There was a bank row!

by Frederic Friedel
9/20/2023 – Last weekend I gave our readers a puzzle which, I said, only a segment of our readers could possibly solve. But even amongst them there were very few who succeeded. One exception: super-talent Gukesh, who managed – with a little help. And he collapsed in helpless laughter when he got it. Another super-talent, Leon Mendonca, filmed it all. Here is the solution, together with a second prank I played on a young chess talent.

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The puzzle was: Why did my British aunt, living in a villa in the hill station Lonavala, India, often say the line "There was a bank row"?

In my initial email and Skype chats it was only our ChessBase India CEO Sagar Shah, and Vishy Anand who solved it. Sagar wrote "in spite of the fact that it was already closed?"  Vishy's reply came after a number of milliseconds: "Old favourite", he wrote. But the other dozen or so Indian GMs remained clueless – they are too young to have experienced British post-colonial times.

Naturally no western player, no non-Indian had the slightest chance of solving the puzzle. Apologies for that – but I did warn you. Some googled Lonavala, some even found the story of my childhood there. Unfortunately it contained no hint of the solution.

The answer to the puzzle was that Aunt Rosie was using the Hindi sentence

दरवाज़े बंद करो

which phonetically transcribes to "daravaaze band karo" (audio here). It means "close the door". She spoke it, to her servants, with a thick English accent. When I revealed the solution to Leon Mendonca, he was on the floor laughing. And the other super-talents reacted similarly with uncontrollable laughter.

Per instruction Leon filmed Gukesh during the Turkish league, while he actually solved the puzzle (with a little help). You can watch him doing it here:

Video by Leon Mendonca. The second super-talent is Nihal Sarin, who is from Kerala and speaks Malayalam, but very little Hindi. Just enough to catch the joke.

So, even if you are from Kazakhstan or Pago Pago, you can at least enjoy the video of 2750-Guki  (and Nihal Sarin) working on the puzzle. As I said, most of the other (Indian) 2600 and 2700+ GMs reacted similarly. Pity I could not film them all.

The "don't-say-a-certain-word" prank

In any case here's a prank you will understand and appreciate. It is all about presentation, and this is a slick version that always works. You should try it.

This is how you start: choose a victim and ask her (or him) whether she thinks she can avoid saying a certain word for one minute. “I don’t understand — which word?” she replies. “Oh, any word we decide on. You must simply avoid saying that particular word for one full minute, for sixty seconds. Do you think that is possible?” This sounds preposterous, and your subject feels that it should be trivially easy. “Which word?” she asks. You look around the room, at the light, a plant, a mug, a clock, and then you say: “Okay, let’s simply take a number: thirteen. Can you avoid saying it for a whole minute?” Puzzled look. "Of course."

You look at your watch and say “We start now. Okay, how much is two plus two?” — “Four?” your victim replies. “Plus four?” you continue. “Eight.” — “Plus seven?” There is a short pause: we’ve got to be careful. “Fifteen.” — “Times two?” This time there is a slightly longer pause, and your friend says, somewhat gingerly: “Thirty?”

Now’s your moment: “See!” you say, triumphantly. “You lasted only 25 seconds! I told you, you couldn’t do it.”

What follows it inevitable: your subject yells: “No, you said thirteen! THIRTEEN! Not thirty. You clearly said thirteen!” And you reply: “Now you have said it, after just 30 seconds!!” And your subject goes to the nearest wall and starts banging her head on it. That is what Petra, a backgammon champion, did when I pulled the prank on her. And Raghavi, an international chess master, shrieked in anguish. Later that evening, she gave me an affectionate look and said: “I really hate you, Frederic.”

I have pulled this on many chess talents. Here's one that Sagar videotaped. We had the 13-year-old super-talent, reigning U-14 World Champion A.R. Ilamparthi, in the ChessBase office. Sagar calls him the boy who makes Pragg and Nihal look old! Ilamparthi is a very serious young lad, whom I could not resist pranking.

Aflter this Ilam's father came to me and said: "I've never seen him laughing like that."  Mission accomplished!

Attack like a Super Grandmaster

In this Fritztrainer: “Attack like a Super GM” with Gukesh we touch upon all aspects of his play, with special emphasis on how you can become a better attacking player.

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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shivasundar shivasundar 9/20/2023 07:36
Save all your children from Fred, while you still can ;-)!