More Klondike

The thinner the ice, the more anxious is everyone to see whether it will bear. — Josh Billings

The mighty falleth, and riseth anew, so that we may see them fall once again. I’ve busted through this 47.7% barrier three times. Klondike isn’t just a great way to pass the time away. It’s a tough Solitaire variant requiring more concentration than you might suppose. If you play it long enough, you’ll see that even one oversight or mistake can make the difference between win or loss.

To get this measly one percent gain in the stats took a lot of work. I’m doing at least one thing different, by which I can account for the gain. I’m spending a lot more time interrupting myself, so to speak, to work the “tableaus” (7 piles on the bottom) – the cards I’ve already played. For example, say I need a five of clubs on the foundations (4 piles on top). I have it, but it’s buried by a red 4 of hearts and a black 3 of spades. I do have a five of spades I can get to, on the bottom of another foundation.  What to do? Simple, move the 4 of hearts (and the 3 on top of it) over on top of the five of spades.

It’s worth the extra effort.

Now I can move the five of clubs to the clubs foundation pile. It’s only one card. But sometimes it pays to get “greedy” while you can — if I waited, the five of clubs might get buried too, and then it may be too late.

UPDATE 10/28/2008

Doing this is also a double whammy. Not only do you build your foundations, you get to turn over the next card buried in the tableaus and play that too. At a minimum, you’ve parlayed this into two good plays. With a little luck near the end of the game, this can cascade into a win that otherwise would have been a loss.

And we knew there was a specific reason for mentioning this little strategy. See the image below.

This game isn’t even finished, but you can see it’s a guaranteed win: the tableaus are now all played out. All we have to do is move those cards up top to complete the foundations (or click “Game/Autoplay” from the menu, which takes the repetitious grunt work out of it.

This looked like a loss, but what I did is remove my six of diamonds (yes, the image is hard to read) back off the diamonds foundation, and put it down over my seven of spades. This allowed me to play my five of spades from one of the stagnant tableaus. Before I saw this move, I thought I was stuck with a loss. But, true to my earlier real-time prediction, this little stunt cascaded into a win situation.

Was it a win? Of course it was a win. When the big picture seems too cut-and-dried, it’s time to start sweating the small stuff.

357 total views, no views today

Frog Morton and the Curious Tins

L1000364.jpg Frog Morton collection ... Click image for larger file.

Frog Morton line of pipe tobacco … Click image for larger picture.

Frog Morton is a line of distinctive pipe tobaccos from McClelland Tobacco Company, of Kansas City. Among pipe tobacco aficionados, McClelland enjoys a deserved reputation as a purveyor of fine specialty or “boutique” tobaccos, such as their Frog Morton line, or the strong and aptly-named blend “Mississippi Mud”.

The History Channel did a 2006 special on Tobacco. You can always catch a re-run. They included a sequence on pipe tobaccos. History Channel singled out McClelland’s KC packaging facility and delightfully imaginative product line-up. I was pleased to see both the Frog Morton and Mississippi Mud brands featured.

The Frog Morton line consists of four blends (that I know of):

  • Frog Morton – “an exceptionally rich, smooth and dark Latakia mixture for the pipe”
  • Frog Morton on the Bayou – “Smooth and dark and calming, like the waters of the bayou, a relaxing Balkan blend”
  • Frog Morton on the Town – “An elegant, smooth Oriental blend”
  • Frog Morton Across the Pond – “A cool-smoking, fragrant blend enhanced with Syrian Latakia.”

It helps a little to de-code the descriptions in tobacconist jargon.

“Latakia” is a Syrian blend originally produced in the Syrian town of Latakia.  Dark black, earthy and strong, Latakia smells vaguely like a calamine preparation. Smoking it straight is usually considered over the top; it is a blending tobacco.

“Oriental” seems to refer to a quaint colonial notion of the British Empire that the orient consisted of the region of Turkey, Syria and such – what we today call the “Mideast”.

The “Balkans” refer to the mountains and peninsula of southeastern Europe, including Serbia and Turkey.

“On the Bayou” is heavily flavored with Louisiana Perique, a tobacco concoction prepared by soaking tobacco like rotting leaves in a puddle, until black, and then compressed, dried and flaked. The preparation is actually much like that of Latakia in the old world. The results is an earthier mixer. Used judiciously, it also makes for a pleasant and distinctive smoke.

I have used small quantities of Perique in my own earlier blends of “Alex’s Mix”. I also tried adding Latakia to the blend, but, finding the Latakia overpowers the Perique, ended up using only Latakia in my mix.

I find all of the Frog Morton line to be pleasant smokes, and generally will smoke one or the other as a dessert or after-dinner treat. I do prefer the original “plain” Frog Morton, which is not quite as complicated as others in the Frog Morton line, and probably will stick to this original Frog when re-ordering.

I don’t have the lingo to answer the tobacconist question “but what does it taste like?”  What does a honeydew melon taste like? At some point, you just have to buy one and try it. I can tell you that my own mixes (25% Latakia) are pleasant and medium-strong, sweet without a hint of artificial sweetness. and draw enthusiastic unsolicited compliments from perfect non-smoker strangers.

Of the four “Frog” blends, then, it being noted that I already lean toward a less complex Latakia-based blend, I find the Perique treatment interesting but a little out of balance for my palate and sense of smell (you can smell the Perique in the can). Of the Syrian and “Oriental” blends, I know much less, but for my taste the verdict is the same as for “On the Bayou” – interesting, but I still prefer the original Frog.

Frog Morton, then, would be stronger without being harsher, a pleasure to the very bottom of the bowl, a blend I could heartily recommend pipe smokers try when they are looking for something familiar but pleasantly different at the same time.

3,480 total views, no views today

New Pipes

I’ve added a number of pipes to the collection this year. I have over a dozen of my favorite Nordings, so have been on the lookout for interesting new designs with smaller “dessert” sized bowls. And, sadly, Mr. Bjarne of Bjarne Pipes passed away this year, so there will be no more of those excellent smokers when the existing stocks sell out. Here are three of my new additions.

Stanwell Legend 140

This little beauty has a really nice grain and promises to be a good smoker.

L1000354.jpg Stanwell Legend 140 ... Click image for larger file.

Leica C-LUX 2 mini digital … Click image for larger file.

Bjarne Freehand

Here is a really nice woodgrain with a 3/4 bowl, sure to be prized, and already a good smoker.

L1000347.jpg Bjarne freehand ... Click image for larger file.

Leica C-LUX 2 mini digital … Click image for larger file.

Bjarne Churchwarden Rustic Sitter

(Bottom) – Compared to a “Bing’s Favorite” I used to call a churchwarden, and my even smaller Dunhill poker. The Bjarne is really a sitter – it sits, no doubt thanks to its generous bowl ballast. This is just the smoker for the living room couch, when you don’t plan on moving around and can cradle the bowl in one hand. You would not walk around with this clenched in your teeth, and the long stem leverage would pry open your jaw if you tried. I believe it will become on of my best smokers.

L1000357.jpg Bjarne churchwarden ... Click image for larger file.

Leica C-LUX 2 mini digital … Click image for larger file.

639 total views, no views today

Scratchpad Doodles

I found a couple of old preliminary design sketches some months back when I was looking for something else in the computer room. I’d forgotten about this note pad. Some years ago, I was jazzed about the notion of getting back into engine-powered model airplanes (U-Control). I drew some sketches. I’m not very good at freehand mechanical drawing, but it seems this is almost a lost art form.

I can’t resist looking at almost any mechanical drawing to see how it works. So I scanned these. Click the images for full-size views.

The engine here is a Fox .45 with variable throttle (actually for radio control). It sits out in the garage gathering dust, as it has for 30 years. The reason for the sketch was to design engine mounts and housing of the right size to mount the engine inside a built-up 3-D fuselage – instead of mounting externally on a solid balsa and plywood slab fuselage. The chances of this project actually being completed is slim but I have to admit it still sounds like fun.

The model sketch shows the horizontal stabilizers ridiculously close to the trailing edge of the wings. This is not the loss of perspective and judgment it seems: in stunt and “combat” models, this foreshortened design gives incredible climb and dive response – and a hair trigger sensitivity.

Fox 45 model engine Fox 45 model engine

410 total views, no views today

Pipes 2008

We’ve expanded our Nording pipe collection some since our last post on this topic. All are great smokers, but we have our favorites even among these. You can click each image for larger files.

Nording pipe rack... Click image for larger file.

We’re also partial to Bjarne “Poker” style pipes. We added a couple of these, the smooth and sandblast, pictured below — above the one pet Dunhill in our collection. They are both real pleasures to smoke, and often get the honors of the first smoke of the day. The Dunhill was one of our earliest purchases and remains one of the best smokers of all.

Two Bjarne pokers and a Dunhill ... Click image for larger file.

In the top photo it looks like it’s time to clean the stems again. Nordings all come with hard rubber stems, which tend to collect grime faster than acrylic stems. After trying a variety of things, the best method we’ve found is the old-fashioned hand scrub brush and a little dish detergent. After washing, the stem then has a dried-out dull grayish appearance. We used to use olive oil as is often recommended on the hard rubber, but switched to ordinary hand lotion. It’s less oily, absorbs completely and doesn’t smell like pan frying.

314 total views, no views today

Alex’s Mix No. 1 (2008)

 

2008 Tobacco Blend

Alex’s No. 1 mix has changed little over the last year and a half. I shared my blend with my good friend Al M. and he ordered his own. Al mistakenly cut the proportion of HS-3 from 32 ounces to 16, and we found that to be an excellent blend also. I am currently smoking a “half and half” mixture (24 oz. HS-3, everything else the same as 2006). We order tobaccos from the excellent Pipes and Cigars website. The returns still are not in – all three are excellent smokes. When you can change the proportion of the largest ingredient by that much, I think that speaks well for a winning blend!

Name (PipesandCigars.com) Code Qty Each
Lane Limited – BCA (by the ounce) bptlan05 8 1.35
Lane Limited – HS-3 (by the ounce) bptlan16 24 1.25
Altadis Bulk – Mild Burley – J4 (by the ounce) bptalt58 16 1.30
Blending Latakia Pipe Tobacco (1 pound) bptmcc45 1 29.10

328 total views, 1 views today

Klondike Wins

I thought I better post this now because I’m on another losing streak. I’ve been stuck in the 45.0-46.5% “wins” plateau for months, but briefly set a new record.

4/17/2008: It took me all this time to get back to the old record. You can see it took a number of additinal games, too.

6/7/08: Incremental gains. A new record, hard-won by a very small margin!

6/11/08: The audacity of hope. Chance of busting 47%: slim. Chance of backsliding: do the numbers.

6/14/08: The audacity of hope. I did it.

9/6/2008: like the last butterfly of Spring, you’d best get a last look.

9/11/2008: more ephemera.

382 total views, no views today

Hello world!

Welcome to the new WordPress edition of Miscellany. We will be converting existing content of this small department over to the WordPress format as time permits.

510 total views, no views today

Klondike (Solitaire)

Late last year in My Notes, I posted a somewhat tongue-in-cheek tip sheet on playing Solitaire. Solitaire is a pretty simple game. I’ve been playing it in one form or another since I was a pretty simple kid. I play a variant called “Klondike” on a PC game application by Solsuite. Solsuite bundles a collection of over 400 card games into one slick, compact and inexpensive game package. I only play one of them, “Klondike”. At over 1,400 games, I’m forced to admit I take my Klondike pretty seriously.

This image also appeared in my glib My Notes post. Examining it for a minute, this game was lost with very little on the board.

For a person who spends so much time on one game, it took me quite a while to realize I had never really figured out logical strategic guidelines. I’d like to lay out excerpts from the publisher’s Help menu. Then, I’d like to set some high-level priorities, and finally, accumulatived tips I’ve been writing down for a couple of months now.

The basic difference between Klondike and the regular 3-at-a-time Solitaire I learned as a kid is that you get to deal from the waste (deck) one at a time, and you can recycle the pile until you either win the game or run out of plays, in which case you lose. When it’s this simple, you’d think there would be a tremendous advantage. Not so. Games that are won almost always developed a lot of action in the first couple of rounds through the pile.

RULES

Klondike type; 1 deck (52 cards); unlimited redeals
Chance of winning: Medium (about 1 in 5)
Object of the game: To move all the cards to the foundations.

definitions

Foundations (4 piles: complete these piles to win the game)

Build up in suit from Ace to King (for example, a 2 can be played on an Ace ).

Tableau (7 columns)

Build down in alternating colors (for example, a 10 can be played on a Jack ).
The top card of each pile is available for play to another tableau pile or to the foundations.
A packed sequence, or any portion of it, may be moved to another tableau pile.
Spaces may be filled only with a King or a King-sequence.

Stock

Turn up one card at a time from the stock to the waste by clicking.
Unlimited redeals are permitted until the game is blocked or won.

Waste (1 pile)

The top card is available for play to the foundations or to the tableau.

SolSuite Help, Copyright © 1998 – 2001 TreeCardGames.com. All right reserved. No portion of this help file may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of TreeCardGames.com

PRIORITIES

  • I think your absolute top priority has to be to un-bury every possible card from the tableaus (7 piles) as quickly as possible.
  • The entire purpose of doing so is to move cards from the foundations to the top four piles (foundations), so that’s your second priority. If you “bury” a pile (tableau) with a card that can’t be played (say, the three of hearts, but you don’t have your ace or deuce of hearts in the foundation pile yet), you’ve locked up all the other cards in the tableau.
  • Keeping your tableaus “clean” is your third priority – nay, imperative – at all times.

Rule # 3 was the hardest for me. I trained myself to build elaborate ordered tableaus with cards wherever I could get them (from stock). Un-learning this has been the most difficult for me in actual practice. Don’t place a card on the tableau unless you are willing to bet you know what you’ll be able to do with it next. Betting that the ace of hearts will arrive in time to save you turns out to be a losing strategy.

OBSERVATIONS

Avoid the urge to play a card just because you can. Housekeeping and orderliness can freeze your tableaus so you can’t continue and lose the game.

1. Don’t freeze the tableau: Think ahead carefully before you “bury” a Tableau with a new card off Stock that’s in a suit for which you haven’t started a Foundation. If you play the deuce of clubs on the Tableau and haven’t an ace upstairs to start the required Foundation, you’ve frozen the whole Tableau. This is Rule #3 previously stated. I am coming around to the opinion that even medium and high-numbered cards (six, ten) need not be played from stock unless you see a good opportunity in doing so.

I think of it like the Japanese “just in time” inventory philosophy: if you have enough left-front fenders in stock to last to June 23, don’t have 4,000 of them on order to arrive April 15th.

Stock cards will always come back around the next time. If you can’t actually play off that card once you put it down, there’s no good reason for playing it right now.

2. Low cards are dangerous: The lowest numbered cards like the deuce and three, therefore, are particularly dangerous unless you have a specific reason to believe they’ll play back up to the Foundations quickly. Don’t play them until you really need them; they’ll still be there in Stock the next time around. You can build on fours and fives and sixes, so you’ll probably just play them, but you can’t build very far below a deuce or trey. I will play a three to move a deuce (and free up a tableau), but offhand I can’t think of any other reason why I would.

This perspective on Rule # 3 just restates earlier observations. Restating what I noted before, I am getting better results being stricter in this gambit.

3. Play it later if you don’t have to play it now. Leave all such “playable” dead-end cards in the stock (or waste) until you need them. Getting it on the tableau serves no purpose if you can’t do anything with it when it gets there! It’ll come around again. If you can play it the next time around, now harm done. And, if you still can’t play it when it next comes around, you made the right decision, didn’t you?

4. The fat lady really does sing. Sometimes the system will just hand you a win, and all you have to do is play it. Mostly, it will bring you to a point where you are sorely tempted to just quit and deal a new hand. Many of my games look hopeless but are won by fighting “tooth and nail” out of stagnant situations.

Extract the very last possibility of progress out of the game, even if you don’t see a breakout path exactly yet.

5. Un-do: You’ll make mistakes no matter how fresh your eyes are. Most games will allow “undo” (Control-Z) if you catch it right away.

6. “Reverse” is a gear too: Don’t be afraid to take a card back off the Foundation if you can use it to build a better situation on your Tableau.

7. Lopsided builds: Generally, your first priority is to build Foundations, even if you can also use the card to build a Tableau. But, an over-representation of a single suite in the four Foudations may also cause problems building and moving the Tableaus. For example, if you have Tableaus in all four suites Club-(4 each), Spade-(4), Heart-(4) and Diamond-(4), that’s as evenly proportioned as you can get. But, if you have Club-(2 each), Spade-(1), Heart-(0) and Diamond-(9), you’ve got a shortage of medium-numbered red cards to build your Tableaus. You might get away with it, but you might regret it. Don’t play the Foundations TOO far ahead of the Tableaus!

You can sometimes un-build a Foundation in order to play a Tableau card (usually to get at a new face-down card), but you gain a slight tactical advantage in building your tableuas “just in time” – unless you bury good foundation cards with unplayable ones!

8. Consolidating piles: Even in moving cards around on the Tableaus, don’t consolidate two piles into one until you need to. Doing so reduces the number of Tableaus in play. Again, tidiness for its own sake can ruin your day. If you can move a “packed sequence” onto another tableau pile, freeing a blank space for a King when you get one, resist the urge to tidy housekeeping. Just wait until you get that King. You may find a better opportunity for those two playable tableaus in the meantime.

9. Blank tableaus: suppose you have a blank (empty) tableau. The rules say this can only be populated with a king. Supposing also you have a red quenn high on another tableau. A red king comes up on the stock pile. Should you play it? I would wait and see if you have a black king, and then play that if you do.

10. Musical Chairs: Be aggressive about shuffling parts of the tableaus around to get at cards you can use to build the foundations.

11. If your game has an autoplay, turn it off. You should make the decision where each card is most needed and when it should be moved. Cards on the foundations, or eligible to go there, can still sometimes be just what you need to break up a logjam in the tableaus). You can use autoplay to quickly wrap up the game after all the face-down cards in the tableaus have been used up in play. Congratulations!

12. Accept your losses when you run out of plays: Some deals will be just awful and your game will get stuck before you really thought you’d begun. There’s probably nothing you could have done about those games. I find I can only predict a loss about half the time, so don’t toss in the towel early.

13. When you’re ready to toss in the towel, you have about an even chance of busting. So pay attention. You will win the hand the other half of the time – and the very “last chance card” is where I find at least half of all my wins. (3-4-2008)

14. Plug-Ugly Corollary: Very often I find that the really ugly game, the one you just can’t wait to bust on so you can start a new game with a decent deal … will string you along until all of a sudden your luck changes and the ugly game is a WIN. So just be patient and watch for openings like a hawk. (4-22-08)

IMAGES

Solitaire_Breakthrough.jpg – Here I broke a big losing streak with a bit of luck. The one remaining buried card, under the Ten of Hearts, has to be the Five of Diamonds. After cycling through Stock a couple of times, I was ready to give up, but found one last move in the tableaus which triggered a cascade of moves up top to the foundations. Here, I need to play the Nine and Ten of Hearts, and I’m home free. Once all cards in the tableaus are unburied, a win is guaranteed. You can now allow Autoplay to finish, saving you time. (Though the game is timed, those times aren’t recorded and don’t improve your points.)

Solitaire_Promising.jpg – This moribund game looked like it was going nowhere fast. Suddenly the tableaus (piles) opened up. I had all the covered cards un-buried in a few plays. Note the under-developed Foundation piles at top. It’s rare to be guaranteed a win with such a poor initial showing upstairs.

Alex Forbes © July 16, 2007

1,013 total views, no views today

Pipes – Letter to a Reader

Hi, thanks for writing. You have a lot of good questions and I’ll try to address one at a time.

First, most of what I know, I learned from browsing the pipe forum http://forum.pipes.org/. It looks like they have reorganized somewhat since I was last there. There is a parent page http://pipes.org/ which also has a lot of interesting links.

I own a Big Ben and am quite happy with it, though it isn’t quite broken in yet. Most of my “regular” pipes are Nording, about which I’ll have more to say soon.

I have an article on ordering my own custom tobacco, and that is what I smoke exclusively now. It is mostly like the Golden you are fond of, but with Latakia added in moderation.

At first I was tremendously taken with the idea of Falcon pipes. Clean, logical, sensible – yet I found my wooden pipes smoke “better” and I am not sure why. I have a number of Falcons but rarely smoke them any more. You can do a better job of cleaning them, but it takes a little longer. You hold them by the wooden bowl, though the aluminum stem does not get that hot.

The Nordings that I vastly prefer are all relatively heavy pipes made of massive amounts of better grade briar. They smoke cooler, probably because of their size and mass – Falcons are lightweights and heat up quickly.

Nording makes a big variety of pipes and styles. Mine are the “orange” briars, a little hard to find, and a little more expensive. They run around $100 or a little under. They are all well broken in and by far the best smokers I own. The lighter, less expensive Nordings are not bad and sometimes you can get a set of 6 for under $50.

I ordered a couple of Meerschaum bowls for my Falcons back around 2004 but never really cared for them. I also ordered a Meerschaum clay pipe. They all taste like they are never broken in – you don’t want a cake in them, they say. I like the cake. I never got the hang of them and abandoned that experiment, though others swear by them.

Switching tobaccos in the same bowl is said to not be a good idea and I found through experience that I agree. A bowl acquires a “flavor” quickly and it takes a long time to change it.

If you like the aromatics, that is fine, but from my experience above I think it would be best to stick with one of them and not jump around, though I know that makes it tough to experiment. I tried a corncob for experimenting, and that was a lot of fun.

I like them smell of many aromatics but they don’t often taste as good as they smell. Many additives make me cough – what the veteran pipe smokers call “casings” I think. Commercial mixes like Rum & Maple are so heavy with casings that, to many pipe smokers, the casings interfere with the tobacco experience.

My own experience comparing “Blender’s Gold” with my own best imitation mix was a case in point. After I made my own, there was no going back. You might order a few ounces of Lane HQ3, try it, and go from there:

Alex’s No. 1 Mix (new) 5 stars

My current order formula: 1 lb Medium Burley from Altadis, 1 lb Lane Limited BCA black cavendish, 1 lb Latakia blending pipe tobacco, and 2 lbs Lane Limited HS-3. I experimented with Perique, but went with the Latakia, which complements and defines the full flavor in a very satisfactory way. I am very happy with this mix and have stayed with it for over a year. I still order my bulk tobacco from Habana (PipesandCigars.com). Despite a respectable stock of other enjoyable blends mentioned on this page, I rarely smoke them.

There is one flavored blend called “Trout Stream” I really liked. But there are really so many fine blends out there, both “straight” and delicately blended aromatics, that my suggestions are just the favorites of one out of tens of thousands of pipe smokers! This topic always reminds me of the youngster who says, “If you like the United States , you should visit my home town” – not because it’s the most representative, or the prettiest, or even a particularly nice place to live, but just because it’s the only one the youngster knows!

As far as protecting yourself against the tar, I tried some of the filters and balsa wood inserts and it just seemed too messy, increased draw pressure, and reduced flavor. At least with the Falcons you can SEE the tar it has condensed out into the aluminum bowl, and you spend extra time cleaning that out with tissue, so I suppose that is beneficial.

A cool smoke helps prevent “scorched palate” which I quickly got from the Falcons, and my dental people lectured me badly. I get less from wooden pipes but there is still some.

We are not supposed to inhale and I don’t, but you get enough “second hand smoke” to irritate. I have developed what they call a “pipe smoker’s bark” over the years, and I have to lay off or cut back if I get a chest cold. So I sure can’t make any health claims for pipes, except perhaps that is does not seem to affect me as badly as cigarettes which I smoked for 40 years up until the year 2000.

I haven’t really posted to my Tobacco page in quite some time, so I might post just my own reply (this one, with no name or address info of course). I do hope some of this is helpful, but the only hard and fast rule I know is experiment, experiment, experiment – and you’re doing a fine job of that!

Cheers,

Alex

353 total views, no views today