Editor's Note: This column is dedicated to the memory of Sol Wezelman of Bismarck, North Dakota, who passed away at the age of 101 on January 23, 2020. May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing.
It was Saturday, the 12th of February, 1955, and the weather in Bismarck, North Dakota was damp and windy with solid gray skies. But no one was complaining; the temperature had risen to nearly 40 degrees, a real break in what had been a very cold winter.
Sal Westerman made his way to the Beacon Cafe just before one o'clock, the starting time for the Saturday sessions of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club. There was something bothering him, though he couldn't put his finger on just quite what it was.
Certainly, the damp weather was hard on him; he was getting older, having just turned seventy the previous year, but that wasn't it. There were plenty of damp days, and this feeling was different, more mental than physical.
Well, some checkers with the boys of the club (all of whom were themselves over fifty, some substantially so) would lighten his mood. It always did. And then there were Deana's coffee and baked goods. Deana ran the Beacon and no one but no one could make the kind of treats she did.
There was a good turnout today. Delmer, Dan, Wayne, Louie, Mike and even Larry had shown up and were gathered in the big booth in back, playing skittles when Sal arrived.
Sal got himself a mug of coffee and sat down next to Delmer, who immediately asked, "What have you got for us today, Sal? I'm ready for you to buy us some of Deana's bars."
Sal chuckled. "You wish," he said, and then, turning toward Deana's counter, he asked, "What's fresh today, Deana?"
"Something extra special," she said, smiling. "Cherry Valentine bars, for Valentine's Day."
Sal winced and drew in a breath. That was what was on his mind!
"You okay, Sal?" Wayne asked. "You look a little pale."
"Fine, just fine," Sal said. "Everything's fine." But it wasn't. Sal had completely forgotten that Valentine's Day was Monday, and he hadn't gotten a thing to give to his wife, Sylvia. The stores would all be closed by the time he left the Beacon and nothing was open on Sunday. What was he to do?
As if on cue, Deana said, "What did you get for Sylvia this year, Sal?"
"Uh, well, I ..."
"Don't tell me you forgot!" Deana continued.
The boys exchanged furtive glances but none of them said anything.
"Oh no, I ... well, drat it all!" Sal exclaimed. "What can I do now?"
"You could slip out and get something," Louie suggested. "We'll just play a little checkers until you get back. Of course you'll buy us some bars first, right?"
Sal gave Louie a skeptical look. "Don't think so," he said. "But here. I got this one from Ed." Ed was a top-rank problemist who lived in Pennsylvania, and was one of Sal's checker pen pals.
Sal quickly set up one of the checkerboards. "Here it is," he said. "You boys have until I get back to figure it out. I'm going to pop over to A.W. Lucas and get something for Sylvia. But I won't be long ... so Deana, keep those bars handy. The boys will be buying me one soon!"
With that, Sal put on his coat and exited. The boys watched him hurry off, headed for 4th and Broadway.
"Looks kind of tough," Delmer said, looking down at the checkerboard. "Let's hope Sal has trouble finding the right gift and it takes him a little while."
There's a lesson here, and we hope you won't wait until the last minute to get something for your special Valentine. Don't wait to solve today's problem, either, if you want to get one of Deana's delicious cherry bars. Put your heart into it, make the right moves, and then click Read More to see the solution, notes, and the rest of our story.[Read More]
With this column, the Checker Maven completes 15 years of uninterrupted on-time publication with no missed Saturdays and no missed deadlines. Each weekend we've put something to do with checkers before our readers, who continue to number in the thousands. From what we can tell, you've by and large been pleased with our efforts.
It all started from a discussion with Brian Hinkle, and things went on from there.
Originally we were going to publish for 10 years. We extended that to 15. But we won't stop here. Although we can't give a timeline--- health and age have crept up on us and your editor has serious eyesight issues--- we'll go on as long as physically possible. We know one day we'll have to quit, but we hope that it won't be very soon.
One of the unique things we've done is to tell checker stories, and it's likely we've written more checker fiction than everyone else in the history of the game put together. So for our 15th anniversary, we have a story and a problem. The problem is by Brian (one of his best ever), and the story is set at The Beacon Cafe. It all somehow seems fitting.
It was the first Saturday in December, a sunny, crisp and cold day. Sal was all smiles as he walked from his home on 7th Street over to the Beacon Cafe.
Certainly, he was bundled up against the cold. His wife Sylvia wouldn't have let him go out without his wool cap, gloves, and scarf, not to mention his heavy winter coat. "It'll get cold after dark," she warned, and she was right. At this time of year it got dark around four-thirty in Bismarck's northerly latitude, and he knew he'd be at the Cafe until its five o'clock closing time.
On Saturdays the Coffee and Cake Checker Club met regularly, but the holidays were approaching and after today there was only one more meeting until the New Year, so the boys would want to make the most of it. But there was more. Today Sal was bringing something extra special to the session.
Sal enjoyed the walk but just the same he was glad to get into the warm interior of the Cafe. He said hello to Deana, the proprietor, and made his way to the big booth at the back. A couple of the boys were already there: Dan, Mike, and Louie were sitting in front of steaming cups of coffee.
"Hey Sal," they all said, "you're late!"
Sal looked up at the clock on the wall. It was three minutes after one. "Just a little," he said, "but you have a point. You're going to need a lot of time today."
The boys--- none of them younger than fifty--- exchanged glances. But just then three more members arrived: Delmer, Larry, and Wayne. It was just about a full house.
When everyone had settled, Sal immediately commandeered one of the checkerboards. "Have I ever got something today," he said. "It's from my pal Brian who said he composed it based on an idea he got from Ed."
Everyone groaned. Brian and Ed composed tough checker problems, but this promised to be really tough.
"Yep," Sal said, "it's a hard one. But it's one of the best ever. You boys will really enjoy it. And I'll enjoy my coffee and cake. You might as well buy it for me right away because you'll never ever get this one."
For years, the idea had been that someone would pose a problem and win or lose coffee and cake depending on whether the others could solve it.
"What've you got today, Deana?" Sal called, looking over to Deana's counter.
"Chocolate chip zucchini bars," Deana replied. "Really good."
Everyone smiled. Who in North Dakota didn't love zucchini bars?
Sal laid out the problem. Then he grabbed two more boards and repeated the position on each of them. "I'll give you an hour," he said, "and you're going to need a lot of coffee."
The boys looked surprised. Usually they only got ten minutes or so to solve a problem. An hour? And Sal was over at the counter buying coffee for everyone? Something was going on, that's for sure.
After about ten minutes, Dan, Mike, and Louie said they thought they had it. But then they changed their minds. "Nope, doesn't work," Dan said, and the others nodded their heads.
An hour passed, then two, then three. Finally Sal interrupted. "It's after four o'clock," he said. "Time to buy me a couple of zucchini bars before it gets too late!"
But there was no reply, just the sound of moves being discussed and pieces being shifted on the checkerboards.
Finally, it was four forty-five. It was dark outside and Deana was saying she was closing in fifteen minutes and couldn't stay late because her boyfriend was picking her up on the dot of five.
"Okay, Sal, show us," Mike said. "We'll buy you a bar to take home."
"Two bars," Sal said. "One for Sylvia."
He paused and after a moment said, "No bars, no solution."
"Aw, c'mon Sal!" Wayne said.
"Bars," Sal repeated.
"Unfair!" Larry said. "This one was too hard and you knew it!"
It was now five to five.
"Everyone OUT!" Deana said, very impatiently.
Now, Deana was not one to trifle with. When she said 'out' then out you went.
"Tell you what," Sal said. "I'll give you until next week to solve it. But if you don't get it, you buy double, okay?"
The boys, not wanting to annoy Deana further, were putting on their coats. "Sure Sal, whatever you say," Mike said, and the others nodded agreement.
"My boyfriend's here," Deana said, shooing everyone toward the door. She turned out the lights and pointedly held the door open.
With the setting of the sun, a wind had sprung up and it was now very, very cold. And Sal had to walk all the way home without a chocolate chip zucchini bar.
"Never mind," he said to himself, "I'll collect double next week."
The boys at the Beacon Cafe might have to wait to see the solution, but you don't. However, we suggest that you spend some time on this problem. It's rather difficult, but highly intriguing. Of course you can click on Read More to see the solution whenever you wish, but do really take the time to explore the problem first.[Read More]
Back in the day, around 1955, Sal liked to wear a white shirt with a bow tie, a checkered jacket, and tweed pants. He said it fit his style, and he wore it pretty often, especially on Saturday afternoons when he went to The Beacon Cafe to preside over the Coffee and Cake Checker Club.
The coffee and cake idea wasn't original with Sal; he had read about it in one of Willie Ryan's books. Sal thought of Willie as the greatest checker player ever and had once hoped to meet him in person.
But that never happened. The Beacon was in the Provident Life Building at Fifth Street and Rosser Avenue in Bismarck, North Dakota, a kind of out of the way city in an out of the way state that didn't attract a lot of visitors; and sadly, Willie had just recently passed on.
The proprietor at The Beacon was a lady named Deana Nagel. She was also the chief cook and baker. Deana put in a lot of hours and could be testy once in a while, but she was fond of her regulars.
Most of the boys in the checker club, like Sal, were somewhat on the elderly side although a few youngsters (meaning someone under the age of fifty) showed up once in a while. A typical Saturday in the winter would bring in five or six, besides Sal. Summers were a little slower and they didn't even bother to meet in July and August.
They played, as you'd expect, for coffee and cake. The losers would buy for the winners (Deana never gave out freebies, not even to Sal himself). Sometimes a member would set up a checker problem and bet coffee and cake that the others couldn't solve it. That led at times to some lively debates about who really had the right answer.
Sal had a checker pen pal down in St. Louis, name of Brian, who would send him checker problems that he had composed himself. They were never easy but they were always clever. Some of the boys thought it wasn't completely fair of Sal to bet coffee and cake on a problem someone else had composed, but they usually went along with it because Brian's problems were always good entertainment.
"Got a new one from Brian," Sal announced one cold November Saturday, "and Deana's got German Chocolate Cake today. Anyone up for a try?"
There were a few groans, but the prospect of German Chocolate Cake and a new problem from Brian was really too much to resist. Most of the boys were there today: Wayne, Delmer, Louie, Dan, Larry and Mike were all on hand.
"Brian says his checker buddies Edgar and William love it, but I'm not telling you any more than that." Quickly, Sal laid out the position on one of the checkerboards on the table in the big booth where everyone was sitting.
Deana, back behind the counter, was all smiles. She knew she was going to be selling at least seven more pieces of cake and lots of coffee. And the boys were pretty good tippers, too. Pretty clever of her to set out the German Chocolate just when she figured Sal was about to spring a challenge. Deana was very good at reading people and there wasn't a guy worth the name this side of Montana who could resist her cake.
The boys thought about it for quite a while. Sal wouldn't let them move the pieces around--- said it was cheating--- and they were just about to give up when Wayne shouted, "Got it!"
Sal shook his head. He liked it a lot better when someone bought his coffee and cake rather than him buying for another fellow. "Show me," he said.
Deana's German Chocolate Cake indeed looks mighty good. Do you think you can win coffee and cake from Sal? You'll have to be pretty sharp to win it, but it's worth a try, and when you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Three Move Opening: A Checker Romance
Part Seven: Finale
It was already after 11 PM, and Reggie wondered if it was too late at night to call Katie. He had figured her to be the early to bed type and it didn't seem like it would be a very good idea to disturb her if she were already asleep.
But then again, she had left him multiple messages and texts. Wouldn't it be better to call tonight rather than wait until morning?
Reggie's decision was made for him. Just then, he heard his coach calling his name. The match must be over, and Reggie, as captain, had to deal with closing ceremonies and accept the winning team's trophy.
Weymouth had won a decisive victory over home club Lyme Regis, but both teams seemed in a good mood. There were sportsmanlike handshakes all around, a few brief comments by the winning and losing coaches, and then it was off to the bus for the ride home.
No way Reggie could make a phone call on the bus, at least not one that demanded privacy. He didn't want to think about the kind of long-lasting ribbing he'd get if the other players listened in.
The bus didn't get back to Weymouth until well after midnight. Reggie was able to get a ride back to his room with one of the other players. By the time he unlocked his door, it was one in the morning. No way he could call now.
But there was no way to sleep, either. Reggie, exhausted, didn't even bother to change his clothing. He just lay down on his bed with the lights out and his mind racing, playing over dozens of prospective conversations with Katie. Then, at about five o'clock, an idea came to him. Why hadn't he thought of it before? He quickly turned on his computer and went to work.
By about eight, he had found what he knew had to be there. Exhausted, he fell into an uneasy slumber in front of his open laptop.
Fortunately, he hadn't closed the window blinds, and bright sunlight coming directly through the window woke him at about ten. He had already missed his first class, and would have to hurry to get to his Chaucer class! Again, he was frustrated; Katie would already be at school with her phone set to silent.
Reggie didn't bother to change his clothes or even wash his face. He just grabbed his backpack, threw his books in it, and ran out to the bus stop. He might just make it if a bus came by soon enough.
Luck was with him. He only waited a few minutes before a bus arrived at his stop. Was this a good omen?
He fidgeted in his seat all the way to the college, attracting a disapproving stare from an older woman laden with shopping bags. But Reggie didn't care. There was only one person he wanted to please today.
Maybe it was lack of sleep. Maybe it was all the emotional ups and downs Reggie had been through. Or maybe it was something else, some undefined thing within Reggie that caused the next set of events to happen. Afterwards, Reggie would wonder about it himself, never quite finding the answer.
He was barely in time for class. Everyone was already seated as he came into the classroom, just as the minute hand on the clock touched the top of the hour. Katie, focused on the front of the room, didn't notice.
"No knight's costume today, Mr. Pastor?" said Dr. Rowan, staring at Reggie. "Frankly, I am surprised you returned to my class, even if only barely on time. And you do look a bit disheveled."
Dr. Rowan turned his gaze to the front row of seats. "Miss Walton, what do you think of Mr. Pastor's appearance today? Would you have preferred him in his knight's garb again, ready to defend you with his trusty sword?"
Katie, surprised, started to turn red. But it was Reggie's reaction that surprised her and everyone else in the room.
Reggie came to his feet, a look of determination in his eyes.
"That's enough, Dr. Rowan!"
Dr. Rowan, taken aback, stopped in mid-sentence.
"You have no right to treat students the way you do! You will apologize to Miss Walton at once for the way you humilated her during our last class!"
Dr. Rowan finally was able to speak. "You're telling me to apologize? You, a mere student, are judging a professor?"
"I may be a mere student, but either you apologize or you answer to me!" Reggie balled his fists and took a couple of steps forward.
"Mr. ... Mr. Pastor ... are you threatening me?" Dr. Rowan's voice was uneven, and he had started to tremble, even if only slightly.
Reggie stepped back and relaxed his hands. Then he smiled. "Threaten you, Dr. Rowan? Why, I would never do such a thing. I'm merely instructing you in what it would be in your best interests to do."
Reggie paused for a moment, looking around the room. The students all seemed to be awaiting his next words.
"You see, I did some checking this morning. I found that there have been a long series of complaints against you for abusive behaviour in the classroom. I don't think another such complaint would help your bid for tenure."
Dr. Rowan was now trembling even more noticeably.
"What do you think, Dr. Rowan? I'm sure we'd all like to know."
Katie had had just a blank expression on her face, but now it had turned into a bit of a smile. She turned to Dr. Rowan and said, "Yes, Professor, I'd like to hear what you have to say as well."
"Um ... well ... uh ... " Dr. Rowan began, "Yes, that is ... I mean ... Miss Walton, I apologize for ... uh ... you know, embarrassing you last time ... and ... um ... it won't happen again."
"It certainly won't," Reggie said, taking his seat and opening his book.
Class was over and Katie and Reggie decided to walk the half mile to Weymouth Beach so they could sit and talk privately, away from the campus hubbub.
"I'm sorry for what I put you through," Reggie said. "I only meant well but I just seemed to mess things up."
Katie uncrossed her legs and leaned toward Reggie. A cool breeze from the sea washed over them. "And I over-reacted," she said. "Can I blame it on genetics? A bit of a temper runs in my family. But I'm sorry too."
They sat in silence for a few moments. Then Katie said, "I can't believe how brave you were in front of Dr. Rowan! How did you ever have the courage to stand up to him? And to defend me, no less!"
"I don't know," Reggie said, and it was the truth. "Maybe ... I just couldn't let him make you cry again. He had no right."
"You know, there's probably some trouble ahead," Katie said. "At the least, he'll give you poor marks in the class. Maybe me too."
"I don't think so." Reggie hesitated. "Of course, it's hard to be certain, but you ought to see his record. He even faced a board of inquiry once. I don't think he's going to push this. And I think we're both going to get top marks. It will be his way of buying our silence."
"And I had thought so much of him. He seemed so intelligent."
"I'm sure he is. But that's no guarantee of being a good person."
"It's chilly." Katie moved closer to Reggie and took his arm. "So, you've tried Maid of the Mill and Laird and Lady, without much luck, but you've surely earned yourself another try. What will it be?"
Reggie, both surprised and delighted by the sensation of Katie sitting close enough so that their hips touched, thought for a moment.
Then, he took a sheet of paper from his backpack, wrote something on it, folded it and handed it to Katie.
Katie turned the paper over in her hands a couple of times, looked up at Reggie, and finally unfolded it.
"Why ... 11-15! That's not a complete opening ... oh!"
She looked into his eyes and smiled. "11-15. Old Faithful."
Reggie nodded, and oddly enough, he wasn't even all that surprised when she leaned closer and kissed him.
Although for once Reggie has something on his mind besides draughts, here's the run-up to an interesting situation.
11-15---A 23-18 9-14---B 18x11 8x15 22-17 4-8 26-23 7-11 23-19 5-9 30-26 9-13---C
A---Old Faithful, of course.
B---Into a variant of the Cross (not that Katie is cross any longer).
C---15-18 or 3-7 would be correct. This move loses.
This isn't a particularly hard problem. We wonder if Reggie could solve it while he's --- let's say, otherwise occupied? Possibly. It all depends what he's concentrating on most.
But how about you? Distraction free, do you have faith in being able to find the winning play, or will it cross you up? When you've given it a good try, cross your mouse over to Read More, which will always faithfully lead you to the solution.[Read More]
We're pleased to welcome back Marvin J. Mavin after a long absence from our weekly columns. Today, Marvin gets quite a surprise on a visit to a small Prairie town.
The best duck hunting in the world. That's what they told him. Never mind that he wasn't a duck hunter.
They called it 'outreach'--- a way of building a better future for the game of checkers. Sure, it was the national sport, but the National Checker League was not an organization that rests on its laurels; continual development, a constant search for new talent, and a great approach to public relations were as ingrained as Black moving first.
Marvin J. Mavin, Captain of the World Series of Checkers winning Detroit Doublejumpers, was on an off-season publicity tour of the North Central states. The Grackle Duck Hunters, of Grackle, North Dakota, population 300 or so, had invited Marvin to visit, and against all odds, the National Checker League had scheduled an overnight visit by their superstar player.
The Duck Hunters were amateurs; they played in the East Central Dakota Counties League, and it was purely club-level play. But they loved their checkers and they would often drive to Minneapolis to see a major league match.
The NCL had chartered a small plane to fly Marvin from Fargo's Hector Field to the little municipal airfield just outside Grackle. The plane was a Piper Aztec, which the pilot referred to as the "luxury model."
Marvin was met at the airfield by an SUV driven by the Captain of the Duck Hunters, Steve Stonkus, accompanied by his son, Al Stonkus, and one of the other players, Wayne Bulow, who was introduced simply as "Flash" because of his fast over-the-board play.
After introductions, Marvin mentioned, "I've got a room at the Fowl Lodge. I booked it on-line. Seemed like a nice sort of place."
"The Fowl Lodge, seriously?" Steve asked. There were a few glances exchanged and a stifled laugh. "Well ... I suppose. We'll take you there, then, so you can, uh, rest up. The exhibition starts tomorrow morning at ten sharp. We didn't plan anything for tonight because we knew you'd be beat and anyhow it's kinda late."
It was eight in the evening on a Thursday in July, meaning that in this latitude, there were still a couple of hours of daylight left.
"Someplace we can go for a beer, maybe?" Marvin asked.
"It's Thursday," Al said, without explaining further.
"Yeah ... " Marvin replied.
"Right," Wayne chimed in. "Let's get on to the Fowl Lodge, then, if that's really where you're staying."
Marvin put his one travel bag in the rear of the SUV and took a seat in the back. It was only a fifteen minute drive, during which little was said.
The SUV pulled off the road in front of a camper trailer.
"There she is," Steve said. "The Fowl Lodge. The door is always unlocked. We'll pick you up at seven-thirty tomorrow morning. So we have plenty of time for breakfast."
Marvin said, "Nine-thirty will be fine. The website said they have food in the fridge for guests to fix meals."
"If that's what you want," Steve replied. "Good night, then."
Marvin got his bag and the SUV pulled away, without waiting to see if in fact the door was unlocked. Marvin couldn't see much of the trailer in the dark, but it looked kind of, well, old. And not a little run down.
"Fowl Lodge?" he said aloud.
The door was indeed unlocked, or more like hanging on its hinges, wide open. Marvin made out a hand-lettered sign taped to the door. "Fowl Lodge," he read. "Sure enough."
He stepped inside and felt around for a light switch. Dim incandescent lights came on, and for a moment Marvin wished he had stayed in the dark. Marvin supposed he ought to be grateful that the electricity was turned on.
The trailer looked like it hadn't been cleaned or tidied up in quite some while. There was caked mud on the floor, the bedding was in disarray, and he thought he heard mice scurry off into darker corners. He tried to close the front door but it fell off its hinges and banged on the ground. There was an interior screen door that he was able to close, not knowing if it would keep critters out or just keep the ones in that were already there.
He checked the fridge in the little kitchenette. When he opened the door a strong odor came out. There was some moldy cheddar cheese and gray looking sausages. He closed the fridge quickly. "No beer," he sighed.
A check of the cupboards yielded a couple of cans of chicken noodle soup, and Marvin managed to find a pot and can opener. He heated one up on the hot plate. "Dinner of champions!" he exclaimed. There was nothing to drink but water, and Marvin found that if he let the cold water run long enough, the rust would clear out.
He tried the hot water tap, and as he anticipated, it ran cold.
"No shower," he mumbled. "And as for sleeping ..." There was just the one bed so little choice, but he certainly wasn't going to change into his PJs.
His sleep was interrupted several times by the sound of little scurrying feet, and once he thought he felt something crawl across his face.
He managed to eat a second can of soup for breakfast. He thought about washing the pot but decided to just leave it with the rest of the dirty dishes in the sink.
The sun was up and the skies were blue and completely clear. It was a beautiful Friday morning on the prairie, but somehow Marvin fell short of appreciating it. At precisely nine-thirty, the SUV, now occupied only by Steve, pulled up.
Marvin ambled over to the passenger side and got in.
"Mornin', Marv!" Steve said with something of a sly look. "Sleep well? Did the Fowl Lodge meet your expectations?"
"Uh, well ..."
"Glad to hear it!" Steve paused, staring at the trailer. "Hey, what did you do to the door? The owners aren't going to be very happy."
Marvin didn't try to explain.
Again, the drive was silent, but it was only five or ten minutes. "The exhibition is at the Co-op," Steve said. "They got a big room on the second floor where our team practices and plays home matches."
"How did you do this year?" Marvin asked.
"Pretty good, pretty good," Steve said. "We finished second in our league. That team from New Leopard is pretty tough and we lost to them in the playoffs."
"Do they have a Fowl Lodge, too?"
"Never mind," Marvin said.
The Co-op turned out to be a sprawling, two story building, with gas pumps, truck and auto repair bays, farm supplies, and a lot else. There was quite a bit of traffic in and out, mostly pick-up trucks which arrived empty and went out laden with grain, fencing, building materials, and other necessities of rural life.
Marvin went up the old wooden stairs inside the building, following Steve. He entered the upper hall to see everything already set up: tables, boards and pieces in a large square. "We set up 32 boards," Steve said, "and we sold out on the first day of signups. A lot of our folks want a chance to play Marvin J. Mavin!"
But Marvin had noticed a table with coffee and donuts, and his first priority was to fill a cup and a plate.
Players were filing in, some dressed in overalls, a few with cowboy hats, a few others in corduroy shirts. It was just before ten o'clock. Marvin hastily finished his coffee as he was waved to the front of the room to be introduced by Steve.
"This here's Marvin J. Mavin!" he said. "But I reckon you all know that. Marvin stayed at the Fowl Lodge last night."
There were some laughs from the assembled players, but Steve went on, "Now he's ready to play and maybe even share a couple stories from the big leagues."
"Hi everyone," Marvin said. "Quite some place, that Fowl Lodge. Never stayed anywhere quite like it."
There were more laughs.
"Good luck to all!" he said, with a wave, and then went over to the first board to start the exhibition.
The players were actually pretty good, a few of them very good, and although Marvin wrapped up most of the games in relatively short order, a couple of them went on for a while.
In fact, it was nearly two o'clock before Marvin won his 31st game, leaving him one short of a perfect sweep. Fortunately, sandwiches had been brought in at lunchtime, and the players and Marvin ate as they played.
The last game, played by Al Stonkus, was tough, and Marvin was wondering if he could pull out a win. In fact, Al might himself have some winning chances. It was Al's move.
"You guys aren't supposed to be this good," Marvin muttered.
Al looked offended. "What's that supposed to mean?" he said.
"I mean, I should beat all of you."
Marvin had been getting more and more annoyed with how long it was taking to win his games. These were just country boys! What was the problem?
"Oh, I see. You figure us farm boys aren't up to big city standards, that it?"
Steve, who was standing by watching the game, said, "Easy, Al." But Al was not to be stopped.
"You're too good for us, we know that," Al said. "Sorry we don't meet your big league standards. Well, here, see what you do with this." Al made his move, banging the piece forcefully on the board.
Marvin did a double-take. This was really a problem. What was he to do?
Marvin thought for quite a while and clearly Al was growing impatient. But at long last Marvin saw the way. It would get him a draw, no more than that, but he'd be saved the ignominy of losing to this ...
... to this good player. Marvin had to admit it, and his whole demeanor changed as he made his move.
Black is in a tough spot. The man on 28 is in the dog hole. The man on 20 can't get beyond 24. The king on 26 is cut off from the man on 1. What is Black to do?
Marvin J. Mavin came up with a possible drawing move. Can you? Are you up to the challenge presented by Al Stonkus of Grackle, North Dakota? As Marvin realized, perhaps a bit too late, talent can be and is found even in unassuming small towns.
Can you "duck" the loss or will you "fowl" out? When you're finished, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.[Read More]
Three Move Opening: A Checker Romance
Part Six: Third Move
Reggie stumbled wearily out of the Security Office. He had been there for several hours and it was nearly time for draughts practice. The big match with Lyme Regis was to take place on the next day.
But all he could think about was Laird and Lady Refused. That was even worse, if such a thing could be imagined, than the humilation he suffered in front of his class--- in front of Katie--- at the hands of first Dr. Rowan and then the security officers.
Then he thought about the embarrassment Katie had been subject to, and he wanted to die. Literally. His life was over, there was nothing left. He had started with what he thought was a great idea and turned it into the most horrible experience of his life. Perhaps of Katie's life as well.
But his feet had taken him, seemingly unbidden, to the practice room.
Fine. He would go through practice, play the match at Lyme Regis tomorrow, and die afterwards. He supposed dying could be put off for a couple of days. After all, it was a really important match.
Coach Talovich noticed that Reggie was playing today's practice games in a rather aggressive manner, not in terms of draughts play, but physically. Never before had he seen Reggie slam the pieces down on the board when making a move. The coach watched over Reggie's shoulder for a few moments and decided against saying anything. Other team members were beginning to notice, too.
When practice was over, Jack, who had also observed Reggie's highly atypical behavior, caught Reggie at the door and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Do we need to talk, old chum?" Jack said.
Reggie shook his head and pulled away.
"Didn't your little stunt go well?" Jack asked, having no idea as to what had actually happened.
Reggie ran off into the parking lot without answering. Jack watched him for a moment, then shrugged his shoulders and gave up.
Katie had gone right back to the flat she shared with Barbara. There was no way she could have faced an afternoon of classes.
Barbara, who had no classes on Monday afternoon, was home when Katie arrived.
"My goodness, what are you doing home?" Barbara asked when Katie entered. "Was there an earthquake that swallowed up the school? Seems like that's what it would take to get you to miss classes."
Barbara was sitting on the living room settee, eating a buttered roll, a huge anatomy text in her lap. She was in the nursing program and was busy nearly all the time.
Katie turned toward Barbara, let her backpack fall to the floor, and at long last lost control. "I hate that boy!" she said, tears falling in streams. "I hate him, hate him, hate him!"
"Whoa, whoa, easy now," Barbara said. She pushed aside her textbook and stood, walking over to Katie and embracing her in a warm hug. "Something's seriously wrong, isn't it?"
It took a little while for Katie to stop crying. Barbara led her over to the settee and got her seated, then sitting down alongside her.
"So who do you hate so badly? Is it that boy Reggie?"
Katie nodded her head and looked as if she were about to resume crying.
"What happened now?" Barbara asked.
It took a little while, but Katie told Barbara the story.
"Unbelievable," Barbara said at first. But she was smiling.
"It isn't funny!" Katie said angrily.
"No, it isn't funny, and I'm not laughing."
"Then why are you grinning like that?" Katie said, clearly upset. Wasn't Barbara supposed to be her best friend?
"It's called a smile," Barbara said. "Look, I know you're very angry and you have every right to be. But not with Reggie."
"After what he did? After what he put me through, I'm not supposed to be angry with him? Are you crazy? I hate him! I don't ever want to be in the same room with him again!"
"Slow down now. Think a little. Who should you really be angry with?"
Katie gave Barbara a withering look.
"Not with me! Don't be silly! But look at what happened, what really happened. Reggie went way, way out of his comfort zone to try to make an impression on you, in a way that was clearly meant to please you."
"Being humilated in front of everyone doesn't exactly please me!" Katie snapped.
"No, of course not. But did Reggie humilate you?"
"What do you mean ... oh." Katie's expression changed and her voice dropped. "You mean ..."
"Yes. Reggie went to a lot of trouble to stage an elaborate scene. Dressing up in a Knight's costume so he could appeal to you with words from Chaucer. Picking out the appropriate draughts moves to correspond to his theme. He probably even thought Dr. Rowat would be pleased and amused."
Katie was silent for a few moments. "It's him," she said. "And I thought he was so interesting, so intellectual."
She furrowed her brows. "It's Dr. Rowan that I should be angry with, isn't it? He's always picked on Reggie. He's never liked him. And given the chance, he did everything he could to embarrass him in front of everyone."
"And you were collateral damage," Barbara said. "He may not have intended that, but the fact is that all of this grief would have been avoided if Dr. Rowan had shown some sense--- some decency."
All of a sudden Katie started to laugh.
"What?" Barbara said. "Now you think it's funny?"
"No, no, not at all. But poor Reggie, getting hauled off by Security officers! What a sight!"
"I'm sure he wasn't amused."
"No, I suppose not." Katie stopped and thought once again. "But ... still, I think he ought to apologize."
"Oh, yes, he should. No doubt about it. And maybe you should reach out to him, too."
"What do you mean?"
"He's been hurt at least as much as you have. And he's certainly thinking that he's lost you forever."
"Well, hasn't he?"
"Only you can answer that question, Katie."
The next day, the draughts club took one of the school's buses over to Lyme Regis. Reggie was in quite a state of mind. He had resorted to an over-the-counter sleeping remedy the previous evening, and he was still a bit groggy. He had been drinking coffee all day long, which meant constant trips to the restroom. Fortunately there was no English class on a Tuesday, and he did manage to get to the rest of his classes.
For someone who felt like he wanted to die, he thought he had done pretty well. He was quite proud of himself. In fact, he was even starting to rethink the idea that he would rather be dead. It did seem pretty drastic.
But try as hard as he could, there was no way to get Katie's stinging refusal out of his mind. Two refusals, actually, but he had blown his second chance with that ridiculous stunt. He should have known better, but it had just seemed like such a good idea at the time.
Never mind. Concentrate on the match. Put off the idea of wanting to be dead at least until he won his match. He was going to win and nothing was going to stop him.
It wasn't long until the bus arrived and not much longer until it was time to start the match. Reggie reached out and shook hands with his opponent, Sydney Miles, the captain of the Lyme Regis club. "Ow," said Sydney, pulling his hand back, "you don't have to break my fingers."
Reggie grinned, enjoying the look of fear on Sydney's face. Reggie was focusing all of his anger and all of his pain on the upcoming match. Someone was going to pay, and it would be his opponent.
The match began, with Reggie playing White. It must have been fate. The opening moves formed "Laird and Lady." That only served to increase Reggie's focus.
Reggie smiled inwardly. Sydney had blundered; he should have played 6-10 or 7-10, but now Reggie had a win. He made his move, and a few more moves later, the game was over. Reggie offered to shake hands again. "I don't think so," Sydney said. "My fingers still ache from the first time."
Reggie gave a little bow and walked over to the team seats to await the completion of the other games in the match. He accepted congratulations from the coach, but then needed to make another trip to the restroom. "Excuse me a moment," he whispered to the coach.
On the way back from the restroom, Reggie, for some reason, decided to check his cellphone. It wasn't something he was in the habit of doing. He had turned it off last night when he got home, not wanting to be disturbed. Of course, it wasn't like he got a lot of phone calls or text messages.
He waited a few moments while the phone powered up.
For the second time that evening, fate struck.
A half dozen messages flashed onto his screen.
Katie had called him not less than three times, and then left three text messages.
"Trying to reach you."
"Reggie, I want us to talk. Please call me back."
Reggie, stunned, quickly gave up the idea of being better off dead.
To be continued ...
Can you find the White win in the diagram above? It's a well-known position, but nonetheless elegant and pleasing despite its being published many times throughout checker history. See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Three Move Opening: A Checker Romance
Part Five: Second Interlude
This time, Reggie was going to play it to the hilt. It would be a one hundred percent effort.
Luckily, he had the weekend to prepare. He even telephoned his friend Jack to ask him about the idea.
"Seems a bit over the top, wouldn't you say?" said Jack after Reggie explained everything. "But I'm glad you didn't give up. That first mistake --- the Maid of the Mill thing --- that really wasn't completely your fault. Of course, you're pretty clueless, but this time I think you hit a sore nerve. A spot of bad luck for you."
"Over the top, perhaps, but don't you think she'll like it?" Reggie said. He didn't say anything about his being clueless; he actually was too painfully aware of it.
"Depends. You say she's a literary type as well as a draughts enthusiast? Impressive, you must introduce me some time." Jack laughed.
"Now look, Jack, you have a million girls already ... "
"Just kidding, old chum. Look, I've got to move along, I'm scheduled for doubles tennis with three lovely ladies ... "
"See what I mean? Give us less fortunates a break, will you?"
"Sure, Reggie, best of luck. So long now!"
There was just enough time on Saturday to visit the campus and look up a friend in the arts department.
"Yes, we have that," Grant said. Grant Pearson was a friend of Reggie's from a class in the previous semester. "You can borrow it if you return it right after you're done. For Monday, you say? Sure. Just bring it back later on in the afternoon."
Reggie hauled a substantial parcel back to his rented room. Fortunately the Saturday buses weren't as crowded as they were on weekdays.
Almost everything was ready. Reggie just had to write his note, and that was going to be easy this time.
Fortunately there was no draughts practice this weekend. The club coach didn't believe in weekend practices just before a big match; he thought it put too much pressure on non-professional players. That suited Reggie just fine. He was able to get some homework done, and make sure his note and everything else was ready for the next morning.
It's safe to say that Reggie didn't sleep all that well Sunday night. He was just too excited. Everything was just perfect!
Monday morning finally rolled around, and for once Reggie didn't have to drag himself out of bed to go to class. He had math before Chaucer, and he was going to skip it today. He wondered what was becoming of him ... skipping class again. But he didn't care.
He opened up the parcel and got everything ready. When he was fully dressed, he grabbed his backpack, double-checking to make sure the note was safely inside, and then made his way out to the bus.
He got some odd looks, first from the driver and then from the passengers, one of whom complained to the driver about whether Reggie should be allowed on the bus. But the driver just shrugged his shoulders, closed the doors, and put the bus into motion.
When the bus stopped in front of the college, Reggie rushed straight to his classroom, attracting still more attention from the students on the grounds and in the hallways. He quickly reached the relative safety of the classroom and took his seat, which fortunately wasn't in a direct line of sight from the doorway.
A couple of students came in and started murmuring to one another. Then Katie came in, looked in his direction and gasped. She took a few steps toward Reggie and said, "Reggie, what on earth---"
She was interrupted by the entry of Dr. Rowan, who also did what was, at least for him, a double-take.
"Well, Mr. Pastor, this is certainly going to be interesting."
Reggie normally would have reacted with anything between mild embarrassment and utter mortification. But not today. He was on a mission and would not be deterred. Totally ignoring Dr. Rowan, he went over to Katie's desk and with a deep bow and a dramatc flourish, laid down his note.
However, Dr. Rowan was not accustomed to having his remarks ignored, and his expression showed it.
"Just a moment, Mr. Pastor. This is a serious classroom, and perhaps you might explain yourself."
Reggie, just turning back toward his desk, replied, "Sir?"
"Your outfit. The note you just left on Miss Walton's desk. Is this some sort of elaborate but highly out of place courting scheme?"
Reggie was struck silent. This was not going as he intended.
"Nothing to say? Well, then, perhaps you might come to the front of the room and read the note aloud, after which you can explain your costume."
All of the class members were now present. There was a bit of quiet snickering, but all eyes were on Reggie.
And on Katie, who was turning redder by the second.
Reggie knew he didn't dare defy Dr. Rowan any further. Reluctantly, he moved to the front of the classroom, stopping to pick up the his note from Katie's desk. She favored him with a frosty glare.
"Whenever you're ready, Mr. Pastor. Or should we say, 'Sir Pastor'?
Everyone laughed except Katie and Reggie.
Reggie began to read, his eyes down.
"To my dearest Ladye Katie, I bring these words:
11-15, 23-19, 8-11, 22-17, 9-13, 17-14, 10-17, 21-14."
Dr. Rowan interrupted, "Those are not words, Mr. Pastor, those are numbers. There is actually a difference."
Reggie glanced at Katie. From the look on her face, he knew she had understood. But still, she looked very angry.
Reggie continued reading.
"Whilom, as olde stories tellen us,
There was a duke that highte Theseus.
Of Athens he was lord and governor,
And in his time such a conqueror
That greater was there none under the sun.
Full many a riche country had he won.
What with his wisdom and his chivalry,
He conquer'd all the regne of Feminie."
Reggie stopped reading. "Um, well, that's all, sir."
"How interesting, Mr. Pastor. I must say you deserve credit for reading from Chaucer's Knight's Tale and dressing up in a very detailed knight's costume, complete with sword and helm. I imagine you attracted a lot of attention this morning.
"But really, the last line, 'He conquer'd all the regne of Feminie' ... did you bother to ascertain the meaning prior to addressing this phrase to Miss Walton?"
Dr. Rowan didn't wait for an answer. "You see, Mr. Pastor, 'the regne of Feminie' doesn't mean conquering a woman's heart. The 'regne of Feminie' actually refers to a race of Amazons, whom Chaucer's knight claims to have conquered. Are you suggesting that Miss Walton is an Amazon?"
The class roared with laughter and Katie looked as if she was about to cry.
"So," Dr. Rowan said when the laughter died down, "I ask you, Miss Walton, what is your reply to this somewhat misinformed suitor?"
Katie stood up and picked up her backpack. She looked straight at Reggie and said, "25-22." Then she stormed out of the room, trying valiantly to maintain control.
Reggie, horrified, made as if to go after her, but just at that moment, two uniformed security guards entered the room.
"There's a report of someone wif a weapon," one of them said. "There 'e is!" said the other, pointing to Reggie. "Come quietly with us now. You're in a 'eap 'o trouble fer carryin' a sword on campus. Don't make us get rough wif ya."
They took Reggie's costume sword and backpack, and marched him over to the Campus Security office. After searching his backpack, making him remove his costume, and searching his person, they asked him to explain himself.
It all took quite a little while, but Reggie was finally able to convince them that a wooden theatre sword, painted silver, wasn't a real weapon. The security officers then pointed out that it looked enough like the genuine article to be used to threaten others. But they realized in the end that Reggie was just playing a part, as it were, and they let him off with a lecture about not doing foolish things that could get him in hot water.
They wouldn't return the sword or the knight's costume; they told Reggie they would get it back to the Theatre Department themselves. "Best you not be seen wif that no more, eh?" one of them said.
Reggie got out of there as soon as they let him. But now he had to face what to him was the real problem.
He thought he had been clever. The draughts moves he had read corresponded to the Laird and Lady opening sequence. Katie obviously knew that. But when she replied simply "25-22" Reggie had his answer.
That was the line known as the Laird and Lady Refused.
To be continued ...
We wonder if Katie knew that Laird and Lady Refused is now known to be a White loss; and did Reggie realize, in the moment, that it was a Black win? Is there a hidden meaning in all of this?
You'll have to continue to follow the story to find out, but in the meanwhile let's have a look at this line of play.
Of course Laird and Lady Accepted, with 17-14, would have been best, both in terms of checkers and for our hapless protagonist. But, much as Reggie must strive to win Katie, winning Laird and Lady Refused is not so simple. Can you do it? Here's the position.
Accept the challenge and see if you can find the win. Just because it's difficult, don't refuse ... make the attempt and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Three Move Opening: A Checker Romance
Part Four: Second Move
It was quite a while until Reggie was able to get out of his seat. He stayed in the empty classroom, numb, nearly unable to process what had happened to him. But finally, students started arriving for the next class. He must have sat there for over an hour, right through lunch and into the following class period.
He folded Katie’s note and stuck it in his backpack, stumbled to his feet, and left. He went straight to the bus stop. For the first time in as long as he could remember, he was skipping classes, and even worse, skipping draughts practice. He didn’t even want to talk things over with his friend Jack. He just wanted to go back to his rented room, get into bed, pull the covers over his head, and never get up again.
The next day was Friday, and there were no classes and no practice. It was just as well, and although Reggie did manage to get up in the morning, he had no desire to see Katie in Chaucer class. It would have been more than he could have borne.
He had a lot of homework to do and no wish to do that, either, and in addition, he was supposed to go through his opening repertoire and do some problem practice, as the draughts match with Lyme Regis was just five days away.
He knew he had better get out of his room, even though he didn’t want to; he couldn’t let himself become paralyzed with depression. Maybe, he thought, it was best to leave the pursuit of women to people like Jack, who had the right skills. If it had been anyone but Katie ...
She was intelligent, she had a sense of humor, and she played draughts besides. What could get better than that? Oh, and of course she was beautiful, but to Reggie that was almost a sort of afterthought. Who cared what she looked like? She was just this amazing ...
Stop it, Reggie told himself. Maybe she’s all of those things but forget it, you lost your chance, now move on, you’ve got a lot of things to get done and not a lot of time to do them.
Reggie sighed and put his books into his backpack. He looked wistfully at his Chaucer book and wanted to rip the pages out of it. But that went into the backpack too, along with his book of draughts openings and draughts problems.
He’d go to the school library. With no classes on Fridays, the library would be pretty deserted, and he could work quietly. Maybe he’d even be able to get his mind off Katie and concentrate a little.
Reggie went outside and took the bus to the college.
The school library was indeed as empty as Reggie had expected it would be. The many long wooden tables were virtually unoccupied. Students generally left homework until Sunday; Friday and Saturday they avoided the campus as if it were off-limits.
Still, Reggie went down to the very end of the main hall and sat at a table in the far corner. He decided he'd work on his differential equations class. That would keep his mind off ... other things. Then maybe, just maybe, he'd face up to it and crack open his Chaucer book.
A couple of hours must have passed by when Reggie finished his homework assignment, hoping that he'd never again in his life have to do a problem set on the Method of Frobenius.
Fine, he said to himself, now it's time to confront reality. He pulled out his Chaucer book, vowing to himself that he would study and not think of ... her. "I shall have no fear," he said to himself. "I shall look the beast in the eye and ..."
"Reggie, who are you calling a beast?"
Had he actually spoken out loud? And who was ... no, it couldn't be.
Katie sat down in a chair on the other side of the table. She wore a big smile.
"I thought ... I mean, there was no one here and I wasn't ..."
"I know, Reggie. I was just teasing."
"Wh--- why are you here?"
"Because we need to talk a little, and because I knew there would probably be no one here on a Friday except maybe you. So I took the chance. I wanted to talk in person, not over the phone."
"You did? I thought ..."
"Yes, I know what you thought after that 'Goatgetter' note I sent you. Reggie, I'm really sorry about that. I went too far and I was too harsh. But I was just trying to get a message across."
"A message ... I got the message that you were angry and didn't want to see the movie with me any longer."
"Yes, it was that, but I lost my temper. I thought you were making fun of my family origins, in a poor mill town. Didn't I tell you about that?"
Reggie had long ago turned red, but he made a valiant effort to regain his composure. "Yes, you did, but I thought Maid of the Mill would be a kind of tribute, and then there's the Suffolk Fair Maid. I hoped you would be pleased. I'm sorry too, I didn't mean to offend."
"I believe you, and as I said, I regret what I wrote. So I'd like to make a suggestion."
Reggie leaned on his elbows, moving forward in his seat.
"What?" he asked eagerly.
"How about we start over. You go home and write another note to me, and bring it to class on Monday. I'll answer you, and then everything should be smooth and we can go to that movie. I'm sure it will still be playing next weekend. What do you think?"
"Great idea!" Reggie said. "I know I'll get it right this time!"
"I'm sure you will, Reggie. Now I'll let you get back to your Chaucer." She looked pointedly at his open textbook. "I just know how much you love Dr. Rowan's class!"
They both laughed, and Katie took her leave.
Reggie knew he wasn't going to be studying Chaucer. He had something else to work on.
Fortunately it was a Friday and the buses still ran frequently. Reggie couldn't make it home fast enough. He was on a mission.
But he found that it wasn't a mission easily accomplished. He had to get it right this time. After having started half a dozen notes and in the end tearing up every single one of them, he found himself wishing that Katie had given him some idea of what to write instead of what not to write.
He made himself stop for dinner, another cheese and pickle sandwich, but he didn't care. He was hoping that a short break would provide him with some inspiration. Then he took a short walk around the neighborhood to clear his head, feeling very proud of himself for having thought of the idea.
Somehow, it worked, or, at least it worked in combination with Reggie's next activity; for when he got back to his room, he thought he would solve a checker problem before returning to his note writing.
He didn't find it very hard. And then he realized that he had found two solutions; one to the checker problem, and one other that was about something quite different.
He knew what to write to Katie.
Smiling and chuckling, he put pen to paper and wrote out his note. Okay, he had made a mistake the first time, but this was perfect. Quickly, he consulted his Chaucer book. Was Katie ever going to love this!
Finally, the note was completed. Reggie went back over it and made some corrections, then wrote it out again as neatly as he could on a fresh sheet of paper. He folded it, wrote "Katie" on the front, and put it in his Chaucer book to keep it safe and to be sure he wouldn't forget it.
And that was just the first half of Reggie's plan.
To be continued.
Can you solve Reggie's checker problem? We're sure you can; it's not that difficult and it's rather pleasing. Set aside your love notes and cheese and pickle sandwiches and give it a try, then click on Read More to see the run-up and the solution.[Read More]
Three Move Opening: A Checker Romance
Part Three: First Interlude
When Reggie arrived at class the following morning, Katie was already in her seat near the front of the room. She was deep into her Chaucer book, no doubt doing some last-minute review. Reggie dropped his backpack onto the floor near his own usual seat, and made his way to toward the front, clutching his carefully written note.
But his bus had been a little late and the classroom was already filling up. Everyone was taking their seats. He saw Katie close her Chaucer book and put it under her chair.
Dr. Rowan strode into the room, carrying a sheaf of papers. Reggie was now the only student not seated.
"Planning to take the quiz standing up, Mr. Pastor?"
Once again, all heads turned toward Reggie. But Katie turned her gaze away quickly.
"Uh ... no, sir, I ..."
"Then you'd best be seated. At once." There was no mistaking the stern tone in Dr. Rowan's voice.
Reggie got through the quiz, somehow; he even knew most of the answers to the fill-in-the-blank questions, although he had a bad time with the translation section. Who cared about Middle English verbs, anyhow?
It was over. The quiz papers were passed to the front, and the students were dismissed. Everyone packed their things and prepared to leave.
Reggie saw Katie make a rush for the door, carefully avoiding looking in his direction. Reggie grabbed his backpack and ran after her.
He managed to catch up with her in the hall. "Katie! Katie! Please wait!"
She did stop, and turned to look at him. "What is it you want, Reggie? I don't want to be late for my next class."
Next class? It was lunchtime. Reggie knew she had the next period free. "Please, Katie, just take this." He held out his hand, in which he held his note.
"But ... all right." She took the note and slid it into a pocket in her backpack. "I'll read it later. Now, I really have to get moving."
With that, she was off down the hallway at a rapid pace, and Reggie thought it best not to follow her.
Perhaps he could be brave enough to call her tonight. Or maybe, when she read the note, she would call him. Yes, he was sure that was what would happen. He'd have to be certain to have his phone with him at all times.
"I can't believe it!" Katie said.
The school day was over and she was in the little apartment she shared with her roommate, Barbara Lamont. Barbara was a short, thin, dark-haired 20 year old from the outskirts of London, who decided on school in Weymouth to get away from what she called "the insanity of the city."
"What's wrong? He's asked you out, just as you told me wanted. You were pretty upset when he didn't do that yesterday, so what's the problem now?"
"It's the way he did it," Katie said. "Here, read the note." Reggie's note was laying on the coffee table. Katie picked it up and handed it to Barbara.
Barbara read the note aloud.
11-15, 22-17, 8-11, 17-13, 15-18
My dear Suffolk Maid,
I ask you for the honour of your company at the new movie opening in Weymouth on Saturday.
Would you be willing to be my guest at the nine o'clock evening show?
Perhaps we could have a light dinner beforehand.
I await the favour of your reply.
Ever at your service,
"What are those numbers at the top?" Barabara asked.
"Those numbers are what I'm upset over," Katie replied. "Look, I know you're not a draughts player. But those numbers represent a draughts opening. Do you know what it's called?"
"Of course not. What does it matter?"
"It matters. That's The Maid of the Mill!"
"He refers to me as a 'Suffolk Maid.' Is that how he thinks of me? A pretty girl from a blue collar family? He must have found out ... or maybe I told him, I don't remember ... that my parents came from mill families in Rochdale. They worked their way up and moved to Suffolk. I tell you, this is absolutely insulting and unbelievably disrespectful."
"Are you maybe being a little too sensitive?"
"Too sensitive? Well, I've got a reply for him!"
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, he'll find out. Tomorrow, at class."
Reggie's practice that afternoon went a lot better, and his coach noticed it. "Ah, I see girl trouble is over," Coach Talovich joked. "Draughts playing is better when not having distraction."
Reggie was anxious to talk to Jack again after practice. Coach Talovich let the club out a little early and neither Reggie nor Jack had to rush to the bus stop.
Reggie and Jack stopped outside the door of the practice room. The corridor was silent and their words echoed in the post-school-day stillness.
"Did you ask that girl out?" Jack asked.
"Sure did," Reggie said. He smiled and shifted his feet around.
"Oh, got you nervous? She didn't turn you down, did you?"
"Well, then, you've got yourself a date!" Jack clapped Reggie on the back. "Good going! Always listen to old Jack!"
"What is it? Aren't you happy?"
Reggie got it out all in a rush. "She hasn't answered yet. But I'm sure she'll call me any minute now?"
"She'll call? What in the world are you talking about? I thought you already called her."
Reggie told Jack about the note he had written, and pointed out that the note was so good that he just knew Katie would call.
Jack shook his head as he listened. Finally, when Reggie had concluded, he said, "Reggie, you're great at draughts, better than I am, better than probably anyone on the team. But you don't know anything about girls."
"But I ..."
"Yes, you wrote a nice note, I'm sure it was great. Actually, I'm not so sure. That 'Maid of the Mill' thing was clever but she could take it the wrong way. And expecting her to call you? You think she'll be so excited by a guy asking her out with a note--- not even a call--- that she'll take the lead and phone you? Reggie, my friend, you're kidding yourself. That just isn't going to happen."
"So what do I do then? Wait until I see her at class, I imagine ..."
"Call her tonight. Do what you should have done last night."
But Reggie didn't call, and just as Jack had predicted, Katie didn't call him, either. Around midnight, Reggie gave up waiting and went to bed.
She wanted to accept in person. That must be it, he thought as he tried in vain to fall asleep.
He made sure he was at class ten minutes in advance the next morning, catching an earlier bus just to be sure. He was in his seat, waiting, as Katie entered the classroom.
Katie headed straight toward Reggie's seat. Great! He knew it would all work out! But she wasn't smiling. Why was that?
Katie handed Reggie a slightly wrinkled sheet of paper. "Here," she said, and before Reggie could reply, she had turned and gone off to her own seat.
Dr. Rowan entered the classroom. Reggie, despite his burning desire to read what Katie had given him, knew better than to do so in front of his instructor. He'd have to face the interminable wait until class was over.
"Not so good at Middle English verbs, are we, Mr. Pastor?" Dr. Rowan was standing directly in front of Reggie, holding Reggie's quiz paper. "But you did pass after all," he continued. "Frankly, I was surprised, given your obvious dislike of one of the greatest English writers of all time." Dr. Rowan dropped the paper on Reggie's desk and walked off, distributing graded quiz papers to the other students.
Reggie really did try to pay attention for the next hour. He tried not to look in Katie's direction. He tried not to finger the note Katie had given him. He tried to take notes on Dr. Rowan's explanation of Chaucer's use of metaphor in the something-or-other tale. But it was pretty much in vain.
Finally the hour was over. Katie once again rushed to the door, and this time Reggie didn't chase after her. He would have to read her note first.
Everyone was gone and Reggie had remained behind in the now empty classroom. Dr. Rowan had even turned off the lights on his way out and Reggie was in semi-darkness, the only illumination coming from the small windows that were near ceiling-level in the room.
He opened the note. It was fairly brief.
10-15, 23-18, 6-10
I do not accept your invitation, as I found your reference to me as a "Suffolk Maid" and "Maid of the Mill" to be rather insulting. You knew of my family's mill-town ancestry and how my forebears struggled to rise from poverty.
I am disappointed, Reggie. I had thought much better of you.
Reggie couldn't believe it at first. The shock numbed him. Everything suddenly seemed unreal. As if in a dream, he noticed the streaks on the blackboard and the grime on the windows above. There was a chewing-gum wrapper on the floor.
Why did the mind focus on such little details when one's personal world was coming apart? He had read something about that somewhere ...
But the worst of all was the first line of the note. He had sent her 'Maid of the Mill' and she had responded with a draughts reference of her own.
10-15, 23-18, 6-10. Also known as 'The Goatgetter.'
To be continued ....
Everything so far is by the book, and now Black should play 14. 11-16 to hold the draw. But what if Black plays the seemingly natural 14. 9-14? That would bring us to the position below.
White will indeed get Black's goat and come out the winner, but it isn't that easy. Can you work it out? We think that if you find the correct first move, you'll be able to solve it. Don't let it get your goat and don't become the goat ... give it your best try and then click on Read More to see the solution. And be sure to join us in about a month for the next chapter of our story.[Read More]
Part Two: First Move
Our serialized story continues. Be sure to go back and read Part One if you haven't already done so.
Reggie even surprised himself, but he couldn't wait to get to his English class the next morning. For once, he found himself glad that the class met five days a week.
He was there early, waiting outside the door of the classroom, hoping to catch Katie on her way in. She was always early, so Reggie felt his chances were good.
But there were a couple of problems. First, Reggie had no idea what to say. It wasn't as if he and Katie were in any way acquainted.
He thought he might start with something like, "I didn't know you were interested in draughts." But that didn't seem very gripping. Neither did variations such as, "Hey! We're both draughts players!"
Reggie's experience with girls was pretty limited. He had had a few dates here and there, but they usually ended with the girl saying something about how she forgot that she had to be somewhere else.
The second problem developed a little later.
Dr. Rowan, coming down the hall to the classroom, noticed Reggie waiting outside. "Ah, Mr. Pastor," Dr. Rowan said, "while it's nice to see you here on time, the class actually takes place inside the classroom."
Reggie had no choice but to go in and take his usual seat. Katie entered a few minutes later, just as class was beginning. She muttered an apology to Dr. Rowan about having missed the bus. She didn't even glance in Reggie's direction.
Well, maybe he could catch her after class? But Dr. Rowan was directing a question his way about some Middle English verb or other. It was a not so subtle hint to pay attention.
Never did a class seem so long and dreary, but finally the bell rang and Dr. Rowan brought things to a close. "Quiz tomorrow!" he said, as everyone was getting up to leave. "It covers the first ten Canterbury Tales!"
Reggie packed his text and notebook as quickly as he could. Where had Katie gone? How did she get out of the room so quickly? Why had he lost track of her?
He was just getting out of his seat when he felt a warm hand on his shoulder.
"I saw you at the draughts exhibition last night." The voice was warm and sweet. Reggie turned.
"Katie?" It came out almost as a croak.
"I'm not Chaucer's Prioress!" she said, laughing.
"Uh ... yeah. Well, uh, I saw you there too," he said. Even he knew he wasn't exactly pouring on the charm, but he felt almost paralyzed.
"Are you going for lunch?" she said. What a smile she had! Reggie thought.
"Yes, I mean, yes, I am, I have my sandwich. You know, cheese and Branston pickle."
Katie raised her eyebrows a little. "I've got a salad. But let's go eat together and talk about last night's exhibition."
Reggie was ecstatic. So much so, that he tripped over his chair and almost went flying. Katie laughed and Reggie, picking himself up, turned red.
"That cheese sandwich has you pretty excited," she said.
They had a pleasant lunch together in the cafeteria area of the Student Union. Reggie, after a few false starts, managed to speak coherently, at least for the most part.
It turned out that Katie was indeed a draughts fan and followed the fortunes of the school draughts club; that's how she had come to know about Reggie, who was, she said, thought to be the most promising young player in the group.
Reggie said something self-effacing, and Katie encouraged him to have more self-confidence.
It was just about time for them both to leave for their next classes. Katie had math and Reggie was going to sociology.
"Oh, did you know," Katie said, "there's that new movie playing over the weekend. I'd really like to see it." She mentioned a title.
"Didn't know about it," Reggie said. "Well, got to run now."
Why did Katie frown? "I thought ... oh, never mind," she said. "I"ve got to go too." She abruptly turned and made for the exit.
Reggie knew something had gone wrong, but he couldn't say just what. All he knew was that that wonderful feeling he had been experiencing had gone away.
There was draughts practice after school; the club had a big match coming up the following week against a club from nearby Lyme Regis. And of course there was that dratted quiz on Chaucer to study for. But Reggie didn't want to study and didn't want to go to practice. He just wanted to mope, yet he was not one to skip practice, no matter how bad the circumstances.
What had he missed? What had gone awry?
He'd ask Jack at draughts practice. Jack Rite, a good friend, had some experience with girls. He'd gone out on quite a few dates. Reggie even recalled him once missing practice to go somewhere with a girlfriend. Reggie didn't understand it at the time and had even been critical of Jack. Now, suddenly, he understood. A little, at least.
The coach, a Mr. Talovich, pushed them hard that afternoon. In his distinctive Russian accent, he eminded them of the importance of next week's match and the need to be at the top of their game.
Reggie, though, was anything but that.
"Why you are making many mistake?" Mr. Talovich asked, as Reggie lost his second blitz game in a row. "You are better player than this. Something is wrong? Maybe you are having girl trouble?"
Reggie turned red and everyone in the room laughed, even Mr. Talovich. "No, no, is not possible," he said when the laughter had subsided, "Reggie would not be having distraction like girl. Life of Reggie is dedicated for draughts playing! Coach Talovich only make joke. Now, Reggie, play better next game, okay?"
Reggie had just played 27-24 instead of 26-23 which would have drawn easily.
Reggie did manage to win the rest of his games, but finally it was six-thirty and practice was over. He followed Jack out of the practice room and out of the building. Jack was tall and walked fast. Reggie had to hustle to catch up.
"Jack, Jack! Just a minute! I need to ask you something!" Reggie was out of breath and huffing, but Jack turned around.
"Reggie! What is it! Don't blow a lung or anything!"
When Reggie finally got his wind back, he told Jack about his conversation with Katie at lunchtime.
Jack shook his head. "Wow, Reggie! You really do have girl trouble! Who ever would have guessed? This is almost worth missing my bus for."
"I won't keep you, Jack," Reggie said, "I just want your take on what went wrong."
Jack gave a little chuckle. "What went wrong? You mean you don't know? It's so obvious!"
Reggie actually scratched his head. "I ... I just don't see it."
"Reggie, she wanted you to ask her out. Why do you think she was getting on about that concert the way she did? And then you didn't ask her out, and she was disappointed. What's not to get?"
"Really? It was a movie, not a concert."
"Yes, really, old pal, and it doesn't matter if it was a movie, a concert, or a funeral. Now look, I'm off to my bus, and if you've got half an ounce of sense, you'll call this young lady tonight to apologize and to beg her, if necessary, to let you take her to the movie. Got it?"
"Um, well, ..."
"See you!" Jack ran off toward the bus stop, where a bus was just pulling in.
Reggie walked much more slowly in the same direction. His bus wouldn't come for another ten minutes, and he needed that time to think.
Actually Reggie thought about Katie and the movie while he waited, on the entire bus ride back to his student apartment, and for some while afterward. He didn't even give a single thought to his imminent Chaucer quiz, and worse still, he didn't think a bit about draughts. He managed to make himself a peanut butter and banana sandwich for dinner, but he was hardly aware of what he was eating.
He'd probably be able to get hold of Katie's phone number one way or another. Come to think of it, Dr. Rowan had put everyone's email and phone number online to "foster discussion" as he called it.
Reggie looked up the number and got out his phone, and then stared at the screen in a near state of paralysis. He just couldn't do it. Yes, they had talked with great animation and pleasure at lunch, but now ... after the way Katie had walked off ... Reggie was, in a word, afraid.
But then it came to him. He thought back over their conversation ... of course draughts had figured prominently in it. But somewhere along the line, Katie had mentioned that she came from Suffolk.
It all clicked in Reggie's head. He quickly used his phone to access the internet. It was just as he thought ... Suffolk Fair Maids! That was a phrase that had been used centuries ago in praise of the beauty of the women of Suffolk.
He pulled out a sheet of paper and began to write.
He actually smiled. There was just no way this could fail.
In the end, he did three drafts of his letter before he felt it was perfect. He then carefully folded it and put it in an envelope. He wrote "Katie" on the outside. He'd give it to her before class tomorrow.
Oh ... class tomorrow. Reggie dug into his backpack for his Chaucer book. He still had a little time left to study.
Click on Read More to see the solution to the checker problem.[Read More]