By Howard Shirley, Teen Department
The game of chess reaches back to at least the 6th Century AD, but its origins remain unclear. Though generally thought to have arisen in India, both China and Persia lay claim to the game, and other cultures have some variation of chess-like games (some still played today). Even the Vikings had a chess-like game by the nearly unpronounceable name “hnefatafl.” (Say that three times fast, if you can say it at all.)
Regardless of their differences, all these games have one thing in common: they’re all flat.
This is hardly surprising. Chess in many ways derives from concepts of ancient warfare, which, for tens of thousands of years, was mostly a (violent) meeting on roughly flat open areas. Even if there were hills or walls or fortresses or towers involved, for the most part nobody could move over (or under) the enemy. Chess did allow one piece—the knight—to leap over intervening pieces as part of its move, but for every other piece the world of chess remained solidly flat (Christopher Columbus not withstanding).
Moving Up (and Down)
During the 19th century an attempt was made to extend chess into three dimensions by stacking eight boards on top of each other (yes, 8). Well, chess wasn’t flat any more. But one can question whether it was playable!
As the 20th century arrived, and brought with it both the airplane and the submarine, the idea that chess should move into the third dimension again came out. This time, the design was restricted to 5 stacked boards, and added an unusual piece (the “unicorn”) which could make triangular movements (no, I don’t know what that means, either). The creator started a club for fans (in 1919 Germany), which lasted until World War II, when, apparently, Germany itself decided to try it all out in Real Life. And that pretty much ended that version of Germany, as well as that version of 3D chess.
Where No Chess Game Has Gone Before
Fast forward twenty some-odd years to the creation of a new American science fiction show named Star Trek. Set in the 23rd century, the show featured the now famous starship Enterprise, filled with amazing advanced technology, like automatic sliding doors that went “whoosh,” wall slots that cooked food in an instant, a talking computer, and more. (Hey, in the 1960s, all that stuff was futuristic and cool.) The show also included an unusually-shaped chess set, consisting of three quarter-sized chess boards in three staggered levels on an unusual crescent-shaped support, and four smaller boards on posts at the corners of these boards. The smaller boards were additional levels, halfway between the larger boards, and were often in different positions on the show, indicating that they could be moved (though this action was never shown on the show). The chess set was unusual-looking, implied a high level of complexity, and the open design clearly allowed the pieces to be easily moved (which the early 3D attempts mentioned above did not).
This three-dimensional chess set made prominent appearances in several episodes from the very beginning of the show. In three episodes, the chess game would be a pivotal plot element in the story’s resolution.* (How many television shows and movies, not about chess itself, have gone so far as to make chess central to the story?) Twenty years later, the show jumped from TV to film, and so did the chess set (at least as an idea). In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, during a grand duel between battling starships, the heroes arrive at a crucial realization—namely that the villain’s tactics “reveal two-dimensional thinking.” Tellingly, early in the film the villain’s home was shown to have a crude, handmade two-dimensional checkers board game present—intentionally invoking memories of the three-dimensional chess set fans knew Spock and Kirk played. The implication? Had Khan played the same game as Kirk, he would have thought more broadly in his tactics. Without even showing the three-dimensional set, the movie made its existence again pivotal to the plot!
So, what does this game have to do with the Williamson County Public Library?
Well, thanks to yours truly, with assistance and advice from fellow staffer Lon Maxwell, the Teen Room now has one of these sets, completely homemade (except for the pieces; I’m not that skilled). The design is a bit different, but I humbly think it looks just as cool (if not cooler) as the original set crafted for the show.
How Do You Play?
Very Well, Thank You.
Okay, this is the kicker, actually. The answer to “How do you play Three Dimensional Chess?” is quite simply “How do you want to play it?”
You see, the original chess set was merely a prop. The design had nothing to do with creating an actual, playable game, but with creating an interesting, visual set object on which the actors could move the pieces about to create the appearance of a complicated game—a game “from the future,” as it were! Indeed, if you pay attention to the scenes in which characters play the game (and if you know about chess), you can quickly discern that there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the movement or the declared progress of the game in the dialog. In one of the earliest episodes to feature the game—“Charlie X,” the second episode ever aired—Kirk and Spock play chess, with Spock moving a knight and declaring “check,” when in fact Kirk’s king couldn’t possibly be in check from the knight’s movement. Actor Leonard Nimoy is clearly just moving pieces around in a visually interesting manner, but he’s not simulating any relationship to chess, 3D or otherwise. By contrast, William Shatner’s moves in this sequence can reasonably be assigned to the pieces being used, as well as his declaration of “checkmate,” representing a logically valid position (though really only for “check,” but still…).** So there was a prop, but not really a game.
But in 1975 artist and writer Joseph Franz contacted Paramount Studios, who held the rights to Star Trek, about a book he called “The Star Trek Technical Manual: Training Command Starfleet Academy.” The book would be a collection of detailed plans and drawings of Star Trek ships and equipment (even uniforms), all presented as if these were actual designs of futuristic devices, inadvertently downloaded into a 20th century USAF mainframe during the events of the episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday.” Paramount agreed, the book was published and snapped up by Trekkies around the globe. One of the schematics included in the book were the blueprints for a “tri-dimensional chess set,” as Franz dubbed it. He even included a cursory (yet incomplete) set of rules, as well as diagrams of how the smaller post boards might be moved over the course of the game. It was now possible for Trek and chess fans to at least build a set themselves, and even attempt to turn the simple rules into a playable reality.
Around this same time, Paramount also licensed the Franklin Mint to create and sell a high-end gold and silver official Star Trek Three Dimensional Chess set, complete with “official” rules. The “official” rules were reportedly borrowed from a 1977 magazine, The Star Trek Giant Poster Book, Voyage #14, who supposedly themselves borrowed the rules from an unattributed fan author. (This author may be Andrew Bartmeiss, who currently sells “The Federation Standard Rules” online. According to Bartmeiss, he contacted Joseph Franz about the set design, and Franz encouraged him to create the rules.) The Franklin Mint licensed set is still sold—for about $300 a pop!
(The set in the Teen Room cost the maker (yours truly) $20 (in materials). You can read about that here: https://parzivalsplace.blogspot.com/2018/05/queen-to-queens-level-two-mr-spock.html )
There are a number of other rules around the Internet, including “Tournament” Rules, a number of themed variants, and even a computer game version named “Parmen,” after a Star Trek villain (who, oddly, never played the game).
All the versions tend to share distinct similarities:
- Pieces move horizontally as in standard chess.
- Pieces can move between levels vertically, but only when also moving horizontally.
- Pieces can move above or below pieces on other levels.
- The smaller “attack boards”*** can be moved to new positions, potentially carrying a piece with them.
- The game may have as many as seven levels, or as few as four, depending on the position of the smaller boards.
StarChess, or, The Way We Play It
But truth be told, none of these rules are “official.” You can pretty much find the set you like the most, and play those. In the Teen Room, we offer StarChess, created by yours truly. (You can find a link to these rules on my blog: https://parzivalsplace.blogspot.com/2018/05/queen-to-queens-level-two-mr-spock.html ) I think they work rather well, but try for yourself.
And if you are a teen (or have one), you’re welcome to come try the game in the Teen Room. The set is generally available Saturday-Tuesday. Mr. Howard (yours truly) will be happy to teach you, or the rules are available if your prefer. (Note that due to Teen Room age policies, the set is restricted to use by teens ages 12-18, though adults who accompany teens can play for a short time, if the room is not busy. Check with the Teen Staff!)
Live long and prosper—and enjoy the future of chess!
*The episodes where chess action is prominently shown are “Charlie X,” “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” “Court Martial,” “By Any Other Name,” and “Whom Gods Destroy.” The game is central to the plot in “Court Martial,” “By Any Other Name,” and “Whom Gods Destroy.” A similar version of three-dimensional chess also appears in several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, though not as a central plot device.
**This movement sequence is flawed by a clumsy scene edit, where a re-shoot failed to correctly reset the board to its original condition. Kirk initially moves a Queen to a lower level. After the edit jump, it has been replaced at that position by a Bishop, which Kirk then moves as a Queen, suggesting that either Shatner had chosen that action from the start, without realizing that the piece had changed, or that the direction of the scene called for the pattern to be followed. Had the piece been a Queen, the moves would all be quite legal, and indeed have resulted in a legitimate check on Spock’s King. Spock, on the other hand, just moves his Knights between levels, ignoring their established pattern, and says “check” with no apparent reason to do so. (Maybe the Vulcan really doesn’t understand the game, and the humans are just humoring him…)
***I actually prefer the term “warp boards,” for their ability to change the shape of the board and move pieces about rather like a “warping” spacecraft, so that’s what I use in my rules.
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
On more than one occasion, usually to no discernible effect whatsoever, I’ve admonished my own children as well as library patrons for seeing the movie before they read the book. I can’t do that with the titles in this blog, for the simple reason that a different medium preceded the book; to wit, this is a list of children’s books that were inspired by rock, pop, or folk songs. Turn it up, y’all . . .
It was immediately clear to me which book/song I wanted to start this blog with, for a couple of reasons. Bob Marley, the enigmatic and often misunderstood Jamaican singer-songwriter who achieved international acclaim before his untimely death from cancer at the age of 36, has long held a spot in my heart. His daughter Cedella has written five books to date, all based upon or inspired by her iconic father’s life and music. One Love and Every Little Thing (J E MARLEY) are both delightfully inspirational, and emphasize how one person can make a difference in this world, and that of course “every little thing is gonna be alright.”
Next up on my songs-to-books list is another transformative song that was also written and published in an era of revolution, war, and enormous historical and cultural changes to the American landscape. “What A Wonderful World,” written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss and recorded by Louis Armstrong, was not initially a hit in the United States; it sold fewer than 1,000 copies because the president of ABC Records did not like the song and therefore did not promote it, but was a major success in the United Kingdom, reaching number one on the UK Singles Chart in 1967. The eponymous children’s book illustrated by Tim Hopgood (J E HOPGOOD) is just as sweet, hopeful, and uplifting as the song. (Author’s note: my very favorite writer of books for grownups, Michael Connelly, takes inspiration from this song for his complex protagonist Harry Bosch, and his next novel is entitled Dark Sacred Night, which is of course a line from this beautiful song.)
The brave and persistent Itsy Bitsy Spider from the children’s finger-play nursery rhyme is back, and on an even bolder adventure in this charming book written and illustrated by Iza Trapani (J E TRAPANI). She manages to survive encounters with a fan, a mouse, a rocking chair, a cat, and a gigantic maple tree, and is finally able to build her web and relax. Trapani’s rich watercolor illustrations and playful rhythm transform this simple song into a delightful journey to be enjoyed again and again.
Also from the fabulous Iza Trapani is her brilliantly illustrated Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (J E Trapani). While we have several different versions of the song-to-book rendition of this sweet little song, Iza’s is far and away the best of the bunch. (Pete the Cat’s version comes in second, because I love him so.) Just as in Itsy Bitsy Spider, this modern spin on the traditional classic will yield many hours of reading pleasure.
Last on this list is Puff, the Magic Dragon (J E YARROW) by Peter Yarrow, an American singer-songwriter who was one-third of the 1960s folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. Yarrow once said, “Puff has appeared to me both childlike and wise, a king but also a willing follower of just about any bright spirit that inspired him. Puff gives his whole heart and soul to one special friend…One day, as you can see at the end of this book, a new and special friend comes to Honalee…In this way Puff and Jackie’s friendship continues through new children like you.” Both Yarrow and co-writer Leonard Lipton have adamantly and repeatedly stated that “Puff the Magic Dragon is not about drugs.” He has also said of the song that it “never had any meaning other than the obvious one” and is about the “loss of innocence in children,” and dismissed the suggestion of association with drugs as “sloppy research.” So, disregard that urban legend. The book is comprised solely of the lyrics to the song with no additional text, but the lush illustrations imply a new twist to the sad final stanza.
Come visit the rock star librarians at WCPL to check out these and many more music-related titles to enjoy during our Summer Reading Program—which is not coincidentally themed “Libraries Rock!” Happy Reading—
Librarian by day, aspiring fiction writer by night, and enthusiast of rock and roll 24/7/365, the author lives with her two children and four cats, not all of whom share her taste in music.
by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
Are you unusually overwhelmed at work? Do you fear that – contrary to your character – you are one careless comment away from smacking a coworker in the face, or bursting into tears in the break room? Can you no longer distinguish your personal life from your work life? If you’re otherwise healthy, but feeling out of sorts and out of control, maybe it’s time to take a mental health day.
A mental health day (MHD) is just like a sick day. Instead of staying home because of a sore throat or a twisted ankle, however, an employee takes this day off work for a legitimate wellness concern that may not present physically. Sometimes the need stems from a clinically diagnosed illness (i.e., Major Depressive Disorder), but not always. Depression, anxiety, grief, stress, and emotional trauma are some possible reasons to take a mental health day.
“That sounds like playing hooky,” you might say, skeptically. Indeed, our culture pressures us to put career first, ahead of family and sanity. You may know someone who missed a child’s birthday party, rescheduled an anniversary dinner, or cancelled a vacation due to being “on call” at a job that has nothing to do with life and death.
And there’s still a cultural stigma against mental illnesses. They often go ignored or misunderstood, and aren’t given the same consideration as a visible sickness or injury. People with depression, for example, are instructed to “buck up.” This places the demand for a cure back on the sick individual, rather than encouraging them to seek help. (Imagine telling someone with a broken leg to “walk it off!”)
I’m not suggesting we all abandon our jobs and start living like Thoreau in the woods. (Although that is my own personal plan for early retirement.) But I am suggesting we start to value mental health as a vital element of wellness. It’s irresponsible to show up to work if you’ve got a fever. It’s equally unwise to wait until you’re in psychological crisis mode before you take some time off work. When you see your emotional distress flare, consider scheduling a mental health day (people who know you well can help you spot the warning signs, too.)
Be sure the day is productive in some way. You’re not skiving off work; you’re taking care of yourself. Evaluate the reasons you are staying home from work, and decide what you need most. Is it sleep? Quality time with a loved one? An afternoon full of play? If a Netflix marathon usually leaves you sluggish and empty, skip it. This is a day to fill yourself up. Here are some elements you might incorporate into your MHD:
- Drink lots of water all day long, and eat healthy food. (Dehydration and poor nutrition amplify the effects of emotional stress.)
- Schedule an appointment with your therapist, counselor, or mentor; or catch up with a friend who will listen with compassion.
- Attend to personal issues that have been causing stress, such as a long to-do list or a wilting relationship.
- Get out in nature.
- Sleep in, or take a restorative nap during the day. Go to bed earlier than usual.
- Exercise, to get your mind and body back in sync. It should be something you enjoy, not a chore: yoga, swimming, shooting hoops, golfing, climbing rock walls, …
- Book a therapeutic massage.
- Drive a few towns over for a change of scenery.
- Put your phone on Do Not Disturb. This will help block out social media, e-mails, and marketing calls. (Most phones let you customize this option, so you can still get important calls from select contacts.)
- Do something creative and meditative, such as painting, writing, cooking, or gardening.
- Laugh – and cry! Both work wonders for stress relief. Watch a movie, listen to a podcast, or read a book that you know will engage your emotions.
During your mental health day, you may come up against a few lies, so be sure to equip yourself with the truth: Time spent resting is NOT time wasted. It is NOT weak to ask for help or to express your needs. You ARE worth taking care of! And self-care is NOT selfish!
If taking a paid day off isn’t an option at your job, you can still dedicate a day to your mental health. The same goes for those of you who work from home, or stay home as a caregiver to family members. You’ll have to be intentional with your scheduled days off. You may have to ask for more help and be firm with your boundaries. But you CAN do it, and it IS worth it.
None of these activities will cure a mental illness or replace a long-term management plan, of course. You may need to incorporate lifestyle changes, or find a counselor or medical professional whose job is to equip you to navigate life’s challenges. (Check the links at the end of this post for a starting point to that search.) But taking time to care for yourself in meaningful ways can help maintain a sense of balance, self-worth, and perspective. As the rallying cry goes, “Mental health is health!”
When you are ready to go back to work, I hope you notice that you’re feeling refreshed and in control. A healthy person can give more, and joyfully so, to all around them: at home, at work, and everywhere else.
A few links to help you search for a mental health care professional:
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
In case you don’t know, Cinco de Mayo means the Fifth of May in Spanish.
So sit down with a margarita, put on some mariachi music and read about this almost more American than Mexican holiday. (May 5 is often confused with the Mexican day of independence. The nation celebrates its Independence Day on September 16. On this date in 1810, Mexico won her independence from Spain.)
Cinco de Mayo does commemorate an historic event in the city of Puebla de Los Angeles in Mexico. President Benito Juarez sent a rag tag army of volunteers to meet the French army there. General Zaragoza led this army against the much-better supplied French army. The 4,000 man Mexican army defeated the 8,000 man French army on May 5, 1862. The French army was considered the best in the world at that time and defeating the French was a huge morale booster, and gave the beleaguered country a sense of unity and patriotism. The Mexicans lost 100 men in the battle, the French 500.
France returned next year with a much bigger army (30,000 soldiers) and a chip on its shoulder. This time France defeated Mexico, and ruled the country for three years. How did this all come about? When Juarez became president in 1861, Mexico was broke. They were still recovering from the Mexican-American war in the 1840s, when a defeated Mexico allowed the United States to annex Texas. The country had borrowed money from Spain, Britain and France to keep the country going, and was recovering from the defeat. It couldn’t afford to pay back the loans.
Spain and Britain negotiated with Mexico and settled the matter. France was in no mood to settle; they wanted more territory and decided to invade Mexico at the port city of Veracruz. France only ruled Mexico for three years, installing Maximillian I as king. The United States was able to help Mexico after the Civil War ended. With additional funds and arms, plus with the pressure on France from Prussia, France withdrew to protect closer borders. In June, 1867, President Benito Juarez became president again, and started pulling Mexico back together.
Interesting Facts about Cinco de Mayo:
- Napoleon III, the emperor of France, had the idea to take over Mexico, and then send arms and men to help the Confederate Army. Not that he was pro-Southern, he just wanted the nation to continue to be divided and weak. Since this invasion, no foreign country has ever invaded any nation in the Americas.
- Some historians believe that if it were not for the Mexican victory during the Battle of Puebla, the Confederates would have won the Civil War and changed the fate of the United States forever.
- Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday in Mexico, and is not really celebrated outside of Puebla and a few other cities. In the United States, however, it is a huge holiday.
In and around Puebla, “Cinco de Mayo” is known as El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (the Day of Puebla Battle). And they celebrate with re-enactments and parades more than with tequila, margaritas and such.
- May 5th was made more popular under Franklin Roosevelt, who established the “Good Neighbors policy” in the 1930s.
- Americans eat nearly 81 million pounds of avocadoes on Cinco de Mayo every year, according to the California Avocado Commission.
- Many cities in the United States celebrate Cinco de Mayo with weekend-long festivals, including Denver, Chicago, Portland and San Diego.
- Los Angeles wins with the largest party (in the world!). It is called Fiesta Broadway. Many other countries enjoy this celebration as well. Even Vancouver, Canada has a big celebration, with a skydiving mariachi band!
- Chandler, Arizona has a Chihuahua race on May 5!
- Because we like to celebrate and drink tequila, the United States drinks more of this potent liquor than Mexico, where most tequila is made!
- Enchiladas and tamales make up more the traditional dishes and as they take a bit of time to create and cook, it becomes a time for family togetherness.
By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
April was National Humor Month. (Remember our April Fool’s Day Prank?) To celebrate, we put together a great selection of books – both fiction and nonfiction – that fit the theme. In case you missed it, we’re sharing that book list here. We hope you’ll find a book to make you laugh all year long!
- Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, (792.7028092 BRO)
- Yes, Please by Amy Poehler, (92 POEHLER)
- Life’s a Stitch: the Best of Contemporary Women’s Humor by Anne Safran Dalin, ed., (817.608 LIF)
- Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, (92 BURROUGHS)
- The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an America in Britain by Bill Bryson, (914.1048612 BRY)
- In Such Good Company: 11 Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox by Carol Burnett, (791.4572 BUR)
- Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore, (F MOO)
- Walking Across Egypt by Clyde Edgerton, (F EDG)
- Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, (814.54 SED)
- This Is a Book by Demetri Martin, 817.6 MAR
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, (F ADA)
- Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams, (F ADA)
- I Could Pee on This: and Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano, (811.6 MAR)
- Being Dead Is No Excuse: the Official Southern Ladies’ Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral by Gayden Metcalfe, (393.097633 MET)
- Reasons My Kid Is Crying by Greg Pembroke, (818.5407 PEM)
- Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding, (F FIE)
- The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae, (92 RAE)
- The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde, (F FFO)
- The Eyre Affaire by Jasper Fforde, (F FFO)
- Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan, (814.6 GAF)
- How to Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen, (814.54 FRA)
- Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg, (818.602 ORT)
- The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain, (914.04286 TWA)
- Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon, (F CHA)
- Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling, (92 KALING)
- High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, F HOR
- I Feel Bad About My Neck: and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron, (814.54 EPH)
- I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections by Nora Ephron, (817.54 EPH)
- The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes, (814.3 HOL)
- The Code of the Woosters by P. G. Wodehouse, (F WOD)
- Holidays in Heck by P. J. O’Rourke, (818.5402 ORO)
- How to Make Your Baby an Internet Celebrity by Rick Chillot, (818 CHI)
- Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, (F GIB)
- I Am America (And so Can You!) by Stephen Colbert, (818 COL)
- Midnight Confessions by Stephen Colbert, (818.602 COL)
- Maskerade: a Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett, (F PRA)
- Bossypants by Tina Fey, (92 FEY)
- Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins, (F ROB)
- Night Thoughts by Wallace Shawn, (814.54 SHA)
- The Princess Bride by William Goldman, (F GOL)
- The Bear Went over the Mountain by William Kotzwinkle, (F KOT)
- White Teeth by Zadie Smith, (F SMI)