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19 March 2006 @ 06:05 pm
WSC Report Day 2 - Evening  
Coming back from lunch and "Race", the first set of results were up. Two of the people who declared before me in the first round had made errors, so I now had the third highest bonus in the round (Ron now had the second highest, Wei-Hwa was just outside the bonus at 10th). I also was now the only person with a perfect score on the 2nd round as Wei-Hwa had many a minor error in his grid on one of the puzzles in that round. What was amazing, however, was the distance we had on other people in the field at the moment. Counting my bonus and my perfect score, I was 60 ahead of Wei-Hwa and already over 100 points above everyone else. Ron Osher was sitting at that moment in third, with 285 points to my 385, and it seemed a story of US dominance was developing.

As we were learning where we stood, so was the press. A comment should be made here about the presence of the media. While the WPC has been ongoing for many years now, it has never received this level of press attention. A lot of this can be blamed on the current "fad" state of Sudoku as a puzzle-type, particularly in England. While puzzling events themselves lack the sexiness needed to send a reporter, Sudoku at the moment is hot, hot, hot. Three separate British papers had sent both reporters and photographers to Lucca to cover this event. None of this would have occured at a WPC. The American press was woefully absent, with just Will Shortz around as resident Puzzlemaster to report the results on his NPR segment.

Anyway, with all this press attention came a new aspect to the rest of the afternoon and the next day of puzzling. I was no longer an anonymous competitor to the media. Suddenly, during all the afternoon rounds, I would glimpse the camera people standing and lining up shots that clearly had me in the center of the shot. Typically, I was focused on solving so this didn't bother me. I sat at an internal desk so that the press could not get that close to me anyway, but when I finished rounds early, I could watch them circle around and look for shots. They were doing the same to Wei-Hwa on the other side of the room. During our breaks now, too, the reporters were stopping me and wanting to learn my story. Because I apparently look really young, the story they wanted to go with was about the young prodigy leading the field. I had to tell them I was 26, not exactly young by competitive puzzling standards, but the attention was intriguing.

The first round after lunch seemed like another solid round for me, with 5 puzzles and 40 minutes to do them. The 0 to 9 Sudoku that started the round was not too much more difficult than a standard sudoku so I breezed through it and then went onto the other puzzles including the Frame and Outside Sudoku in the round. Included in this round was a greater than/less than sudoku which, while hard on a 9x9 grid, seemed much easier on the 8x8 grid that was used. The final puzzle was a digital sudoku which, much like the pips earlier, gives you partial information on the digits in the squares based on one light on an LED display that would be on for that number. I finished the round in about 32 minutes and had 8 minutes to check and recheck, stretch, and then recheck my answers again. Wei-Hwa thought he finished all but one puzzle in the round but it turned out, again, he had made a careless error at the end of a puzzle and lost credit on one of them, the Outside Sudoku I think, and so I actually had built my lead.

The sixth round was one of the few times I felt I used really really poor test-taking strategy in approaching a round. It was an "Irregular Sudoku" round with 5 puzzles. Irregular Sudoku are like Classic Sudoku except that the square regions are now oddly shaped, making it more difficult and much more interesting. They are probably my favorite sudoku to do now, as they can get very hard just by making the shapes more and more unusual. This round had 3 mini irregulars (6x6, for 10 points each), 1 9x9 for 50 points, and 1 12x12 for 90 points. I was very much unsure of how much time the 12x12 would take me so I wanted to bank all the points I could before I did the hard one. I got the first four done in about 15 minutes total and had 25 to do the final puzzle, and got all but 11 of the 144 squares filled in on it, but did not finish in time. With another 40 seconds I would have finished the 12x12 for massive points. As it stood, I had the most finished grid worth 0 points in the whole competition for this 12x12. This leads me to think a discussion of partial credit may be needed in this competition in the future, but it would not affect my final placement anyway. I probably should have done fewer of the "easy" puzzles before starting the hard, but I guess I wanted to hold onto my lead and didn't want the huge risk of not getting the 90 pointer but also not getting the 50 pointer or other puzzles. 4 solvers would actually turn out to get the 12x12, and all of them gained a fair bit on me in this round. Zoltan Horvath of Hungary actually solved the whole round (kudos!) and Wei-Hwa got 150 of the 170 points, gaining 70 back on me and now down just 40.

Round 7 included 3 puzzles in 30 minutes, all mathematical. There was another Sum Sudoku, where I started, and finished fast. There was a Pandigital Sudoku where some of the rows/columns would have "addition" constraints such as 219+348=567 (you can use information about the sum once you have a reasonable number (>= 3?) of the 9 squares filled in). Finally there was a multiplication Sudoku much like the Sum Sudoku except all the circled regions contained the products of the digits inside. There was a neat twist in the middle of this multiplication grid that I initially did not understand (you'll understand if you see the puzzle) but I worked the whole border of the puzzle to learn what I was meant to do in the middle and ended up finishing the round with a fair bit of time to spare. Wei-Hwa did the same and I was still 40 up.

Round 8 was the "feel-good" round, a single puzzle (a combined diagonal and irregular puzzle that shared a 3x3 square in the corner) that was clearly given way too much time to solve. We figured most competitors would get it. Most competitors got it. I remember getting the diagonal part done in about 2.5-3 minutes and then slowing down to a recreational pace to do the irregular part in the remaining 20+ minutes and still had 10 minutes to relax to end the day.

We were done for the day, I knew I'd be first in points, and we got to go out for dinner in downtown Lucca. First, there were some more questions to answer from the press (we tried to start a game of "Race" but got interrupted) and then we took the bus into the city. Lucca follows typical Italian timing rules - namely the restaurants open fairly late because it is the custom to eat dinner late and stay until midnight or later. We wanted a meal sooner rather than later and finally found a fine restaurant at 7:30 PM. I had a very good meal with an excellent filet of perch and some pasta. Somehow, the Italian organizer of the event, Riccardo, found us (this restaurant was hidden in an alley so we figured he must have installed subcutaneous tracking devices on us somehow) to tell us Wei-Hwa and I were 2nd and 1st respectively. Unfortunately, Ron had fallen out of the top 9 and would not make the playoffs, in part because he tried to get the 90 points in the irregular round and ended up scoring 0 overall in that round. He was 80 out of tying for the last playoff spot so maybe this wasn't the right strategy for him, but its hard to say. If he had gotten the 90, he would have been in the next day's playoffs too.

When we finally got back to the hotel after dinner, Wei-Hwa and I "raced" some more - I think we got Nick to play once or twice - and then we tried to sleep. I think I basically was awake until about 5-5:30 AM, when I finally was able to doze off. Unfortunately, the puzzles would start at 10 the next morning, so it was a rude shock when ...