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FreeCell Vista Icon.png
FreeCell Vista.png
Publisher(s) Microsoft
License Microsoft Software License Terms
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows
Genre(s) FreeCell
Mode(s) Single-player
Rating(s) ESRB: E
Input methods Mouse/Trackpad, Keyboard (Numeric keypad), Remote control, Xbox 360 Controller

FreeCell, as included in Microsoft Windows, is a computer implementation of the card game FreeCell.



FreeCell in Windows XP

The first computer version of the game is believed to have been created by Paul Alfille in 1978 for the PLATO system. Microsoft developer Jim Horne, who learned the game from the PLATO system, implemented a version of the game with color graphics for Windows. It was first included with Win32s as a test program, then in Microsoft Entertainment Pack Volume 2 and the later Best Of Microsoft Entertainment Pack. However, FreeCell remained relatively obscure until it was made a part of Windows 95.[1] In Windows XP, FreeCell was extended to support a total of 1 million card deals. [2]


Today, there are FreeCell implementations for nearly every modern operating system, though the Windows version remains the most popular, as it is one of the few games pre-installed with every copy of Windows. Prior to Windows Vista, the versions for Windows have been limited in their player assistance features, such as retraction of moves. The Windows Vista FreeCell implementation contains basic hints and unlimited move retraction, and the option to restart the game. Some features have been removed, such as the flashing screen to warn the player of one move remaining.

Easter eggs

In the earliest versions, games numbered -1 and -2 were included as a kind of easter egg to demonstrate that there were some possible card combinations that clearly could not be won. Following that, the cards are arranged in order of value, such as King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9 and 8 in the first four piles, and the remaining numbers in the other.

In versions prior to Windows Vista, if the user pushes the combination of Ctrl+Shift+F10 at any time during the game, a dialog box appears on screen: 'Abort' can be clicked to win the game, 'Retry' to lose, and 'Ignore' to cancel and continue playing the game normally. This feature was added as a way to help the original software testers.

In the Windows Vista and Windows 7 versions, if the user hits 'Select Game' and types -3 or -4 in the dialog box, then, when the game loads, drags an ace to the suit home pile, the other cards will automatically follow onto the suit home pile, winning the game.

Keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts for Vista are used in pairs. The first key pressed selects a card to move, the second keystroke moves the card to position. Numbers 1 thru 8 select columns 1 thru 8. As the second keystroke, 1 thru 8 moves the selected card. Zero (0) cycles through the freecell cards, and as the second keystroke moves a selected card to a freecell. Right click and/or 9 moves card to home. Crtl+z and/or F10 reverses a move (and may be used repeatedly). Arrow keys cycle about the page; use the space bar, or Enter, to select the arrowed card, column or space, then arrow key to the receiving position and press the space bar, or Enter, to move the card.


There are 52! (i.e., 52 factorial), or approximately 8.00×1067, unique deals. However, some games are effectively identical to others because suits assigned to cards are arbitrary or columns can be swapped. After taking these factors into account, there are approximately 1.75×1064 unique games.[3]

The original Microsoft FreeCell package includes 32,000 games, generated by a 15-bit random number seed. These games are known as the "Microsoft 32,000". Later versions of Microsoft FreeCell include more games, some over one million, of which the original 32,000 are always a subset. All hands in the Microsoft 32,000 have been beaten except for game #11982.[1] It has been shown by exhaustive computer search that this game is unsolvable with the standard four free cells.

A statement in the original Help file remains through modern Microsoft versions: "It is believed (although not proven) that every game is winnable." The statement does not apply to the two hidden impossible deals included in the game.


The Internet FreeCell Project

When Microsoft FreeCell became very popular during the 1990s it was not clear which of the 32,000 deals in the program were solvable. To clarify the situation, Dave Ring started The Internet FreeCell Project and took on the challenge of trying to solve all the deals using human solvers. Ring assigned 100 consecutive games chunks across volunteering human solvers and collected the games that they reported to be unsolvable, and assigned them to other people. This project used the power of crowdsourcing to quickly converge on the answer. The project was finished in October 1995, and only one game defied every human player's attempt: #11,982.

Unsolvable combinations

Out of the current Microsoft Windows games, there are eight that are unsolvable: the games numbered 11,982; 146,692; 186,216; 455,889; 495,505; 512,118; 517,776 and 781,948. Exhaustive search has shown that 5 free cells (rather than the standard four) are required for these games. Adrian Ettlinger, using Don Woods' solver has used the same random hand generator as Microsoft Windows freecell to explore a further 10 million games. Of the 130 unsolvable games in the first 10 million, all of them require 5 free cells. Ryan L. Miller, with the help of others explored 100 million games, with a total of 1282 being unsolvable. This gives freecell a win rate of about 99.998718%. [4]


  1. ^ a b Kaye, Ellen (2002-10-17). "One Down, 31,999 to Go: Surrendering to a Solitary Obsession". New York Times.  
  2. ^ FreeCell -- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
  3. ^ "FreeCell FAQ and links". Retrieved 2008-08-27.  
  4. ^ "FreeCell FAQ and links". Retrieved 2009-10-25.  

External links


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