Weekend Post: Math and Me

I’m about as far from being a mathematician as one can get while still being able to add 20% to a restaurant check. Math was my bane all throughout school. I hated it and held it in contempt. I failed Algebra I … twice. That takes a special kind of stupid.

I know my subjects: literature, art, history, philosophy, and theology. But the math thing always bugged me. I didn’t like the fact that I’d let it defeat me, and suspected I had done so for bad reasons, such as arrogance and laziness.

About ten years ago, I decided to do something about it. I bought a couple of “teach yourself” books and began with straight mathematics and “pre-algebra” and then did a full course of algebra self-study. It was hard going, but eventually I began to listen to the numbers like I could listen to words or music or rhetoric. I realized that they were a language and I just needed to let the numbers speak.

And, finally, I understood it. I’m still no mathematician, but I get it now. I can follow problems and see the special beauty in numbers.

My faith had a lot to do with helping me clear that hurdle. I study a particular stream of Catholic philosophy known as Thomism, which is a rigorously logical approach to all the questions of Creation. St. Thomas Aquinas was my first big personal “discovery” since college, when I first dug deeply into Plato. He opened up a doorway to a vast storehouse of logic. It was not merely a belief system, but a way of approaching any question in an orderly way, giving equal time to contrary arguments, assuming nothing, and testing everything.

Logic is at the core of Creation, just as it is at the core of all good gaming. Games and puzzles are logic made manifest. They are concrete. They can be cracked open and understood. I was always good at pattern puzzles, conundrums, riddles, and lateral thinking. But with St. Thomas in one hand and a new respect for math in the other, I started tackling the kind of puzzles and problems I used to avoid.

I’m still not all that great at them, but I like to think I understand them and appreciate them better than I used to. I also think they are terribly important, particularly in the education and parenting of children. We live in a world where extravagant emotion always trumps logic and plain old common sense. We could do with a little more logic and a little less hysteria. We’ve spent several generations nurturing our inner child, when we should have been nurturing our inner Mr. Spock.

Games and puzzles are almost always intertwined with mathematics, and all of them taken together sharpen the mind. They help us understand ourselves and our world. They form a language with its own poetry. We have to make sure the next generation knows how to listen to that poetry.


Spreading the Joy About Cribbage

My online pal Julie D. at Happy Catholic got inspired by Cribbage Friday, and has rediscovered an old favorite, as she explains in this great post.

Thanks also to the awesome Anchoress (Elizabeth Scalia) for giving me a nice shout-out. I think Elizabeth is one of the best essayists on the internet, and I’m honored that she published one of my pieces at Patheos.

About Puzzles

I had fun preparing the puzzles for the past two weeks. A lot of them are classics, since even the master puzzlers didn’t invent most of their own puzzles: they just reformulated them. Some I did from memory, and some were drawn from my collection of puzzle and math books. I only botched one answer, which my astute readers quickly caught.

This was never meant to be a regular daily feature, but I will continue to post puzzles, maybe a couple of times a week. As I said in a previous post, I’m about to disappear into the thickets of a massive special supplement for Games Magazine, but will continue to post an App O’ The Mornin’ and whatever else I can until I complete it sometime in the next two weeks.

I also plan to post something about the future of the site. It’s about to be one month old, and I’ve been steadily populating it with posts. It will continue, and begin to take shape as I explore this whole blogging thing.

Thanks to the regular puzzle solvers, especially Eye of the Frog, who answered every one correctly, which puts him one-up on me. I think I posted today’s “1105” puzzle just to see if I could stump him. I hope to heck I can get it right.

App O’ The Mornin’: Solebon Solitaire

The unquestioned king of solitaire is Solebon. Card Sharks is a good general collection with a lot of solitaire variants, but as the menu screen itself says, Solebon is “for refined solitaire players.”

Developed by Smallware, Solebon has migrated through various systems since 1998, when it was first launched for the Palm OS. Thus, it has a long pedigree not only as software, but as software designed primarily for mobile use. The version for Mac, called Solavant, contains 242 different solitaire versions and variants. When you consider that the authoritative book on the subject, David Parlett’s Solitaire, details 400 versions and variants worldwide, you’ll get an idea just how thorough the Mac version is.

Solebon Solitaire manages top bring a hefty chunk of solitaire to iPhone and other Apple portable devices. It includes forty games, ranging from the familiar (Klondike, Free Cell) to the exotic (Honeybees, La Belle Lucie). The interface is quite effective, using a double-touch system rather than gestures. You touch one card, and then touch where it should go. Card Sharks uses drag-and-drop. It’s a matter of preference, but the double-touch is a little more precise and easy to use.

The graphics are crisp and easy to read, and the entire look of the game is subdued and appealing. The only flaw is the lack of a landscape mode. The screens are certainly optimized to handle the vertical layout, but solitaire is a game that benefits from a horizontal spread.

That minor point aside, this remains the premium solitaire experience in the App store.

List of titles in the game:
Accordion, Aces Up, Agnew Sorel, Ambrose, Askew, Baker’s Game, Baker’s Game Easy, Beleaguered Castle, Blind Alleys, Bouquet, Colorado, Creepy Crawly, Demon, Doublets, Eight Off, Eight Off Easy, Fanny, Fortune’s Favor, Four Seasons, Fourteen Out, Free Cell, Free Cell Easy, Golf, Honeybees, Klondike Deal 1, Klondike Deal 3, La Belle Lucie, Lady of the Manor, Monte Carlo, Penguin, Provisional, Pyramid, Pyramid Easy, Russian Revolver, Scorpion, Spiderette, Spiderling, Spiderling 2 Suits, Triple Mulligan, Yukon