It was the last Saturday in May of 1955. In Bismarck, North Dakota, that meant the last frost of the winter was probably in the books, yards had been raked up and readied for the summer weeks ago, and outdoor life was stirring. Some flowers had started to bloom and in a couple of weeks Sal Westerman would have fresh asparagus from his garden, and fresh strawberries, too.
But it also meant that this would be the final meeting of Sal's beloved Coffee and Cake Checker Club before they took their summer break, which lasted from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Their meeting place, the Beacon Cafe, was closed on summer Saturdays, and during the whole month of August when the owner, Deana Nagel, went to Gackle to spend time on her family farm and help with the harvest.
The sun was out and the temperature was around 70 degrees when Sal walked the few blocks from his modest home to the Provident Life Building, where the Cafe was located. He expected a good turnout, as was usually the case for the last meeting of the season, and when he walked in the door he wasn't disappointed. Nearly everyone was there: Larry, Wayne, Delmer, Spooler, Louie the Flash, Ron, Tom, Dan, and even Ted, Howie, and Frank, the latter three being only infrequent participants. The group took up three booths in the back, and Deana was all smiles. Business was going to be good today.
"Rhubarb bars," she announced, "and I've got lots of them!"
It was a long-standing tradition that Sal would bring along a checker problem, and if the "boys" (all of them at least 50 years old) could solve it, Sal would buy the treats, but if they couldn't, Sal got treated by them. Sal always made sure he brought along a tough problem to even the odds a little.
The boys talked for a little while, drinking coffee and playing a few informal games. Many of them had summer vacation plans, generally involving time on their farms (now usually run by their children), or visits to relatives around and about North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana. Ron and his wife were actually going on a cruise; they'd take the train to New York and then sail for Paris. That was pretty unusual for most folk in Bismarck, who didn't feel comfortable when they were very far from home.
At around 2 o'clock the boys started clamoring for Sal to show his problem. "Gettin' kind of hungry in here," Wayne remarked. "Must be time for Sal to be buying us some of those rhubarb bars."
Sal smiled. "We'll see about that," he said, "I've got one from Ed and it's going to get published in All Checkers Digest."
The expression on Wayne's face changed. Ed, who was from Pennsylvania and one of Sal's checker pen-pals, always came up with tough, clever problems, and if All Checkers Digest was going to print it, then it must be really something.
Sal laid out the following position on several of the checkerboards. "Okay boys," he said, "let's see what you can do with this one!"
"Oh ... " Louie the Flash said.
"Oh my ... " Howie said.
"Yikes!" Larry said.
Deana brought over more coffee as the boys set to work.
Fortunately, The Checker Maven doesn't take the summer off. But neither do we serve rhubarb bars, so you're on your own for afternoon treats. But do try to solve the problem and then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our little story.
At three o'clock, Sal called time. The boys all admitted that they were stumped.
"I told you it's a good one," Sal said. "Take a look at this."
15-11---A 8-15---B 32-27 23-32 6-9 20-27 9-13 15-24 10-7 3-17 13-31 White Wins.
A---The composer remarks, "If anyone asks how the Black piece got to 20, the previous moves could have been 25-21 12-16 21-14 16-20. Case closed."
B---If 20-27 11-4, White's material advantage wins.
Sal noted, "Ed calls this one 'Long Line Drive' and it seems kind of appropriate, especially as we're in baseball season." Sal was a big fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The boys all were impressed. The solution was really clever and very pleasing. Then, Dan and Ted went over to Deana's counter and bought out her entire supply of rhubarb bars.
"We can all take some home," Dan said, "seeing as how this is the last get-together for a while."
The boys talked checkers and played skittles until just before Deana's 5 PM closing time. Then they shook hands all around and made their way to the exit.
"See you all in the fall," Sal said, as he reluctantly started for home. But he knew that in three months, everyone would be back together again for more checker fun.
Our thanks to grandmaster problem composer Ed Atkinson for the problem, notes, and solution.