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Frequently asked questions

What's the History of the SSC?

It's been run on Netcell (freecell.net) for many years. The earliest thread I've found is for Saturday, March 3, 2007 but that thread seems to imply it was ongoing even then. At the start it was a group of players thinking cool, let’s compete in a J.RandomVariant on Saturdays. At first we let the All-In-One variant that immediately preceded the Masters Tournament every Sunday (a variant that is chosen randomly by the tournament scheduler software and not known in advance) be the SSC variant. Over time a set schedule of variants was developed, with free@last being the principle architect of the rotation scheme, and we started keeping track of how folks did in all the variants combined. Different people took charge of keeping track of the stuff. There was a hiatus of several years, when there was not a volunteer to run it. At present joeygray is running it. Most things to do with running it happen automatically.

What's a 'Freecell Saturday'?

The freecell.net 'freecell day' begins at midnight in the local time zone designated by the freecell.net owner (Denny). This is currently the Eastern Time Zone of the USA, and IS affected by the Daylight Saving Time changes that happen twice a year. Since those changes either shorten or lengthen only Sundays, the SSC will always be 24 hours long.

I have it rather easy here: I'm actually in the Eastern time zone and Freecell Saturday runs from midnight to midnight. When DST changeover occurs, it's always 'last Sunday', ie, by the time Saturday rolls around you've had a week to get used to it. It would only be trivially more difficult in most of the USA, all of whose time zones, if they go to and from DST at all, go on the same Sundays for the same 1 hour. So if you are on the USA West Coast, say, then Freecell Saturday will always be 9pm local Friday to 9pm local Saturday. There are a few areas in the USA which don't go at all, though. And certainly the situation around the world is worse. Places go on different dates or not at all; south of the equator the time movement if any is in the opposite direction, there are places that don't go on hour boundaries.

Bottom line is, the freecell day is from 4am to 4am GMT during the Northern hemisphere summer; during the winter it is GMT 5am to 5am. On the SSC main page it says when the Freecell Day starts in GMT, and I shall leave it to you the reader to convert GMT to your local time. To quote Denny, 'Programming 'time' is a bitch.'

I note in passing that Freecell time's not necessarily Eastern time forever. In the past the freecell day has been US Central time; it has been Eastern for a number of years now though.

Also noted, that Saturday is mostly on Sunday in Adelaide, Australia. Harrumph to this USA-centrisicm.

How does this Freecell Daily work?

Starting at midnight on the Freecell day, Denny zeros the daily counter for every user, every variant. Then it gets incremented by one whenever the user wins a streak game AND the current streak length is at least as large. If you lose a streak game, the daily number is unchanged, and there it will sit until you win enough consecutive streak games to push your current streak higher than that number, or until it gets zeroed again at days end.

You might have many separate streaks throughout the day. Only the highest streak counts. And of course, here on the SSC, we're only counting the one particular chosen variant for Saturday of this week; Freecell.net is still doing Daily in all variants, every day.

It is observed that the Daily Cutoff performed by freecell.net is actually short of freecell day's midnight by a minute or two. (Explanation: Denny has many Daily variants to handle and his primary goal is to have them all zeroed and ready to go by midnight for the next day.) At present the archived Daily saved at freecell.net is the final answer, so last minute activity is not going to count. Stay tuned, but without holding your breath please, for the possibility of improvement in this area.

What's the meaning of Easy, Medium, Hard, and Very Hard?

Well, first off, a Netcell 'variant' is designated as MxN, for example 9x3 where 9 is the number of columns the deck is dealt out to and 3 is the number of freecells you have to work with. The concept of 'sum' is recognized by experienced players as a heuristic for how difficult a game of that variant will be to win: 8x4 and 9x3 are two of the '12-sum' variants. (8x4 is known as the Standard Variant since that's what Freecell started with.) Roughly, '12-sum' games like 9x3 are easier than '11-sum' games like 7x4.

In free@last's original rotation, which is the basis for the current one, all 12-sums were designated as 'medium'. We omitted 8x4 entirely, though - one of the goals was and is to encourage folks to experience and enjoy alternate difficulties. All 11-sums were 'hard', all 10-sums were 'Very Hard', and 'easy' was 13-sums. (There are even easier variants that do get a lot of play on freecell.net such as the 13x3 and 10x6 - both 16-sums - but none were included in the SSC.) (And there are variants like 4x4 which are so unlikely to be won that it wouldn't be much fun to keep slugging away at losing them one after the other.)

In the latest variant set, the classification is not quite as fixed. For example, 7x7 - a 14-sum - has been introduced as an easy. 13x0, though a 13-sum, is harder than the other 13-sums and gets promoted to medium. 5x6, which is an 11, is similarly promoted due to its difficulty to Very Hard.

Go to the leaderboard and click on a subset (Easy, Medium, Hard, Very Hard) to see what variants are in what subset.

What's with this confusing rotation?

(or, why don't we just play through all the variants and then start over)

The rotation does two things:

Both of these were primary design goals of the original rotation that free@last put together.

How it works is, there's a three-week internal sequence: medium, hard, easy-or-very-hard. This means that, in 6 weeks, you'll get medium and hard twice, and easy and very-hard once each. Many people dislike the easy ones as requiring little thought - "clickfests", they termed 'em. On the other hand, many OTHER people don't like the frustration level of the very-hard, where there are a lot of unwinnables and a lot of winnable-but-i don't-see-how's. So this competition, while catering to folks who do like either of these, tries to minimize the weeks spent on them. If you hate both of them, you still get to play the 'middle way' 2/3 of the time, and if it's only one end or the other you detest you are good to go 5/6 of the time.

Because we have the same number of games in each category, the mediums and hards will start to repeat after 18 weeks, while the outer sets will repeat after 36 weeks. In free@last's original schedule there were unequal numbers of each class. That was good, too. Maybe we should go back to that.

How are these points chosen, now?

The model for the points comes from the Formula One (F1) race competition circuit. That would be 25,18,15, ... down to 1 point for tenth place, no points for finishing further back than that.

Here, though, we are trying to award points for all finishing positions. So firstly, it's scaled up by 4, and secondly, the dropoff in later places is not as steep. Currently the first 24 are: [100,72,60,48,40,35,30,26,23,20,18,16,14,12,10,9,8.5,8,7.5,7,6.5,6,5.5,5]. We may tweak these numbers, stay tuned.

Note that the points are awarded purely on the basis of order of finish. You don't get any more for beating the pants off of somebody than you do for edging them out by one game. So if it's quarter til midnight and you got a 20 game lead, you can ease up, buddy. (Unless you're getting close to that coveted all-time daily mark.)

Ties in position? Let's say there's a three-way tie for fifth. Then the points for 5th, 6th, and 7th will be totalled and split among the tied contestants. (Yeah, there are fractions of a point.) Then, the next finisher in line will be in 8th place.

I've played before, so how come I'm not on the leaderboard?

This database only includes results starting with the SSC reboot in April, 2020. I don't see that changing, due to the retroactive scoring nature of older results, the incompleteness of when contests took place, and the several-year-hiatus mentioned above. Never say never, I guess.

You will see anybody's name listed if they are 'current regular SSC participants.' The following specifies the exact criteria used to see if you fall into that class.

I'm still saving the full player results list from all the weeks, so don't worry, if you drop out of qualification and then return, all your past results will be there (note that any time you play the most recent week, you're back on). This includes anyone who requested exclusion: if such a person revokes that request and they otherwise qualify, their past results will return.

What's with the 24 finishers, anyway?

The Freecell.net site tracks a daily high for all variants every day. After the freecell day is over, though, only the top 24 positions are archived at the site. For this competition, we are recognizing all participants, and so you will show up in the day's final standings with even 1 win in the variant, even if a hundred other people had more wins. Ties for 24th place would be particularly aggravating if we just went from the archived finish - some folks in that tie would get no points at all despite their tie. A caveat to this, though, is that 'catching' the full list before the top-24 are saved and the rest are truncated by the site is on a best effort basis. If things go wrong, oh well! Good thing there's no money on the line!

As noted above in the Freecell Daily section, neither the SSC nor freecell.net's Daily processing itself capture wins and losses all the way to the last second of the freecell day. Someday something might be done. Lots of work for marginal benefit, though.

How come we got two sets of results?

Most people on the freecell.net site (and your author, joeygray, is one of them) feel that the meaning of a streak is a series of games won on the first try. We assert that taking a netcell deal, trying it many times using notes, a deck of cards, or technological aids, until a solution is found, and then entering such a solution into the freecell database is not actually a streak win - it's merely fooling Denny's system into thinking it is one. So if you feel that way and want to compete against others who feel the same way, use the sign-up sheet to promise you are playing without external aids.

Without a doubt, the signup sheet would be a lot more convenient and user friendly here with nice HTML forms and such, but I have to use the Freecell Discussion Board because it's all I have to validate the identity of the person signing up. Unless one day Denny volunteers to implement it on the site. So:

Follow these instructions to sign up.

If you've pledged via the sign-up mechanism to play without aids, you'll be listed on both sides of the results posts that occur automatically during the SSC day; if not, you'll be listed only on the right-hand side (or not at all if you request exclusion.)

For the multi-week leaderboard, there is a box to check (get signup results) that toggles between the open results and the sign-up results. That box is unchecked to start with, so by default the open results are displayed.

For the record, points awarded for folks on the sign-up list are only for the the weeks they are actually on that list. You do remain on the list until you request your own removal from it, but I'm not going back and re-running old weeks to honor any statements along the lines of "but I actually did play without external aids those weeks." Sorry for the inconvenience!

Under Construction:

Got more questions? Ask them here! That's the lively Freecell Discussion Board.