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Marvin J. Mavin, star professional checkerist and Captain of the World Championship Detroit Doublejumpers, was on top of things this year.
He dutifully reported to training camp in August, which was once again at a lakeside resort in Northern Michigan near the town of Au Train. But this year he made sure he was in good shape, both physically and mentally.
The previous summer, Coach Ronaldson had been tough on Marvin, making him run extra miles along the lake and watching him closely to be sure he didn't break any of the team's strict training rules. Marvin wasn't about to go through that again, so he trained over the summer break, going jogging with his girlfriend Priscilla, playing tennis with his friend Brian, and keeping sharp with tough matches against the top-flight King of Checkers computer program.
During the first week of camp, Coach Ronaldson noticed the difference. Marvin's usual irreverent attitude was even missing. The Coach was pleased and didn't feel the need to single out Marvin for special 'attention.' But privately the Coach wondered if the 'new' Marvin was a temporary thing.
Toward the end of the second week of camp, Coach found out.
It was in the evening after a hard day of training and the customary team dinner, a time when the players had precious leisure time. Coach was in the resort's lounge, studying from the latest book by Dr. Reginald Pastor, when Marvin came up to him.
"Coach? Can I ask you something?"
Coach Ronaldson looked up. "Yes, what is it, Marvin?"
"Well, Coach, maybe you noticed that this year for me is a lot different than last year."
"Yes, it would be hard not to notice. Frankly, I'm a little surprised but quite pleased with your preparedness, and especially with your positive attitude."
Marvin grinned. "Gee, thanks, Coach, I was hoping you'd say that, so I was wondering, if like, maybe, you know as a sort of reward, well ..."
Coach frowned. He had an idea what might be coming, and he didn't like it. "Get to the point, Marvin."
"Okay, you know, Sunday being our day off and stuff, like maybe we could go into town for a couple of beers?"
Coach sat up straight, his frown deepening. "Tell you what, Marvin. Solve this problem in five minutes or less." Coach indicated a problem in the book he was holding.
"Uh, sure coach ..." Marvin scratched his head, looked puzzled, and then grinned. "Black to play and win, right? You're kiddin' me. Easy. Black is two pieces ahead ..."
"Yes, Black to play and win. Now show me, if you think it's so simple."
Marvin, now a little uneasy at the Coach's sharp tone, thought for a couple of minutes. "Oh wait ... heh heh, well Coach, maybe it ain't all that easy ... "
A few more minutes passed. "Aha!" Marvin exclaimed, and then began to show Coach the solution.
If your Coach challenged you with a problem like this, could you solve it in five minutes? Well, we won't hold you to any particular time limit; take as long as you like and then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of today's story.[Read More]
It was July, 1955, and the summer heat had invaded Bismarck, North Dakota. Known for its cold and prolonged winters, those who didn't live there never realized that summer on the prairie, though very short, could be intensely hot, with the mercury rising above 100 degrees on some days.
Sal Westerman, the informal leader of Bismarck's Coffee and Cake Checker Club, found himself missing the club's weekly meetings at the Beacon Cafe. The club took a summer break between Decoration Day and Labor Day. The cafe itself closed for about six weeks as the proprietor, Deana, enjoyed summer with her parents on the family farm near Gackle, in eastern North Dakota.
Sylvia, Sal's wife, had talked Sal into renting a small cabin near Lake Sakakawea. It was a bit cooler up there, with breezes off the lake, and a simple lifestyle with few intrusions. Sal had to admit he enjoyed the long, lazy summer afternoons, and although he wished he could be at the Beacon, he had a stack of checker magazines to keep him busy.
One Tuesday, after doing a little fishing in the morning when it was cooler, Sal and Sylvia were relaxing in wicker chairs on the shaded veranda of their cabin. Sal had a copy of All Checkers Digest on his lap and Sylvia was doing some knitting. It was a peaceful scene.
"Anything good in your magazine?" Sylvia asked.
Sal figured she was just making conversation, as he replied, "Yes, they've got this three-by-three problem from Brian in St. Louis, that's really kind of fun. I think I've almost got it."
To Sal's surprise, Sylvia said, "Oh? Let me see!"
Sal, puzzled, handed his wife the magazine, saying, "It's this one here in the middle of the page."
Sylvia frowned a bit. Something like four or five minutes passed, with Sal looking on in bewilderment.
"Oh, here's how you do it," Sylvia said, a big smile on her face. "It's not that hard, you know!"
Did Sylvia actually solve one of Brian's problems? Can you solve it? Take four or five minutes, or as long as you wish, and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of the story.[Read More]
In our previous episode, Detroit Doublejumpers captain Marvin J. Mavin drew in the deciding game of the World Series of Checkers, forcing a sudden death playoff on the following day.
Sudden death playoffs were conducted solely between the team captains. That meant that Marvin would be playing a series of five minute games against Los Angeles Leapers captain Hyun-Mi Park. The first player to win a game would bring home the championship.
To put it mildly, the pressure was on, and Hyun-Mi was known to be a deadly opponent at speed checkers. Marvin, on the other hand, was stronger in games with longer time limits. Las Vegas book was a whopping 5 to 1 in favor of Hyun-Mi.
Marvin knew full well that he was the underdog. It was a situation that called for a beer, but there was no chance of that, and anyhow Marvin knew he had to keep a clear head. So in his warm-up prior to the game, he tried chewing gum. When that didn't help, he gargled mouthwash for a full 90 seconds. His coach told him to spit it out and run in place for a while, but that only made Marvin's legs hurt.
Marvin then asked for a cheeseburger and fries, but the coach refused, instead having a plate of carrot sticks sent in from the stadium's kitchens.
Marvin barely had time to scowl before the players were called on the field for the playing of the National Anthem.
After the Anthem and the ceremonial playing of the first move by the Governor of Michigan, Hyun-Mi and Marvin met at the center of the field for handshakes and photographs. Hyun-Mi was, as always, stern and composed, while Marvin did his awkward best, all the while trying not to tremble with what he would never admit was fear.
Then the preliminaries were over and the whistle blew, indicating the start of the game. Just before pressing the clock button, Hyun-Mi looked into Marvin's eyes with her patented steely gaze and sent shivers down Marvin's spine.
The first five games ended in draws. Hyun-Mi had the advantage in most of them, but Marvin managed to hold out, though the effort was exhausting. Hyun-Mi, on the contrary, remained cool and composed, content to just wear Marvin down.
There was a fifteen minute break, and Marvin retreated to the Doublejumper dugout for a few cups of sports drink and a toweling down of his face, neck, and arms.
"She's getting the better of you," Marvin's coach remarked pointedly.
As if I didn't know, Marvin thought, but knew better than to say it out loud. Under the rules, the coach could bring in a pinch checkerist at any time, and Marvin didn't want to suffer the humiliation.
Seemingly reading Marvin's mind, the coach said, "Maybe I should bring in Pete Butterworth to pinch play for you. What do you think?"
"I can do it coach, I really can," Marvin said. "Just give me a chance."
"Okay, one more set of five, after that Butterworth comes in. And don't even think about losing."
The whistle blew and Marvin and Hyun-Mi resumed their match.
Three draws ensued, then a fourth. As the fifth game began, Marvin knew it was his last chance.
Hyun-Mi, for her part, never thought Marvin would last this long. She was the best speed checkerist anywhere, and she should have won during the first two or three games of the first round. Was her confidence shaken, if ever so slightly? No matter. She would never show it. If there was one thing she had learned in North Korea, other than checkers, it was how to hide her emotions.
The players moved rapidly, and after a few minutes the following position was reached.
Marvin felt he actually had a chance, if he could just work it out quickly enough. There was only a minute left on his clock. He would have to make his move while still keeping enough time in reserve to finish out the game. Fifteen seconds at best to find the right move.
Sweat was pouring off him. He was fidgeting in his seat as he always did when things got tough. The seconds ticked by ...
And then he made his move.
What do you think of this position? Marvin has five men vs. four kings, is that the better side to have?
The position is not especially difficult but under intense pressure anything can happen. Give thanks that you're not facing Hyun-Mi, and can take your time to find the solution in the comfort of your own non-North Korean surroundings. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of the story.[Read More]
The Detroit Doublejumpers had done it again. Led by their captain, Marvin J. Mavin, they had made it to the top of the American Division of the National Checker League, and were playing the National Division winner, the Los Angeles Leapers, for championship honors in the World Series of Checkers.
The Spring Classic was set at the best four out of seven, and the Doublejumpers and the Leapers had won three each. In the seventh match, the lower four boards had split at 2-2 with only the first board game left to be decided.
Tension was high in Doublejumper Park, all 60,000 fans on the edges of their seats.
Marvin needed to win this game and bring the crown to the Doublejumpers. It was a very big deal. A draw wouldn't do, for in that case, there would be a sudden death playoff the next day, consisting of five-minute speed games between the team captains. The first captain to win a game would carry home the championship on behalf of his or her team.
Marvin was one of the best, if not the best, at checkers played at the professional time control of two hours per game. He was good enough, but not tops, at speed checkers.
The opposing captain, Hyun-Mi Park, never lost at speed checkers. Never.
Ms. Park had originally played for the North Korean National Team, but at an exhibition match in Los Angeles, she had defected and was granted political asylum in the United States. It was a bold and courageous act, and in fact Ms. Park was now protected by a full-time security detail.
Ms. Park had gone on to join the ranks of professional checkers, and before long had risen to the captaincy of the Leapers.
However, Marvin, at least at the moment, didn't care about any of that. He just had to focus on winning this game. And he had a strong position.
He didn't think Hyun-Mi, who was on move, could find a draw. Or maybe he was just hoping she couldn't. He just desperately wanted this to be over so he could celebrate with a few beers.
Hyun-Mi was a model of concentration. She, too, knew what was at stake. The clock continued to tick down but her focus was unbroken. Finally, she uttered a soft, "Danggeun!" and made her move.
How would you do if the stakes were so high? Would you be able to find a draw? Unlike Hyun-Mi, you have as much time as you wish. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of the Part One.[Read More]
It was Saturday, May 21, 1955, and for Sal Westerman of Bismarck, North Dakota, it was a bittersweet spring day. His beloved group of checkerists, The Coffee and Cake Checker Club, would meet today as they did every Saturday, at one o'clock at the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building.
Sal was always happy to have Saturday come around, and spend some good checker time with the "boys" (all of them over 50) who made up the club. Yet it was the Saturday before Memorial Day, which this year fell on a Monday and made for a long weekend. That meant this was the last meeting of the club until the Saturday after Labor Day--- more than three months away.
Summer in North Dakota was short, and pretty much all regular activity, outside of work and church, ceased. There were no dance groups, no crafts classes, no book clubs ... and no checkers at the Beacon.
There was a good turnout for the closing meeting of the season. Wayne, Tom, Dan, Louie, Sam, Delmer, and even infrequently seen Ted were all there. That made eight, counting Sal, and they overflowed into a second booth adjacent to the large booth in the back that they always occupied.
Deana, the proprietress, would miss the club as well. They brought her some good business on slow Saturdays. In fact, she would even close on Saturdays from mid-June through mid-August. Today, though, she had baked a large tray of one of her all-time favorites: chocolate chip almond bars. She charged a little extra for them--- they were twenty cents a serving instead of fifteen cents--- but no one complained.
When everyone was settled in with mugs of Deana's coffee, Sal announced that he had a problem from Ed in Pennsylvania, one that Ed said would go well with next week's Indianapolis 500 auto race. "Ed calls it 'Photo Finish'," Sal remarked. "He originally had in mind the Kentucky Derby, but you'll see when you solve it." Sal paused and chuckled. "If you solve it, that is." Sal turned and looked over at the baked goods case. "Those bars look really fine."
That got a smile out of Deana. "Sure are," she said. "A real deal, too."
Sal laid out the problem setting, once in the big booth and then again on another board in the adjacent booth.
"How long should I give you boys?" he asked, and then answering his own question, said, "Twenty minutes. After that, one of you buys the bars. And more coffee, too."
At first there was silence as the boys examined the position. Then there was discussion, starting with a few suggestions but becoming more and more lively as time passed. Delmer was arguing with Wayne, Sam was getting impatient with Louie, and Dan, Ted, and Tom were trying to solve as a trio.
Finally, it was Ted who spoke up. Over eighteen minutes had passed and Sal was closely watching the clock.
"I have the answer," Ted said, but his voice didn't sound confident at all.
"Glad to hear that, Ted," Sal said. Was there a tiny note of sarcasm? "Let's see it."
"Uh, sure," Ted said, and started to move the pieces.
It's the last chance until September to win some of Deana's famous bars. Can you do it? Do you think infrequent player Ted has found the solution?
You can take your time--- there's no need to race to the finish--- and when you're set, click on Read More for the solution and the conclusion of the story.[Read More]
The year was 1955 and it was the first Saturday of April. In the city of Bismarck, North Dakota, that day had special meaning.
No, it didn't have anything to do with April Fool's Day, which only fell on Saturday once in a while. It had to do with raking up your yard after the winter season.
It was practically an unwritten law. On the first Saturday of April, you raked up your yard. Period. It didn't matter if there were still some lingering piles of snow, or even that it was likely to still keep snowing during April. You raked up your yard, and if you didn't, you'd get glares and stares from your neighbors, who were out there doing their duty while you were ...
... playing checkers at the Beacon Cafe?
Yes, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, led by Sal Westerman, met every Saturday afternoon from September to May at the Beacon Cafe, where they enjoyed a few hours of checker fun and the outstanding baked goods produced by the proprietor, Deana.
Now, Sylvia, Sal's wife of some 45 years, understood. She knew that Sal was 70 and not up to a lot of yard work, so she hired it out to Ted, an enterprising young man in their neighborhood. But it wasn't so simple for the rest of the boys--- Sal referred to the other club members as 'the boys' even though they were all over 50 themselves.
So when Sal made his way to the big booth in the back of the cafe, where the 'boys' always gathered, there was no one present except Wayne and Dan.
"Raked our yard this morning," they both explained, in more or less the same words. "Got up early to get 'er done. Too bad the others are stuck doing it this afternoon."
Of course, the idea of not raking your yard on this appointed day would never occur to any of them. In Bismarck, that was unthinkable.
"Well, okay," Sal said, with a sigh of resignation. "Less treats for the losers to buy, I suppose."
Deana, who missed nothing that went on in her cafe, called over from her counter, "Too bad, I have peanut butter bars today. Really good."
Sal smiled. "I'm sure they are, and in a little while Wayne and Dan are going to buy me one."
"We'll see about that," Dan said. "And hey, did you rake your yard this morning?"
"You know Sylvia hires young Ted to do that."
"Ah, cop out. Anyone who doesn't rake their yard ought to buy treats for those who did, don't you agree, Wayne?"
Wayne nodded. "Sure do. But let's see what Sal has for us today."
"Something from Brian," Sal said, "and he says it's very instructive."
"That's another way of saying 'hard', right?" Dan said.
Brian was Sal's St. Louis checker pen-pal, and his checker problems always puzzled and pleased. But they were seldom easy.
Sal set up the position on one of the checkerboards on the booth's table. "Here you go. Fifteen minutes ought to do it."
"Fifteen minutes! No way!" Wayne complained. "An hour, for sure!"
"Half an hour," Sal said, "and that's final." He crossed his arms over his chest and feigned a severe look.
But the boys were already deep in contemplation.
Peanut butter bars sound good, and you can have one if you can solve the problem (or if you've raked up your yard). When you're done, rake your
mouse over Read More to see the solution.
The turn of the scholastic year brought in a new freshman class at the elite National Checker Academy. Sponsored and operated by the National Checker League, the Academy put on a four-year accredited undergraduate program leading to the degree of Bachelor of Science in Checker Studies.
The curriculum was tough and demanding. Only the best could gain admission, and yet, despite major checker scholarships being offered by Big Ten universities, many a top high school player instead opted to brave the rigors of Academy study.
Tuition was free and the Academy provided room and board. Those who made it through the program--- and that certainly wasn't everyone, not by a long shot--- committed to five years of professional play, although many would go on to a lifetime career.
This year, the Academy invited Marvin J. Mavin to address the incoming class, and that invitation raised some eyebrows in the checker community. Usually the frosh were addressed by someone, well, a bit more on the academic side, someone more erudite and polished.
Of course Marvin was a star player, no doubt about it. But there were some who felt he didn't properly model the high academic and self-disciplinary standards that the Academy rigidly enforced.
Marvin, for his part, didn't really know what kind of a speech to give. So he figured he'd just sort of play it by ear.
Marvin was advised by Academy officials that there was a certain dress code observed at the Academy. All students wore suitable formal business attire at all times, which consisted of a white shirt or blouse, blue or brown tie, a conservative brown suit or pant suit, and brown wing-tip shoes or pumps.
"I ain't wearing no tie," Marvin said at once. "You ain't gotta strangle yourself to play better checkers. You gotta breathe, man."
But his longtime girlfriend, business executive Priscilla Snelson, who was invited to be present with Marvin, put her foot down, and when she did, there was no opposing her.
So Marvin came to the lecture dressed in strict Academy attire, and after a brief introduction by the Dean of Freshman, Dr. Reginald Pastor, Marvin took the podium at the front of the Academy's ultramodern Tinsley Hall.
Marvin looked out over the audience. There were about a hundred members of the freshman class as well as many of the faculty, not to mention invited guests and a full compliment of newspaper, radio, and television reporters. And although Marvin didn't know it, his lecture would be live-streamed on the internet for a worldwide audience.
"Well, uh, hi there," Marvin began. "I'm like, you know, glad to be here. And stuff. Yeah."
Priscilla, from her front row seat, gave Marvin a cautioning look.
"Like, you know, you guys are good and all that..."
"We're not just guys," one young woman piped up from her seat in the back. "Women play professional checkers too!"
Marvin, a bit surprised, said, "Oh, sure, you bet. Real good too. I didn't mean ... well, anyhow. Like I said you guys--- and gals, okay?--- you're all good..."
"Why do you have to say 'guys and gals'?" the young lady in the back retorted. "Can't you just say 'checkerists' or 'people'? Why does this have to be a gender thing?"
Priscilla nodded approvingly but again Marvin didn't notice."
"Look here, I ... anyhow I wanted to start off with a really good problem and see how fast you guys--- people--- can solve it."
But by now nearly everyone in the freshman class had started to mutter. Even some of the faculty were shaking their heads.
"Okay, here's the problem," Marvin said. The following diagram was projected on the big screen at the back of the stage.
"Okay there it is, fellas .... oops ..."
The muttering now turned into much more as catcalls rained out upon Marvin. Again, some of the faculty joined in. It was getting out of hand, and Dr. Pastor stepped up onto the stage, motioning Marvin away from the microphone.
"Mr. Mavin," Dr. Pastor began, addressing the crowd, "doesn't realize we respect and acknowledge all fifteen genders..."
Someone in the audience interrupted, "That's gender identities and there are sixteen, not fifteen!"
"Yes, excuse my error," Dr. Pastor replied. Thankfully the crowd was quieting down. "I'm sure Mr. Mavin won't repeat his errors. Isn't that right, Marvin?" Dr. Pastor concluded, looking directly at Marvn.
"Yeah, doc, didn't mean to make any of you boys angry."
That was it. The crowd erupted again and two uniformed security guards appeared on stage, quickly leading Marvin off, telling him it was for his own safety.
About half an hour later Priscilla met up with Marvin at the Security Office, when the security staff felt it was finally safe for him to leave.
On their way to the car Priscilla did little more than glare before finally saying, "I've warned you time and time again to be careful about disrespectful remarks."
"Disrespectful?" Marvin replied. "All I said was ..."
"Don't you dare repeat it!"
"But honey ..."
"Don't 'honey' me, either!"
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry. Can we go get a beer or something and kind of like make up?"
Priscilla shook her head in dismay.
"Like, maybe when we get to the airport?"
"Get in the car, Marvin. Sometimes, I wonder just what I see in you."
Marvin, at this point, knew it would be best to keep very quiet and do as he was told.
The students at the Checker Academy never did get to solve Marvin's problem. Can you? We guarantee that the solution is 100 percent gender free. See what you can do and then click on Read More to check your moves.[Read More]
In Bismarck, North Dakota, the snow season starts around October and runs well through April. Some of the heaviest snowfalls can occur later in the season.
So, on a March Saturday in 1955, there was the feeling of snow in the air. It's familiar to anyone who lives in a northerly climate. You didn't need a weather forecast to know that it was going to start snowing later that day, and probably quite a lot.
But the threat of bad weather didn't stop Sal Westerman from walking over to the Beacon Cafe at 1 PM for the regular Saturday session of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club. There would be plenty of Deana's hot coffee and some freshly-baked treats. Deana ran the Beacon and her baked goods had no match for miles around.
Turnout was a little less than usual. Just three of the boys (who were all over 50) were there: Dan, Wayne, and Mike, who, like Sal, showed up just about every single week.
"Too bad the others aren't here," Sal said, "for I've got a nice one from Brian this week." Brian, in St. Louis, was one of Sal's checker pen pals.
"Maybe they were scared off," Wayne said. "Brian's problems can be pretty tough."
"Oh, it's just the weather," Sal said. "But I want to know what kind of treats you boys will be buying me when you can't win this one."
Deana, stationed behind her counter and ever alert, piped up, "Fresh pecan bars. Just the right thing to make you feel warm and comfy on a snowy day." She smiled, knowing she'd be selling quite a few servings before the afternoon was out.
"Well, there you go," Sal said. "I just love pecan bars. Might even let you buy me two."
Dan laughed. "We'll see about that," he said. "Now set 'em up and let's have a look."
The first few snowflakes were starting to fall outside as Sal set up the problem. But none of the boys noticed, as they were immediately engrossed in the following position.
Sometimes Sal only gave the boys five or ten minutes to solve a problem. But problems from Brian or Ed (Sal's Pennsylvania pen pal) were tougher, and although Sal liked to win, he was always fair about things.
After about an hour, Deana said, "It's snowing pretty hard now. Might have to close up early. I live over in Mandan and driving is going to be tough." Mandan was a smaller town just across the Missouri River from Bismarck.
But no one heard her. Concentration was too deep. And then, Dan spoke up. "It's kind of hard to find., but I've got it."
"Is that right?" Sal said. "Show me."
Is Dan about to win pecan bars for all of the boys? How would you do? Hopefully you're not in the middle of a snowstorm, and can give today's problem a good effort. Don't flake out or drift away; plow ahead and when you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.[Read More]
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]