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When I first started playing, I always started each game by just randomly clicking squares until something opened up. This does seem to work, and without doing some serious statistics, I'll say it works just as well as any other method.
However, I don't do this anymore. Currently, every time I start a game, I click the square in the top left corner. This will uncover a 1, 2 or 3 numbered square. If you see a 3, then you know each square touching it is a mine. If I get a 1 or 2, I next click the third block down on the left.
From there, I keep going down the left side, clicking every other block, until something opens up. If I make it all the way to the bottom, then I start back at the top and click every other square going right along the first row. By doing this, you either get a good opening to start with, or else you hit a mine and start over.
Playing: What to look for
It occurred to me that, while playing, corners are your friends. Since these areas have fewer covered squares, it's easier to tell where the mines are. Below are a few examples of corners telling you exactly where mines are:
Likewise, there are a few other common circumstances that can tell you exactly where the mines are (or are not). Each situation is different, depending on the numbered squares involved, but once you understand these, you'll see them in every game you play. And, once you're able to recognize them, they will certainly increase your speed, since you won't have to reason out as many situations.
I use flags heavily - in fact, more than I should. I like them because it keep sme from having to remember where the mines are. Also because after you flag a mine, you can both-click (click both mouse buttons at the same time) on the numbered squares around the flag to uncover more non-mine squares.
The reason I say I might use it too heavily, though, is because using flags can slow you down. It takes time to flag a mine, which adds to your overall game time. I think this is why an Expert score o 99 seems so far out of reach to me. I'm sure that the people who get those scores only flag the mines they have to, and not every one, like me.
For example, none of the flags below needed to be set. They are obviously mines, and therefore just wasted time. Further, in the image on the right, the group of four covered squares in the lower left can even be easily cleared without setting any flags. Using flags sparingly should improve your time, once you get the hang of it.
If you play more than a few games, you're bound to run into a situation where you cannot logically determine where a mine is. Sometimes, you'll have a choice of two covered squares, either one of which could hide a mine. What it boils down to is that, sometimes, you'll guess right, and sometimes you won't.
Minesweeper has four levels that can be played - Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and Custom. While playing a lot, I started to wonder whether the Intermediate and Expert levels were harder just because they were bigger, or because there was a higher percentage of mines (I suspected the latter). And, I thought that if I could figure out the ratio of mined-to-unmined squares, then I could make Custom boards that where the same difficulty level as the three standard levels, but just bigger. So, I set up an Excel spreadsheet, and this is what I found:
In the table above, I assigned the "Difficulty" rating simply by dividing the number of mines by the total number of squares. "Change" refers to how much more difficult the next level up is, compared to the one before it. It seemed to me, then, that the next level beyond Expert would have a Change of 0.07.
I used the Custom board to create this next level, as indicated in the table below. Plus, indicated in the table below, based on Difficulty, are the dimensions (width, height, #/mines) to make the largest possible Custom boards with the same difficulty ratings as each of the three standard levels (you know, in case you really like the Beginner level, but the games are just too short). Also, at the end, I worked out the difficultly rating for the maximum settings on the Custom board (which, it turns out, is incredibly hard).
Finally, I wondered just what was the likelihood of clicking on a mine on your second click. With Minesweeper, no matter where you click first, it won't be a mine. The second click, though, could be a safe square or a mine. To figure out what the chance of clicking on a mine with the second click, I just divided the number of remaining safe squares by the total number of squares
Note that the percentages for the three standard boards are the same as the Custom board equivalent. If you are so inclined, you can check my math by downloading my Excel spreadsheet.
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