Sal Westerman, of Bismarck, North Dakota, was doing what he did every summer.
It was July of 1955 and Sal and his wife, Sylvia, were spending a couple of weeks at a lakeside cabin near Lake Sakakawea. For years they had rented the same cabin for the same two weeks.
Sal of course missed his Saturday afternoon visits to the Beacon Cafe in Bismarck, where his Coffee and Cake Checker Club met weekly during fall, winter, and spring. But like most such things in North Dakota, there was a pause to enjoy the all-too brief summer season, and the club wouldn't meet again until the Saturday after Labor Day.
At the lake, Sal and Sylvia didn't follow any particular schedule. They went to bed when they were tired, got up when they were ready, went on walks, relaxed on the porch, and just took it easy. Sal, of course, brought along some checker magazines.
This morning, however, Sal decided to take a rowboat out on the lake and try some fishing. At least, that's what he called it. What he actually did was row the boat out a ways, drop a line in the water, and then get out a checker magazine. If a fish bit that was fine but he really didn't care. Sylvia, of course, always hoped he'd catch something to cook for dinner, but she knew Sal's habits and tricks and didn't count on anything.
It was a clear and sunny morning, and it was going to be hot, so Sal knew he should go out early. The fish wouldn't really be biting once the temperature rose, but worst of all was that it would be just too warm out in the sun to focus on his magazine. So Sal rowed out at 7 AM right after an early breakfast.
"Good luck, dear," Sylvia had said, not failing to notice the copy of All Checkers Digest in Sal's tackle box.
It was still nice and cool when Sal put a lure on his hook and cast out his line. Then with a smile of anticipation, he opened up his magazine. Sal loved all the news, features, and analyzed games from professional play, but he especially enjoyed the checker problems, and this issue featured one by his friend Ed from Pennsylvania. Opening up the magazine, he quickly found the problem and was soon absorbed in trying to work out the solution.
He was deep in thought when he heard the line on his fishing reel start to run out at a rapid pace. There was a fish on his hook and it must have been a big one!
He set his magazine down on the seat beside him and took his pole from its holder. The fish was still running out as his started to crank on his reel, trying to pull it back in. It was a back and forth tussle and after about five minutes both the fish and Sal were starting to tire. Slowly but surely, Sal was making headway, pulling the fish closer and closer. Soon he could see the fish almost next to the boat, near the surface of the water. Now, where was that fish net ...
While still holding his pole with one hand, Sal reached down and grabbed the handle of his net. He pulled it up ... and wouldn't you know it but the end of the net hit his checker magazine and knocked it into the water!
Sal dropped his pole into the boat and reached out with his net to try to catch his magazine, which was slowly starting to sink. Completely forgetting about the fish, he went desperately for the magazine, but it was too late. The magazine had sunk out of reach. For a moment Sal thought about diving into the water after it, but at 73 years old diving into cold lake water wouldn't have been a good idea, and if he caught a cold from it he'd get the dickens from Sylvia.
Finally remembering the fish, he turned to the other side of the boat. But by this time, it seemed, the fish had somehow wriggled off the hook and was gone.
Despondent, Sal rowed back to shore, moored the boat, and went back into the cabin.
Sylvia was at the kitchen table doing a crossword puzzle. "Back so soon, dear? Any luck?"
Sal slowly recounted the story of the big one that got away, and the lost copy of All Checkers Digest.
"Oh, Sal, I'm so sorry you lost the fish. It would have made such a nice dinner. And the magazine, too, although I know you brought along several others."
"Yes, I did," Sal replied, "but this was the latest issue, and I was just starting to make progress on this problem by Ed ... "
"It's a shame, dear, but I'll make you a nice dinner tonight and you'll feel better about everything, I'm sure. How about a macaroni and hamburger hot dish?" Sylvia knew that was one of Sal's favorites, and she spiced it up with some tangy cheese.
"Oh, yes, dear, thank you, that would be wonderful." But Sal still looked despondent.
It was about time for lunch and they had a ham sandwich with some canned tomato soup. Sal then announced he would take a short rest and Sylvia said she would need to drive into town to pick up some ground beef and a package of macaroni for tonight's dinner.
After washing dishes, Sal lay down while Sylvia headed off for town. Sal awoke an hour or so later and Sylvia was just coming back into the cabin with a bag of groceries.
"Unpack for me, will you Sal, while I freshen up a little. It's so hot out now!" Sylvia said, placing the bag on the kitchen table.
"Sure," Sal said.
Macaroni went into the cupboards, ground beef into the refrigerator, and so on. "Quite a lot of groceries," Sal remarked, but got no reply.
Wait ... what was that in the bottom of the brown paper shopping bag?
No, it couldn't be. Sal had to look twice, then a third time. Slowly, he took the item out, looking at it in wonder.
"Surprised, dear?" Sylvia asked, now standing at the dining table.
"My goodness," Sal said, "how did you do it?"
"Oh, it wasn't hard. It's a pretty popular item, after all. Just about everyone carries it."
Sal smiled as he looked lovingly first at his wife, and then at the copy of the latest issue of All Checkers Digest that he held in his hands.
It looks as though Sal is going to get to try to solve that special problem after all, and of course you can, too. After you've tried it, though, there's no need to go fishing for the solution; just cast your mouse on Read More to see how it's done.
5-9 14-17 9-14 17-21 14-10---1 25-30 27-24 30-26 24-20 26-23 12-16---2 Caught! White Wins.
1---The point of chasing the Black man was not to capture it, but to maneuver the White king so as to immobilize the Black king on 11. In fact now 14-17 would lose to 25-30 17-26 30-32!---Ed.
2---Lloyd Gordon wrote to point out that 12-8 here loses after 23-18 8x15 18x11 and the one-holds-two will be good enough for Black to win. White can't bring the other king around. Try it!
The Checker Maven thanks grandmaster problem composer Ed Atkinson for sending us this problem and solution, another one of his clever and entertaining compositions.