So, after my report yesterday, we got back the second day scores. After the morning rounds (7-9) were posted, the race was still close, with Ulrich (937) about 13 points up on three others including me in fourth (921), with just 3 points separating myself from 2nd place in Hideaki Jo of Japan (924) and Mehmet Murat Sevim of Turkey (923). I’d made a careless error on the crypted square in the sprint round to lose 11 points (to add to the 12 I lost in the welcome round) on carelessness. However, the big rank-breaking error was to come.
I thought I had finished the Crypto part #11 – with huge time bonus (64+ points, and 45 placement bonus) – second behind just Ulrich, but my habit of losing points for errors on puzzles continued. Here, with a 1 instead of a 6 in a cell in the sudoku (easily checked if I’d looked which I did not at any row/column/box constraint), I was not clean. The clouds also had thrown me which is further inexcusable. Anyway, I lost about 160 points on a round I’d thought was finished and clean and that sent me down in the rankings to 9th when an equally bad Cards round got back. Ulrich had a phenomenal afternoon with all the bonuses and was well clear of the field in 1st with Roger Barkan at 3rd, Wei-Hwa at 12th, and Zack – on a tiebreaker – also just in the playoffs at 17th (so all Americans in the big dance). So, there would be work to do.
The finals were done on desks, with 3 puzzles (as chosen by the top people in that group) for the first 4 phases of the ladder knock-out and then 5 puzzles in the finals. Players would turn in a puzzle whenever, and after a minute the judge would signal the audience by removing one of the “diamonds” from the team round from the desk of that solver. Getting to zero diamonds would leave the judge to keep his hand in the air to signal that someone was finished. Rounds ended when two people were done.
The 17 puzzle types were all those that we had seen during the championship and many were common types although a lot had good/bad characteristics for different solvers, so puzzle choice might prove important in the early rounds. In the first round, Zack was the lone US representative and after Zoltan Horvath of Hungary picked the tough “Countries” type, we thought the round might end on a tiebreaker if time ran out. Instead, after Zoltan finished (and left Ferhat raising his hand for many minutes), with about a minute on the clock, Yuka Sugimura of Japan turned in her last puzzle and about 15 seconds later Zack turned in his last puzzle. So close. Or so we thought. She had an error and Zack was correct and moved on. 10-12th places now played those two winners and Wei-Hwa would be with Zack in this round as well as Jean-Christophe of France who blew through his puzzle choice of Black and White. Wei-Hwa finished first and, while Zack struggled, Jean-Christophe finished as well to move into my bracket. Now, the last two World Championships, J-C has been my judge in these playoffs, so it was a different experience to be competing with him as we discussed while waiting for the round to start. I had been trying to warm up on kakuro, but after writing an E instead of a 5 for my first placement, and then being generally slow, picked a more number placement than math puzzle for my choice – Chaos – which uses knights moves and no 3 in a row/column/diagonal to place 1-4 in a grid. Striped Snake, a type I felt I would struggle with, was also chosen as well as Number Loop, a mathematical loop drawing puzzle which I’d done well at during the championship.
Now, last year I commented after the WPC that I felt I’d found a second gear although it was error prone. Well, this year I’ve learned I have a third gear, but with increasing amounts of sleeplessness (at times, particular with so much consecutive travel and other projects), this gear is even more error prone. So, I had about 10 minutes of solid thinking this morning. They all came in my first play-off round. After turning over the puzzles too fast and dropping my Chaos paper to the ground (where I meant to get started on), I polished off the Number Loop in about 2 minutes. I then made quick work of the Chaos, and the audience got excited (I heard the oohs) as I seemed to be solving good again and was well in the lead. Then, the striped snake was found to have the exact kind of work-in I thought I could use earlier in the championship with a similar bottom, but more easily forced. I turned in all three puzzles clean in about 5 minutes and 45 seconds total. While the round had to continue, I had laid down an intimidating time. I felt particularly bad for my proctor who had to keep her hand raised until the end of the round. Everyone had at least 2 puzzles to turn in (some obviously half-way there on one of them). ~5 minutes later, Stefan Gaspar of Slovakia would turn in to be the other solver to advance from the round. While I’d done a little fist-pump, he jumped out of his chair screaming when he officially advanced, clearly excited to have gotten by a round with 2 world champions (Wei-Hwa and Pal Madarassy of Hungary) and me.
So, while the first of my playoff rounds set the standard for how my third gear can perform, the next playoff round (and the unlucky desk where all of Zack/W-H/myself were eliminated) was more like quicksand where I’d get stuck in a puzzle and only make things worse. In 3 different parts of the kakuro I busted the entries. 9+4 is not equal to 14. A 5 might have been nice there. 2 4’s do not go in a 45 column. Etc. For about 2 minutes I was convinced the puzzle was broken, then I was increasing convinced I just no longer can do math. I moved over to the Crypted Square and the Clouds for a bit, the other puzzles in the round, but I still had math errors when exploring the Crypted Square and while 5, 5X, 99 has a valid series, I discounted it quickly as X=7 does not work there. Of course, readers will know 52 is the average of 5 and 99, but I seemed to just average the ones digit too often when working in this puzzle and it also went unsolved. I eventually got the kakuro, but the wheels of the train were well off the tracks for too long and I couldn’t advance. Only one solver, Peter Hudak, finished the round. Hideaki Jo advanced on a tiebreaker.
And now the finals. Ulrich, with his big lead, had a 5+ minute time margin on Mehmet and Roger and the others. He finished the Hundred before anyone started, and was through the remaining puzzles (Half Dominos, Mastermind In Line, Arrows, Circle Sums) in due time to claim his 6th title. Several minutes later (hardly as close as the Rio final with all 5 puzzlers on the last puzzle), Mehmet finished 2nd and several minutes later Roger finally cracked the arrows and closed on Half Dominos to finish 3rd. So, while a new playoff format could have shaken the rankings, it did not change anyone at the top.
The US maintained its strong showing of past years to claim its 11th team title with Japan in 2nd followed by the Czech Republic. Given how all Americans were in the playoffs and the highest Czech was tied with Zack (and booted by a tiebreaker), I’m amazed at the strong Czech showing. They did phenomenal in the team rounds to overtake the Germans.
Travel begins tomorrow, first to Frankfurt with an overnight stay and then back to SF (finally) after this 11 day journey ends. The red shirt I’ve worn in the playoffs this trip is totally no good so I’ll have something else before WSC4 in Slovakia. I also think I’ll need to find a better way to sleep while overseas. The US Sudoku tournament and WPC still conflict real close in time which keeps me from being as sharp for both, and finishing Mutant Sudoku and writing a Mystery Hunt and all sorts of other work did not help either. But, I still feel I had moments of brilliance and definitely have the potential to one day be the champion. Ulrich will be tough to beat, but I will make the podium again.
There is some news to tell about the future of the WSC/WPC and host sites, but I’ll save comments on that for when I’m home. Most of the news is good, but I’m left with the though choices I expected after first hearing that Philadelphia wanted to host the 2010 WSC. Until later, thanks to all the puzzle designers and certainly Andrey B and Vlad P for putting together many solid rounds of admittedly tough puzzles for this world championship in short notice. I look forward to the next WPC in Turkey, especially knowing the talent of their puzzle designers from Akil Oyunlari and elsewhere.
Closing thought – this championship cemented the concept for a new round – the “Erasure Round” – strictly of puzzles that require a fair bit of grid tweaking (snakes, clouds, etc.). Organizers will give each solver an eraser at the start of the round, and the number of solved puzzle + the weight of the eraser at the end of it will determine marks. I have a great photo of my pants leg and shirt after one particularly eraser-friendly round I will post in this space once home, but this round has to happen.