Among the various things in the book, “The Coodabeen Champions take a Good Hard Look at Australia” (Copyright 1992 Coodabeen Champions Pty Ltd, published Penguin Australia) are the rules for a game called Dumbo’s Chess.
Equipment: 1 cheapo plastic chess set + 1 ping pong ball
The chess set is placed in the middle of a room, set up as for a normal game. The two players stand on opposite sides of the room and throw the ping pong ball at the chess board. The first player to have all their pieces knocked over loses.
Note that unlike regular chess, you have to knock down all the other player’s pieces, not just the king.
I have played this game in Real Life, but the most memorable tournament took place via email with Marian Rosenberg in 1998.
(I’ve had the transcript on my website for some years, but getting a blog is like getting a new chest of drawers – sometimes it’s nice to be able to redistribute things into it.)
Adrian’s Turn: Throws ball, it goes over the top of the board, missing entirely.
Marian’s Turn: Attempts to catch ball. Stumbles. Picks up ball. Throws ball at chessboard. Hits Adrian.”Oops. Sorry about that. Here, want an ice pack?”
Proffers ice cubes wrapped in damp paper towel
Adrian’s Turn: Throws ball, it bounces just in front of Marian’s left rook, causing it to shake a little, but nothing falls.
Marian’s Turn: “You got to be more imaginative than that . . .” Picks up ball. Throws it. Bounces off center of chessboard and continues bouncing off into the distance where it scares a small hedgehog. Hedgehog retrieves ball, and presents it to Adrian.
Adrian’s Turn: Picks up ball. Realises accidentally picked up hedgehog. Puts hedgehog gently down and picks up ball. Hedgehog, overawed by excitement, walks past chessboard knocking over Adrian’s right rook, knight, and two pawns; and the corresponding pieces on Marian’s side, plus a bishop.Adrian throws ball. It lands on the pieces already knocked down, achieving nothing.
“Hey! I got some!!”
rkbKQ/// Marian ppppp/p/ pppp/p/p Adrian rkbQKb//
Marian’s Turn: “Nice shot!” Picks up flamingo (oops, wrong game, this is not croquet). Puts flamingo back and allows it to wander away. Picks up ball. Throws it . . . doesn’t hit anything.
“Since I have now successfully implanted a hedgehog and a flamingo into our game, would you try for a flying elephant?”
Adrian’s Turn: Realises that “doesn’t hit anything” means not even the floor, and wonders why ball is hovering in the air. Gives up wondering. Whistles. Elephant comes in, but elephant in very cheeky mood today. Elephant steals ball and flies off with it. Shouts at elephant at precisely the right moment. Elephant shouts back, dropping the ball. It knocks over two more of Marian’s pawns, and Adrian’s leftmost pawn. Ball is now misshapen and will not bounce so well.”Hey, you’ve got some catching up to do here…”
rkbKQ/// Marian /pp///p/ /ppp/p/p Adrian rkbQKb//
Marian’s Turn: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
“Where is the ball . . . ahh, nevermind.”Looks for ball. Finds a small white ball next to a hole with a flag in it. Picks up ball. A man comes over the small ridge near the game. He is carrying a large bag. Seeing us, he speaks . . .
“Have you seen my Golf ball? I hit it over there. I’m four under par.”
Looks at ball in hand, then looks at Golfer.
“ermm . . . well . . .”
Golfer becomes enraged and attacks the chessboard knocking over two of Adrian’s pawns, his rook and a bishop. He also knocks over Marian’s bishop and a pawn. The Golfer trips over the Hedgehog, falling on the Flamingo and getting a handful of pink feathers reminiscent of a cheap feather boa. His rampage is finally stopped by the Flying Elephant; in the process both Queens are removed and deeded to the Elephant’s side. As a starting player the Flying Elephant gets a king and four pawns.
rk/K//// Marian /pp///p/ ppQKQpp Flying Elephant //pp/p// Adrian /k//Kb//
Adrian’s Turn: Adrian, who is easily disoriented by sensory overload, feels at a distinct disadvantage owing to the number of animals in the immediate vicinity. He negotiates a union of sides with the Flying Elephant. The elephant agrees to this, redistributing the queens but is not yet sure what to do with the other pieces.Adrian manages to find a new ball, and throws it at the chessboard, missing completely due to aforementioned disorientation. A puff of wind from the Flying Elephant, however, sends the ball back on course, knocking over Marian’s remaining rook.
/k/KQ/// Marian /pp///p/ //pp/p// Adrian and Flying Elephant /k/QKb//
Marian’s Turn: Marian grabs the ball before it can cause any more damage to her side. With ball in hand she carefully studies the table, walking around slowly, looking for any possible advantage. Finding her shot she picks up the pool cue (oops, wrong game again) and moves it to the cue rack. Once the pool cue is safely ensconced in its rack, she shifts the ball from hand to hand, preparing for her throw. In a pose reminiscient of a major league pitcher faced with the best player the opposing team has, Marian winds her arm up and throws. The small ball bounces twice before hitting Adrian’s leftmost pawn. The pawn rocks back and forth, almost falling but not quite. The Elephant lets out a sigh of relief, causing the pawn to fall and knocking over the pawn next to it, and his Queen. Unfortunately for Marian, the Elephant’s breath also knocks down a pawn of her own.
/k/KQ/// Marian /p////p/ /////p// Adrian and Flying Elephant /k//Kb//
Adrian’s Turn: The flying elephant requests a throw of the ball, but it is quickly pointed out that this would be unfair as it has the biological capacity to drop the ball directly on the board while standing entirely behind the throwing line. The elephant agrees to continue the strategy of influencing the ball indirectly.Adrian throws the ball almost straight up!
The elephant hits the ball with its trunk like a cricket bat, sending the ball hurtling toward the chess board!
Marian’s entire royal family fall to the ground.
/k////// Marian /p////p/ /////p// Adrian and Flying Elephant /k//Kb//
Marian’s Turn: Marian pouts.”Icky, I’m losing!”
Marian catches ball, and throws it back toward Adrian’s team. As usual her throws are less than perfect and it bounces off the elephant, rolling back toward the chess board knocking down their King and bishop. Unfortunately for her it keeps on rolling, knocking into Adrian’s remaining pawn which wobbles but continues standing. After passing the pawn, it continues onward to demolish her left hand pawn.
/k////// Marian /p////// /////p// Adrian and Flying Elephant /k//////
Adrian’s Turn: The flying elephant picks up the ball in the tip of its trunk, and flies up into the sky. It flies up very, very high until it can only just make out the shape of the chess board far below. It turns in the air, its trunk fully stretched out and pointing straight down, but still holding the ball. Finally, it lets go and the ball falls under gravity down, down, down. A perfect shot! The ping pong ball lands exactly half way between Marian’s knight and pawn, not knocking down either of them directly, but giving them enough kinetic energy that they both slide outward from the point of impact. So doing, Marian’s knight falls off the board and her pawn slides into Adrian’s area of the board (but still acknowledged as her pawn), stopping where it touches Adrian’s knight, against which it leans.
// //// // // //// // /[MR's p]///[AM's p]// /[AM's k]//// // (MR's p is leaning against AM's k)
Marian’s Turn: “I do not like this arrangement.” Marian leans down and picks up the ball. She throws, and much to her surprise it hits Adrian’s pawn. The pawn falls and the ball continues rolling. It circles round and round the pawn leaning on the knight. Finally after many heartwrenching seconds as it slowly rolls around the pair, the ball stops, barely a centimeter away from Adrian’s knight. The very act of picking up the ball will be dangerous to both sides.
Adrian’s Turn: And now, when the tension was at its zenith, Adrian realised the truth. He had, subconsciously, suspected it for some time, but now the impact of complete realisation left his mind in a state of shock, his eyes staring at the chess board. The elephant, the hedgehog, the flamingo – all were there, watching, waiting for the culmination of the game which would set them free from their magical bonds.For this was no ordinary chess board. It was a gateway from another world, the world from which the Flying Elephant and the others had come. The curse of the board was this – that the very act of playing with it opens the gates though which creatures of that world pass into this. When the game was completed, when all the pieces were down, the gates would be open forever and the Earth would be open to attack. For though the elephant seemed friendly enough, the vast majority of that world’s inhabitants would certainly not act likewise. The game must not end – Adrian knew this for certain.
Even if the players abandoned their positions, the pieces would have to fall eventually. The wind was already starting to pick up, and the pieces were so unstable that there was no way to carry the board safely inside.
He waited, thinking about what should be done. He looked over to Marian. Her face was serious.
“The game must not end”, he said.