Do you remember The Time Machine by H.G. Wells? There were movie adaptations but the novel remains an unmatched classic of the genre. But at The Checker Maven we have a time machine of our own; it lies in our modest collection of old checker books and magazines.
Today, let's go back in time 91 years, to March of 1925, and take a look at a checker problem published then, and attributed to problemist W.J. Wood. (By the way, it was Rex Wood, not W.J. Wood, who edited the famed magazine Wood's Checkerist.) Like many a problem published in that day, the purpose was to instruct as much as to provide clever entertainment.
There is a bit of flash in this one, but by and large, it's solved with old-fashioned over the board playing skill. Can you go back in time and show your chops? Time's passing; find the solution and then clock your mouse on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Today we at last present the final chapter in our ongoing story. It's a long installment, and if you're just interested in the checker problem you can page down to the bottom. But of course, we hope you'll want to see how the story turns out!
"You're not going to tell me, are you?" Samantha asked. Even with the heater going full blast, it was chilly in the rental car. It was well past midnight and Andrew and Samantha were on their way back to Lindyville.
"I have an idea," Andrew replied, "that's all."
"And based on your brilliant, super-secret 'idea' we're driving on cold and lonely country roads at one in the morning, with a car full of burglary tools?"
"They're not burglary tools," Andrew said. "At least, not exactly."
"Well, now I feel better," Samantha said, and then turned silent, wrapping her arms around herself and staring out the passenger window, which by now was so fogged up nothing was visible.
They were approaching Lindyville. "Can you check the GPS for me?" Andrew said. "We need to find the exact location I wrote down."
Samantha grunted. But she did turn on Andrew's special scientific GPS and glanced at the coordinates Andrew had written on a sheet of hotel stationary. Samantha brushed away the remains of a small insect that was stuck to the paper. "Turn left at the dead bug," she said.
"What? Yeah, guess that paper was in the desk drawer for a while, huh?" Andrew attempted a grin. "C'mon, honey, help me track to those coordinates."
"Oh, well," Samantha said as Andrew turned into Lindyville's main street. "Hold on --- I think we're almost there. Let's see, 42 degrees 6 minutes 7 seconds north, and 94 degrees 32 minutes 52 seconds west, yes, coming right up!"
Andrew slowed the car to a stop. "It's right across the street, I think," he said. "The GPS is only accurate to 10 to 50 feet, but this just has to be it."
"There's nothing there but an old bank that looks like it's been out of business forever," Samantha said. Andrew had rolled down his window so they could both see out.
"Perfect," Andrew said. "This makes perfect sense."
"Maybe to you," Samantha said. "You still don't care to explain?"
"Come on, hurry. We've got to get those tools out of the trunk."
Samantha paused a minute. "Andrew, we're not going to do what I think we are --- are we?"
"Yes, dear, we are. We need to break into that bank."
"I just know we'll end up in jail," Samantha said. She was carrying the pickaxe and sledgehammer while Andrew was laden down with the rest of the tools. "I don't know why I'm doing this."
"Don't you want to solve the mystery?"
"Yes, but it isn't worth doing five to ten for breaking and entering."
They moved quickly. Andrew had pulled the car into an alley, out of sight from the main street. The alley lead around to the back of the bank.
"Aren't banks kind of hard to break into?" Samantha asked.
"They are, but this one has been closed for years, and there won't be any alarms or anything. Probably the locks are old and rusty. Or we can just break some glass windows or something."
"You're not very good at this sort of thing, are you?"
"No experience," Andrew simply replied.
They turned the corner out of the alley.
"That's funny," Andrew said.
"Just what about this is funny?" Samantha asked.
"Don't you see? There's a faint light coming from the basement.
Samantha peered toward the bottom of the building. There was a bit of a yellow glow coming through some cracks in the foundation.
"I wonder ... I bet .... look! The back door's open a crack!"
There was a heavy metal fire door at the back of the old bank, and it was open about two or three inches.
"Someone's down there," Andrew observed. "Probably still is. That can't be an electric light; the power to the building would be turned off, if it was even still working at all. We'd better be quiet and cautious."
"Maybe we'd better get out of here instead," Samantha said, but she knew Andrew wouldn't listen.
Andrew needed both hands to pull open the heavy door, and it made an ominously loud creak as it moved.
"Andrew, let's go!" Samantha said. But Andrew was already through the door, motioning for Samantha to follow.
Just inside the door there was an old stairwell leading to the basement. The stairs were wood and looked rotted. Andrew pointed to the steps, as if to say, be careful.
There was just enough light coming from the basement that Andrew decided not to use his flashlight and possibly alert whoever was down there. He took a couple of cautious steps. Samantha followed behind.
Suddenly there was a loud crunch and a yelp as Samantha's foot broke through one of the steps.
"Ssh," Andrew said, rather loudly.
"But I ... " Samantha began.
"Who's there?" came a voice from the bottom of the stairs. A flashlight beam caught Anthony and Samantha in its glare.
"Hold it right there!" the voice commanded. "I have a gun and I won't hesitate to use it!"
Samantha gasped. Neither she nor Andrew could see anything past the brightness of the flashlight, but they froze in place.
"Now come down here slowly. No quick moves."
Samantha and Andrew did as they were told.
"Into that room." There was a room at the bottom of the staircase, illuminated by an electric lantern. "Drop all your tools and step away."
The tools clattered to the floor. Andrew and Samantha backed up to the adjacent wall.
"It's ... you!" Samantha said, as the figure behind the voice stepped into the lantern light. "Miss Victor!"
It was indeed. The librarian, dressed in dirty coveralls, had a .45 automatic in her right hand and it was trained on the hapless couple.
"You!" Miss Victor replied in turn. "The troublemaker that stole my book! I should have known!"
Andrew started to edge forward, but Miss Victor was too alert. The gun turned in his direction. "Another inch and you're dead," she said through clenched teeth. "Maybe you're dead anyway. Both of you."
Andrew glanced toward the far wall. There was another pickaxe and a sledgehammer there, and a wide hole in the concrete floor.
"I was right," he muttered. "You're trying to find the gold bars, aren't you, Miss Victor?"
"How did you know about that?" Miss Victor couldn't hide her astonishment.
"Once I saw the checker book, it wasn't hard," Andrew said, trying to maintain a calm and even tone. He had to keep her talking, although he didn't really have any sort of escape plan.
"You see, I knew about the gold robbery way back when. The gold bars were never found, and they were very heavy. So they had to have been left somewhere. Then there was the murder later on ... and the pieces started to come together."
"Go on," Miss Victor said.
"You already know, of course," Andrew said. "Whoever left the gold probably buried it somewhere, and it had to be near here. He would have come back to get it later. It was surely a gang member who had killed his accomplices. That would explain all the bodies that the posse found. But then I realized another man from the gang might have gotten away, and come looking for the traitor later on.
"But in the meantime, Lindyville sprung up. It grew fast. And this bank was built. Right over where the gold was buried. Then the gang member returned, using the alias Cudworth, seeking the gold. He must have made a note of where he buried it, but it wouldn't be safe to leave such an incriminating note lying around. So he encoded the latitude and longitude into his little checker problem book, and he did it in a clever way. I'm surprised you know Gould's Problem Book, Miss Victor."
"I'm not stupid," Miss Victor said. "I'm a librarian, remember?"
"Yes. So you also realized that the problems in Cudworth's book weren't original. They were taken from Gould's. The problem numbers from Gould's spell out the latitude and longitude of where the gold is buried. Problem 42--- 42 degrees. Problem 6--- 6 minutes. And so on. Right under the bank. A nasty surprise for Cudworth. But before he could come up with a way to get at his loot, a surviving gang member must have found Cudworth and killed him, and then tore up the checker club office trying to find some indication of where Cudworth concealed the gold. The killer never realized that the location was encoded in Cudworth's innocent-looking checker problem book. But you worked it out, didn't you?"
"Yep," Miss Victor said. I worked it out a while ago. It's taken me that long to break through the foundation and dig down, a little every night so I wouldn't be caught. I had to dig around a lot but I finally found the gold bars. I was going to start taking them out tonight. But then you two showed up."
Miss Victor paused and breathed heavily. "Well, you ain't going to stop me. I'm going to kill you both and bury you right where the gold is. Then I'm outta here and off to South America. I'm done with this two-bit town and my two-bit librarian's pay. I'm gonna live it up real good."
"How come your English is so bad?" Samantha asked suddenly. "For a librarian, I mean. You sound like someone who didn't even finish high school. South America? Hah! I'll bet your Spanish is even worse."
"Watch your mouth, girl, or I'll finish you off first!" Miss Victor waved the gun around wildly. She was starting to sweat and looked nervous. Andrew sensed that this was his chance.
Making sure Samantha was shielded behind his body, Andrew charged at Miss Victor.
A shot rang out. There was a scream.
The gun dropped from Miss Victor's hand. A shocked spread across her face as she dropped to the floor.
"No one move!" It was a commanding male voice from the entrance to the room.
A large man in a sheriff's uniform was there, holding his smoking service revolver at the ready.
"I'm Sheriff Corman. Looks like I might have saved you two. But you're under arrest just the same. Unless you'd care to tell me what in blazes is going on here?"
Andrew and Samantha were in the little building that served as the Lindyville Sheriff's Office for the rest of the night, explaining everything over and over again. Finally Sheriff Corman said, "This is way too crazy for it to be a lie. And Miss Victor was holding a gun on you. Lucky I got there when I did."
"How did you know to go there?" Samantha asked. She rubbed her eyes. It had been a long, long day and night.
"One of the good citizens of Lindyville called me. They saw your rental car pull in by the old bank. They thought you were, you know, kind of suspicious. So I checked it out. I found the back door open and smelled trouble. Like I said, lucky for you. I think that old bat would have killed you both. Never did like her much. Always putting on airs just because she ran the library."
"How is she?" Samantha interrupted. "Miss Victor, I mean."
"Oh, she'll live," the Sheriff said. "Long enough to go to jail. I only shot her in the shoulder."
"Er ... what about us?" Anthony asked. He tried to make it sound innocent.
"I should lock you both up for breaking and entering," Corman said. "But I won't, if you promise to get out of town and not come back. We don't need outside agitators giving Lindyville a bad name."
Andrew didn't say anything about what the newspapers were going to make out of the story, unless the Sheriff found a way to keep it quiet. "Sure, Sheriff, if it's okay with you, we're out of here."
"Miss Victor already confessed. You won't have to testify or anything. Just as well. Now, skedaddle!"
Andrew and Samantha didn't need to be told twice.
They were at the Des Moines airport, waiting for the commuter flight to take them out of Iowa. "There's only one loose end," Andrew said idly.
"What's that?" Samantha asked. "Do I really want to know?"
"There were seven problems in Cudworth's book, not six. It only took six numbers to give the latitude and longitude of where he buried the gold. What was the seventh number, from the seventh problem?"
"I bet it was the number of gold bars he buried," Samantha said. "He'd want to make sure they were all there. What else would it be?"
Andrew smiled and put his arm around Samantha's shoulders. "Brilliant," he said, "brilliant. Problem 80--- 80 gold bars." He pulled her a little closer. "I really owe you, don't I?" he asked. "Not just for your help, but for putting your life in danger."
"You sure do owe me," Samantha said. "And I plan to collect." Samantha gestured with the ring finger of her left hand.
Andrew, surprisingly, wasn't surprised. "Anything you want, dear," he said. "Anything at all."
And now, here's the final problem in the series. You already know the secret, but please try it out instead of just looking it up. In any case, it's not very difficult.
We'll also leave you with this additional teaser. If the 80 gold bars that Miss Victor was trying to recover had been of standard gold bar size, what would they be worth today?
When you've struck gold, click on Read More to verify your solutions.[Read More]
We've written about Julius D'Orio before; his book, Mysteries of Dama, is as entertaining and unusual a checker book as can ever be found. Mr. D'Orio is indeed something of a "Dr. Strange" character, but is he a master of the mystic arts? Can checker lore be ascribed to such a domain?
We can't give a definitive answer to that question, but we can say that today's Checker School lesson, taken from Ben Boland's Famous Positions in the Game of Checkers, features the colorful Mr. D'Orio once again.
The problem position is indeed intriguing.
White, a man down, can still win. But how? What is the mystical series of moves that allows White to defeat the odds and bring home a victory?
Incantations are not necessary, just solid over the board skills. Give it a try and then wave your magic mouse on Read More to see the solution, notes, and a very instructive sample game.[Read More]
We're trying something a little different today; it's a "speed" problem with a much longer timing than usual, because the solution, while short and clever, may not be immediately obvious. We owe this one to regular contributor Josh Gordon of Toronto (that's definitely not Josh in the photo above).
We'll give you a full minute to solve it. Of course, master players won't need anything like that long, but ... well, we won't give it away. Click on the link below to display the problem and start the clock, then come back and click on Read More to see the solution.
March 2016 Timed Problem (medium difficulty)