CIPC #202: The manhole

2020 has become the year of video games. People have been at home rather more than usual and, naturally, they spend it playing Fortnite, Among us, Cyberpunk since a week or two, and of course the all-time classic The manhole. The manhole? The manhole. What’s that, you ask? Well, it is an old point-and-click computer game originally released all the way back in the eighties. As far as I could ascertain with some speed-googling, it was the first game to be released on CD-ROM. On starting the program, you see a manhole cover and a fire hydrant. If you click on the latter, not much happens; but if you click on the former, you get transported to a Carrollian fantasy land.1 Click around some more and you might see this:

(You can try the game yourself here, by the way. To get to the chess scene as quickly as possible, you should click the manhole cover, the vine until you’re on top, the castle, the door, the stairs, the sky, and the boat.)

The vast majority of computer games from the eighties has quickly faded into obscurity, but this one seems to have retained some measure of popularity. It is available on many website and has even been ported to iOS. This despite the fact that the game doesn’t really have an objective and that it’s an unholy denizen of Hell!

I would tell you to have a good look at the position in the screenshot above, but I don’t want that on my conscience. Even for me, a hardened veteran of crimes against Caïssa, this is hard to endure. I have on a few occasions seen boards of odd dimensions on this blog.2 but I’ve never seen a board which has four and a half ranks. Similarly, I’ve seen positions where one or both kings were missing, but I’ve never seen a position with pieces of three different colours.

Indeed, this is the post that broke my diagram maker. This position is such an abomination that it cannot be reconstructed. Here is the closest possible approximation:3

except that the rook on what I’d tentatively call a4 is teal rather than black and that the e-file is only half a file. It is possible that the board is actually rotated.4

So what can we make of this? Here is my guess. Somewhere, there is a monster on the loose. A monster who broke a chess board! To hide the evidence of his crime, he flushed the mutilated board down the toilet and it naturally ended up in the sewers. Because pieces without a board would look suspicious, they too get flushed away. Some of them, one of which came in contact which some tossed away teal paint, end up together with half of the board. Then, the teenage mutant ninja turtles found the remains and put on a horrifying display to scare away possible visitors.

Realism: -/5 Asking how realistic this position is, is like asking how close a high jumper is to reaching the moon.

Probable winner: I suspect this position is like the game itself: it looks fantastical, but it’s rather pointless, and there’s no such thing as winning.

1. [Although Carroll’s Wonderland has a bizarre internal logic to it, which is essential for making this sort of thing work.]
2. [This is as good an occasion as any to insert a joke using the double meaning of the word odd, but this is obvious and therefore left as an exercise for the reader. I would like to point out, however, that Odd is also a Norse given name.]
3. [Don’t worry, if you want to make sensible diagrams, this still works fine.]
4. [It is also possible that it has been flipped, mirrored, mangled, hacked to pieces, or otherwise abused. Nothing is too extreme for the people who made this atrocity.]