By Neal Taparia - 9/19/2023
We all remember the famous Minesweeper that always came pre-installed with Windows computers, often played as a way to kill time at school when no other games were available. Before the internet, Minesweeper was just a simple logic game that was easy to get into, but hard to master. However, as players started to gather online, regular competition wasn’t enough, and many started to race against the clock, fighting for the fastest time. These were the early days of Minesweeper speedrunning - let’s take a closer look at some techniques and strategies employed by the best at it.
Speedrunning is a type of competition in video games in which players from all around the world play the same game (with the same ruleset) and try to beat it in the shortest time possible. Players have to know the game they are speedrunning in and out – only in-depth knowledge of the game’s mechanics and meticulous practice can make you reach the top.
The world’s best speedrunners often only differ in time by milliseconds. It’s a highly skill-based competition where beginners won’t find much success until they’ve spent thousands of hours improving. Speedrunners even use glitches and exploits to shave off time, bypassing parts of the game entirely or playing them much faster than would otherwise be possible.
Minesweeper was bundled with all Windows operating systems starting with Windows 3.1, making it available to almost anyone who owned a PC back in the day. The game includes a built-in time-keeping mechanism, which naturally encourages competitive speedrunning. By the late 90s, personal records and friendly challenges started to grow popular on online forums. In 2000, Minesweeper.info was created and quickly became the central hub for players to track rankings.
Before you can try your luck at speedrunning, you’ll need to have intimate knowledge of Minesweeper and the game’s mechanics. Every numbered square indicates how many mines touch that square – this might be the only rule of the game, and it might not seem complicated at all, but playing for the best time will require tons of coordination and keen reflexes.
Make sure you know all the common board sizes in Minesweeper:
Recognizing patterns will be the fundamental skill to train when speedrunning Minesweeper. Certain configurations of numbers can quickly give you an idea where the mines are located and where there are safe tiles. For example, if a “1” is adjacent to an already revealed mine, no other mines can touch it.
This all sounds self-explanatory, but you’ll really need to engrave these rules in your mind and act instinctively if you want to try speedrunning. There are many advanced patterns that aren’t as easy to distinguish, like T-patterns or dependency chains, and knowing them by heart can save considerable time.
It is impossible to lose Minesweeper on your first click – instead, it will often reveal a large area to act as a starting point. For the best chance of opening a significant portion of the board, make sure to click somewhere in the middle.
This, however, is random to a large extent. Only by generating the perfect map and starting area can you achieve top scores in speedrunning, and it frequently takes thousands of tries and countless hours before players encounter that one perfect run.
One of the most commonly used techniques in Minesweeper by speedrunners is chording. When performed correctly, chording can help you save significant time on your Minesweeper runs, limiting the total number of mouse clicks you’ll need to perform to win.
You can right click squares to “flag” them, marking potential mines. If you’ve already flagged the correct number of mines around a given numbered square, you can left- and right-click it simultaneously to reveal all the remaining adjacent squares. You can also use the middle mouse button for chording.
Speedrunners further limit the amount of clicks needed for chording by performing a so-called “1.5 Clicks”. To execute this trick, first press and hold the right mouse button to flag a square. As you move your mouse to a numbered square next to it, press the left button, then release both buttons on the number you want to chord. Instead of 4 clicks, flagging and chording now only took 3.
For over 30 years, Minesweeper players have been arguing whether flagging is an efficient strategy or not. Some speedrunners swear by it, while others prefer to avoid it and only click on empty squares.
Here’s the golden rule: if flagging makes you play faster, only then do it. When performed right, with the use of chording and 1.5 clicks, it can make your runs faster – but don’t flag just for the sake of it. It’ll take a lot of practice and patience to get efficient at flagging, so be prepared for that.
You don’t have to place any flags to win in Minesweeper – simply clear all safe squares.
Let’s consider an Expert size board. It usually has 480 squares in total and 99 mines, which leaves 381 safe squares that you’ll need to open. Without flagging, there is less clicking, so in theory it should be faster – but flaggers can utilize chording and 1.5 clicks to open more than a single square with one click.
When playing with No Flags, don’t focus on the mines – focus on where the safe squares could be, and look for openings in numbered squares that could open up more spaces with a single click. Each opening can reduce the number of clicks you’ll have to press to win, since they can also uncover numbered squares adjacent to them, without you needing to click on them.
Speedrunning Minesweeper is a complex competition that requires impeccable pattern recognition skills and a good strategy. The above techniques are only the tip of the iceberg for speedrunners, who look for any possible way to shave off time, as every millisecond counts.