Solutions to some two-mover chess problems by W T Pierce and J Pierce

Chess Problem Example
Chess Problem Example

My grandfather taught me how to play chess when I was very young. He made a huge, beautiful chess set out of wood in his basement, and over the course of my childhood, he gave me books with little mathematical puzzles and chess problems in them. Later on in life he denied having taught me how to play, and I don’t know if it was because of modesty or Alzheimer’s.

This past weekend, I found a book of public domain chess problems (download the PDF, not the epub, if you’re interested). It reminds me of Grandpa Searles. I’ve been working through them for pleasure. They are surprisingly challenging, and doubly so if you’re tired. I probably spent a solid two hours trying to figure out #4 on Sunday afternoon, without success. I must have been tired though—Monday morning on the metro, it took less than 5 minutes. In fact, the solution turned out to be one that I considered multiple times on Sunday. Go figure.

What are “chess problems?”

A chess problem is a puzzle, somewhat akin to a Sudoku. You are given a chess board illustrating a game already in progress—nearly done, even. You are told which side you are playing and you are told how many moves to checkmate. See the image attached at the beginning of this post for an example of a very difficult five-mover chess problem.

Why I like chess problems, but I’m not that good at chess

In a chess game, there is no easy way for you to tell how many moves you are away from checkmate. The only way to know is to think through all the possibilities. In some cases there will be constraints on the number of possible moves by a player which make it easier to calculate. In most cases, there will be a staggering number of possible moves, and depending on the other player’s actions, you might be further away from or closer to checkmate.

Why I am bad at chess
Why I am bad at chess

So faced with a complex problem with this, my brain usually resorts to the strategy as illustrated in the image attached to this paragraph. I probably use such a simplistic algorithm because for almost every move, the likelihood that I will notice that there is a way to force a checkmate more than one move in advance is vanishingly small, and so I focus on intermediate goals instead. I’m sure a real chess player has the goal of checkmate in mind from the first move. I don’t think about forcing a checkmate until it’s already inevitable.

This is why I suck at real chess games: My estimation of the value of forethought is outweighed by my pessimism regarding how much effort it would actually take to get anything meaningful out of it.

In a chess problem, on the other hand, I know there’s a solution to be had in a certain number of moves (unless there’s a typo or something), and so I will take the time to work through all the possibilities. It’s something both frustrating and satisfying. It is immensely gratifying when you find the solution, and the more frustrating it is to find it, the better it is when you write down the solution and get to smugly declare, “checkmate.”

When you “beat” a chess problem, it’s much better than beating a human opponent, because you know that the chess problem is not “having an off-day,” and it can’t say after the fact, “I let you win” or anything like that. I also like chess problems because you can feel really good about solving one. In a chess game, you have to be careful about taking too much pleasure in winning, or you come across as a jerk.

Solutions to some two-mover problems

As promised, here are some solutions to the problems in the book, Chess Problems, by W T Pierce and J Pierce. I’m not going to list all the solutions. That would ruin the fun for you! Also, I haven’t finished them all yet. I may or may not post more solutions when I have them. I’m pretty sure that these ones are correct, although when I copied #1 from my notebook to my blog, I noticed that it wasn’t correct. (I have since fixed it, I believe.)

  1. Ng3+ Kxe6; Bc8#
  2. Nc4+ Kxc6; b5#
  3. d3+ Kxd4; Rb3#

Let me know if you find problems with these solutions (very possible), or if you want to add your own solutions to later problems. Do you have other public domain collections of chess problems to share?

Free online game theory course

So a few months ago I signed up for a free online course in Game Theory, taught by two professors at Stanford. I like Stanford. Ever since I discovered the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy as an undergrad (the one website that philosophy profs will allow you to cite in your papers), I had a profound respect for this institution’s free online offerings.

The course isn’t for credit at all—there’s just video lectures, and “quizzes” integrated into the videos. I guess I’m sort of interested in it because it relates to my thesis subject. Ever since I wrote my thesis on it, I find the whole idea of collaborative enterprises fascinating, and I would love to be able to more rigorously analyse what regulations would make a complex system with multiple stakeholders work best.

The course was supposed to start in “late February 2012,” so I waited until today—I was going to send the professors an email, since February 29th is about as late in February as you can get. So I opened up the site for the course to find a contact email address, and found the following message:

Regarding the start-date of the Game Theory Online course: The University is still finalizing policies to cover its new online courses, and so there has been some delay in the launching of the courses. We anticipate being able to launch the course soon, and will keep you informed of any news on the starting date. Matt and Yoav

I’ll let you know if anything interesting comes of this. Let me know if you sign up for the course yourself. :)

Some Saturdays are better than others

My old apartment
My old apartment

One day while I was living in China, my roommate woke me up at 7h on a Saturday morning. This was not his usual custom, nor was it mine to wake up so early on a weekend.

He woke me up because he heard a sound coming from the bathroom. The big drain in the middle of the floor was backing up. By this, I mean that whereas usually the drain is the final receptacle of the unwanted fluids coming from our apartment, in this case, it was the burbling and gushing provider.

At first, the flow was manageable. We waited for a little bit, to see if it would stop. The floor of the bathroom of our apartment was lower than the floor of the rest of our apartment, so for the moment, the liquid was contained. We tried the plunger. No effect. When it burst over the threshold into our dining room, we knew something had to be done.

So I called the landlord, who speaks no English, and in my broken Chinese, I told him, “你好。我租你房子。我的厕所有几个问题,” which means, roughly, “Hi, I rent your apartment. My bathroom has some problems.”

Fortunately, the guy got the picture and came over more-or-less right away.

In the meantime, me and my roommate were unplugging everything electric, and using a broom to try to redirect the flow of sewage from the overflowing bathroom drain to the kitchen drain (which was working fine, thankfully). We pulled the tablecloth up on the table, and picked up the kitchen stool and put it, inverted on the kitchen table.

When the landlord showed up, he was startled to see what was happening. In a way, it was both comforting and unsettling to see him shocked by it. On the one hand, it was comforting because if he was shocked, it meant that it didn’t happen very often. On the other hand, it was unsettling because if he didn’t know what to do, then I had no idea who would.

I saw him pull out his 手机 and I thought he was gonna call a plumber, but after a few minutes, to my disappointment, his 太太 showed up, carrying some big rubber boots for him. He tried using the plunger on it, to no effect. He stood back and looked like he was thinking for a while, and eventually called his 朋友 who had some sort of a machine with a long metal extension that could be inserted into the drain.

Upon turning a crank on the one end of the machine, it did whatever it was designed to do and eventually pulled out a grey bundle of what looked like a sweater that someone in the apartment above us must have flushed.

That day was supposed to be a day of alone-time for me, and the first one I had been able to have for a few months, so as soon as the crisis was averted, my roommate graciously offered to mop the floor. I should have taken the time to shower after all that, but I was stressed and I just wanted to get out of that foul-smelling place. It was really 特别麻烦.

When I returned, I was feeling sick (that’s what happens when you fail to shower after spending your morning wading through human waste) but the apartment was in good order, thanks to my roommate.

I walked into the kitchen and looked around—the only thing that remained was just a few pieces of furniture that were inverted and left on the top of the kitchen table. I wanted to make sure they were clean before I put them away, so I asked my roommate, “Did you wipe the stool off?”

A trip down memory lane

While finishing up an application for next year, I went through my “Actually useful” folder inside my “Documents” folder on my computer. I was looking for my CV at the time, but I found some amazing stuff in there.

I found a file in there named “09.05.22 UWO parting survey.txt”. I had forgotten this for years, but shortly after I graduated, UWO sent me an email, asking me for any feedback I had for them regarding my experience as a student there. Did I ever. I must have been angry when I wrote this thing. It’s in three chapters, and I quote the entire thing at length for your enjoyment.

Chapter I – the water situation

There is nowhere to get potable water in Talbot College for less than $2. One day I had a twoonie, and I was very thirsty, and the only way for me to get something to drink was to get on a bus and go to my home. It was a half-hour wait, and a 15-minute bus ride.

The water fountain in Talbot College has been broken since (at least) my first year, 2003. It has been broken so long that the custodians put a big clear plastic bag over it and a sign that says, “Temporarily out of service,” which has since been vandalised to say, “How long is temporary?” “Months,” and “I think it has to do with the $2.75 for a bottle of water in the cafeteria.”

Of some historical interest, that same cafeteria in Talbot College actually burned to the ground and was built again. And in the time it took you guys to do that, the water fountain was never fixed.

In case you were wondering why I do not just go to the tap in the bathroom, there is a gross smell in the 2nd-floor men’s bathroom in Talbot College. I’m serious. Try going there and filling up a water bottle. Tell me if you want to drink the water. You don’t. It’s nasty.

Chapter II – WebCT

I think I have complained about WebCT in every course that has used it. The following are a *few* of the problems with WebCT.

1. Basic unusability

WebCT crashes my browser. Always has, and after three revisions (WebCT, WebCT Vista and WebCT OWL), I’m reasonably convinced it always will. It would crash yours too, if you gave it half a chance. Many of the problems with WebCT flow from the fact that WebCT crashes my browser. For example, WebCT tests that crash in the middle of tests, and then won’t allow me to finish, because my session has ended or something.

To add to the basic unusability problem, every time I want to log in, there’s a certificate that I have to say I trust and a pop-up thing that I have to get rid of. Minor annoyances, I know, but it’s just two more unnecessary steps between me and my schoolwork.

2. Inability to reliably communicate course content

In my first year, I took a critical thinking course, and my prof would post notes on WebCT, and because he used logical operators, it got all messed up going from his computer to WebCT and then to my computer. WebCT continues the tradition today with professors who post their notes as .docx files, which no one can open unless they pay for a copy of Microsoft Word, which of course, I can’t afford because OSAP has started to withdraw money from my account prematurely. (See chapter III.)

Further, when profs have some documents scanned as PDF’s, they are scanned at ridiculously huge sizes. This isn’t a problem if you just print them off, because your printer will automatically scale your PDF to the size of the page, and you won’t even notice. But if you’re trying to save money, and trying to actually follow the Department of Philosophy’s guidelines on the use of paper, and you take notes on the PDF itself and read it off your computer screen, then what you’ll notice is that when a document has been scanned to a PDF at an inappropriate size, and you add a notation to the document, the notation is *tiny*, because the width of the letter M is 5cm or something. And so when a normal-sized notation is added to a page that size, it is small, and useless. I can send you an example if you don’t understand what I’m talking about.

3. A potentially infinite source of new examinable content

In some of my bigger classes, professors would make TA’s available on WebCT to answer our questions. That’s fine, but then in-class, the professor would spend half his time referring to discussions that had occurred online, and the answers that the TA’s would post immediately became examinable material. I am not exaggerating. This actually happened to me. I don’t like the fact that, by the use of WebCT there is a potentially *infinite* source of new examinable material that I have to be constantly checking.

4. Hidden “features”

WebCT has a million places for professors to hide things that I should have known about. (But they were on WebCT, so of course I knew about it, right? :| ) Did you know that WebCT has a calendar? It does. And a professor could put a test date in there, and I wouldn’t have the first clue until it was too late. Do you know what “campus bookmarks” in WebCT does? No one does. I graduated last month and I just discovered *now* (while answering this survey question) that I can receive emails through WebCT. It says that my inbox has 20 unread emails. I would have liked to know during the school year about the typo in assignment 8. And you know what? It looks like there’s a separate WebCT inbox for every single course!

What is a “learning module”? Who knows? What is the difference between “notes” and “course content”? I’ll give you $2 if you can tell me off the top of your head. I’m not asking for better education on WebCT. I’m asking for less WebCT to be educated about.

5. Classroom experience

I think what really bugs me is that if I wanted to take an online course, I would sign up for an online course. I am paying for an in-class experience. I want an in-class experience.

6. It’s difficult to administer

Professors hate WebCT as much as students. I have had some profs at Western who preferred to put their materials on their own password-protected site. Students liked those better too. Less extraneous stuff to navigate around.

Conclusion: Please do not allow professors to include mandatory WebCT evaluations or materials. The problem is not how WebCT is used. The problem is WebCT itself. Please make professors and students very happy and make it go away.

Chapter III – OSAP

I don’t know if you have the power to do anything about this, but every year, I have to go to the Registrar’s Office and tell him, “O great Registrar, please tell OSAP not to start automatically withdrawing money from my bank account again this year!” And then I fill out forms, and then if I’m lucky, the Registrar’s Office tells OSAP and then they know that I’m still a student, and I don’t have to pay back my OSAP.

This is rather minor compared to the WebCT issue, but do I seriously need to remind you guys that I’m still in school?

A taxonomy of sarcasm

An old friend of mine once explained this to me, and now I will pass this precious wisdom to the rest of the world. Here is how to identify what degree of sarcasm you are using or experiencing:

  1. First degree sarcasm: Saying what you don’t mean, and saying it insincerely.
    E.g. “Oh! Now that was intelligent!” [said sardonically after something stupid is done]
  2. Second degree sarcasm: Saying what you don’t mean, but saying it sincerely.
    E.g. “Oh, now that was intelligent.”  [said in a complimentary way after something stupid is done]
  3. Third degree sarcasm: Saying what you mean, but saying it insincerely.
    E.g. “Yeah, you’re a good friend.” [said in a mocking tone of voice to a true friend]
  4. Fourth degree sarcasm: Saying what you mean, and saying it sincerely.*
    E.g. “Yeah, you’re a good friend.” [said in a matter-of-fact tone of voice to a true friend]

Or in tabled form:

  Say it insincerely Say it sincerely
Say what you don’t mean 1st degree sarcasm 2nd degree sarcasm
Say what you do mean 3rd degree sarcasm 4th degree sarcasm

The first degree of sarcasm is the least subtle. It is the easiest to use in conversation and the hardest to misunderstand. It is also not very funny.

Metasarcasm can occur when someone realises that first degree sarcasm is undesirable, but makes a statement that is, on the surface, first degree sarcastic—saying what one doesn’t mean, and saying it like one doesn’t mean it. This is done in full knowledge of the comedic limitations of this degree of sarcasm, and as a mockery of first degree of sarcasm itself.

The second degree of sarcasm is slightly more subtle, and depending on timing and other contextual factors, it can be very witty or very harsh. The power in this degree of sarcasm depends on the contrast between the sincerity of the statement, while actually conveying the opposite meaning.

Third degree sarcasm can be used when first or second degree sarcasm are too coarse or obvious. Imagine that your friend is obviously working very quickly at some task. You could use first degree sarcasm to say, “Wow, you’re working really slow.” That would not be very funny at all, unless it is an example of metasarcasm, so instead you might try saying in a matter-of-fact tone, “Could you pick up the pace a bit?” which would be better—a good example of second degree sarcasm—but that might seem obvious. Another option is the use of third degree sarcasm. You might say while rolling your eyes, “Yeah, that’s impressive.” You actually are impressed by your friend’s industriousness, but you say so in a way that seems to convey the opposite meaning.

The third degree of sarcasm is also sometimes used to express vulnerable truths in a way that protects the speaker. The speaker is protected by the ambiguity of the statement. Coated with a thin layer of sarcasm, the speaker can, in subsequent sentences, make the third degree sarcastic statement appear to be either an attempt at humour or alternately, a heartfelt expression of feeling, depending on how the speaker feels it has been taken.

The fourth degree of sarcasm is the most subtle, and many deny that it is sarcasm at all. Indeed, by its definition, “a sincere expression of what one really means,” it is not hard to see why it is often missed. I leave, as an exercise for the reader, the task of coming up with some examples.

[ * I have put an asterisk after this definition because this definition gives the necessary, but not the sufficient conditions for a statement to be fourth degree sarcastic. That is, not all members of the set of statements that are sincere expressions of ideas that one means to convey are also members of the set of fourth degree sarcastic statements.]

A lot can happen in a year

I arrived here in Montreal one year ago on Friday.

A lot has changed.

Sometimes it’s good to sit back and take stock of all the things that have happened, and to think about all the things that one has to be thankful for. Things are generally pretty good now: I had a great job for the summer, I have great friends living in my building, and I was just talking with Pickles today and thinking about how much I appreciate her. I even have a TA-ship and an RA-ship lined up for this school year.

I’m TA-ing the introductory ethics course in the philosophy department this year, which will be exciting.

Things are different from the way they were a year ago. They’re different from what I expected, and certainly different from what I wanted, but I’m okay with the way things are.

Fried foods

Cheesy bacon log
Cheesy bacon log

I make it no secret that I love greasy, fried foods.

In fact, as a sort of going-away present, when I left London last year, some of my old friends made me a bacon weave roll with chese for breakfast one morning and delivered it to my house. And yes, it was just as good as it sounds.

This morning, I fried up a couple of eggs in butter and I wondered: Why is it that fried eggs are less healthy than boiled eggs? Is it just the added oils from the butter, or is there something that the frying process does to the egg itself?

I mean, there can’t be any nutrients that are lost when it’s fried. Where would they go? It’s not like boiling vegetables, where half the nutritional value leaches into the water, which is poured off. If any nutrients are lost, it must be that they get de-natured or something through the process of frying.

If anyone can tell me what it is that makes boiling eggs so much healthier than frying them, I will award them 3 points. Is it that something actually happens to the egg that makes it less healthy, or is it that so much oil is added that it takes away from the healthiness of the egg?

Grandpa Searles

Some of my most enduring memories from when I was a child are of my grandfather.

When I was younger, he had a house on Delatre Street in Woodstock and I always loved to go visit him. He had a great sense of humour and a very laissez-faire attitude toward caring for his grandchildren. He was a very intelligent and loving man, and I miss him very much.

The house on Delatre Street was set on a very long piece of property, with a big sloping driveway along the one side of the house that went into a big garage in front of the vegetable garden. My grandfather was very good at gardening and caring for fruit trees. There was a gigantic pear tree in his back yard and every year he would come to visit us with bushels full of the biggest, most melting, yellow pears you can imagine. I still can’t eat pears from a grocery store, because every time I tried, they tasted like cardboard by comparison.

He also had a mulberry tree in his back yard, and for a few years, we would come to visit him and he would lay out a gigantic tarp underneath it, and we would take an elongated wooden beam and shake parts of the tree, so that the mulberries would fall onto the tarp underneath. At that point, we could just pick them up off the ground. In preparation for this, for the week beforehand, he would sit in the back yard with a couple pieces of wood joined by a hinge and fend the squirrels off. He would slap the pieces of wood together, and it sounded enough like a gunshot to work very effectively. Later on, as I recall, he got a water gun for the same purpose. I wonder which he liked better.

My grandfather was very clever about making things in his basement workshop. First off all, a lot of the woodworking tools that he kept in his workshop were things he made himself. And he used these tools to make all manner of wonderful, useful and beautiful things.

Even now, my apartment is full of a great many things that my grandfather made. He made my bed, my dresser, a full-length mirror. Pretty much everything that’s wooden and beautiful that’s in my home was made by my grandfather.

When I was very young, and I liked to collect coins, he made me a wooden box and engraved “Benjamin’s Treasure Chest” on the top of it. My grandfather was always very supportive of what I found to be interesting, no matter how strange he thought it was. And he had no problem telling me how strange he thought some of my interests to be.

He used to drive a big blue classic automobile, the make and model of which I have forgotten. I want to say it was a Plymouth Fury II, but I could be wrong. It was the kind of car that you would expect to see in a car show. It was made in the 1960’s, back when seat-belts were optional. The one that he owned had seat-belts, though. My little sister loved it, and was very disappointed when he sold it, later in life. My mother told me that one summer he took it apart to its component parts in his driveway and the neighbours were taking bets as to whether or not he would be able to put it back together again. Of course, he had no problem doing so.

I’m glad that I wasn’t there to see the house of Delatre Street after grandpa moved out of it, so I remember it the way it was. The house itself was full of dozens of clocks, all of which chimed on the hour. There was a wooden spinning wheel in the front room, and a grandfather clock. There was a huge chess set in the living room that, of course, grandpa made, and I remember playing chess with him when I was very young. The house was full of furniture, cabinets, old family photographs and Wallace Nutting prints.

For Christmas, we always went to visit. Every Christmas, all the grandchildren would mark off our heights against a doorframe in the kitchen. In the summer, we had a family reunion and barbecue, and my grandpa loved it.

I remember one day being called out of class because of one of my dad’s psychotic episodes. My sisters, my mother and I left our home and went to stay with my grandfather, where it was safe. The rest of the world could fly out of control, but when I was at grandpa’s, I was safe.