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The second half of January was typically the coldest time of the year in Bismarck, North Dakota, and 1955 was no exception. It was Saturday, and the temperature at noon had only reached -15F, after an overnight low of -30F, with the same expected the coming night.
At those low temperatures, the air can't hold much moisture, so it was usually sunny and clear. The sun warmed things up a bit, but everyone knew from long experience that after sunset, it would get a lot colder, and quickly.
Fortunately, there wasn't much of a wind. At about fifteen minutes before one, Sal Westerman, the eldery gentleman who was the unofficial leader of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, bundled up for his walk to the Beacon Cafe, where the club met every Saturday afternoon.
"Don't forget your sunglasses!" his wife, Sylvia, called out as Sal was just about to open the front door. "There's a lot of glare off the snowbanks!"
"Thank you dear," Sal replied. "I'm all set."
As Sal went out and walked along, the snow on the sidewalks made the typical high pitched crunch characteristic of really cold weather. By the time Sal had walked the four blocks or so to the Beacon Cafe, his face was feeling a bit numb and his ears were cherry red. Uh-oh ... Sal wore a wool cap under his fedora, but he had forgotten to pull it down over his ears.
He pushed open the door and entered the Cafe. Deana, the proprietress, greeted him as always but immediately noticed his red ears. "Hey, Sal," she said, "do you have frostbite ears?"
"I'm afraid so," Sal replied, "I forgot to cover them."
Sal took a seat in the big booth at the back of the Cafe. He was a little early and was the first arrival. Deana brought over a steaming cup of coffee. "Warm yourself up, Sal," she said, "but not much we can do about your ears. You'll have to just grin and bear it. Want a couple of aspirin?"
Sal's ears now felt very hot, and were starting to throb. "I think so, Deana, thank you."
As Deana went back to her counter to get some aspirin and a cup of water, the "boys" --- all but one of them over age 50 --- started to arrive. Tom came in, followed by Dan, Wayne, and Sam. It was going to be a small group today; no doubt the cold weather kept some of the others away.
"Well, look at that," Wayne said, "Sal, you got frostbite ears!" He chuckled, but then added, "Sorry, I know it isn't really funny, but you should see yourself!"
Dan and the others added their own sympathetic remarks, tinged with a bit of teasing humor. Sal took his aspirin and kept drinking his coffee.
Deana came back to the booth and served coffee to all of the boys, who took the mugs eagerly. "I've got a nice winter treat," Deana said, "I made up some double chocolate fudge bars. They'll really warm your insides! And Sal, I'll give you one on the house just 'cause I feel kind of bad for you."
That was quite a moment. Deana was as good a businesswoman as she was a baker, and seldom gave freebies. However she quickly added, "The rest of you ... you're on your own!" She punctuated the remark with a hearty laugh.
"Well, boys, if Deana buys for me, how can you?" Sal asked. The tradition was that Sal would show the boys a checker problem. If they could solve it, Sal would buy for everyone, but if they couldn't, the boys would buy their own and also for Sal.
"Oh, that's easy," Sam said. "You just buy for us no matter!"
"Well, well, you've got me there," Sal said. "Okay, here's one for you. It's from my Pennsylvania checker pen-pal, Ed."
Sal set up the following position on one of the checkerboards.
"You know, Sal, the red pieces are the same color as your ears!" Dan said. But he didn't get a laugh, as the boys were already deep into analyzing the position on the board.
If you live in cold country, no doubt you know to keep your ears covered and your head warm on those really harsh winter days; and you'd likely rather be indoors with a hot cup of coffee, solving a checker problem. But whatever the current weather at your location, try out Sal's problem and then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.[Read More]
It was an opportunity that only came along a couple of times a year. Marvin J. Mavin, superstar Captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers in the National Checker League, and Priscilla Snelson, CEO of megacorp Rust Belt Holdings, had time off together.
The National Checker League went on a 10-day hiatus during the holiday season, and Marvin was free from team commitments. Priscilla, who seldom took time away from her work, decided to take a week of vacation. As Marvin's finacee, she wanted them to have some precious time together.
Detroit in December doesn't have the best weather, and so they decided to visit Hawai`i. They spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day together, staying at the very upscale Hale Ali`i Hotel, enjoying great food, views of the ocean, relaxing spa visits, and sunning on the beach.
But they decided that New Year's Eve should be special. They really hadn't done a lot to celebrate their engagement, even though it had taken place several months ago, and that would be the night. They booked the deluxe option of the famed Crown of Honolulu New Year's Eve dinner cruise, which included champagne, a gourmet filet mignon and lobster dinner, stellar live entertainment, drinks, and beautiful views of the O`ahu shoreline and the midnight fireworks display over Waikiki. It was expensive--- Marvin was heard to remark "How many hundred bucks a ticket did you say?"--- especially as Priscilla also booked a private limo from the hotel to the pier and back.
New Year's Eve came along, and at 9 PM the limo picked up Priscilla and Marvin in front of their hotel. After a smooth and luxurious ride they arrived at the pier just in time for the dockside entertainment put on by a traditional hula halau. Then they boarded the ship and rode the elevator up to the open-air top deck.
Quite a few people were doing just the same. The cruise would, as always, be sold out. Canapes and drinks were immediately availble. Priscilla had a Blue Hawai`i while Marvin tried a local craft beer. Everyone on board seemed content.
At 10 PM sharp the ship left the dock and sailed out into the calm waters of the Pacific Ocean. Dinner was served at once. There were seats assigned; Priscilla and Marvin were seated at a table with couples from Texas, California, Vermont, and even London. The service was impeccable and the cuisine outstanding. A live band played soft jazz during the dinner, which finished with a traditional haupia pudding and Kona coffee.
Dinner ended a little after 11, and the shipboard guests would now have time to take in the views, perhaps enjoy another drink, and prepare for the coming of the New Year.
Priscilla and Marvin were feeling the magic of the evening. The warm and gentle Trade Winds swept the deck, and they strolled about hand in hand, looking out at the dark ocean and the lights of O`ahu beyond. In the distance they could see the island of Moloka`i. Everything was perfect.
Priscilla looked into Marvin's eyes, and Marvin gazed back, and there was an understanding between them. Quietly, they descended a nearby ladder to the deck below, which seemed quite deserted, and where they could be alone together.
Marvin put his arms around Priscilla's slim waist, and she put her arms around Marvin's neck. Slowly they drew together, their lips approaching, feeling the warmth of each other's breath ...
"Hey, Marvin, is that really you?" a loud voice rang out.
The moment lost, Priscilla and Marvin instantly drew apart. "What the ... " Marvin began but the voice, clearly fueled by perhaps one too many Mai Tais, continued.
"I knew it was you, just knew it!" A figure approached. It was a slightly balding middle-aged haole, a bit on the rotund side, dressed in a very loud and tasteless tourist-style aloha shirt. He was holding a drink in his left hand and reaching out with his right. "Shake," he said, "I'm Ralph Bostich, I play on the Mililani Mills."
Marvin looked at the proferred hand and didn't take it. "The what?" he said.
Ralph's hand dropped to his side. "You know, Mililani, it's a town in central O`ahu," he said. "Surprised you ain't familiar with the Mills, we're a Short Season A-League team, and we ain't bad at all. No siree, ain't bad at all." He took a sip of his drink. "Anyhoo, whatcha doin' here?" he asked.
It was Priscilla who replied. "We're here for New Year's Eve, what else?" she said, her tone not exactly friendly.
"Well, yeah, I'spose," said Ralph. "But hey, lookee see, Marv, since I met ya and all of that, how's about you take a look at this here little beauty I composed the other day." Ralph fished in his trouser pocket and drew out a scrap of paper. "Here," he said, offering it to Marvin.
Marvin reached over and took it, and gave it a brief glance. "Real nice, Ralphy-boy, real nice. Says right here, J. Hay. Gee, thought your name was Ralph, you musta made a mistake or something, huh?"
"Ah well, you know, I uh ... lemme explain ... "
"Whatever, Ralphy, whatever. But you know, we're sorta here on vacation, okay, and we were having a little ... like ... private moment. So how's about you buzz on up back that there ladder and refill your drink. Maybe that'll help you figure out if you're Ralph or J. Hay. And you don't want to be holding an empty drink at midnight, do ya?"
"Uh, yeah, but ... well ... my little checker problem?"
"Oh, that," Marvin said, holding the paper up above his head. "Yeah ... oh ... oops! Too bad about
"You ain't ... you ain't very nice," Ralph snapped, but the slur in his voice made it sound weak. Priscilla and Marvin watched him slowly and haltingly make his way up to the top deck.
Marvin looked at his watch. "We still got 20 minutes, hon," he said.
Priscilla smiled, and put her arms back around Marvin's neck.
Well, it seems that Ralph was trying to claim credit for something that wasn't his. Of course, the problem is a nice one, and although Marvin was a bit preoccupied with, ahem, other things, you might wish to give it a try yourself. See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Editor's Note: At 2,500 words this is a rather long story for a single weekly column. If you don't wish to read it, just skip down to the checker problem towards the end.
Danny shuffled down the street, kicking a stone ahead of him along the sidewalk. It was just an idle kind of thing and he liked to do it, who knows why, but he better not let Dad catch him. Dad said it wore out the shoes too quick and if Danny ever did it again he'd get a right proper licking. Dad said there wasn't money to buy new shoes, on account of him being out of work because of the Depression.
So Danny stopped kicking the stone, and, hands in his pockets, in a half slouch, he continued on his way home. When he turned fourteen last month, Dad made him quit school and go look for a job, except there wasn't much in the way of jobs for a fourteen year old with no experience and not much education.
Danny had finally found work at Brody's Sandwiches. Old Mr. Brody was nice enough, letting Danny take a couple of leftover sandwiches home with him every night, and paying him twenty cents an hour. That was a good wage for a kid, but he had to give it all to his parents to help buy food. Dad couldn't get much work as a day laborer, and Mom didn't have many people anymore who could pay her to wash their clothes.
It was ten hours a day Monday through Friday and eight on Saturday. It was a lot for a fourteen year old and one thing Mr. Brody wouldn't put up with was you missing work. That didn't leave much time for Danny's greatest love, checkers.
Danny would read the checker columns in the day old newspapers that the better-off people threw away after they were done reading them. Danny couldn't afford a checker set, so he made one up out of bottle caps and a scrap of tarpaper he found in an alley, scratching lines with a penknife to make the squares.
Every time on the way to and from Mr. Brody's shop, he'd stop for a moment and look longingly in the big display window at Bamberger's Department Store, where among all the fancy Christmas displays they showed this really fine checker set, with those red and yellow Catalin pieces and a real board. Sure, the board was made of pressed cardboard, but still, it was a real one. Danny dreamed of buying the set, but it cost a whopping $3.95. That was twenty hours of his pay, and anyhow he didn't have any kind of allowance. Especially now it was winter when the family needed to heat the apartment at least some on the colder days, and what money didn't go for food went for coal. Danny didn't even mention a $3.95 checker set at home; that would get him a scolding for sure, or worse.
If there would be any Christmas presents, it would be hand-me-down clothes from his older brother, Nate, who was sixteen. Nate worked for a furniture store, helping with deliveries, but there wasn't work for him every day, either. It seemed like the world was on Danny's shoulders. Brody's Sandwich Shop did a steady business and Danny always had work. People had to eat and Mr. Brody didn't overcharge for his sandwiches.
Finally it came around to Christmas Eve. The shop was closing at five and of course wouldn't be open on Christmas. It was a really busy day, and Danny made dozens of deliveries, mostly to folks who had some money and wanted a bag or two of sandwiches for Christmas Eve celebrations.
It started to get pretty cold outside as the afternoon wore on. Danny was on his last round of deliveries and was anxious to get back to the shop and call it a day. He was really looking forward to a holiday, even though he would be a day short next time he got his pay.
His last delivery was at Mrs. O'Rourke's place. She ordered from Mr. Brody pretty often and seemed to be well enough off. Her husband was a policeman and had steady work at a good wage. But she was always grumpy and Danny didn't like going there. He hoped she would be in a good mood today.
Mrs. O'Rourke lived on the 3rd floor in a big apartment building. There was an elevator but Danny took the stairs after getting scolded by the superintendant, who didn't want his tenants to have to ride in the elevator with "a dirty faced little delivery boy." Danny couldn't figure it. He never had a dirty face. Mr. Brody wouldn't allow it. "My workers have to be clean inside and out," he would always say.
He went around to the back of Mrs. O'Rourke's building and went in by the trade entrance. That was another thing the super had told him he had to do. He went up the back stairwell, taking the steps two at a time, and then pushed open the door to the third floor. Mrs. O'Rourke was in number eight at the other end of the hallway.
No sooner had he knocked on the door when it opened to reveal the substantial figure of Mrs. O'Rourke standing with hands on hips and a scowl on her face. She was an imposing sight and Danny was scared before she even spoke a word. But speak she did.
"It's about time you came! It's been half an hour since I placed my order! Where have you been, young man? In a back alley smoking, I suppose! Up to no good! Cheating Mr. Brody out of his wages?"
Danny opened his mouth but didn't know what to say. In any event, Mrs. O'Rourke went on, "Well, give me my sandwiches before they get even older and less fresh! What are you waiting for?"
Danny quickly passed over the last bag in his possession. Mrs. O'Rourke snatched it away roughly. Danny was again about to speak when Mrs. O'Rourke handed him three one dollar bills and slammed the door.
"But ... but ... " Danny sputtered to the shut door. "Eight sandwiches comes to two dollars ... "
Danny knocked on the door again, but there was no answer. What to do? He started down the hallway and then stopped in front of the stairway. "I know what I'll do," he said to himself, and hurried back to Mrs. O'Rourke's apartment.
He didn't dare knock on the door again for fear of a scolding worse than the last one. So, as he had planned, he slipped the extra dollar under the door. The crack at the bottom was just large enough for Danny to push the dollar bill all the way through.
Then Danny got out of there as fast as he could.
It was about ten to five when Danny got back to the shop. By then it was fully dark outside.
"Ah, Danny, there you are," Mr. Brody said, an odd look on his face, gazing directly at Danny. Now, Danny had seen that look before and it always meant that Mr. Brody had something pretty important on his mind. "Step back into the office, please, I need to talk to you."
Danny's heart skipped a beat and he felt his pulse start to pound in his head. Was he going to get fired? He couldn't. He needed this job. What would he tell his parents? What would his Dad do? Danny started to shiver.
"Come on, son," Mr. Brody said, "I want to close the shop soon."
Without waiting, Mr. Brody went through the door in back of the service counter that led to the tiny kitchen where the sandwiches were made. Just in back of that was an equally tiny and very cluttered office.
Danny followed, willing his legs to move, the ceiling swimming above his head, feeling as if he were going to black out. The kitchen was deserted. The sandwich makers, Manny and Irving, had already gone home.
Mr. Brody's office just had a filing cabinet, a desk, two chairs, and a telephone. Mr. Brody took the seat behind his desk and motioned to Danny to sit in the remaining chair, a rickety old straight-back on the front side of the desk.
Danny sat down, keeping to the front edge of the chair. He couldn't get his body to move any farther back.
"Mrs. O'Rourke called me," Mr. Brody said in a matter-of-fact tone. "Twice, in fact. I got off the phone with her just a few minutes before you came in."
Danny's mouth opened wide and he couldn't help starting to stutter. "M.. M.. Mrs. O'Rourke called?" he barely managed to say.
"Yes, Danny, she did. She told me she had accidentally given you an extra dollar and that you ran off with it as quick as could be. She said that you are a dishonest boy and that if I didn't fire you and have the police take you in, she'd spread the word that Brody's Sandwiches hired crooked delivery boys. Do you know what that would do to my business?"
Danny couldn't muster an answer, and Mr. Brody went on, "It would be very harmful, Danny. People don't care much for Jewish merchants, and they care a lot less for ones that aren't honest. You have no idea what it's like."
"S ... so ... am I going to jail?" Danny manfully managed another full sentence, but he was more frightened than ever.
"Well, Danny, I haven't quite finished my story. I told you Mrs. O'Rourke called twice. The second time, she told me she found the dollar bill slipped under her door, and that you didn't steal it after all. She did say I should scold you for not counting the money in front of her, but I'll bet as soon as she paid you, she closed the door on you. Am I right?"
"Y ... yes sir, she did. Closed it kinda hard, too, 'cause she was mad on account of it took half an hour to get her sandwiches. When I saw there was a dollar over, I knocked on her door but she didn't answer, so's the only thing I coulda done was put the dollar under the door."
"I'm not surprised. I've delivered to her myself a few times, and she isn't really very nice. But, Danny, I think what really counts here is that you were honest and you did the right thing."
"Then I ain't fired and I ain't going to jail neither?"
"No, not at all. In fact, I have a Christmas bonus for you. I was going to put an extra two dollars in your pay but now I'll make it three dollars. What do you think about that?"
"Three dollars! Gee whiz, Mr. Brody, that's a lot of money!"
"You deserve it. And there's another thing. I need your help with something."
Wouldn't you know it, Mr. Brody had put a copy of The American Checker Player magazine down on his desk.
"Mr. Brody, I didn't know you cared about checkers," said Danny.
"Oh, I really enjoy a good game," Mr. Brody replied, "and some days after I close the shop, if business was good I go over to Benny's Bar for nickel beers and a few games with the gang over there. Benny runs a bar where Jewish people are welcome. But I know you're fond of checkers too, seeing the way you save those scraps of newspaper with the checker columns on them. So here, what about this little problem in this week's magazine. Maybe you can help me solve it.
Danny took a look. "Golly Mr. Brody, it seems kinda like really hard. But maybe ... lemme see ... oh, yeah, sure ... now look, Mr. Brody ... "
Although life always brings its trials, we hope that your holidays will be filled with nothing but the joys of the season, no matter what holiday you do, or don't, celebrate. Perhaps the checker problem above will give you some extra enjoyment. Match wits with Danny and see if you can solve it, then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our story.[Read More]
It was December 17, 1955, the Saturday before Christmas weekend, and in Bismarck, North Dakota, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club was about to have its final get-together before the holiday break. The club, informally led by Sal Westerman, met every Saturday at 1 PM from just after Labor Day to just before Memorial Day, only taking a break over Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas through New Year's Day, and Easter weekend. Their venue was the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building, where proprietress Deana Nagel baked up the best treats anyone could ever ask for.
It was just after one and Sal was sitting in the big booth in the back with the "boys" (all but one of whom were over 50). There were Dan, Sam, Wayne, Louie the Flash, who all showed up nearly every weekend, and also Tom, Ron, Kevin the Spooler, Delmer, seldom-seen Frank, and even young Blaine. It was a great turnout and they spilled over into an adjacent booth.
All the preliminary chit-chat was about the coming holidays. A number of the boys would be going back home to the farm to visit with family. Young Blaine would be going to see his parents up in Minot. Louie the Flash was going all the way to Minneapolis to see an old girlfriend of his. But it was Sal who was taking the longest trip of all.
Yes, Sal, at age 73, would be going with his wife Sylvia to Washington D.C. to visit their daughter Joyce.
"You're not going by airplane?" Frank asked. "Those airplanes get you there fast nowadays. You can get to D.C. the same day, if you leave early enough. Well, almost the same day. I think you get in at two in the morning or something. One of our Senators does that sometimes."
"No airplanes for me," Sal said. "I like my feet on the ground, thank you. We're going by train. Taking the Empire Builder to Chicago and another train to D.C. from there."
"Gee, Sal, how long will that take?" Louie the Flash asked.
"About three days all together. Two nights on the train. We paid for sleeping compartments so it will be a nice relaxing trip."
"And three days back again? That's six days!" Louie continued.
"Yes, but I'll be back just in time for our next meeting on January 7. Couldn't miss that, you know. We leave tomorrow so there will be plenty of time for a nice visit."
"You going to all those museums?" Ron asked.
"We sure are, and we won't miss a tour of the White House, either. Joyce is taking two weeks off of work and she'll show us around." Joyce was a lawyer at Dark, Darker, and Darkest, a prominient Washington law firm. She worked long and hard and had plenty of vacation time stored up.
"Going to do any checkers?" Frank inquired.
"Sure am. There's the "Day After Christmas" tournament and I'll be playing. Did I show you boys the flyer? It has a neat problem in it and I was going to see if you could solve it today."
Deana, who always picked her moment carefully, said in a loud voice from behind her counter, "Cinnamon fruit bars today! A real holiday treat!"
The boys all smiled. "Well, Sal, let's see it!" Dan said.
Sal pulled a colorful flyer from his pocket. "Here it is, then," he said, and set it up on a checkerboard on each of the two tables. "See how you do! How about --- say --- an hour?"
The boys nodded their heads. Deana came over with the coffee pot to give everyone refills while the boys started to discuss the following position.
"Should be easy, right?" Sal said. "After all, only three per side!"
"Easy, sure, that's what you always say," groused Wayne, but everyone was already focused on the checkerboards, deep in thought.
We don't know what you'll be doing for the holidays. If you're in North America, train travel isn't what it used to be, and air travel surely isn't a lot of fun any longer. If you're in Europe, the trains are certainly a good option. But whether you plan to travel near or far, or stay at home, we hope you'll match wits with the boys at the Beacon and see if you can solve today's problem. When you're ready, travel your mouse over to Read More to see the solution and the rest of the story.[Read More]
Thanksgiving was coming up, and Marvin J. Mavin, the superstar captain of the championship Detroit Doublejumpers in the National Checker League, had to make plans.
You may recall from an earlier story, last Thanksgiving Marvin went with his now fiancee, Priscilla Snelson, to her parents' posh estate home in suburban Grosse Pointe, and it didn't work out well to say the least. Mr. and Mrs. Snelson had, quite frankly, no use for Marvin, and Marvin and Priscilla ended up leaving the estate and going to an old-fashioned American diner for an old-fashioned American Thanksgiving dinner.
This year Marvin suggested that they go back to the diner, but Priscilla (somewhat predictably) wanted something a bit more formal. She suggested that they might make another try of dining with her parents, but the suggestion was only half-hearted, as she knew Marvin wouldn't like the idea, and in any case she didn't want to witness another disastrous encounter.
So her next suggestion was that they have dinner catered at her upscale condo. The discussion was taking place at that very location, where Marvin had dropped in to visit during a brief pause in the Doublejumper match schedule.
"Hey, yeah honey, that's a great idea, maybe we can order from that diner and have FastEats deliver ... oh, okay, guess you want something better than diner food, huh? Although that was pretty good last year ... "
It was then that the other shoe dropped.
"Oh, actually, we could have Served on a Silver Platter cater. They have a Michelin starred chef and ... "
"Ain't that kinda expensive?"
"Value, Marvin, not cost. They provide value. And then we can invite some of my friends and associates, too."
Marvin swallowed hard. He knew about Priscilla's friends and associates. They were all super-wealthy (like Priscilla), and very conscious of social standing. Though they never said it in so many words, and despite Marvin's $100 million five year contract with the Doublejumpers, they viewed Marvin as more of a tradesman, who belonged to a lower class.
"Uh, gee Prissy, how many of your, uh, friends and stuff?"
Priscilla glowered a little. She didn't like to be called 'Prissy'.
"Not so many," she replied, "maybe a couple of dozen. My dining room can actually handle thirty or so, but we don't want to make it too crowded."
"Yeah, sure, can't pack 'em in like sardines now, can we, heh heh."
Priscilla scowled. "Marvin, think of it as a small-scale rehearsal for one of our wedding dinners. It will do you good to mingle and maybe sharpen up your social skills."
Marvin laughed. "Social skills? Yeah, I ain't got a lot of those. I ain't never learned much about hangin' out with stuck-up rich folks and drinkin' them fancy cocktails and stuff. Gimme a good bar and a good beer any ole day."
"Oh, stop being so silly," Priscilla said. "Well, then, it's settled, so there's no need for further discussion. Now, come over here and look at this bridal catalog with me, won't you?"
The next week passed quickly and Thanksgiving was upon them. In addition to having Served on a Silver Platter cater her dinner, Priscilla had hired Debonair Decorators to decorate her home in a festive Thanksgiving theme. Dinner was set for five o'clock with guests invited to arrive at four for cocktails served by Served on a Silver Platter wait staff, and mixed at one of Priscilla's wet bars by a certified senior mixologist from Mixology Masters.
Marvin was required to dress in yet another $500 rented dinner jacket and ruffled shirt from Twirly Tuxedos and Gaudy Gowns.
The guests began to arrive, and everything went fine for a while. Marvin tried his best to mingle and make small talk, even though it wasn't quite his idea of fun. But after about twenty or thirty minutes of that, he decided that he'd like a drink, and so he went over to the bar.
The mixologist, who wore a name tag that said "Llewelyn --- Certified Senior Mixologist," gave Marvin a head-to-toe look. "Do you really belong here?" he asked.
"Whaddya mean? I been invited. 'Course I have, cause Prissy's ..."
Llewelyn interrupted, "Sorry, but despite your dinner jacket you kind of look like a tradesman. You know, a plumber or something!" Llewelyn laughed. "But I'll be generous and give you the benefit of the doubt, just this once. What can I mix for you?"
"What kinda beer you got? Maybe a Bud Lite or a Belcher's Best?"
But now Llewelyn sneered. "Beer? Excuse me, sir, I am a Senior Mixologist and will soon achieve Master level, and I do not serve beer, even to ... tradesmen."
Marvin turned a bit red. Raising his voice, he said, "Lookee here, bud, you was hired by us--- well, by Prissy anyhow, and you do what we say. Now ain't it fine that you're gonna be a Master Whatever. I'm a Grandmaster myself, so I got ya beat."
Llewelyn sneered again. "Grandmaster? I didn't know plumbers could be grandmasters."
"No, checkers, bozo!" Marvin said this in a shout, and conversation in the room abruptly stopped with all eyes turning towards the bar.
Priscilla, very sensitive to the mood of the room, immediately strode over to Marvin and Llewelyn. "What's the problem here?" she asked. "Marvin, why are you causing a disturbance?"
However, Llewelyn spoke first, "Ma'am, my apologies, but I don't know how this tradesman got in, and he insulted me by asking for a beer. Imagine such a thing!"
Now it was Priscilla who turned red-faced. She looked at Marvin, thought for a moment, and then put a hand on his shoulder. Looking back at Llewelyn, she said, "Marvin is my fiance and a world-renowned checkerist. Furthermore, this is my party and you are to treat my guests with respect. You are dismissed. Leave at once, and on the next business day I'm calling Mixology Masters to make sure that you will never work at an exclusive event again. Before I'm done with you, you'll be happy to get a job at a dive bar in Williston, North Dakota."
"Y...y...yes ma'am," Llewelyn said, and made a dash for the door, sweat pouring from his face.
"Now, Marvin dear, since you seem to have the spotlight, how about demonstrating to my friends that nice checker problem you've just solved? I'm sure they would like it. Let's all step into my home theatre, shall we?"
The guests murmured. Was it a murmur of assent and enthusiasm? Only they knew, but Marvin smiled broadly and pulled Priscilla close. "Thanks, hon, for sticking up for me," he whispered in her ear, and then followed everyone into Priscilla's elegant theatre room, where he demonstrated a fine problem that was just published in the latest issue of the quarterly magazine Creative Clever Challenging Championship Checker Compositions.
And after the demonstration, Marvin got his beer, served to him by Priscilla herself.
Unfortunately, you probably weren't on the guest list for Priscilla's Thanksgiving gathering, so you likely missed Marvin's problem demonstration. However, you can certainly try it on your own. Here's the position.
This should give you quite a few nice minutes of Thanksgiving weekend checker entertainment. Marvin selected a problem that has become a real classic, despite his audience being made up of non-professionals. Give it your best and when you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
It was one o'clock in the afternoon on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and Sal Westerman had just come through the door of the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building in Bismarck, North Dakota.
On Saturday afternoons Sal's Coffee and Cake Checker Club had its weekly meeting, a few hours of checker fun with the "boys" of the club (all but one of whom were over fifty). Sal enjoyed these sessions and really looked forward to them.
But today Sal was looking uncharacteristically glum. Was it because the club didn't meet over Thanksgiving weekend? Or was it something else?
The "boys" were seated in the big booth in the back of the Cafe, and they noticed Sal's mood right away. Dan, Tom, Wayne, Louie the Flash, and Kevin (for some unknown reason also called "Spooler") had turned out today.
The one to speak up first, though, was Deana, the proprietress of the Beacon and the best baker in a dozen counties. "What's wrong, Sal? You never look this glum on a Saturday! Come on, cheer up, I've got pumpkin spice bars today, hot and fresh and at a special Thanksgiving price."
Although Sal nodded, he didn't smile. He sat down in the booth and greeted the "boys" in a low mumble.
"Come on Sal," Spooler said, "what gives?"
"Yeah, gee, Sal, it's Saturday, we're supposed to be having fun," said Louie.
"Oh, all right," Sal said with a bit of a sigh. "I just had kind of a big fight with Sylvia." Sylvia was Sal's wife of well over fifty years.
"Aw, that's no fun," said Dan. "But it'll work out, I'm sure."
"Oh, it always does," Sal said, "but Sylvia--- well, it's like this. She wants us to go to Dickinson for Thanksgiving, and not just for the weekend, either. She says if we drive that far in winter we ought to stay for two weeks."
"Two weeks, that's quite a while. By golly, you'd miss a Club meeting, wouldn't you? And Dickinson, isn't that where your wife's sister lives?" asked Wayne.
"Yes, it is," Sal said, "her sister, Phoebe."
"That's the one you ... uh ... don't really get along with?" continued Wayne.
"That's one way to put it," Sal said, "she's quite difficult. And when I told Sylvia I couldn't stand her sister for two days, let alone two weeks ... "
" ... she got really angry, right?" Dan said. "Um, Sal, I actually kind of get that. There might have been, you know, a bit of a more gentle way to express your opinion, if you don't mind my saying so."
"No, I don't mind," Sal said, "and you're right. A lot of this, well, most of this, is my fault. I should have offered to let Sylvia stay with her sister, and come home on Friday or Saturday, saying I would go back to pick her up when she was ready to return to Bismarck. But I didn't think of it at the time. I just had this image of Phoebe scolding me for this, that, or the other thing, like she always does, and I guess I didn't handle it well."
"It's not too late to fix it up," Wayne said. "Just tell her your plan when you get home tonight. I'm sure all will be well then."
"But darn, I was hoping to spend Thanksgiving at home and make it a nice relaxing weekend," Sal said.
"Come on, Sal," Dan said, "you've got to give a little. I've been married for a long time too, and Carrie and I have our moments, but marriage is a compromise. Hey, why am I telling you that! You know it better than all of us!"
At long last, Sal smiled. "Tell you what," he said, "how's about this. I'll show you a problem I have from my pal Ed in Pennsylvania. You boys work on it while I take care of something. I'll buy the treats, too."
"Good deal!" Sam said and everyone agreed. Then Sal set up the following position on one of the checkerboards.
The boys dived in at once. Sal walked over to Deana's counter. "A tray of bars, if you would, Deana, and ... can I use your phone for a minute?"
"Sure, Sal." Deana had of course overheard the whole conversation. "You can use the one in the office in back so you can keep it a bit private." She gave Sal a warm smile and went on, "Me and my boyfriend ... well, no one gets along a hundred percent of the time, right?"
Sal went back to Deana's office. He was there for some little while, but he came back out grinning. The boys were happily eating their pumpkin bars and drinking their coffee. Another half hour passed and Spooler announced, "We've got it!"
Life is not always smooth and human relationships have their inevitable difficult moments. It's what we do when that happens that makes the difference, and Sal seems to be taking care of things. Of course, some checker fun always brightens the day. So match wits with the "boys" and see how you do with today's problem. There's no disputing that clicking your mouse on Read More will show you the solution and the conclusion of our story.[Read More]
Gananoque, Ontario, is a nice little town in Eastern Ontario with a population of about 6,000, and during the summer tourist season it hosts many visitors to the beautiful Thousand Lakes region in which it lies.
Residents of Gan, as they sometimes call it, are torn between their love of the card game Euchre and the great sport of checkers. Gan features a Rookie League team, the Gananoque Goatgetters. Led by rising young star Josh Gordon, the team is considered quite strong in its category, and everyone in Gan knew Josh (who grew up in Toronto) would quickly climb the professional ranks.
This was to be a big weekend in Gan, for superstar Marvin J. Mavin, Captain of the World Champion Detroit Doublejumpers, would to be in town to play a simultaneous exhibition against the the ten members of the Goatgetters, and then run a workshop the following day for the Gananoque High School team.
It was rumored that a couple of scouts from double-A and single-A teams might be watching, so it would be a big weekend for Josh, too, who was hoping to land an offer in a higher league.
The simul would take place at the site of the old Boston Cafe, now sadly closed, but still used for indoor events such as the this one.
On the evening of the simul, all of the Goatgetters arrived early, awaiting Marvin's arrival. But time passed. The team had a few servings of french fries (with white vinegar, of course) and a couple of soft drinks. They sang the team song, "If You Can, Meet Me in Gan" several times. Still no sign of Marvin, fully an hour after the simul was to begin.
Marvin, however, had just arrived at the Gananoque train station. The Canadian National train that served the station had arrived very late and Marvin was now looking around for his ride. It took him several minutes of head scratching, walking around the station, and turning his head this way and that before he realized no ride had been arranged as Marvin had never told anyone about his plan to arrive by train.
"Yeah, well," Marvin said to himself, "I shoulda told them what train I was on, I 'spose. Heh heh. Well, maybe there's a taxi I can catch."
Of course Marvin didn't know of any taxi companies in Gan, so he got out his phone and did a quick search. "Ah yeah, Gan Taxi, that should be good." Marvin placed the call and a woman answered.
"Hey, like I'm at the train station and I gotta get to Boston Cafe, can I get a ride? You know, like a taxi ride?"
"No. It's not far, you can walk, buster."
"But I don't know ... "
The call disconnected.
"Well ain't that rude ... walk, huh, but walk where? Boston Cafe ... hmm." Marvin looked for directions on his phone. "Okay yeah here we go!"
He started off on foot, rolling his suitcase behind him, following the directions the computer voice was giving him. "Head west on Station Road ... "
Marvin kept walking, and walking, and walking. "That gal said it ain't far ... what was she talking about?"
It took Marvin almost an hour and a half, and it was nearly dark when he finally arrived at the Boston Cafe. The loyal Goatgetter team members were still there waiting and greeted Marvin with a cheer.
Josh, as team captain, extended a formal welcome. "Glad you could make it, Captain Marvin. We were beginning to worry and gosh, we didn't have your cell phone number."
"Yeah, I kinda forgot to tell you when my train got in, and that taxi lady said it ain't far and I should just walk."
"I'll bet you called Gan Taxi instead of 1-A Taxi. That lady ... gosh, Captain Marvin, it's over 6 kilometers to the train station!"
"Yeah, I seen it on my phone, but I thought one of them kilometers was like, you know, a city block or something."
"Gosh though, we're happy you're here, no matter. Shall we get started with your simul? Everything's set up and the team is all set to play."
"You keep saying 'gosh.' I oughta call you 'Gosh Josh.' Ha that's good! But hey, I'm kinda thirsty. Can I get like a beer or something?"
Josh frowned. "Gosh, Captain, I'm sorry but we don't serve alcohol at our matches. Doesn't go well with good play, you know. We can offer you a cola, and some fries with white vinegar if you like?"
"Oh yeah, well, vinegar, huh? Maybe just the cola if you ain't got nothing else."
Marvin was given an icy cold bottle of cola and, after shaking hands all around, he was ready to take on the ten members of the Goatgetters. By now, though, Marvin was feeling a bit tired from his travel to Gananoque and then the unexpected exertion of a long walk.
The games began. The players on the Gan team were quite talented and as play progressed, Marvin was having to make quite the effort. But he finally pulled off nine wins, two of them very narrow, leaving only the game on first board against Josh to be decided.
The game had reached a tough position, with Josh to move. Now, Josh was so focused on his play that he hadn't noticed two more people coming into the Cafe about 90 minutes ago. He certainly wouldn't have known, though he might have guessed, that they were scouts from the double-A Kingston Krushers and the single-A Guelph Gonotskys.
Marvin was smiling. "Hey there Gosh Josh, you're in a kinda pickle. Or maybe a bottle of that there white vinegar! Ha ha! That's a good one!"
Josh didn't reply. Americans, he thought. They had their own strange sense of humour.
But his position, with White, did look difficult.
Don't get rattled, Josh told himself. Focus. Look for the hidden resource. Find all the possibilities in the position. Look at the board, not the opponent. Yes, it was Marvin J. Mavin, one of the great players of the day. But that didn't mean giving up without a fight.
A few minutes passed with all eyes on first board, waiting to see what would happen. Finally, Josh nodded his head and made his move.
Are you an up and coming player? Are you a champion of Marvin's caliber? Or are you, like many of us, a regular checker fan who just enjoys the game without professional ambitions? It doesn't matter. Josh's advice is sound. Don't give up without a fight. Don't be intimidated by your opponent or by the situation. Focus.
This position isn't especially easy but something is there, and it's up to you to find it. When you've given it a really good effort, you can focus your mouse on Read More to see the solution and the rest of the story.[Read More]
In today's column we introduce Admiral Grey, a fictional character who sailed for England in the later half of the 19th century. You can read more of the Admiral's adventures in our ongoing story at www.admiralgrey.com. He's a character we created many years ago, but we didn't know until now about his interest in checkers, or draughts as he would call it.
Not everyone knew everything about Admiral Grey, he who sails the seven seas, he who has fought and likely will fight many a battle for Crown and Country, he who, despite being the nephew of famed Admiral Earl Grey, has made his career on his own, rising from orphaned youth to command rank in the Royal Navy by dint of grit, determination, and hard work.
Everyone knew those things, of course. Those who entered his cabin, the ones closest in rank aboard ship, would know something more. In his cabin one could not help but see the lifelike drawing of his fiancee, Julianna, though that would not tell the tale of their difficult romance, overshadowed by the enmity of Julianna's father. One would see the trappings and tools of office, of course; the British flag, the logbook and sextant, the map table and looking glass.
There were the books, many in number and diverse, from the Greek and Latin classics to the tomes on medicine and science, and of course astronomy and navigation; there were even novels and books of verse for the Admiral was fond of Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott, Tennyson, and many more.
But there is one thing that they might not see.
It wasn't the small collection of teapots and the larger collection of teas, for the Admiral loved his tea and had teas to suit most moods and situations. Nor was it his curio cabinet, filled with souvenirs and mementos from all corners of the world.
No, it was something else.
While sea voyages may possess a certain mystique, there was plenty of hard and mundane work for everyone, including the Admiral. In-between the relatively brief moments of peril and excitement, such as during a great storm or in the throes of battle, much of sailing consisted of long days and endless nights in an unbroken expanse of sea. At times, if it was never altogether boring, it was certainly routine, and when darkness had fallen and dinner was over, the Admiral would retire to his inner cabin alone.
There, after completing his log-book entries for the day, he would read his books. He would brew a cup of herbal tea, something of chamomile and mint and valerian, blended from a secret formula at Mr. Maxey's shop back in England, and he would enjoy its relaxing effects. But there was one more thing, perhaps one which he enjoyed more than all the others.
From his bookcase he would take out a slim volume of draughts problems, for draughts had somehow always fascinated him, and solving problems--- in his head, for he did not wish to set up a board--- was, to him, great entertainment, a fine compliment to his tea, and a measured bit of leisure activity before his customary five or six hours of sleep.
This night was no different. The Admiral was sailing on a special mission between England and Hawai`i, and after a perilous rounding of Cape Horn, weeks of quiet sailing ensued. There were plenty of nights when the draughts book journeyed the few steps between the Admiral's bookcase and the Admiral's easy chair.
With a cup of his "Good Evening" tea by his side, the Admiral was studying the following position.
The Admiral was finding it difficult, and the tea and the rolling motion of the ship were lulling him, making concentration difficult. He'd have a few more sips of tea and then sleep; perhaps the solution would come to him overnight, as it so often did for so many difficult problems, and not just of the draughts variety.
Suddenly, he sat up and, now fully awake, exclaimed, "How devilishly clever!" He smiled and drained the last of his tea from his cup. "Marvelous!" he said. "Indeed, a great way to end the day."
With (or without) the tea of your choice, can you equal Admiral Grey and solve the problem? Perhaps late at night when you're sleepy may not be the best time, but only you know when you work best. Give it a try and then sail your mouse over to Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
On a fine fall Saturday afternoon, with the temperature in the upper 50s, the sun shining, and a light breeze stirring the few fallen leaves that had escaped the eager rakes of the residents of Bismarck, North Dakota, Sal Westerman set out for the Beacon Cafe and the weekly meeting of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club. Sal was the unofficial leader and he always looked forward to Saturday afternoons with great anticipation.
The members of the Club, or the "boys" as Sal called them, were all over 50 years old. Sal himself was now in his 70s but he and the rest of the Club members remained active and engaged. After all, what could be more pleasant than an afternoon of checker fun? Add that to Deana's baked treats--- she was the proprietress of the Beacon and a prize winning baker--- and you had everything for which you could ask.
Sal arrived at the Beacon just a few minutes after one o'clock. A few of the boys were already there. Dan, Wayne, Larry, and Louie the Flash were all seated in the big booth in the back with mugs of coffee in hand. Sal greeted everyone and sat down, and then the whole crew got quite a surprise, when in came regular member Tom with a younger fellow. Younger indeed, why, he couldn't even be older than his thirties!
Upon reaching the back of the Cafe, Tom said, "Boys, I'd like you to meet Blaine. He's quite the player. He's new to town, just moved here from Minot to take a job with the electric company. He might just become our newest member."
They allgreeted Blaine warmly and shook his hand in welcome. Then Tom said, "I explained to Blaine how the Club works and how Sal brings us a problem to solve each week, and whether we win it or not determines who buys the treats." Tom smiled. "But I also explained as how a new member buys the treats the first time he attends."
"But," Wayne said, "we haven't had a new member since ... "
"Shush!" Tom said, raising a finger to his mouth.
Blaine smiled. He knew what was going on. "Happy to buy," he said, "and happy to be here."
"I've got zucchini nut bars!" said Deana from behind her counter, never missing a chance to market. "Fresh and hot!"
"Tell you what," Sal said, "let's get our treats now instead of waiting, and we can enjoy them while you boys--- and Blaine--- work on this one that I got from Brian in St. Louis."
"Hey Blaine, you know about Brian?" asked Louie.
Blaine replied, "Sure do. He has some real tough ones in All Checkers Digest."
The rest of the boys exchanged knowing looks. It seemed like Blaine was a knowledgeable young fellow.
Sal laid out the following problem while Blaine bought a platter of zucchini nut bars and Deana refilled everyone's coffee.
"Okay boys--- and Blaine--- here you go. Take as long as you like."
Everyone, including Blaine, set to work. Time passed quickly, as it does when people are enjoying themselves. Finally at about 2:30, Wayne said, "We've got it."
Your age doesn't matter. You might be over 50 or over 70, or even in your thirties or any other age at all. A good problem is a good problem. So see how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Marvin J. Mavin, the superstar Captain of the champion Detroit Doublerjumpers in the National Checker League, wasn't having fun.
Recall from our previous story that he had quarreled with his finacee, Priscilla Snelson, who was the President and Chief Executive Officer of Rust Belt Holdings. Priscilla thought big, and a big wedding was in the offing. Marvin had been more interested in his checker magazine than Priscilla's wedding catalogs, and that hadn't gone over well.
In fact, Priscilla told Marvin to leave her condo, and then didn't speak to him for ten days. Finally, she accepted his call and let him apologize for what seemed to Marvin like an eternity. Part of the reconciliation was the Marvin would spend a whole Saturday afternoon working with Priscilla on the wedding, and then take her to dinner at Le Faux Luxe, by far Detroit's most expensive and upscale restaurant. (They had planned to go there previously but it was abruptly canceled when Priscilla sent Marvin packing.)
They had been at it for over three hours. "What do you think of these place settings, dear?" Priscilla asked.
"Uh, nice, yeah, I like them," Marvin replied.
"Do you really? Well, how do you think they compare with these?" Prisilla turned a page in the catalog and indicated another option. "Do you think these are a bit more colorful? Or are you looking for something understated and tasteful? I don't mind that, really, but I wonder if the rosettes are a bit too small? Or is that to match the thin gilding?"
"Oh, yeah, the gilding and the roses ... never really thought about that."
Priscilla gave Marvin a bit of a look. "You know, dear, you have to consider these things. Small details add up to the big picture, after all."
Marvin, wishing he either had a beer or a copy of All Checkers Digest--- he didn't know which one he wanted most at the moment--- replied, "Sure, those details really count, don't they."
"Oh, Marvin, you're not much help, are you? Look we only have two more hours before we have to dress for dinner ... by the way did you bring your dinner jacket? I didn't see it when you came in."
"My dinner jacket? You mean, like that leather one I got at the bar when I ... " Seeing the look on Priscilla's face, Marvin continued, "Nah, I ain't got no dinner jacket. I got a suit at home though, you know, one of them suits with a vest and stuff."
"Oh, you're exasperating!" Priscilla shook her head. "Well, I know you'll be disappointed, but we'll have to postpone the rest of our planning session until tomorrow. We've got to go and rent you a dinner jacket while Twirly Tuxedos and Gaudy Gowns is still open. I suppose you'll need a white ruffle shirt and bow tie, too?"
"A what? No, I ain't got none of those neither."
"Once we're married, Marvin, a lot is going to change. Come on, hurry, we've got to go to the shop right away. We'll take the Porsche. It'll take too long to wait for the limo." The Porsche was the car Priscilla drove when she was in a rush, but in her garage she also had a BMW, an Audi, and a Lexus, although she only drove the Lexus on what she called "downscale" occasions. Usually, though, she would just call for her limo and driver.
Marvin's old Volkswagen Beetle was parked outside but he knew better than to ever, ever ask Priscilla to ride in it.
They reached the shop half an hour before closing time. "Just made it," Priscilla remarked as they entered. They were greated by a rotund, bald-headed middle aged man dressed in a white shirt and tie. "Ah, Ms. Snelson!" he said. "So good to see you! You haven't visited us here at Twirly and Gaudy for a while. And who is this? He seems familiar somehow."
"This is Marvin, my fiancee," Priscilla said. "But listen, Stanley, he needs a dinner jacket right away."
"Marvin ... of course! Marvin J. Mavin!" Stanley (the proprietor) smiled broadly. "I just saw you in ... let me see ... " Stanley slipped behind his counter for a moment and returned with a copy of ... American Checker Weekly! He flipped through a few pages. "Look, here's your picture, in that match last week against the L.A. Leapers. Hey, can you maybe autograph this for me? And then there's this problem by Pennsylvania Ed that I'd sure like a hint on if you don't mind ... " Stanley pointed to a checker position diagram.
"Oh, yeah, sure, got a pen?" Stanley offered Marvin a ball point pen, neither he nor Marvin noticing that Priscilla was starting to fume.
Marvin autographed the magazine and said, "Now look, that Penn Ed, his stuff ain't easy, but this one, I think you have to ... "
Priscilla's voice shattered the relative calm. "Stanley, if you don't put that magazine away and fit Marvin for a dinner jacket and ruffled shirt in the next five seconds, I'll blacklist you all over Rust Belt Holdings!"
Caught by surprise, the magazine dropped from Stanley's hands. "Yes ma'am, right away ma'am," he said, hustling over to a clothing rack.
"Hey what about Penn Ed's problem ... " Marvin asked.
"Later, sir, later ..." Stanley said.
"You mean never sir, never," Priscilla said.
Twenty minutes and $500 later, a grim Priscilla and a glum Marvin left the shop with a package containing Marvin's dinner clothes.
"Five hundred smackers for a one-day rental? Seems like a lot," Marvin said. Priscilla simply said, "In the car, Marvin. We still have to change and I will not be late for our reservation at Le Faux Luxe."
"Yes, dear," Marvin said. No beer, no magazine, no checker problem. Just a fancy dinner suit that cost him five hundred to rent, and a restaurant with waiters that would look down their nose at him if he ordered a Bud Lite, and probably another five hundred for the dinner, not to mention more endless hours of wedding planning tomorrow.
But Marvin's heart was in the right place. For Priscilla, he'd do anything. Even pass up a checker problem by Pennsylvania Ed.
We don't know if you have a wedding to plan, or a fancy dinner to go to, and neither do we know if you own a dinner jacket. It doesn't really matter, and you don't have to pass up a problem by Pennsylvania Ed (also known as Grandmaster problem composer Ed Atkinson). See if you can solve it, and then marry your mouse to Read More to see the solution.[Read More]