It was a Saturday afternoon just two weeks before the holidays, and Sal Westerman had a problem. His daughter, Joyce, was coming home to Bismarck, North Dakota, to visit for ten days, something she wasn't able to do very often because of her work as a lawyer at the Washington D.C. firm of Dark, Darker, and Darkest, a high-end and very busy litigation practice. Sal wanted to get her a nice holiday gift but just didn't know what it should be.
Now, Saturday afternoons were when Sal's club, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, gathered at the Beacon Cafe for an afternoon of checker fun among checker friends. It was normally Sal's favorite part of the week, and he always looked forward to it. Today, though, he was preoccupied and his friends noticed.
Wayne, Delmer, Dan, Louie the Flash, Sam, and Tom were all on hand today, although another regular, Mike, wasn't able to make it. Deana, the proprietess of the Cafe, had announced that she had baked a couple of trays of festive cherry bars, and her baked treats were the best around.
Sal knew he should be happy and at his ease, but he just wasn't.
"Come on Sal, what's up?" Louie asked. "You're just not yourself today. Heck, you haven't even challenged us with a checker problem yet."
"I ... well, I forgot to pick one out," Sal said, a bit sheepishly.
"You forgot?" Dan said. They were all rather surprised. Sal never forgot anything to do with the club. "Gosh, something must be really wrong."
"It's like this," Sal said, realizing that he'd have to explain. "You all know my daughter Joyce? Well, she'll be here in a week for a holiday visit, and I just don't know what gift to give her. I've gone through all the department stores; Sears, A. W. Lucas, everywhere, and I couldn't find a single thing to get her. Not even in the Sears catalog, although it's a little late to order now."
"Hmm," said Wayne, "I never know what to get for my kids, either. Most of them farm and there's nothing that they really want. I always end up with a gift certificate to the farm supply store or something practical like that."
"Wouldn't help Joyce much," Sal said. "I guess I could get a Sears gift certificate but she doesn't really have time for much shopping, and I wanted something more personal."
"What kind of things does she like?" asked Tom.
"She likes to read," Sal said, "at least when she has time. Maybe a book or something?"
Then Sam spoke up. "Hey, I've got an idea. But tell you what, let's do a problem and have some treats first. I'll even buy!"
"Hey, nice of you," Sal said, "and I'd love to hear your idea. But as I said, I didn't remember to bring a problem today."
"Well, I've got one," Sam said. "At least I'm pretty sure I can remember it. I heard about it on late night radio this past week. You know that show where they give those hard checker problems and then have a commentator talk about the solution?"
"Sure," Dan said, "'The Midnight Checker Show.' Too late to stay up for me. And you have to get a board out to follow along with the moves."
"Well, here, take a look."
Sam set up the following position.
Sam smiled. "Now, Sal, I'll tell you my gift idea ... if you and the boys solve the problem."
"You strike a hard bargain," Sal said. "But I guess we really had better figure this one out."
Sam went to Deana's counter to order a dozen cherry bars and refills on coffee while Sal and the boys studied his checker problem.
Finding the right holiday gift can sometimes be pretty difficult, especially for people really close to you. You're luckier than Sal, though, as you'll be able to learn about his idea whether you can solve the problem or not. But do give it a good try and then click on Read More to see the solution and read the conclusion to our story.
An hour passed but at the end of that time, Sal was grinning widely. "We've got it," he announced to Sam. "Here's how it's done."
1-5*---A 9-13 5-9 13x22 15-10 7x14 29-25 22x29 30-25 29x15 9x18 White Wins.
A---Going after the piece on 7 doesn’t quite win: 17-13? 16-20* 13x6 2x9 1-5 9-13 18-14 24-27 5-9 27-31 9-6 31-27 6-2 20-24 2x11 23-26 30x23 27x9 Drawn.
"Now, Sam, what's that gift idea of yours?"
"It's easy," Sam said. "You want to give your daughter Joyce something personal, in other words something that means something to her."
"Exactly," Sal replied.
"Well, what's the most exciting thing that happened in your life recently?"
"I won ... oh, I see ... I won the State Championship a couple of months ago. I think I get it ... "
"Joyce was really proud of you, right?"
"She sure was."
"Well, then," Sam said, "you've still got the negatives from the award ceremony photos, don't you?"
"So ... go to the photo shop, get a big blowup, then sign it and there you go, your gift for Joyce. It's something very personal from her dad and if I'm not mistaken it will mean a lot to her. Way more than a book or a gift certificate."
"Sam, you're a genius," Sal said, shaking Sam's hand. "I couldn't think of anything better! Thank you so much."
Everyone could see that Sal was suddenly once again his usual relaxed and happy Saturday afternoon self. The boys enjoyed a second helping of cherry bars and played skittles for a couple of hours until almost closing time at five in the afternoon.
As Sal said his goodbyes and started on his walk home, he was very pleased. On Monday morning he'd go to the photo shop and everything would be ready when Joyce arrived. He was already picturing the way his dear and precious daughter would smile.
Today's problem, solution, and notes were by grandmaster problemist Brian Hinkle. Thank you, Brian!