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24 October 2009 @ 04:41 pm
You call this a quick place-filler post?  
Short Version: USSC happened.

Longer Version:
The US National Sudoku Championship was very much similar to past years' with 3 sprint rounds each consisting of three puzzles used to qualify for the stage (winner takes the spot in each individual round), then a single white board puzzle on the stage with the big prizes on the line. Its hardly my favorite format as it doesn't really rank more than a handful of solvers well, fails to select a US team, and times aren't reported for solvers after the event (Wei-Hwa, for example, was 4th in all three rounds and certainly a consistent solver, but that is not valued in the race for 1st in a round) but it has at least gotten good solvers on stage consistently including both me and Tammy McLeod the last two years. Most of my time today was spent solving puzzles and then answering interview questions as I do as a kind of ambassador for sudoku for different people including a TIME magazine video reporter who interviewed me and onigame the night before as well. I look forward to the piece. I also showed off my book a lot.

The puzzles, still printed too large at ~6" square, were for the most part similar to the others we saw online before the championship with one cool exception happening in the second round. So all D4 puzzles, boxes 2/4/6/8 important, solutions with pairs and triples which I really believe is the right level of hardest step for a competition sudoku since it won't reward bifurcation, and I did okay on the rounds. I broke and fully erased at least one puzzle on each round but finished the first set of three puzzles in 9:29 and clean for 1st. The second round had a secret theme; I'd commented here before about disliking asymmetry in puzzles and how I'd accept it with minimal puzzles and here was a round of just 17s that were rather fun to solve but which I broke entirely (2 with duplicated digits, one with my classic pitfall of writing a pair of notes on the grid, not seeing a forcing given in a row/column, and then trusting my note assignment for too long without relooking at for a deduction). Finished that round 7th (Tammy McLeod was the 1st). Third round went well, with the first two puzzles done in 6 minutes total and the last in a little under 6 more (it was another memorable void design), but while I finished first, it was apparently not clean with a 6 instead of a 9 or something (too much Hendrix?). Still, I'd already qualified and the mysterious late registrant "Eugene" was the third finalist (this is all I ever saw on his name tag; I'm sure he has a last name).

A lot of time passed before the critical moments, while age rounds and geography rounds happened (I still find it entirely inappropriate to give an on-stage finalist like me 50 dollars for my age group and not to the second place in the group since the concept of these extra prizes should be to spread the wealth). thedan, who finished second for 27-29, can pick up 50 dollars minus taxes when I next see him....

The finals were unchanged in format from last year: large whiteboards which Will Shortz/organizers may be the only people who like. Certainly no solver likes them, although I practiced for it and feel comfortable there now, but its unclear if it "benefits" the audience when many other options seem to have worked better. This format has in the past always tripped up different solvers and made a 2x time result pretty typical (round qualifying tends to be in 10 mins for 3 puzzles and a similar challenge on stage averages 7+ in all levels in this format which is silly). I practiced to get better at this, and set breaking 7 minutes as a goal. I proceeded to not just break the goal, but to absolutely crush the puzzle, which was an incredibly fun solve and which I won't spoil but can be found on philly.com/sudoku sometime I hope, in ~4:14. I checked for blank squares, saw none, said done. Tired, I didn't check my grid and instead sat facing the audience for awhile relieved at beating the whiteboard and winning. News of an error never came to me - the judges didn't see it but many in the audience did. I actually noticed it for myself two minutes later when I finally looked back at my grid and saw a problem. Basically, with a few numbers to go, I made a transposition error of a 46 pair which trickled one other wrong number up so a 46 and another 4 was entered 64 and another 6. An Epic Fail in a sense. If I had done anything close to my patented checking in the time I did not realize I would have, I would have found it. But as I felt the puzzle was easier than past finals, and the competition strong, I did not check and thus did not win. While this drama developed as the audience caught on to my error, Tammy continued and finished in 7:41 for what she thought was second place, a typical experience solvers have had in recent years at the ACPT tournament where the fastest solver has finished, left the stage even, and you know they are done but you cannot know they've made an error. As Tammy turned to congratulate me, I informed her that no, there are three wrong numbers on my grid, and you are the new champion. (Aside: the confusion was not later helped by Will Shortz announcing Tammy as second which I also helped correct since she had deservedly won.) "Eugene" had only 3 or 4 numbers filled in and this made no sense to anyone in the room.

So, I guess the story of this championship is that I found a new-gear for my on-stage solving and hit one out of the park. However, I missed third base on my way to score. I'm still unsure what my WSC plans (construct/solve) are - I'll think about it after the WPC. Lots to do before the championship I care most about in a week in Antalya....

[ETA: Here is the detailed Philly Inquirer piece - not sure what "pots of puzzle gold" I'm missing but I've never brought any of them back from overseas.]
motrismotris on October 26th, 2009 06:22 am (UTC)
Re: age category
If you're reading this blog but missed the discussion of the WSC this year, let me be very clear again with the first principle of any competition:

I do not come to competitions to not solve puzzles.

I will certainly not turn in an incomplete paper to set a time standard when I have not finished all the grids. I will also not go to sleep and miss an 11 pm Nightmare in Zilina round (or any of six rounds earlier in the day) when I qualified for the playoffs 12 hours previously after a huge score on the 1st round that itself was higher than the overall score after all the rounds of the last playoff entrant.

Competitions should be for the puzzlers and about the puzzles. Not solving puzzles you are given is anathema to me; why else are we there?

So why not just not turn it in you say? Well, first, before you know for sure you've made the stage (and you do not know until your name is called much later because errors happen all the time, believe me), it might be nice to at least have a shot at another prize to salvage a bad day. As a competitor, I should not have to choose to solve or not or turn in or not or use another gear or use my left hand or whatever instead of just solving puzzles.

So, your complaint if you are 27-29 should not be with me but with the organizers who think it is appropriate to keep rewarding the two-time world champion with an extra prize. It is on the organizers to have thought of WHY they are giving out extra prizes. The WHY of these prizes in my opinion is always about giving more things to more people, not more things to the same person. This functions like a "registration fee refund" and you get your name in the paper. It will make more people feel good. Set this kind of prize up to do this. Of course, before dealing with this issue, I wish there would be a real and reported ranking of the finishers of each round (names are only quickly flashed through in a powerpoint, never printed anyway, and times aren't given at all). I wish people who pay a lot to register for the event were given some way to get the puzzles back (or at least fresh copies) of the 30 sudoku that were used across all rounds. Even if you only are as good as an intermediate solver for speed, you'd likely enjoy seeing what the advanced solvers did for next year. Good luck seeing them here. Why is that? 75 dollars not enough to buy those 9 puzzles too? Again, in an event about the puzzles and for the puzzlers, this isn't even an issue. Having been fortunate to solve at dozens of tournaments now, and running several of my own, I feel I have a good appreciation for what gets people coming back and it is always being thoughtful to what the solvers will want. The novelty of there being a championship or meeting Will or whatever is supposed to be the gimmick here is not going to be enough if the event itself is a hollow shell of what it could be for the sudoku community, such as even having social activities before/after as happens for the ACPT. Imagine something like an evening activity talking about things that sudoku people would want to hear about, like a lecture from someone on how you construct these puzzles or how uniqueness comes up in these challenges or what a world sudoku championship is like or watching a copy of the Sudokumentary. Throw in a sudoku-based puzzle hunt that you've got to solve as a team or other puzzle challenge with some book prizes. Will's ACPT would not be what it is if it was not for the friendships and relationships that have been built by it and the evening events where you are suddenly teaming up with someone you've never met before encourages new interactions and making new bridges.

So, anyway, maybe I've taken your tone as more bitter than it is, but I do not and cannot appreciate anyone thinking I or anyone would go to a championship about puzzles and skip the puzzles. Leave after round 1, go to a bar, come back at 3:30 when they need me again. If that was the case, you probably care about the money and being fresh and don't love the puzzles themselves. I'm there to solve sudoku.