WPC 15 - Borovets, Bulgaria - Report
After meeting up with Zack at Logan, we traveled overseas through Munich to Sofia Airport where we met our team captain Nick and rode a bus for about an hour into Borovets. The ski resort would be covered by low-lying clouds both on our arrival day and on our tourism Sunday so it would not be until much later in the week that I got a chance to hike up some of the mountains and enjoy the views of Bulgaria. The rest of our team arrived later on Saturday but Wei-Hwa was without his baggage and so we would be without "Race for the Galaxy" for another day.
In our arrival packet we first got a sense for the puzzles we'd be seeing throughout the week. The "ForSmarts" booklet had a bunch of puzzles of both interesting and frustrating types that matched up with many of the new ones we were expecting. Manifold Dividing, for example, was a puzzle that involved dividing an 8x8 grid of white and black circles into each of the possible 2x1, 3x1 and 4x1 rectangular strips with unique white/black patterns on them. Despite a couple tries on each of the two examples, I quickly learned this was not a type I was going to be able to solve easily by logic (at least these examples). I also got my first experience with the Web of (in)Difference - a puzzle that involves filling in numbers in a spider web that has a central digit and then three larger radial circles each containing 6 digits. Certain line segments are in bold and those represent "unique" sums for the web - in this case, with the digits 1 to 9 there were 15 bold segments which eventually meant to be filled in with the sums 3 through 17. After a very clever logical placement of the center number, all of our attempts to use constraints were stymied and progress stalled. I left it unsolved as well.
However, not all types were so painful to solve - some were actually really well executed and fun. I liked the "chess battleships" variation that was created where each of the five main pieces (king, queen, knight, rook, bishop) were placed on a 10x10 grid and a battleship fleet had to be placed so that each of these pieces attacked exactly one ship of each type. It has some simple to define constraints but these led to a very reasonable solving experience for these example puzzles. A variation of this puzzle, where the pieces would not be pre-placed in grey cells, would reappear in our Metatour team round. The "Hundred" puzzle type, which involved adding numbers either before or after given numbers in a 3x3 grid to get a square with all rows/columns summing to 100 seemed reasonable to approach. A variety of sudoku variants were there and, with the exception of the increasing/decreasing Sudoku that I don't believe has a real work-in, I got through just about all the puzzles I could. I still have a giant star battle to do - and maybe I regret not doing this one for practice - but the "ForSmarts" practice book would take up a lot of our first two days as we got used to the new Bulgarian puzzle types.
One last new type to mention - which I brought up before as one of my less favorite from the BPC but which I believe I am now one of the world's best at - is Vertical Sums. In this puzzle, you are meant to place the numbers 1 through 19 in order (1 to 13 in the pictured example, but 1 to 19 in all regular puzzles) into the boxes of a rectangle so that no numbers touch vertically or horizontally and all numbers 10 through 19 are placed in consecutive cells. The vertical sum of all of the columns in the puzzle is given and you have to fill in the numbers to satisfy these sums. There aren't many work-ins, and I remember feeling powerless on the BPC to get a good foothold on this puzzle type. Well, after much consideration, I decided I would try to teach myself how to attack these puzzles, focusing on the leftmost column, and working forward and backward reasonable guesses to get the answers. I felt I developed a "sixth sense" for when I was getting near an answer and when I was far from it, and I actually was able to get through the four examples given in a reasonable time after some practice. I felt ready for the two that would be on the WPC in part 2. This is a puzzle that is very easy to write and much harder to solve. As such, I've made two examples for you all to try to see if you can get the hang of vertical sums. I suggested an easier variation - Horizontal Sums - but no one seemed to leap at trying them out as a puzzle yet.
Sunday was our travel day and, as already mentioned, Borovets was still in a soupy fog with a bit of rain. We boarded the buses to Rila Monastery which, despite being just a 7-hour hike over the mountains by foot, was a very round-about 2-hour bus-ride. The Monastery itself was very beautiful and our tour took us through the museum with many of its artifacts and into the church itself. Wei-Hwa and I were discussing a bunch of the puzzles and, as we had free time, I finally finished the snake puzzles in the For Smarts booklet at this time as Wei-Hwa worked on the Wheels of Fortune. There are some reasonable photos of the beautiful monastery with us US team members solving puzzles - Zack took one such photo which I'll borrow for here.
The bus-ride back took us to a restaurant where I got some trout and then back to the hotel for same games and dinner and our rules meeting.
A lot of the fun of the WPC comes from the comraderie we share with the other puzzlers and our chances to play various games with them. Last year a bunch of our time in Eger was spent testing "Race for the Galaxy" which Wei-Hwa brought; once he got his luggage from the airport, we got to play a little of this in Borovets as well. He also brought a simpler prototype game - City Builder - that we played a couple times that I liked as well. Wei-Hwa had brought two board games for Georgi of the Bulgarian team and we got to try these titles - Caylus and Colossal Arena - before the week ended. They were alright - and I definitely felt I learned better what the limitations of certain strategies were after having played through half of one game (and therefore too late to do much about the situation). While I still need to learn bridge-bidding better, I had a lot of fun losing in an American version of Rifki which combines trick-winning rounds with penalty rounds where you want to avoid all men (KJ) or just Rifki (K hearts) or the last two tricks specifically, etc. While I was able to stick Roger with a lot of points, including Rifki, he still managed to win. I also liked finally playing Dalmutti with the Dutch and random other rotating players which I'd watched, but not played, before.
Competition - Main Rounds:
My secret throughout the competition was to start each morning with a breakfast including "Choco Champs" - a Cocoa Puffs knock-off that was one of the three cereals provided at the hotel. Monday began with a "Welcome" round that featured a bunch of puzzles with a mild connection to the number 15 and the town of Borovets. I worked through most of the easy points, starting with Different Neighbors, the word search, the welcome snake (which I got on my first try basically with just a single tweak needed), the welcome loop and the 1&5. My "they must be sneaky" strategy almost got me the sums tree but I had shifted off of it before it fell. For the first time, I solved a Manifold Divide although I got really worried when I had a clearly non-unique solution in the lower-right corner and checked all my pieces twice to be sure. It turns out the puzzle on the WPC had several solutions. Time ran out before I got the sums tree or either word snail and I ended the round with 105 out of 200 good enough for third. Wei-Hwa had gotten 170 and was the early leader.
Round 2 was the first of four 500-point 90-minute "assorted rounds". This was easily the one of the four I looked forward to most and hoped to pull out a really solid round. I worked from the back to the front and got the Wheels of Fortune and Vertical Sums (thanks to all that practice) within a reasonable time. The Letter Cross Sums was rather easy for me - it embedded all the hidden ways to determines 3's and 7's and 6's and 9's and the like that I used on my Mystery Kakuro awhile back so I knew both what to look for and where to find them after I got situated. I got the first of the over seven spot the differences puzzles in the WPC in the Ships and then worked on an interesting loop puzzle called Breaking the Loop that places "midpoints" of segments that you have to use throughout the loop as well as a couple breaking points that are evenly spaced between these midpoints - exactly two breaking points occur on each row/column. I must have been a little sloppy as I crept into a "broken" solution space, but could tweak my way out of it and finished the puzzle. I quickly went through the hundreds and got the T-shapes in what must have been less than 2 minutes for 35 points (this is such an easy type for me - fitting T-shapes into a grid with row/column constraints on number of pieces contained). Three Kropkis which are a Latin Square type I saw earlier on the Russian Puzzle Championship and another spot the differences puzzle made up the next batch of minutes. With 6 minutes in the round, I had 450 points completed. I was left with an arrows puzzle I couldn't work into and a larger latin square "fill the matrix" puzzle that I could easily complete if I wanted to but I tried for the arrows and didn't finish in time. Still, 450/500 for the round was phenomenal (and the best score by 40 over Ulrich in second at 410), putting me back over Wei-Hwa for our team and into first place at the WPC again [some people may remember, because of a solid part 1/2 and the huge bonus on the Spiderwebs at Eger's WPC, that I as a B teamer topped the very first set of results put out last year].
Round 3 was a screen test - pretty typical with "fast visual puzzles" displayed on a screen. I still don't know why I haven't learned to copy down the examples that will obviously take too long to solve - in this case puzzle 5 "Square's Vertices" would have been simple had I had graph paper and written it down - but I managed to get all but 2 of the puzzles and, for the second round in a row, had the highest overall score. A couple puzzles had to be thrown out as they were not visible on the projected screen but this didn't bother me too much. At lunchtime (although grading wouldn't be done until later), I had 635 points and a hundred point lead on my teammate Wei-Hwa, 115 on Ulrich from Germany, and I had a sense it would only be downhill from there.
After lunch was the Conceptis Paint-By-Numbers Round with 3 PBN puzzles (1 was color), 2 Link-A-Pix puzzles (1 was color), 2 Fill-A-Pix, and a Maze. I made the mistake of starting one of the PBN pictures, trying the 50 point middle-difficulty one. 15 minutes in, I saw no logical routes forward and had to abandon it, never finishing it before time ran out. I got the 2 Link-A-Pix and the Maze rather easily but was very very careful to not leave a single square unmarked so as to not go from 50 or 60 points to 0. However, this care somehow escaped me when I finished the smaller Fill-A-Pix at the end of the round as in a rush to try to finish the PBN, I turned back from that page with a single pixel obviously unshaded, losing 30 points carelessly. If I had tried the larer Fill-A-Pix instead of the Paint By Number, I likely would have tied the 210 top score on the round instead of getting 130 but my puzzle choice and missing pixel both left something to be desired.
Part 5 was another 90 minute assorted round - in the same way I looked forward to the morning one, I kind of dreaded this one. It was a "hidden optimizer" round with a bunch of maze-type puzzles that had a shortest route. Some worked alright; the street mazes had clear, provable shortest routes that I solved reasonably fast. However, I made a bunch of "exactly one off optimal" solutions on the other puzzles and lost a bunch of points in the round. I did get, through meticulous work, the large Navigati for 80 points which wasn't so hard but made a careless error on the smaller Navigati somehow. My hoped for 295 points on the round fell to 230 when the scores were finally posted and I ended the first day individually tied with Niels Roest of the Netherlands for third, with Ulrich back on top as expected and Wei-Hwa just behind. To be in the company of world champions was my goal and I was really happy with the first day's performance.
Monday wasn't over yet, though, there was a team round with 24 skyscrapers puzzles to go. My brain was a bit fried but I still volunteered for the Missing Space ones and underperformed by only getting three of the 6 of those. Roger covered me slightly and got one of the others but we only finished with 21 puzzles done. Germany finished more and made up some team ground, but we ended the day as a team in first.
Tuesday began another long day of puzzling (after a bowl of Choco Champs, or course) with a quick sprint round. I warmed up that morning with my Penpa Mix 2 and did reasonably fine in the sprint except for not spending any time trying to reason out the Quipu puzzle (a "puzzle" that the internet, but not Wikipedia, would have given the answer to) and made a careless error on a pattern recognition puzzle. Still, I held my ground alright.
Part 8 was another 90 minute 500 point assorted round and this one was nicknamed by me the "Altay" round given the reasonably high number of PQRST-like puzzles on it. I should have expected from the WSC the number of Samoan language puzzles in the round but overall the round went alright, although nowhere near as spectacularly as the second round on Monday. I worked backwards through the round and got the battleships pool although slower than I wanted. I skipped the larger self-referencing card puzzle (imagine self-referencing card puzzles: "three t, three h, four o, one s, one j" but in Samoan and that's what we got. The Springs was really easy and came fast. There was a nasty puzzle on this round called "No Instructions". Amazingly, it came with such a clear picture on the test that all of us figured out what the rules were for this line fitting puzzle. However, the answer is deviously devious. Ulrich would joke after the round that the puzzle should be renamed "No Solution". Certainly undervalued at 25 points, I spent about ten minutes on it and then abandoned it. I quickly did the counting puzzle and proved, as on the 2004 and 2005 USPC, that I can never get a counting puzzle. Somehow I overcounted by 1. Crap. At least its not minus 5 points as it is on the USPC but somehow the one thing I cannot do on a puzzle test to save my life is count things. Two of the sum boxes, a nice packing puzzle type that involved fitting numbers in a box to maximize the sum of the numbers in there, came fast and were "obviously" correct and I was close to trying the third for a longer period of time - the answer wasn't too hard - but I moved back one page to my new favorite puzzle Slalom. The US team had been linked to, and had practiced a bit on, Simon Tatham's Puzzle Collection where this type - renamed "Slant" - appears. I recommend it as it is quite fun and better than the smaller Nikoli versions of these puzzles that never get too hard. De-fence was an interesting type that combined two slitherlink puzzles into a single grid with summed clues. You had to deconstruct it and redraw the original loops. The first example was clearly broken. After a minute or so of still seeing it broken, I saw the cool way it really wasn't broken. So happy at my discovery, I proceeded to incorrectly subtract one from the numbers and ended up making an error on the puzzle. Bye bye 15 easy points. I got the other de-fence, the two ordering puzzles, the marbles, and the mixed cards, and by then time was up. I had wasted a little bit of time on some puzzles that yielded no points such as "No Instructions", but really my only regrets on the round were dumb errors that took what should have been a 295 down to a 250. Still this was better than all but Niels Roest and Tatsuya Yamamoto of Japan so I had done reasonably well.
Round 9 was the first round I really really was looking forward to. It was an individual bonus round called Twins where each puzzle was presented as two examples with some dependency between them. For example, two battleships puzzles could never have a boat segment in one be a boat segment in the other; two mines puzzles could never have a mine in one be a mine in the other, two sudokus could not have a repeated number in the same cell; two "eminent domains" could not both have a vertical/horizontal line segment in the same cell. I got through all but the mines quickly and made an error on the mines that made me have to fully erase and restart the puzzle to take about 25 minutes on what should have taken 10-15. I still finished all the puzzles in the round and claimed the tenth and last bonus of the round to end the round.
Part 10 after lunch was another round I was looking forward to and would soon regret. It was a hexagonal round that had a couple puzzle types (sudoku/fences/cross sums/some others) that all used hexagonal pieces. My understanding from the rules meeting the night before was that, like the Twins round before lunch, the round would run until all bonuses (five here) were claimed. The organizers were grading bonus papers as turned in so this meant five fully correct solutions were needed before the round ended. I figured that meant I had a bunch of time if necessary to get the big point puzzles. I started on the isosudoku and while it got a bit tough, it eventually fell after about 20 minutes. I started on the cross sums and got a reasonable way into it when regular time ended and extra time continued with no one finished. However, I kept making little errors and didn't see a work into the top of the puzzle. Suddenly, I heard "3 minutes remaining" and, instead of the round continuing until people finished, it was suddenly going to end with just 10 extra minutes. This was the bonus rule worked out for Wednesday, playoff day, but not for this round. As many fellow competitors would say afterwards, the round suddenly ending was a big surprise. Flustered, I failed to finish the cross sums. The fences puzzles wouldn't have been too hard for me, had I had time, and the lower point puzzles weren't bad either. With better time management - even just knowing we were only running ten extra minutes - I should have been able to get at least 60 more points. Instead I finished with just one completed puzzle, for just 50 points, and my afternoon fade would begin again.
Part 11 was the last of the exhausting 90-minute 500-point rounds. This round was characterized by having 250 points tied up in just the last two puzzle types, two antidominoes and two webs of (in)difference. I figured the smaller 1-7 web of difference would be really easy for me. I imagined there would still be 3 main radial lines which meant that each circular part of the web would contain all the digits except the center digit and that constraint would be a big help (and it was). A little over five minutes into the round, I already had 55 points with the smaller web solved. Sorry to say, sixty minutes later, I'd still be stuck at 55 points. To explain, I started on the antidominoes and got the loops placed easily, then started to place in some domino numbers. The second actually had a lot more "forced" placements and I felt I was making progress but I kept making small errors. I convinced myself the first was broken by going both ways on a deterministic path (obviously making an error I hadn't noticed on one of them) and then, in frustration, moved back one more puzzle to "Scales". This didn't get anywhere after a couple minutes and I went back one more to S for Sudoku - an easy puzzle I could have done - if not for the letters being printed a bit dark on the test paper to be used well. I should have brought graph paper and solved off-book as Byron from Canada later suggested, but I didn't. I took another look back at the dominoes and then, seeing just 25 minutes left in the round with just 55 points earned and a lot of half-solved but seemingly broken puzzles, figured I needed to bail on the big point puzzles for a bit and get some easy points. Magic Squares (like all sudoku types) are made for me and I got these 55 easily. I got the every second turn in less than a minute (I'm great at these WPC-types; why weren't there more?) and the nitrogen in a similar amount of time. I finally finished the first antidomino and was 10 digits (2 minutes?) from finishing the second when time ran out. I had salvaged 170 points, but probably should have been more in the range of 255 to 300 if I'd planned the round out better and been fresher. In both afternoon rounds I would say I was making small errors from being tired and my place fell as a result. But that's what the WPC is about - long rounds, and persisting over several days. I'd end the day in fifth, just slightly behind Pal Madarassay of Turkey, but still within striking distance of the leaders in the playoff.
Part 12 and the last round on Tuesday was the weakest link team round. I'd volunteered to write some practice puzzles for the US team for the entry puzzle of this round, called "total rising", and this experience helped our team it seemed more than me as I was the last to get to the desk but still we had our whole team there before any other team had three people. The puzzle involves placing the digits 1 through 9 exactly twice into a set of cells so that the groupings marked both above and below the cells gives an increasing series. So, for example, if two sets of two cells are linked at the top by two arced lines directly next to each other, then the first must be smaller than the second. 6787 would be valid (as 67 < 87), but 7371 would not (73 is not < 71) nor would 7171. The last constraint (which I had forgotten the first time I wrote some of these puzzles) is that a digit cannot be immediately adjacent to itself. Here are the three example puzzles I made for the US team to give you a sense of total rising - there were five puzzles to be solved for the first half of the weakest link.
The team part involved four individual jigsaw sudoku that came together to form a samurai. While all corner pieces could be solved individually, the US team was able to use the row/column constraints we had in the shared corners to crack through the puzzle much faster. The round (which was set to run for 40+10 minutes) seemed too long to us. After we finished at 38:50 in (for 7 time bonus points in addition to the regular bonus points), we spent over 10 minutes hoping no one else would finish to claim the large second place bonus. No other team was able to finish and we extended our team lead.
Two more parts would trickle into Wednesday before the semis and finals. First, part 13, a Mitre Square manipulative puzzle where, by trying for the bonus and not taking a hint, I only got the easier puzzle (although both people to my right got the harder square - too bad luck didn't percolate in my direction). Then came part 14, the Metatour, which proved to be my favorite round of the competition. It used an idea of taking similar looking puzzles that use numbers in grids and cutting them up and mixing the pieces together. Here, we had a sudoku, a caves (I would have loved to see these on the individual parts), an eminent domain, and a chess battleship (another type I would have loved to see on the individual parts). The center squares were given, and the corners were labeled to partially help you sort, but otherwise you were on your own to reconstruct all the puzzles from the complete set of puzzle pieces. I started with the lucky red piece envelope (each team got four envelopes of four different colors) but that was the color that ended up having a missing corner piece so I was a little slowed at the start. As a team, we placed a bunch of the forced corners and made several eliminations to help with the sudoku. I powered through this puzzle while Wei-Hwa and Zack looked at the cave and Roger at the Eminent Domain. Once I solved the sudoku, we reoriented positions and continued forward, finishing the cave and then, with only about ten minutes left, got to a point where we could use our planned total sum constraint to tackle the eminent domain. Somehow my count was off and instead of one possible distribution of pieces, there were two - but Wei-Hwa corrected me when he got the only chess battleships possibility and, with most of my eminent domain already correct, I tweaked the remaining parts, used the correct 8 pieces, and solved that puzzle. Our team had conquered the metatour. I will enjoy redoing this whole round by myself but I felt our teamwork here, as on the Weakest Link, was incredible and I'm glad to have had the brilliants minds of Wei-Hwa and Roger and Zack to work alongside in tackling this challenge. Our team victory was sealed (note: as mentioned in an earlier comment, the Croatian team also finished this round - congratulations are due to them as well).
After a quick break, the top 10 competitors (including Wei-Hwa, myself, and Roger from the US) were instructed on how the semi-finals would run. There would be five puzzles - a Star Battle, a 1 to 16 number-filling puzzle, a Microsums puzzle, a Thai Word Search, and an L-oop puzzle - and the times would be staggered to be (points/1000 + 10 minutes) which meant Ulrich had about 3 minutes on the next person and over 4 on me. When the round started, I heard Ulrich quickly get through a puzzle and then ask his proctor "what is this?" apparently referring to an error in one of the puzzles. When my time finally started, I went to the star battle and it was clear what Ulrich's confusion was - a box was mismarked and needed to be fixed and the organizer came around and corrected it for everyone. I worked on the star battle and got a good bit of it done, then made an assumption that seemed would easily break it - and did - and worked the other half of this assumption and that broke it as well. I did this a second time and convinced myself the puzzle was broken. It turned out that in addition to the easily noticed error in the puzzle, there was another incorrect border. Instead of 10 regions for a 10 row/10 column puzzle, there were actually 11 due to the extra boundary. The puzzle was unsolvable. The round was stopped and thrown out. After much discussion, lunch, and much more discussion, it was decided to rerun the semi-final with new puzzles at 5:30, six hours after the original round was meant to end. We took the little bit of time we had between this announcement at 2:30 and 5:30 to hike some in the mountains. It was finally a nice day outside and I was glad to get some fresh air. The town of Borovets seemed to have a lot of shops to cater to traveling skiers, including a "Harry Potter" bar and bbq restaurant. I guess I shouldn't write about it here as the copyright police might go after it, but its there if you look for it. The walk was relaxing and we ran into some other WPCers at the top of an abandoned ski jump. Managing to not twist any ankles walking down the ski slope, we made it back to the hotel where the (second) semi-final was about to begin.
Other team captains had helped pull together a set of replacement puzzles to make up this round including a fresh star battle (shudder), a honey 7, a honey islands, an Indian word search, and a classic snake puzzle. When my 4 minute wait was finally over, I started right on the word search and got it in about 2-3 minutes. I took my first look at the star battle, got a couple placements, and then hit a big sticking point. I made one set of guesses forward and broke it and moved to another puzzle. The Honey islands fell in 2-3 minutes and with two puzzles solved, I went to the classic snake. This also took a bit of work to get started and after some unpromising starts I went to the Honey 7 which was very simple and I got in less than a minute. I guess a good metric from the last WPC was nice to have on hand for this easy version of this puzzle type. I was left with what seemed to be the two big fish for this round, the star battle and the classic snake. I probably made the mistake of bouncing between the two puzzles too much, which hindered my progress, but making some intelligent observations on what parts of the snake I kept failing to meet let me get that puzzle after 25 minutes were gone in the round for me. I noticed that 1 solver was complete at that time (it turned out to be Wei-Hwa) and Ulrich was likely done by then and being checked as it went to 2 complete pretty soon after. I had just the star battle and if I'd remembered where I'd broken it before I could have used that going forward but I didn't and so I started from scratch. I was about halfway done and on the correct track when the round eventually ended. I was just out of the finals - Roger from the US was probably closer to being in them but he was also out - and we'd end up 4 and 5 as the only solvers not in the finals to get 4 puzzles right on the semis.
The finals were solved on stage and I began watching Wei-Hwa and Ulrich tackle this challenge but we eventually got copies of the puzzles in booklets to solve along with the stage members. Many of these puzzles were very interesting ones and would have been fun (absent the pressure of being on stage) to solve. There was an obligatory spot the differences puzzle which turned out to be themed around The Kiss by Gustav Klimt. The version in our books, minus rotations, was much simpler than the one they had on stage. A digital battleships was pretty standard but used a nice upper-sum constraint as a work-in and then fell nicely. A great grapes/cluster puzzle that actually linked three puzzles together was there as well. While it was not immediately clear how you would go at this challenge, it turned out the linked clusters communicated just enough that you could tap all the information you needed reasonably fast. It was a perfect playoff puzzle - one that no one had likely seen before but one that solid reasoning could crack fast. A dissection puzzle that had more bark than bite was there as well - with 13 pairs of numbers indicating parts of two identical pieces that had to be cut from a rectangle was there. The neatest type was an "Easy As Skyscrapers" that used ABC and 123 and typical "easy as" or "skyscraper" rules on the sides to help you place either the letters or the numbers in the 6x6 square. The puzzle was not that hard, but watching Wei-Hwa do it on stage you could see that he was being slightly careless and making errors. He'd start talking to himself and I think unnerved himself a bit. Ulrich managed to get through them all in about fifty-some minutes and was World Champion. I would have loved to have made the finals, but I could hardly complain about my solid 4th place showing and hope I can represent myself well in Rio next year.
The awards ceremony - now long delayed as the semis and finals stretched to about 8 pm - went off without incident. Our victory song - played for both the individuals and teams - was a cover of "Simply The Best". Just as I associate "Time of Your Life" by Green Day with the IChO in Melbourne, Australia and, of course, "Afrika" with the Eger WPC, "Simply The Best" will be the Borovets WPC song.
Travel home, as already mentioned, took an extra night Frankfurt, but eventually I got back to Cambridge. I was with our US guests including Will Shortz and enjoyed his experience of getting four days of the International Herald Tribune in under 24 hours; it started with a 5 leffa purchase of, as I dubbed it "Yesterday's yesterday's news", and slowly advanced through the airports to the present. Tetsuya Nishio wrote a series puzzle that he gave me on the bus-ride to the airport that went link this (using results before semifinals): Thomas Snyder, Maho Yokota, Tatsuya Yamamoto, Hideaki Jo, Yuhei Kusui, ___? Yes, somehow I start a series that then includes the whole Japanese team - nice company if I don't say so myself.
Thanks to all the organizers, puzzle writers, and competitors for a very enjoyable WPC. While there were a couple wrinkles here and there, they seemed to get resolved in a fair manner and the competition came off rather well. I'm proud of our US team and believe we have a core group of solvers now that should carry us well in the next several WPCs - while this means qualifying will be really hard for other Americans next year, I made my goal of doing well enough that I can plan on being in Rio. I've learned some lessons from this WPC that should help me leave fewer points on the table next time. I look forward to seeing some of you in March/April in Prague (provided my schedule allows it) and the rest of you in October in Rio. Cheers!