I am not familiar with American talk shows, but one of the trappings of the genre seems to be painfully unfunny sketches. Today, we will turn our attention to one particular example. I am not entirely sure, but it seems like it aired first on September 26th of 2019. In it, Jimmy Fallon, who is the host, takes on Jack White, of White Stripes fame in a game of chess. The surroundings are rather fancy-looking and our two protagonists are sharply-dressed, evoking the popular image from a hundred or so years ago of chess as a pastime for the high class. But when the chessboard appears on screen, it turns out that they are playing with white and red grapes instead of chess pieces. This is the alleged source of comedy.
I will not try to explain why this is supposed to be funny, because I don’t know either. What I will say is that, with this scheme, they cleverly avoid the possibility of a wrong starting position. I also have to give bonus points for the presence of the old school chess clock. That brings us to the first suspicious thing about this little sketch: the clocks which we see very early on show that Jack White, who’s black, has about fifteen minutes while Jimmy himself has about twenty, but they’re both blitzing out moves like they got a train to catch. Why? Fifteen minutes is plenty of time! You can think a bit.1 But maybe they really do have a train to catch.
Then we pan down to the board. Of course it is rotated 90°, but we expect that. The first time we see the board the position is as follows:2
with the very strong caveat that I had to make up which piece is which, because, to me, all grapes look alike.3 There’s one exception: the piece on d3 takes on c5 and must therefore be a knight.
The just justly grabbed grape gets eaten. Jimmy looks extremely smug. There some fast cuts with hard to identify moves. Jimmy looks smugger by the move. At one point, Jack smashes a previously taken grape instead of the clock.
Then we get to see another clear position. It is this one:
with the same qualification as before, of course, and with a similar exception: the piece from f4 gets moved to d3. It is now Jack’s turn to look smug. He takes the c1 grape and proudly announced check. He gets hit in the face. Rightly, I would say. That piece had not been taken. It’s not even a checkmate, no matter what the actual identities of black’s pieces are.4
What I don’t understand, though, is why Jimmy was acting so smug. He is already three grapes down when Jack illicitly claims the one on c1. Of course, it could be that he has a queen for four pawns or something, but in that case it is not clear why Jack is so smug at the end. Maybe it’s just a showbiz thing.
Realism: ?/5 How am I supposed to know if all pieces are grapes? I can tell you that there’s a very low upper bounds, though.
Probable winner: Jimmy, by knock-out.
1. [I realise that I’m making assumptions here, but they could at least try.] ↩
2. [If you think my identifications are wrong, you can make your own proposal here.] ↩
3. [I realise that may sound a little bit grapist.] ↩
4. [That’s not actually true. There is a small prize for the first person to e-mail me why, but it is unfortunately entirely imaginary.] ↩