FOUNDED ON SOLID AIR
BY Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
SEATTLE -- Dear Games Editor: It has recently come to my attention that a game at cards called Solitaire has become popular on the computer, whatever that is.
The game was invented by my great-great grandfather, Junius Ebenezer Soup, during a period of enforced idleness while he recovered from a bullet wound received honorably (from the front) in the battle of Shiloh.
He left instructions for the playing of "Solitaire" (or as he called it in letters to his wife, "Solid Air"). These are unmistakably those of the game now enjoying a certain popularity.
Seven cards are laid out in rows, all face down except for the first. Then more are laid . . . but let us postpone the rules until another little matter has been cleared up. I am writing now at the insistence of my son, who is in his first year at Yale Law, and who has become for some reason exercised over what is called intellectual property.
He is of the opinion that someone owes our family some money . . . lots and lots of money.
I do hope he is right, since my ancestors left us little aside from letters, debts, and strange ideas, such as that for a beverage made from the cola nut and seltzer water with the slightest little bit of cocaine, which is what makes it the real thing. (Kookakola was the silly name for this drink, which we still make at times for family reunions but which would obviously never appeal to ordinary people.)
Now, about intellectual property, I must admit, the word "intellectual" is not the first that springs to mind in connection with this stu..., I mean with my ancestor's harmless little pastime, putting bits of printed cardboard on top of one another.
But then I am encouraged by hearing the following story from my friend Archy Hill. Archy inherited from two maiden aunts all rights to the music and lyrics of the song "Happy Birthday to You." Talk about your intellectual property!
When I told this story to my friend Paul Muldoon, the poet, he was amazed. He'd always assumed, he said, that "Happy Birthday to You" was the flip side of "Greensleeves."
But it turned out that the old dears had in fact written the words and the tune and not only that, they had thought to register this somewhere as their property.
Now, Archie does not get a nickel from the odd family gathering in which "Happy Birthday to You" is sung, but when it is broadcast, as it often is, his coffers grow fatter.
But my question to you, Sir, is this. What steps must I take to recover my rightful share from each game of Solitaire? And am I entitled to a percentage of those games in which Solitaire wins, as it not infrequently does? Or only of those in which the player wins? Sympathetic as I am to losers - shall I admit that I have been one? - I still want what is my due.
The technical problem of how to detect each game at Solitaire when it is played not on a table but on a screen, and further, of how to get the tiny tribute out of the pocket of the player into my pocket, this is beyond my poor powers of imagination.
My son, however, might have better ideas. He is working, even as we speak, on a project with the code name arcade. No idea what this means.
Yours for fair play,
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.