is arguably the most popular version of the popular card game. When most people refer to solitaire, they are in fact referring to this particular version of the game, so that should show you just how popular it is.
Klondike can likely be traced back to the Klondike gold rush in Canada, back in the 19th century. While this is purely speculation, a lot of people think that gold prospectors would play the game around the flickering embers of a campfire after a long day of panning for gold. Whether that’s true or not, we don’t know, but it sure sounds cool, right?
Using a 52-card deck, the goal is to arrange the cards by their suits, beginning with the Ace and ending all the way at the King.
If somebody asks you if you fancy a game of Spider, don’t worry, they aren’t talking about the eight-legged arachnids that give people nightmares (at least, we hope not) they are instead likely talking about a version of solitaire known as Spider.
This is a two-deck version of solitaire and very simply, gets its name from the fact that players must build eight foundations in order to win the game. Why it wasn’t called ‘Octopus’ instead, we do not know.
What we do know however, is that Spider is usually played with two decks of cards and can be played with at least one suit, if not more.
The layout of the tableau is similar to that of Klondike except for the fact that all cards are exposed and players can only send a full sequence to the foundations. Again, the objective is to build sequences of suits in the piles, beginning with a King and ending with an Ace.
Another version of solitaire which was heavily influenced by gold mining is Yukon. This game of course draws huge inspiration from Klondike, though there are a few differences. Your goal here is to build four different foundations via suits. You’ll begin with Aces and end with Kings.
Unlike Klondike, cards do not need to be free or in a sequence in order for them to be moved. You may only move cards around if they top free ones. Again, you need to move cards around in order to expose the right ones for building sequences and foundations.
Another version of solitaire which we briefly touched upon earlier, is a version which is known as Pyramid.
As mentioned previously, this game gets its name from the fact that the cards dealt onto the tableau resemble that of a pyramid. This is a game of solitaire for players who perhaps want to test themselves a little more. It’s certainly tougher, and your chances of winning are therefore much lower. This makes it all the more rewarding when you do eventually win however.
With this version, 28 cards are placed onto the tableau so that they resemble the shape of a pyramid. You can only call the cards into play which are unable to be covered. Your main objective here is to deconstruct the pyramid shape, which you do by pairing cards with a total value of 13, no matter what the suit may be. The King is worth 13 and can be removed by itself. Queens are worth 12, and Jacks are worth 11. Aces are worth 1.
Okay, so, the moment of truth, now we need to look at how solitaire has influenced the world we live in today, what it represents, and its place in literature and pop culture.
Remember, there are so many different versions of this game out there, so please don’t worry if we start talking about Klondike solitaire in one TV show, Patience in a popular book, Spider in a Hollywood blockbuster, etc. For the purpose of transparency, when we mention solitaire, we’re likely to be referring to any of the countless variants of the game that currently exist.
Now that we’ve got that little disclaimer out of the way, let’s look at what solitaire may represent, how it has influenced the world as we know it today, and where it has appeared in famous works of literature, and as a part of pop culture.
Over the last several decades, TV producers and filmmakers have used solitaire as a vessel to represent feelings of loneliness and isolation for certain characters.
Solitaire literally means ‘lonely’, getting its roots from the Latin word ‘solitarius’ which meant ‘alone’ or ‘isolated’.
In John Steinbeck’s classic novel Of Mice and Men, the author frequently used card games, particularly solitaire, as a way of depicting feelings of loneliness and isolation for certain characters.
Steinbeck uses the game as a metaphor to show how essentially, people are alone and isolated. The character of George for example, frequently plays solitaire throughout the book, despite being with the character of Lenny throughout. Those who have read the book or seen the big screen adaption, will know that Lenny, despite being George’s companion, is essentially a burden. George would rather play cards alone than spend time with Lenny.
It isn’t just George that is depicted as being lonely, however, many of the other characters are also lonely and spend their free time getting drunk while playing cards. Even though the characters may be with company, they are essentially alone and isolated, seeking solace in alcohol and trivial card games before another hard day’s work on the ranch.
On a much lighter note, it isn’t all doom and gloom when it comes to solitaire. Solitaire is also used as a tool for procrastination and is often featured in comedy genres.
In the smash hit TV show FRIENDS for example, the character of Chandler, who works in an office, is often seen playing Solitaire. Now, it has to be said that Chandler usually uses this game as a distraction to avoid awkward conversations or encounters, though he is still often seen playing the game on his computer when he is supposed to be working.
Another very popular comedy show to feature solitaire is The Office, or The US Office, to those not in the USA. In The Office, the character of Jim is often seen playing solitaire on his computer at his desk, when he is seemingly bored or work, or just passing the time between jobs.
Those who were fortunate enough to be around when solitaire was first featured on Microsoft computers will know just how accurate the procrastination theme of solitaire really is. People who went to school in the 90s and early 2000s will no doubt have spent many an IT lesson glued to a game of solitaire when the teacher wasn’t looking, rather than doing the actual work that they were set.
Ah, the good old days. Now if we want to procrastinate, we simply take our phones out and watch mindless videos on TikTok.
As well as being featured in Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men you will also find countless other references to solitaire in some of the most classic works of literature that the world has ever seen.
Victorian author Charles Dickens for example, referenced solitaire in Great Expectations back in 1864, which many consider to be one of his greatest works of writing. The character of Magwitch played a ‘complicated kind of patience with ragged cards.’ Patience, as you know, is just another name for solitaire in some countries.
Dostoevsky’s ‘The Gambler’ also features solitaire. What’s interesting about this reference is that the book’s main protagonist ironically plays solitaire – a card game, as a way of distracting himself from his gambling addiction. He is essentially playing cards in an attempt to prevent himself from gambling.
Another very famous novel to feature solitaire is The Color Purple written by Alice Walker. In this novel, sisters Nettie and Celie are playing solitaire with a friend of theirs called Samuel, before he has to go and fight in the First World War.
In The Dark Tower series, penned by legendary author Stephen King, the main character Roland often plays solitaire to help him unwind and pass the time as he journeys to locate the tower. This again shows how solitaire is used as a distraction tool, as well as one for procrastination.
We’ve already looked at how solitaire has been featured in TV shows such as FRIENDS and The Office, but there are plenty of others it has also been featured in too.
In an episode of Law & Order: SVU, during a stakeout, the character Olivia Benson is seen playing a game of solitaire on her phone. Again, it’s represented as a great tool to help pass the time.
In an episode of CSI: NY, solitaire features extremely heavily as it is actually used by the character Danny Messer who actually solves a criminal case with the help of solitaire. It sounds far-fetched, and perhaps it is, but it’s trashy popcorn TV and sometimes that’s all you want.
As well as appearing in popular TV shows and novels, Solitaire is also no stranger to the big screen. In fact, it has been featured in countless movies over the years, and will no doubt continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Rain Man for example, starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, showcases solitaire really quite heavily. Hoffman’s character Raymond, who is severely autistic, plays solitaire as a way of calming himself down when he becomes worked up and agitated.
Rain Man of course featured themes such as gambling and counting cards, so you might expect to see solitaire in there. Where you probably wouldn’t expect to find solitaire however, is in a Lego movie.
In 2014’s The Lego Movie, in a scene featuring the main character, a Lego cop, and two guards eagle-eyed viewers will be able to see that one of the guards is actually playing the classic version of solitaire on his computer. While this is more of an Easter Egg than anything else, we thought it was cool to see solitaire featured in a movie about Lego.
From Lego to sharks, we also have Jaws on our list. The legendary shark movie from Spielberg tells the story of a bloodthirsty shark terrorizing a small beach community. A group of men decide to hop on a boat and head out to sea in a bid to catch and kill the shark once and for all. In one scene, while out at sea, a camera shot from above reveals that Richard Dreyfuss’ character is playing a game of Klondike solitaire on the deck of the boat.
Finally, in the movie Up in the Air, starring George Clooney, George’s character Ryan can be seen passing the time with a game of solitaire on his laptop computer while out on his travels. This scene was chosen by director Jason Reitman to emphasize how Clooney’s character could switch off from the world and escape his worries by playing a simple card game.
And with that, we will bring this look at solitaire in pop culture and literature to a close.
As you can see, solitaire might just be a card game to play alone to pass the time, but it is also so much more than that.
Solitaire is an escape from the hustle and bustle of modern living. It’s a tool for keeping your brain sharp and avoiding spending hours scrolling aimlessly through our phones, and it can even be a metaphor for life itself. And its many mentions in works of literature and cinematography are a testament to the importance of this game.
Batsford Solitaire embodies this multifaceted nature of solitaire, bridging the gap between leisure and mental stimulation. Its unique mechanics and challenging layout encourage players to unravel complex patterns and develop a strategic approach—skills that resonate beyond the virtual cards. Just as literature and films have immortalized solitaire, Batsford Solitaire showcases the enduring appeal of the game in the digital age.
The next time you’re bored and aren’t sure what to do to kill a few minutes, why not try your hand at solitaire? Who knows, you might just love it. And if you’re seeking a new twist on the classic experience, Batsford Solitaire stands ready to captivate you with its engaging gameplay and strategic depth. Through the lens of Batsford Solitaire, solitaire’s significance as both a form of entertainment and a mental exercise shines even brighter, offering a momentary escape and a chance to enhance your cognitive abilities.
Looking for more solitaire challenges? Try your hand at different variations: