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07 November 2009 @ 03:55 pm
WPC - final update  
Short version: WPC happened.

Longer version:
Today did not get off to a good start as we battled a mosquito or two in our room at night - basically without working AC, we had the windows open at night to sleep and at 3-4 am the likely bug problem arose. So not restful sleep, and not a quick start to the day. As already stated, there were about 5 hours from the announced start of the team finals at 10 am and when they actually started; the late start also meant no break between team finals and individual finals.

I already commented before, after the disastrous WSC in Zilina, that the rules for the playoffs should not be a super privileged secret and here the organizer's first flaw - after two days of incredible puzzles and mostly sound round design aside from the unavoidable timing issues - was not just delaying the rules meeting from last night, but not having printed rules when they started. Even with an unclear top 12 or top 4 teams the night before, there were only a handful of extra people in the running and a meeting could be held with all potentials so that the actual event could get started on time. Here, even after the delay, not having a printed copy of a complicated set of rules was further problematic as it led to a lot of competitor questions and further unclear answers. So, after several more hours of waiting, we finally got a printed list of 28 puzzle types that would occur in both playoffs and a list of the timing and tiebreaking rules for the event. Still, we'd never receive info on what puzzles would appear in any round before it started - it was a mystery revealed in the packet - and this did not help me either strategize or mentally prepare for the type of challenges I should do. Having to instantly react to seeing 5 types and remembering what some of them were and knowing which ones to solve, when already not in my best state of mind, led to some poor decisions.

The team playoffs finally started at ~2:45, when the individual finals were initially intended to be finished. First, the Czech Republic faced Japan and we learned some about the desk matching format which let us figure out how we would play the next team. When Japan prevailed, to maintain their ranking over 4th, we decided to match the Japanese competitors at their desks in alphabetical order (for various reasons such as to match their strongest Hideaki Jo with Zack and the rest of us against fairer match-ups). I had my best of the playoff rounds I was in today, getting through 3 of the 5 challenges in 18 minutes before stalling and breaking the Magnets. The 5th puzzle was a challenging "puzzle" about finding the lowest unreachable positive integer (LOUPI) using a set of 4 numbers and any operations (with some other rules). It would actually appear in all the team rounds, and never go solved to my knowledge by any member of any team in any of its iterations as it takes way too long to sort through so many possible numbers and even when you think you have an answer you can't know (and didn't, for just this type, get a second entry chance).

So, with H.Jo beating Zack, and the rest of us winning our desks, the US team held its spot in 2nd for the moment at 3-1.

The Germans then had the desk control and time edge, with Ulrich as 3rd alphabetically being kingmaker with the option to pick either me or Wei-Hwa (the 3rd and 4th alphabeticaly on our team with an empty seat meaning me and Wei-Hwa's table the other choice). Their first players matched desks and then Ulrich set-up the "dream match-up" against me leaving Philipp Weiss as Wei-Hwa's opponent. I was glad to have the chance to face Ulrich in this setting, but not glad to be solving like I was brain-dead and without much sleep in 5 days. After my one good solve of a latin-square/shape Ikebana puzzle where I made back some time on Ulrich, I broke (and never finished) the Scale Sudoku several times. Even knowing the main 3-cage to 1-cage comparison to use, and how it applied to some of the cages, I missed the possibility in column 8 I needed to fill it. I really wonder if the sudoku grid size (and the puzzle grid size in general) was not helping my scanning or thinking. It should be noted, as no one but us could see the puzzles we were solving, that I found it odd every grid was now 2x the size we had seen in past days when solving and in the sudoku at least I know this affected me. I switched to the pentomino packing puzzle instead of the sudoku after 2 attempts, and despite checking all 12 shapes, had managed to tweak an X to an F and not fix an easily satisfied 1 constraint. So, a 1 minute penalty followed by a 3 second fix. As time ended, still with a hopeless scale sudoku, Ulrich had soundly demonstrated his ability at 4-2. The match-ups had actually worked out for the Germans in all cases so a clear new world champion team was here on display in Antalya.

All this action brings to mind the question of why a 2-hour long team playoff was needed to not change the rankings at all. It at least showed the team playoff style was a good means of proving team depth and strength as already awarded after day 2 where gaps between all rankings were already established.

After a quick transition to the individual rounds, Wei-Hwa competed in the first heat but failed to advance with problems in puzzle selection and solution execution being his downfall. I was in the 4th desk in the second heat, with Zoltan Horvath and Peter Hudak moving up to join our group of Hideaki Jo, Nikola Zivanovic, and Philipp Weiss. As I've mentioned before we did not know the puzzle types in an individual round until we opened the envelope and here at least the Anglers jumped out as a good choice. I was a bit rusty at getting the checkerboard constraints matched quickly but the solution was found somewhat efficiently. I then went to another latin-square like puzzle with row/column constraints called Range and despite seeing the way through, wrote a 36 instead of a 35 early on the right path to get an answer with all but 1 cell. I erased and started again and apparently made a similar error again. The third time through I finally solved it, but this certainly was my first fatal mistake since "banking" puzzles soonest would win tiebreakers if no one finished the round (and in general no one was finishing any round in the team playoffs or here). I then went to a corral-like variant (I forget its name), solved it in about 90 seconds which was nice, checked the constraints, somehow counted a 6-sized region as 7, and turned in another error. Again, my paper came back for a 1 minute penalty. 3 seconds later it was back to the judge. In a 30 minute round I could not stand to lose this time or momentum. With my Japanese Arrow solution interrupted, I think I lost the path. I got close to an answer but tweaked for 5 minutes and got farther and farther from it leaving me with just 3 done and what I think is 7th place. Again, fatigue and errors from day 2 forward compromised the skills I know I can show in a single 2.5 hour tournament at home like an OAPC or USPC.

So I left to drop off some things and was frankly tired (it being nearly dinner time now before the finals started) and eventually came back to observe great controversy (again! - can any competition conclude cleanly?). Ulrich, with a large head-start, had gotten to a good start in the round when, about midway through, he turned in a solution that was adjudicated as wrong after a minute. When this happened to me, it was easy to check and find the mistake and turn it back in. Getting a wrong paper is itself really discouraging, but you can often find the mistake. Here, Ulrich spent time and energy looking over his puzzle and could not find the mistake because there wasn't one. The answer key itself was wrong, and the judge - just checking one grid against another - did not spot the issue in the key and therefore could not prevent the complete round problem from unfolding. Ulrich raised his strong concern of incorrect grading (he similarly had to do this when encountering the error in Bulgaria's semi-final Star Battle). His distress at the mistake, and how it would affect the final if it was allowed to continue (it had been stopped) was clear. What to do was not. A long meeting was held with many captains. A decision was announced to continue with a 2 minute restart time for Ulrich (after 15 minutes of the announcement) was made. An additional error - Peter Hudak had not been given the right time for his start - was also mentioned which led to me rolling my eyes once again at playoff incompetency unfolding in an unreal way. After continued discussion of Ulrich with organizers, more huddling happened, and it was eventually decided that a new set of finals puzzles, mostly of the same types, would be used in a rerun. At dinner, Wei-Hwa and I would join some other solvers in testing these extensively and I was tasked with going through a Kropki Sudoku which needed some tweaking and fixing to get simpler which Wei-Hwa and I helped with. In the end, now as we sat at dinner tables, the finals reran and Ulrich clearly repeated as WPC champion so a fair resolution to another potential disaster happened here.

I'm still left with a lot of doubts about the ability of the WPF to organize a fair competition when so much is left on the host nation's themselves and standards are not being enforced (if they even exist, which is honestly not clear to me after recent events). Some of the simple issues I mentioned in my open letter after this years 'WSC', like the unclear rules for these playoffs that were not given to competitors in advance leading to 5 hours of delays shows me that there are serious problems with competition standards that are not being addressed by organizers. I'm honestly still really angry about the WSC fiasco and am currently not enthused to perform in any puzzle competition next year outside of the 94306 zipcode or a 1 hour drive. I also continue to persist that I should start my own online puzzle site, and possibly also start to contribute - as the OAPC team did for nine months this year - to online contests to rank top solvers and constructors in the world. The WPC community grasped onto the excellent OAPC puzzles and I'd hope they would similarly welcome anything I could offer for solvers in the coming year.

So, all in all, a WPC with phenomenal puzzles and a lot of great additions like the run up of monthly OAPCs to introduce a lot of the new Turkish types in a competitive context, but still consistent and disappointing flaws in playoff execution that leads to both increased and possibly needless stress for the finalists. If there is no doubt after the individual standings that one solver is the best, and if there are few in the audience (at least during the team playoffs), given a format that is hardly interactive and frankly way way too long, what is the point of these playoffs? After 2 days, the Germans were clearly first as was Ulrich. They both ended up winning. If only any considerations were given to order of finish at a WSC.... I do not believe the board frankly wants or can address my concerns with that event, so I don't know when I will see many of my foreign friends again, but for now goodbye and safe travels.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
MellowMelonMellowMelon [] on November 8th, 2009 02:53 am (UTC)
I've never actually been to an onsite puzzle competition and have been hoping to do so for some time, but hearing the debacles of three major ones all in a row like this is starting to be discouraging... actually, scratch that, there's the MIT mystery hunt which I've done. Is that on your list of competitions to not be enthused about?

If you ever do get such an online puzzle site going, I'd be willing to contribute (as I'm sure a lot of others are).
motrismotris on November 9th, 2009 04:51 am (UTC)
Much like the WPC, my first Mystery Hunt (Spies) was by far my favorite. I've been on the organizing team for Hell and Zyzzlvaria and must say that this past year's experience was highly stressful, very tiring, left me sick for a month after the event, and succeeded in having the Midnight Bombers go boom and we will not compete together next year. So, there are potentially problems with the Mystery Hunt too, but what is important is finding a team/solving experience that lets the event be fun for you. I'm not sure I've found that at the moment, so unless a Bay Area solving experience wants me, I'm sitting out MH2K10.
zundevilzundevil on November 8th, 2009 08:46 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for the updates, dude. I can only imagine how spent you were/are, and to get the lowdown (even before the website is updated) is great. Sorry about the sub-optimal results, but it's still a pretty good showing. And hey, at least the winner wasn't determined using (the cool, but still) 4D Sudoku...

Good to see you on here, Melon. Go easy on the rest of us on Nikoli. :)
motrismotris on November 9th, 2009 04:55 am (UTC)
The experience for all solvers in the finals - Ulrich storming out of the room for a half hour, the other solvers being forced to stay seated at their desks without talking to anyone, captain after captain huddling with no resolution - was as chaotic as Slovakia at times. Coupled to the 5 hour - and completely avoidable - delays early in the day that led to just about no audience for the playoffs (team-wise at least) and it was a real messy day 3.
(Anonymous) on November 8th, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)
Motris, have your ever considered organizing the competition? You could participate in that competition as well ;) This would be a great experience - everything would be perfect then - "94306 Mr Perfect Puzzle Championship" ;)
(Anonymous) on November 8th, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
What do you mean by "dream match-up"? I cannot find this information anywhere - could you please remind me how many times you and how many times Ulrich was the World Puzzle Champion?
motrismotris on November 9th, 2009 04:41 am (UTC)
I've never been world champion but I beat Ulrich in Brazil (2nd to 3rd after being 1st in qualifying). Certainly, among those on the US team, I'm considered Ulrich's biggest rival at the moment. So, when we all matched up together, the audience wanted to see the two of us face off.
thesubro on November 8th, 2009 02:57 pm (UTC)
There is nothing worse ...
... than playing a video game that is broken. You do your best, and then it skips, or reacts wrongly and there is nothing that you can do, and you walk away frustrated as hell.

The logical people who perform at these highest of levels deserve a machine that isnt broken and that takes all elements of these high-voltage competitions into consideration before the contestants land in the host country. Frankly, I have never understood why it is that the WPC and WSC spend all their time going to cool sounding weakly supported city sites around the world. How about London or Munich or Paris where they have air conditioning and wifi in every hotel room, and it doesn't turn into a Survivor tv show as well as a puzzle tournament.

I am sorry for all of you that the game was broken.


Teesside Snog Monster: swingsjiggery_pokery on November 8th, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
Re: There is nothing worse ...
Part of the reason for the globally cosmopolitan hosting of the events is the WPF Regulation that championships have to be held on a budgetary basis that five people per nation can attend for a hotel, food, etc. fee of no more than $400/person for the duration of the championship. (This may be out of date; for instance, I've also heard the figure quoted as €400/person as well. The US$/EUR exchange rate has changed considerably over the years.) That's not the sort of budget that will permit the event to be held in London without, probably, GBP 50,000 of sponsorship, and sponsors for these sorts of events are extremely thin on the ground in the UK. Besides, I've stayed in a Hilton in London which didn't have proper air conditioning - the coldest setting was "blow outdoor air inside". Normally not a problem considering the British climate, but it was on this occasion. (I'd say signs look promising for a good show in Warsaw in 2010.)

motris , I've really been enjoying your reports. Thank you for making them! Contentiously, I would like to see the World Puzzle Championship not use a play-off to decide the winners, though I recall this being an unpopular opinion (e.g. in the poll on the subject in Croatia a few years back). Play-off competitions are fun, but I'd like to see them used for an additional title. Either that, or I'd like to seee such a large advantage for the leaders over the previous days that there's almost no point in having the play-offs.

Any news about where the 2011 championships (if I understand correctly, plural, with both WPC and WSC together...?) will be held, or any other news from the WPF meeting?

(Edited: typo)

Edited at 2009-11-08 07:53 pm (UTC)
motrismotris on November 9th, 2009 04:45 am (UTC)
Re: There is nothing worse ...
The 2011 host, for the first WSC/WPC together, will be Hungary.

I worry about the stresses of two events back to back, both for having two quality events and certainly for my stupor after a 3 day event becoming a not even relevant in the playoffs after a 5 day event when sudoku comes first. Still, I greatly enjoyed the last championship I was at in Eger and so a Hungarian hosting excites me in a way other choices didn't.
Teesside Snog Monster: puzzlejiggery_pokery on November 9th, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
Re: There is nothing worse ...
Do you think it would improve matters to have the bulk of the puzzle solving (i.e., pre-playoffs) split over three days rather than two? As I recall, people don't get to see their puzzle friends from other countries for terribly long at these events, so people frequently socialise fairly late into the night, with the inevitable late starts and tired solving. Splitting the puzzles over a longer period of time might permit longer periods of unstructured socialising and still let people get good nights' sleep to be capable of solving with full alertness.

Obviously the downside to this would be either greater expense or the removal of the structured social day, neither of which would be ideal.
motrismotris on November 9th, 2009 02:50 pm (UTC)
Re: There is nothing worse ...
As I mentioned to my captain who likely went to the board, the right way to split the solving is to leave playoffs only for the joint excursion/rest day. Here is a schedule I would like given an 8 day event (the shortest that combines these two). Any 9th day should further separate the competition days:

Day 1 - arrival, welcome dinner
Day 2 - morning - instruction meeting
Day 2 - afternoon - WSC rounds
Day 3 - all day - individual team rounds, arrival of WPC teams
Day 4 - sudoku playoff (just individual) in morning, excursions, instructions in evening.
Day 5 - WPC day 1
Day 6 - WPC day 2
Day 7 - playoffs, free time, awards dinner
Day 8 - depart
thedan on November 9th, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC)
Re: There is nothing worse ...
I am all for a Hungarian reunion. Somebody tell Tyler to get his head in the game.
THrpipuzzleguy on November 9th, 2009 10:17 pm (UTC)
Re: There is nothing worse ...
[peeks out bleary-eyed from behind a stack of moving boxes] Buh?
(Anonymous) on November 12th, 2009 12:51 pm (UTC)
Re: There is nothing worse ...
>>>>Still, I greatly enjoyed the last championship I was at in Eger and so a Hungarian hosting excites me in a way other choices didn't.

Thank you for your kind post. I do hope you (and all the participants) will like our championships in 2011, Hungary.
Just to inform you: the top Hungarian puzzlers already discussing, in order to find out the best method for this combined event. I think we have many experiences about WSC/WPCs, and our top players can check the puzzles very carefully (and set a correct solving time and pointing system for every round).
We'd like to organize these events as participants-friendly as it possibles (both for the best solvers and for the rest), that's why we're checking all the comments and suggestions in the internet as well - so maybe some of your offers will be among the rules in 2011 :-)

Best wishes from Budapest,
Gyorgy Istvan
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )