Contests in Progress:
It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The year was 1955 and the place was the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building in Bismarck, North Dakota.
At just after one in the afternoon, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club had started its weekly meeting. The club, nominally led by Sal Westerman, had a number of checker enthusiasts as members, all but one of whom were over the age of 50.
The club meet each Saturday from just after Labor Day to just before Memorial Day, except for holidays such as Thanksgiving weekend.
The "boys" as Sal called them, were all enjoying their coffee. Dan, Sam, Delmer, Wayne, Tom, and Louie the Flash were on hand today. But instead of being deep into a checker discussion, they were talking about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. A rather pointed debate was going on about what you should eat on Thanksgiving.
"Turkey, what else?" Dan said, and there were a number of nods of agreement. But Sal was espousing a contrary point of view.
"Now, boys," he said, "I certainly can't argue against the great American tradition of turkey, with lots of stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and so on, not to mention pumpkin pie for dessert."
As if on cue, Deana, the Beacon's proprietess, called out from behind her serving counter, "Pumpkin spice bars today, boys!"
There were smiles all around as Sal continued, "But my wife Sylvia allows as how she's a little tired of turkey after so many years, and wants to make prime rib instead. She says it's 'festive and celebratory' as she puts it, and 'a nice change from the ordinary.'"
"I like that idea," Deana said. "Are you having a lot of company? With a big crowd, a large turkey is probably a better choice, but for smaller groups a nice three rib roast might be just the thing."
"It's just us this year," Sal said. "Our daughter can't make it up from Washington D.C., and Sylvia's sister Phoebe is going down to Utah to visit with their other sister." Sal almost expressed his relief at Phoebe's being elsewhere, but held back at the last minute. He and Phoebe didn't exactly hit it off.
"Well, then, there you go," said Deana. "A three rib roast will make a great dinner and lots of roast beef sandwiches during the coming week."
A few of the boys said, "I don't know" or words to that effect, but the discussion finally ended with Sal saying, "Thanks, Deana. In any case you can imagine I didn't want to argue with Sylvia, especially after she kind of implied that if I want a turkey I can cook it myself."
Everyone had a good laugh, after which Wayne asked Sal what he had in mind for today's checker problem.
"Here's what I've got for you," Sal said.
The tradition was that Sal would bring along a checker problem for the boys to solve. If they got it, Sal bought the treats but if they couldn't solve it, the boys bought their own plus some for Sal--- and Sylvia.
Sal laid out the following position. "Here you go, boys. It's already one-thirty so let's keep it to no more than half an hour."
The boys all nodded their assent and were soon deep into contemplation.
Our Checker Maven staff do sometimes have prime rib at Thanksgiving, but to support tradition, we serve traditional stuffing, even if pan baked, prepared according to a recipe that is at least 150 years old. What do you have for Thanksgiving? Do you stick with traditional turkey or do you serve something completely different? We'd love to hear from you.
Of course first you should tackle today's problem. We promise you it's not a turkey and you won't have any beef about it. See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Things had seemingly returned to normal in the National Checker League after the near-disastrous player's strike just before the start of the season. Fortunately, as described in our previous Marvin J. Mavin story, the strike came to a negotiated end afer Marvin defeated Charity Chastity "Cha Cha" Hopkins in a one on one match intended to settle the terms of the strike. At the conclusion of the match, Cha Cha, in a rage, assaulted Marvin and ended up being jailed on a charge of attempted second degree murder. Marvin missed the first two weeks of the season while recovering from a broken collarbone and injuries to his throat and neck.
However, not much could keep Marvin away from the checkerboard, and he was soon back in action.
But, alas, everything isn't always simple. Cha Cha, despite bail being set at $1 million, obained her release and immediately mounted a defense and had her lawyer file for summary dismissal of all charges based on Texas law which accounted for "fightin' words." Cha Cha's defense team put forth the argument that Marvin employed "fightin' words" and therefore Cha Cha's assault on Marvin was justified.
A hearing was scheduled in Dallas Superior Court and Marvin was subpoenaed to appear. The NCL Player's Union decided to provide counsel as NCL management declined to do so citing "conflict of interest."
Unfortunately for Marvin, the powerful Looking To Be Offended (LTBO) lobby filed a brief as an amicus curae, or friend of the court. But they were no friend of Marvin, who had encountered them before (see earlier stories).
LTBO supported Cha Cha's "fightin' words" claim. In their brief, they noted (as did Cha Cha's defense team) that Marvin had used the expression "mano a mano" (in reference to their one on one match) after which he called Cha Cha a "woman." They argued that mentioning gender was well known to be outside the politically correct spectrum and that in so doing Marvin provoked Cha Cha with "fightin' words."
In due course, Marvin was called to the witness stand. He didn't hear the order to step forward, having been preoccupied with a checker problem in All Checkers Digest.
"I told you to leave that magazine in the car," his lawyer, Greta Gumption, hissed. "Now get up and go to the witness stand before you're held in contempt!"
Marvin reluctantly put down his magazine and obeyed.
After being sworn in, the defense lawyer, Ms. Susie Saucer, asked Marvin a few preliminary questions about his occupation, marital status, on so on.
"Yes, I'm married," Marvin said. "Priscilla Snelson is my wife."
"Really, you're married? she said. "The way you look, I never would have guessed you would have found anyone who would take you. And by the way, you should say "spouse" as the word 'wife' is gender biased. But, anyhoo, describe the so-called assault in your own words."
"Well," Marvin said, "we had this here match, mano a mano, you know, like ... "
"Mano a mano?" Saucer interrupted. "Are you saying that Ms. Hopkins is a man?"
"I ain't saying nothing," Marvin replied. "It's just like, an expression, you know ... "
"A very offensive expression," Saucer said. "But please continue."
"So then Cha Cha ... "
"Her name is Ms. Hopkins."
"Yeah right, I know, so then she says she didn't like what I said and ..."
"You knew she didn't like what you said but you said it anyway?"
"Uh yeah but that was like before she told me and how was I supposed to know?"
"You should have asked. Go on."
"So I says okay then mano a womano ... "
"So you did call her a woman."
"Well, ain't she? I mean maybe she don't look much like one ..."
Saucer threw her hands up in the air. "Your Honor," she said, turning to the judge, "look at this ... person. And having heard what he has to say, I ask again for summary dismisal."
"Hey wait a minute," Marvin said. "You ain't heard the rest. Like how she called me a maggot and said I was dog food ..."
"The witness will remain silent," the judge intoned. "Prosecutor, this certainly seems like a case of fightin' words. Calling someone a woman. Criticizing her appearance. Not honoring her wishes. Why, I'll bet this so-called victim never even asked Ms. Hopkins for her preferred pronouns."
"Your Honor," the prosecutor said, "attempted second degree murder is a very serious charge and Mr. Mavin was nearly killed by Ms. Hopkins. Surely this should at least be argued in front of a jury."
"I don't think so," the judge said. "Defense, approach the bench. Witness, you are dismissed."
Marvin went back to his seat next to his lawyer. "You really botched it," she said, and then fell silent.
Meanwhile Cha Cha's defense team was conferring with the judge. The LTBO lawyer joined in. After a few minutes, there was a nod of agreement all around and the meeting dispersed.
The judge cleared his throat and then announced, "The defense has agreed to a plea of guilty to a charge of misdemeanor assault with a sentence of three days, which has already been met with time served. Ms. Hopkins, you are free to go. Case closed." So saying the judge rapped his gavel and the courtroom began to clear.
Cha Cha came over to Marvin and said quietly, "And you thought you had won, you little worm. Well, Charity Chastity Hopkins isn't done with you yet. I'd watch my back if I were you."
"Are you threatening my client?" Marvin's lawyer said, but it was more a squeak than a statement.
"Figure it out for yourself, weakling." Cha Cha walked off to join her defense team, whose members were talking about going for drinks to celebrate.
"Next time, and I hope there isn't a next time," Marvin's lawyer said, "do as you're told and listen instead of messing around with checker problems. And for heaven's sake, ask people for their preferred pronouns. That's what people do in the 21st century. If you don't, people get away with murder. Or at least attempted murder."
Marvin shook his head. "Just don't get it," he muttered as he made his way back to the parking garage.
Since (at least we hope) you're not in court, you can feel free to solve the problem that Marvin unfortunately had to set aside. See how it goes and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
It was a fine fall afternoon on a Saturday in October, 1955. The place was Bismarck, North Dakota, and for Sal Westerman, that meant an afternoon visit to the Beacon Cafe, where his Coffee and Cake Checker Club met weekly between Labor Day and Memorial Day.
Sal left home around 12:45 PM in order to arrive by the nominal 1 PM start time. He enjoyed the walk in the brisk autumn air under a cloudless blue prairie sky. However, something was troubling him--- an unusual situation for one of his beloved Saturday club days.
He had gotten a letter early the previous week from a certain Simon S. Sinistra, postmarked Washington, D.C. The letter said that Mr. Sinistra was coming to Bismarck for a couple of weeks as a representative of the Department of Agriculture to lend help to the North Dakota department of the same name. The letter said that he understood things were "not well run" in Bismarck and that Washington would provide Federal "guidance" to "improve" things.
That would have been enough in and of itself, but then Mr. Sinistra went on to say that he had read about the Coffee and Cake Checker Club in All Checkers Digest, and, as he himself was a member of the District of Columbia Federal Employees' Checker Association, he was looking forward to visiting the Coffee and Cake Club to give them guidance on how to run a proper checker association.
"As a small-time club in a small-time podunk town in a small-time podunk state in a small-time podunk region of the country, undoubtedly you will be grateful for my advice and will follow it without question. You should be most appreciative that I kindly am providing my services without a fee, as I understand North Dakota to be a poor state, limited not only in culture and sophistication, but in material resources" Mr. Sinistra had said in his letter.
Sal found himself hoping that this Sinistra fellow wouldn't show his face at the Beacon. But he supposed he had to be prepared for the worst.
Now, the "boys" who made up the club--- all but one of them over the age of 50--- indeed were an unsophisticated lot, not schooled in the ways of big city culture. But they were honest, hard-working, and decent. They loved their country and they took care of their families. Most of them were Sunday churchgoers. In short, they were old-fashioned, upright, loyal, patriotic, and caring. They were also, as it turned out, quite good checker players.
What they didn't have was a lot of tolerance for pretension, snobbery, and condescension.
Sal arrived at the Beacon at just before one o'clock, greeted Deana, the proprietress (who was a championship baker) and said hello to the "boys" who had already arrived. There was Dan, Wayne, Mike, Larry, and Louie the Flash. Soon afterwards Tom and Ron came in, making a group of eight along with Sal. It was a nice turnout.
They all visited for a few minutes over coffee before Wayne asked the inevitable question. "What have you got for us today, Sal?"
The tradition was that Sal brought along a checker problem and if the boys could solve it, Sal would buy treats for the crowd. If they couldn't solve it, the boys would buy their own treats and some for Sal, including an extra serving or two for Sal to take home to his wife, Sylvia.
"Here's one from Ed in Pennsylvania," Sal said. Ed was one of Sal's checker pen pals and was a grandmaster problem composer. Sal went ahead and set up the problem on two different checkerboards in the big booths at the back of the cafe.
As per usual, Deana, never missing a marketing opportunity, announced, "Rhubarb crumble today, with vanilla ice cream!"
But just as she finished her announcement and the boys started to settle down to tackle the problem, the door to the cafe slammed open and in came a figure dressed in an expensive black suit. The man looked around the cafe and frowned. But before he could speak, Deana said, "Hey, pal, take it easy with that door! You break it you pay for it!"
"Are you addressing me in that tone of voice?" the man said. "Do you, a menial cafe worker, dare threaten a representative of the United States Government?"
"You better watch yourself, bud ... " Deana began, but Sal stood up and said, "Mr. Sinistra, I presume? Welcome to the Coffee and Cake Checker Club. I'm Sal Westerman, the organizer."
"Not today you aren't," Sinistra said. "I'm here to show you how it's done outside of Podunk. I'll be in charge today. Now, I suppose we'll have to make do with meeting here, but it will be the last time you gather in a sordid cafe. Surely there are better places, even in this cow town. Mr. Westerman, you are assigned to locate suitable meeting space. I will expect this to be accomplished no later than Tuesday. Do I make myself clear, or are you all as stupid as I'd expect?"
"Hey, careful what you say! Besides, we like it here!" said Dan. "We don't need another place. The food is good, the coffee is good, and it's friendly--- like us. There's rhubarb crumble today, you should try it."
"Rhubarb? Are you serious?" He looked over at Deana. "I imagine you run this ... place?"
Deana, slowly turning red, nodded.
"Well, where are the French pastries? The croissants? The Viennese tortes? At our club in Washington, we have only the best. Speaking of which, I'd like a cappucino with extra foam, two sugar cubes on the side. Cane sugar, please, not beet sugar, which I understand is common around here."
"You can have a cup of coffee, pal," Deana said, "if you pay in advance." Her tone had become quite unfriendly.
"Put it on my tab," Sinistra replied as he strode to the back of the cafe. "Now, what is this?" he asked, looking at the checkerboards.
"We always start out with a problem that I provide," Sal began to explain, "and then ... "
"Not any longer," Sinistra said, and then he picked up the checkerboards one by one and shook the pieces off of them. The boys grumbled but Sinistra went on, "We usually start with a lecture on technique by a qualified individual, such as myself. But I think the first thing we need to do is lay down the new rules for the this club." He turned to the serving counter, "And where's my coffee?" he demanded.
"Where's your ten cents?" Deana replied curtly.
Sinistra glared. "Do these yokels pay in advance?" he asked. "The answer had better be 'yes' or I'll bring the wrath of government down on this pitiful little cafe."
Deana stood up straight. "That's it," she said. She came around from the back of her counter. "You're leaving. Now. And you're banned. You're trespassed. You ever come back here the "podunk" police will throw you in our "podunk" jail. And as for the wrath of goverment or whatever nonsense you're spouting, I know my rights. This is my cafe and we do things my way."
"And this is our club and we do things our way," Louie the Flash said.
All the boys were now also standing, making a wall in front of Sinistra. "It would be best if you listened to Deana," Sal said gently. "She's right. The Beacon Cafe is not the place for you, and the Coffee and Cake Checker Club is not the place for you, either. I'm sorry. But this isn't Washington D.C."
"And thank heaven for that!" Tom exclaimed.
Sinistra looked as if he were about to say something, but then simply turned on his heels and went to the door. He made sure to slam it on the way out.
"Dan, can you check that door for me?" Deana asked. "I wouldn't at all mind having that puffed up city boy run in for vandalism.
Dan checked the door carefully. "No damage, Deana," he said, "more's the pity."
"Boys, time's a wasting!" Sal said. "I'll set up today's problem again and you can see how it goes."
Everyone gave their quick assent, and soon the boys were deep into contemplation. Sal gave them an hour, allowing enough time for things to settle down.
"Got it!" Dan exclaimed after the hour had passed, adding, "Wonder if that big shot could have done it?"
We certainly hope no one like Mr. Sinistra will ever make an appearance in your favorite checker venue. Now, we actually don't know if Mr. Sinistra could have solved today's problem; the question is, can you? Give it a whirl and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
After the debacle at the Detroit Doublejumpers training camp (see our previous Marvin J. Mavin story), and the subsequent strike by the Doublejumper team, the rest of the National Checker League joined in in a sympathy strike, and they were soon joined by other checker leagues the world around.
NPL Player's Union President Jimmy Huffer told the media, "We will not stand idly by while the players we represent are abused. We expect that so-called coach to be fired, and the players be given compensation for psychological damage which may have a profound negative effect on their careers. We think $10 million per player is about right."
"That coach" was Charity Chastity Hopkins, also known to her great dislike as Cha Cha, who had attempted to institute Marine boot camp style disclipline into the Doublejumpers summer training camp. The Doublejumpers' previous season hadn't gone well, and their management wanted a big shakeup. They got one, but not the one for which they hoped.
But they stood their ground, and the management of the other teams stood with them. It was a total impasse. Opening Day came and went, with no checker matches being played. Would the season be completely called off, causing untold financial loss across the country, not to mention great disappointment to the nation's millions of checker fans?
There weren't even negotiations taking place. Days passed and the strike wore on. But then there was a breakthrough.
A checker columnist for a small newspaper in Tularosa, New Mexico, wrote that he'd like to see Marvin J. Mavin take on Cha Cha in a checkers match, and if Marvin won, Cha Cha would be dismissed. If Cha Cha won, she would remain as head coach, and while it was suggested that she tone things down a little, either way the strike would come to an end.
The idea somehow gained national attention, and although both NCL management and the NCL Player's Union didn't like it very much, there was a lot of pressure. Even politicians got involved and the President of the United States himself was heard to say, "They need to get on with it. What's a nation without checkers?"
So the match was arranged. Cha Cha pressed for a two part match which would mix martial arts and checkers, but that didn't gain any traction, as everyone knew that Cha Cha would give Marvin such a beating he wouldn't be able to complete the second part of the match.
Finally the day came. It was to be a single match played in the Dallas Checkerdrome in front of a sellout crowd of 50,000 checker fans.
In the dugout, Marvin's teammates warned him not to shake hands with Cha Cha. "She'll have you on the ground in seconds," they warned. "Probably even break your wrist, or worse."
"I ain't scared," Marvin replied, but nonetheless, when they met at mid-field, Marvin bowed instead of offering a hand.
"So, we meet, like, you know, mano a mano," he said, grinning.
Cha Cha gave him a look as if she didn't believe her ears. "Mano a mano?" she screamed. "Listen here, Captain Dog Breath, I'm not a mano in case you haven't noticed!"
"Coulda fooled me," Marvin muttered, careful not to be heard. Then aloud he said, "Okay, mano a womano, you like that better?"
"Leave gender out of this!" Cha Cha shouted back. "You better say 'one on one' loud enough for me to HEAR you, and you better say it right NOW!"
"Ma'am, yes ma'am!" Marvin replied, but the note of sarcasm in his voice couldn't be missed. Of course, Marvin had noted there were six very large referees standing in a circle around the two players, ready to intervene if things got out of hand.
The head referee, Ritchie Bandwidth, stepped forward. "People, let's just play checkers, okay? Now, the match is one game. If a draw, a second game, and so on until there is a winner, no matter how long it might go. Take your seats and begin."
"Prepare to die, maggot!" Cha Cha hissed.
Now, there was no doubt Cha Cha was a top player. While in the Marines, she had won the Armed Forces Individual Championship for four years in a row, and then on her re-enlistment, she coached the Marines to four consecutive team championships. When she left the service, she decided on a professional coaching career instead of one as a player. Her severe methods were not appreciated by her teams, but she got results, at least until she reached the NCL and encountered the Doublejumpers.
Marvin and Cha Cha played five draws over a period of about three hours. The fans were getting impatient for a result and loud boos accompanied the announcement of the last two draws.
The sixth game, though, was different, and looked like it might produce a result.
It was Marvin's move in the following position, and he thought he had some chances.
"You're dead meat, Captain Dog Food," Cha Cha said in a stage whisper. "And wait until we get back to training. You'll suffer like you've never suffered before. I'll beat you to a bloody pulp. I'll break both your arms and both your legs. No sleep, no food until every last ounce of insubordination is knocked out of you. It'll be so bad you'll quit because you can't take it any more, and good riddance, too, as you crawl away in agony ... "
"Stuff it," Marvin said, as he reached out and made his move.
Can you defeat Cha Cha and end the strike--- on terms favorable to the players? There's a lot at stake here so the pressure's on. Try your best and remember that Cha Cha can't get to you, wherever you might be. When you're ready click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.[Read More]
It was Saturday, September 10, 1955, the first Saturday after Labor Day. And that meant just one thing to Sal Westerman, long time resident of Bismarck, North Dakota.
The Coffee and Cake Checker Club would resume its afternoon meetings at the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building.
Sal was the unofficial leader of the club, which met every Saturday from just after Labor Day to just before Memorial Day, after which there would be a summer break.
Sal loved his club and really missed it during the summer. Although he knew that summers in North Dakota were short, and most club and school activities of any kind were put on hold, still he missed his gatherings with "the boys" as he called his club companions--- all but one of whom were over 50 years of age.
He loved the venue, too. The Beacon Cafe was owned and operated by Deana Nagel, a championship baker who always gave the boys a warm welcome and let them occupy the large booths in the rear from 1 PM, just after the lunch rush (lunch in Bismarck was taken at noon without exception), until closing time at 5 PM. There was always plenty of coffee and the greatest baked treats anywhere, all at fair prices.
The tradition was that Sal would bring along a checker problem and the boys would try to solve it. If they got it, Sal bought the treats but if they didn't, they had to buy their own and something for Sal too, and often a couple of extras for him to take home to his wife, Sylvia.
As was usual for what Sal called "opening day" there was a great turnout. Besides Sal, there was Wayne, Delmer, Sam, Dan, Louie the Flash, Tom, Kevin (a.k.a. "Spooler"), Ron, young Blaine, and even Old Frank, who wasn't seen all that often, and was actually younger than Sal.
After some prelimary chatter about how the summer had gone, and a few stories from Sal about that big tournament in Las Vegas, the boys were ready to get down to it.
"Let's see what you've got," Tom said.
Sal smiled. "Okay, you asked for it. I've got a different one this time. It's from the Galt Evening Reporter."
"The what?" Wayne asked.
"The Galt Evening Reporter," Sal replied. "It's a little town in southern Ontario. They have a checker column written by Morris Gordon and he has a setting that he said comes from an actual game he played at the local checker club. Morris and I met in a younger day when I played a tournament in Toronto, and we've stayed in touch on and off over the years. He wrote to me just last week saying as how your club will never get this one, as it's championship material."
The boys groaned in unison. "You're sure making it hard on us, Sal!" Louie the Flash said. But he smiled as he said it.
The large turnout occupied two booths, so Sal set up a board in each booth with the following position
As if to spur everyone on, Deana announced from behind her counter, "Chocolate almond nut bars today! Fresh and warm!"
Surely the boys heard her, as there were some sounds of contentment. But they were already deeply immersed in studying the position.
An hour passed. It was 2:30 PM. Sal called "Time!" and everyone looked up.
"We didn't get it," Wayne announced from the table on the left.
"Neither did we," said Dan, who was at the table on the right.
"Well then, boys, let me show you!" said Sal.
This one indeed isn't easy. You will either see it, or you won't. It's a lot of fun, though, and well worth your time. See how you do and click on Read More to see the solution. You'll have to provide your own chocolate almond nut bars, though.[Read More]
It was August and time for training camp. Prior to the start of each checker season, the Detroit Doublejumpers, along with all of the teams in the National Checker League, conducted pre-season training camp.
This was an especially big thing for the Doublejumpers. Having been world champions for several years running, in the previous season they hadn't even made it into the playoffs.
There were a number of reasons. A couple of key players had retired, and Doublejumper management hadn't done well at recruiting. The General Manager ended up getting fired, as did the Head Coach, and it was a close call for the Assistant Head Coach, the Openings Coach, the Endgame Coach, and the Tactics Coach.
The new Doublejumper Head Coach was a woman named Charity Chastity Hopkins, a descendant of the infamous checker pedant of the late 19th century, Harvey L. Hopkins. She had a reputation for being tough and strict. The press referred to her as "Cha Cha Hopkins," much to her dismay. But no one called her that to her face. Ms. Hopkins was an accomplished kick boxer and a black belt in karate in addition to a well-known checker coach.
There had been a few changes in the Doublejumper lineup, but Cha Cha was determined to bring the team back to their old glory and she would do so by any means necessary, including physical intimidation.
Training usually took place at a resort near the appropriately named town of Au Train, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. But not this year.
Cha Cha had located an old military barracks and had it cleaned out and outfitted. When team members assembled in Grand Rapids for their usual charter flight to Au Train, instead they were greeted by a school bus. They were told to stow their own luggage and board the bus.
It was a long ride to the barracks. All the players thought they were going to Au Train. The coaches on board didn't tell them otherwise, and in fact barely spoke. Cha Cha was not present on the bus.
The players arrived at the barracks late at night. Before they even had a chance to look around and realize where they were, Cha Cha had boarded the bus and yelled, "You have one minute to get off my bus and line up at attention on the yellow footprints!"
Sure enough, taking a page out of military boot camp, Cha Cha had had a yellow footprints painted in front of the barracks.
The team looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. The team captain and hero of these stories, Marvin J. Mavin, shrugged his shoulders along with the rest. There were a few mumbles but everyone left the bus.
"Faster, faster!" Cha Cha shouted. "On the footprints NOW!"
The ten players moved toward the footprints at an uncertain pace.
"I said MOVE IT!" Cha Cha screamed.
Marvin, as Captain, turned to her and said, "Hey, look here Coach, this ain't no way to ... "
There was a blur of motion and before he could say another word Marvin was flat on his back on the concrete with Cha Cha's boot bearing down on his chest.
"You got a problem obeying orders, Mister?" Cha Cha said. "Well you better get over it. I don't care if you're Captain. Right now you're something that a dog chewed and spit out, do I make myself clear?"
"I ... " Marvin began, having trouble catching his breath.
"You'll address me as 'Ma'am' whenever you open that mouth of yours. Now, did I or did I not make myself clear?"
Marvin, who had watch Full Metal Jacket some years ago, had the presence of mind to reply, "Ma'am, yes ma'am."
"Now LINE UP!"
Cha Cha stepped back. Marvin rolled over, coughing, and stumbled to his feet. He joined the others at the yellow line.
"Stand at attention!"
It was the beginning of the team's worst nightmare. After being held at attention until they were all weary, they were made to carry their luggage into the barracks where two long rows of beds were set up dormitory style. By then it was two o'clock in the morning.
But the team didn't get to sleep late. At five o'clock reveille sounded over loudspeakers in the room.
"Up and at it!" Cha Cha commanded from the dormitory door. "Problem practice in three minutes. Beds made and assemble in the practice room in two!"
The weary team quickly did as they had been told and took seats in a room across the hall which had a sign that said "PRACTICE."
In a moment Cha Cha entered. "Who gave you permission to be seated?" she said loudly. "Stand up!"
The players got out of their seats.
After Cha Cha had eyed everyone to ensure they were in the proper stance, she commanded, "Team, be seated!"
"Now," she continued, "we will start every day in this room. You will assemble here at 5:05 AM sharp, with beds made to military standard and stand at attention until I arrive and instruct you to take your seats. You will then solve a checker problem. You will have five minutes. If you solve the problem you may proceed to the mess hall where you will be allowed up to ten minutes for breakfast. If you fail to solve the problem, you will instead do ten minutes of push-ups. Do you understand?"
A weak chorus of "Ma'am, yes ma'am" ensued.
"I can't HEAR you!"
The team responded more loudly.
"I still can't HEAR you!"
This time the team shouted.
"That's better." Cha Cha turned on a projector and the following problem appeared on a screen at the front of the room.
"Write your solution on the sheet of paper in front of you. Team, BEGIN!"
Marvin, as well as the rest of the team, sat there befuddled. What was going on here? These were top professionals, a couple of them with multi-million dollar contracts. Did Cha Cha really think this method of training was going to work?
But Marvin was hungry and didn't want to do push-ups, so he tackled the problem.
"Lemme see ... " he muttered, "if you ..."
"NO TALKING! You there, Captain Dog Food, you will solve the problem silently!"
"Ma'am, yes ma'am," Marvin said, as loudly as he could.
Fortunately you can solve this problem without the stress of a drill instructor shouting at you. You WILL try it. You WILL click on Read More to see the solution![Read More]
Sal and Sylvia's wedding anniversary was coming up in a couple of days, and Sal still didn't know what to give her as an anniversary gift.
It was 1955 and the place was Bismarck, North Dakota. Sal Westerman was an elderly retired gentleman who was the unofficial leader of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, which met every Saturday from Labor Day to Memorial Day at the Beacon Cafe. But this was August and the club was on summer break.
Sal and Sylvia had a great summer. They traveled to Las Vegas, where Sal played in the North American Checker Tournament, and Sylvia enjoyed shopping and shows. They visited relatives around North Dakota, and spent some time at the lake cottage they rented every year for a couple of weeks.
August always left Sal anxious for the coming of Labor Day and a new season of Club meetings, but it also left him anxious about his anniversary. It was just so hard to know what to get for Sylvia.
Of course he planned a nice dinner at the upscale restaurant in the Patterson Hotel. On the day itself, he'd be sure to call the florist and have a dozen roses delivered right to the house. But what to get for a gift?
For past occasions such as Valentine's Day and previous anniversaries, he had given perfume, items for Sylvia's needlework, face creams, and all sorts of other things. He even gave a gift certificate once, but somehow that hadn't seemed very personal.
At breakfast, the morning of the day prior to their anniversary, Sylvia poured some coffee and sat down across from Sal at their kitchen table.
"We've been together for many years," she began, "and I know you. You're fretting about an anniversary gift."
Sal thought to deny it, but fooling Sylvia just wasn't possible. They knew each other too well.
"I suppose so," he said. "I want to get you something nice, but I just never seem to come up with very many ideas. More perfume? More face cream? A new sewing machine? I just don't know."
Sylvia leaned forward and crossed her arms on the table. "How about this, Sal? We don't give each other any gifts this year. Oh, sure, if you want to go to the Patterson for dinner, that's wonderful, but no gifts, no flowers, okay? That will take the pressure off of both of us. You know I usually get you a checker book, but you have so many of them I'm afraid I'd just end up buying you a duplicate like I did last year. How about we make it easy on ourselves?"
"I suppose so," Sal said, "but somehow it just doesn't feel right."
"Try it, okay?" Sylvia said. "You can always buy something for me later on if you still think you must. Now please stop fretting and spend some time enjoying your new checker magazine instead of rummaging through the Sears Roebuck catalog." A copy of the latest edition of All Checkers Digest had come in the mail the previous day and Sal hadn't even looked at it yet, something that Sylvia couldn't have failed to notice.
After they had finished breakfast, Sylvia went off to her sewing circle and Sal retreated into his den. The new magazine was full of great games and problems, and even photos from the North American Checker Tournament. Sal was thrilled to see his own photo included! But then his attention turned to the following problem.
However, fate intervened. Sal realized if he didn't get going, he would be late for a doctor's appointment, and that was a bit of a sore point. Sylvia had been after him to get his annual checkup, and Sal had kept putting it off. Finally Sylvia made an appointment for him, and Sal knew he had better show up.
He didn't realize what he was in for. Sylvia apparently had told the doctor to give Sal "the works" and it was the most thorough exam Sal could ever remember having. He was even sent over to St. Alexius Hospital for x-rays and blood work. "You'll get the results tomorrow," the doctor told him. "We'll call you."
That was all the doctor said, and it left Sal a little uneasy.
Of course he told Sylvia all about it, and she only said that she was happy that Sal had kept his appointment.
The next day came, and it was anniversary day. Sal still hadn't gotten back to his checker problem. He seemed to have substituted worry about all the medical tests for worry about a gift for Sylvia. For her part, Sylvia didn't say anything further.
Finally in mid-afternoon the phone rang. It was the doctor. Sal rushed to the phone.
"Well, Sal," the doctor said, "I'm happy to say that all your tests showed normal and you're in good health for someone of your age. I'll see you again in a year."
Sal thanked the doctor and hung up. He related the news to Sylvia, who simply smiled and said, "Wonderful news, dear."
Dinner reservations were at 6:30. Sal and Sylvia both dressed in their Sunday best and even called for a taxi to take them to the Patterson. But Sylvia noticed that Sal was still a bit uneasy.
It wasn't until the shrimp cocktails were served that Sal admitted that he still felt it was a bit wrong for him not to give Sylvia a gift.
Sylvia reached across the table and took Sal's hand in hers. "Sal, dear, you've missed something important."
"What's that?" Sal asked.
"You're in good health. The doctor told you so this morning. I'm doing well, too. So we have the greatest gift of all, one that we've had for so many years. We have the gift of each other." She squeezed Sal's hand and continued to hold it.
Was that a tiny tear in the corner of Sal's eye? Sal didn't say anything in reply. He just put his other hand over their two joined hands and held on.
We can hardly imagine a nicer anniversary for Sal and Sylvia. Not surprisingly, Sal forgot all about checkers for the moment. That leaves it to you, our reader, to solve that problem from All Checkers Digest on his behalf. It's quite a good one. See what you can do and then click on Read More to reveal the solution.[Read More]
Sal was looking forward to his trip to Las Vegas all summer, and the time had come. He and his wife, Sylvia, would fly from Bismarck down to Denver and then catch another plane to Las Vegas. It was expensive but they decided to splurge instead of spending a couple of days on the bus or the train.
While Sylvia was looking forward to shopping and shows, and perhaps a few pulls on the slot machines, Sal was going to play in the 1955 North American Checker Tournament. Given that he was the reigning North Dakota state champion, he qualified for the Masters Division. That would likely mean he'd have a couple of matches with Grandmasters and the odds were definitely against his winning the Division. But Sal was fine with that. He just wanted to play and enjoy the experience.
The plane trip took the better part of a Saturday, giving Sal just a little time before play began on Sunday afternoon. There would be one round on Sunday, two on Monday through Wednesday, and one on Thursday morning, or eight rounds in all. It was a long tournament and it always attracted several thousand players. There were over 200 registered for the Masters Division alone.
Sal and Sylvia had time on Saturday to enjoy one of the famous Las Vegas buffets. They hadn't planned on a show as it just seemed like too much. After dinner, Sylvia tried the slot machines while Sal went back to their hotel room to study a few opening lines in final preparation for the tournament.
The couple had a light lunch the next day and then Sal signed in at the tournament hall. It was quite a sight, with over a thousand checkerboards set up around the vast auditorium. The Masters would play in a segregated area at the front of the hall, with seating set up for spectators behind the velvet ropes and golden stanchions.
Play began. Sal was matched with a highly rated English grandmaster in the first round, and Sal lost one and drew one. He was pretty happy with his results and later told Sylvia so. She in turn had won $100 (a lot of money in 1955) at the slots, and decided to go shopping at a fancy boutique.
The tournament was "Swiss System" meaning winners play winners and losers play losers. Sal had an easier time of it on Monday and won all four of his games. On Tuesday he had tougher opponents and won three and drew one. It got even tougher from there. On Wednesday he won two and drew two. But he went into the final round on Thursday with nine wins, only one loss, and four draws. That gave him 22 out of a possible 28 points and he found himself in 4th place, with one master and two grandmasters ahead of him with 24, 26, and 26 points respectively.
Sal didn't have a chance for first place. But he did have a chance at 3rd place. Mostly, though, he didn't want to get knocked out of 4th place. He really needed to win both of his games to get 3rd, and that wouldn't be easy, as he was matched up against Bob "Newboy" Bertollin, a Master from Chicago who was very close to achieving Grandmaster.
Sylvia, having done enough shopping and seen enough shows, decided to buy a ticket for the gallery and watch the final games. That pleased Sal no end and he felt he would play better with her supporting him.
And indeed, in the first game, that's what happened. Sal played brilliantly against Newboy, and perhaps Newboy didn't take Sal seriously enough--- but Sal won the game.
Newboy was pretty shocked, but he was a good sportsman and congratulated Sal in a sincere manner. He did, however, tell Sal that he was determined to win the next game. That's fine, Sal thought, I'm just as determined.
The game was very hard fought, and Newboy held an advantage. It finally came down to the following position.
Sal wasn't going to win, and he knew it. But a draw would get him a tie with Newboy for third through fourth place, and $375 in prize money, a huge amount that would pay for the trip to Las Vegas and then some.
Sal thought for quite a little while. Finally, taking a look at his clock and realizing he had to make a move ... he did.
How would you do against that very talented player who everyone calls "Newboy"? Can you find the draw that would win Sal the prize money? (Alas, you won't get any prize money from us, but you'll certainly feel good about finding the solution.) Give it a go and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of today's story.[Read More]
For her honeymoon with Marvin, Priscilla spared nothing. She chartered a private jet to take her and Marvin on a direct polar-route flight from Detroit to Bastia on the island of Corsica. She booked the best suite at Casa Reale, Bastia's top (and most expensive) hotel. She arranged for a limousine and a driver for the extent of their one-week stay. She made sure they had reservations at a series of the finest restaurants. Not a single thing was left to chance.
You'll recall from our previous story that there had been some doubt in Marvin's mind whether or not the wedding would even take place. This was after he refused to cut his dreadlocks and stormed off in a huff. Fortunately everything worked out in the end. The ceremony and reception took place and soon afterwards Priscilla and Martin were comfortably seated in the Gulfstream jet that would take them to their destination. Flying time was around 10 hours and they would arrive the following afternoon. The jet of course was outfitted with sleeper couches.
Priscilla and Marvin were both tired from the celebrations. They had a nightcap--- Priscilla chose white wine and unsurprisingly Marvin had a beer--- and then slept for a few hours until the steward gently woke them to serve breakfast.
Soon, they landed in Bastia and quickly cleared customs and immigration. The limo awaited them and whisked them off to their hotel. The couple settled in and then took a leisurely stroll around the town, taking in its unique architecture and interesting sights.
They decided on an early dinner (at least by Corsican standards) and went to one of the restaurants on Priscilla's list, Nova. They had a marvelous meal and Priscilla even persuaded Marvin to try some French wine. Marvin pronounced it excellent and allowed that was almost as good as American beer. At that, Priscilla frowned, but only slightly and only for a moment. She was on her honeymoon, after all.
Everything was fine until the check was paid and they were on their way out to their waiting limousine. It was just outside the restaurant that Marvin saw a poster on a lamp-pole.
"Come on, Marvin, the limo's waiting," Priscilla said.
"Just a sec, honey, I want to read this poster. Hey ... uh ... you can like, read French, right? I can kinda make this out but well ... anyhoo ... "
Priscilla walked over and took a look. "Uh, sweetheart, you needn't worry about this poster," she said, but Marvin looked quite unconvinced.
"Aw, Prissy, it's about a checker tournament, ain't it? I can figger out that much. With a big prize and stuff. I wanna play. I ain't never played in this here Corsica before."
"Marvin, it's an open tournament. That means there will be a lot of amateurs present and it wouldn't be fair for you to play. And a 5,000 Euro prize fund is no big deal. You make more than that in just one game with your pro team. Besides, it would take four days out of our honeymoon. And ... could you not call me 'Prissy'?"
"Yeah but ... c'mon, it's only four days and ... "
Priscilla cut in. "Marvin, what is this trip called?"
"Whaddya mean? It's, like, Corsica, right? Like I was sayin' ... "
"Yes, Marvin, but why are we in Corsica?"
"'Cause you like it?"
"Because it's our honeymoon, Marvin. And what do newlyweds do on their honeymoon? They spend time together. One spouse doesn't go off and play all day for four days in a checker tournament while the other spouse does ... I don't know what."
"Hey, but you can catch up on your work and stuff ... "
"I took the week off. I told the C-suite at Rust Belt that I don't want to hear from them even if headquarters burns down and all our affiliates fold. I was not to be disturbed because it's my honeymoon, the only one I've ever had and, I hope, the only one I ever will have. Do you realize what a commitment I've made? And you want to take four days to play checkers when that's already what you do for a living as a professional, day in and day out?"
"But I'll be there with you after the games finish, right?"
Priscilla threw her hands up in the air. "Marvin, just get in the limo, will you?"
There was an eerie silence all the way back to the hotel and all the way up to their suite. Priscilla then busied herself watching a French news channel while Marvin pulled out a copy of the latest issue of All Checkers Digest. But as usual when he and Priscilla had a dispute, he couldn't focus, even though the following position should have held his interest. It was a problem by that Grandmaster Problemist, Ed from Pennsylvania.
The truth was, Marvin was a good guy and he truly loved Priscilla. It was just that he was a relatively simple guy and didn't always see things in, shall we say, a nuanced manner, and that led to misundertstandings and mistakes, sometimes pretty big ones.
"Aw, heck," Marvin said aloud to himself. He went into the other room where Priscilla was stationed on a couch, looking rather angry and upset.
"Hey, Priscilla," Marvin began, "you're right. I ain't gonna play in no checker tournament. I'm gonna spend the whole week with my lady love. There ain't nobody else anywhere like you, and I'm gonna give you all my time."
Priscilla turned off the TV and looked up quizzically at Marvin. "You sure?" she asked. "You really mean all of that?"
"Course I do," he said.
Priscilla's expression warmed into a broad smile. "Thank you, dear. We're going to have a wonderful week."
"Hey, but, you think like ... you know, the two of us, not just me ... maybe we could sorta drop by the tournamant site and say hi to the players, you know, just real quick?"
Priscilla started to frown but quickly resumed her happy expression. "Sure, honey, we can do that. But enough talk."
Priscilla took Marvin's hand and pulled him onto the couch next to her, and we must end our story here lest we intrude into Priscilla and Marvin's private life.
It seems that recently Marvin is constantly teased with an interesting problem that he doesn't get to solve for one reason or another, and if by chance you too are on your honeymoon, as much as we love checkers we definitely don't recommend doing checker problems! However that stricture will likely apply to very few readers, so do work out the solution at your leisure and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Sal Westerman knew it was inevitable. The day had to come when he couldn't put it off any longer. He would have to go to Dickinson with his wife Sylvia to visit her sister Phoebe.
Sal had on a number of occasions been able to get away with driving Sylvia to Dickinson, where he would stay just long enough for an unpleasant dinner and then drive home, even though it would be pretty late when he got back to Bismarck. A week or two later he'd go back out to pick Sylvia up and bring her home.
It was more difficult when Phoebe came to Bismarck to visit Sylvia. Fortunately this was only a couple of times a year, and Sal could escape to the library or to the Beacon Cafe to get at least some relief.
However, it was summer. Sal's club, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, wouldn't meet again at the Beacon until after Labor Day, and Sylvia had told Sal that this time he had to stay in Dickinson for nine days, from Friday night through the week to the following Sunday morning.
There was one bright spot. It would be the week of the Western North Dakota Summer Checkers Tournament, a fairly important event which would draw some of the top players from North and South Dakota, Montana, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and even a few from Minnesota. The tournament was hosted each year in a different city or town in the western part of the state, and this time it would be in Dickinson.
Now, regular readers know from previous stories that Phoebe and Sal didn't get along. Phoebe thought Sal was wasting time on checkers, when he could be doing useful things like painting the house, cleaning the basement, or at the very least washing the windows (inside and out, of course).
The day came and Sal and Sylvia made the several hour drive to Dickinson. On their arrival, Phoebe greeted them in her driveway, gave Sylvia a big hug, and then pointedly looked at Sal and said, "I hope you've come prepared."
Sal, thinking Phoebe was (surprisingly) referring to the tournament, which started on Monday, replied, "Yes, I've been preparing ... "
Phoebe gave him a quizzical look. "Preparing? What's to prepare? My house needs to be painted, there's some cranky plumbing to fix or replace, and my furnace needs to be cleaned out. You already know how to do those things and you've got more than a week to get them done. Even a lazy fellow could finish that little bit of work in a week."
"Paint your house? I don't think ... "
"Well, you'll need to scrape the old paint first. But you can get it all done in a couple of days. Leaves you lots of time for the other work. You can start first thing in the morning. I'll let you have off this afternoon seeing as how I'm feeling kind of in a good mood now that Sylvia's here."
"Phoebe, look, I can work on a few things over the weekend, but on Monday I'm playing in the big checker tournament and I'll be busy right through Friday."
"Oh, I think I read about that in the paper. Bunch of silliness if you ask me. Grown men pushing those checkers around when they should be doing an honest day's work. Well, forget that, there'll be no tournament for you."
Sal looked over at Sylvia. Sylvia mouthed silently, "I'll take care of it."
Sal was up early on Saturday morning. He started in on the plumbing as he wanted to get that done while the shops were open. He did get everything fixed up by evening, although Phoebe and Sylvia had dinner without him, Phoebe pronouncing him a slow worker who could eat cold leftovers later.
On Sunday Sal took on the furnace cleaning. It was hard and dirty work, but he got that done in time for dinner with the ladies, although Phoebe accused him of rushing and probably doing a shoddy job.
Tournament registration was on Monday at eight. Sal had breakfast at seven and got ready to depart.
"Where do you think you're going?" Phoebe asked, as Sal headed for the door. "You've got to start on house painting today. No more easy jobs for you, you'd better get that scraper working right now or you won't get done by dinner."
"Sal's too old for that kind of work," Sylvia said.
"Too old? He's only 74. Plenty of men ... "
"No, Phoebe," Sylvia replied, and the discussion went on as Sal slipped out the door and drove off as fast as he could.
Sal had a great time on the opening day of the tournament. He saw many old checker friends from around the region, and managed to win all 8 of his games, as there were two rounds in the morning and two in the afternoon.
Of course on his return to Phoebe's she gave him quite a cold reception.
"Sylvia tells me you'll be wasting away your days all week."
"Yes, the tournament runs through Friday ... "
"Then when do you propose to paint the house? That will only leave you Saturday and the likes of you can't work fast enough to do it in one day. Well, maybe you can work evenings. It's light until almost 10 in June. I can see Sylvia won't be able to talk any sense into you, so maybe that's the answer."
"No, Phoebe, I need to rest up for the next day's games."
"Rest? You rest all day sitting in front of those little pieces of wood, acting like a child ... "
"I'm sorry, Phoebe, I can't paint the house. I fixed the plumbing and cleaned the furnace for you. Now please let me play in my tournament."
It went on that way all week. Friday rolled around. There were just three rounds that day, and when the results were in, Sal had tied for first with Jimmy Loyal, the Montana champion.
So there would be a fourth round, a playoff between Sal and Jimmy. The first game ended in a draw. As they prepared to play the second game, the referee pointed out that if this game should end in a draw, the two players would split first and second prizes. First prize was $100 and second prize, $50. (Remember it was 1955 and that was a lot of money.)
The last game was hard-fought and went as follows.
Jimmy, not realizing he had made a mistake, looked pretty confident. Sal's clock was running low. Sal was sure there something in the position but had to find it fast. Should he play by instinct, or risk losing on time and take a little longer to think things over?
Sal went with instinct, and made his move.
In today's story, Sal is under all sorts of pressure. He's had to deal with Phoebe, and he's got a chance for first place in the tournament but not much time to find the win. Fortunately, there's no pressure for you (at least we don't think so), and you can solve this one at your leisure (unless you have a house to paint). Can you also figure out what move Jimmy should have made?
When you're ready, click on Read More for the solution and the conclusion of our story.[Read More]