Saturday, September 10, 1955: It was the first Saturday after the Labor Day weekend. For Sal Westerman, a retired actuary in Bismarck, North Dakota, the day held special meaning, for at 1 PM, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club would resume its weekly meetings after the summer break.
Sal missed those get-togethers at the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building. It was the highlight of the week for the elderly gentleman. Oh, he understood that during the all-too brief North Dakota summers, pretty much every organized indoor activity came to a stop so that people could enjoy the long hours of daylight and spend time outdoors. But he missed his club nonetheless.
His wife Sylvia sensed his eagerness and served an early lunch so that Sal could be on his way and not be a minute late. Sal walked much faster than usual from his home to the Beacon that afternoon, and arrived a full five minutes early.
When Deana, the proprietor and the best baker in a dozen counties, greeted him, he felt a warm flow of contentment. Looking to the back of the Cafe, he was even more pleased to see that a few of the boys (all of them at least 50 years old) were already in the big booth that the Club always used. Delmer, Dan, Wayne, and Larry were on hand, and look! even Tom was present.
There were greetings and handshakes all around, and by one o'clock two more members had arrived: Louie and Ron. It was a great gathering and Sal couldn't have been more pleased.
"Welcome back, boys!" he said. "I hope you all had a great summer and are ready for some checkers!" There were words of assent all around and Larry and Louie even gave out a little cheer. But it was Wayne who asked the inevitable question.
"What've you got for us today?"
"Oh," Sal chuckled, "a real nice one from Ed." Ed was Sal's checker penpal way out east in Pennsylvania. "Ed says you have to find 18 star moves to solve it."
"18 star moves!" Dan exclaimed. "That's darn tough!"
Behind her counter, Deana, sensed her moment. She was as good at marketing as she was at baking. "Zucchini chocolate chip bars today," she said. "Fresh and hot."
"Sounds great!" Sal said. "I'll be happy to have the boys buy me a couple when they can't win this one!"
"Says who!" exclaimed Tom. "Lay 'em out, Sal!"
Sal set up two checkerboards, one in the big booth and one in the adjoining booth. With such a great turnout, one board would hardly be enough. He arranged the pieces in the following position.
"Golly," Dan said, and then added, "gee."
"Since you have to find 18 star moves, I'll give you some extra time," Sal said. "How about half an hour?"
There was a great clamoring of disagreement. "An hour!" Louie demanded. "Play fair!"
"Okay, an hour. But not a minute more!" Sal looked over at Deana. "We're going to need a lot of coffee," he said.
"Gotcha covered," came the reply but the boys paid no attention. They were already deeply engrossed in Ed's problem.
We're certain you're glad the Club is finally meeting again, and no doubt you'd like one of those zucchini chocolate chip bars. Can you solve the problem and win one (virtually, of course)? Take as much time as you like. Put a pot of coffee on the stove and try to work it out; then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.
An hour went by quickly. Sal let the boys go for an extra ten minutes and then called time.
"It's no use, Sal," Tom said, "we're just not going to get it. You sure it has a solution?"
"Oh, yes, indeed it does," Sal said, and proceeded to play out the following moves. "Ed titled this one 'Neatly Scattered.'"
23-18 27-31 26-22 31-26 22-17 26-22---1 18-15 22-13 15-11 13-17 29-25! 21-30 10-6! 2-9 5-21 30-26 21-17 26-23 17-14 23-19 14-10 19-16---A 10-7---B 16-12 7-3 12-16 11-7 16-12 7-2 4-8 2-6 8-11 6-10 11-16 10-15 16-20 15-19 White Wins.
1---For some reason the computer plays 4-8 here. We suppose that computers have their own reasons---Ed.
A---Black is trying to avoid a loss by First Position, a standard ending which would be forced by 19-24 10-15 24-28 15-19, etc., White Wins.
B---11-7 would allow a neat draw by 4-8 7-3 8-12 10-15 16-20 15-19 20-16 19-24 16-11---C 24-20 11-15 Drawn.
C---16-20 loses by 24-28 20-16 3-8 16-20 8-11 12-16 28-32 16-19 32-28 19-23 11-15 23-27 28-32 27-31 15-19 White Wins.
"Hey wow man," Louie said, uttering his trademark phrase, "I sure wish I knew how to do that!"
"It's a beauty," Dan admitted, "and you win, Sol. I'll buy today."
Everyone smiled, especially Deana. The first meeting of the checker season of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club was a real bell-ringer for her cafe--- and for all of the club members.
The boys enjoyed their coffee and treats and played skittles until about four thirty.
"See you all next week," Sal said as they left for the afternoon. Sal smiled. Next week and every week until the coming summer, there would be checkers at the Beacon Cafe.
The Checker Maven thanks master composer Ed Atkinson for this fine problem and accompanying solution and lettered notes.