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06 July 2007 @ 03:25 am
It's a Puzzle Picnic!  
While I've been busy finishing my last month of work here in Cambridge, I happened upon an interesting puzzle site this evening. PuzzlePicnic is a nascent puzzle community from a bunch of Dutch puzzlers/constructors including some WPC competitors. It offers a variety of logic puzzles from the expected Sudoku and Kakuro and Fences to other familiar WPC types like Spiral Galaxies and Tents and Easy as ABC and Battleships and then some others that are much less common. The interface for solving these puzzles makes use of six colors of pencils, perhaps suggesting that you'll want to be keeping track of a couple different sets of guesses, but the puzzles I have tried so far have been fairly reasonable to do with only one color thankfully.

As with all pencil puzzles, the transition to the online form is not always smooth. The number puzzles are not as well formatted right now as on say, Nikoli.com, as it seems clicking multiple times is needed to cycle through the numbers, but the loop fitting and piece fitting puzzles work alright in this online format. A couple of the types are probably still best solved on paper though, as notekeeping is not always easy. Especially on puzzles like battleships, the option to mark unused squares as seas would be helpful. [Edit: the problem may be with Macintosh browsers and java windows - my right mouse button is meant to do these things but doesn't.]

I expect that you will enjoy the range of puzzles and especially the wide number of variants that can occur within (like Fences with bigger numbers which are a nice change of pace, Battleships grids with the expected different sizes/fleets, but also several non-square grids!).

One very intriguing part of their design is the "puzzle studio" area where members can write and submit their own puzzles in these various types. This is an ambitious goal, but one I hope prospers for their community. Please check out this site.
lardarsegreg on July 6th, 2007 08:46 am (UTC)
Do people actually try to solve battelships puzzles without marking the seas?
Adam R. Wood: butasanzotmeister on July 6th, 2007 06:49 pm (UTC)
You and Wei-Hwa haven't even started your project and already you have competition... - ZM
jdyer on July 6th, 2007 09:31 pm (UTC)
I am able to right click to get seas, but I'm using Opera on a PC.
jdyer on July 6th, 2007 09:56 pm (UTC)
Also, does any do Spiral Galaxies by putting in the borders? I always tend to work them by matching squares to centers and coloring in the squares rather than the edges around them.
motrismotris on July 7th, 2007 12:18 am (UTC)
I tend to agree with you on this. However I've definitely found on some of the Nikoli ones that I'll draw in the blocked opposite edges of big pieces (like circles sitting on vertices for a 2x2 base unit) and look at the borders instead to help out. I've encountered both types on this new site now - ones where I've definitely not wanted to use the borders, and ones where I definitely wanted to. The difference seems to be whether there are or are not any multi-unit galaxies.

For now, the most interesting new type to me is the Panorama, which actually works somewhat well with the different levels of shading in the interface. Marking it on paper would actually be a bit harder I think.
Craig K.canadianpuzzler on July 7th, 2007 11:43 pm (UTC)
If any of you could tell me what it is I'm not getting about the "Archipelago" rules, I'd appreciate it.

Also, I'm going to check in with both Tom and Wei-Hwa sometime this weekend by IM; if they're OK with the idea, I'll start a private LiveJournal community for the purpose of discussing and organizing the project, and start inviting people to it.
motrismotris on July 8th, 2007 01:02 am (UTC)
I've yet to find a great heuristic for those puzzles. I do make use of all the colors of pencils I have - ok two or three colors - and try to find places an assumption will cause an impossible solution with only a couple more steps, then work backwards. I like the way the unusual shaped islands sometimes work and a couple of the "diamond" shaped puzzles are nicely logically deductive, but the larger squares are an exercise in intuition still for me.

I have found in most of the puzzle types that there are some real nice examples with either a cool starting point, or a cool answer, which is exactly what I love popping up in logic puzzles. (Try the hardest Easy as ABC from March 12th as one example of the answer reveal being nice - the puzzle itself is fairly hard so be warned)
(Anonymous) on July 9th, 2007 05:47 am (UTC)
Hard as ABC
The one from 3/12 didn't exactly fall apart for me, even after getting somewhere in the upper-right. Of course, "somewhere" = two squares...

Btw, is it just me or has Da Picnic not been recording completed puzzles? It started off ok -- all the Fences ones are listed as done -- but now I've got a bunch of completed grids and no mention by the site that I've finished them yet.

motrismotris on July 9th, 2007 05:55 am (UTC)
Re: Hard as ABC
Sometime yesterday night it stopped caching my being logged in when I solved a puzzle. I've sort of stopped solving because I can't record what I've done now so it seems we have the same problem. Of course, once this returns, I can just go back to the puzzle and load the solution if I really want to mark it as done.

My route on the ABC from 3/12, after a similar "somewhere" by logic, was to power through with some specific assumptions. It didn't fall easily, but this is the style I employ to be fast on a WPC so I don't mind using it here. Sometimes, when following a T&E, I'll find the logic I was meant to see. Other times I won't, but I'll reach contradictions which let me make progress anyway. With 6 colors, why not?
Adam R. Wood: butasanzotmeister on July 9th, 2007 03:10 pm (UTC)
Timed log-out
The puzzle interface apparently "times out" after a certain period (I don't know how long). After completing a puzzle I had sitting open in a browser window half the day (I was working on other things), the Check button told me my solution was invalid. The Info button told me I was working on puzzle "null", so there you go. I refreshed the page and tried Info again, and that time it showed the proper details. I quickly reinserted my solution and hit Check, and it was marked as correct and properly saved to my profile.

I guess you need to solve faster :P - ZM
motrismotris on July 9th, 2007 03:29 pm (UTC)
Re: Timed log-out
Thanks for this observation. My problem was actually logging in and solving a puzzle in say a minute with an active submission process, and then having the next puzzle window open off the green arrows with neither the progress marked, and with my log-in no longer displayed in the upper right. Unless I've had my time out set arbitrarily low so I have to be a super solver, I think something else is at play with my problems.
Adam R. Wood: butasanzotmeister on July 9th, 2007 04:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Timed log-out
That would be a different issue than mine, and one I don't seem to have. I'd hate to ask the obvious, but you're not blocking their cookie, are you? - ZM
Adam R. Wood: butasanzotmeister on July 9th, 2007 03:15 pm (UTC)
It would appear that that puzzle is intended to be solved primarily with metalogic (such as promptly adding in all possible bridges on the puzzle border); opportunities for deduction seem slim. Personally, I don't care for it. - ZM
individualathomeindivathome on July 31st, 2007 05:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the interesting site Thomas. I have just posted about it in my blog. I wonder about the puzzlepicnic idea of becoming a "platform for people who like to design their own puzzles and get them published online".

Do you think that this might be the right way of putting the new "web2.0" spirit (people making their own puzzle content) or do puzzle are like movies and books and people would always rather having their puzzles made by professionals?
motrismotris on August 3rd, 2007 03:56 am (UTC)
I don't know if puzzlepicnic.com will be the right way of applying "web2.0" energy to puzzles, but by creating tools that make it helpful for someone to get started constructing puzzles, it is a very good start. What is possibly lacking is a forum on that site to encourage the puzzle writers by letting others comment on puzzles and offer suggestions on new/different ideas someone could try.

I would also be careful before you label a lot of puzzle constructors as being professionals - most are people with other careers who begin writing puzzles for fun and develop their talents for rewards other than monetary ones. The Nikoli model in Japan is indeed one where people who find joy in solving excellent puzzles develop an interest in writing their own, cultivating a lot of non-professionals who construct simply amazing puzzles.
individualathomeindivathome on August 3rd, 2007 07:01 am (UTC)
I certainly agree that Nikoli's puzzles are amazing but as far as I know most of their puzzles are made by people who get paid very well. Also, I know some of their puzzle makers were indeed Nikoli puzzle fans before they started working for them but I am not sure if they are still working as volunteers. do you know that for a fact? I guess you can say there is a very "thin blue line" between the two.

Anyway, I am not saying only professionals can make good puzzles, not at all. I know a few puzzle makers who makes much better puzzles than some of the so called "professional" ones. My wondering is about the other people. Puzzles, and not just Sudoku, have become a consumable popular product. Somehow it looks to me that its just like food. There is simply no way all or even most of us can live by growing or cooking our own. It just take too much time to cook food, not to mention growing it.

I agree creating tools that help people getting started in constructing their puzzles is interesting. There is also griddlers.net that does that with a few types of puzzles since very long time ago (I am sure you know it). Thanks for your attention!
motrismotris on August 3rd, 2007 03:03 pm (UTC)
Well, if being paid makes you a professional, then yes, Nikoli pays per puzzle that they use. However, this flat fee is not a lot (I should actually find out exactly what it is for a particular puzzle, either online or in print, as that would be useful information to have) and just like writers of NYT crossword puzzles, few are trying to make a living off of it, and so I don't see them as professionals in that puzzling is their one and only calling. Maybe people like rpipuzzleguy can call me out and say he sees himself as a professional puzzle writer but I feel the crossword equivalent of me (real fast solver, part-time writer) views his contributions in the same way.

The challenge which you allude to, in a way, is that there is a desire for excellent logic puzzles and maybe not a lot of venues to find them. While there is a wealth of sudoku books on the book shelves, are the puzzles you find in many of those books anywhere near the quality of some of the amateur creations on the internet that are really experimenting with sudoku? Within sudoku, I'd definitely argue no. I've been finding "free" puzzles that interest me much more than what's in most US bookstores and magazines for a long time. There has been a rush to publish the "next thing" books but the Kakuro books in this market are not good puzzles either compared to the Nikoli ones which flow much better and have interesting themes from time to time. In the general category of logic puzzles, there are a few choice titles and then not much else.

In part due to this hole I see (and others see) in the market, we are going to try to start our own logic puzzle community which may initially start out very amateur without much payment but transition into a more professional endeavour. There are many strategies to try to start this, and watching the puzzlepicnic model start up had been interesting.