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The Solitaire Calendar

The Solitaire Calendar has never been used by any historical nation, culture, or group of people.  It is, nonetheless, a real functioning calendar.  It was invented in the book “The Solitaire Mystery" written by philosopher-author Jostein Gaarder (famous for “Sophie’s World”).

The calendar exploits several close overlaps between our conventional time measurements, and the organization of a standard deck of playing cards.  For those that need refreshing, a normal deck has four suits: Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts and Spades.  In each suit there are 13 cards: Ace through Ten, plus the Jack, Queen and King.  Of course, each deck has one, maybe two, Jokers.

The number of near misses between calendar and cards begins to seem spooky when you look at them all.  For example:

  • Weeks: 13 cards in each of four suits makes 52 cards total.  There are 52 weeks in a year.  The solitaire calendar assigns a card to each week.  (For those doing the math: 52 weeks * 7 days = 364 days.  The 365th day of each year is the Joker Day).
  • Months: 13 possible “face values” (that’s Ace through Ten or Jack Queen King) divide the year into 13 months, each four weeks long, quite similar to the months we are used to.  Each month is given a “face value”, so it becomes the Month of Four, the Month of Jack, etc.
  • Leap Year: If each year is given a suit (say Hearts), then each month in that year can become a specific card.  The Month of Ace in a Hearts year corresponds to the Ace of Hearts.  If the four suits are used in four successive years, then “a whole deck” of months will have passed, with one exception: the Joker.  An extra (second) Joker Day is held at the end of an entire deck of months, corresponding to our extra day every Leap Year.
  • Seasons: The Four Suits correspond to the Four Seasons, each one lasting 13 weeks, to match the 13 cards in each suit.

The Calendar is largely an aside in “The Solitaire Mystery”.  The book should be read on its other merits, it’s my favorite of Gaarder’s books, and that is saying something.  Though not integral to the plot, this Calendar is beautiful and suggestive, and might give you a shadow of an idea what you’re in for if you read the whole book.

On a more personal note…

… a few years ago I re-awakened my kindergarten self, and made a physical copy of this Calendar as a Christmas gift for my parents.  I say “kindergarten-self” because I made it all out of glue, scissors, and deck and decks of chopped up playing cards.  Locating cards with artistic Jokers, Facecards, and patterns was actually quite a lot of fun.

It was a labour of love.  The calendar featured many quotes throughout… quotes that explained the function of the calendar itself, and quotes that described its place and history in “The Solitaire Mystery”.

I was also able to use the week, month, season (etc) correspondences to assign three playing cards to any specific day, and I gave psuedo astrological interpretations of the cards for each family-member’s birthday, plus some of the big holidays.  That was fun too… what does it mean if you’re all diamonds?  If you have a pair?  If you have all face-cards??

My parents still have this Calendar stored away somewhere.  And it’s still good too.  If you think about it, this calendar is the exact same calendar year after year, always beginning on Monday on the Ace of Diamonds week in the Month of Ace.