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Game Review of:
Mah Jongg
Call me the Queen of Dysfunction


Susan Ives is a past president of Alamo PC.

From the January, 2003 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

I am the queen of dysfunction, gathering into my desktop kingdom all the little programs that make me less productive. Suffice it to say that Iíve lost 13,750 ó whoops, make that 13,751 ó games of Free Cell. Go ahead and sneer, but I know people who havenít got a lick of work done since they installed Windows ME and became addicted to Spider Solitaire. You know who you are.

Many years ago I actually wore out a mouse pulling an all-nighter on a breakaway game called Popcorn. I went through a phase being obsessed with Tetris and its big brother, Welltris. My latest obsession is Mah Jongg. Confession time: this is about my third or fourth round with Mah Jongg. Itís not that I got bored with it. I just never did anything else. So into the recycle bin it went until the longing crept up on me again.

There are fancy-schmancy versions of Mah-Jongg that you can buy in the store but like a cheap drunk with a bottle of Thunderbird, I go for the shareware version. Version 5.01 was the last freeware version. Subsequent versions will cost you.

The origins of Mah Jongg are shrouded in the mists of time. One theory is that Noah and the gang played it on the ark. Another is that Confucius invented it in 500 BC. Mah Jongg (also called Ma Jong, Mah Jong, Ma Diao, Ma Cheuk, Mah Cheuck, Baak Ling, or Pung Chow) is probably a conglomeration of many old Chinese games. It was brought to the United States in 1923 where it became all the rage. Like raccoon coats and swallowing goldfish, the craze faded, to be revived by the introduction of computer Mah Jongg in the 1980s. New converts are scouring antique shops for elegant old sets.

Purists will note that computer Mah-Jongg is not the real thing. The physical game needs four players and, when stripped of all its ritual, is much like a game of Rummy. Each player gets a stack of tiles, and then draws and discards tiles until he or she obtains a hand of four sets of three and a pair. Computer Mah-Jongg is more like solitaire. The virtual tiles are stacked in elaborate patterns and you pick them off in matched pairs, trying to get them all collected. 

There are three main kinds of pieces: Tiao (bamboo); Tung (dots) and Wan (characters). They are numbered 1 through 9, four tiles of each number. There are also tiles for the four winds, for the dragons and in the computer version, plant tiles and season tiles. My version of Mah-Jongg comes with a set of traditional tiles and three additional sets: medieval, American road signs and German road signs. You can toggle among them easily. They make a nice change.

The shareware Mah-Jongg also comes with a choice of layouts. In addition to the traditional, there are also snake, butterfly, lion, atrium and portal layouts. Some are easier than others. There are sound effects, a timer and a hall of fame to record your best games.

Mah Jongg is known as "the game of a hundred intelligence's.Ē I have convinced myself that matching the patterns and mulling over my moves keeps my mind active and will help stave off senility. A five minute game (my personal record is 2:49) is a nice break from more serious work.

The program comes in a self-extracting file. I recommend moving it into its own file folder, as once you click on it, it will propel dozens of little files into the folder where it resides, making it hard to uninstall if you donít isolate it this way.

Give me the click of the tiles and the tick of the clock. Timeís aíwastiní and Iím enjoying every dysfunctional minute of it. 

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