Cultural Significance of Solitaire

Solitaire is the most popular card game in the world. Try playing Solitaire for free with SubGame and you can not tear yourself away from it!

According to Microsoft, over 100 million hands of solitaire are played every day via computer or smartphone. True figures are likely to be in excess of this number, given that different variations of the game exist and are available to anyone who has an internet connection.

The enduring allure of solitaire is not surprising. This is the perfect game to play online, especially when you have a few minutes to spare and although it seems deceptively simple, it offers the player a vast range of outcomes. And whether you are playing online or you have a pack of cards and are playing it old school, the game is equally fun and addictive. 

solitaire patience

There is a mind-boggling amount of ways that 52 cards can be sorted. According to mathematicians, there are 8 x 10 x 67 possible card combinations – in ordinary language this means an 8 followed by 67 zeros. This means that a simple deck of cards offers more ways to arrange it than there are atoms on the earth. There are literally billions of possibilities. You will never get exactly the same layout more than once.

With so many choices and chance outcomes available, Solitaire reflects society in that we have to play with the hand we have got and make the best of it. A good player will make something of the worst of hands. A not-so-good player can quickly back themselves into an unwinnable corner. Sometimes a game is unwinnable anyway and as with life and society, sometimes you just have to lose! 

In addition, although you may not have considered it, have you noticed that the King is always head of the column, while the Queen is always subordinate? Yes, the game of solitaire certainly reflects society when it comes to male dominance over women. This is sadly not surprising, but given that the game of Solitaire in various forms dates back hundreds of years, it is perhaps inevitable. 

A Brief History of Solitaire

The name Solitaire refers to any type of card game or peg board game that can be played by one person. 

In Europe, the card game solitaire was and still is often called ‘Patience’ and this can often be played by more than one person. 

The name ‘Solitaire’ became more popular for the one person card game in the US and over time most of us have switched to this more modern appellation. 

The earliest recorded reference to the Solitaire card game dates back to the 1700s in Northern Europe and Scandinavia.

A game called PatienceSpiel was included in a book about games which was published in 1788 in Germany. However some people believe Solitaire to have originated in France prior to this as a game devised for the aristocracy.

Although playing cards date back over 1000 years – there are examples from 1000 AD China – playing cards for the general population were not widely available until 1765.

Soon afterwards, playing Patience started being mentioned in literature so it seems likely that it was this development in cartomancy spurred the interest in playing Solitaire and Patience. 

Throughout the late 1800s there was a huge appetite for playing Solitaire. 

In 1870 a book called Patience; A Series of 30 Games With Cards, was published in America. This was followed by hundreds of books about Patience and Solitaire towards the end of the 19th century and with the absence of other forms of home entertainment for ordinary people, Solitaire provided a means of entertainment that could be enjoyed alone.

The Evolution of Solitaire across Cultures

Solitaire, or Patience, has evolved across cultures. It made its way to the US with the early European settlers and, of course, developed and changed over time. As we all know, people have always learned card games from playing them so rules and variations change. How many of us learn a card game from a book? Most of us learn from our parents and our friends, so games evolve over time and rules get changed. 

Solitaire was especially popular in Canada during the Gold Rush where prospectors would pass the time by playing a form of solitaire called Klondike

This version of Solitaire has become one of the most popular in the world thanks to being included by Microsoft in the early days of computer development. 

Although Solitaire and Patience would have probably continued to be popular as a niche pastime, it was the rise of technology that caused this humble card game to achieve world dominance in gaming. 

In the early nineties, desktop computers became more popular in the office and at home. This era was a steep learning curve for millions of people who needed to learn how to carry out tasks digitally. 

In 1990, Microsoft began including a Klondike Solitaire game as part of their Microsoft Windows package for Windows 3.0. This was devised partly to help users familiarize themselves with basic computer skills such as learning how to use a mouse and the actions of dragging and dropping. What it actually did was revolutionize the way people viewed computers.

Now the computer could be used for entertainment rather than work, millions of people jumped on the craze, raising concerns in the workplace about time-wasting and productivity. However, with the rise of Windows, Klondike Solitaire also spread around the world, bringing the game to offices and later homes on a global scale. 

Microsoft included Klondike with their subsequent versions of Windows, adding FreeCell and Spider in later editions, eventually packaging these three versions of solitaire into Solitaire Collection, with Windows 8 in 2012.

According to Microsoft sources, Solitaire remains their most popular and widely used software, far exceeding Word and Excel. Klondike Solitaire is the game that most people think of when it comes to Solitaire. Only a small fraction of regular Solitaire players will have even played the original card game with a physical pack of cards.

Today even with the plethora of games and social media distractions available via our smart phones and computers, Solitaire remains popular. Solitaire is included free on all smart phones and playing it is the perfect way to fill in time for a few minutes. It is still popular with all ages and Klondike is still one of the most popular variations. Try playing Classic Solitaire right now!

play solitaire

The Symbolism of Solitaire in Literature and Films

There are numerous references to playing Solitaire in literature and films. It is mentioned in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Playing cards is a popular pastime in many Jane Austen novels and in the Mapp and Lucia novels of Lee Benson. This series of books from the 1920s mentions playing Patience as a way to fill in the “quiet hours between supper and bedtime.”

Solitaire is often used as a device to denote introspection, boredom, or loneliness. However it is hard to think of a film or a book that references the digital version of the game. One reason for this is obvious; prior to 1990, there was no digital version of solitaire. However, this is not the only reason.

Playing cards has a romance and style that conveys a sense of timelessness. One gets the impression that the solitary player is in their own world and is finding an escape in cards. The image of a card player is more dramatic and interesting than it is seeing somebody playing on their smartphone.

Of Mice and Men

In Of Mice and Men, the classic American novel by John Steinbeck and set in the Depression, George Milton is often shown playing Solitaire. His traveling companion, the mentally challenged Lennie Small who he initially does not want but is stuck with, is incapable of playing cards so George wiles away the time playing Solitaire alone as a distraction for his life. The card game is symbolic of loneliness. The novel shows us that all human beings are essentially alone and even when accompanied by others we still feel this isolation. 

In Of Mice and Men, George and Lennie are unique in the way that they are a partnership with a future together, yet the constant references to George playing Solitaire suggests that he knows that one day he will be a solitary man again. 


Jaws was one of the first blockbuster films in cinema history. Made by Steven Spielberg in 1975 and telling the story about a coastal resort being terrorized by a great white shark, this is one of the most watched films in the world. 

In an early scene sheriff Martin Brody, fisherman Robert Shaw and oceanographer Richard Dreyfuss take to a flimsy fishing boat in order to hunt down the shark.

Just before the eponymous shark makes his attack, Dreyfuss is seen calmly sitting on the deck playing Klondike solitaire. Is this to show that the character has an indomitable spirit and keeps calm under pressure? Or does it suggest that the character has a lot on his mind (a giant dangerous shark in this case) and is using the game as a type of meditation or therapy? 

Either way or perhaps a mixture of both, the scene shows us that Dreyfuss is a man with an inner introspective life and not a man to panic in a difficult situation. 

The Manchurian Candidate

The Manchurian Candidate is a 1962 film set in the Cold War that uses the game of Solitaire as an important plot device. One of the main characters in the film is Robert Shaw, a sleeper agent who has been programmed by the communists to activate when his programming is triggered. He is given a pack of cards and invited to play solitaire and the minute the Queen of Diamonds is turned, he is activated. 

In this film, there is a juxtaposition of the harmless and innocent game of Solitaire being used for evil purposes. 

The Societal Implications of Solitaire Today

Despite an increasingly busy and fast-moving world crammed with distractions, Solitaire continues to be the most popular game on the planet. Today more people are playing Solitaire than ever before and psychologists agree that this can have real mental health benefits to the player.

Playing Solitaire keeps your mind occupied. It enables you to concentrate on a pleasurable task and rid your mind of negative thoughts. In addition, playing Solitaire puts the mind into a mild meditative state. As with Richard Dreyfuss in the film Jaws, the game has an obvious calming effect that goes beyond just wasting time before the shark attacks.

Solitaire can help you think strategically. When you play Solitaire you have to think a few moves ahead which is a skill that translates to other areas of life. Of course, with the digital game you can also give up and start another game, but in many cases we persevere until we have won the game.

Solitaire is a great antidote to loneliness and boredom. Many people settle down to a few games of solitaire and find that their mood soon lifts once they become involved in the game. If you’re feeling lonely, try playing Solitaire. You won’t notice how your mood will improve!

Finally Solitaire is fun. It is a mildly addictive game that is enjoyable and played by millions around the world. There are no real risks to mental health and because it never involves gambling, you can play as often as you like with no adverse consequences.

As an improvement to mental health, Solitaire has numerous societal implications. In our fast-moving and often confusing world, Solitaire offers a way to improve mood and banish fears of loneliness to millions of people across the globe.

This private entertainment is not something that many people talk about or share with others. Yet Solitaire is something that most of us take part in and which makes us feel better. No other game on the planet has such a far reaching appeal or benefit to mental health.

game solitaire online

In Conclusion…

Solitaire today may seem a very different animal to the game played in the 1800s but in essence there is no real difference to the experience save the fact that digital solitaire is incredibly fast, convenient and private. You can play it anywhere in all types of scenarios and it has the effect of helping people cope with difficult or boring situations.

This was the same back in the 1800s, with the big difference today is that nobody knows you are playing solitaire. This made the game problematic in the 1990s when employers were concerned that too many staff members who seemed to be hard at work on their desk tops were in fact enjoying playing Solitaire.

People have always played solitaire for fun and enjoyment. This game is complex and clever with millions of possibilities, yet can be learned in a matter of seconds.

Remember there are more variations to a deck of cards than there are atoms in the world, so if you wonder what it is about Solitaire that keeps you coming back when other games seem to offer so much more in terms of pizzazz and color, no other game has the variety of Solitaire.

Essentially, Solitaire gives you a link with the human experience. Next time you play Solitaire online, take a moment to consider who else is playing the same game as you.

This game is popular across all the continents of the world and with millions of participants and players it is an example of a shared human experience that nobody even tends to speak about. We are all in our private worlds after all, yet it turns out that when it comes to Solitaire, we are all enjoying the same game together in unity. Perhaps our world leaders should focus more on what makes us the same, rather than our differences? If they did Solitaire would certainly be one human activity that we can all agree on! In the meantime, relax and train your brain with SubGame and discover new types of Solitaire: Vegas Solitaire, Josephine Solitaire, Yukon Solitaire and more.