The Aquarius Challenge!
Yes, in fact, you CAN try this at home...

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The Challenge Some Solutions (w/ Commentary) Some Discussion Points (w/o Solutions)

Take out your Aquarius deck. You'll also need an Aquarius wild card, only available in NanoBlanks (but you can substitute a good imagination for that if you have to). If you're reading this, and don't know the basic rules to Aquarius, you'll probably want to check them out before proceeding.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the wild card counts as a full panel of all five elements at all times. You don't pick which one it is when you play it. That would be annoying -- everyone would have to remember which it is, and there's no convenient way to mark it. Besides, it's much more fun this way.

Now, since it's all elements at once, it can benefit multiple players, and, indeed, could cause a win for more than one player simultaneously. Of course, if you played a multi-panel card just right, I suppose you could do this too... But only with the wild card could you theoretically play the seventh card for ALL FIVE elements at the same time!

Wow!... Cool!... Now... how few cards can you do it with?

The Challenge:

Try to create a layout such that all five elements win with exactly seven panels with the play of a single wild card, and try to do it using as few cards as possible (and, as a secondary goal, trying to have as few "wasted" panels as possible).

Here's my best solution: 18 cards, 2 unused panels: the small quarter-panel of stars in the lower left, and the small quarter-panel of earth in the lower center. Those four-square cards are hard to use, but when you can use them well, they're very effective. It's true that some of those full-panel single element cards could have been replaced by double-panel or four-squares, but then there would have been more wasted panels, and that's just inelegant.

There you have it. Grab your Aquarius deck and go for it. I found this a very satisfying solitaire challenge, and I just had to wonder what some other solutions might look like, and whether they could get smaller than this.

Send me e-mail with a picture, link to a picture online, or description of your layout (have fun trying to figure out how to effectively describe the cards if you don't have a way to send a picture-- but hey, if you can create it, I'm sure you can come up with a way to get it across.)

So far, I have received several solutions from Elliot Evans, some larger, some equal to or smaller than my example layout. Our e-mail correspondence resulted in some interesting analysis of the puzzle, which is included on the solution page.

For those of you who'd like know some of the observations and questions that arose from his submissions, without seeing his layouts, I've tried to distill out some discussion points and questions. The discussion points are actually more mentally challenging than the commentary, which I guess makes sense.

--- Copyright © 2004 by Alison Frane ---