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                   Tuesday, December 23, 2008 - 5:53AM

MahJong rant

By DAN ROBINSON
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Alright, this post is going to make most of you say either 'get a life' or 'what a nerd'. This is mainly to vent for the purpose of Google indexing this page for anyone else in the world who might search for it. Since I'm ADD, naturally I don't have many daily routines - but one of them is playing the MahJong game (the premium Yahoo GameHouse version, not the one that comes with Vista) for about 15-20 minutes before I go to bed almost every night. This is a solitaire-like game where you have to pair match a bunch of stacked tiles until the board is clear. (A very basic version of the game, with only six tile patterns, comes with Windows Vista.) I like games like this - not too easy or difficult, doesn't take an hour to finish, and enough of a 'lightweight' strategy requirement to keep it from being completely mindless.

So anyway, my rant is about several specific tile sets in the full version of the game. There are a few tile sets that are either impossible to solve, or are only solveable if the tiles get arranged in just the right way by the computer's random number generator. In other words, there is no strategy involved at all in solving them. Many times with these sets, you run out of moves with the first and only possible tile match - what is up with that? In other words, the only way to solve them is to keep playing over and over until you get a tile arrangement that makes it possible to win. For some of these sets, the odds of getting a winnable arrangement has got to be something like one in several thousand or more, if not impossible altogether. They're no different from playing a slot machine over and over - no strategy, just hoping you get the one winnable stack out of 500,000.

After several weeks of trying to beat some of these tile sets (like Martini, House Stack and Arrow), I finally just gave up. I realized that mathematically and strategically, losing them isn't a defeat, and winning them wouldn't be a triumph - only a statistical eventuality. Just like sitting here brainlessly playing a slot machine. It doesn't mean anything to win nor to lose (not that it does anyway, but you get my point). I just wonder why they were included in the game at all - the only way to win them is just to keep playing over and over. I officially gave up on Martini after over 200 attempts in the past couple of months. I kept trying because it is a small stack, only 65 tiles or so - it looks like it would be easy to get a winnable one.


The evil Martini set

My point is that these few 'unwinnable' tile sets serve no purpose and don't fit the character of the game, which is to have a chance to win by using your head a little. Were they included as a joke by the programmers, who are laughing at the thought of people like me playing them over and over? Probably, who knows. Anyway, if you've been trying to beat tile sets like Martini, just give up - it's insanity!

Now if you have actually solved a set like Martini, please post! I want to know how many thousands of times it took you to do it.

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