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This Is The Only Minesweeper Article You Will Ever Need To Read

Posted by on February 20, 2011 at 11:58 pm

Oh, sure, everyone knows about Halo, Fable, Gears of War, and Project Gotham Racing (well, not quite enough did), but few realize that the best game Microsoft ever published was Minesweeper. Included with Windows 3.1 and up, Minesweeper is the reigning champ of office un-productivity and it’s so deviously clever that few realize its absolute genius.

Now, I know what you’re thinking and you’re completely wrong: this game is not the boring piece of junk that you saw running on your dad’s work computer growing up. Minesweeper is an amazing puzzle that simply cannot stop giving. The game existed long before Microsoft committed it to virtually every computer ever made, but the one hidden in that Games folder on your computer is the most popular version in the world. (If you have a Mac, you don’t really have a computer, so don’t fret too much.)

I came upon the game when it was a boring piece of junk I saw running on my dad’s work computer growing up. I simply couldn’t wrap my head around it: the idea of deducing where mines were placed on a uniform grid of squares with little more than numbered squares to aid me, it just… I couldn’t handle it. When I cut myself from games in 2001, a month ahead of the Xbox’s launch, this game on a new Windows XP install and Vertical Horizon’s Everything You Want in an endless loop were my friends. I dedicated hours to it. Days. I began to learn the ropes and its hidden complexity revealed itself to me.

I could not stop. It wouldn’t let me.

How To Play

You start any Minesweeper match with a grid of squares. The goal is to make a ‘splash’, or open a space that will allow you to begin feeling out for mines. Failure here – say, clicking on a mine in the first few moves – ends the match prematurely. Many games are lost quickly; don’t be one of those people.

Anyway, we’ve got our small match here…

Awww, that’s a cute little Minesweeper! This is a medium difficulty board (16×16), so let’s hope our first splash gives us something good…

SUCCESS! (And for the record, no I didn’t use the Vista/7 version and cheat by restarting. Jerks.) Anyway, at this point, we can start picking out the obvious mines from the 1 boxes around the board. As you’ve already deduced, a mine’s location is determined by cross-referencing the surrounding numbered squares. Let’s start with the easy ones…

The squares marked in red are the first, obvious picks for mines. These are easy based on the 1s around them, be it that island in the center or the corners, there needs to be mines at these locations. The black squares can be removed because, as you see in the example above, once a mine is declared (say in the corner in the bottom left) the 1 boxes nearby are satisfied, so any other boxes can be removed automatically. Of course, I work around the board, so that wasn’t exactly where I went to…

Pay attention to the 3 and the 1 that the arrows are pointing to. In the case of the 3, the two other mines were already declared so with only on square remaining, it’s obvious where the third mine is. The 1 boxes at the bottom can then be satisfied and another mine declared just by looking at this image. In the case of the 1 at the top, since its mine was already declared, all the other boxes could be removed. That 2 to its top right can have a new mine declared because of the eliminated boxes, and so on.

Even the most experienced Minesweeper players encounter the trap – a point where mine locations can no longer be determined because there’s simply not enough information. This leads to a single outcome: gambling with the conclusion of your game. Guess a box correctly and you’re given another hint about a mine’s location, guess wrong and the game ends. It’s at this point that I decide to tackle that cluster in the top left before I finish the game.

Okay, so that was easy, so now we’re back to the trap. Hmmm.

Okay, so maybe if I just…

Nah, that won’t work, okay…

So maybe…

Okay, that won’t…

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