The Checker Maven

Halloween At The Beacon

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It was Saturday, October 29, 1955. That meant that Monday would be October 31. Halloween.

Now, every Saturday except during the summer and major holidays, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club met at The Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building in Bismarck, North Dakota. Bismarck was a very traditional, home-town sort of place, and holidays were celebrated with enthusiasm.

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Deana Nagle

So Deana Nagle, the proprietor of the Beacon and the best baker in a dozen counties, decided that on Saturday she'd give free coffee to anyone in costume. She couldn't do it on Sunday, when the Beacon was closed, or on Monday, when folks had to wear work clothes, so Saturday was it.

There's nothing a hometown likes more than something for free, and all Saturday morning, customers in various types of costume came in for free coffee. Of course Deana was as good at business as she was at baking, and as she expected, a lot of customers bought her baked treats. Deana had even dressed up herself--- as a baker, of course!

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But the afternoon would be slower. Some folks still had leaves to rake and yards to prepare for winter, and important chores like that weren't put off in a town like Bismarck. Still, the Checker Club would be there. Would they wear costumes? Deana didn't know what to wish for. The "boys" of the Club (all of them over 50) drank a lot of coffee and ate a lot of baked goods. It would be quite a bit of free coffee to hand out. On the other hand, the boys were good natured and usually left tips in addition to all the goodies they bought.

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One o'clock rolled around and the first one through the door was Sal Westerman, the leader of the Club. Sure enough he was dressed as a college professor, in an academic gown and wearing a mortarboard. It suited him well, Deana thought as she poured him a cup of coffee and returned his greetings.

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Next in was Wayne.

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He was dressed as a farmer. Deana thought that hardly qualified, as Wayne grew up on a farm north of town. But he got his free coffee anyhow.

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Then Dan came in. He was costumed as a cowboy--- not much of a costume in western North Dakota, but still, he was in the spirit of the day.

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Next was Louie, appearing as the comic book character Flash (Louie's nickname was itself "Flash").

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Sam then appeared, in a clown suit.

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Finally there was Tom, appearing as a football player (Tom had played football in college).

That was a lot of free coffee already, and when Sal laid out the checkers on a board in the big booth at the back, and announced, "This is a tough one from my checker pal Brian in St. Louis," Deana knew the coffee would have to keep flowing.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK9,K10,17,K21,K32:B13,15,K19,20,26

"I've got raisin pumpkin bars today," Deana announced, and there were grins all around. She knew she'd be selling a good dozen of them in a little while, as the boys would each have one and some of them would take a couple home for their grandkids.

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But for the moment, the concentration was intense. Deana sat back and relaxed. Half an hour passed and Sal called "Time!" She heard Wayne say, "We can't get it. You win, Sal. Show us."

She watched as Sal began to move the checkers and explain the solution.


You don't have to dress up in Halloween garb to solve this problem, unless, of course, you wish to do so. Costume or no costume, see how you do with this one. In the spirit of Halloween, it's "scary" hard! But don't be scared off. Try to find the win and when you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and explanatory notes. Who knows, you might win a (virtual) raisin pumpkin bar.null

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10/31/20 - Printer friendly version
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Election Day

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Election Day in the United States is not far off, and The Checker Maven urges all of our eligible American readers to get out and vote, whether by mail, in-person, or however it works in your particular place of residence. We're not going to express any opinions on how you should vote. Cast your vote as you see fit, but definitely vote!

The story below may perhaps be taken as a bit of a cautionary tale. It is of course purely fiction but may highlight what can happen when the wrong person gets elected ... something for which the voters are directly responsible.

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Senator Marcy and Chief of Staff

Marcy Baloner was a United States Senator from a state quite distant from the nation's capitol. (She was the older cousin of Mary Baloner, whom we met in another Checker Maven story some years ago.)

Now, Senator Marcy wasn't quite the brightest lightbulb in the chandelier, and she wasn't the most stable person, either. In fact, some of her critics called her "Crazy Marcy" because of the way she acted during Congressional hearings. She was always outraged over something and didn't hesitate to express her emotions.

Little known to those outside of her advisory circle was that each morning, her staff briefed her on what she ought to be outraged about on that particular day. They even had assigned outrage themes to the days of the week, much like the old Mickey Mouse Club had daily themes. For instance, Monday was Gender Identity Outrage Day; Tuesday was Evil Capitalism Outrage Day, and so on.

At nine o'clock on a Thursday morning, Senator Marcy sat down in her conference room for her daily briefing. "What have we got for today?" she asked her assembled staff.

Her Chief of Staff replied, "Well, Thursday is Microaggression Outrage Day. The St. Louis newspaper's checker column has a checker problem by Brian someone or other, and it's filled with microaggressions."

Senator Marcy thought for a moment. "St. Louis? Is that in my constituency? Where is St. Louis, anyhow? Did they vote for me in the last election?"

The Chief of Staff, accustomed to such questions, replied calmly, "No, Senator, St. Louis is in Missouri. You represent ..."

"Oh, right, of course," the Senator replied. "Well, anyhow, what's my stand on this?"

"Brian refers to the checkers as 'men' and 'kings.' Obvious microaggressions. Your position is that checkers is a misogynistic, racist game that has no place in America."

"Oh, racist, too?" the Senator said. "That sounds great. I can get really mad. Two things at once to yell at people about."

"Well, Friday is Racism Outrage Day, but I see no problem in advancing that to Thursday and combining it with Microaggression Outrage Day," the Chief of Staff said. "After all, Brian also calls the checkers Black and White, and he even dares to capitalize White!"

Marcy shook her head. "Terrible, terrible. Something must be done about checkers! Maybe I should introduce a bill. Like, eliminate the teaching of checkers in the schools and substitute something else. Except I don't know what."

"You can make your usual point about Mindful Woke Pronouns," the Chief of Staff suggested.

"Oh ... is that my usual point? You would know better than I would," the Senator said. "Write a speech for me and tell me when I should yell and frown and throw stuff. It's going to be a great day. And make sure the networks and newspapers all cover it."

"I'm on it, Senator," the Chief of Staff said. Gosh, but how she loved her job, working with such a distinguished Senator.


Brian's outrageous checker problem is show below, and we hope you're not too offended or outraged yourself to give it a try. Brian says it's about 7 out of 10 in terms of difficulty, and he notes that some skilled solvers are having a little trouble with it.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W10,13,K18,23,27,28:B4,5,11,K15,20

When you're outraged enough to see the solution, click on Read More to see the winning moves and composer's notes.null

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10/24/20 - Printer friendly version
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Editor's Choice

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Checker Maven Editor's Office

The Checker Maven runs on a modest budget and occupies a modest space in a modest building. Your editor's quarters, above, reflects our every-inch-counts working environment.

Every so often we run an "Editor's Choice" column. These don't follow any particular schedule or theme and are not part of one of our ongoing story series. They are simply a presentation of a checker problem or situation that we've found interesting, instructive, or both. Generally it's something from our library but at times it's a contributed problem.

We've always admired the work of past problem great Fausto Dalumi and today we reprint one of his problems from something like 90 years ago. We think it's as fresh and interesting today as it was way back when.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK8,26,K30:B16,24,K29

Whether you attempt this problem in a small and crowded space or a large and spacious palace makes no difference. It's a nice problem either way. Mr. Dalumi noted that every White move is a "star" move.

Space out your efforts (or crowd them in at your choice) and see if you can find the solution. When ready, do allow room to click your mouse on Read More to see how it's done.null

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10/17/20 - Printer friendly version
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Mr. Hatley in the Library of Congress

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Mr. Hatley

In one of our recent Checker School columns, we met Mr. Hatley, his son Ned, and Farmer Sneed, all characters in Andrew J. Banks' charming 1945 book Checker Board Strategy. Today, Mr. Hatley and Ned return. Mr. Hatley is telling his son about the first checker book ever published in English. Mr. Hatley then goes on to show Ned a long series of instructive problems that we suppose are in the spirit of that early book rather than necessarily contained therein.


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In the reading room of the Rare Book Section of the Library of Congress sat a short elderly man. He put on his horn rimmed glasses and squinted his dark eyes as he spoke to his son.

"Ned, I want you to see the first checkerbook printed in English," said Mr. Hatley, pointing to a small rare volume, "Guide to the Game of Draughts," by William Payne, Londdon, England.

"Why father, it was published in 1756." Ned counted some 50 games and 38 problems.

"Look at the quaint old English!" he exclaimed.

You will find some of Payne's problems in practically every checkerbook.


One of the problems that Mr. Hatley showed Ned on that day, some 75 years ago, was the one below, credited to A. E. Clow of Ontario.

A. E. Clow
BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:WK3,26,K32:B18,24,25

Mr. Hatley also gave Ned a second example in the same vein, credited to David Kirkwood way back in 1875.

David Kirkwood
WHITE
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BLACK
Black to Play and Win

B:W9,12,15:BK1,3,K31

How would you do as Mr. Hatley's student? You don't need to journey to the hallowed halls of the Library of Congress; you can solve these in the comfort of your own home. See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solutions.null

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10/10/20 - Printer friendly version
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Falling Into Fall

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It seems as though this young lady has taken a deliberate tumble into a pile of autumn leaves, a fall into fall, if you will. We wonder if she has tumbled to something here, as she looks relaxed and content.

We think you'll be quite content, too, after solving this month's speed problem, provided by regular contributors Lloyd and Josh Gordon of Toronto.

BLACK
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WHITE
White to Play and Win

W:W15,19,21,23,25,28,30,32:B1,2,3,6,8,12,14,24

We'd rate this one as "very easy" for most experienced players, and good practice for the rest of us. Don't take a fall; see how quickly you can solve it, then click on Read More to verify your solution.null

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10/03/20 - Printer friendly version
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