A patience is a type of sorting game played alone with cards. The cards are laid out and taken up in a particular pattern, and the person playing continues to follow the pattern until all of the cards have been sorted. Some patiences take only a few minutes to lay out; others take quite a long time as the player cycles repeatedly through the whole deck of cards. Some examples, then some thoughts on patience.
A very simple patience:
Shuffle the cards. Lay out four cards face up. If any two of the cards showing have the same value, stack them from right to left. Leave any nonmatching cards where they lie. Lay out four more cards on top of the first four and continue to sort matching cards from right to left. When you come to the end of the deck, stack the four piles from right to left and begin again. Gradually the cards begin to sort themselves; cards with the same value remain together throughout repetitions. If you lay out your four cards and all of them match, remove those cards from the deck and continue. The patience is finished when all of the cards have been sorted by number and removed.
Shuffle the cards and begin laying them out one by one, face up, left to right. If two adjacent cards have the same value or are the same suit, stack them from right to left. Do the same for cards that are three places from each other (for example, the first and fourth cards in the line). Continue to sort from right to left as you lay out more cards from left to right, considering only the top card in each stack and moving the entire stack when necessary. The patience is finished when all of the cards are stacked in one pile.
And another (the quickest of the three by far):
Shuffle the cards and lay them out, face down, in thirteen stacks. Twelve of the stacks should form a circle, like the face of a clock. The thirteenth stack should be in the center of the clock. Take the bottom card from the center stack and place it, face up, on top of its corresponding number on the clock face. (Jacks are 11 o’clock, queens are 12 o’clock, and kings are the center.) From the stack on which you have just placed the face-up card, take the bottom card. Place it face up on its corresponding number; take the bottom card and proceed in like manner. The patience is finished when all of the cards are face up and sorted by number.
What all patiences have in common, and what makes them distinct from solitaire games, is that there is no thought or skill involved. One simply starts with a shuffled deck and plays out a predetermined pattern. There is no way to practice and improve on a patience; there are no tricks to learn.
What is tragic is that some patiences are never finished. In the first example, sometimes the cards are shuffled in such a way that the player ends up with a repeating pattern of 12 or 16 cards that never resolves itself into neat sets of four. In this case there is no way to finish except to decide to give up.
In the second example, sometimes the cards do not match up well enough to reduce back to one stack. In this case the player winds up with a long trail of mismatched cards stretching across the floor, and no more cards to play. She is unable to continue.
In the third example, the player must always remember that the center pile starts out short by one card. If all four kings are placed face-up before the other numbers have been completely sorted, the patience cannot be completed because there will be no card underneath that last king to pull out and play. The only way for this patience to be completed, in fact, is for the last king to be the very last card played.
The order, from beginning to end, is determined before the first card is ever played.
Sometimes a patience is completed; sometimes it is not. The player cannot know before she starts, and she cannot know until she plays it out all the way to the end.