So first the evening ceremonies began with some dancing, then two announced but never rules-provided team rounds. These were done at dinner place settings, so not a good solving table, teams sitting together, etc. Also, the announcements constantly tried to remind us (with at least 20 decibels too high volume) that we should put our name on the paper. Apparently, USA on the back side was not enough if it wasn’t on the front solving side after flipping. Also, when the first team finished (a close check of scores shows this, again, was not actually a team finishing as no one got points at all!), a loud Jan yell of “First” through the amp deafened me permanently on the left side, or at least made all of us jump out of our chairs. Anyway, the noise and the name reminders led to an eventually “battle” with the graders on the second puzzle as we wrote our name on both sides of the paper with the message “THIS IS BACK OF TEAM USA” with “THIS IS USA DO NOT BOTHER!!!” on the front/printed side.
First was a “3d” 16 digit puzzle, basically a set of 6 faces with wrapping lines to get digits into. A very hard design, before you even set the puzzles difficulty. It was a bit too hard for us – again another five minutes might have been enough – but a lot of puzzles here in Zilina were poorly timed. Then was a second team round, with the first unveiling of the “4D-sudoku”. Now, my opinion of this is that it is not a sudoku, 4D is a stretch, but it is a compelling to play with magnetic puzzle. The marketers of the puzzle couldn’t actually pronounce sudoku, but then again we had 5-10 latin squares here that aren’t sudoku either so I don’t think the lines are clear to some of what sudoku is, how to spell it, how to say it. The “4D” – “Sudoku” as a team round though was compromised when instead of trying to solve it (which until today had only taken 2.5 days by its creator), we had to make set faces with 4’s in the middle. We got 4 faces but 5 or 6 seemed the limit. Anyway, that was another fifteen minutes of my life.
So after more dancing, the 8 finalists were announced (again no one had finished the semi-final puzzle set and when you quit, not when you got three puzzles done, was who advanced. Many in the audience thought people had finished - they all said finished - but what they meant was more they finished as in "I surrender"). Anyway, I’m glad I did not have to partake in what followed because there truly were no winners on this day of accident after accident.
First, as the competitors watched, 7 (later fixed to 8) large sudoku were revealed by removing curtains. The competitors were across the room, but could clearly see the puzzle and start solving in their head. At least 4 of them seemed to be doing this. I had the whole center chute in about 30 seconds and was ready to just write a lot of digits. Anyway, after two minutes they approached the puzzle, still able to see it, and then were told to go. Um, is this how any puzzle competition has ever been?
After that puzzle, it was announced a second puzzle would start. We had a hint of this when one of the grids fell in the first round to reveal a corner of what was a Latin Square with ZILINA as extra colored regions in the grid as well as (why not) two diagonals. Still, no 3x3 boxes (or some "region constraint") = Not Sudoku. The puzzle itself was fine, if not a sudoku, but the announcing of the start of this puzzle was indeed, as I’ve titled, 6…4…5…3…2…1…go. You could not write this comedy better if you tried. In fact, this might be the sudoku championship to turn into a best-selling comedic book/movie with a fitting Borat-like host and disaster after disaster. That may be the only positive thing I ever say about it in the future.
As the puzzle eventually solved, no winner could be announced. First, the timing had not been clearly done in the first round. Second, even the graders could not mark the grid right. One incomplete grid had this written as its score. 81-8=72. I have the photograph (with others) to prove this later. Anyway, Turkey protested, that went to the board, no one had an announcement. All this time, after we’d solved the puzzle ourselves, and I’d let out a lot of steam by venting to the Times reporter and the British team, Wei-Hwa was trying to actually solve the “4D”-“sudoku”. Again, a manipulative puzzle, so not a sudoku (I might be harsh here, but I mean the solving experience is not sudoku-like, not that your average person wouldn't see numbers 1-9 and not say sudoku as they probably would). It was eventually announced that the 8 finalists on stage would finally try the 4D-Sudoku for real, with a 15 minute time limit, to determine something? We didn’t know. Anyway, Wei-Hwa completed the project eventually after an hour, a new “unofficial” record for the puzzle, which came to great applause from the audience.
So the chaos was continuing, although the winners of Boy Sudoku and Miss Sudoku 2009 were announced (there was a joking contest the night before I did not feel was blogworthy then but it somehow makes sense now to point out they had women draw pictures on the men with lipstick, tested the potato peeling skills of the men, dancing with the girls, etc.). Anyway, everyone seemed frustrated by the whole championship. Others were coming to me to see what I, as the representative of sudoku (and the champion in many people’s eyes again, just as in Lucca) thought of what was transpiring.
The stress was eventually relieved by a pantomime artist who did a hilarious skit for “Windows Vista” and another skit for sudoku/4d-sudoku/…. Great entertainment. Still no dinner, still no “champion”, and I’ve advanced to the unheard of Kubler-Ross stage of “laughter”. We got back our test paper and “THIS IS BACK OF TEAM USA” was corrected by the organizers to “THIS IS DARK SIDE OF TEAM USA”. As a double entendre, maybe, but I don't give the organizers such credit for English at this stage. At best “blank side” was right there.
So, we will not speak of this event again, but I’ve at least given a fair picture of what has happened throughout. Its been a bit of everything, and far from any of my expectations. Who knows how it will get reported in the press and how the “Champion’s” life will change. Mine certainly changed when I finally won a title in Prague and became “almost famous”. Needless to say, I’m somewhat relieved now to not be manipulated as the 8 finalists were in this way. I would likely have stepped out before the competition even began. I’m glad I didn’t have to make that choice. I will close by stating what should always be the primary goal of these competitions – to let the solvers have fun and to choose a fitting winner. In all cases, the solvers’ experience did not seem to be in the mindset of the organizers. Whether this meant not testing the puzzles correctly, not making fair classic “sudoku”, not having clear rules for playoffs (or ranking), having team rounds that deemphasized team solving for individual solving, no scrap paper (our instruction booklet was taken away as we worked on the domino puzzle as we were using the margins for work - three people on one page being silly but the Slovaks were super stingy with paper in general), not rewarding solvers of the first 45 or so puzzles on the first 15!!! hour day of puzzling.... This was a complete and unmitigated disaster. And I can’t stop somehow laughing at it now. WSC4 = Plan 1-9 from Outer Space!