WPC - final update
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.