Sunday, October 02, 2005


If you don't know me, you probably won't know that I'm a minesweeper fanatic.

Not the MSN type where you compete with your friend to click on mines - I'm talking about the classical minesweeper that comes with all versions of Windows. Yes I'm quite addicted to that little insignificant piece of program, when I should really be playing World of Warcraft, DOTA or some other fancy games out there in the market that everyone else is playing.

Why do I play minesweeper?

Other than the blatant fact that I'm quite addicted to it, it takes up much less time than WOW and DOTA to play, and I can stop whenever I want to (not really!) I also like the logic process of if-this-then-that-else-this-but-since-this-therefore-cannot-that involved, and I can be absorbed in it for hours on end!

In my endeavours to cut down on useless clicks and processes to achieve a better timing, I have also come to realise the similarities between situations in life and Minesweeping, mainly:

1. An element of probability is always involved.

To actually get a manageable starting scenario in minesweeper, you'd need the first few clicks to open a significant portion of the space - and none of them should actually be a bomb. This is not possible all the time, and you'd find yourself dead before the game has started, much like you don't always find yourself in a winnable situation in life. What then can you do? You have to move on to the next game and carry on to fight a battle you can win.

2. You'll need experience to be successful.

Winning minesweeper requires you to cache certain patterns like 3-3-3, 1-2-1, 1-2-2-1, so you need not think on runtime. This is much like gaining experience in a field, and being able to carry out repetitive stuff successfully. This is merely the first step to improving efficency, but does not guarantee success in the end.

3. Pre-processing is needed.

To further improve timing, you need to know 2 or 3 steps in advance that you can eliminate the pauses in your look(pause)-think(pause)-click pattern of solving minesweeper. This is because our motion is slower than our brain, and you can asyncronously click and think at the same time. Thinking in advance is definitely necessary to prevent yourself from getting into situations you have no way of getting out of (like taking up an insurance policy without considering possible future expenditure, or agreeing to boss' requests without considering the repercussions)

4. If the going gets tough, the tough gets going.

When approaching complex situations which you know you CAN solve, but extra time is involved such that you can never make it to beat your best score, you should give up and start on a new game.
This is akin to you knowing that you CAN do something, but if the end results doesn't justify the efforts required, you should give up and look for better opportunities.

5. Hard problems are easier to solve if you don't take it head-on.

The best thing to do when facing complex situations is not to tackle the problem directly. Look at the big picture. Flank it from the easier-to-tackle sides, and more clues will expose themselves, and you can solve it in a shorter period of time, or you may find that you need not even solve the problem!

6. You don't need to do everything to win the game!

I started off with marking every mine on the map and double clicking to expose the safe areas. I found that every marking takes a bit of time, and this contributes to an increased overall timing. By eliminating unnecessary markings (through pre-processing, or marking it in your mind), timing can significantly improve!
This is like conscientiously doing all your tutorials without referring to answers and solving all the nitty-gritty details in your assignments - not necessary to understand the gist of the lesson and do well in exam. It's a minimum-effort-maximum-result issue.

7. At the last stage, there is always a 2-choose-1 situation to cock things up. 50% win, 50% lose.

C'est la vie.

8. To get really high scores, your inherent response must be good - techniques can only get you so far.

To be really really good, it is not enough to be hardworking. You also need inborn talent. Unfortunately I don't have fast responses and thus my minesweeping scores seems to have hit a plateau. Sigh.. such is life.

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