Professor: Good afternoon, class. Just seeing your smiling faces makes my day.
Zephyr: It makes your day? That sounds like a quote from an old Dirty Harry movie.
Lucian: Why? Does Clint Eastwood play chess in those movies?
Professor: I don’t think he does. But that actually has nothing to do with today’s first problem, which, by the way, is going to be your only problem.
Zephyr and Lucian: Our only problem?
Professor: Yes, your only problem.
Zephyr: How come, Professor? Did we do something to offend you?
Professor: Not at all. The two of you have been great. But with spring here, I thought we could all use a day off.
Lucian: Boo-hoo, Professor! We really look forward to your problems.
Professor: And I look forward to posing them. But I also look forward to my days off. To that end, let’s not waste any time. How about we get right into today’s offering? I want to go home already.
Lucian: Perhaps the problem the Professor has in mind is incredibly hard. Maybe it will take the entire period to solve it.
Zephyr: Maybe not.
Professor: Maybe schmaybe, hard or simple, let’s take a look at it.
Question 1: What is White’s best move and why?
Zephyr: I don’t understand, Professor. This isn’t very hard at all. The solution is obvious.
Lucian: No, it’s not obvious. It’s incredibly obvious.
Professor: Is it that obvious? That is, have you figured out White’s best move and what happens afterward?
Zephyr: Are you kidding? It’s child’s play.
Lucian: Yeah, and we’re not children.
Professor: Well, maybe not yet.
True enough, within microseconds, maintaining ridiculously silly smiles, the two “not-yet,” candidate children had the answer.
Professor: I guess that’s it. Your marvelous skill sets have made this a shorter class than I expected. Let’s call it a day and we can all head home for the weekend.
Zephyr: We protest!
Lucian: We protest, too.
Professor: OK, I don’t want to come off as being mean or grumpy. So, before leaving this room, with all that such a move implies and entails, allow me to give you one more problem.
Lucian: We thank you, Professor.
Zephyr: Yes, we thank you too.
Question 2: What is White’s best move and why?
Zephyr: What kind of different problem is this? It’s certainly not any harder.
Lucian: In fact, it’s practically the same problem.
Professor: Oh, is it? The same units are there, true, but one of them is on a different square. That makes it a different problem.
Zephyr: More wordplay, Professor?
Professor: Wordplay? No, I merely want to talk chess. Just explain the problem and I’ll be happy as the two of you at a weekend tournament.
Now smiling quizzically, a bit like the Mona Lisa, the two adept ones blinked this problem away instantly. And, possibly fueled by their past experience with weekend tournaments, they yearned for more.
Professor: Now that you’ve found the solutions to both of those problems expeditiously, I guess that’s it. Have a great weekend!
Zephyr: Come on, Professor. Don’t leave us this way, with our pieces hanging.
Lucian: That’s right. It’s sunny and we’re just getting warmed up.
Professor: OK, your protests, if not your metaphors, have stirred my chess imagination. Here’s one more problem to smooth out the class, so no one has hard feelings.
Question 3: What is White’s best move and why?
Lucian: That’s almost the same problem too. De ja vu?
Zephyr: More like de ja two.
Professor: No, it’s really quite a different problem. It should be evident since this time I’ve changed the starting squares of not one piece, but two.
Zephyr: Still, the problem remains as simple as the previous two.
Lucian: No, it’s simpler.
It was hard to tell if this problem was simpler, since it was solved as quickly as the others, though the Professor could see their smiles were fading fast. In fact they were gone.
Professor: I can’t stand to see you so unhappy. If I give you one more problem, can we smile one more time and agree to call it a day?
Lucian: One more problem? Well that’s something.
Zephyr: Which is better than nothing.
Professor: Something, nothing, better or not, ready or not, here’s today’s very last problem. Feast on it, because I don’t have any others in my treasure trove.
Question 4: What is White’s best move and why?
Again, it didn’t take long, and the class had the right answer. Nevertheless, the students offered the solution with resignation, since it meant the session had come to an end.
Lucian:That’s swell, I guess.
Zephyr: Professor, you’ve made us feel like chess pieces.
Lucian: Yeah, different ones at that.
Professor: Hey, it was the least I could do under the circumstances. I hope you’ve enjoyed the four problems.
Zephyr and Lucian: We did, Professor.
Professor: What are the two of you going to do this weekend?
Lucian: I think I’m going to do some tactical exercises, maybe on ChessKid.com.
Professor: And you, Zephyr?
Zephyr: I’m going to play in a scholastic chess competition tomorrow. How about you, Professor?
Professor: Me? I’m going to enter a weekend tournament. It starts tonight, and I want to be prepared, so I better get going. Class dismissed!
Answer below - Try to solve ProfessorPando's Puzzle first!
In problem 1, White wins by promoting to a queen, 1. f8/Q. After the forced 1…Kb5, White has 2. Qfc5 mate.
In problem 2, White wins by underpromoting to a rook, 1. f8/R. After the forced 1…Kd6, White has 2. Rf6 mate.
For problem 3, White wins by underpromoting to a knight, 1. f8/N. After the forced 1…Kd6, White has 2. Qc5 mate.
For problem 4, White wins by underpromoting to a bishop, 1. f8/B. After the forced 1…Kf6, White has 2. Qf5 mate.
The four setups in this week’s column are based on the work of the great German composer Werner Speckmann (1913-2001). He was known for various composing themes. For one, he often posed problems in related series. He also had another specialty. He liked to create miniatures. Those are puzzles with no more than a combination of seven white and black units on the board. Thus, a problem that has four white units and four black ones does not technically fall into the miniature class.