A game of kings and bored undergrads

The tension in the air is palpable. In a show of royal charity, or perhaps a patience alien to us commons, the queen waits, her alert gaze focused on her adversary. Her finely chiselled features appear unperturbed, yet the trained observer might notice a tiny wrinkle on her forehead, the only outward sign that the battle of wits she is now engaged in will decide the fate of a kingdom.

Judging from the strain visible on his normally serene face, her foe is equally absorbed in his thoughts. Years of strategic military experience fail him now as he searches desperately for a way to remain unconquered. His choices are limited, he realises. They boil down to two avenues - both of escape. The possibility of resistance has long since disappeared from his mind. If he can evade capture for long enough, he may yet survive to fight again.

In a higher dimension, two bespectacled youths, considerably less royal in appearance, survey the situation from a different angle. The tension is still perceptible, but it seems to have a different source here - the overpowering tedium of the endgame.

"Would you move the damn piece already?", grumbles one of them, his fingers clutching the ever-present guitar, seeming as though they'd like to strangle the opponent.

"I'm thinking. There's a way out of this. I can feel it", I answer, staring at the chess-board without enthusiasm.

"You've got all of two possible moves. It's checkmate either way, dude. Just give it up and we can all go do something fun"

I sigh. Logic has emerged victorious.

"I resign", I announce, causing a minor tremor as the chessmen are swept off the board unceremoniously and into the bag that serves as their temporary home.

It is at this moment that inspiration strikes - a way to make the game of chess accessible to those with active social lives. My idea brings scepticism at first, but after a few rapid-fire matches, we know that it's a winner - and thus, the game of 'Chooker' is born.

Chooker is a variant of chess that can be played with any normal chess-set (good luck if it's magnetic, though). If you're wondering about the name, 'Chooker' is 'Chess + Snooker', and I suppose that's it in a nutshell. It's played by flicking chess-pieces against each other using only your index finger and thumb. It's turn-based, just like chess and promises to use a minimum of your brain's capacity. We haven't codified the rules of the game yet, but here's the basic gist:

  1. You can choose any of your own pieces as a 'cue-piece' to flick or strike against your opponent's pieces.

  2. Any of the pieces that have fallen due to the impact of a player's strike (even the player's own pieces) must be removed from the board. These pieces are considered to have been captured. The only exception to this rule is the cue-piece, which need be removed only if the impact has thrown it outside the board. If the cue-piece has fallen inside the board, it may be placed upright again, on one of the squares that it has fallen in.

  3. White plays first.

  4. The game ends when all of a player's pieces (not just the king) have been struck off the board, and the other player is declared the winner.

  5. The points gained by the winner correspond to which of his pieces are still on the board at the end of the game. A pawn gets you 1 point, a bishop or knight gets you 3, a rook gets you 5, a queen is 7 and the king is worth 10 points. So if you have a pawn and a queen left at the end of the game, you get a total of 8 points.

  6. In the case of a tie (that is, if the last strike removes all of the pieces from the board), then a 'chook-out', similar to a penalty shoot-out, is used to decide the winner. The chook-out works like this: Each player places a pawn on his side of the board, and the other player tries to strike the other pawn off using his. The best of five tries is taken, after which the game goes to 'sudden death' mode.

Chooker turned out to be a grand success in the weeks that followed. We organised an all-hostel tournament complete with league matches and a knockout round - the entire tourney lasted around an hour. Well, I won the inaugural Chooker Hostel Cup, but I put it down to luck - not to mention an abundance of free time on my hands :P

(Credits: Incidentally, the 'other' player is Ashwin Aryan, my friend at college - a bad-ass guitarist and vocalist, and co-inventor of Chooker)

A song for the songmaker - My tribute to Michael Jackson

(This song is to be sung to the tune of Thriller, a 1982 album by Michael Jackson that remains the world's best selling record of all time.)

See the original lyrics | Watch a video of Thriller on YouTube

It's close to lunchtime and there's an eerie feelin' in my heart
Over the music, I hear a beep that almost makes me dart
Outside to gain insight into the news report that made it
I stop to stare, as the photo looks me right between the eyes
I'm paralysed...

'Cause he's a thriller, that ain't just praise
But no one could relieve him from the pain that filled his days
That entertainer, a true delight
I'm fighting for my breath watching his killer Thriller tonight!

The King of Pop
I see the moonwalk and realise those feet will never move
I feel a cold touch: reality that whispers Adieu
I close my eyes and wish that this was just another nightmare
But all the while I know that there's so little I can do
He's gone too far...

Weep for his music, fascinating moves
There ain't another artist who can bring back all we lose
That show-stealer, the ghost who danced
You're rising through the ashes to that shining haven above!

Admirers, they're calling out as they hear of his gloomy fate
There's no escaping the truth of his passing this time
(It's all over now)
It's the end of the line

They tried to burn you, but you took those demons in your stride
You tried to save it, the world you healed of conflict and divide
Now is the time for all of us to etch your voice in stone, yeah
All through your life, you stunned us with your power on the screen
You made us see

That you're immortal, you will live on
'Cause you enchanted us like not a soul could ever dare try
'Nother dream, I'm inspired to write
So let me get a pen and post my
Willing, chilling, feeling tribute here tonight.

'Cause he's a thriller, that ain't no lie
His music thrilled us more than any soul will ever dare try
Exhilarator, the King of Pop
He'll never sing again but his voice will never die, no

(He'll still thrill ya tonight)
Darkness falls across the land
The last service is close at hand
Hankies unfolded in the rain
To wipe the tears that flow in vain

Would one ever care to deny
A final chance to say goodbye?
Unite then, people, one last time
As, farewell, bids the mournful chime

The saddest wails are in the air
Remnant of fifty glorious years
And silent souls from every room
Are watching as they seal your tomb

And though they strive to seem untouched
Their bodies start to quiver
For no mere mortal can resist
The magic of the Thriller.

(I'd like to dedicate this to one of the greatest entertainers the world has known, the legend that was Michael Jackson)

Castles in the air

I glance furtively at the wild blue yonder, mercifully visible outside. Thoughtful voices surround me... voices in a tongue I cannot comprehend. I realise that they speak about matters of grave complexity, problems outside my span of interest or understanding. My mind shifts gradually - there are affairs of greater import to concentrate on.
Dominic. Well, without the fairy-wings. And he was a wee bit taller.

For instance, there's no reason - I note idly - that a ten-inch high penguin with little fairy-wings, oddly reminiscent of Tinker Bell (odd because it's a penguin, dammit) should be hovering just over my window-sill.

"I am Dominic - your conscience", it says.

"My what?"

"Your conscience. I keep you from being evil."

"Why would I want a conscience? That's so nineties!"

"You do not choose to have a conscience. All persons have one."

"Look, if I have a conscience, I want her to look like Keira Knightley. Why are you here anyway? I'm not doing anything evil."

"Ah... but you are, my young ward. The path you are on can only lead to destruction - of you as a person."

"Care to explain? And don't call me your 'young ward' - it makes me feel like I have terminal cancer."

"Look within yourself... when was the last time you did something because you wanted to do it?"

"I don't know. I usually go by 'act now, contemplate the deep questions later'. Works for me."

"Why do you resist? You have lost the urge to live, the yearning to prove yourself... regret fills your days."

I fail to answer, uncomfortable with the realisation that Dominic is right. Every day is a struggle to remain sane - to prove to myself that there's a point in it all.

"You constantly debate with yourself about the meaning of your life. Your mind is a battlefield of emotions."

A mental image forms - it is a valley that seems like it was once a place of prosperity and celebration. Now, it is as dank and gloomy as a graveyard. Indeed, the audible noises of battle a short distance away suggest that death has visited this place recently. The scene shifts to the battle and I observe that the participants are no more passionate than their inanimate weapons. They swing their swords in disinterest, as though fighting to evade boredom rather than to survive. In a jolt of sudden insight, it dawns on me that I'm looking at the landscape of my mind.

The sounds of clashing blades are transformed back into the clicks of a dozen clutch-pencils, as the illusion fades and I find myself staring at the face of our lecturer in Algorithm Analysis. The steely scowl on it indicates that she's upset about something, possibly my complete lack of awareness about anything related to her subject. The class goes about its regular business.

I turn to glance at Dominic, but he's gone.

As I'm exiled to the library, I wistfully imagine how my days would have been spent had I not plunged head-first into engineering. I'd probably have built my castles in the air out of something more substantial. I might even have posted my tales where people could read them and comment. Oh wait.

About this nutcase

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A thoroughly confused blogger with imagined Multiple Personality Disorder and delusions of usefulness. Yeah, he has issues.