Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer

For anyone not familiar with the character names, the woman seated in panels 1 and 3 is Ms (Rose) Trellis, the CEO at Fastrack, and the younger goth-ish woman standing is Dethany (Dendrobia), one of her key assistants.

Remote play in chess is of course a very real thing, and has been carried out employing the communication channels of any era, going right back to post cards and beyond. So use of SMS-texting or other contemporary chat options for exchange of chess moves is not really a surprise, or a joke. What, then, is?

Later: Arthur has contributed another copy of the image, possibly higher def. Thanks!

And one other. sigh.

Aannnd one more for the old college try:


  1. He’s playing against both of them? Given that you don’t see Rose’s board in the first panel, he just started his game with her. I don’t get the joke either.

  2. It’s hard to tell from a small pixellated image. But I think that Guy’s father is turning his eyes to Rose’s board, and he has an annoyed expression on his face. He’s finding Rose to be a challenging opponent.

  3. Dethany and Rose are being extremely competitive, but instead of playing a game against each other, they are (now) both playing a game against Guy’s father, and presumably will compare the results of those two games to see who won. Guy’s father does not seem to be amused by being turned into a pawn for the purpose of their co-dependent amusement.

  4. P.S. A pox upon the house of Comics Kingdom, for (A) limiting their archive to one week, making it impossible to see this strip at a decent resolution, and (B) for presenting strips in floating flyovers, making it nearly impossible to capture a decent sized image, even if this strip (from Dec. 8th) was still available. Alas, Arcamax does not carry “On the Fasttrack” (and Arcamax’s images are even smaller than King’s).

  5. BTW, Guy’s father is using descriptive notation to indicate who moves where. Since around 1980, the norm has been algebraic notation, such as “queen to C7” or something like that. I’d need a cheat sheet grid to understand it myself, but we old dogs have to stick together.

  6. I don’t follow this strip, but my take was that Trellis is annoyed at Dethany – either because she’s not in on the “action” or because Dethany is playing games on company time. In unseen panel 3.5, Trellis texts Guy’s father to set up a game. I don’t think he’s annoyed, just deep in concentration. If he can play 2 games at the same time, hat’s off to him!

  7. A) Trellis is not annoyed at Dethany, she’s just That Way.
    B) Trellis is uber competitive. She finds out there’s a struggle underway, and wants in.

  8. I think we would have had a lot more fun with this comic if the “Bishop” had been replaced with “Queen’s level“.

  9. He was playing one game, now he is playing two. Ms. Trellis wanted in on the action. That is the joke.

  10. I doubt we’re supposed to be able to see the positions on the boards in any detail. But we do see that Dethany’s board is more cleared, which makes sense since that game has been going on longer.

  11. Voodoo Chicke, Vdandom and others have it. Guy’s father is “quite good” so trellis wants in.

    “If he can play 2 games at the same time, hat’s off to him!”

    Anyone can play 2 games at the same time. It’s giving them enough concentration to play both well that is hard. But for distance chess that’s not an issue. It’s no harder to play two games at the same time then it is to play a game of chess, read a book, cook dinner, and watch a television show with a seasonal arc all “at the same time”

  12. “ Anyone can play 2 games at the same time. It’s giving them enough concentration to play both well that is hard.”

    I thought “well” was implied in my sentence.

    “But for distance chess that’s not an issue.”

    How do you figure? The people who are ‘quite good’ at chess can predict many moves ahead. Simple math tells me that would be twice as difficult, distance or not.

  13. WW – I don’t think it’s meant to be a knee-slapper. It’s a pretty common technique in comics where a curve is thrown in the last panel. I’m thinking that, at least according to the artist, the reader is going to expect Trellis to say something like “That’s a dumb idea. Who would want to play chess through texting?”. That would probably be my reaction honestly. There have to be phone apps that allow a game to be played without going through all the hassle of setting up a board on each end and relying on messaging. But hey, to each their own. Anyway, instead of that, Trellis joins in, thus supposedly pulling a fast one on the reader.

  14. It’s also a bit of a running gag – Trellis wants whatever someone else has, including (apparently) a good game of chess. And no, it’s not normal for a boss to ask about every text that comes in…but again, this is Trellis. She’s uber-manipulative, a micro-manager, and…only occasionally pointy-haired, she’s actually quite smart frequently. Not always, but frequently.

  15. When I first looked at it, and for some reason was noticing the last panel more than others, I had a momentary flash of a plot or story twist that, on seeing the earlier panel with just one board, and noting that Ms Trellis and Dethany are physically together, and reflecting on these characters as I sort of have gotten to know them, I realized was nowhere near being correct or even possible.

    Nonetheless, here’s a plot element for some other context!

    The idea is a con man, or just an ambitious amateur who wants to look more skilled than he actually is, sets up an opportunity to be a winner at chess and appear very skilled in the eyes of a couple superior players. He separately arranges a remote=play game with each of them, and takes White on one board and Black on the other. Then he just relays each one’s moves as his own. He will only win one of the games, but will impress both of the good players.

  16. When waiting for a teacher to show up for a class, I challenged a classmate to a game of chess, without a chessboard because we didn’t have one. “Blindfold chess.” It turns out that it’s not all that difficult to keep track of the pieces. Simultaneous blindfold chess is something else again.

  17. Arthur, generally speaking for images to be included in a post, we try to upload it right here rather than display by links to some origin.

    You are correct that for images to be automatically included by pasting a link in a comment, it can’t use any parameters at all.

    The three instances in this post are directly embedded. But they don’t seem to be any different.a

  18. Then there’s that scene from Silicon Valley, where two CEOs happen to meet at the private airport , each standing in front of his private jet– turns out they are both heading to Jackson Hole for the afternoon; turns out they both need to be back in San Jose at the same time this evening; turns out they both like chess; turns out they both suffer a dearth of good chess partners….
    So the one tells the other to download this chess app, and to look for him on this app as soon as he reaches cruising altitude.

  19. Mark M: Oh, that makes sense. If the reader is expecting “That’s a dumb idea,” then the last panel is a humorous surprise. That expectation isn’t natural for me, though.

    As for the difficulty of playing two games at once: If you’re playing two games at once, in real time, part of the difficulty comes from having to quickly switch your attention and planning back and forth. If you’re playing distance chess, there’s probably a long amount of time between moves, and attention-shifting is not an issue. While “simple math” says that there’s twice as much total computation involved, that doesn’t necessarily increase the difficulty: e.g. running 26 miles nonstop is more impressive than running 13 miles one weekend, and 13 miles another weekend, despite the fact that the total distance covered is the same.

  20. Mark in Boston: It’s been a long time since I tried “blindfold chess,” but I personally found it difficult. And when I went back later and replayed it on a real board, and I found all sorts of boneheaded moves that I wouldn’t have made in a real game.

    I once saw two high-level Go players play “One Color Go”: both players use the same color pieces, and just remember which stone are which color. I was really impressed.

  21. @ Mitch – “…they don’t seem to be any different…
    The third image is significantly different! Both on a desktop browser and on my tablet in “portrait” orientation, the third version of the strip is more than 30% wider than the other two. Perhaps not every comic is submitted in full resolution, but for those that are, is is a great benefit to permit them to unfold as much as possible.
    P.S. I had hoped that at least one Star Trek nerd would react to “queen to queen’s level three“, but perhaps the TOS reference was too old and obscure to be recognizable.

  22. P.P.S. That gigantic “R” is the first “drop capital” we’ve seen in quite a while. If the size of those monsters is controllable, it would be better to limit them to three lines of type. That one stretches down to five lines.

  23. I think someone has been playing with the boxes. Right now (on a desktop browser) all three images display with the same size in the WP post. This is different from yesterday. The first one stays small when viewed in a separate tab, whereas the second and third images show up much larger in the new tab. HOWEVER, the third image now appears to be “pieced together”, the gutter between the first and second panels has shrunk, the border between the third and fourth panel is repeated, and there is now a bar of “Editor’s favorite purple” on the left edge of the frame.

  24. The second image was contributed by reader Arthur, via email, where he said it would be a possibly better, higher-res image file; but mentioned he could not enter it in a comment by URL as he did not have a convenient place to upload it. So I copied it from his email and incorporated it into the post, by uploading to the CIDU server.

    The third image was from an experiment to see how difficult the Comics Kingdom interface was making things. Kilby, I think I saw you referring to this yourself – their way of floating a magnified image in front of their page, in a way that keeps it inaccessible to image-save or image-address-save. So this one was from client side screen shot capture. Which in the end is hopelessly tedious,and more to the point is not going to do any good since the expanded floaty image is probably just magnified and will not have greater pixel density. But having started on it, the results seemed worth sharing, though mostly a negative outcome.

    Does this clarify the “playing” enough?

  25. @ Mitch – I figured that there was a variety of sources, and the “screenshot capture” does explain the purple bar, and perhaps the net “shift” of the 2nd & 3rd frames (with respect to the 1st & 4th) in the third strip. What I really don’t understand is why the “adaptive” boxes now seem to be “restraining” both the 2nd AND 3rd strips to the lower resolution. This even happened on my tablet after I submitted the comment @11:11pm – before that the third strip was wider (as noted @11:02pm), but afterwards they were all “in the (same) box”. I can’t explain this, and I’m not asking you to, either, it may be some sort of weird caching effect, courtesy of wordpress. All I can say is that I liked things better back before wordpress implemented the adaptive boxes: free range comics that spread to whatever resolution they originally had were easier to read. The effect is particularly bothersome on my tablet, since I cannot find an option to “view image in another tab” in Safari for iOS.

  26. Mitch4

    Nonetheless, here’s a plot element for some other context!
    The idea is a con man, or just an ambitious amateur who wants to look
    more skilled than he actually is, sets up an opportunity to be a winner
    at chess and appear very skilled in the eyes of a couple superior
    … players. He separately arranges a remote=play game with each of

    This has actually been done.

    And Derren Brown wasn’t the first to do it. I heard about the same trick over 40 years ago. Although he does put an extra twist with the number prediction.

  27. Pete, that’s what happens under this Theme to Block Quotes. It’s fine, it’s just what happens.

    One alternative some of us are using is “code” designation. You can invoke it by surrounding your desired text with a matched pair of “backquote” or “backtick” characters.

    `Here is an example. When pasted below it will be in that other crisp and quasi-typewriter face.`

    Here is an example. When pasted below it will be in that other crisp and quasi-typewriter face.

  28. “I agree that Ms. Trellis wanted in on the action. I still don’t see how that’s a joke.”

    It’s not a good joke. But I think a simple “that’s so like her character always butting in” is enough for a single gag and that’s acceptable.

    I certainly don’t think it’s supposed to be a psyche out gag. It’s not convoluted enough and these character driven strips with six new strips a week, 52 weeks a year, really don’t have funny twist gags every day. The vast majority are “hah, that’s so like her” quasi-jokes. This is just another such one, albeit rather weak and tepid.


    “The people who are ‘quite good’ at chess can predict many moves ahead. Simple math tells me that would be twice as difficult, distance or not.”

    I don’t think so. You just concentrate and recall the game you are concentrating on at the time. I doubt its any harder then following a few television shows with story arcs over a few months while reading one or two novels in the same time frame. Reading a book while having the television on and reading a paragraph between scenes and switching channels between scenes is hard. But watching one episode and concentrating on it. Turning the television off and then reading one chapter and concentrating is not that hard. At all. So in chess you just concentrate and recall the game you are thinking about at the time. If that was really hard no-one would ever be able to take a lunch break during working hours.

    ““Blindfold chess.” It turns out that it’s not all that difficult to keep track of the pieces.”

    Seriously?! That strikes me that that would be hard as @#%$! In that case you have to keep potentially 32 things in your mind at once. It might be easy for the first six moves or so but we have limits how many thinks we can keep actively in our minds simultaneously. I figure for me it is four pretty well; five with weaknesses; and six very tenuously that I’m liable to walk into an airplane propeller blade if I ever try.

    Now storing things for recall and activation later such as multiple chess games, television plot threads, books, friendship dates, and the subject matter of the classes you are currently taking is nearly (but not completely) unlimitted but activating them at the same time… That’s hard as heck.

  29. Possibly relevant: I do the cryptograms in my local deadtree paper “in my head,” so potentially I am “keeping 26 things in my mind at once” — not that many fewer than “32.” But actually it’s vastly easier than blindfold chess would be for me, since the punctuation, shape of words, knowledge of most commonly used letters, two-letter words, suffixes etc. — and the local paper’s setters invariable fondness for dumb puns — means I can usually decode a few words and often a phrase of two quickly (“you might call that” for instance) and such words are far easier to keep in my head than single letter = coded letter equivalents are and they can be quickly referred back to in decoding other words.

    I don’t think there are quite comparable “aides” in visualizing changing pieces and positions in blindfold chess (not alone in simultaneously “looking ahead” at expected results of variant future moves and responses), but I’m not a chess player (vast understatement) and perhaps (probably?) am wrong.

  30. Shrug: I would say that there are “comparable aides” in blindfolded chess, and your examples of suffixes, puns, etc. . ., are illustrative of why good chess players can play blindfolded chess. (Although, as I said earlier, I found blindfolded chess difficult, and when I did it, did it badly.)

    If you think of a chess board position as a random sequence of pieces on a board, there’s a huge amount to remember. However, if you’re analyzing it as a position in a game, there are higher-level concepts that make the position easier to remember: e.g. “My bishop has an open diagonal,” “his pawns are doubled,” “his king is exposed but in a position to castle.” Because those are concepts, rather than random positions, they make the position easier to remember, and also are relevant for being able to look ahead: e.g. “he can make this sequence of exchanges, but my bishop will still have the (nice) open diagonal.”

    IIRC they’ve done experiments where they give chess grandmasters and amateur board positions from actual games, and ask them to memorize them. As you’d expect, the grandmasters do much better. But if you randomly throw pieces on the board, and ask them to memorize them, the grandmasters only did slightly better or the same.

  31. What WW said. And also perhaps a difference for reaching a position in the course of play, versus just being presented a position (though a real one from some actual play).

  32. What Mitch4 said: what WW said
    The experiments with random versus meaningful chess position recall is the canonical reference for the concept of “chunking”, that your brain can process more information by chunking things together into a unit, and then processing that unit instead of its individual components. It’s kind of fractal, kind of recursive, and a way to process way outside your weight class. A grand master can recall any given meaningful chess board position not because they have such more powerful brains than anyone else, it’s because they have a schema, one that comes from hours and hours of practice, that allows them to reduce the problem set so that their very average memories are able to deal with what looks like a very complex problem, but in fact to them is well withing the 7 things limit (or whatever) by virtue of chunking. It’s also not “photographic memory” — they can’t do random, not meaningful boards, and they tend to “correct” boards that are subtly wrong in some positioning so that they will recall it as a legally positioned board, and not the slightly “incorrect” board that was actually presented.

  33. Chess is like music. If I play you a melody of say 15 notes, and it has a structure like the first 15 notes of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” you can probably play it right back to me. If I pick 15 totally random notes with no logic to the rhythm you’ll have a hard time. Most melodies are about going somewhere and coming back. The “bridge”, or third of four parts, usually goes farther out, but the fourth part brings us back where we started. A good jazz musician can “sit in” with a group he’s never played with before and start jamming to a tune he’s never heard before. In chess, aside from knowing whose turn it is, it doesn’t matter what moves led up to the current position.* A chess master can look at it and tell you which side has the advantage. He may also recognize the position as being in the middle of a combination intending to capture a piece, because the position is similar to a combination he’s used before. But this only works if the pieces started in the initial position and the players made moves that make sense in order to get to the current position.

    Blindfold chess works because the number of variables is relatively small: haven’t castled yet, have castled King’s side, have castled Queen’s side, where the pawns are, etc. Endgames get harder.

    Some exceptions, for instance if you have not castled but you have moved your King, you cannot castle.

  34. Pete, we got so distracted into the business of formatting the quoted text in your comment that I missed viewing and enjoying the clip you found and embedded!

    So thanks so much for the clip! It is just what I was imagining.

    Now I’m remembering a variant for giving you a reputation as a great predictor, either by extrasensory means or by just being a great stock market analyst. (I’m thinking of this as sort of by Ellery Queen, but maybe not an actual story by them and instead an editorial remark in one of those miscellany books edited by them.) The imposter mails out 27 predictions to rich members of some club who enjoy stock speculation.. They don’t know it, but he has divided them by thirds, so 9 of the messages say a certain stock will go up, nine will say it will go down, and nine say it will stay basically level. After the letters have arrived and some designated time has passed, one of those three outcomes has been proven correct. Then for just those nine victims, you send out a second set of prediction letters, again divided by thirds to contain different predictions. And then once again, and you are left with one victim who has three times seen the predictions in your letter come true.

    Then you get this one super-convinced victim to invest in another stock, which they do on the strength of your record of accurate prediction. But this one is a scam company, and you will run away with all the money “invested” in it.

  35. Oh, thanks Shrug. |

    At that Ellery Queen site I left a comment — not sure whether it will be accepted. So here it is redundantly:

    Oh, "locked room" makes me think of the story where everything is turned around in one or another sense, such as a painting hung on the wall has been flipped to face towards the wall, and a rug has been turned face-down.

    The solution that Ellery realizes is that the deceased is a member of the clergy and wearing a clerical collar. So the collar is made to appear just a part of the obsessive reversing. And that obscures his identity and thus the motive. (I see this doesn't solve the locked-room aspect. But that is beyond my recollection.)

  36. “The solution that Ellery realizes is that the deceased is a member of the clergy and wearing a clerical collar. So the collar is made to appear just a part of the obsessive reversing. And that obscures his identity and thus the motive. (I see this doesn’t solve the locked-room aspect. But that is beyond my recollection.)”

    What? The murderer couldn’t just remove the collar? He had to rearrange the room to hide the collar?

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