Byron had just proposed to Yvette. On bended knee, he had offered her a beautiful ring and asked her to be his wife.
But somewhat to his surprise, she did not take the ring at once.
"Pray thee stand, Byron," she said, "and hear what I have to say, for I have long anticipated this moment."
Byron stood, still holding the ring in his outstretched hand, clearly looking uncomfortable and uncertain. "Yes?" he said. It was more like a croak than a word.
"I take the counsel of Uncle Harvey," Yvette began.
Byron groaned inwardly, though he didn't dare let it show. Uncle Harvey was Yvette's stuffed shirt uncle in Chicago, a checkerist of a certain reknown, and well known for his opinions on how young people ought to be raised. So what came next was no surprise.
"Uncle Harvey has taught that a young lady should test the character of her intended young man by means of the game of checkers," she said. "By such trials, she will learn if the young man is indeed suitable."
Byron didn't say what he was thinking: that Uncle Harvey was a big blowhard with ideas as outdated as his starched collars. Instead, he said, "I thought Uncle Harvey also believed that checkers is for the boys at home, and the girls should stay with knitting or cooking."
Yvette stiffened. "That is of little consequence," she said. "If you wish me to marry you, then you shall submit to trial by checkerboard. If you succeed in the trial, I shall give you my hand. If you fail, or if you refuse the trial, then even though I love you dearly, we must part company for ever more."
What Byron really wanted to do was to take the next train to Chicago and strangle Uncle Harvey with his bare hands. But that wouldn't be likely to win him a bride.
"Very well, then," Byron said. "I shall undertake the challenge, but you must promise me that, if I am victorious, you will accept my offer of marriage and set an early date."
Yvette smiled. "But of course," she replied. "Come in to the dining room. I have laid out a position on the checkerboard. You must solve it ere you leave here this afternoon. Pray thee do not ascribe a failure to solve to an error in the setting."
Straight out of Uncle Harvey's booklet, Byron thought. He had read the booklet once, at Yvette's urging, and had gotten quite a laugh out of it until he realized that the old geezer was actually serious about what he said.
Now, Byron was a hard working and ambitious young man, helping his father sell modern luxury buggies, a fine business that would one day be his. He had little time for checkers, and frankly wasn't at all good at it.
"The position is not one that is easily solved," Yvette was saying, "but it is one that will prove--- or disprove--- the worth of a suitor."
Great, just great, Byron thought. I probably couldn't even solve an easy problem, let alone one that would prove "the worth of a suitor."
The two of them stepped out of the parlor and into the dining room. Byron looked and saw a checkerboard on the dining table, set up to the following position.
Would you have passed Uncle Harvey's test and won Yvette's hand? Click on Read More for the conclusion of our story and the solution to the problem.
Conclusion and Solution
Fifty-five minutes had gone by. Yvette had retired to her room upstairs to rest for a little while, saying she would return in an hour and would expect to be shown the solution. Only five minutes remained.
Byron had no idea how to solve the problem, absolutely none at all, and he was running out of time.
He was about to give the checkerboard an angry shove and storm out of Yvette's house. It was so unfair! They had kept company for almost five years, and recently there had been an understanding that he would propose to her. She must have told that uncle of hers, and he must have pushed his insane advice on her. Why did she have to listen to him?
His life was being turned upside down by a checker pedant.
And then he noticed the edge of something sticking out from one of the edges of the checkerboard. Just a tiny fraction of an inch was showing. It appeared to be an envelope.
His mind raced and hope gripped him. Carefully, he extracted the envelope.
The word "Solution" was written on the face of the envelope. It was closed and sealed with wax.
All he had to do was take a quick look, memorize the moves, and put the envelope back under the board. If asked, he could claim to know nothing about it, and suggest that the wax seal had been broken by the weight of the heavy wooden board.
The envelope was in his left hand. His right forefinger was extended, ready to pry open the seal.
He stopped in mid-motion.
"No!" he said, surprising himself by saying it aloud and with some force.
He would not cheat.
He would not sacrifice his integrity. If his beloved would not accept him because he could not solve a checker problem, then so be it. His honor was too high a price to pay. Nor would he betray her, for would not cheating be a clear betrayal of her wishes?
The envelope went back under the checkerboard, unopened.
"Bravo!" came a familiar feminine voice.
Unknown to Byron, Yvette had been standing in the doorway behind him. She had seen it all, and was smiling broadly.
"You have passed Uncle Harvey's trial," she said, "and I shall be pleased to marry you, if you still wish it."
"I do indeed wish it," Byron said. "But surely this is not the trial that your fine old uncle had in mind? I confess that I cannot solve the problem."
"Oh, no doubt Uncle Harvey would have expected to see you demonstrate the correct moves," Yvette replied. "But I put his ideas to better use. I know you play not at checkers, and would be most unlikely to solve a difficult setting. So I made the trial a true test of character instead, and you have indeed proven yourself to be a man of valor and honor. Now, I pray thee, offer the ring once more so that I may accept and make my happiness complete."
Byron drew the ring from his pocket and slipped it on her finger. The next few moments would have shocked Uncle Harvey beyond description.
Worst of all would have been that the checkerboard lay on the table, forgotten completely.
2-7---A 20-16 31-27---B 16-12 27-24 12-8 24-20 8-4 20-16 4-8 16-12 8-4 7-11 4-8 10-15---C 8-4 15-18! 22-8 14-18---D 3-7 12-10 4-8 10-15 8-12 15-11 Black Wins.
A---31-26 only draws.
B---The moves could have been reversed, i.e., 31-27 20-16 2-7 with the same result.
C---11-16 only draws.
D---White's position is now lost.