It was an interesting move. My friend Christopher Rose, 10, had placed his knight in a position that I hadn't even considered. The knight was threatening me from a spot two inches off the chessboard.
"Christopher," I said in a sportsmanlike tone, "your knight is off the board."
"I know," he said. "Checkmate."
"But what if I just do this?" I said, lifting my king and placing him down on the carpet by my foot.
"You can't do that," he said.
"Because he can only move one square at a time."
It was true my king had been more than one square away from the edge of the board, whereas Christopher's knight had been poised right on the border, in position to lunge. I conceded.
"Anyway, a horse could jump off the board. A king wouldn't," he added as we put the pieces into their little plastic storage bags. It was a natural conclusion to our game, and Christopher headed off to his bedroom, moving toward the staircase like a knight—one step over and two steps forward.
His daring leap to victory reminded me of a similar leap I once made with my stepson, John, who is now 18 but who was 10 when we played shuffleboard late one evening while on vacation in Florida. Neither of us really knew how to play the game so we began improvising, playing by the light of a nearly full moon, making up rules as we went along. It didn't take us long to break out of the boundaries of the game, to expand the playing field and jump into a new, unstructured dimension, like a jazz musician "stepping out."
Pretty soon we were down by the pool, shuffling our disks around the water's edge and, inevitably, into the water. We were in our bathing suits, no one else was around, and we played shuffleboard on the bottom of the pool, executing dolphin dives and surfacing often for air. Next we were on the beach. A volleyball net was set up on the sand and points were gained by tossing the disk over the net, running underneath and catching it on the other side.
Then we had the challenge of getting the disk over a five-foot-high chain link fence next to our hotel's parking lot. I tried to scoop up my disk with my cue and whip it over the way John had managed to do, but I finally had to pick it up and chuck it over, losing a couple of points in the process. Also difficult was climbing the fence barefoot while holding the cue, a maneuver that, puzzlingly, earned no points.
The parking lot by the hotel offered a nifty terrain, and we elatedly shuffled disks under cars, some moving, some parked. Of course, moving cars were worth more points. Doing this without being seen or chastised or perhaps irritating someone was no easy feat.
We shuffled along a path by the side of the hotel and sneaked in the back door of the hotel lobby. Quickly hanging a left to avoid being seen by the man at the front desk, we shuffled down a hallway whose thick carpeting offered a slow but usefully quiet ride, then took the elevator to cover each of the hotel's six floors. Having pretty well shuffled 12 times the length of the hotel, we finally exited out the same door we had come in and deposited our cues and disks back where we found them. It had been a rousing, almost aerobic game, the kind that adults tend to miss out on. For the versatile of mind, courts, boards and playing fields have no boundaries.
"How about a game of Monopoly?" Christopher asked me, emerging from his bedroom.
"Sure," I said, and we began counting out the money and setting up the real estate. Christopher picked the little sports car for his player; of course—the perfect vehicle to drive off the board in, if necessary.
"Who do you want?" he asked, offering me the top hat, the iron, the shoe.
"This guy," I said, reaching over to the chess set and pulling out his white knight.
"Hey, wait a minute," he said nervously, fully aware of that particular piece's gifted moves.
"He needs the exercise," I said, putting him down on Go. "A little bit of cross-cultural exchange."
"Well," he said graciously, quietly getting rid of his car and then grabbing the black queen. "I guess it's all right." Christopher placed her with much pleasure right next to the knight on Go. They looked a handsome—if somewhat displaced—pair, eager to stroll forth in new patterns, unshackled by old responsibilities. At her first stop the queen purchased a railroad. Clearly, she too was ready to switch tracks and step out.