It was December 17, 1955, the Saturday before Christmas weekend, and in Bismarck, North Dakota, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club was about to have its final get-together before the holiday break. The club, informally led by Sal Westerman, met every Saturday at 1 PM from just after Labor Day to just before Memorial Day, only taking a break over Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas through New Year's Day, and Easter weekend. Their venue was the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building, where proprietress Deana Nagel baked up the best treats anyone could ever ask for.
It was just after one and Sal was sitting in the big booth in the back with the "boys" (all but one of whom were over 50). There were Dan, Sam, Wayne, Louie the Flash, who all showed up nearly every weekend, and also Tom, Ron, Kevin the Spooler, Delmer, seldom-seen Frank, and even young Blaine. It was a great turnout and they spilled over into an adjacent booth.
All the preliminary chit-chat was about the coming holidays. A number of the boys would be going back home to the farm to visit with family. Young Blaine would be going to see his parents up in Minot. Louie the Flash was going all the way to Minneapolis to see an old girlfriend of his. But it was Sal who was taking the longest trip of all.
Yes, Sal, at age 73, would be going with his wife Sylvia to Washington D.C. to visit their daughter Joyce.
"You're not going by airplane?" Frank asked. "Those airplanes get you there fast nowadays. You can get to D.C. the same day, if you leave early enough. Well, almost the same day. I think you get in at two in the morning or something. One of our Senators does that sometimes."
"No airplanes for me," Sal said. "I like my feet on the ground, thank you. We're going by train. Taking the Empire Builder to Chicago and another train to D.C. from there."
"Gee, Sal, how long will that take?" Louie the Flash asked.
"About three days all together. Two nights on the train. We paid for sleeping compartments so it will be a nice relaxing trip."
"And three days back again? That's six days!" Louie continued.
"Yes, but I'll be back just in time for our next meeting on January 7. Couldn't miss that, you know. We leave tomorrow so there will be plenty of time for a nice visit."
"You going to all those museums?" Ron asked.
"We sure are, and we won't miss a tour of the White House, either. Joyce is taking two weeks off of work and she'll show us around." Joyce was a lawyer at Dark, Darker, and Darkest, a prominient Washington law firm. She worked long and hard and had plenty of vacation time stored up.
"Going to do any checkers?" Frank inquired.
"Sure am. There's the "Day After Christmas" tournament and I'll be playing. Did I show you boys the flyer? It has a neat problem in it and I was going to see if you could solve it today."
Deana, who always picked her moment carefully, said in a loud voice from behind her counter, "Cinnamon fruit bars today! A real holiday treat!"
The boys all smiled. "Well, Sal, let's see it!" Dan said.
Sal pulled a colorful flyer from his pocket. "Here it is, then," he said, and set it up on a checkerboard on each of the two tables. "See how you do! How about --- say --- an hour?"
The boys nodded their heads. Deana came over with the coffee pot to give everyone refills while the boys started to discuss the following position.
"Should be easy, right?" Sal said. "After all, only three per side!"
"Easy, sure, that's what you always say," groused Wayne, but everyone was already focused on the checkerboards, deep in thought.
We don't know what you'll be doing for the holidays. If you're in North America, train travel isn't what it used to be, and air travel surely isn't a lot of fun any longer. If you're in Europe, the trains are certainly a good option. But whether you plan to travel near or far, or stay at home, we hope you'll match wits with the boys at the Beacon and see if you can solve today's problem. When you're ready, travel your mouse over to Read More to see the solution and the rest of the story.
Solution and Conclusion
It was just before three o'clock when Sal called "time."
"Frank, show Sal," said Spooler. "You're not here all that often but you're the one that saw how to do it."
Frank, who was an insurance man and had to spend a lot of his Saturdays selling policies instead of playing checkers, happily showed the following play.
7-2 1-6---A 9-5 6-9---B 14-10---C 15x6 5-1 6-10 2-6 to a draw.
A---The only play to try for a Black win. Anything else leads to a clear draw after 9-5.
B---Looks good for Black. Does White have a resource?
C---Yes, White does!
"Very well done," said Sal, "and here comes a tray of treats, on me."
The boys all smiled as Deana put down two trays of delicious cinnamon apple fruit bars, and then went on to top up the coffee cups once again. The mood in the Beacon was one of holiday cheer, and the skittles games and checker talk went on until almost closing time at 5 o'clock. Then, amid heart-felt wishes of "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year" everyone headed home, content to know that they'd be back together after the first of the year.
Today's problem is attributed to famous checker writer and publisher Rex Wood.