Tuesday Time Waster: Minesweeper

Today we are going to discuss a game that almost everyone has encountered and few have played effectively: Minesweeper. You recognize that, right? It’s the game that comes loaded on PCs along with Solitaire and Freecell. The one with the bombs that explode when you hit them, which for most people I know is every time they click. Well, as someone who often gets stuck in front of her computer, sometimes with nothing else to do, I’ve become reasonably effective at solving minesweeper. It probably doesn’t help that I’m the type who solves logic puzzles to relax. Anyway, since this game is so easy to find and yet so difficult to master, I thought I would give you all a beginner’s course with some of my favorite tips and tricks!

First, the basis of the game is to find and mark all the mines with flags. To help you with this, the blocks without mines show numbers that tell you how many mines are touching that block. You then use logic to determine the locations of the mines. Each block touches a maximum of 8 other blocks. If you can determine the identity of those blocks, you can solve minesweeper.

Here’s how to start. First, pick the size board you want, bigger is harder! Then, click around until you either hit a bomb or a big chunk of blanks and numbers. Yes, this seems a bit random, but really, there is no other good way to start than hit a good spot. Some people like to use the corners to find those chunks. I prefer random click. You want something about this size or bigger:

Now, you want to look for blocks that have all but the block number already marked (with either a number or a grayed blank). My orange arrows point to spaces of that sort, associated with blocks of #1. Each of those #1 blocks only has one block left so that block has to be the bomb. Right-click to mark that box with a flag for each one of those you find.

Now, you will notice the the flag to the right side of the playing area is also touching a #2 just above it. That #2 has 6 boxes touching it with grays or numbers, 1 flag, and one uncertain box. Therefore, that box must be the second bomb. Right-click to mark.

Next to the #2 we were looking at is another #2.This one is already touching the two bombs we just marked. Therefore, every other box touching it must be safe, so you click them all.

Now look at that #1 that appeared right next to the flag. I’m going to teach you the minesweeper trick, hold down both mouse buttons and all the empty boxes touching that square will be highlighted. Let go. Since that #1 was already touching one bomb, the computer will automatically fill all the boxes that were highlighted. It also automatically fills anything surrounding a #0 (shown on the board as blank). Look, another whole chunk opened up!

Now, you can look for more easy spots, mostly #1 and #2 boxes with only one or two empty spaces so you know you have to mark them, and use the double mouse button trick to easily clear areas that do not have bombs.

Eventually, using the basic methods, you will stall where there are no more obvious single or double blocks to mark as bombs. Now, a more complex logic is needed.

In the next set of diagrams, I am focusing on the bottom left corner. In the first panel, I two-button clicked the #1 block which highlighted two empty blocks, one of which has to have a mine. In the second panel I two-button clicked the #2 above the #1. Now three blocks are highlighted including the two from the #1, and only one of them is a mine (the second mine is marked above the #2). Since you know the mine has to be in one of the bottom two, the top of those free must be clear! So click it!

The next diagram simply shows another example of this. Now, I’m looking above where we were before at the #3 and the #2, and doing the same thing. The bottom two blocks have to have a mine, so the top one must be safe.

Now, we are going to try the reverse trick, finding the block that must be the mine. Keep looking up the same line we were on at the next #1 and the two highlighted blocks where only one can be a mine. When you highlight the #2, you get three boxes where two have to have mines. But, wait! Only one of the bottom two can be, so that top third one must be a mine! Quick, right-click and mark it!

Again, here is a second example of this trick. This time I’m up at the top of the current active zone. See the #1 the orange arrow is pointing to, only one of the three highlighted squares. The #2 to the left of it highlights two of the #1’s squares, and a third one. That third one must be a mine! Mark it, save the people!

Now, you can look for every possible one of these two tricks. Oftentimes, this will lead to another easy find and soon you will be rolling through. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for high number blocks such as the #4 below. Now, it’s only touching one marked mine, but then only three remaining empty blocks. Therefore, all three must be mines. After marking those, all the mines for #3 are marked and you can fill in the remaining boxes around it as safe.

The only problem with minesweeper is that eventually, you will probably have to guess between two where there the choice is exactly equal. In the above example, the bottom right corner shows a #3 and a #1, both needing one mine and touching the same two unmarked boxes. There is no logic in that choice, you just have to pick one. I save those choices for the very end of the game.

For those challenging themselves, try to play a whole without using the two-button click. It’s tough! Here are my current times on my laptop: Beginner 21 sec, Intermediate 143 sec, Advanced 962 sec.

What are your times? Are you more willing to give minesweeper a shot now?