Bombs Away: An Enormous Game Of Minesweeper

“Bigger is better,” opined the zeitgeist of the ‘eighties. “More is more,” the people cried back. “Let us wear ever-larger shoulder pads that we may be better people and construct ever-larger temples made from Minesweeper to our new digital gods.”

Today I learned that either that has been a real ongoing project for the last three decades or that a company called CineMassive really wants to promote the fact that they have HD video wall technology. Maybe both. Either way, “Minesweeper Super Challenge” now exists. It spreads across 24 screens with a total of 38,799 mines to deal with on expert mode.

Minesweeper was probably the first PC game I ever played. I must have spent hours on it before I graduated to Spider Solitaire, a game so addictive that I have had to uninstall it from several operating systems over the course of my life.

Minesweeper was a simple way to teach people to use a mouse interface but it was no Spider Solitaire. Minesweeper for me was joyless. The combination of luck and logic were far more frustrating than they were pleasing and the victories and defeats felt equally nothingy. I wonder if playing such an enormous version would trigger some kind of existential panic over the sheer awful pointlessness, the waste of hours of life.

Were I to want to experience such hopelessness I could complete a form requesting to play the challenge. I’m currently filling it in with Alice’s details and here are a few thoughts:

1. The whole thing is purportedly “In honor of the 30th anniversary of Minesweeper”. Microsoft’s version of Minesweeper which is the one they are talking about is regularly given a release date around 1990 so it’d be good to know where the 30th anniversary thing even comes from.

2. “Test your skills on our video wall – from the comfort of your home!” – so you… what? Take a mouse and just play a sprawling multiscreen game of Minesweeper designed to advertise a giant video wall on your regular screen at home? If you as the player don’t need the video wall who is it for? Who is anything for? What is the point of anything?

3. There is no prize or reward. Potentially you could find a yawning chasm of existential despair though so that’s something.

4. The terms and conditions stipulate that the game will be played out on a 16xHD wall. So that’s 8 fewer screens than the one in the trailer, right? So are the cells being scaled down or are there fewer mines or what?

5. “Total playing time is limited to no more than 12 hours per individual.”

Imagine.
Imagine being in your room at home for twelve hours playing that one game of Minesweeper.
Imagine your finger slipping eleven hours in as you start to lose concentration.
Imagine your cat jumping up, seeking attention, food, warmth, putting a paw on the controls and… click.
Imagine all the things you could do in those twelve hours.
Imagine being on your death bed and whispering to the empty air “well, at least I played twelve hours of Minesweeper”.

6. “By submitting a contact form, you agree to release CineMassive from any liability resulting from, or related to using the Minesweeper Super Challenge game.” Presumably this means RSI is totally your problem, kid.

7. I guess Alice can let us know how it goes if she gets accepted.

35 Comments

  1. Xzi says:

    “Were I to want to experience such hopelessness I could complete a form requesting to play the challenge. I’m currently filling it in with Alice’s details”

    Evil. I like.

  2. geldonyetich says:

    I’m calling it now:

    Hackers living over 1,000 miles away from me will develop a Minecraft bot that defeats the entire challenge and broadcast it within 24 hours.

    Actually, Microsoft’s headquarters is within 1,000 miles away from me, so the above mentioned parameters may have already been disproven.

    • Tacroy says:

      Minesweeper bots already exist (just do a search for “minesweeper solver” and take your pick – most come with source code); it would simply be a matter of hooking one up to whatever interface this thing uses.

      Of course, Minesweeper is provably NP-hard, which means that in the worst case the amount of time it takes to resolve a board increases exponentially as you add more squares to it; that being said, unless special care was taken to make this a particularly hard board it’d probably take less than a day or so for a sufficiently fast computer to solve this thing.

      • Premium User Badge

        Harlander says:

        A self-solving giant Minesweeper would make a pretty nice screensaver, I think.

        (Not that you need screensavers any more. It’d make a pretty cool electricity-waster…)

  3. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    I might have been pretty thrilled by this and searched for or attempted make a copy of it just a few years ago, but Hexcells has spoiled me for anything even vaguely Minesweepery.

  4. dontnormally says:

    Do they need to pay Microsoft to play this without ads, or have they not yet upgraded to Win10?

  5. USER47 says:

    I think finishing this will actualy be almost impossible due to sheer amount of points on the board where it’s just about luck. Even in standard scale there are places like that and on this scale the player would have to be extraordinarily lucky to get all of them right, even if he calculated all the other stuff flawlessly.

    • Chirez says:

      Having played more hours of minesweeper than I care to recall I don’t imagine this would be significantly more likely to prove impossible than the smaller boards. The fail points tend to come either very early, where your first move doesn’t give you the information you need, or at the very end when you’re reduced to a 50/50 chance. Increasing the size of the board just allows the gaps to continue further without hitting an edge.

      • alephphi says:

        No, your odds of solving this are very low (one in a million-ish at best).

        Consider the following 4×4 area:

        #00#
        0XY0
        0YX0
        #00#

        (# are bombs, 0 are blank, either both X’s are bombs and both Y’s are blank or vice versa)

        You can’t solve this without guessing at a X or Y square, which is a 50/50 shot. And it could be worse–the 0’s could be either bombs or blanks and it would be still just as insolvable without guessing.

        The odds of any 4×4 subgrid of a Minesweeper puzzle being this configuration (given expert density, which appears to be what they’re using) is about 1 in 8800. Which means you’re not likely to see it in a normal expert game with only 480 squares.

        But–given that their puzzle appears to be about 180000 squares–you’re going to see this pattern multiple times–maybe 20ish, and you’re going to have to guess 50% at each one. Which makes your odds about one in a million.

        This doesn’t even take into account other insolvable (without guessing) patterns, so your odds are probably even worse.

  6. Sin Vega says:

    One of those baffling games where the only real obstacle is sheer boredom.

    • Beefenstein says:

      Monopoly, a game of shared ennui which is supposed by your uncle to build a capitalist sense of worth, is the true Game of Boredom. In what other universe does the banker want to cease all profit on the exchange of money by flipping the box lid all over the sideboard (upsetting the urn containing Grandma’s ashes in the process) and claiming “economic instability has led to runaway inflation, we are now all eating each other as our properties rot around. ‘Look on our gluten-free delis and despair,’ whispers history.”

      • Sin Vega says:

        The irony of that uncle’s opinion is that it’s the exact opposite. Monopoly was designed, and still plays as a critique of unregulated capitalism. Everyones starts equal, and yet the only possible outcome is that one person owns all the money, and everyone is miserable and despises each other.

  7. apa says:

    The little-known world of competitive Minesweeper: link to secondpersonshooter.com

    They don’t have The Internationals there I guess…

  8. Mrice says:

    Endless tea. A nice comfy seat. Some good music. And 12 hours of minesweeper….

    I am fucking GAME.

    • jrodman says:

      What is the penalty for clicking a bomb?

      • Beefenstein says:

        The standard penalty: Drinking a pint of cat bile through a straw filled with dead skin.

  9. ikehaiku says:

    Why isn’t “twitch plays minesweeper” a thing, as far as I know?

  10. derbefrier says:

    from someone who makes it a point to go through every computer he can at work and get all the fastest times on minesweeper. this is intimidating.

    • Llewyn says:

      I used to do things like that too. It’s probably the primary reason I now have to use a trackball instead of a mouse, and hence can no longer set Minesweeper high scores at all.

  11. Llewyn says:

    Hmmm, assuming roughly one second per mine as a moderate score, 38799 mines is going to take close to 11 hours of the 12 hour limit. Not much scope for mistakes there!

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    Carra says:

    Sooner or later you get to a point where you have the only thing you can do is gamble. Must suck to guess wrong after playing for six hours…

  13. liquidsoap89 says:

    Provided I didn’t get too many 50/50 mines, I calculated that I could finish that in roughly 10.75 hours.

    • kalirion says:

      Even just 1 is too many. It is awful design for a game to rely on luck so much.

  14. Alice O'Connor says:

    Thanks, Pip.

  15. racccoon says:

    lol.. ok I’ll give it a go!

  16. kalirion says:

    Imagine playing for 12 hours, getting down to the last two tiles, and having to guess.

    • phuzz says:

      I have a screenshot somewhere of a game I played on expert with the timer on 99s and me having just clicked on the wrong one of two mines in a corner.
      I played that game too much.

    • Replikant says:

      Yeah, minesweeper is a terrible game. A logic game, where the last moves often come down to luck.
      I have a lot of fond memories about many old games (even the ones which were a bit daft). Minesweeper is not among them.

  17. rmsgrey says:

    Many years ago, I played a version of Minesweeper on my Atari ST (I said it was many years ago) that allowed boards that massively exceeded the size of the screen. Completing the largest board took me about an hour – plus many more hours of failed attempts. My general strategy was to work around the edge of the board first and guess whenever I hit an unresolvable region – getting the unavoidable failures to happen as quickly as possible.

    ***

    A friend of mine at university produced his own minesweeper clone where hitting a mine didn’t end the game; it just cost you points. It also allowed you to purchase “volunteers” who you could drop into the minefield, where they would wander around revealing squares until they “helpfully” found a mine for you – depending on the helper, their death could also help out – some cleared a region when they died; others spawned more helpers.

    ***

    And then there’s Mines-Perfect (link to czeppi.de) which, at its most basic is a Minesweeper clone with an improved interface (rather than clicking both mouse-buttons on a square with all its surrounding mines flagged to clear its remaining neighbours, you can just left click on it – or right click a square with mines in all its unexplored surrounding squares to flag them all), but comes with a couple of interesting optional features – “lucky” which guarantees that whenever you don’t have enough information to tell where any mines nor any safe squares are, whichever square you clear will be safe; and “murphy” which guarantees that whenever you do have enough information to locate a mine or a safe square, clearing a square that is unknown will hit a mine.

    The other feature is the boards with other tilings – triangles or hexagons or pentagons or some form of parquet tiling. The real brain-burners are the 3D “grids”…

    ***

    As for the history of Minesweeper, there was a pen-and-paper version around from the late-70s or early-80s and into the 90s (at least) called “Bang To Rights” where you had numbers in every square of a rectangular grid except for a few impassable squares (rivers or bogs) and had to deduce where the mines were (none in the impassable squares). There was an added rule – that there must be a unique safe path from top to bottom (the existence of a safe path was sometimes useful; its uniqueness very rarely came into play).

    From the same era (and the same creator) came “Bog Hopping” with the same rules, except that instead of each square covering itself and up to 8 neighbours, in this version the numbers counted just 5 squares in a + shape – the square itself and the 4 that shared sides with it. There was another small difference in that the numbers in this one counted the safe squares (“stepping stones”) rather than the unsafe ones, but that doesn’t actually change the puzzle – you could always subtract the given number from 5 (3 or 4 for corner or edge squares respectively – or, I guess 2 or 1 would be possible in theory with the right arrangement of given impassable squares) to count unsafe squares instead.