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

Solution and Conclusion


At just before four thirty, Sal started making his calls and explaining the following solution. As before, he asked the boys to pass it on, each one to a couple of the other club members.

Black to Play and Win


1. 11x20 ...

14x23 only draws.

1. ... 18-15
2. 20-24 9-5

Other moves are possible but this seems most natural.

3. 24-27 5-1
4. 27-31 ...

27-32 only draws.

4. ... 1-5
5. 31-26 5-9
6. 26x17 9x18
7. 2-7 18-23
8. 17-14 ...

17-22 also wins.

8. ... 15-10
9. 14-9 ...

Black Wins.

Sal finished up just before five. Sylvia came down from their upstairs bedroom, where she had been taking a siesta before starting dinner. She went over to Sal and put her arms around his neck.

"Thank you, dear," she said, "for staying home today and staying safe. I know how much you enjoy your Saturday checkers, but I certainly wouldn't have wanted anything to happen to you."


Sal smiled. "Oh, it's fine, honey, I had a nice quiet afternoon at home with my magazine." He didn't mention that the Beacon Cafe had been closed in any event. He just put his hand over Sylvia's, gave a little squeeze, and smiled again.

Today's problem was taken from a publication edited by John Denvir. We are not sure if he is the original source.

04/13/24 - Category: Fiction -Printer friendly version-
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