The second Saturday in December would mark the last meeting of Bismarck's Coffee and Cake Checker Club until after the start of the New Year. The holidays were a busy time and The Beacon Cafe, where the Club met, would close down so that the proprietor, Deana, could visit her family out in Gackle, North Dakota.
Sal Westerman, the unofficial Club leader, arrived a minute or two after one o'clock and made his way to the big booth at the back of the Cafe. There was a good turnout, with Mike, Dan, Wayne, Sam, Louie, Tom, and seldom seen Old Frank on hand. Sal referred to the group as "the boys" even though they were all over fifty.
"I hear your daughter Joyce is visiting," Mike said as Sal took a seat.
"Yes, she is," Sal replied, "she hadn't taken any vacation in quite a while so she's here for a little over three weeks. It's really nice to see her."
"Washington must keep her busy," Dan said. "Isn't she working for some sort of fancy law firm?"
"Not only that, she just made partner!" Sal said with obvious pride. "Being a partner at Dark Darker & Darkest was something she'd always dreamed about, and she made it all come true!"
Just then the door of the Cafe swung open, and a blast of cold air swept in a diminutive figure.
"Joyce! You made it!" Sal exclaimed. Then, turning to the boys, he explained, "Joyce used to play for the Bismarck High School checker team, though she hasn't had a lot of time to play out there in D.C. But she said she wanted to meet everyone at the Club."
The boys offered Joyce the best seat in the booth and introductions were made. "Pleased to meet you at long last," she said. "Dad speaks highly of you and loves his Saturday afternoons here."
Deana, over at her counter, called out, "Hey, aren't you going to introduce me too?"
Joyce got up at once and went over to greet Deana. "I've heard about your baking," Joyce said. "Everyone says there's nothing like it."
Deana pulled a plate from under the counter. "Here, on the house for our special guest," she said. "Holiday cinnamon bars." Deana made sure she said the latter loud enough for the boys to hear.
"Thank you," Joyce said. She carried her plate back over to the big booth and retook her seat.
"Cinnamon bars," Old Frank said. "I could use one of those. Why don't you show us what you have for this week, Sal? Then you'll be buying after we solve it!"
Sal smiled. "Something from Ed," he said. Ed was Sal's checker penpal out in Pennsylvania. "Not so easy. Cinnamon bars for me, I think."
"Lay it out," Tom said, "and we'll see about who buys!"
Sal arranged the checkers on a couple of the awaiting checkerboards. "Here you go," he said, "you can have half an hour."
Deana's cinnamon bars look really good. Can you win a virtual one? See how you do and then click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of the story.
Sal let the boys work on the problem for nearly an hour. He was surprised and pleased to see Joyce taking part in the lively debate about the correct line of play. But finally Sal called time.
"We haven't gotten it," Wayne said with some chagrin. But just then Joyce sat upright in her seat.
"Oh yes we have!" she said.
Everyone regarded her with amazement.
"Here's how you do it," she said. She pulled one of the boards toward her and explained the following solution.
17-22 26-31---A 22-26 31x22 14-10 5x14 10x26 White Wins---B
A---Here the computer just offers the unnatural 19-24, giving up a piece (and the game) in return for a more prolonged defeat. We can't see a human player taking that approach---Ed.
B---Black's every move loses:
23-27 26-23 19-26 30-32.
"By golly, that's it!" Old Frank said. "You're amazing!"
Joyce laughed. "I know for years I didn't have time to play, but Dark Darker & Darkest has a team in the Eager Litigators League, and I've started playing again. I think that actually helped me make partner in at least a small way."
"Fabulous," Wayne said, "but now who buys? Sal is supposed to, but you're in Sal's family, so how does that work?"
"Well," Joyce said, "in D.C. both parties would just file a lawsuit and let the courts sort it out."
"A lawsuit over cinnamon bars?" Tom asked.
"You'd be surprised," Joyce replied. "But we're in Bismarck, so let's keep it simple. How about if I buy? Would you boys give me the honor of doing that?"
Joyce's intelligence, accomplishments, checkerboard skills, and down-home generosity really impressed the boys. Joyce had to leave soon afterward to help Sal's wife, Sylvia, with some domestic chores, but Sal and the boys stayed until nearly five enjoying their checkers.
"Happy holidays to all!" Sal said as he and the others finally left the Beacon. He had had a great afternoon, made even more precious by the presence of his wonderful daughter Joyce.
The Checker Maven thanks master problemist Ed Atkinson for sending us this problem and solution.
Beacon Cafe stories are all dedicated to the memory of Sol Wezelman zt"l, 1918-2020.