Contests in Progress:
It was the Saturday after Labor Day, 1955, and to Sal Westerman that meant one thing.
The new "season" would open for the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, of which Sal was the informal leader. The summer break was over (the club broke off its weekly meetings after Memorial Day) and every Saturday from now on, except for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, the "boys" (all of whom were at least 50 years old) would gather at the Beacon Cafe, to enjoy coffee, some of the best baked goods to be found anywhere, and of course comradeship and checkers.
There was a spryness in Sal's step as he left his home for the ten minute walk to the Provident Life Building, where the Beacon Cafe was located. Sal left early so he could arrive first and welcome the boys back.
On reaching the Beacon, he greeted the proprietress, Deana, who was all smiles. "Welcome back, Sal," she said, "great to see you again!"
"How was the soybean crop this year?" Sal asked. Deana closed the Cafe during August so she could go to the family farm in Gackle and help out with the busy harvest season.
"Oh, pretty good," Deana replied, "but it's always nice to get back here and bake treats for my favorite customers. Walnut chocolate chip bars today, you know!"
"Sounds great," Sal said, and just then in came some of the boys: Delmer, Wayne, Sam, and Louie. There were greetings and handshakes all around and wouldn't you know, here came Tom, Ron, Dan, Mike, and even the seldom-seen Frank! That made for a turnout of ten, a really big crowd. Everyone got their coffee and this week they needed two of the big booths in the back of the Cafe.
Now, the tradition was that Sal would bring along a checker problem with which to challenge the boys. If they could solve it, Sal would buy the treats for everyone. If they couldn't win it, the boys would buy for themselves and Sal.
But this time Sal said, "Let's try something different. How about we have a quick single-elimination tournament, half a minute per move, play until someone wins in each match-up, and the overall winner shares the glory by buying the treats?"
Louie thought that the winner, being the winner, maybe shouldn't have to buy, but he went along with the crowd, who thought it would be more fun that way.
The little tournament quickly got under way and within 90 minutes or so, it was all down to Sal and Dan, so this final game would be decisive. They agreed that if it was a draw, they would share the honors and share the cost of the treats.
Now, Sal was the State Champion and favored to win, and he wanted to win, for he was a very generous person and especially wanted to buy for everyone on the first week back after the summer. But he would have to win that "right" over the board.
After some brief play the following very unusual position arose, with Sal to move. He knew he had a chance to win but he only had half a minute to figure out the right play, and it looked really complicated.
Just at the very end of his half minute, when Dan was about to call "time" Sal made his move.
Can you win this one? Do you think Sal found the winning way? You won't have to buy treats (unless maybe you're solving in a group), but you can still claim a little personal glory. See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of the story.[Read More]
The Detroit Doublejumpers had just completed annual pre-season training camp at the appropriately named location of Au Train, Michigan. It was always a difficult time for the players, who were really put through their paces both mentally and physically, but no one more so than team Captain Marvin J. Mavin, who had to give up beer, run endless laps around the lake, and even do push-ups sometimes.
After camp the team had a traditional week off before they played some exhibition games prior to opening the regular season. It was a Saturday afternoon and Marvin was visiting with his fiancee, Priscilla Snelson, at her very large swanky new condo, one she bought after she was made CEO of Rust Belt Holdings, a position which came with a very large salary.
Priscilla and Marvin planned on a relaxing afternoon together followed by dinner at a restaurant chosen by Priscilla ... which, of course, was upscale and expensive, boasted two Michelin stars and featured a very large French menu.
Marvin was on one of the couches in the very large living room, reading an issue of All Checkers Digest. The magazine always contained a few challenging checker problems and Marvin was just starting to really get involved with one of them.
Priscilla's voice, sweet though it was, cut through Marvin's concentration.
"Yeah honey, what is it? Hey, by the way can you bring me a beer? I'm working on this problem ... "
The voice now took on a definite edge. "Get your own beer, dear, and while you're at it come over here. I want to show you something."
Marvin reluctantly got up and went into the very large kitchen. Priscilla was seated at the very large kitchen table with magazines of her own spread out in front of her. "What do you think about this, Marvin? It's in the latest issue of the Beautiful Blissful Bride's Best Boutique magazine ... "
"Bride's Best ... what did you call it? Bo Peep or something? Hey, anyhow, they got a checker column in that magazine?"
"Marvin, be serious!" Uh-oh. Marvin knew it was never good when Priscilla told him that. She continued, "I want to know what you think of this bride's dress for our wedding."
Now, Priscilla was planning a very large wedding. They had yet to set a date but she said it would take her at least six months, and probably a lot longer, to get everything arranged. There would be a very large guest list, a very large cocktail party, a very large dinner, and a very large send-off following a very large dance party.
Marvin, knowing that, unfortunately replied, "Gee, Prissy, the wedding ain't for probably a year yet, what's the rush? And besides I don't know nothing about wedding dresses."
"Marvin! I don't think I like your attitude. And how many times have I told you, don't call me Prissy!"
Marvin quickly backtracked. "Aw gee honey, I'm sorry. Here lemme see the dress."
Priscilla relented, but only a little. "Here you go," she said, pointing to a very large centerfold in the magazine.
"Yeah, great! Sure does look like a wedding dress, don't it? I mean, it's got all of them ruffles and stuff ... but I kinda think you don't look like ... "
Priscilla, now very angry, slammed the magazine shut. "Oh Marvin, you're so ... so ... useless! How will I ever get this wedding arranged if you don't help?"
"A beer right now would help ... ' Marvin said, again unthinkingly.
Priscilla stood up, hands on hips. Once more, not a good sign. "You'll get a beer over your head!" she said. "And don't open that fridge ... or else! It's getting close to time to leave for Le Faux Luxe in any event.
Marvin, who was halfway to Priscilla's very large fridge, stopped in his tracks. "Aw, gee, Prissy, gimme a break. One beer, okay? That fancy place ain't got nothing but old wine and them funny colored cocktails."
Priscilla, still glowering, thought for a moment. "You know, Marvin, you're right. You need a beer. You don't need an elegant candlelight dinner of haute cuisine, fine wine, and superb service. So how about you take your silly checker magazine and go down the block to that bar you love so much and have a beer and a burger? You can call me in a couple of days when you've seen the light and are ready to help with the wedding."
"Hey, yeah, can I have fries with ... oh, okay." He quietly picked up his All Checkers Digest, went out and took the elevator down to street level. At least he had a very large beer and a very large burger to look forward to. With fries. Of course, making up with Priscilla would be, as always, a very large problem, but he'd work it out.[Read More]
It was August, usually one of the hottest months of the year in Bismarck, North Dakota, and 1955 was no exception. Although North Dakota is often rightly thought of as a very cold place, summers, though brief, could be scorching hot, with temperatures above a hundred degrees on some days.
Sal Westerman, the unofficial leader of the Coffee and Cake Checkers Club, usually stayed in town during August. His wife Sylvia always went to Dickinson to spend two or three weeks with her sister, and while she was away Sal would retreat to the relative coolness of his basement to read his checker magazines and do some study from his large checkers library. The Club didn't meet during the summer, and in fact their usual venue, the Beacon Cafe, closed down in August so the proprietress, Deana, could go to Gackle to visit with family and help with the wheat harvest.
On this Saturday the temperature reached 105 degrees in the early afternoon, and Sal didn't plan to leave his basement except if absolutely necessary. There was a bathroom as well as a small refrigerator, and it was just too hot to venture into the upper floors of the house. But by later in the afternoon even the basement was just too hot. Still, there was nowhere else to go. The big floor fan was already at full blast. Nothing to do but stick it out.
Sal had been working from a new problem book that All Checkers Press had just published. Sylvia had given it to him as a birthday gift. It was a nice collection and included problems by two of his checker pen-pals, Brian and Ed.
The heat was starting to make Sal, who after all was in his seventies, a bit sleepy. Then Sal did something that he didn't do very often; he got a beer from the fridge and opened it up. Sal would have the occasional social drink but seldom anything but that. It was the heat, and he wanted something cooling. It was too hot to eat anything, but a cold drink would be nice.
Sipping his beer and working on a few problems, he suddenly became aware that the room was getting darker. Now, the basement wasn't all that large. There was the furnace, of course, a half bath, a lot of storage cabinets, a workbench, an easy chair and an old couch, and a small table in the middle served by a couple of battered kitchen chairs. There were several casement windows on the walls, up near the ceiling. There was an overhead light and a couple of floor lamps.
Now, it was odd. The lights were all on but they didn't seem to be giving off more than a faint glow. Sal looked up at the windows and it was pitch black outside. Was it storming, or had he fallen asleep and it was now well after dark? No, his beer was still cold, in fact ice cold, colder than the old fridge could have ever made it.
Sal thought he had best go upstairs and check around. That's when he got the biggest surprise of all.
There was a wall where the stairway leading upstairs used to be. Not even a new looking wall, but just a continuation of the walls in the rest of the room.
Sal started to be frightened. This just wasn't possible ... was it?
And there was an eerie silence. Not a sound came from outside. Another shock: the electric wall clock had stopped, the second hand no longer sweeping, the time 11:52. Eight minutes until midnight, Sal supposed. But if the electric clock was stopped, how could the electric lights be on, even though only barely?
Now, stay calm, Sal told himself. Sit down at the table, take a few deep breaths.
The table was gone. So were the chairs. In fact everything in the room seemed to be fading away, as if darkness were seeping in and dissolving reality.
The walls were no longer visible, nor were the floor or ceiling. Sal now felt a floating sensation, and then a breeze that turned into a wind that pushed him along in total darkness.
It seemed to go on forever, the wind stronger and stronger, Sal being carried faster and faster. And now along with the darkness he heard an unearthly howling that grew so loud Sal thought his ears would burst.
Suddenly it was over.
Sal was standing in a large room, in front of a long table. Everything in the room was glowing red as if on fire. Seated behind the table were Brian, Ed, and--- Sylvia! After a moment, Sylvia spoke. "You have been called before this tribunal to stand in judgment. How do you plead, guilty, or guilty?"
Sal was in shock. Finally he managed to say, "Have I died? Is this the Last Judgment? But why aren't there ... you know ... angels and ... St. Peter? And Sylvia ... why are you here?"
"Answer the question, mortal. Do you plead guilty, or guilty?" Brian said.
"Yes," added Ed, "you must plead either guilty or guilty. After all, we know you're guilty, don't we?" Ed laughed manically and the others joined in, the laughter swelling and ringing in Sal's ears.
"Guilty of what?" Sal said. "I say, not guilty of ... whatever it is!"
"Not guilty?" said Sylvia. "You must plead either guilty, or guilty! Everyone must obey! Everyone is guilty and everyone is condemned! We do not accept your plea and we find you guilty. You are hereby sentenced to ... "
Sylvia paused and waved her arms at Brian and Ed. "All together now boys, let's hear it ... "
Sal opened his eyes. His head was resting on his new problem book and he was drenched in sweat. Slowly, he raised his head and looked at the electric clock. It was nine o'clock and, glancing at the windows, he saw it was getting dark.
He must have finished all of his beer, as the bottle was empty.
Uh-oh. There were three empty beer bottles on the table. Guilty, or guilty? Everything fell into place and Sal understood.
Sal took one last look at his checkerboard, which had the following position on it.
But he shook his head and said to himself, "Too much checkers today. Too much heat. Too much beer. Too much ..." He shook his head again. He had had a terrible dream. "Better just get to bed," he concluded, "and it sure will be nice when Sylvia--- the real-life Sylvia--- gets back home."
We hope you don't ever have a bad dream like Sal's. We also don't recommend three bottles of beer on an empty stomach, or at all for that matter, especially when solving checker problems. Can you solve the position shown above? Don't let it give you nightmares; you can always click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Sal Westerman, of Bismarck, North Dakota, was doing what he did every summer.
It was July of 1955 and Sal and his wife, Sylvia, were spending a couple of weeks at a lakeside cabin near Lake Sakakawea. For years they had rented the same cabin for the same two weeks.
Sal of course missed his Saturday afternoon visits to the Beacon Cafe in Bismarck, where his Coffee and Cake Checker Club met weekly during fall, winter, and spring. But like most such things in North Dakota, there was a pause to enjoy the all-too brief summer season, and the club wouldn't meet again until the Saturday after Labor Day.
At the lake, Sal and Sylvia didn't follow any particular schedule. They went to bed when they were tired, got up when they were ready, went on walks, relaxed on the porch, and just took it easy. Sal, of course, brought along some checker magazines.
This morning, however, Sal decided to take a rowboat out on the lake and try some fishing. At least, that's what he called it. What he actually did was row the boat out a ways, drop a line in the water, and then get out a checker magazine. If a fish bit that was fine but he really didn't care. Sylvia, of course, always hoped he'd catch something to cook for dinner, but she knew Sal's habits and tricks and didn't count on anything.
It was a clear and sunny morning, and it was going to be hot, so Sal knew he should go out early. The fish wouldn't really be biting once the temperature rose, but worst of all was that it would be just too warm out in the sun to focus on his magazine. So Sal rowed out at 7 AM right after an early breakfast.
"Good luck, dear," Sylvia had said, not failing to notice the copy of All Checkers Digest in Sal's tackle box.
It was still nice and cool when Sal put a lure on his hook and cast out his line. Then with a smile of anticipation, he opened up his magazine. Sal loved all the news, features, and analyzed games from professional play, but he especially enjoyed the checker problems, and this issue featured one by his friend Ed from Pennsylvania. Opening up the magazine, he quickly found the problem and was soon absorbed in trying to work out the solution.
He was deep in thought when he heard the line on his fishing reel start to run out at a rapid pace. There was a fish on his hook and it must have been a big one!
He set his magazine down on the seat beside him and took his pole from its holder. The fish was still running out as his started to crank on his reel, trying to pull it back in. It was a back and forth tussle and after about five minutes both the fish and Sal were starting to tire. Slowly but surely, Sal was making headway, pulling the fish closer and closer. Soon he could see the fish almost next to the boat, near the surface of the water. Now, where was that fish net ...
While still holding his pole with one hand, Sal reached down and grabbed the handle of his net. He pulled it up ... and wouldn't you know it but the end of the net hit his checker magazine and knocked it into the water!
Sal dropped his pole into the boat and reached out with his net to try to catch his magazine, which was slowly starting to sink. Completely forgetting about the fish, he went desperately for the magazine, but it was too late. The magazine had sunk out of reach. For a moment Sal thought about diving into the water after it, but at 73 years old diving into cold lake water wouldn't have been a good idea, and if he caught a cold from it he'd get the dickens from Sylvia.
Finally remembering the fish, he turned to the other side of the boat. But by this time, it seemed, the fish had somehow wriggled off the hook and was gone.
Despondent, Sal rowed back to shore, moored the boat, and went back into the cabin.
Sylvia was at the kitchen table doing a crossword puzzle. "Back so soon, dear? Any luck?"
Sal slowly recounted the story of the big one that got away, and the lost copy of All Checkers Digest.
"Oh, Sal, I'm so sorry you lost the fish. It would have made such a nice dinner. And the magazine, too, although I know you brought along several others."
"Yes, I did," Sal replied, "but this was the latest issue, and I was just starting to make progress on this problem by Ed ... "
"It's a shame, dear, but I'll make you a nice dinner tonight and you'll feel better about everything, I'm sure. How about a macaroni and hamburger hot dish?" Sylvia knew that was one of Sal's favorites, and she spiced it up with some tangy cheese.
"Oh, yes, dear, thank you, that would be wonderful." But Sal still looked despondent.
It was about time for lunch and they had a ham sandwich with some canned tomato soup. Sal then announced he would take a short rest and Sylvia said she would need to drive into town to pick up some ground beef and a package of macaroni for tonight's dinner.
After washing dishes, Sal lay down while Sylvia headed off for town. Sal awoke an hour or so later and Sylvia was just coming back into the cabin with a bag of groceries.
"Unpack for me, will you Sal, while I freshen up a little. It's so hot out now!" Sylvia said, placing the bag on the kitchen table.
"Sure," Sal said.
Macaroni went into the cupboards, ground beef into the refrigerator, and so on. "Quite a lot of groceries," Sal remarked, but got no reply.
Wait ... what was that in the bottom of the brown paper shopping bag?
No, it couldn't be. Sal had to look twice, then a third time. Slowly, he took the item out, looking at it in wonder.
"Surprised, dear?" Sylvia asked, now standing at the dining table.
"My goodness," Sal said, "how did you do it?"
"Oh, it wasn't hard. It's a pretty popular item, after all. Just about everyone carries it."
Sal smiled as he looked lovingly first at his wife, and then at the copy of the latest issue of All Checkers Digest that he held in his hands.
It looks as though Sal is going to get to try to solve that special problem after all, and of course you can, too. After you've tried it, though, there's no need to go fishing for the solution; just cast your mouse on Read More to see how it's done.[Read More]
In May, Marvin J. Mavin had once again led the Detroit Doublejumpers to another World Series of Checkers Championship, defeating the Los Angeles Leapers over the course of seven hard-fought matches.
June and July were off months; training camp didn't take place until August. Marvin and his financee, Priscilla, usually took separate vacations in June and a vacation together in July.
This year Marvin decided to go to Maine. It would be just about the start of the height of the lobster season, and there would also be fresh fish caught in cold Atlantic waters, of course with a nice crisp beer (or two) as an accompaniment.
It was quite a drive from Detroit to Lubeck, Maine, especially in Marvin's very old Volkswagen Beetle. He took his time and after two overnight stays, checked into Cohill's Inn, a well-known pub with several rustic rooms to rent.
Marvin spent a day or two exploring the town, trying to remain incognito, as even remote Lubeck had its checker fans, and the town had an amateur team appropriately named the Lubeck Lobsters, who competed in a league in eastern Maine.
Of course, a star such as Marvin couldn't help but eventually be noticed. However, though Maine folk are very friendly, they do respect a person's privacy, so Marvin didn't have to do a lot more than sign a few autographs, shake a few hands, and pose for some selfies.
About a week into his visit, Marvin was enjoying some local brews in the Lubeck Tavern. He had gotten to talking with a few of the lobster fisherman and raised a couple of glasses with them. Well, maybe more than just a couple. But fishermen rise early and by about 11 o'clock the tavern was empty except for Marvin and the bartender. Closing time wasn't until one AM but the bartender looked tired so Marvin called for one last beer before going back to his lodgings.
He must have taken his time with his beer, for as he drained the last of it he looked up at the tavern's old grandfather clock and saw that it was exactly midnight. He was going to get up to leave but all of a sudden he noticed a large, middle-aged, ruddy-looking man sitting opposite him at his table.
"Where did you come from?" Marvin said, startled by the man's sudden appearance.
"Where did I come from?" the man replied in a voice that was shaky and distant. "What do you mean, where did I come from! Don't you know me? Everybody around here knows The Great Murray! John Murray, that's me, and they call me The Great Murray because of how well I play checkers. The best in Eastern Maine. Maybe the best in all of Maine. Might even be the best in the world only haven't quite got the title yet."
"But," he continued, "I'm going to get there, and I'll start by beating you. Yes, you're some kind of hot-shot professional but I'm not scared, no sir I am not, because you're nothing compared to The Great Murray."
Suddenly there was a rustic old checkerboard on the table. Murray set it up and quickly made a move with the Black pieces. "Now there, your turn, so play."
Marvin, still startled, replied, "Hey, look, whoever you are, it's kinda late and I've had a couple of ... well a few ... quite a few ... anyhow I want to get to bed, so look, why don'tcha come back another night."
"Play, I said!" Murray banged a fist on the table. "Play if you'd like to get to bed in one piece tonight!"
"Aw, c'mon now ... "
Now the fist was inches from Marvin's face. Marvin looked over at the bar, but the bartender was nowhere to be seen.
A sudden shiver went through Marvin's body. Without even meaning to, he reached out his hand and made a move.
The game went on, Murray glowering all the time. Once or twice Marvin made as if to get up and leave, and on each occasion Murray said, "You may not leave unless you resign the game!"
Eventually the play led to the following position.
"Ha ha ha," Murray laughed, "you shall lose now. And you know what shall happen then? I will spread the word far and wide that The Great Murray beat this so-called professional champion, and you shall see if any pro team wants you after that. You shall die poor lying in the gutter because tonight is when your career ends."
Marvin heard these words, stunned. But something must have gotten through to him, because all at once, he sat up straight and said, "Now wait a minute there pal, just who do you think you are? Great Murray? You ain't great anything, 'cept maybe a Great Windbag! Now take this, you old blowhard!"
Marvin looked down at the checkerboard and made his move.
Is The Great Murray all that great? Is he the equal of Marvin J. Mavin? Are you up to Murray's challenge? See how you do with the position above and then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion to our story.[Read More]
Many years ago, when checkers was played by man and by man alone, for there were no computers nor would there be for almost two centuries, a legendary person created a 9x9 checker problem that challenged the best players of the day; and yet they solved the problem despite its depth, trickery, and unusual nature. The creator of the problem was said to be named Hink, or perhaps it was The Hink, or perhaps it was someone else, for no one really knew, and yet the problem was known as Hink's Problem.
Down through the ensuing generations, Hink's Problem entertained and baffled, yet still, the best in each generation would solve it with enough thought and reflection.
And then came the time of the computers.
The earliest, created by a researcher at a large corporation, did not play checkers very well and of course could not solve Hink's Problem.
More computers arrived and more checker engines were created, and though they bore names like Fiend and Giant and Mountain Wind, and even Crowning Touch and Cookie--- the latter two being the greatest of their day--- still they could not solve Hink's Problem while the masters and grandmasters, all of them fully human, were able to succeed.
And so arose the Checker Question: Would, one day, computers solve Hink's problem?
More time passed and more generations came and went, and computers became universal, and beyond the comprehension of man, so incredible was their power. Men no longer designed new computers; the computers themselves did that until they became seemingly omnipotent. Yet still, they could not solve Hink's problem, while human masters--- the few that there still were--- would do so.
Millennia turned into millions of years and millions of years turned to billions, and the computers merged into one great Omnicomputer that integrated with the very fabric of the universe. But Hink's Problem remained beyond them. There were no humans left to solve it, for they had all moved into a higher plane of existence, but had there been any, they would surely have found the solution.
Finally, the universe began to darken. The Omnicomputer had long known that the omega constant was less than one and the universe would eventually face heat death.
The last star winked out, and still Hink's Problem was beyond the Omnicomputer. It was the last unsolved problem that the great engine faced, and it could not shut down until the solution was found.
Finally, after so long that time no longer had any meaning, the Omnicomputer said, "It cannot be done" and this so upset the Omnicomputer that it erupted from its containment in the hyperdimensions, creating a New Big Bang that would give rise to a new universe, perhaps one in which the laws of logic would differ enough for Hink's Problem to be solvable, not just by humans, but by a mere Omnicomputer.
With apologies to Isaac Asimov, whose classic The Last Question inspired this story,
The Omnicomputer couldn't solve this one and had the cyber equivalent of a nervous breakdown. Can you solve it? It's probably at grandmaster level, but it's fascinating and worth your time. Just don't get so upset that you explode! After all you can always give your mouse a big bang on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
It was the last Saturday in May of 1955. In Bismarck, North Dakota, that meant the last frost of the winter was probably in the books, yards had been raked up and readied for the summer weeks ago, and outdoor life was stirring. Some flowers had started to bloom and in a couple of weeks Sal Westerman would have fresh asparagus from his garden, and fresh strawberries, too.
But it also meant that this would be the final meeting of Sal's beloved Coffee and Cake Checker Club before they took their summer break, which lasted from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Their meeting place, the Beacon Cafe, was closed on summer Saturdays, and during the whole month of August when the owner, Deana Nagel, went to Gackle to spend time on her family farm and help with the harvest.
The sun was out and the temperature was around 70 degrees when Sal walked the few blocks from his modest home to the Provident Life Building, where the Cafe was located. He expected a good turnout, as was usually the case for the last meeting of the season, and when he walked in the door he wasn't disappointed. Nearly everyone was there: Larry, Wayne, Delmer, Spooler, Louie the Flash, Ron, Tom, Dan, and even Ted, Howie, and Frank, the latter three being only infrequent participants. The group took up three booths in the back, and Deana was all smiles. Business was going to be good today.
"Rhubarb bars," she announced, "and I've got lots of them!"
It was a long-standing tradition that Sal would bring along a checker problem, and if the "boys" (all of them at least 50 years old) could solve it, Sal would buy the treats, but if they couldn't, Sal got treated by them. Sal always made sure he brought along a tough problem to even the odds a little.
The boys talked for a little while, drinking coffee and playing a few informal games. Many of them had summer vacation plans, generally involving time on their farms (now usually run by their children), or visits to relatives around and about North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana. Ron and his wife were actually going on a cruise; they'd take the train to New York and then sail for Paris. That was pretty unusual for most folk in Bismarck, who didn't feel comfortable when they were very far from home.
At around 2 o'clock the boys started clamoring for Sal to show his problem. "Gettin' kind of hungry in here," Wayne remarked. "Must be time for Sal to be buying us some of those rhubarb bars."
Sal smiled. "We'll see about that," he said, "I've got one from Ed and it's going to get published in All Checkers Digest."
The expression on Wayne's face changed. Ed, who was from Pennsylvania and one of Sal's checker pen-pals, always came up with tough, clever problems, and if All Checkers Digest was going to print it, then it must be really something.
Sal laid out the following position on several of the checkerboards. "Okay boys," he said, "let's see what you can do with this one!"
"Oh ... " Louie the Flash said.
"Oh my ... " Howie said.
"Yikes!" Larry said.
Deana brought over more coffee as the boys set to work.
Fortunately, The Checker Maven doesn't take the summer off. But neither do we serve rhubarb bars, so you're on your own for afternoon treats. But do try to solve the problem and then click on Read More to see the solution and the conclusion of our little story.[Read More]
Sal Westerman left his modest home to walk the approximately half mile to the Provident Life Building in Bismarck, North Dakota.
The Provident Life Building was where the Beacon Cafe was located, a popular place for coffee, sandwiches, and some of the best baked goods in Burleigh County, produced by blue-ribbon baker and proprietress Deana Nagel. It was also the place where, at 1 PM every Saturday except for holidays and summer months, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club gathered for an afternoon of checker fun accompanied by delicious treats.
The Coffee and Cake Club members, or "boys" as Sal called them, were all over 50 years old, and some, like Sal, much older. Of course, younger players were welcome. Age was not much of an issue except sometimes a couple of the "boys" would maybe feel a little stiff after an afternoon of play.
But today would turn out to be different.
It had snowed three days ago, one of those heavy April storms that often marked the end of winter, and with a couple of days of subsequent thaws and freezes the streets and sidewalks were quite slick in places. The city and the residents did their best but it just wasn't possible to get rid of all the icy patches.
And so it happened that, just yards away from the Beacon Cafe entrance, Sal missed his footing on an ice patch and took a tumble, landing on his back and narrowly missing banging his head on the sidewalk.
Sal groaned and tried to pick himself up. It was then that he realized he was unable to stand. He tried pulling up his legs but they wouldn't respond. He tried rolling and pushing with his hands, but with his legs not functioning, it was of little use.
"Hey!" he shouted. "I can't get up!" His back felt like it was on fire above the waist, but he didn't feel anything lower down.
It was a good thing that when he fell, he had rolled right in front of the Beacon's entrance. Deana, always alert, heard him and called to the boys. "Someone fell," she said, "come and help me."
She swung open the front door and gasped. "It's Sal!" she said. "He's hurt!"
"It's my back," Sal said, his voice now a bit weak. "I don't feel anything below my waist."
Delmer and Wayne, two of the boys, were outside with Deana. "Call an ambulance," Delmer said to Deana, who immediately returned to the Cafe. "And he needs a blanket!"
"We don't dare move him if it's his back," Wayne said, and then addressing Sal added, "Hang on, Sal, help is on its way."
Deana found a blanket in the Cafe's storeroom and she came back out and covered Sal with it. Within minutes an ambulance arrived and before much longer Sal had been carefully moved onto a lifting board and was on his way to St. Alexius Hospital. Meanwhile Deana called Sylvia, Sal's wife. The boys--- Delmer, Wayne, Dan, Louie, and Tom--- all walked to the hospital to await news. They promised Deana they would find a phone and call her as soon as they knew something.
Of course only Sylvia, who arrived breathless and tearful in another 10 minutes, was allowed to be with Sal. There were X-rays taken and blood samples drawn.
It wasn't until almost 4 o'clock that Sylvia came out to report to the boys. "It's good news," she said, "at least relatively. Dr. Eriksson says that there are no broken bones. It's a pinched nerve in his spine, and Sal has already recovered some feeling in his legs. The doctor says he'll be on his feet in a few days and back to normal after a month or so of physical therapy. It could have been a lot worse. But you might know, Sal is already complaining about missing his checker club today."
"He'll be fine if he's doing that!" said Tom. All of the boys looked relieved. "Meanwhile, Sylvia, we're all glad to help you in any way possible."
Sylvia smiled. "Thank you. And wouldn't you know, Sal asked me to give you this. It was in his coat pocket."
Sylvia handed Tom a slip of paper which contained the following diagram.
"Must be the problem Sal was going to show us today!" said Wayne. "Hey ... the Beacon's open for another hour, let's go back and try it, and we can tell Deana what's going on!"
The boys of course would have rather visited with Sal, but the doctor had given him a sedative and wasn't allowing anyone to visit but immediate family. Still, it was about quarter to five by the time the boys got back to the Beacon and related everything to Deana over a quick cup of coffee and a chocolate coconut bar. The Beacon closed at five and they wouldn't have time to try Sal's problem.
"Save it for next week, and maybe Sal will be back with us then," Delmer said. "And let's drop in on him as soon as he can have visitors."
Everyone agreed. After a quick round of farewells, the boys all started for home, and Deana began to close up until her Monday morning reopening.
It had been an unusual day for the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, one that they wouldn't wish to ever repeat, but one with a happy ending.
Sal had brought along a nice problem from his Pennsylvania checker pen-pal, Ed. The "boys" will have to wait a week but you can try to solve it right now. Just don't slip--- with your line of play, we mean. Solve the problem and then slip your mouse over to Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
Three weeks had passed since Marvin J. Mavin's disastrous experience at the engagement party put on for him and his (former) fiancee, Priscilla Snelson. In our previous story we related how Marvin refused to let the President of Priscilla's company, Rust Belt Holdings, win a game against Marvin in a 16 player simul. Priscilla was so angry she broke off their engagement and returned her $200,000 engagement ring to Marvin.
Marvin was devastated, and we can only guess how much more devastated he was when Priscilla wouldn't answer his calls and texts for more than two weeks, and yet again even more devastated when he took the ring back to Sparkly Exclusives and found they would only give him $75,000 for the "used goods."
Marvin was out $125,000 and one fiancee and girlfriend.
His team, the National Checker League champion Detroit Doublejumpers, had two days off, and Marvin was at home in his shabby little apartment trying to work out a problem in All Checkers Digest. But he just couldn't seem to keep his mind on it. His experience with returning the ring had lent an air of finality to things. He had lost his one true love, and it was time to face up to it.
He must have been on his third beer of the afternoon and was feeling sleepy. (Three beers and a tough checker problem are not a good combination.) He had started to doze off when he heard his doorbell ring. Thinking he was dreaming, he didn't pay any attention but the buzzing continued. Finally realizing that there might actually be someone there, even though he never ever got visitors, he slowly got up from his sofa, and, dodging beer cans and pizza boxes, made his way to the door.
"Hey, quit with the noise already! Who's there?" he said in a grumpy tone.
"Marvin, open up! It's me!"
The voice was familiar. Priscilla.
Marvin paused to think. Was she hear to lecture him or something?
Now Priscilla had quit ringing the bell and was pounding on the door with her fists.
Marvin pulled the door open. "What are you doing ... "
Priscilla shoved past Marvin and strode into the living room.
" ... here?" Marvin concluded.
"This place is a pigsty. There's a reason I never come here except when absolutely necessary, like now," Priscilla said.
"What are you talking about? Did someone kick the bucket or something?"
Priscilla plopped down on the sofa. "Don't you ever clean house?" she asked. "No, no one passed away. But I have a lot to talk to you about."
"Huh ... you dumped me. You wouldn't take my calls. So finally I gave up and took the ring back. And now ... "
"You did what?" Priscilla exclaimed. "Marvin, tell me you didn't. Take the ring back, I mean. Why would you do such a thing?"
"Because you told me we're through!" Marvin was on the verge of tears, something almost unheard of for him.
"Oh, Marvin," Priscilla said, her voice suddenly soft. "Here, sit next to me. I have something to tell you."
Slowly, Marvin did as she asked.
"You see, I got to thinking. Remember how President Frobtads Glulx made a comment about how the company valued dishonesty in the name of profit? Well, that was a big slip-up, and when word got back to the Board of Directors, they fired him."
"Fired him? What for?"
"For what he said. Oh, they weren't worried about honesty. They were worried about bad public relations. And then they had to choose a new President."
"Uh yeah, but ... "
"Well, guess what? They chose me! I'm the President of Rust Belt now! And then I took a cue from you and told the Board that from now on, honesty would be the order of the day. They didn't like it but they knew I meant business. And I owe it all to you, Marvy dear!"
Priscilla put her arm around Marvin and drew him close. "You see," she went on, "you were right about not sacrificing your principles, and not letting Frobtads win that game. I know I was angry at the time, but I was wrong. I should have been proud of you instead. I am proud of you!" Priscilla kissed his cheek. "And now our engagement is back on again!"
"It is? Don't I have anything to say about it?"
"Of course not! You know that I know what's best for both of us. The only thing is, you're going to have to buy another ring and it's going to cost you ... again."
Marvin sighed. "Know what?" he said, "I need another beer."
But he didn't argue with Priscilla, and on his way to the fridge a little smile appeared on his face.
It happened again. Marvin didn't get to solve that problem in All Checkers Digest as he was somewhat "busy" for the next little while, and not with checkers. But you can solve the problem. See how you do with it and then click on Read More to see the solution.[Read More]
On a Saturday in March, 1955, Sal Westerman was getting ready to go to the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building, for the weekly meeting of his beloved Coffee and Cake Checkers Club. It was about 12:45 PM and the gathering started at 1 o'clock.
A glance out the window told him that it was an especially windy day. His wife, Sylvia, sitting on a chesterfield in the living room, remarked, "They said on the radio that the wind is gusting up to 50 miles an hour and might even pick up some more."
Now, Sylvia wasn't sitting alone on the chesterfield. Next to her was her sister, Phoebe, who lived about 90 miles away in Dickinson, North Dakota, and was visiting for the weekend.
Phoebe was, well ... okay, she was Sylvia's sister, after all. But let's just say the Sal preferred it when Sylvia went to Dickinson to visit Phoebe rather than when Phoebe came to Bismarck to visit Sylvia.
"I wouldn't let him go," said Phoebe to Sylvia, ignoring the fact the Sal was in the room. "You know your husband. He's clumsy and old and likely to get blown over and get hurt, and then you'd be stuck taking care of him, and what kind of fun would that be?"
Sal, who had just put on his winter coat and was donning a scarf, looked over at Phoebe but didn't say anything. Phoebe glared back and went on, "I just don't see why you let him spend so much time on that foolish game of his. Don't you have things for him to do around the house? If nothing else, he could clean the basement. The walls need washing down there, and I'm sure there are plenty of other productive things for him to do. Checkers, indeed!" She sniffed as she said this and shook her head for good measure.
Sal had finished dressing for the weather and, deciding discretion was the best option, simply said, "I'm leaving now, I'll see you all just after five this afternoon."
"Just a minute, you!" Phoebe said in a loud, shrill tone. "Didn't you hear a word ... "
Sal didn't hear the rest as the door closed behind him and he started down the street. Or tried to. The wind really was howling and walking wasn't easy.
Luckily it was only a few blocks to the Provident Life Building. But still it took Sal a while and he was five minutes late on arrival.
Five of the "boys" (all of them over 50) were in the big booth at the back. "Look what the wind blew in," exclaimed Delmer. "Literally!" added Dan. Wayne, Louie the Flash, and Tom all laughed as Sal made his way to their location. He plopped down next to Dan and took a deep breath before saying, "I'm going to get even with you boys for that! I've got a new problem from Brian and it's really something!"
The boys groaned in unison. Brian, in St. Louis, was one of Sal's checker pen-pals and he was a top composer with his problems regularly published in All Checkers Digest. His compositions were always clever and never easy.
Deana, the proprietress of the Beacon, a top-notch baker and a great marketeer, called over, "I've got pecan brownies today!"
Now, the tradition was that if the boys couldn't solve Sal's problem, they would buy the treats, but if they could win it, Sal would buy. That meant Sal would buy for all of them, while they only had to buy for him and themselves, but it kind of evened out because Sal got to choose the problem, and he seldom chose a simple one.
Sal laid out the checkers as shown below.
"Go ahead, boys!" he said. "Thirty minutes should be enough!"
"Aw, Sal, give us an hour," said Louie. "Please?"
"Okay, sixty minutes and not a second more!"
Deana arrived to refill everyone's coffee mug but the boys had already started in on the problem
We don't know if it's windy at your place, nor do we know if you have a windy sister-in-law, but give our problem a try and see if you would have won a pecan brownie. You'll have to serve up your own coffee, though. When you're ready click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of our story.[Read More]