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27 October 2007 @ 08:21 am
World Puzzle Championship (WPC) Report  
In a city of the future, it is difficult to concentrate ....

After finally going 24 hours without discussing sudoku at all, I figured it might finally be time to tell a different story to the world, one I've been meaning to tell for a little while. I will finally reveal how I came so close, yet so far, to capturing the first "Grand Slam" of puzzles (as I see it, the {US, world} x {sudoku, puzzle} champion).


After getting up early to pack, I had a half hour (my first half hour actually as my Xbox 360 time has been limited) to spend with Halo 3 before getting picked up to go to the airport. onigame and I would be flying together, connecting through Atlanta before landing in Rio. As would be true for several of the next flights I took, including my first flight to Philly for the Sudoku championship, the inflight movie was "License to Wed" which made none of us that happy the first time but certainly no happier the next several times. I spent some time in SFO and on the first flight completing the Philly practice sudoku set; I reported all those times in an earlier entry but I was quite excited to have broken the one minute barrier and finished a puzzle in 52 seconds. I was also starting to work my way through a Gekikara Sudoku book from Nikoli (one of the few books I'd ever be willing to buy of sudoku) and also Puzzle Box 7. Wei-Hwa took some of the flight time to go through the Brazilian qualifiers and I enjoyed watching how he solves some puzzles and taking note of many of his differrent notation. I certainly find watching top solvers go through a puzzle fascinating, even as a top solver. Without a doubt, what I saw is that if the USPC becomes all about dissections, Wei-Hwa would finish very fast, and I would be nowhere close. His classics round time was actually much better than mine but I did better on the qualifiers in the more varied puzzle sections.

I'd booked us the exit row for the long flight down to Brazil and while it is normally impossible to play Race for the Galaxy with just two tray tables on a plane given the necessary tableau space as well as a discard pile, the extra set of two trays in this exit row let us play for most of the flight. So, we got less sleep on the plane which was bad, but we were arriving early so I figured I could catch up anyway. Race is still awesome, and now is basically released as of the Essen game show. While I've been playing the full game with both expansions now for the past year everytime I'm with Wei-Hwa, I'll have to pick up the base set and start teaching the game to my friends. I'm getting over the third saddlepoint in the game now, and while Wei-Hwa won more than he lost, I won a fair number of games this WPC trip and had a couple complete runaways.

Wei-Hwa also shared with me the metapuzzles for the Googol hunt which were basically simple, but new, logic puzzle types. All of those puzzles were very nice, which convinces me that if the two of us could find the time, we could put together some awesome logic puzzles for the solving community. I've yet to work out the final meta-meta for the Googol set, but I was trying to do the last steps after not sleeping for a full day and I was having some pretty basic problems with easy letter transcription so I still believe I can get it if I ever find the time.

Sightseeing in Rio:

We finally arrived in Rio and, while we did not remember the name of our hotel for the entry documents, we got through passport control without a problem. We had to wait an hour for the bus and then we were on our way to the hotel. Wei-Hwa and I were the only passengers on a 46 person bus - quite an efficient use of energy in my mind. Rio is a huge, sprawling city, and our route went by many distinct economic areas. Our hotel was in a nicer part of the city and as soon as we checked in we took the first opportunity to "explore the beds". Unlike most WPC hotels, these beds were soft and I was able to sleep well. We awoke after the nap to meet up with the rest of our team who would arrive that afternoon and then shared a nice buffet lunch at the hotel and a dinner at a creperie in a nearby mall. Giving our order over the phone to a native who spoke english, who then relayed the order back through the same phone to the waiter in portugeuse was an interesting experience and the crepe and the chocolate shake were great.

The next day, after a full night's sleep, we went out on some extra tourism opportunities. In the morning we stopped by the Copacabana beach and wandered around for a bit. We ended up meeting the Turkish team there and had lunch and a nice talk with Ferhat and his team. In the afternoon we headed out to Sugarloaf to watch the sunset and that was a great choice as well.

Zack and Wei-Hwa examine an old motor at Sugarloaf

Sunday would represent the "official" walking tour of some of the city in the morning. The two highlights were cracking Nick up by mentioning out loud when he'd gotten the "Aha" moment of the walking tour, and catching this very interesting graffiti tag along the path.

In the afternoon we headed out to the Christ the Redeemer statue and, while I preferred the views from Sugarloaf, we had a good time there as well and tried to take the classic photo of the sun forming a halo around Christ's head.

Wei-Hwa, wearing an appropriate google shirt for a trip to Brazil, with Sugarloaf in the background. The t-shirt is a clue to what was going on with the graffiti.

That evening was the rules meeting. Not much to report about it, except that each and every year the meeting is rather painful as basic questions come up for familiar types that have never changed. The 10 minutes explaining how to solve the soccer puzzle in the first part was about when I zoned out. We decided that there should be a WPF wiki that lists puzzle types, examples, standard rules, and as long as hosts base their rule books on these kinds of descriptions, we can bypass almost all questions. At a later board meeting, the US team got the privilege to follow up with our suggestion.

Competition (Day One):

Monday marked the start of the competition with the first round being a speed "welcome" round with generally classic types. I've already commented on how the scoring used at the Brazilian WPC was odd, but it is worth a reminder that round scoring was somewhat logarithmic, which each round divided into some number of parts with several puzzles. You earned most of the points in each part by solving the first puzzle, then a smaller percentage for the second, and so on. Spreading out the effort between sections was a lot more valuable (solving 75% of each of four parts better than solving all of the first three parts and none of the last). If the rounds weren't timed well, however, so some but not many people could finish, then the bonuses (possibly as many as 30-80 for position as well as 5 points/min saved), would become worth a lot more than finishing one of the last puzzles in a round (2-3 points in some rounds) which could skew the results. I was not sure how well I'd do this year - I was certainly hoping to pull out my new puzzle solving gear I found before the WSC and the USPC - but I had not done much practice before the championship as I had spent the time moving and getting resettled in this city of the future. So the first round would be the bellwether for where I was at. I quickly got stuck on the first puzzle I tried, a loop puzzle variant called City Maze, so I skipped down to the second City Maze which turned out to be easier, then went back and cleaned up the first puzzle. I then moved between parts, trying to finish full pages of a puzzle type but with an understanding of the scoring system having me spread out my effort. I found myself with just the Conceptis Fill-A-Pix and a hexagonal Easy As ... puzzle using the letters FUNK with about 12 minutes to go. About a third of the way through, the Fill-A-Pix really started to look like R?O with a weird I in the middle. Having enough of the general shape, I slightly bypassed the logic and tried to use the picture to inform me of the answer and combined intuition and logic to finish the puzzle much faster. That left the hard FUNK puzzle and I made slow progress, then powered the end. I saw 3:25 on the clock when I was done so I quickly flipped through the book to make sure everything had been solved and raised my hand to say "finished" with 3:10 on the clock, for 1st place in the round and 15 points of bonus (perhaps as much as 32-45 extra points depending on how many others finished). I did not figure extra checking in this round was worth the potential time bonus penalty from an expected value standpoint. A couple others finished the round as well in the last two minutes, but Ulrich Voigt, who I'll always consider the best competitor to compare progress with, ended the round without either the Fill-A-Pix or the FUNK solved so I figured I'd again started a WPC with a bit of a lead.

Round 2 would be one of two super long rounds that I figured would mainly determine the order in the championship (the second being the other ninety-minute Round 8). Round 2 was just classic types and while my observation of Wei-Hwa's times on the plane suggested I might not win a long race in a Classics rounds, I figured I could hold my own in types like kakuro and fences and hashiwokakero and battleships and ABC connection and gain on all others in the sudoku. While I cannot solve magnets or arrows very fast, I hoped things would wash out with my slower types. I progressed through the round, as with the other rounds, with a lot of jumping around because of the scoring structure. Things went generally as I expected, with me saving arrows for last. Somehow, the simple 4x4 arrows was not falling. I went to the 5x5 and solved it, then the 6x6 and solved it, and still the 4x4 was not working for me. I eventually realized I had missed a basic constraint, but I wasted what I'll consider a lot of time on it. Still, it had dawned on me this round was horribly, horribly over-timed. I finished in 49 minutes, with 41 minutes left on the clock, and I figured posting a time would be key to establish a lead. However, the huge bonus stakes (and all or nothing nature if there was an error) made me spend 5 minutes checking the puzzles I might make errors on. The magnets, for example, I made sure all +/- were marked and they added up. I checked all my fence links to make sure I hadn't done something stupid. Checked all the battleships to make sure all ships were used, checked the sudoku, etc. I said finished with 36:07 on the clock, which was, again, the best time of the whole group. I had not had the opportunity to shower that morning as Wei-Hwa was hibernating and I didn't feel like waking him up when I got up, so I left the testing room, took a now famous shower, and then came back down with wet hair as other finishers were now gathering outside the testing room. There were maybe 5-10 minutes separating the top people, but we had all finished rather fast. Still, discussing with Ulrich, we felt I probably had about 90 some points of a lead on him now which might be enough for the whole championship given how small the margins in some rounds were.

Round 3 was the first team round, a multi-sudoku round, and it would have worked well if they just timed it better. The puzzle involved a set of tiles with a number, letter, symbol, and color associated with them. These 81 tiles were meant to be placed on the 9x9 grid to give a valid sudoku in all 4 different properties. Wei-Hwa and I worked on the puzzle from the number/letter/symbol side while Roger and Zack worked from the sorting the tiles and finding unique tiles side once several of the properties were identified for a square. I felt we were working efficiently although I was not solving the sudoku parts fast enough, particularly with the unfamiliar symbols they had chosen. With about 5 minutes left, the organizers decided they would run the round until one team finished which was a good idea if they had decided that beforehand, but not a good idea when announced in the middle of a round. We continued to work, and with about thirty seconds left it was announced the Germans had finished and there would be no extra time. The grading for the round was based on having 81 tiles placed on the grid, so while we had all the numbers and almost all the letter sudoku written on the paper, not having place-holder tiles meant we would get no points. Sadly, the Germans were incorrect in 2 of the 4 dimensions of the puzzle, so they also were not done, and they should not have been able to stop the round by declaring they were finished. As it was, one team, the Germans, got 240 points (out of 300) for being 50% correct and no one else got anything. If the round was run for 25 minutes, or until say 3 teams finished and judged correct, it would have been better. Timing a round is hard, but using a hard limit and then just spontaneously extending and then not extending time is not how to run a round. Wei-Hwa and I agree that the best timing system is likely to have no real defined times, but run a round until n people/teams solve plus five minutes, or something like that. That way rounds that are too short/long will not keep people from getting to the puzzles. Certainly, rounds with placement bonuses like this one should be run until several people finish, not just the first.

We went to lunch and I felt good after the morning except for the fact my round - a sudoku round - did not work out for the team. However, with the potential to lose about 210 points if I had an error in the second round, or a lesser 32 points if I had an error in the first, no one could sit easy. Also, from past experience, I start WPC's real fast and falter in the afternoon so continuing my performance would be key.

Round 4 was the innovatives round, 5 new puzzle types with 4 examples of each in an hour. Some were definitely Thomas-friendly and others were not. I liked the concept of the ABC connect variation in particular, and got caught wanting to do the fourth puzzle in that set, even spending 5 minutes getting very close to the answer although I hadn't finished three puzzles in each of the other types. I ended with 2,2,3,3,3 although I was real close to 3 in matches. This was near the top overall but Ulrich had finished 3 in all 5 types (I believe one was eventually marked wrong). For his efforts, he'd make back 9 points on me in the round but that was tiny considering the existing margins.

Round 5 was the words, words round - with two word searches, a boggle-like puzzle, a simple, if "broken", fill-in with a missing T on BORSCHT which was problematic as the grid gave you the T, and then a beautiful combination Word Search/Sudoku puzzle where placing the words was necessary to make some sudoku progress, which let you uniquely place some other words, which let you make more sudoku progress. Because I told the proctor about the broken puzzle when I was turning in my set, he got confused and didn't mark my initial time down right at all. My final score suggests I was third in the round but I'm pretty sure I was second or first although it was rather close.

Round 6 was the weakest link team round, and in a continuing sign I was having one of my best days of puzzling ever, I was the second individual to finish the entry puzzles and make my team desk, just seconds behind Jana Tylova of the Czech Republic. Wei-Hwa came to the table about 3 minutes later and we were well prepared to work through the Easy As ABC and Skyscraper combo once other teammates got to us. It seemed to take forever, but Zack finally appeared and we demanded his sheet, added his information, and made some progress on the 9x9 team puzzle. Roger then came over and we finally had enough to do the whole puzzle and I did skyscrapers and Wei-Hwa did Easy As and we shared our progress with Zack and Roger helping keep us on track where possible. We finished first by a fair margin and extended the US team's lead. Amazingly, our order to the table was exactly the opposite of last year's weakest link in Borovets where Roger, then Zack, then Wei-Hwa, and then myself finished to arrive at the team sudoku part.

The first day was over and it was time to exhale. I was solidly in the lead (or so I thought) and we could go eat and then play some games. However, when the scores finally came out and the papers returned, instead of being in 1st by a lot, I was in 10th, on the very verge of being out of the playoffs, with maybe 20 points separating me from 11th through 18th place. I looked at my round 1 paper, where I had been marked with an error, and it turned out in my haste I had not connected an R to an A in the BRAZIL path puzzle. The answer was fundamentally there, and was actually marked OK by the first grader but then NO by the second, as I just had not made that last connection. Ok, that's not so bad as it was only about 40 some points, but what happened in round 2? I turned through the book, thinking maybe an arrow in an arrows was pointed awry. No. The error was marked on an ABC connect. Again, the answer was on the paper, but here there was a slight missing line segment on the very topmost row of the puzzle (that row had just a straight line connecting the two corners). In solving the puzzle, using the corners to propagate lines, I'd never revisited the top to make a very slight but necessary connection. It was marked wrong and that cost me: 3 points for the puzzle, out of 450 total for the round. I could live with losing those 3 points. It also cost me 36 points for not finishing the round in first place. Again, that is sizeable, but not the large problem. The problem was I'd finished with 36 minutes left in the round, or 180 points worth of time bonus. All told, those 219 points were a huge amount to lose, about 50% of the total for that round, for what was not a real error in the puzzle (other opinions maybe being different to this).

I was instantly and utterly defeated on seeing the result of these scoring decisions. While we were finishing a dice game (To Court The King), I really just wanted to go to my room and lie down and retire from puzzling. I had one goal at the WPC, to win the general qualification, and instead of me being way ahead of everyone after a super day of puzzling, I was in the pack and well behind Ulrich. I was not convinced I could catch up. Within hours of having my good day of puzzling taken away, I'd hear the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs. The Bills were playing the Cowboys and that was on the ESPN Desportes channel in Rio. I need not comment on how horribly the end of that game played out, but let's just say I'm not a manic-depressive, I just have very good days turn to very very bad days real real fast in my life and that roller coaster is sometimes a rough ride.

Competition (Day 2):

I found myself needing to tread water and try to get points back in the second day. At breakfast, Nick asked for my papers back to protest the grading of part 2 as it was a very significant scoring difference for me and for the team and it was worth a shot as it was very very close to the correct solution on the ABC connect. With no expectation of getting points back, I tried to make up what I could during the day.

Round 7 was another variation round and I had hopes of finishing it but the second fences outside puzzle kept me from being clean and complete. I was really thrown during the round by how non-unique and also seemingly broken the Mine Field puzzles were. While the Brazilian qualifier showed how the puzzle type should be written, these puzzles revealed how they shouldn't. You often had to choose a "safer" or "shorter" path but I don't really believe the optimal exists. I got credit, eventually, for my three solutions there but the puzzle was not the joy I hoped it to be. I triple checked I'd connected everything in the hex password path and night watch puzzles, as that is a problem I seemed to have on the first day with my two "errors", but I had gained no ground after round 7.

Round 8 was my big chance. In the same way the 90-minute round 2 had potentially given me many points on the field, a repeat performance could catch me back up. The round had the theme "circular", with many classic types transitioned to circles in some way. There were a couple that worked ok: arrows was a nice new change, fences and circular maze and minesweeper worked ok, and I solved the trees on the test paper as they weren't hard, but fundamentally the majority of the puzzles in this round were best solved by retranscribing the puzzles onto graph paper, and then copying the answers back to the circles on the paper. Everyone did this, and this shows the organizers failed to make a circular round that really worked. Easy as ABC or Skyscraper, for example, were fundamentally unchanged square puzzles, just presented in a very odd way. The sudoku, in circular form, were very difficult even when I'd copied them onto graph paper, so I was really surprised to see them in this unusual form. I was so concerned about errors that I doubled over my lines in the circular maze to make sure all connections had been made. While I had found this super speedy gear to solve puzzles fast this year, my checking gear needs a downshift I believe. I somehow failed to notice (either on graph paper, or even after I'd recopied it), that I'd completely busted the jigsaw sudoku with a repeated 6 in an annulus. I finished, with checking, with 15 minutes left in the round, and no one else finished until 4-5 minutes were left. While I did not know about my sudoku error which again cost me about 100 points, I felt I might have regained ground, and Ulrich had not finished either sudoku (his one weakness!) although he said "finished" with two minutes left just to psych out the competition (to his credit, he was very honest afterwards that he wasn't finished so he didn't leave me guessing).

Round 9 was the screen test and while the US team had joked about how key that extra point between all right (100) or 1 wrong (99) or 2 wrong (98) might prove, it was a hard round. For the second year in a row, I did the best of everyone on it. Maybe its my eagle eye; maybe just my fast mind. Still, I never feel very comfortable during the screen test. Around the time the round was running, I suddenly became everyone's favorite competitor (said cynically). The protest of my round 2 results had come through and new scores were posted outside for us. My ABC Connection would be graded correct and 219 points returned to me (costing others some points as placements in the round were dropped). I was now clearly in first, and those who had been passed were not very happy about it. Many had seen the criticial error, as I felt it important for people to know what was the cause of my huge point fall. I still believe that there are "errors" that on their face are not all or nothing errors. An empty cell in a sudoku that is otherwise solved, for example, is not a 0 point solution in my mind although at WSC2 it cost me a lot of time bonus and a clean round. Will's crossword tournament correctly penalizes you some amount for an error, but you do not lose ALL time bonus. Here, a borderline error in the ABC connection had initially cost me a ton of bonus points (216) relative to the puzzle's value (3). If you looked at my answer from 2-3 feet away, the answer is all there. Its when you zoom in close that you notice a part of a line segment is missing. Whatever your opinion of the matter, my first place finish will be clouded in controversy as to the ABC connection regrade.

After lunch, Round 10 was the "crazy cube" puzzle for this WPC - a four winds in faces with 4 connected cubes that had to fold together in some way. The puzzle ended up looking the way I thought it would, and I cataloged information to basically solve for what the first hint solvers could ask for was after 10 minutes. I still had two choices, even knowing the configuration, for what the final puzzle looked like. I tried one choice, busted it, tried the other choice, busted it, and then time ran out. The four winds part was just too hard, and having an either/or option after the critical insight is a point of inelegance that wasn't needed here as it made round variance very very high. Writing on the cubes, and particularly erasing, was much harder than normal so not seeing a clear reason one of two paths was right basically made the puzzle a "who got luckier" if they tried hard sort of thing. In the end, even running the round for extra time (again, announced during the round which should not be done), only four people got it and two of the four used one hint, the other two used both.

Round 11 was my least looked forward to round - "images" - with a bunch of counting puzzles in addition to normal spot the differences types. Many of the puzzles were very hard, and I did my best on them. It turns out, from the results, that the US can somehow do these puzzles better than other people in the world as Wei-Hwa had the best round score (183), followed by Roger (177) and me (175). Maybe having so many counting puzzles on the USPC isn't a bad thing. I can report the exciting news that I finally got a shape counting puzzle right! Of course it gave you a +/- 2 margin, but I was exactly on. I missed the other one horribly though.

Round 12 was a potentially interesting team round, but with a horrible scoring structure. Teams were tasked to build an "Incredible Office Machine" that would pass a marble from point A to stop at point B in some time less than three minutes (longer being better, without going over). To accomplish this, we got some pencils, some paper, some rulers, some rubber bands, some paper clips, some erasers, some push pins, and some tape. Other equipment might have led to more interesting designs, but many teams were creative before falling back to a fail-safe device. As finishing was worth at least 900 points, and not finishing was 0, I quickly built our fail-safe device. After 3 minutes, we had a 10-15 second working prototype.

My fail-safe device

After the whole 90 minute time frame, we had the same prototype now in its final, 12 second round completed form. In the interim, we tried some different time delay devices (Roger was particularly creative here, but we could never integrate it in time). Wei-Hwa built a different launcher and Zack and I tried some other basic designs, but nothing surpassed that fail-safe device. It ran just fine, and we did not lose our large lead as a team. The Germans however, who were trying hard to catch up to us, built a pendulum-like device that had the unusual problem of running way too long. They could not fix it in time and had no fail-safe, so they were one of only three teams to not finish and earn a 0. It pushed the Germans from 2nd, to 10th.

German pendulum which DNFed

This shows you how poorly scored the round was as the Germans should not have fallen so far from trying to make a better device. If anything, the judges should have allowed teams to bank a fail-safe time during the round, to then let them experiment and not risk their entire placement if they tried something more interesting but it failed. We certainly did not feel a large incentive to do anything too risky but I was still nervous until our marble stopped on eraser B.

Belgian team's device

Ah, the (main) competition was over. The US was the clear world champions again. Individual scores would come out but some errors in the grading made it unclear who would be in the final ten. What was clear was I was solidly in first, with 2280 points and the next closest competitor, Okamoto Ko, at 2161. Ulrich was in third at 2129. I'd made my major goal, winning the general qualification. Now, could I hold on in the playoffs to win the official title of world champion?


After the regrading was complete, some of the solvers in 9th and 10th had fallen out and new names, like Pal Madarassay from Hungary, were in the top 10. Those regrades were for errors in the organizers' keys, so it is no fault on the competitors that the reordering happened, but it shows that with the crazy scoring structure the qualifying at the far end of the top 10 was real close. The US had me at 1, Roger at 4, Wei-Hwa at 6, and Zack as anchor at 12th just out of the playoffs by 22 points. There would be a 5-minute starting gap in the semifinals between me in 1st and Neils Roest in 10th, with over 2 minutes between me and the second place Japanese competitor Ko.

The semis had 7 puzzles and we had predicted in advance that many of them would be on hexagonal grids. I quickly finished the railroad tracks puzzle, possibly before many other individuals had even gotten to start, and then worked on the Museum/Doors puzzle. On this puzzle type, I tend to mark all the paths and care less about the walls once I see I have all the paths marked. My judge, however, (Jean-Christophe of the french team) cared about the walls. I got my first time penalty, for a wrong answer, and had to stop for 90 seconds until I darkened the one wall I was missing to have 2 puzzles done.

I took a quick try at the balloon balance, then passed. Got real confused by the 3d maze, and decided to just clean up with easier choices (more puzzles finished was better as the round would end after 50 minutes) in the Rotator Mosaic and Biggest and Smallest. I got those done and then went back to the only puzzle I hadn't looked at, the trifences which was apparently on three faces of a cube. It had an interesting work-in, although I forgot I was aiming for 3 loops, not just 1. So again, my first turn-in, I got a 90 second penalty, but I quickly fixed my one big loop into three smaller ones and then I had 5 puzzles done. Another shot or two at the balloon balance gave me some answers that were real real close but incorrect. I tried the 3d maze, eventually marking all the up squares on it to be able to see the maze better, but while I turned in an "answer" before time expired, I had jumped to the wrong place very close to the end of the correct path so while I could have corrected it, with time, I could not before the round ended. I had only done 5 puzzles. Would it be enough?

I should mention the solvers were at 10 tables from left to right, facing the leftmost wall. I was at the very left and while I had the advantage of a time bonus in the starting position, I could never see the clock (so I did not know when the round was ending) nor could I see the number of puzzles finished by some of my competitors. The 2nd place competitor from Japan, however, could see my results. Ulrich could see my result and Okamoto Ko's result. And so on. It was weird. As I turned around, I saw two 6's, from the Japanese competitors Ko and Taro, who finished 1st and 2nd. I was the first of the 5's to that number so I was third, then Pal Madarassy in a surprise, and then Ulrich in 5th. Wei-Hwa and Roger had bad rounds and were 7th and 9th overall which is too bad. The finals would have five competitors - which made it wide open - and after a half hour wait we were finally ready to go.

While the semis had many tough puzzles and were an endurance test, the finals had lots of easy puzzles and were very much a 100m dash. This turned out to not play to my advantage. I got to a quick start on the hashiwokakero (I had actually been racing Wei-Hwa in these bridges puzzles that morning to get ready for the semis and finals, and discovered the theme to Katamari Damacy is great bridge-building music) and then completed the final loop, but then the wheels fell off the Snyder express. I took absolutely forever to see a somewhat easy step on an Easy as ABCDE puzzle.

It wasn't blatantly easy, but it was something I should have gotten faster. If anything, I lost a few minutes on it. I went to the japanese pentomino and busted into it real fast as you can when you've done enough paint by numbers puzzles with this pentomino variation. However, in the middle I made an error. Having written in marker, I couldn't easily erase nor did I see what I needed to do, so I ripped off the top copy of the puzzle to go to the backup copy. The proctors nicely held my old progress, so I could recopy a little more easily, but I still lost over a minute repeating my progress to resolve what I'd done wrong. Those two slip-ups would be more than enough to cost me the championship. I was finishing on the star battle, where all competitors were apparently at 4 puzzles done, and seeing the kinds of steps I needed to use to get through it. As I was about 50% done, I heard a lot of applause and realized I had not won. I continued to finish the star battle and finished less than a minute later but I did not know for awhile at what place - had Ulrich beaten me or not? I eventually learned, while I'd beaten the competitors I was most worried about (the solid Japanese duo and Ulrich), Pal had pulled the upset from 9th place entering the playoffs to become World Champion. I'd just nipped Ulrich for second, and the 5-time world champion from Germany had the last spot on the podium.

So, being world champion not accomplished, but demonstrating I am in the very top elite of the puzzling world, well-accomplished. An earlier ForSmarts forum post, where people were betting on whether I was for real or not, would come back to mind as I had indeed won the "regular season" at the WPC even if I did not hold the titles of World Sudoku Champion and World Puzzle Champion in the same year.

The afternoon after the playoffs, Wei-Hwa and I relaxed by playing Race for the Galaxy again and also talked some business, namely further hashing out a sudoku variations book we want to write together. At the championship dinner, the organizers intriguingly gave out the team prizes in reverse order (1st to 3rd) so Wei-Hwa was actually missing when we first took the stage. The audiences chants for Wei-Hwa were cool, and I'm glad he got a chance to rejoin us for pictures again later when he came back from his errand. I'm proud to compete on such a solid US team and it is a shame that the qualification for that team is now impossibly hard for anyone else in the US. I realized how much shorter I am than Pal and Ulrich when we were on the podium together, but I proudly took my 2nd place prize - my best WPC finish so far - as the award ceremony ended. Loud music and dancing followed, as a "surprise", but the volume drove most of us back to the main lobby of the hotel for games for the rest of the night. While I don't think we played it that night, Wei-Hwa brought an interesting game he designed called Dollars and Diamonds that I hope can develop a bit more and maybe be sold. We had some suggestions to improve the 3 person version of the game, but the 5 person version we tested went real well. Its a simple game to learn, but has some interesting texture.

We had another day in Rio before our flights, and took care of the requisite shopping for gifts for family, and also stopped to have churrascaria, the brazilian meat on a sword experience. While at many other places in Brazil the incredible interest to sell me stuff was unwanted (such as at Copacabana - where dozens of people approached us to try to sell us sun tan lotion, or a chair, or a towel, or how about shrimp on a stick?), the waiters here kept bringing by more and more varied meats and serving them until we literally had to stop from a combination of dehydration and lack of stomach space.

After some long flights back home, I finally got to catch up on rest and get back into the swing of work for all of two to three days before I was giving pre-interviews for the Philly championship which was the next weekend. But that is a story I've already told and so I'll close here, thanking the organizers and competitors at the WPC for another incredibly enjoyable week. While all events have some odd wrinkles, and the scoring in this one certainly stood out, I felt it was a good championship and I definitely performed near my best. Until Gao or Vilnius, take care.
Teesside Snog Monster: puzzlejiggery_pokery on October 29th, 2007 08:29 pm (UTC)
Great post! Really enjoyed reading it, when I haven't found much - anything? - else about this year's event. Many thanks for taking the time and effort to document it in such detail for us all.

the theme to Katamari Damacy is great bridge-building music

It's great everything music as far as I'm concerned, though perhaps it might not have been so useful during Round 9.
decand on October 30th, 2007 01:01 am (UTC)
Congratudolances on second place.... Yet another impressive performance, and interesting write-up.

As far as the puzzle wiki goes, you may have seen this already, but you could use Logic-masters' puzzle wiki as a starting point.

Do you think that it might be an improvement if the rounds were set up so that nobody could finish, and the only "bonus points" was that the top solvers could attempt more of the puzzles? Seems like that would lessen the disproportionate impact of the time bonuses. The potential downside (or maybe upside, depending on your point of view) would be an increase in the importance of 'test strategy' by choosing the right puzzles. Basically, each round would be a mini USPC for those of us who aren't solving the whole thing (who could do such a thing?)....

Changing the topic, how's Halo 3? I'm probably going to be procuring an Xbox 360 in the near future, and I'm trying to figure out how excited I should be....
motrismotris on October 30th, 2007 03:41 pm (UTC)
As I described, I really think the best timing/scoring system lets the best people just finish. Rounds that rank puzzles with different point values are, in general, better than the scoring system used in Rio because they are resistant to either being too short or too long for the reasons you say. A good solver will go through the test in an order to maximize their expected score, not knowing if they will finish.

Halo 3 and other titles I'm playing are really fun - I've really enjoyed the step up to the next gen with my new television. However, I'm still getting used to the incredible noise of the drive/fan in the 360.
i_am_magooi_am_magoo on October 30th, 2007 05:19 pm (UTC)
A wafer away from the grand slam
Many thanks for this excellent detailed report, and well done on all but the last moments! I certainly sympathise over the issue of the disproportionate cost of single errors - with any kind of rational time/answer trade-off operating in the Times (cryptic) Crossword Championships, I'd have more wins to my name than the one. But I don't think competition organisers, except WIll Shortz, are necessarily looking to identify 'the best' - they mostly just try to provide a level playing-field so that someone can 'win' fairly, even (especially?) if they're not 'the best'. And, hey, I'd never have come second at the UK Sudoku Champs without that kind of competition in operation.

Your acknowledgement that others might disagree with your regrading, given the nature of the slip, is frankly gallant.
jdyer on October 30th, 2007 11:59 pm (UTC)
Do you know what the Czech team built for round 12? (They got second place, after the Belgians.)

Aside from scoring, what did you think of the round in general? Does it belong in a puzzle championship?
motrismotris on October 31st, 2007 01:21 am (UTC)
The czecks built a much larger form of a device like we had (two inclines meeting at the bottom with the B there), but out of rounded paper which was somewhat smoother. Their ball just kept rolling up and down and up and down for longer but otherwise it was the same basic design that most teams ended up using.

Wei-Hwa stated, and I'd tend to agree, that unlike other rounds, or even other mechanical puzzles, this felt much less like a "puzzle" than the typical round. While an optimizer in disguise, it was more engineering than puzzle. Still, it was somewhat fun to do, definitely unique (at least if you didn't do tons of science olympiad), and as the last team round is always an open room/guests come watch event, it worked for that purpose.
(Anonymous) on October 31st, 2007 09:57 pm (UTC)
Verde (Palo Alto High School Magazine
I'm on the Verde staff, which is the Palo Alto High School Magazine, and we were wondering if you would be free for an interview sometime in the next few weeks. You can see our past editions by going to www.voice.paly.net and clicking on our archives.

Please contact me at silvercherry_lynn@yahoo.com if you are interest or not
Shandrewshandrew on November 17th, 2007 08:38 pm (UTC)
(got here from the worldpuzzles lj community)

Congrats on your WPC finish! I like to think of myself as a puzzler, but after wondering for about five minutes why jesus would be hitting ctrl-5, perhaps I should save (ha ha) my leisure time for something else.