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.
Problem composition, solution, and notes are by Brian HInkle.
24-19---A 16-23 31-26! 22-31 30-25 29-22 14-18 5-14---B 18-27 31-24 28-26 4-8 26-23 8-11 23-19 11-7 19-15 7-2 15-10 White Wins.
A---Almost everyone first tries 14-18? 5-23 24-19 15-24 28-17…and thinks this cute 3x3 shot must win. After all, white now has the move! However, continue 16-19 31-27 4-8 17-14 8-11 14-10 11-15 10-7 15-18 30-26 29-25 26-22 19-23 and White only draws.
B---The White king is now surrounded by four Black pieces, which is very rare. Master composer Ed Atkinson invented this new checker tactic which he named the “Jack-in-the-Box” theme. This 6x6 with 9 kings composition is based on one of Ed’s fine published problems which I modified into a much harder to solve problem.
We hope you enjoyed our story and Brian Hinkle's masterful composition. During year 16 of The Checker Maven, you can expect more from our regular contributors (Brian, Ed, and Lloyd) and more stories from The Beacon Cafe as well as all our other features. If there's anything you'd especially like to see, please let us know!