The Checker Maven

A Winter Saturday at the Beacon Cafe


The holidays were over and now North Dakota was in the depths of winter. With even daytime temperatures often well below zero and plenty of snowy days, residents of Bismarck tended to spend as little time out of doors as possible.


Sal had arrived early at the Beacon Cafe for the regular Saturday afternoon session of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, and he was warming himself with a steaming hot cup of Deana's coffee. Deana, the proprietor, made good coffee and even better desserts, surely the best for miles around.


The boys--- that's what Sal called the other members of the club, even though they were all over fifty--- were still stinging a little from the beating they took when Sal challenged them, just before the holidays, with his friend Brian's 6x6. Sal chuckled to himself. They were going to get another surprise today.

The boys started to file in out of the cold, all of them wearing winter parkas, wool caps, heavy gloves, and fur-lined boots. One by one they joined Sal at the big booth in the back. Wayne, Louie, Larry, and Delmer were there, and to everyone's surprise, so was Kevin, who only showed up a couple of times a year.


"Hey Spooler, seeing you're here for a change, you buying today?" Wayne asked. Kevin went by the nickname Spooler for reasons not really known to anyone.

"Buying what?" Kevin asked innocently.


"Caramel rolls," Deana called over from behind her counter. "Just baked a fresh tray of them. Great with coffee, especially on a day like this." Deana was, among many other things, a great promoter of her wares.

Everyone looked at Sal. "Okay, what've you got?" Larry asked. "Make it a good one so Spooler can buy for everyone."

"Just so happens," Sal said, "there's one from Ed that he calls 'Code Breaker.'" Ed, from Pennsylvania, was Sal's other checker penpal.

"Is it as hard as that one from Brian last month?" Delmer asked.

"See for yourself," Sal said, as he set up the following position on his favorite checkerboard.

White to Play and Win


"Oh, that doesn't look too ..." Spooler began, but then he stopped. "Uh ... wait a minute ..."

Everyone laughed. But only for a moment, for they were all soon busy examining the checkerboard.

"Fifteen minutes I'll give you," Sal said, but the concentration was so deep his words went unheard.

"Time's up," Sal said a quarter of an hour later.

"I've got it," Larry said. "Let me show you. It's just like ..."

"NO!" Wayne, Delmer, and Louie shouted all at once. "We want Spooler to pay today," Delmer pointed out.

"Aw, c'mon guys, I don't know how to do it," Spooler said. "You just want me to pay because I don't come every week.

Heads nodded in unison. "Not even every month," Wayne pointed out.

"But, okay," Spooler said. "I'll buy ... if Larry really has it right."

This really fine problem by master problemist Ed Atkinson is challenging but solvable, and the promise of one of Deana's caramel rolls would be too much for anyone to resist. Can you solve it? We urge you to give it a good trial. Now, we don't know if anything like The Beacon Cafe is in your area, but coffee and cake are certainly in order if you make a genuine effort. When you're ready, click on Read More for the solution and the rest of the story.null


Solution and notes are from Ed Atkinson.

8-11 22-29 10-7 3-10 18-23 27-18 11-8 20-27 19-23 12-19 23-7 2-11 8-22 White wins.

The deceptive part of the solution seems to be the see-saw maneuver of the king on 8. 8-11 is required to allow the 10-7 pitch and 11-8 is necessary to complete the compound stroke.. This problem illustrates what I call the Jack-in-the-box theme. After 19-23 12-19 , the king on 23 is "Jack" and the four pieces around it form the "box." Then "Jack" jumps out of the "box," like the children's toy.

Larry played out his solution. "A lot like the one Brian sent just before Christmas," he said. "Same kind of theme."

"Right you are," Sal said. "You remember Brian mentioned being inspired by Ed? Well, this is the original idea."

Sal smiled. "Okay, Spooler, let's have those caramel rolls while they're still warm. And more coffee, too, while you're at it."

Deana Nagel

Deana, over by the cash register, was also smiling. She knew the boys wouldn't just have one caramel roll. No one could resist a second helping.

The boys and Sal enjoyed their caramel rolls and played skittles until just after four o'clock. Then they braved the cold once again to make their individual ways home. Saturday afternoon at The Beacon Cafe was always a good time, no matter who bought the treats.

01/11/20 - Category: Problems -Printer friendly version-
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