I’m not usually one to traffic publicly in work-related stories — especially when folks like A, L, and R do it so well — but the public release of Rumor City last week reminded me of one of my favorites: How my spouse became one of the world’s most prolific Hearts players.
When the first version of Windows for Workgroups (WfW) was being developed, one of the applets created especially for it was a network version of the Hearts card game. You could play with any combination of three peers within your LAN and automated computer players. The three computer players needed to have default names, of course, and the developer wanted to honor his heroes by using their names: Groucho, Chico, and Harpo. Apparently there were licensing issues with those names, so before WfW was released publicly the players were renamed for three of the team members. These three people enjoyed a brief flash of fame when they were mentioned by Dave Barry in his column, “The Plot Quickens”:
By not entering financial information into “Quicken”, I have saved many hours of valuable time, which I am able to use productively by playing “hearts”. This is a card game that you can play on a computer. In the version I have, you play against three computerized opponents, whom the computer labels “Anna”, “Lynda”, and “Terri”. They are vicious sluts and I hate them.
When it came time to update Hearts for Windows 95, the developer decided that he wanted to choose a new set of names. At the time he was working on the network applet on which Rumor City is based; the applet came very close to shipping in Windows 95 but was removed at the last minute. There was a crash in this applet, and it remained undetected through many months of low priority investigation until I set aside a few hours one day and tracked it down. (I don’t remember the exact cause, but I suspect it was a buffer overrun.)
As a reward for finding the bug, the developer offered to name one of the computer Hearts players after me. Being newly married at the time, I asked him instead to name it after my spouse, which he did. I kept it as a secret from my spouse for around a year, until the official Windows 95 street date in August of 1995; I was afraid to show it off early for fear of it being revoked at the last minute for legal or policy reasons.
Hearts has suffered benign neglect since then, so the default player names have remained the same for the past ten years, up to and including Windows XP. Hence the claim about my spouse’s record-setting prolificacy; it’s a good bet that nearly every Hearts game ever played on Windows has had my spouse as a participant.
For the record, the other two default player names in Windows 95 were in honor of 1) a retiring co-worker who played a brilliant practical joke on the most humor-impaired employees of the company just before resigning early in 1995, and 2) the child of one of our co-workers, who would hang out in our building and pay spontaneous visits to our offices when we were working late.