The Checker Maven

The World's Most Widely Read Checkers and Draughts Publication
Bob Newell, Editor-in-Chief

Published each Saturday morning in Honolulu, Hawai`i

Contests in Progress:

Composing Championship #74

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Bye For Now

It was May, 1955, and the last Saturday before Memorial Day weekend. In Bismarck, North Dakota, the weather was still on the cooler side with lows around 40F and highs around 60F. But this Saturday was bright and sunny, and Sal Westerman, the unofficial leader of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, planned to enjoy it to the fullest.

His club met every Saturday afternoon at 1 PM at the Beacon Cafe in the Provident Life Building near downtown Bismarck. But, as was common practice in Bismarck, the club didn't meet during the summer months, as everyone wanted to enjoy the outdoors, tend to their yards, and maybe even go on vacation. So from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, there were no get-togethers.

Deana Nagel

The final session of the season was something of a bittersweet occasion. There was always a good turnout. Lots of skittles, a checker problem or two, plenty of checker chatter, and great coffee and treats provided by the Cafe's proprietess, Deana Nagel, who was one of the best bakers in central North Dakota.

On hand today were Wayne, Delmer, Larry, Louie the Flash, Dan, young Blaine, and even Tom, Ron, and Old Frank. With Sal that made ten and they filled both large booths in the back of the Cafe. Talk was at first about what they'd do over the summer. Wayne was going to work on the family farm; Louie was going to spend time with the latest in his long series of short-lived romantic interests, and so on. Sal said he would be visiting his cousin Maurice in Jamestown for a checker festival being put on by that city.


But when Deana announced from her station behind her counter that the strawberry bars were hot and fresh, everyone knew it was time to turn to the first order of business.

Every week Sal brought along a checker problem. Sometimes it was from All Checkers Digest, sometimes from his checker pen pals, and sometimes from other sources, but the premise was always the same. The "boys" as Sal called the club members (all of whom but Blaine were over 50) would try to solve the problem. If they did, Sal would buy the treats. If they couldn't, they would buy their own plus some for Sal, including an extra for him to take home to his wife Sylvia.

"Ready, boys?" Sal asked.

"Sure are, what have you got for us?" Dan said.

Sal laid out the following position on one checkerboard in each booth.

White to Play and Win


"There you go," he said, "and seeing as it's about 1:30, how about I give you, say, 45 minutes?"

The boys, who thought Sal was only going to give them half an hour, eagerly agreed and set to work as Deana came around and refilled their coffee mugs.

Sal spent the next little while talking with Deana. Other than the checker club, the Cafe was pretty quiet on a Saturday afternoon. Deana told Sal that she had recently broken up with Clyde, her boyfriend, and was looking forward to spending August on the family farm in Gackle, North Dakota. "It'll do me good," she said, "and help me get over that two-timing you know what."


Deana always closed down in August to help out with the harvest at home. But Sal was sad to hear about her breakup. She had been with Clyde for a couple of years and was actually thinking about marriage, when she learned he had a girlfriend on the side in Valley City. But then Deana mentioned a big baking competition in Fargo and smiled again, saying, "I'm going to win!"

"I'm sure you are," said Sal, "but hey, it's time to see how the boys did."

Sal went back over to the big booths. "Time's up, boys. Did you get it?"

"We did," Ron said, "and here's how it's done."

Fortunately, the end of the season for the Coffee and Cake Checker Club doesn't mean the end of the season for The Checker Maven, even though we too won't return to the Beacon Cafe for a few months. However, Sal will be around during the summer months with more checker stories and problems. For now, though, compete with the "boys" and see how you do with today's problem. When you're ready, click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of our little story.20050904-symbol.gif

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05/25/24 -Printer friendly version-
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State Fair: Part 1


"The Iowa State Fair? Seriously?"

"Aw, c'mon Sheila, we both could use a vacation, and it would be a lot of fun."


The speaker was Mortimer Holmes, and Sheila Larkspur, his fiancee, was listening without a lot of enthusiasm. It had been about two years since the events of "The Checker Murders" (as told in previous Checker Maven columns and in the book "Mr. Darcy Plays Draughts"). Mortimer was close to finishing his Ph.D. while Sheila had completed grad school and was now a full-time lab tech for the FBI in Denver. For the past little while they had been sharing an apartment in suburban Littleton. They had yet to set a wedding date; it would probably be after Mortimer finished his doctorate in six months or so.


"You really want to go, Mort?" Sheila's expression had softened. It was so hard to say 'no' to Mortimer when he really wanted something, and in turn he never refused her anything.

"It would be fun. There would be rides, and all sorts of great food ... and of course there's the checker tournament."

Sheila smiled. "Of course. You planning to win it?"

Mortimer had been playing at the school club, but he had no illusions. "No, I don't expect to win. The competition is stiff. But I can play in one of the lower classes and still have a good time. And it would be a nice change from summer in Denver."


"Right. Flat landscapes. Waving fields of corn. Lots of flying bugs. Blue Ribbon Beer. The sun bearing down."

Mortimer couldn't hide his look of disappointment.

"But let's do it! I know how much you want to, and I'm game. As long as you agree to Thanksgiving with my parents."

Mortimer hesitated, if only briefly. Sheila's parents were fine, but that brother of hers, Stan, who talked about football 24 hours a day and referred to Mortimer as "the useless wimp" ... oh well. "Done!" he said. "I'll book the tickets."

# # #

There was a direct flight to Des Moines, Iowa, where the Iowa State Fair would take place on the eponymous Fairgrounds. Mortimer, knowing Sheila wouldn't care for his favorite hotel chain, Motel 9, had reserved a room at the much more upscale Diplomacy Suites. It cost about twice as much but at least there was a great breakfast buffet, and they would only be staying a few days.

The morning after their arrival the couple took a rideshare over to the Fairgrounds. Even though it was only the first day of the Fair, there was a large crowd on hand. Mortimer made sure to sign up for the checker tournament right away. He glanced at the list of players, and noticed some big names in the Master's Division. It was going to be very interesting. The tournament would begin tomorrow morning and run most of the day.


But today they would enjoy the Fair. Mortimer took Sheila on at least half a dozen rides, including the Ferris Wheel, and stole a kiss when their car reached the top. They feasted on roast corn, watermelon and BBQ beef, and Sheila even asked for some cotton candy.

Back at the hotel Sheila allowed as she had had a much better time than she'd ever expected.

"Tomorrow's the tournament, though," said Mortimer. "I hope you won't be bored."

"Oh, no, I'll watch for a while and then maybe wander around. You said the tournament's double elimination? Then I won't have to ... "

"Aw, honey, don't say it. You won't have to wait long because I'll get knocked out pretty fast, right?"

Sheila smiled. "Never said that!"

# # #

The next day was bright and sunny, and Mortimer and Sheila were at the Fairgrounds at opening time, 9 AM. The tournament would start at 10 AM sharp. Mortimer checked in while Sheila found a seat in a row of chairs close to the playing area.


The tournament was taking place inside a large tent. There were five divisions: Masters, Expert, and classes A through C. Eight players were signed up for the Masters, a dozen for Expert, around two dozen in Class A, and three or four dozen each in Classes B and C, making for nearly 120 players in all. In Iowa, checkers was often serious business. Mortimer would be playing in Class C.

In the Masters, two players were about even odds as the favorites. Sam Stecher was a top amateur player from Dubuque, and Bob Pace of Des Moines was just as highly regarded. It would probably all come down to them.

The tournament began on the dot of ten. There was quite a crowd of spectators. Sheila found the whole thing a lot more engaging than she had expected. Mortimer won his first round game, then lost in the second round, but won again in the third and fourth. Sheila realized he was doing a lot better than he had ever expected, although it would just take one more loss to put him out of the tournament.

There was a break for lunch after the fifth round. Mortimer had won again.


Mortimer and Sheila had a couple of corn dogs and sodas.

Returning to play, Mortimer won in the sixth round and drew in the seventh. He was only one draw away from elimination, but he had made it much farther than he had ever expected.

In the eighth round, the following position came up. His opponent, a fellow from Lindyville named Danny Ziegler, was on move with White. Mortimer wasn't optimistic about making it to the ninth round.

White to Play and Win


Meanwhile, the other, smaller divisions were wrapping up. Sam Stecher and Bob Pace were the only ones left standing in the Masters, and so far they had played three draws against each other. The rules stated that with only two players with equal scores left, they would play until someone won a game, thereby taking the title.


Mortimer's opponent Danny was taking his time, looking for a move that might bring the game to a finish. Mortimer was looking over at Sam and Bob as they played for the Blue Ribbon. That's when it happened.


There was a sharp cracking sound. Bob Pace tumbled back in his seat, his mouth agape, and then slumped to the ground.

There were screams from the crowd and many of them started to flee the tent in a panicked rush. But Sam Stecher just sat, looking with disbelief at Bob Pace's body, blood pooling from the bullet wound in the center of his forehead.

Someone shouted for a doctor, but Bob was already beyond help.

To be continued.

Our original concept, a series of columns on checkers at various State Fairs around the U.S., took a change in direction. The real Iowa State Fair has had a checker tournament for quite a number of years. We wrote to the organizer asking for details to form the basis of our first article, but we never heard back. (We don't seem to have much luck getting Iowans to respond to our requests.) So instead we launched into a purely fictious account of happenings at a purely fictitious Iowa State Fair. It was a great opportunity to reintroduce Mortimer and Sheila in another serialized story. We hope you enjoy it.

But before we move on, what do you think? Would Danny have beaten Mortimer in the position shown above? See if you can figure it out and hopefully you won't be distracted by untoward events such as in our story. When you're ready, shoot your mouse onto Read More to see the answers.20050904-symbol.gif

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05/18/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Marvin J Mavin: The Playoffs

Detroit Checkerdrome

The Detroit Doublejumpers had had a good season. Recall from previous stories that their prior year hadn't been so great and they hadn't even made it into the playoffs. But this year was different. After some drama concerning spring training, new coaches, and an attempt on their superstar Captain's life, all had gone well. Led by the aforesaid superstar, Marvin J. Mavin, the Doublejumpers had made it through the first round of the playoffs and were now up for their Division Championship.

They were facing the Tampa Bay Tinsleys in a best of seven contest, with the winner moving on to the World Series of Checkers. The Tinsleys were a strong team and did very well against the favored Doublejumpers. In fact, the series was tied with three wins each, and it was time for the seventh and final match.


The venue was to be in the hometown Detroit Checkerdrome, in front of a 50,000 strong sellout crowd. Even though reselling was, strictly speaking, illegal, it was heard that tickets were being sold for over $1,000 in dark recesses on the outside of the Checkerdrome.

The National Anthem was played, the players took their seats, the referee's whistle blew, and the call of "Play Checkers!" reverberated throughout the stadium.


Marvin's opponent on first board was none other than an old foe, Dmitri Tovarischky, who has appeared in some earlier Checker Maven stories. This season Dmitri had come off a five-year ban from professional play due to gambling offenses; however he remained in top championship form and the Tinsleys were willing to overlook his past history in order to obtain his skills for their franchise.

Dmitri looked over at Marvin and commented, "Well Checkers Boy, I am ready to show you what real star player does with lesser opponent. Dmitri is better player. Much better player."

"Lesser opponent, huh? Better player, are you?" Marvin replied. "Checkers Boy, is it? Well Mr. Red Commie, we'll just see who will 'lose game' today."

Dmitri laughed and made his first move.

All of the games were hard fought. Board two and three went to the Tinsleys while board four went to the Doublejumpers and board five was a draw. The score was 2 1/2 - 1 1/2 in favor of the Tinsleys, and it was all down to the game on first board. Marvin was in a must win situation. That would tie the score at 2 1/2 - 2 1/2 in which case the win on first board would give the Doublejumpers the match on tiebreaks. But only a win would do. Even a draw would give the match to the Tinsleys.

White to Play and Win


No doubt about it, Dmitri, anticipating his team's victory, was gloating, even if relatively silently, and it bothered Marvin no end, even though he knew it was a psychological tactic.


"Checkers Boy is finished," Dmitri said in a half-whisper. "No more super star. Dmitri is new superstar. Was always superstar. Game is draw. Checkers Boy is not good enough and cannot win. Now proof of pudding is in eating. Eat pudding, Checkers Boy!"

Marvin was doing his classic fidget, legs bouncing and head shaking from side to side. But his clock was running down and he had little time to spend. He was ready to make his move and ...

Did Marvin find the win, or was it true that Dmitri had a clear draw? What would you have done in such a tense situation with a trip to the World Series of Checkers on the line? Unlike Marvin, you can take all the time you wish and there's no pressure. The problem is actually on the easy side. See what you can do and then click on Read More to see the solution and the surprising conclusion to our story.20050904-symbol.gif

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04/20/24 -Printer friendly version-
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An April Storm: A Beacon Cafe Story


It was a Saturday afternoon in mid-April, 1955, and in Bismarck, North Dakota, snow had been falling with a vengeance for hours.

Sal Westerman, the unofficial leader of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, looked out the living room window of his modest home. His club met at the Provident Life Building, which normally would be only about a ten minute walk from his house. But, as was typical for late season snowfalls, the snow was thick and heavy and walking or driving would be hazardous if not downright impossible. But Sal was not one to miss a Saturday afternoon with his checker friends.


He had asked his wife Sylvia if she could give him a ride. Normally she would have been glad to do so but today she said, "I think you had better cancel your meeting. There's always next week and it just isn't worth the risk. It's been snowing all day and there's easily a foot and a half of snow on the ground."

Sal was beside himself. He loved his club with all of that intense passion a true checker fan could muster.

But Sylvia could be right.


It was nearly one o'clock now, the club's starting time, and Sal was still at home. If he was going to walk, he'd arrive quite late. It would likely take at least twenty minutes to get there, maybe longer.

He decided to call the Beacon Cafe and ask Deana, the proprietress, how many of the "boys" (all but one of whom were over 50 years old) had arrived.


He went over to the telephone in the dining alcove and called the Beacon's number. The phone rang a good eight or nine times before he gave up. Then he decided he'd call Deana at her home in Mandan, North Dakota, just across the Missouri River from Bismarck.

Deana answered on the third ring. Sal explained why he was calling, and Deana confirmed what Sal had expected to hear: the cafe was closed due to the weather. "I was supposed to open at seven, as usual," Deana said, "but it looked really bad out. There wouldn't be much business, what with everyone staying home, and I didn't want to risk driving over from Mandan and back."

Sal said he understood and hung up the phone. He fully agreed, of course, but he still was a bit sad. There would be no club meeting until a week from today.

But then he had an idea.

Every week Sal took along a good checker problem for the boys to solve, and whether or not they could win it determined who would pay for Deana's amazingly good baked treats.


Sal got out the telephone book, checked a number, and made another call.

"Dan?" he said when the call was answered. "Hey, you probably figured the club wouldn't meet today."

"Right, no way I'm going out in this weather," Dan said.

"Just as well, Deana didn't even open the cafe today," Sal said. "But listen, take down this checker position."

"Uh, sure," Dan said, "let me get pencil and paper."

Black to Play and Win


Dan quickly returned and Sal gave him the details and terms of the position. "So, I'm going to call Wayne and Ron. How about you call Louie the Flash and Old Frank? I'll ask Wayne and Ron to make a couple of calls too. That way we can contact everyone, and you all can still have a problem to work on. You'll have to provide your own coffee and treats, though. Then around four thirty I'll call you boys back with the solution."


"Sounds like fun," Dan said. "None of us really wanted to miss out on the club today, but this is a great idea."

As the afternoon passed the snow kept falling. It was a good thing, Sal thought, that he had an agreement with a neighboring lad to shovel his sidewalks and back driveway. That wet snow was going to be really heavy, and on the radio they were predicting two feet before the storm ended sometime after midnight.


Sal went and got himself a cup of coffee and settled down in his nice warm living room with the latest issue of All Checkers Digest. It wasn't going to be a bad afternoon after all.

Wherever you may be we hope you're not encountering a massive snowstorm. But if you are, we further hope that you are safe at home. No matter your current environment, we invite you to solve along with the "boys." Don't let the problem snow you; find the solution and then let your mouse fall on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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04/13/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Revenge! Part 3

Marvin J. Mavin

The atmosphere was taut and tense in a small conference room in the Portland Checkerdrome. Marvin J. Mavin, in the company of several uniformed police officers and an FBI agent, was staring at a tablet screen with a live video connection to his wife Priscilla's condo back in suburban Detroit. Marvin's nemesis, Charity Chastity "Cha Cha" Hopkins, had gained entry to Priscilla's condo and had captured her and tied her to a kitchen chair. Cha Cha was now brandishing a long bayonet and was holding it at Priscilla's throat.


"Say goodbye to your skanky rich wife," came Cha Cha's voice from the tablet's speaker, "I'll give you thirty seconds starting right now."

Marvin could see Priscilla quivering with fear, the edge of the knife touching her throat.

"No ... no ... wait!" Marvin said. "Can't we like figure this out?"

"SWAT's three minutes out," one of the officers whispered after muting the sound on the tablet. "Hold her off. You know how to talk to her." The officer turned the sound back on."

"Any tricks and you won't even get your thirty seconds," Cha Cha said, "and that's now down to twenty seconds."

There was a roaring in Marvin's head as he confronted a situation that went beyond his worst nightmares. But suddenly the roaring ceased and Marvin said, "Look, can you give it a couple of minutes? I got something to say."

Cha Cha Hopkins

"Ten seconds," Cha Cha replied, "unless it's really good."

"I can get you your old job back," Marvin said. "Just let me get the coach in here."

"I'll get him," one of the officers said and hurried out of the room.

"What are you talking about?" Cha Cha said. But the knife move an inch or two away from Priscilla's throat.

Coach Davey Anderson

"The policeman just went to get Davey, our coach," Marvin said. "What if he stepped down and named you the Doublejumper coach, like you used to be, well, for a little while anyhow."

"He would do that?" There was a curious look on Cha-Cha's face. "Really? He would?"

"Davey's a sport," Marvin said. "He'll see that you won this round. He'll go along with things. Only one thing."

"What?" Cha Cha said. "No tricks, remember?" She again brought her knife close to Priscilla.

"No tricks," Marvin said. "It's just like, if you hurt Prissy, you'll go to jail and stuff and you can't coach us from jail."

Priscilla K. Snelson

"Don't call me Prissy!" Priscilla hissed. "Things are bad enough!"

"You keep quiet, Prissy," Cha Cha said. Then turning back to the video connection, she said, "I'm not going to jail. No one will catch me."

"Yeah but if you're on the run you still can't coach."

Cha Cha seemed to hesitate. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. So what's the deal exactly?"

"You let Prissy--- I mean Priscilla--- go. Davey steps down and you step in. Piece of cake. You good with it?"

"Let me hear it from Davey."

"Sure. He'll be here in a jiff."

One of the officers, out of sight of the camera, mouthed to Marvin, "One minute."

Just then Davey Anderson came into the room with the officer who had gone to find him. "What's this about, now?" he asked.

Marvin quickly explained the deal. Davey took one look at the tablet screen, gulped and turned nearly white before saying, "Uh ... yeah it's a deal. Cha Cha can take over as soon as she can get here."

Then the video screen went blank.

# # #

Several flash-bang grenades went off as the SWAT team, automatic weapons raised, charged through the condo. Two officers soon reached the kitchen. "In here! The hostage!" one of them called.

They quickly freed Priscilla, who was still blinded and deafened from the grenades.

"She's okay!" the officer in charge said into his radio. "Relay that back to Portland!" Then he said, even though Priscilla couldn't make it out, "Come on, ma'am, we'll have you checked out at the hospital." He gently guided her out of the room.

The rest of the team quickly reassembled. "The condo's clear," one of them said. "No sign of the perpetrator."

"Where could she have gone?" the team captain asked.

The officers searched the rest of the building and then around the neighborhood. There was no sign of Cha Cha, and no one had seen anything. She was gone without a proverbial trace.

# # #

It was a big story and it was in all of the newspapers.


Marvin J. Mavin, the superstar captan of the Detroit Doublejumpers, saved the day and the life of his wife Priscilla, with his quick thinking and creativity while under intense pressure. When asked how he did it, Marvin replied, "That Cha Cha is trouble. But she thinks she's some kind of hot coach. I figured if I played to her big ego, she'd fall for it, and sure enough, she bought my story about making her head coach of the Doublejumpers. You gotta be really full of yourself to fall for that but I'm sure glad she did."

The big mystery remaining is what became of Cha Cha. She had somehow gotten out of the condo despite the presence of the SWAT team. "Can't figure it," was all the SWAT captain had to say. "We threw them grenades and that shoulda stunned her. But she got clean away. Never seen nothing like it."

When asked if he was concerned that Cha Cha was still at large, Mr. Mavin replied, "Nah." He declined to elaborate, citing a wish to take a few days' leave from the Doublejumpers to be with his wife as she recovered from her traumatic experience.

# # #

Marvin read the story in his hometown newspaper, The Detroit Divulger, and Priscilla even cut out a copy to save in a scrapbook. But the newspaper naturally had a checker column and Marvin seemed much more interested in the checker problem of the day rather than what he now considered to be old news. "Tom Wiswell--- he's good," Marvin said to himself, "now let me see ... hmm ... "

Detroit Divulger
Checker Problem of the Day
by Tom Wiswell
White to Play and Win


# # #

The woman had just rented a room in a hostel in an Eastern European capital, saying she'd be staying for a few months. It would take her that long to regroup and plan her next move. She smiled, although the smile was more of a grimace. The world hadn't heard the last from her. Not by a long shot.

The End --- for now!

Our story has concluded with a literal flash and a bang. We hope you enjoyed it. We also think you'll enjoy today's problem. Can you solve it in a flash or will you have to bang away at it? Try to swat it down and then fire your mouse on Read More to view the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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03/30/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Revenge! Part 2

Marvin J. Mavin

"Mr. Mavin ... Mr. Mavin, can you hear me?"

The voice came as if from a distance, at the end of a long tunnel. Someone was saying something. Marvin thought he heard his name but everything was so hazy. He couldn't focus; he couldn't make out the words. Just his name or something that sounded like his name.

" ... starting an IV ... "

Marvin felt something jab his arm and suddenly he opened his eyes.

"Can you follow my flashlight?" a different voice said. A light, way too bright, was now shining in his eyes.

"Hey cut it out!" Marvin managed to say, although he hardly recognized his own voice, it was so weak and raspy.

"He's responding," the same voice said. "Now, Mr. Mavin, please, following my flashlight."


The light began tracing a path to Marvin's right. Marvin tried to sit up but firm hands held him down.

"Please don't move, Mr. Mavin, until we can assess your condition."

"Did I have, like, too much beer or something?" Marvin asked.

"No, Mr. Mavin, there's been an explosion and you were knocked unconscious. Now please, work with us while we assess your condition and then get you to the hospital."

"Hospital? I ain't going to no ... "

And then it all came back. Marvin sank into the cushions of the gurney, no longer trying to sit up, He had been on the phone with Priscilla. Something had been wrong. A threat. That was it. And then there was this bright flash and loud noise and then utter blackness.

"Priscilla ... is she okay?"

"I'm sorry sir, who? There was no one else here with you."

"It's his wife," the other voice said. "Priscilla is Mrs. Mavin."

Priscilla K. Snelson

"Oh, yeah," Marvin said, "yeah, she's in Detroit. So she must be okay, right? Can you like, you know, call her? Her number's on my cell phone."

"I'm afraid there's not much left of your phone, sir. Now please, let us finish checking you over. The hospital staff will be happy to call your wife for you."

"I don't wanna ..."

"Mr. Mavin, we'll give you something to help you relax." The EMT quickly injected Marvin with a tranquilizer.

"Ow! That hurt! Now look, I ..."

That was all Marvin said. He was once again unconscious.

"Gee," the EMT said to his partner, "I know the guy's a superstar and all that, but he sure is a handful. Let's get him off to the Emergency Room where he'll be someone else's problem.

# # #


Someone at the hospital did finally call Priscilla, who said she would take her private jet to Portland as soon as it could be readied. But the nurse in charge reassured Priscilla that Marvin wasn't seriously injured and would be released soon. She further told Priscilla that Marvin would be busy with the police and the FBI for quite a few hours, and it wasn't worth her flying all the way out from Detroit. Priscilla reluctantly agreed.

"Whew, dodged that one," the nurse said to the others in the nurses' station. "Can you imagine having a rich entitled prima donna right up in our faces?"

Marvin spent the night at the hospital with a policeman outside the door of his room. In the morning, he was discharged and the policeman took him to Portland FBI headquarters. He was interviewed for several hours.

"Cha Cha" Hopkins

He told the agents the whole story about Cha Cha, and they said they would look into it but that there was really very little to go on. Someone had launched a rocket propelled grenade at the hotel and hit the window of Marvin's room. The agents were inclined to think that wasn't accidental.

"The thing is," one agent said, "is that there's no evidence. Nothing on CCTV of any use, not even anyone at the front desk that can recall being asked for your room number. So we're kind of stuck. We'll keep investigating but meanwhile just watch your back, okay?"

With that, Marvin was sent back to his hotel, where he was offered a different room. "Of course," the clerk said, "there's the matter of damages to your other room. You know, the broken window and damage to the walls. Normally a customer would be asked to pay for this, but given the circumstances, the General Manager says we won't be charging you."

Marvin gave the clerk a bewildered look. "Yeah, real nice," he finally said, "me not having to pay for someone trying to kill me and all. Hey look, I gotta get to my match."

Marvin walked away. Golly, but a beer would be nice, except coach wouldn't approve.

He knew he really ought to call Priscilla before he got on the team bus to go to the match. But his phone had been smashed and he didn't have time to go to his new room and call from there. Prissy was going to be pretty upset with him but the hospital had told him they had been in contact with her and let her know that everything was okay.

Al Caius Caszmir

Marvin did his best in that evening's match. He was playing first board against the Paisley's top player, a fellow named Al Caius Caszmir. He had been a star in the Eastern Europe League before landing a contract with the Paisleys.

At some point, the game reached the following position. Marvin had winning chances and both he and his opponent knew it

White to Play and Win


Marvin spent a few minutes, fidgeting in his characteristic manner and muttering to himself. Finally he said loudly "Aha!" and was about to reach out and make his move when ...

# # #


Priscilla was shaking as she sat in one of her designer leather couches, her cell phone hanging loosely from her left hand, a glass of Chateau LaFitte in her right. She lifted the glass to take a sip but her hand was trembling so badly she had to set the glass down on the crystal coffee table in front of the couch. Even at that, she managed to spill a few precious drops.

She shouldn't have listened to that nurse last night. She should have ordered the corporate jet readied and flown to Portland at once. She could have been there inside of a few hours.

Instead she had tried to sleep with no success. Her chauffeur picked her up in the morning and took her to work as always, but she couldn't focus and ended up canceling her afternoon meetings and going home early. She had put on a yoga DVD but yoga didn't calm her either. Now it was early evening. She had no appetite and even a fine wine didn't appeal.

She hadn't heard any more from Marvin. All she know is that he had left the hospital and was supposed to be playing in a match right about now.

She had dismissed her security detail, figuring she was being overly paranoid. Now she wasn't so sure if it was a wise idea.

Finally she had enough. She was going. She needed to be with Marvin. He would be in Portland for two more days. She'd order the jet and who cared what the shareholders thought. She'd just reimburse the expense. Or get her Board to approve it as an emergency. She didn't care.


Rust Belt had a transportation coordinator on duty all the time. She called that office and made arrangements. The coordinator told her the jet could be ready to go in three hours; that's how long it would take to call in a pilot and a steward, do fueling and checks, and file a flight plan.

It was 7 PM. Priscilla arranged for a chaffeur to pick her up at 8. That would get her to the airport at 8:30. Maybe her arriving early would get the staff to move things along a little faster.

She spent the next little while packing a bag. As an experienced traveler, that didn't take very long.


At 8:00 there was a knock on her service door. Good. The driver was early. Transportation must have sensed her mood.

She went to the service door and peered through the spyport. It was a female driver she didn't recognize. Maybe they had hired someone new. She would have liked to have had her favorite night driver, Manny, but he must have had the night off.

She unlatched the door and swung it open. "I'm glad you're early, and I'm all set to go ... "

A strong foot kicked the door open the rest of the way and Priscilla found hersef facing a silenced 9 mm Glock automatic held by none other than Cha Cha Hopkins.


"Make a sound, lady, and it's the last one you'll ever make."

# # #

... a uniformed police officer came running across the playing field and over to Marvin's seat at home plate. He wore a sergeant's stripes, making him a little older than the less senior officers, and he was clearly out of breath. "Mr. Mavin," he began, "you need to come with me. Right now."

Marvin, his hand still outstretched over the board, ready to make his move, turned his head and said, "Hey there, bro, we're in the middle of a match here and you're interrupting. Now lay off, okay?"


"Sir," the officer replied, "I told you, you need to come with me now!" This latter was delivered in a commanding tone. "Now, I said."

Marvin looked around, seeing where the referree was ... there, sitting in his chair a few feet off the left side of the board.

"Hey ref," Marvin said, "can you tell this dude to like, buzz off?"

The sergeant's face turned red and with a beefy hand under each of Marvin's shoulders, he pulled Marvin up and out of his seat and started to drag him towards the player's entrance.

"Bro, I gotta make my move! My clock's running down! Let go of me!"

The sergeant didn't reply and just kept pulling Marvin to the entrance. Marvin was already through the door when the stadium announcer told the assembled crowd that Pietri Donaleki would be substituting for Marvin J. Mavin.


The policeman meanwhile had gotten Marvin into a small room filled with other police officers. They were standing around a tablet computer which was clearly running a video calling program. Marvin took a quick look and then a long look. He couldn't believe his eyes.

# # #

"Say hello to your beloved hubby," Cha Cha said, holding her cell phone up to Priscilla's face. Priscilla was tied firmly to a chair in her kitchen. Her hair was dishelved and she had a couple of bruises on her face. "He's got the police with him but that won't do you any good."

"Marvin!" Priscilla shouted. "Help me!"


"SWAT team is on the way," one of the policeman said to Marvin. "Don't worry." It all came through clearly on Cha Cha's end.

"I heard that!" Cha Cha said. "They'll never get here in time, and I'll be long gone."

She paused for a moment.

"And so will Priscilla. Watch what happens next, Marvin."

To be continued.

It's a tense situation for Marvin and Priscilla, but we'll have to wait until next month to see how things turn out. Yet you don't have to wait at all to try out today's problem, which is a very practical one. You won't need to call in a SWAT team; just solve it on your own and click on Read More to check your solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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02/17/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Beacon Cafe: A Valentine's Day Gift


Valentine's Day was just around the corner, and the Coffee and Cake Checker Club was talking about Valentine's Day gift giving.

The year was 1955 and the place was the Beacon Cafe, on the ground floor of the Provident Life Building in Bismarck, North Dakota. The Coffee and Cake Checker Club, informally led by Sal Westerman, a kindly elderly gentleman, met at 1 PM sharp on Saturdays from September through May.

Meetings often followed a routine. The members--- Sal called them "the boys" even though all but one of them were at least 50 years old--- would visit a little over coffee. Then Sal would present a checker problem which he had selected during the week. The boys would try to solve it. If they did, Sal would buy them all treats, baked by Deana, the Beacon's proprietress and a baker without equal. If the boys couldn't solve it they'd buy treats for Sal and his wife Sylvia.

Young Blaine

But today young Blaine was in attendance, along with regulars Dan, Wayne, Larry, Mike, and Louie the Flash (that's what everyone called him).

You may recall our holiday story in which young Blaine was being pressured to make a Christmas marriage proposal to Moira, his long-time girlfriend. Blaine did indeed propose, and Moira accepted. It was a joyous holiday season for them, and they agreed upon a June wedding date.

It goes without saying that young Blaine was once again being teased by the rest of the boys. This time it was about what he was going to give his new fiancee for Valentine's Day.


"Come on there, young Blaine, she'd really appreciate a new car, maybe one of those Caddys," Dan said.

"Take it easy on me, guys," young Blaine replied, "I can't afford anything like that. I'm just a junior engineer at the power company. I'll be in hock for months for the engagement ring I got her at Christmas."

"Well, I can tell you if you don't come up with something nice, you'll be in hot water," Wayne said. "I think it's happened to all of us. Don't let it happen to you!"

"If you can't get her a new Caddy, maybe you could get her some more jewelry," Louie the Flash offered.


Deana, stationed as always behind her counter, chimed in, "Girls always like diamonds. Get her diamond earrings or a diamond necklace to match that engagement ring."

"I'm not made of money," Blaine said, "like I told you I'm a junior engineer with a junior engineer's pay. Wouldn't a dozen red roses do the trick?"


"Might be," Sal said, "but only if you take her out for an expensive dinner, like maybe at the Patterson." The Patterson Hotel was an upscale hotel with an upscale restaurant.

"That could work," Deana said, "but you still have to give her something on the side, and please don't say perfume."

Everyone nodded their heads, thinking back to a disastrous experience Sal had once had (see a previous Checker Maven story).


"You know what," Mike said, "offer to take her shopping at A. W. Lucas and buy her anything she wants."

"I hate shopping, young Blaine said. "But Moira loves it."


"See, we've got it all figured out for you," Louie the Flash said. "Invite her down from Minot for the weekend. Put her up in the Patterson, get her roses, take her out for dinner, and the next day take her shopping. She'll love it, and it shouldn't cost you more than ... well, less than a diamond ring, anyhow."

Blaine groaned and tried to change the topic. "Shouldn't we be solving Sal's checker problem instead of spending what little money I have left?"

That got a good laugh from everyone, and Sal said, "Very well then, here we go." He arranged the following position on one of the waiting checkerboards.

White to Play and Win


"Okay, boys," Sal said, "you've got an hour, and after that you'll be buying for sure."


"M & M bars today," Deana told the group. "Great for Valentine's Day."

The boys quickly forgot about teasing Blaine and dug into the checker problem. Meanwhile Sal ambled over to Deana's counter to chat a bit.

"I knew he'd propose," Sal said, "and I knew it would work out."

"It was pretty obvious," Deana replied. "You know how it works. He chased her until she caught him! I'm happy for them both, and I think he gets the message about Valentine's Day."

Sal and Deana both shared a smile and a chuckle.

The Checker Maven won't presume to suggest what you should or shouldn't do for Valentine's Day. That all depends on your own situation and your own preferences. But we do suggest you try out today's problem. Give it a "hearty" try and then with a "flowery" gesture, click on Read More to see the solution and the rest of today's little tale.

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02/10/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Revenge! Part I

Portland, Oregon

It was January and the National Checker League season was back in full swing after the holiday break. The Detroit Doublejumpers, a former championship team trying to make a comeback, was in Portland for a three match series with the Portland Paisleys. They would go on to San Franciso, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, and finally Cleveland before beginning a home stand back in Detroit. It was a long road trip, and Marvin J. Mavin, the superstar champion of the Doublejumpers, would be away from his wife, Priscilla, for an extended period. (Recall that, in a previous series of stories, we recounted Marvin and Priscilla's summer wedding and European honeymoon.)

On a Monday the Doublejumpers had just arrived in Portland on a short flight from Seattle, where the Doublejumpers had swept a four match series with the Seattle Switchers. Everyone on the team was feeling good and the mood was upbeat.

Coach Davey Anderson

After a team dinner, carefully overseen by new head coach Davey Anderson to ensure that there would be no imbibing of spirits, something strictly forbidden during active playing dates, everyone retired to their rooms to relax and rest, as they would need to turn out for the team bus just after lunch the following day to go to the Portland Checkerdrome for practice sessions and then their series opener at 6 PM against the Paisleys.

Marvin decided to read the Portland newspaper instead of watching a movie on the room's big screen TV. The newspaper, the Portland Portlandian, had a daily checker column and Marvin enjoyed that even more than the funnies. (On occasion, he was even known to read the news although he didn't make a habit of it, leaving it to Priscilla to catch him up with current events when the Doublejumpers were at home.)

Tonight, Marvin decided to do things in reverse order. He got into his pajamas and bathrobe and read Blondie, Peanuts, Beetle Bailey, and his favorite of all--- Dennis the Menace--- before turning to the checker column. And it was there that he saw the following headline and news story.

Cha Cha Hopkins

"Disgraced Coach Finds Post in Semi-Pro League"

"Charity Chastity Hopkins, commonly known as 'Cha Cha', has taken a position as the Head Coach of the Manasquan Muppets, a semi-pro team in the Jersey Shore League on New Jersey's Atlantic coast. Cha-Cha, who had coached briefly in the majors, was accused of the attempted second degree murder of Marvin J. Mavin, the Captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers. Charges against Cha-Cha were dropped due to a serious case of misgendering, but the NCL Players' Union said they would go on strike again if Cha Cha was made a coach in any NCL or affliate team, from the Majors right on down through the Rookie Leagues.

"Cha Cha was reported as having said, 'I wanted to stay in checkers. I'm a great coach and I have a lot to offer. I took what I could get, but someone of my caliber shouldn't be reduced to this. I blame that miserable maggot, Marvin J. Mavin. It's all his fault and one day I'll get even. He and that skanky wife of his had better watch their backs."

"When asked if she was threatening Marvin or his wife Priscilla, Cha Cha replied, 'It's not a threat, it's more like a promise.'

"NCL officials could not be reached for comment, but one representative who spoke on condition of anonymity said, 'We won't be pursuing this. After that misgendering incident, Cha Cha is pretty much untouchable.'"

The first thing Marvin wondered was why he hadn't been asked to comment. But he guessed that the NCL top brass warned off the press, again because of his misgendering Cha Cha and thereby getting criminal charges against her dropped due to his use of "fightin' words" (recall from previous stories that Marvin had called Cha Cha a "woman" and had failed to ask her for her preferred pronouns).


At the trial, Cha Cha had said she would get even. Now, she had gone public about it. Marvin further wondered if Priscilla had heard about this. Then, as if on cue, the room telephone rang before Marvin even had a chance to look at the checker problem printed below the news article.

Marvin located the phone on a nightstand next to the bed and picked it up.

"Hullo?" he said.

"Marvin, it's Priscilla. Why aren't you answering your cell phone?"

"Uh ... what? Oh yeah, that. I gotta charge the battery but I don't know what I did with the charger and I been busy and stuff so you know ... "

"Okay, stop. Look, dear, I'm still at work, it's been very busy, but I just got a call from one of my researchers."

"Still at work, wow, ain't it kinda late over there?"

A Rust Belt Holdings Property

Priscilla was the CEO of the international conglomerate Rust Belt Holdings and had a very busy work life.

"Never mind it being late, the researcher found an article that appeared in the checker columns of several major newspapers. It's about that woman that attacked you ... "

Marvin chuckled. "Yeah, Cha Cha. I just seen the article in the Portland newspaper. Kinda concerning."

"It sure is."

"Yeah, ain't nobody asked me what I think. It's all about that woman--- uh, I mean that person."

Marvin heard an exasperated sigh as Priscilla went on, "Marvin! She's threatening us! And she's very violent! What are you going to do about it?"

"I dunno. Ain't much to do. I'd just get in trouble again and after that hearing I don't need no more trouble. She ain't going to do nothing anyhow."


"She already tried to kill you once, how can you say that?" Priscilla paused. "Well, if you're not going to do anything, I will. I'm going to get Rust Belt Security to set up monitoring at home, in the office, and in my limo and all of my cars. And I suggest you tell your Coach about this."

At that, Priscilla hung up the phone.

Marvin thought about calling Priscilla back but then realized he first had to find his cell phone and charge it up. Then he thought he'd just get another earful in any event, or even worse, Priscilla might be angry enough not to even take his call.

It took him a good fifteen minutes to find his phone and charger, and by then he decided to call it a night. He didn't even bother with the checker problem the Portland paper had published that day.

Black to Play and Draw


Marvin, as was typical, slept through breakfast and was barely in time for the team bus. Upon arrival at the Checkerdrome, there was a working lunch with the Tactics Coach and then sessions with the Openings Coach and the Endings Coach. Blitz scrimmages followed and practice wound up about 90 minutes ahead of the match with the Paisleys.

The match went well and the Doublejumpers won handily by a score of 7 to 3. It was only when Marvin arrived back at his hotel room and ordered a room service dinner that he thought to look at his phone. The coaching staff didn't permit the team members to take cell phones to the stadium for fear they would be distracted, and most of the team couldn't wait to check for messages once they got off the bus at the hotel. Marvin, however, was not so attached to his phone.


To his utter consternation, his phone showed eighteen missed calls, two voicemails, and ten text messages. Every single one of them from Priscilla. Marvin started through them. Most of them just said "call me" albeit in a more and more exasperated tone. The final voicemail said, "I can't reach you so I tried calling the team office. They refused to put me through. They said your match can't be interrupted and they didn't care that I was the Team Captain's wife. I said I would sue. I asked them if they knew who I was and what a powerful position I held. They wouldn't budge. I've got a mind to call a lawyer and start a suit against your team. But if you don't call me right now I may call a different lawyer. The kind that specializes in divorce settlements."

That was the end of the message.

Needless to say, Marvin called Priscilla's number at once.

She answered at once. "About time," she said curtly. "Didn't you realize how urgent this is?" Then, not giving Marvin a chance to respond, Priscilla went on, "I got an envelope in the mail today. My office mail, no less."


"Uh yeah honey well gee, dontcha get a lot of mail and stuff?"

"Not this kind. It was a small brown envelope, hand lettered with no return address. It made me very suspicious. I called the mail room and chewed them out for not having it checked, and then had security take it off and examine it. And do you know what was in it?"

"Uh ... like ... a bomb or something?"

"No, no, although it's just as bad. You know that news article about Cha Cha and her saying she'd get even. Well, what was in the envelope was a copy of the article with "You're next after him" scrawled across it in red crayon."

"You're next ... like ... you're going to be the next pro-am coach or something? I can't figure ... "

"NO, you idiot, it's a THREAT! Don't you get it? A threat!

"Uh, yeah, you're right. You gonna call the cops?"

"I did. They said they can't do anything. There's no proof that this came from Cha Cha. But of course it did. So as I told you earlier, I have a Rust Belt security detail watching the house, and they'll be driving me wherever I need to go. But you better watch out yourself."

"Sure honey, yeah, whatever you ... "


The windows of Marvin's hotel room shattered as the rocket propelled grenade exploded against them. The phone dropped from Marvin's hand and everything turned black.

To be continued.

Will Marvin ever get to solve that checker problem? You'll have to tune in next month for the second part of this three part story. But you can solve it right now (we hope you haven't experienced any exploding windows) at your leisure. Don't bomb out. Solve the problem and then detonate your mouse on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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01/20/24 -Printer friendly version-
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Marvin and Priscilla's Christmas Trip


It was Marvin and Priscilla's first Christmas together after their marriage the previous summer. Certainly, they had spent many a Christmas in each other's company during their long courtship and engagement, but as a newly married couple, this one was to be special.

Marvin J. Mavin

Marvin J. Mavin was the Captain of the Detroit Doublejumpers in the National Checker League. The Doublejumpers were trying to make a comeback after a disappointing previous season. Priscilla K. Snelson was now the Chief Executive Officer of Rust Belt Holdings, a large multinational conglomerate.

Priscilla K. Snelson

Marvin, upon his marriage, had to give up his old Volkswagen and his downscale apartment in a rather unattractive Detroit neighborhood. He came to live in Priscilla's huge 5,000 square foot condo in an exclusive building in a very posh development.

Marvin and Priscilla had discussed what to do for Christmas. They both agreed that going to Priscilla's parents, who lived in a house twice the size of Priscilla's condo in an even more exclusive area, would not be best, at least not this year. They did not think much of Marvin and certainly didn't approve of their daughter's marriage to him. They did go to the wedding but left before the reception began, and gave them no wedding gift.

Priscilla thought to invite a small handful of her friends--- no more than fifty or so, she insisted--- to have Christmas dinner at her condo; for such affairs she always hired a Michelin starred chef. But surprisingly, Marvin was able to talk her out of it, saying he wanted something more personal and intimate.

Marvin's Mom

Then he suggested spending Christmas with his mother in Ohio. He thought Priscilla would object, but to his delight, she said, "Well, Marvin, we did try a Thanksgiving with my parents, so I suppose it's only fair to spend a Christmas with your mother, even though she and I are ... well, let's just say we have different backgrounds and world views."

Now, Marvin's father had passed on when he was young. He was very close to his mother, who didn't really understand sophisticated things and at times thought Priscilla was a secretary in an office in downtown Detroit. Priscilla had only actually met her a couple of times. Mrs. Mavin wasn't at all the kind of person who would generally be in Priscilla's circle, which ran almost exclusively to the rich, cultured, and worldly.

Mrs. Mavin lived in a small home in a small town in central Ohio. It was a little difficult to get there; from Detroit you had to fly to Columbus and then drive for about 90 minutes. Priscilla thought it must just be easier to drive all the way.

"Not in the limo," said Marvin, upon hearing this. "It would stand out too much in that little town and make my Mom uneasy. We could just take my old--- oh, right, I don't have the Volkswagen any longer."


"We could take the Lexus, that's my cheapest car and there's nothing special about it," Priscilla said.

"Honey, there's probably like one Lexus in that whole town and it's probably an old one."

The discussion went on, and in the end they decided to fly and just get a compact rental car at the Springfield airport.

They left in the afternoon of the second day before Christmas and their trip was uneventful. On arrival at the Columbus airport, Priscilla insisted on driving saying she wanted the experience of piloting a "regular" car.


Marvin's mom, Mrs. Mavin, was waiting on her front porch for their arrival and greeted them effusively with hugs and kisses.

"It's so good to see you again, Priscilla," she said, "it's been since that fancy wedding, I think. How ever you could afford that on a secretary's salary, I'll never know. But it was really nice, though, even though you didn't serve a noodle casserole or zucchini bars."

Priscilla kept a straight face and simply said, "I'm glad you liked it, Mrs. Mavin."

"Now, let me show you to your room," Mrs. Mavin said. "I've fixed up the guest room with my quilts--- I knit them myself, you know--- so that you'll stay warm and cozy.


Mrs. Mavin led the couple up a winding flight of stairs and down a short hallway. "Right here," she said, "and the bathroom is at the other end of the hall. I only have a tiny hot water heater so remember, you can't take long showers! I always like a bath, myself. Now, I'll just leave you two for now. It's already nine o'clock and time for bed."

Mrs. Mavin wandered off to her own room.

Priscilla looked around. "Cozy, indeed," she said, "if cozy means small. And old-fashioned. I can just imagine what the bathroom is like."

"Aw, c'mon Prissy, this is how a lot of people live. It's homey and comfortable and it's what they like."

"You mean what they can afford."

"Prissy, don't be such a ... "

"Classist? I know. I'm just used to more ... never mind. But could you please not call me Prissy?"

"Sorry hon. But look, we're only here until Saturday morning, could you like, kinda go easy and just, you know, bear with it?"

Priscilla nodded silently and headed for the bathroom. A moment later there was a scream. "EEEEEEEK!" It was Priscilla.

Marvin came running. "What is it hon?"

Mrs. Mavin arrived a moment later. "What's wrong, children?" she asked.


Marvin entered the bathroom to find Priscilla standing on top of the toilet, staring into the bathtub with wide-open eyes and a frightened look on her face. "There's a spider in here!" she shrieked.

"Oh, dear," said Mrs. Mavin, "that's just one of G-d's little creatures. Here, I'll just pick him up and put him outside."

"Kill it! It scares me!" cried Priscilla.

"Oh, now, that little spider is as scared of you as you are of him," Mrs. Mavin said gently. She took a washcloth and carefully extracted the spider from the bathtub. "I'll just go downstairs and let him out," she said.

Back in their room a little later, Priscilla said to Marvin, "I'm not so sure this was a good idea."

Marvin, looking a little frustrated, was uncharacteristically gruff in his reply. "Could you just relax? I'm sorry my Mom isn't wealthy and lives in an old house with old plumbing and maybe a couple of spiders. Can you please just deal with it? We don't have to stay at the Ritz all the time. It's my Mom, okay?"


In reply Marvin only got a cold look. "Tell you what," she finally said, "how about we just buy your Mom a brand new house for Christmas. We can afford it, and then everyone will be happy."

"Everyone except her."

"What do you mean? How many people get a new home as a gift?"

"She loves it here. She's lived here for over forty years. You could never get her to leave."

"But ... "

"But nothing. You just don't understand, do you? Money isn't everything. A fancy house isn't everything. A snazzy car isn't everything. You know what's everything? Family, that's what. And it's what Christmas is all about. Celebrating with your family and being happy with what you have, not worrying about what you don't have. But you've been wealthy all your life and you wouldn't understand. I'm going to sleep on the couch in the living room tonight."

Marvin grabbed a bathrobe from his suitcase, and left the bedroom, closing the door behind him.


He made up something of a bed downstairs on the living room couch. But he couldn't get to sleep. After a little while he turned on a light and looked on the coffee table. Sure enough, his mom had a couple of back issues of All Checkers Digest waiting for him there. She must have gone to the library to borrow them specially for his visit.

He leafed through one of them and found an interesting problem that he hadn't seen before.

Black to Play and Draw


But Marvin was still upset and he didn't make any progress. Finally, he fell asleep with the light on. The magazine dropped to the floor, and the sight of Marvin asleep on the couch with the light on was what greeted Mrs. Mavin when she rose early in the morning to make some breakfast and finish preparations for the Christmas holiday meals, starting with tonight's Christmas Eve celebration.

"Marvin, son, why are you sleeping on the couch?" Mrs. Mavin asked.

Marvin stirred briefly and then woke up. "Huh?" he said, his eyes still only half open.

"Why aren't you sleeping with your bride?" There was a touch of concern in Mrs. Mavin's voice but no hint of reproof.

"Oh ... uh. Yeah, like, I was snoring pretty loud, you know." Marvin didn't want to tell his mom about his quarrel with Priscilla over the accommodations.

"I thought as much. Well, I'll just start up some breakfast. Pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, orange juice, and coffee? Or would you rather have a glass of milk? You always loved your milk, you know."


"Mom, that was like 35 years ago. Thanks, coffee will be fine for both of us." He wondered if he dared speak for Priscilla. She liked lattes made with soy milk and probably wouldn't care for Mom's favorite Maxwell House coffee, made the old-fashioned way in a percolator.

Marvin set the dining room table while his mom prepared breakfast. After about half an hour, just as breakfast was ready to be served, Priscilla came down the stairs and into the dining room. She was dressed her satin bathrobe with a heavy argyle sweater over it. Marvin looked up, and despite last night's quarrel, had to laugh. "You look ... I dunno!" he said.

"Save it," Priscilla snapped. "It's so cold in here I can't believe it. Doesn't your mom heat the ... " Priscilla cut off in mid-sentences as Mrs. Mavin entered from the kitchen, carrying steaming plates of eggs, bacon, and pancakes. She too gave Priscilla a surprised look.

"Cold, dear?" Mrs. Mavin asked. "Oh, I'm so sorry, but tell you what, I'll turn the thermostat up to 68 and then you'll be nice and toasty warm."

Priscilla managed a mumbled thank you.

"Please, sit and eat!" Mrs. Mavin urged. "A hearty breakfast is a good way to begin the day! Now, get started and I'll bring out the rest of the food."


Priscilla looked at the heaped platters and said, "Isn't there somewhere I could go for a latte and a croissant? I can't eat all of this heavy, greasy ... "

Marvin, who had held in his displeasure until now, finally said, "Take it or leave it. No place in this town to get croissants and lattes. But if you want I'll gladly drive you back to Columbus and you can just go back home and spend Christmas with your fancy friends and drown in lattes for all I care!"

Priscilla stood up and hissed, "Sounds great to me." She then padded back to the staircase and headed up to the guest room.

Just then Mrs. Mavin returned to the dining room with bowls of fruit and a coffeepot. "I'm sorry, I didn't make hash browns this morning ... where did Priscilla go?" she asked, noticing the empty seat at the table.

"Oh, uh ... she wasn't feeling well. Upset stomach. Probably from eating something bad at the airport yesterday, I guess," Marvin said.

"What a shame," Mrs. Mavin said. "Well, son, you eat up and I'll make Priscilla a nice pot of tea and some oatmeal porridge. That will help settle her stomach."


"Uh, mom, I don't think she actually wants anything right now. It's like, when she's sick, you know, she wants to be home in her own bed. So I might have to drive her back to Columbus. I'll come back right after, though."

"Oh, no, Marvin, if your bride is sick you need to be with her. Such a shame, though. I was so looking forward to having you both here and spending a nice Christmas together. But it's okay. I can go over to the Legion Hall. A lot of the widows go there for the community celebration."

Despite the brave words, Marvin couldn't help but notice a tear in the corner of his mother's eye, and to him it was just heartbreaking.

"I'll be right back, mom," he said, quickly standing up and going double time up the staircase.

He found Priscilla in the guest room just finishing up with repacking her bag.


"You can't do this," Marvin said. "My Mom is so hurt and I can't stand to see it. You need to stop the nonsense right now, go down there and have breakfast, and quit acting like the big-city hotshot. It just isn't right. My mom is simple, sure, but she has a good heart and despite everything, she loves you just as she would her own daughter. That makes up for all the sophistication and culture and money that she doesn't have. More than makes up for it because it's priceless and it's something money can't buy."

Priscilla raised her head from the suitcase and silently gave Marvin a good long stare.

Then she burst into tears.


Marvin went and put his arms around her.

"I've been horrible," she said. "Just horrible. I don't know how you can stand me. You're so right. Your mom's love is precious. I'll go and apologize right now and hope you both can forgive me."

"Don't apologize," Marvin said gently. "Just eat the breakfast. That will make mom happier than anything. And tell her you're feeling better and will be spending Christmas with her after all."

Priscilla wiped her eyes and nodded silently. Then she changed into a blouse and slacks and went down with Marvin to enjoy bacon, eggs, pancakes, juice, and coffee, with not a croissant or latte in sight.

It was going to be a Merry Christmas after all.


It seems like it's become a cliche for Marvin to not get around to solving his checker problem. But you can certainly give it a try, at your leisure, maybe after one of those big breakfasts that Marvin's mom likes to prepare. No matter; solve in the manner and time of your choosing, and then click on Read More to see the solution.20050904-symbol.gif

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12/23/23 -Printer friendly version-
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Holidays Ahead! A Beacon Cafe Story


The Christmas and New Year's holidays were coming, and this would be the last meeting of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club until after the two week break.

Everyone was gathered in the big booth at the back of the Beacon Cafe, which was situated in the Provident Life Building in Bismarck, North Dakota. The year was 1955 and the club was informally led by Sal Westerman, a very accomplished but very modest elderly gentleman.

Old Frank

Several of the "boys" (all of whom but one were over 50 years of age) were on hand. Young Blaine had put in an appearance, as well as regulars Dan, Mike, Wayne, Larry, and Louie the Flash. The group was rounded out by Old Frank, who only was seen on occasion.

It was cold, clear, and crisp outside. The temperature at 1 PM, the club's meeting time, was hovering just above zero (Fahrenheit, of course) and would likely drop well below zero by the time the club adjourned just before the cafe closed at 5.

The cafe was gaily decorated for the season and the chatter was about what everyone would be doing over the holidays. Several of the boys were going back to their family farm in various locations around the state, to celebrate with relatives. Young Blaine would spend the holiday with his parents up in Minot. Sal and a couple others would have a quiet holiday at home.

Young Blaine

Now, young Blaine was a busy fellow and only could make it to the club once in a while. Today, he was coming in for some serious but good natured teasing from the older members--- which was everyone else, actually.


"So young Blaine, you finally going to propose to Moira?" Dan asked. Moira was young Blaine's girlfriend of some five years. "I'm sure a big sparkly ring would make a great Christmas gift for her."

"Well, I was actually thinking of maybe a nice bottle of perfume," young Blaine replied, turning a bit red as he did.

"No, no," Sal said, "I tried that one Valentine's Day and trying to choose perfume for a young lady, or a lady of any age for that matter, is just a way to get yourself into hot water. Come now, young Blaine, she's been waiting for how long now? The bird could fly the coop, you know."


"Aw, she wouldn't ... would she?" Blaine said.

"Happened to lots of guys," Old Frank put in. "Why, I remember back in ... "

"Things have changed a bit since the Civil War!" Mike said, and everyone laughed.


But before young Blaine could make a reply, Deana, the proprietess and a championship baker, announced that today she had a special holiday treat, date nut bars with candied fruit. "Kind of a fruit cake except they're bars," she pointed out, and then couldn't help but add, "and you there, young Blaine, listen to a gal who knows the score. You better propose while the proposing's good."

"Well, then," Sal interrupted, adroitly changing the subject, "those bars sound very festive and I'll be sure to take a few home for my wife Sylvia. Of course you boys will be buying because you're not going to solve the problem I brought along today. So much as this discussion is interesting I think we'd best get down to business."

That elicited a chorus of "oh yeah" and "we'll see." But Sal had accomplished his goal. The boys were ready to turn to checkers, likely much to young Blaine's relief.

The long-standing tradition was for Sal to bring along a checker problem; if the boys solved it, Sal bought the treats but if they didn't win it, they would buy for Sal and Sylvia.

"Okay, Sal, put up or ... you know!" Wayne said playfully.

"You're on," Sal replied, and set up the following position on two of the waiting checkerboards.

White to Play and Win


"Hmm," young Blaine said, anxious not to have the conversation revert to his relationship with Moira. But, when presented with a nice checker problem, the boys weren't about to focus on anything else.

Sal, meanwhile, was looking in young Blaine's direction and smiling, if ever so slightly. He could still remember his days of youthful love. There was an intensity to it that was perhaps suitable only for the young. But there was another reason Sal had changed the subject and directed the conversation away from young Blaine. There were some bittersweet memories that at the moment Sal didn't want to revisit, but couldn't help doing.

Sal and Sylvia's Courting Days

He and Sylvia had recently celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary. They were married in 1914. Sal was 28 years old at the time. He had courted Sylvia for a good five years. She had turned 23 and was getting impatient. A young lady of 23, her parents told her, should have been married by now and starting a family.

But Sal was afraid. He was afraid to ask, for fear of being turned down. Until the day he was summoned to the Army, to fight in the Great War, which had just begun.


He was to report in 90 days, and there was no telling when he would be home again--- if ever. It looked like the war would go on for a while, and lives were already being lost. So he scraped together his savings, and went and bought the best ring he could afford. It wasn't much but it would have to do.

Then one evening that week when he and Sylvia had some precious time alone in the parlor of Sylvia's home, where she lived with her parents, all in practically a single breath he told Sylvia of his being called to go to war and then instantly bent a knee and asked her to marry him.


Sylvia looked into Sal's eyes and wept. Finally she said, "Sal, I don't know what to say. I've been waiting so long for you to ask me I was on the verge of telling you we would have to break off our relationship. In fact, I was prepared to do that tonight."

Sal's expression turned from nervous to crestfallen. "So," he said, "you won't accept?"

"You're asking me to marry you and at the same time telling me perhaps I'll become a young widow. Five years of courting, why couldn't you ask me before it came to this?"

Sal didn't respond, didn't know how to respond. Silent, he stayed on one knee, waiting for Sylvia to say more.

"We don't even have time to get married," she said. "You leave so soon." She paused. "I have to think about this. Give me a day or two, would you?"

Sal stood. His voice trembling, he said, "Of course. Whatever you wish." But his heart was about to break.

"I think you had better go now," Sylvia said. "Come back in two nights and I'll give you my decision. Don't get in touch with me or my parents until then."


Sal nodded his head and quietly made his way to the front door. It was a long, cold walk home, but not as long as the ensuing two days would be.

When the 2nd evening came, Sal, his heart skipping beats, willing himself not to shake, made his way back to Sylvia's. She answered the door herself.


"Come in, Sal," she said quietly. She walked with Sal into the parlor and pointed to the sofa. "Have a seat," she said. Sal sat as directed but Sylvia made no move to join him. Instead, she stood in the middle of the room with her arms crossed over her chest.

"I've decided to accept," she said. Sal started to smile and looked as if to speak, but Sylvia didn't give him the opportunity. "I've discussed this with my parents," she went on, 'and they agreed, but they and I are imposing a condition."

"Anything, dear, anything," Sal said but Sylvia had already gone on.

"You must marry me before you report for duty," she said. "That doesn't give us much time, and we'll only be able to have a small wedding with just a few guests and a reception here at the house. We'll go for the marriage license tomorrow."

Then she smiled. "Now, where's the ring?"


They were married just a few days before Sal went off to boot camp. Sal didn't return until the war was over. But he did return.

Sal's reverie was interrupted by young Blaine. "You look like you're somewhere else, Sal," young Blaine said. "But look, we've solved this one."

Sal looked at the clock. An hour had passed. "Show me," Sal said.

We can't say if you're in a situation in which you're thinking of proposing to a girl- or boyfriend over the holidays; we suspect that would apply to a rather small number of our readers. But perhaps some of you can recall a past year, whether near or distant in time, when that was the case. No matter. There's a nice sparkly checker problem for you to try. Young Blaine seems to have the solution in hand, and we "propose" that you see if you can match the boys on this one. It's a bit long and a bit difficult but we're sure you can "engage" with it, and then click on Read More to check up on your "proposed" solution and read the conclusion of our story.20050904-symbol.gif

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12/16/23 -Printer friendly version-
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