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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]
In our previous two stories, we told about Priscilla's ultimatum to Marvin, who did indeed go with Priscilla to Sparkly Exclusives to buy her an engagement ring that ran to just under $200,000 after adding in sales tax. Marvin had tried to negotiate but Priscilla told him that was gauche and made him pay full asking price, to the great delight of the tuxedo-clad salesman.
While the wedding date wouldn't be set for some little while, as Priscilla wanted to plan a very lavish affair with hundreds and hundreds of guests, Priscilla's C-suite colleagues, delighted that she had finally become engaged, wanted to throw an engagement party in her honor. They booked it for a Friday evening at Excelsior Estates, a swank country club in the Detroit suburbs where the very wealthy met to play golf on a choice of three pro-caliber 18-hole golf courses, squash in the squash racquets complex, tennis on the four outdoor and six indoor courts, or checkers in the koa-paneled Draughts Room.
It was the kind of affair Marvin would gladly have skipped, but Priscilla said they were going and that was the end of the discussion. Or rather, there wasn't even a discussion in the first place. Furthermore, Marvin would attend in black tie formal wear.
It was only while they were in Priscilla's limo, on the way to the venue, that Priscilla dropped the real bomb.
Marvin was fidgeting with his bow tie, trying to create a little space in the tight collar of his white ruffled shirt, when Priscilla said, "You know, dear, that Excelsior has a draughts room."
Marvin's face brightened a little. "Drafts room? You mean, like, they have German beer on tap and stuff?"
Priscilla gently but firmly slapped Marvin's hand away from his collar. "Draughts as in checkers, Marvin. You know, the game you play so well?"
Marvin started to say something but Priscilla continued, "Some of my colleagues at Rust Belt play in the Executive Egotist League, you know, and they are quite good."
"Oh yeah, really? I don't know about that. Good, huh?"
"Yes, and you'll have your chance to find out just how good they really are."
Marvin suddenly looked wary. "Whaddya mean?"
"You'll be giving a simultaneous exhibition tonight as part of the festivities. You'll play 16 top executives from Rust Belt."
"Oh no I'm not ... I ain't gonna be some kinda show monkey ... "
"Yes you are, and not only that, there is one of them whom you have to let win." Priscilla reached into her purse and pulled out a small slip of paper. "Here, memorize this name. It's the executive you must let win. You can go ahead and win the other fifteen games, but the man on the list is very important and we have to stroke his ego a little."
Now, Marvin was an unusual character, but if he took anything seriously, it was winning. After a quick glance at the paper he said, "Frobtads von Glulx, President, Rust Belt Holdings. Uh, Prissy honey, I ain't gonna do that. If you wanna make me play, I'll do that for you even if I don't like it much. But lose on purpose? Not gonna happen."
"Marvin, I know you and I know how you feel about your checkers. But this will really help me a lot, okay? And it's all just for fun. Frobtads will figure out you let him win, but he'll still have something to boast about. Got it?"
When Marvin didn't reply, Priscilla simply said, "Good."
Marvin and Priscilla were greeted at the ornate clubhouse entrance with much fanfare, and inside a string quartet was playing. The hors d'oeuvres were of the best quality and very plentiful. French champagne was on offer but when Marvin asked one of the servers for a can of beer, he was treated to a snooty look and told, "Monsieur, in this club we drink French champagnes and grand cru wines and only the best single malt Scotches. But if you'd like some Vichy sparkling water ... "
There were the inevitable toasts and wishes for the couple's future happiness. Marvin, who had no patience for slowly sipping expensive imported French beverages, drank uncharacteristically little, although he did find the Shrimp Dijon and Lobster Alsace hors d'oeuvres to his taste.
Then it was time for the simul. Everyone adjourned to the Draughts room, where still more champagne was served. Marvin was introduced to the players, who ranged from Alexander Antagony, Senior Vice President of Hostile Acquisitions, to Zumba Zelarkey, Vice President of Recreational Restructuring, and of course President Frobtads Glulx.
The games began. Marvin found that the players weren't all that bad for amateurs. While he easily and quickly won twelve games, three more took a little longer and wouldn't you know it, the last game was with none other than Frobtads Glulx, and it was quite tight.
The following unusual position arose, with Marvin to play.
It was interesting indeed. Marvin saw pretty quickly that there was a move that would definitely give him a win. However, he saw others that would put Frobtads in a winning position, and given that the Rust Belt President was quite a decent player, he would probably find the right play.
It was a dilemma. Should Marvin do as Prisilla asked, and let Frobtads have a win? Or should he do as he always did, which was always to seize victory when it was within his grasp? That was how he became a top professional player: By never compromising and never settling for less than the best he could do.
"Frobby, old boy," Marvin said, "you've played really well."
Frobtads smiled, even though no one ever but ever dared to call him "Frobby." He said, "Yes, I do think I have, and I'm about to hand you your only loss in this simul."
Marvin straightened up in his chair. "Now wait a minute there Frobster ... "
"President Frobtads," came the reply, "and there's no need for you to be a poor sport just because you're going to lose a game."
Marvin had had enough. "Lose? To you? Yeah, you're good but you ain't good enough to beat ole Marvin J. Mavin."
And Marvin made his move.
Can you find the winning play? Do you dare find the winning play? Luckily, no one's telling you to throw the game, so go ahead and work out the winning moves, after which you can click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of our story.[Read More]
It was the Saturday after Valentine's Day, 1955, and the weather was wet in Bismarck, North Dakota. Snow mixed with rain was falling, and it was certain that after dark the roads and sidewalks would freeze over, making for dangerous driving and walking conditions.
But Saturday was the day the Coffee and Cake Checker Club met at the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building, and Sal Westerman, the club's informal leader, wasn't about to miss his afternoon of checkers.
Oh, his wife, Sylvia, urged him to stay home so he wouldn't have to return on slippery sidewalks. Sal, after all, was over 70 now, and if he took a tumble it wouldn't be a good thing. But Sal was determined. He put on his winter jacket, rubber overshoes and some warm gloves and set out at about 12:45 PM. The club met at one o'clock and he didn't want to be late.
The skies were gray and Sal pulled up his hood to ward off the chilling rain. But he didn't live far from the Beacon and he was there in about fifteen minutes, his trip taking just a little longer than usual.
Some of the "boys" (all of whom were over fifty) were already there. Sam, Wayne, Dan, Delmer and Tom were seated in the big booth in the back. They waved to Sal as he came back to join them. Deana, the proprietress and an award winning baker, gave Sal a friendly greeting, too.
Then Louie (also known as "Louie the Flash") and Kevin (also known as "Spooler") came in. It was quite a gathering and it made Sal smile and forget the weather.
"Cherry muffins today," Deana said. "I got a shipment of really nice canned cherries and you're going to love these."
"We sure will," Sal said, "especially when the boys are buying."
That elicted groans and laughter from the boys. "Sure, Sal, whatever you say," Spooler said. The long-standing tradition was that Sal would set up a checker problem. If the boys could solve it, Sal bought, while if they couldn't, the boys bought.
"We'll see who laughs last," Sal replied. "I have a nice one from Ed."
Ed was Sal's checker pen pal in Pennsylvania, and his problems always were clever and always a challenge.
"Have a look at this," Sal said, and set up the following position on one of the checkerboards. "I'll give you an hour, and I think I'd better get you all some more coffee." Deana, never missing an opportunity, was already at the booth with a fresh pot ready to pour.
The boys focused on the problem. From time to time Sal took a look outside. By about two-thirty, when the hour Sal had alloted was up, the roads were indeed freezing over.
"Can't get it," Delmer said. "We tried, but ... "
Deana arrived at just that moment with a tray of cherry muffins. "Who's buying?" she asked with a smile. Delmer slowly raised his hand. "My turn," he said sheepishly. "Now, Sal, how about you show us how to do this one?"
Will you have better luck than "the boys"? Or will you be the one to buy the muffins? At least you won't have to go home on frozen roads (well, we hope not). Give this a try and then cherry-pick the solution by clicking on Read More.[Read More]
It was the end of January in Bismarck, North Dakota, the coldest time of the year in a place known for its intemperately cold weather.
It was a Saturday afternoon, and at about quarter to one the temperature was still 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, and that would be the highest the mercury reached that day. And to top it all off, the wind was blowing at 20 miles per hour. Of course the sun was out, but that wasn't of much help.
Sal Westerman was undaunted. At one o'clock his Coffee and Cake Checker Club would meet as it did every week at the Beacon Cafe, normally a ten minute walk from Sal's home.
Sal was bundling up under the direction of his wife, Sylvia, who had even gone so far as to suggest that Sal stay home. But there was very little that could keep Sal from his beloved club, and cold weather didn't deter him.
So, as warmly dressed as a person could possibly be, Sal made his way to the club. The wind was biting and the cold wicked, and it took him longer than usual. It was nearly ten after one when Sal entered the Cafe, but as he passed through the door, he didn't feel the blast of heat that one usually felt when going from 20 below zero outside to 70 above zero inside.
Then he noticed that there were only four other people in the cafe, all of them still dressed in their winter clothes, gloves, wool caps, and all. Club members Wayne, Dan, and Louie the Flash were sitting in the usual booth at the back, while Deana, the proprietess, was behind her counter, similarly bundled up. She had an electric heater rigged up and blowing on the only shelf that had anything on it, a tray of coconut chocolate chip bars. There was a big coffee urn plugged in, and that was it.
"What's going on?" Sal asked.
"The gas heat for the building went out during the night," Deana said. "I have a couple of electric heaters running but it's still only 28 degrees in here. The gas company men were working on it but they said it'll be Monday until they can get the heat going again. They need a part from Minneapolis or something," Deana said.
"How come you don't close up?" Sal asked.
"Aw, I know how much you boys like your checkers," Deana replied. "Lucky I had a tray of bars I could go home and get. But I'm going to close early. It's just too darn cold in here."
"Yeah, it's cold even for checkers," Dan said. All of the boys (who were over 50) had big mugs of coffee in front of them. There was just a single checker board set up.
Sal got himself some coffee and went over to the booth. "Tell you what," he said. "I did bring along a problem from Ed. How about you boys try that while I go ahead and buy some bars. After that, we'll go home. What do you say?"
Everyone, including Deana, nodded agreement.
Sal laid out a position on the checker board. "Okay, here you go," he said. "Maybe make it quick as you can!"
But the boys knew a problem from Ed was seldom a quick solve.
"Bars on me today," Deana said. "They're a day old."
In between sips of hot coffee the boys were working away at Ed's problem.
Hopefully, wherever you are, you're somewhere warm, and if you're in a cold climate, we hope the heating is working as it should. One thing for sure is that you'll warm up to Ed Atkinson's fine problem. See how you do and then give your mouse a heated click on Read More to see the solution.