On Chess and Cheese
A still life commissioned specially for this post :)

On Chess and Cheese

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During my work on the previous post about the tragic fate of Gordon Crown I came across a light-hearted piece, which I cannot help but share.

In February 1947 "CHESS" journal published a column entitled "On the Difference between Chess and Cheese". It was well-intended but rather heavy attempt at humor. However, it triggered a remarkable poetic response, which appeared in the "Letters to the Editor" section of "CHESS" later the same year, in October 1947. 

I hope you are going to enjoy it as much as I did!


Sir,

Your timely article on the difference between Chess and cheese will, it is to be hoped, clear up much of the dangerous confusion hitherto existing on this subject.

The enclosed clipping (thought, from internal evidence, to have been written by Lord Tennyson), relates to a case in point. Had the article been published earlier, a life might have been saved.

                                                          I am, Sir,

                                                                        Your obedient servant,
                                                                                                     (Signature illegible).

Stilton, Jan., 1947


This is the tale of Gussy Lees,
who got confused with Chess and cheese:
though normally a man of sense,
he could not tell the difference.

With Chess and cheese placed side by side,
his father and his mother tried
his dis-resemblance to impress;
but still he mixed up cheese with Chess.

His father pointed out: "But, Gus,
the cheese is so homogeneous,
and Chess is all so carved and knobbly."
But Gus was yet exceeding wobbly.

He'd pick the Chess up, and say "Please...
is this – I think it is – the cheese?"
They tried to teach him by the whiff
of cheese and chess to tell the diff. –

alas! he said it wasn't easy
to say which of the two smelt cheesy;
and just to get in a worse mess,
he thought that some cheese smelt of chess.

One day he went off to the store.
Some Cheshire cheese they'd sent him for;
but Gus got mixed up, more or less,
and asked the man for cheesier Chess!

His home was over-run with mice,
vermin he never could entice
to take the death-bait – this, perhaps,
because he used Chess in his traps.

(Though Znosko-B., I think, once named
a Chess-book "Traps," he never claimed
that they'd catch mice. His learned pen
concerned itself with catching men.)

Now, at poor Gussy, please don't laugh;
you haven't heard the worst by half;
for this strange weakness was to send
Gus prematurely to his end.

As at a Chessboard Gussy looked,
the solver said: "This problem's cooked."
"This must be cheese," though Gus, and wide
his mouth he opened, ate – and died.

* * * *

So those who teach the very young
the difference 'tween right and wrong,
'twixt left and right, and good and bad,
and black and white, should surely add
one most important thing to these:
HOW TO DISTINGUISH CHESS FROM CHEESE.

"DESPERDAN."


A few comments are perhaps in order:

  • "Znosko-B." is, of course, Eugene Znosko-Borovsky, a Russian chess master, writer and journalist. His book "Traps on the Chessboard, Or Dangers in the Openings" has been reprinted multiple times throughout 1930s and 1940s
  • Alas, I could not find out who was hiding behind the pen name "DESPERDAN"
  • ...and last but not least, "CHESS" journal is still around, 72 years later!