The Checker Maven

The Checker Murders: Part Three


The Checker Murders is a 16,000 word novelette published in seven monthly installments. It is perhaps the most extensive work of checker fiction ever published. We hope you enjoy it, but if you wish you can skip to the end to see this week's checker problem. Be forewarned that the problems in this series are very difficult.


Mortimer thought he really ought to take the bus downtown to Broken Book Cafe, but riding the bus at night wasn't quite his thing. Parking was going to cost him, but it would be better to have his car. What if he and Sheila wanted to go somewhere after they met?

One thing at a time, he told himself. He had located clothing that was relatively clean, only worn once or twice at the most, and was busy assembling a list of questions to ask and points to make. He had to show her that he had insight into the case if he wanted to make that good impression. Yes, dazzle her with my brilliance, that's it, he thought. Charm her with my wit.

Impress her with my ...

Mortimer caught himself in mid-thought, realizing that maybe this wasn't completely about solving the case.

He decided that he had better leave early. There would still be a lot of traffic around six in the evening.

He left at four thirty. He just couldn't wait any longer. That way he'd get a table at Broken Book and be ready when Sheila came in. Anyhow, she didn't know what he looked like, while he'd recognize her from the video clips he'd watched almost incessantly, trying to a better ... well, clue.

Mortimer drove faster than he ever did, sometimes exceeding the speed limit by as much as two or three miles per hour. He even went through a couple of yellow lights--- in fact, one of them was practically red! Ordinarily, he never would have done such crazy things. But he found parking and was at Broken Book by five fifteen. He ordered an orange soda and found a table in the coffee shop.


Broken Book was Denver's largest second-hand bookstore, located downtown on the 16th Avenue Mall. It was staffed by a crew that Mortimer had never cared for. He thought they were obnoxious, rich liberal arts students who thought a lot of themselves because their parents had money. The coffee shop staff in particular always seemed kind of snooty, acting rude when taking his order and looking at him like he was some sort of inferior specimen.

But tonight Mortimer paid no attention. He was on a special mission.

He spent the next little while going over his scanned collection of clippings on his laptop, getting in a few games of checkers along the way. In fact, he was in the middle of tough game on YooHoo when he felt a warm, soft hand on his shoulder.

Photo courtesty perpetuus17


It was that voice. He looked up, and saw her. She was dressed exactly in the manner that Mortimer had by now memorized from watching the video clips.

"Y..Yes, I'm Mortimer, I mean, uh, M. Sherlock Holmes." Mortimer had found his voice and said the latter with a little pride. "How did you recognize me?"

"Oh, believe me, it wasn't hard," Sheila said, taking the seat opposite him at the table. She unbuttoned her overcoat, revealing a blue blouse beneath, neatly tucked into white slacks. "I did a little research of my own, you know. There was only one Mortimer in the UC grad school directory, and when I found your web page ... well, um ... it was pretty obvious I'd found you."

Mortimer was impressed. "Wow, that's kind of how ..."

"Yes, of course, how you got my email address. Well, Mortimer, maybe you'll turn out to be a nut after all, but you're certainly a bright one. So, as I said on the phone, I'll take this one chance and have dinner with you and talk a little. But at least for now, don't expect any more and don't push your luck, OK?"

Mortimer seemed ever so slightly disappointed but he readily agreed.

"So, I'm starving. I had to work through lunch as usual, and I haven't eaten since I had some yogurt at breakfast."

She certainly looks slim, Mortimer thought. Probably lives on fruit and skim milk.

So Mortimer got a big surprise when she ordered a pastrami on rye with potato chips and cole slaw, and a large soda to go with it. OK, at least it was a diet soda.

Mortimer ordered the same thing and, as he was certain was expected, paid for both orders. They went back to their table and Sheila attacked her food as if she were starving. Mortimer kind of liked that. She certainly didn't seem like a lot of those pretentious girls that he met at the Baker Street Pub.

"OK, Sherlock," she said between large bites of sandwich, "let's hear your theories."

Mortimer gulped down the last of his own sandwich and pushed his plate to the side. He flipped his laptop open.

"Well, I'm not completely sure," he said, flipping through some of his clippings on the laptop screen. "But here, look at this." He enlarged one of the newspaper photos of the checkerboard left at the first murder. It was pretty grainy when blown up but the board and pieces were still clearly shown.

"Yes, the checkerboard from the first killing," Sheila said. "We did all the usual stuff, checked for prints, DNA, you know. Didn't turn up anything. The board and set was probably from a toy store or a department store. They're sold all over the Denver area and on the internet, so that didn't give us much either."

"Oh, yeah, sure, I mean I know you do all that stuff, but that's not what I was getting at."

Sheila waited for him to continue.

"Well it's ... look, I play a lot of checkers, and I think the way the board is arranged might mean something. That's where you can help me."

"That's where I can help you," Sheila repeated. "I see." She sounded a little skeptical. "I thought you were going to help me."

"Well, um, I am. But I need to see the checker boards from the other two murders."

"They're in an evidence locker, you can't..."

"No, I don't mean actually see them in person, just what they looked like at the murder site. You know, how they were set up and all."

"You think how they were set up has something to do with the case?"

"I'll bet they were all different."

"Yes, they were, as I recall," Sheila said. "But that's consistent with random placement. We think the checkerboard and checkers are symbolic of something. The psychologists don't know what, not yet, but they're working on it."

"No, no, that just can't be right," Mortimer insisted. "Please, can I just see photos? I'm sure you have them, and for the second two murders the newspapers didn't show the checkerboards."


"And the street addresses. I need the street addresses. They would just about prove the point I'm making."

It wasn't at all clear to Sheila just what point Mortimer was making, and she said as much. "And besides," she went on, "we only released the street name the first time. After that we just gave the general neighborhood so we could keep the nuts away. Nuts like ..."


"Like me?" There was a bit of a hurt tone in Mortimer's voice.

"Oh, Mortimer, I'm sorry," Sheila said. She reached across the table and grasped Mortimer's hand. Mortimer instantly became oblivious to anything but her touch.

"I know that wasn't very nice of me. It's just that everything you're saying seems so ... odd. But you're definitely bright and I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. You're looking at an angle we haven't considered, and I believe you when you say you're a checker expert. I know we don't have one on staff, so I'll see if I can get you on as a consultant."

Mortimer beamed, not even realizing that she had finally let go of his hand. "You mean ... a consulting detective ... like ... like Sherlock Holmes?"

She smiled, amused by his boyish excitement. "Well, Mortimer, there are probably some agents in the Denver office who wouldn't be so anxious to give you that title. But just between us, you can be a consulting detective."

Mortimer didn't think bouncing up and down in his seat would make such a good impression, so he refrained, even though that's what he wanted to do at the moment.

"Meanwhile, I'll email you those checkerboard photos. I don't think that should be a problem. I'll do that when I get to work tomorrow afternoon. I've got class in the morning or I'd do it sooner. But the addresses ... I'll have to get an OK on that. I'll ask about it when I tell the Special Agent handling of the case that I think it would be helpful to bring you on."

She stood up and started buttoning her overcoat.

Mortimer stood as well, hastily attempting to gather up his laptop and all his gear. "Uh ... can I ... do you need a ride home or anything?"

She heard the hopefulness in his voice, but responded, "No, Mortimer, let's take things slowly. I'm delighted to have met you, and we're going to meet again very soon, but I think we'll leave things as they are for the moment. I'll be quite fine taking the rail home.

"Where's home?" Mortimer asked. "I'm sure I could..."

"No you don't," Sheila said. "No home address, not yet at least. Just be patient. I'll be contacting you tomorrow afternoon as soon as I get things set up with Special Agent Purdy."

She turned to go, then stopped for a moment as if making a decision. She stepped over to Mortimer and gave him a quick hug. "Thanks for dinner," she said. "Talk to you tomorrow." Then, before Mortimer could recover his composure, she was out the door and off into the Denver night.


Checkerboard No. 3
Black to Play and Draw


You may recognize the position above and know the solution; if you don't, you may find it challenging. Give it a try--- Mortimer surely would have--- and then click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/27/13 - Printer friendly version
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Beginner's Corner: Three Principles


It's a typical error for beginning writers: mistaking principal for principle. Our photo above could very well be that of three high school principals. But as for illustrating three checker principles ... it would definitely not be the right thing.

Our Beginner's Corner series today presents a position which can be solved by the application of three such checker principles. Your task is to find the principal solution, and identify and give name to the principles involved.

Black to Play and Win


In principle, this is an easy problem; the principal difficulty is one of visualization. Don't sacrifice your principles; solve it from the diagram. The principal means of checking your solution will of course be by clicking on Read More.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/20/13 - Printer friendly version
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The Gibson Sound


Just about everyone has heard of Gibson guitars; Gibson is the maker of the world-famous Les Paul guitar and many other instruments of the highest quality and finest sound. Gibson was founded by Orville H. Gibson well over 100 years ago, and given the time in which Mr. Gibson lived, we've little doubt that he played checkers at least casually at some point.

Checkerist R. W. Gibson was a contemporary of Orville, although it's highly unlikely that they knew each other or were in any way related. Mr. Gibson (R. W., that is) is credited with today's entry in our Checker School series. It may not be the "Les Paul" of checker problems, but it is certainly a nice one, with a solution as pleasing as the sound of a Gibson guitar.

R. W. Gibson
White to Play and Win


We're not just stringing you along; solve the problem and strum your mouse on Read More to see the solution, notes, and a sample game.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/13/13 - Printer friendly version
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The Checker Murders: Part Two


The Checker Murders is a 16,000 word novelette published in seven monthly installments. It is perhaps the most extensive work of checker fiction ever published. We hope you enjoy it, but if you wish you can skip to the end to see this week's checker problem. Be forewarned that the problems in this series are very difficult.

Mortimer went straight back to his apartment and as quickly as he could turn on a light and throw his overcoat on the none-too-tidy floor, he sat down in front of his computer screen

Mortimer S. Holmes

He studied everything he could about the cases; all the newspaper articles, all the video clips. But there was one in particular that caught his eye. It was an interview with an FBI laboratory technician, a young lady who patiently answered the reporter's sharp questions while trying to explain how she was conducting forensic analysis on the murders.

Now, if you had asked Mortimer, he would have told you that it was the scientific descriptions of DNA testing, fingerprint analysis, etc., that held his interest. But the truth was that he was instantly smitten by the young woman.

Wearing a lab coat over a black top, with short auburn hair, she was the embodiment of intelligent eloquence. To Mortimer, she was a dream come true, a woman who was both brilliant and personable. Or at least, personable in the way that you would expect Mortimer to define the word.

Photo courtesty perpetuus17

"I've got to call her on Monday!" he kept saying to himself. "She'll be able to tell me all that I need to know about the case. When I tell her I'm working on it, I'm sure she'll help me out. She just has to!"

Of course, Mortimer knew deep down that what he really wanted to do was ask her out. You've got to give him credit for being observant; the girl wasn't wearing an engagement ring or wedding band. (He had to play the video back several times and enlarge a few frames to be certain about this.)

Mortimer even thought about calling the crime lab over the weekend. Surely someone was working, and maybe he'd get lucky and reach the young woman. But the phone for the crime lab wasn't on the Denver FBI internet site, and when he called the general number, they wouldn't connect him. They told him he'd have to call back on Monday and go through the main switchboard.

Waiting was absolute agony. Mortimer considered trying to hack into the FBI computer network. If he did that, maybe he could get a name to go with that beautiful face. He was pretty sure he could do it, too, but if were to be caught it would probably ruin his chances with her, so it plainly wasn't worth the risk.

Of course, none of this was a conscious thought process on Mortimer's part. At least, not that he would care to admit. It was all about solving the crimes. Naturally. What else could it be?

Monday finally came around. But Mortimer had school in the morning. He seriously thought about cutting his classes, but it was something that he simply never did. It was a close call; he was that anxious. Or maybe that desperate.

At least he would be done by noon. He could call on his cell phone as soon as his last class was over.

It was 12:01 PM when he called the Denver FBI main switchboard. They connected him to the crime lab. The phone rang a few times and then went to voice mail.

Drat. He hadn't considered the possibility that the staff would be out to lunch. He'd have to wait another whole hour to call again. And what if they took a long lunch and got back really late, like 1:15?

Finally, he decided that rather than go to his little study cubicle in the grad student's office area, he'd go back home so he could be in front of the computer when they called back. He wanted to have all his data available, of course, and the way he saw it, he might make a little better impression.

The bus ride home was pure agony. It seemed like all the weirdos and time-wasters chose /his/ bus, just to slow him down and make him get home even later. After the third bum tried to dodge paying his fare and made the driver stop the bus until the would-be freeloader got off, Mortimer was ready to scream. He even thought about helping the driver by throwing the person off himself, but then thought better of it when he realized he was about half the size and probably a quarter the strength of his proposed target.


At long last the bus pulled up at the Perry Street stop. Mortimer leapt off and ran up the street to the little house he rented. The floor upon which he threw his overcoat was no cleaner than it had been the previous Friday, but Mortimer didn't care. He was instantly seated in front of his computer and was dialing the phone.

"Crime Lab, Sheila."

The voice was as sweet and melodious as anything Mortimer had ever heard. This had to be her. He was paralyzed. He couldn't speak. It was just too much for him.

"Crime Lab, hello?" There was a slight edge of annoyance in the sweet voice.

Mortimer knew that he'd better act now. He never bothered to block caller ID, so if Sheila--- what a wonderful name--- hung up, he didn't dare call back again or she'd think he was a stalker or a nut.

"Uh, Crime Lab?" he managed to croak.

"That's what I said twice already. Do I know you? I'm very busy..."

"Um ... uh ... no, you don't know me, but I saw you on television."

"Look, I told you I'm busy! Good bye."

"WAIT!" Mortimer finally found his voice. He feared he was too late, but he didn't hear the line click. "I can help with the checkers case!"

There was a brief pause, but she was still on the line. "You can help, I see. All right, you've got about ten seconds and it better be good."

"Well, not exactly help ... I mean, I want to help ... I've been reviewing the evidence ... and I have some ideas if you could just tell me a little more ... I'm a grad student and I analyze these kinds of things ..."

He heard her laugh. The edginess seemed to have softened. "Well," she said, "that's one of the best lines I've heard yet. What's your name, grad student?"

"Holmes, M. Sherlock Holmes." Mortimer couldn't believe he had said that. This wasn't the pub.

"Sherlock Holmes, oh my, another nut. I told you I'm busy---"

"Well, my name's really Mortimer, but ... look, I think I know something about the checkerboards ... you see I play checkers and ..."

"Mortimer." Sheila chuckled. "But you call yourself Sherlock Holmes. And you play checkers, so you think you can solve the case."

"Well, yes, actually, I'm a doctoral student and..."

She broke in once again. "Tell you what, doctoral student who calls himself Sherlock Holmes and plays checkers and thinks he can solve the case. I'm a grad student myself; I intern at the Crime Lab." There was a long pause. "I think I'll take a chance on you, seeing as how I've never heard quite such an... unusual... set of pick-up lines before. Send me your resume. If I think you're for real, I'll meet you at Broken Book Cafe when I get off work at six tonight. You can buy me dinner and we can talk."

Mortimer was astounded at his luck. "Uh... yeah ... uh, I mean, that would be great! My resume, sure, what's your email?"

"Oh, no, not so easy, Sherlock. You're a smart detective, you figure it out. See you tonight. Maybe."

The line disconnected, and Mortimer was left sitting in his chair, his mouth agape.

"Email, I've got to get her email address," he muttered.

He knew that shouldn't be very hard. No doubt Sheila had set him this little challenge to see if he was on the level.

I really must have come across as rather odd, Mortimer thought. She must think that maybe I'm a little ... off.

Mortimer, in fact, had often asked himself the same question, but he knew that even if he was a nut, he wasn't a dangerous one, like some of the ones that rode the bus.

But on to the email address. He was pretty sure Sheila was her real name. Trouble is, the FBI directory listed names but not occupations. How many Sheilas could there be in the Denver FBI office?

When Mortimer checked it out, he found no less than nine Sheilas. He had to narrow it down, but how?

It required some serious thinking, but then he realized she had given him another clue. She had told him she was a grad student too.

It didn't take long for Mortimer to find out what schools had internship programs with the FBI, and then find graduate students in those schools named Sheila.

Bingo! matched Sheila Larkspur in the FBI directory, and her FBI email address was listed. He had it! He started an email titled "Found You" and attached his resume and quickly sent it off.

He waited anxiously. A reply came about 15 minutes later--- none too soon for the now-sweating Mortimer.


"Good work, Sherlock. See you tonight. Sheila."

Mortimer breathed a sigh of relief and began to search for a set of clean clothes. He wanted to make a good first impression. An honest to goodness first date! Or at least that's how he thought of it. He vowed to make the most of the opportunity.

Checkerboard No. 2
White to Play and Win


Many of our readers will recognize the above position and realize that solving it is very tough indeed. But it's worth exploring on your own. We did a computer analysis with Ed Gilbert's KingsRow and the 10 piece endgame database; you can see that analysis by clicking on Read More.20050904-symbol.gif

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07/06/13 - Printer friendly version
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