Friday 29 May 2009

Friday Puzzles #2

Ok so this is getting a bit late now; on the other hand perhaps it’s not if you live in Hawaii. That’s the way it goes.

This week’s offerings are two Nikoli staples.

Masyu is a loop puzzle, where you try and join a loop in a grid containing white and black circles. The loop must pass through each of the circles; through a white circle the loop must go straight through, but then makes a 90 degree turn in one of the next squares. At a black circle, the loop makes a 90 degree turns, and then extends on in a straight line for at least two squares. See more here.

Nurikabe is an islands puzzle. You are given a grid of squares which must be coloured white or black. Each of the given numbers lies in an island comprised of the relevant number of white squares. Surrounding each island is a sea of black squares, subject to certain restrictions. Firstly the black squares are all connected, and secondly, given any 2×2 block of squares, at least one must be white. See more here.
    #003 Masyu – rated easy
    #004 Nurikabe – rated medium
All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009

Friday 22 May 2009

Tom Collyer writes some logic puzzles...

A.K.A. Friday Puzzles #1

Hello all. Recently I have taken up writing logic puzzles as an excellent means of wasting time – but also as a potential future earner. I am now at the stage where I am willing to publish them to the internet in a bid to firstly start a bit of a following, and a bit of feedback – and secondly to start buidling my own personal reputation. The idea is to start publishing a weekly puzzle that I have written myself. This is a learning process for me so the soving difficulty of my puzzles will probably vary wildly, but I’ll try and pigeon-hole them into three categories – easy, medium, and hard.

Anyhow, it ought to be fairly obvious that one of my favourite logic puzzles is sudoku, and so provides as good a place to start. Most sudoku you will solve tend to come from newspapers and books, and almost all of these will have been generated by a computer. The benefits of actually having a person make them I hope will become obvious as you solve these.

Please note that my puzzles are not all going to be sudoku. That’s not even close to what I aim to do. Where I publish a puzzle that is relatively obscure, I will post up the rules and perhaps a couple of examples of how they are applied. However, I’m sure everyone’s perfectly fine with sudoku, so without further ado:
    #001 Sudoku – rated easy
    #002 Sudoku – rated easy
All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009

Monday 18 May 2009

WSC Zilina report part 7

This time I had a co-solver, Giulia Franceschini of Italy. Like I say I normally get annoyed with people pointing stuff out to me whilst solving, but a pretty face paired with actually being a pretty handy solver helps a lot. I’m really quite smug to say that our joint efforts had whopped Thomas and Wei-Hwa’s individual efforts (although both had used actual sudoku grids together with the unhelpful third 1-9 constraint). On the other hand, the slow process of drawing out the grids and regions and numbers wasn’t quick enough to trump the new 2009 World Sudoku Champion, Jan Mrozowski of Poland. I will point out that we were equally as handicapped as we were solving literally stood up with the paper held out in front of me.

And that was that, or so we thought. Apparently the Turks had a complaint about some aspect of the final – I didn’t quite understand what the grounds were, but there we go. What now added to the confusion was that the 4d sudoku guys were (apparently – I merely speculate here) not quite impressed by the slightly modified rules by which it was “solved” in the team rounds, and had appeared to spontaneously have organised an extra round whereby the 8 finalists would try and solve the puzzle proper in 15 minutes. This is as ridiculous as it sounds, but at this stage, we weren’t quite sure whether this constituted some sort of extra final play-off, due to the Turks’ complaint not being resolved. More than that, this time they’d actually be up on the stage in view of everyone. Again, no-one had any idea whatsoever what was actually happening. Another notch up on the Snyder scale of ridiculousness no doubt, but by this point Thomas was hammering out his viewpoints onto his livejournal page.

This did, however, give me the chance to get pun of the championship. This is a self-awarded title admittedly, but aside from an award for the most stupid semi-finals preparation it’s the only tangible prize I could take back with me from Zilina. As the bearded brothers in their garish black and orange self-branded polo shirts tried to explain the rules of their puzzle again, they mentioned the key to the puzzle was that there is exactly one blank outer face on the cube. My interpretation – given the confusion – was that there were actually eight blank faces up there on the stage. Well, at least Nick Baxter liked it a lot.

Rather appropriately however, this stupid distraction – it turned out the Turks’ complaint was not upheld and indeed Jan was still World Champion – was overshadowed when at the American’s table, Wei-Hwa had announced he’d finished the puzzle. Given his break to simulsolve the final puzzles, he’d managed it in about three quarters of an hour, which is probably as fast as anyone is EVER likely to solve the puzzle from scratch. Suddenly attention diverted from the stage to Wei-Hwa, and even the bearded brothers abandoned the floundering finalists to congratulate them. The Japanese finalist, Ko Okamato summed up the mood best as he sat up on stage, slumped in his chair, ignoring the puzzle and instead sat there sulking. Fair enough to the guy.

Still, I have no hesitancy in saying Wei-Hwa’s is one of the finest minds on this planet – if anyone was going to whop the puzzle it was him. He remarked to me that there was definitely a clear logical process that had guided his solving rather than mere trial and error, and I am quite happy to take the guy at his word. Although the teams were allowed to keep one puzzle each, I have no desire to addict myself to something else. I suggested to Ariane that she might like to give it away with one of her magazines.

And that was that for competitive sudoku. In theory this was now time for a little bit of socialising, but instead, a myriad of entertainers – including a mime artist, a troupe of kids from Slovakia’s got talent, some dancers and what appeared to be didgereedoo players. Some people were still puzzling however, and I drew out both puzzles for David, and watched him solve. Again the huge sizes makes a difference but he completely caned both puzzles up. If he’d have been in the final I’m fairly sure he’d have been the champion – and a well deserved one too! There’s always next year.

Did I mention the dancers by the way? Their first set resembled some Bollywood dancing, possibly because last year’s WSC . I presumed the next set was meant to represent next year’s lot in America – but frankly it was the sort of raunchy debauchery you’d associate with the Moulin Rouge. David, as a very committed married man, did his best to try and avert his gaze. Thomas too seemed more concerned with his livejournal posting on his laptop – but everyone else’s attention was drawn to the stage. Man, it was hot!

The entertainment dragged on, and at some point there was a presentation for the winners – the home crowd was happy as the Slovakians had won the team competition marginally ahead of the Czechs – but it wasn’t terribly exciting as I didn’t really know any of the winners. We grabbed some buffet dinner, and again I applied my Rootes restaurant strategy of taking one plate, and piling it high with as much quantity and variety of food as is physically possible. After dinner, I had an inspiring conversation together with David, Mike and the Americans Nick and Will Shortz. Unofficially speaking, they were looking forward to bettering the efforts of the Slovakians for the championship in Philadelphia next year. Some rather tongue in cheek variants were put forward – David mentioned trying to get the idea of Kerplunk! into sudoku – but I liked the idea of some electronic tetris variant, together with cheesy 80’s music and charming pixelated graphics!

The celebrations had already begun, and we met one of the Germans (Hubert Wagner I believe) who had been sent to the hotel bar to bring more wine for the Germans. They had seemed to have been locked in, so we gallantly offered to help him with his two bottles. Eventually the rest of the Germans came out to get the rest of their drink. More fun was to come as the Slovakians came up, together with some ice cold bottles of slivovica and marhuÄžovica – being plum and apricot brandies respectively.

The thing here is that with spirits that cold, a small layer of pure alcohol forms on the top of the shot – which I might add are rather larger than shots as we in the UK know them – the layer then pretty much forcing you to down in one. The apricot at 40% was slightly less severe than the plum at 50% ABV – and watching the Irish boys at work was quite a spectacle. Another fantastic quote from them was:
We’re not actually better drinkers than the rest of the world. We’ve simply got a reputation to uphold!
After a couple of downed “shots” they were really struggling. It should come as no surprise however, that the drinks rapidly disappeared – and being a Sunday evening the hotel bars has closed relatively early. Thus we were in the situation at midnight whereby a lot of us wanted to drink more, and some of us who didn’t want to go to bed because they had to start their journeys back at 3am. The only solution was to head out into town.

It had all looked very disappointing as we headed back to the town square, as being midnight on a Sunday everything was shut. And then the Gods smiled upon us – one lady who had just finished closing up her bistro place come and said she could reopen for a large group of well-paying tourists. This is possibly the best thing ever. We drank lots of beer, and were even able to order some pizza. Gradually people did drop off however, and by half 5 in the morning the owners balanced the money/sleep balance into the favour of sleep and kicked us all out. I was left walking back to the hotel with a Times reporter as the sun rose, and as the rest of Zilina appeared to be getting up for the start of a working week. Strange indeed.

And that, I believe is a good place to finish. Well almost. I had to be on a train to Bratislava at half 8 – and only just managed (by 45 seconds!!) to make it. I had slept unti five past eight and had to sprint, bags and all, to the station. My Slovak as I hurried tried to buy tickets was exemplary. The rest of the journey involved lots of sleep, and being poisoned at some dodgy tapas joint in London. But that’s another story.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday 13 May 2009

WSC Zilina report part 6

Lunch at the ex communist stronghold, Hotel Slovakia was an interesting affair. The big plates had gone pretty quickly, so my buffet style lunch was piled up on something taken from near the salads. The only purpose I could see it was fit for was to support a lovely cup of tea but I struggled on. The view from outside the window was of a car park. Not jusst any car park though, a hideously ugly car park. Whilst it is possible to say that most car park architecture could be described as anti-renaissance, this was literally a giant breeze block. It made the old Tricorn centre look a painstakingly hand-sculpted masterpiece. We in Britain do complain an awful a lot (the Tricorn centre looked so terrible, even against the backdrop of Portsmouth, that it was blown up. After several attempts.) but I get the feeling that in Slovakia practicality is king.

The results were put up on the wall. David was in prime self-kicking form, especially as he gave the puzzle he had misread. I had a lot of sympathy with him – given my experiences last September I know how painful messing up qualifiers for a final you would have aced actually is. If he had have been in that final, there is no doubt that Jan Mrozowski would have had to share that favourite tag. There isn’t really too much you can say to someone in that situation, so we left him puzzling for a little while – before finally we had to go fetch him so we could walk back to the more Westernised Holiday Inn.

It was a stunning day for a lovely Sunday afternoon walk, and we were accompanied by the pretty translator girls, who were to act as impromptu tour guides – ours was Monica. Jason in particular had taken a shine to them, and felt a little bit guilty when he heard they were high school age – although David assures us this was known as they introduced to us on the Friday night. Parts of Zilina were also very pretty, and we went in a couple of churches as most other things were closed. There was also a nice square, with lots of promising looking bars as well as a nice fountain. (Kudos here to the organisers for ensuring the only time off to sight-see was when things were shut.) Other parts – such as the huge hole in the ground – and the Tesco superstore weren’t so pretty. Unfortunately, our tour had to be cut short as proceedings. Not before I had attempted to sell Warwick as a great choice of university for our translators; although, alas, their hearts seemed to be set on America.

Back at the hotel, there was just enough time to grab a refreshing lemonade from the bar – especially sweet because the supply of water bottles at the Hotel Slovakia had doubtlessly been redistributed for the greater good and had thus run out very quickly. Interestingly, the final ceremonies were to encompass a team “final” – which rather counter-intuitively involved ALL the teams (not that I should be complaining about a lack of exclusivity) – and the individual final. We headed up into the big room and we were instructed to sit on tables organised again by countries. The tables themselves were laid out for the dinner which was to come later, making the prospects of puzzle solving on them intriguing.

Team “Final”

Ariane, pre-empting another potential water situation had bought some bottles for us at the bar for this final session. She needn’t have bothered as the decadent Holiday Inn had provided about 20 bottles per table. The first puzzle was a monster 16 digit “sudoku cube” presented on a flat piece of paper, with six faces and identifications made by relay tracks to ensure. Topologically speaking, I thought this was pretty impressive! However, once you go beyond 9 numbers in sudoku, speed goes out of the window and 15 minutes wasn’t really enough to make satisfactory progress on the puzzle – despite my rather innovative coordinate system approach which helped to simplify matters for 3 people solving simultaneously.

We were next introduced to the championship’s VIP’s. Originally these were advertised as being Wayne Gould, sudoku’s most successful publicist (you can blame the worldwide craze on him) and Maki Kaji, CEO of Nikoli. Both of these are heavyweight names in the puzzling world and I’d have liked to have had the chance to meet them both. Instead, both had pulled out for personal reasons, and instead we were treated to middle-aged bearded and pony-tailed English blokes. They were championing their puzzle, a so-called 4-D sudoku. I’m not sure how valid that claim was mathematically speaking, although I will concede that solving the puzzle living in a four dimensional world would simplify matters immensely. Anyway, I don’t want to snear too much (now), it is a fun puzzle although perhaps slightly overpriced at £25.

Anyhow, this formed the basis for the last team round – get as many of the 27 complete faces as possible in 15 minutes. We got three, not particularly great – but the maximum anyone got was five, which incidentally was what the UK A team managed. This was the one round where they managed to live up to the their tag as the premier UK team!

After this team competition were over, there was a little more scope for mingling with other countries – an aspect of these championships that was lacking somewhat. We spoke a little more with Jason and I finally got the chance to glimpse him solving kakuro in person. Unfortunately he’d already done all the easy puzzles, and was instead working through a really big and hard puzzle. This became less interesting than it had seemed at first. I also got a chance to have more words with Thomas, and Wei-Hwa. Wei-Hwa was bidding to become only the 4th ever person to actually finish off the “4d” sudoku. The previous record had been in the order of days! Thomas and I were speculating on the format of the final – which hadn’t really been specified – even though (as Nick pointed out) it should have been under WPF rules.

Individual final

And then our worst fears were realised as it became apparent that the finals would be done on the wall, on huge even-larger-than-A1 sized (if such a size of paper indeed exists) grids. Jack was floating around in journalist mode, and got this absolute gem of a quote from Thomas:
The ridiculousness of it has gone up another notch. It is like you’ve had a championship for basketball and then for the final you have a different sized ball, higher hoops and trampolines on your shoes. It’s a crap shoot. Why don’t we just line them up, give them a pack of cards, and let them play poker until they get a winner?
My own observation was perhaps a little more sober in its tone:
The grids in the final were so large that contestants had to retreat a step from them to see the whole puzzle.
The idea of having these super-sized was puzzles was so the audience could see – although quite what was wrong with the system in previous years, where table-top spot cameras were employed to broadcast the finalists solving normal sized puzzes onto a big screen, I’m not entirely sure. Anyhow, the first puzzle – a classic sudoku – was visible for a good couple of minutes before the finalists were let loose. It soon became apparent that this was a fairly easy sudoku (roughly Times difficult standard) as it was fairly easy to mentally place 10-20 digits without too much trouble. I fetched some paper out of my bag copied out the numbers and decided to do a simul-solve. A few people gathered round, including Thomas with his inevitable and incredibly off-putting simul-simul-solve commentary. I jokingly remark to anyone who is interested that the reason I have become a world-class sudoku solver is because I got so pissed off with people telling me “that’s a 5”, or “oooh you’ve missed a really easy one there” whilst solving that the only solution was to see all of these things before they did. However, being quicker than a two-tme world champion is beyond me. For now!

Equally as inevitably, with my rushed scruffy handwriting I had made a mistake due to not recognising a number I’d written in. Instead I looked up to watch how the finalists were getting on – and predictably Jan Mrozowski was leading the field. Wei-Hwa had finished off the puzzle remarkably quickly. It was easy, although had a sticking point later on which fell to a technique called “colouring” – which doesn’t really appear in newspaper puzzles but isn’t too hard to get your head around the logic. I then managed to finish off my bodge job on the first puzzle, before they competitors started the second of the two final puzzles.

Apparently one of the first puzzles had “gone off the wall” (to borrow a headline) and had revealed some sort of diagonal constraint and a coloured region – and clues which pointed towards something that wasn’t quite a sudoku in the sense that there was a well-defined third constraint of 1-9’s, as well as in rows and columns. Or as you might have read in the Times: It’s not a sudoku. It’s a Latin square with certain restrictions. Perhaps I’m revelling a little bit much in my own meagre press coverage here haha – so back to the story – I reached for some paper and began the laborious task of sketching out the grid together with its numerous constraints.

This entry is getting a tad long – so I’m splitting up this split here!

Saturday 9 May 2009

WSC Zilina report part 5

Waking up on the Sunday morning, on approximately 4 hours sleep, I wasn’t feeling too bad – although the lack of hot water in the shower was irksome. At this point my approach to a lack of sleep had become akin to that of running a major economy. When in trouble throw lots of clever devices at the deficit and pay it all back much, much later. Although I’m still tying to work out what’s so clever about Red Bull during the day and drinking by night. I joined the rest of the team for a rushed breakfast. I was sorry to observe the continued lack of marmalade but on the other hand was grateful to get any sort of food. Even more thankfully, the coffee was good enough to knock down in one as we had to rush off sharpish.

The remaining rounds were not going to be in the Holiday Inn, but rather in the Hotel Slovakia. We were to be transferred there by bus – although the American team decided to chance their luck and enjoy a walk in the beautiful morning sunshine. Arriving at the hotel, the impression I got was not so much “hmm, well it’s a bit Eastern Bloc”, but rather “bloody hell, this is the Communist Party’s headquarters”. My sleep deprivation was beginning to kick in and so I wasn’t quite aware of the hubbub beginning to develop as people crowded round the lists of the top 36 performers who had made the semi-finals. It turned out that I was good enough to make them (having finished up 28th), along with David, whose qualification was never in doubt. Although it’s probably fair to say he’d had a bit of a shocking performance overall, he had had a pretty good round A, and again the weightings of things ensured that he had gotten through no problems, in around 18th. Top of the pops? Who else but Thomas Snyder. This was his moral victory. Near the top were other familiar contenders, such as Jakob Ondrousek, Jan Mrozowski, Peter Hudak, Michael Ley, Hideaki Jo and Yuhei Kusui. Missing out were a few surprise names, such as former world champion Jana Tylova, multiple world puzzle champion Wei-Hwa Huang and arguably the best kakuro solver on the planet, none other than Jason Zuffranieri.

I have since noted that without my usual compliment of dickhead errors, I’d have had a score fairly close to David’s. I was pretty happy to be a clear second in the UK team. However, the real mockery of the puzzler media qualification system (of which I’ve had strong words to say before) is that George and Michael were the next best performers. The two sponsored qualifiers were the worst performers on the team – although in fairness to Nina and Mike they were also the ones with the least recent WSC experience, and their journey over could also have had something to do with their performance. Nevertheless, adaptability is something that’ll need to be accounted for next year in Philadelphia. For all-round puzzling greatness I hope David is once again guaranteed a spot, and for outstanding team versatility, I’d like to see Michael go over too.

Anyhow, back to the narrative. The first round of the day was to be a team round:

Round L

This was apparently a strategy round – there were 10 puzzles to complete in two and a half hours but the catch was the team could only have one puzzle face up and available to be worked on at a time. Three people working on one puzzle does sound to be fairly contrived and awkward, but the combination of myself with George and Michael absolutely nailed 9 of the puzzles, getting them out of the way well within the first hour. The trouble was, the last puzzle was a dominos variant that resisted multiple angles of attack and was without any logical entry into the puzzle. We didn’t get it finished despite having lots of time on it. This situation was repeated by most of the other teams – although I suppose more through chance than anything else a couple of teams did manage to get out the dominos puzzle. Analysing this round, I had personally found it nice to be solving puzzles without having to guess – but from a competitive point of view the whole thing was a complete waste of time. For all intents and purposes it placed the UK B team in joint 6th – if you ignore the ridiculous bonus system which I’ll come to shortly.

Round M – Individual semi-finals

The time was now approaching midday and the semi-finals were to kick off shortly. The 36 qualifiers were lined up into four columns which represented four simultaneous heats. The winner from each heat was to go through, and then the next best four taken from any of the heats were to make it through to make up eight grand finalists. The format was 45 minutes to solve four puzzles. These were all pretty tough, and I wasted a good 15-20 minutes on a puzzle that I’d manage to break. In the end I had a bit of nightmare and only got one puzzle out. C’est la vie.

The real scandal here was who had actually been judged to have done best. Although noone had got all four puzzles out, numerous people had managed to get three out. Here, points scoring went out of the window to a certain extent, and the real qualifier was who had handed in early – thus “proving” they had done three puzzles quicker than anyone else.

Frankly, time differentiating should only come into things if all puzzles have been completed. If not, you get a situation when one of the best solvers on the planet nearly (but not quite) gets the fourth puzzle out, and is eliminated by tactical declarations by people who had barely managed to get three puzzles out. Like I said, finishing top of the pile of the individual standings was Thomas’s moral victory – and if he had declared early on completing the third puzzle there is little doubt in my mind he’d have had a third consecutive world title.

David would have had three puzzles out, but misread the rules and had not satisfied the full constraints of the puzzle. He was in a relatively weak heat and so if he had finished this puzzle would probably have made the grand final. Again, c’est la vie.

As it happened, only one of the provisional top eight had actually qualified for the grand final – and thus Jan Mrozowski of Poland was established as runway favourite for the final. And with that it was time to get some lunch.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

WSC Zilina report part 4

Again Team UK (and here I make the succinct point that we were most certainly not Team GB when our star solver was Northern Irish) gathered for dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. Now was the time for the promised pork and dumplings – but as it turned out it was a little of a let down as it came served atop of a huge mound of pickled red cabbage. It’s not as if I’m not one for vegetables, but really there’s only so much vinegar the uninitiated stomach can take. I had another go at the world record sudoku, seeing if I could get into it logically. I did indeed spot a swordfish (the first step in the scanraid solve incidentally) but it gave me no further information. Perhaps I was just tired. Perhaps it really was a monster!

I headed upstairs to the room to grab a quiet 45 minutes to attempt to regenerate. I tried out the various TV hotel channels, coming across things like Bloomberg, CNN, BBC world but eventually hit the jackpot when I found Eurosport with some of the world championship snooker. I managed to catch the last of O’ Sullivan’s title bid, as he went out to Mark Selby. Perhaps I should rewrite my previous analogy for Hideaki Jo! Anyhow, the time soon drifted on to 9.30pm and it was time for the “special programme”.

Nothing initially seemed to be going, and I found myself in the company of US captain Nick Baxter and two-time champion Thomas Snyder – who was solving one of his own puzzles that had appeared in some Japanese puzzle book. His mood wasn’t particularly great – reflecting the underwhelming quality of the puzzles – but he had had a fantastic round A, which given the weightings of the rounds seemed to be the key to a good overall score. However, his eyebrows were raised as the results of round H (the “playoff”) came out. He had made a transposition error and had 6 digits out of place. Even worse, was when he examined my script. I had (in spirit) got the right answer out, but had inexplicably written a 5 in as a 9. I had been given the points. On a comment after his blog post Thomas has alluded to a paper that was marked correct when it wasn’t – and I can exclusively reveal that that was me. There, I’ve outed myself to the puzzling world.

Worse was to come as I mentioned to the pair of them that at least Team USA were very well place in the team competition. Thomas had been on leg 2 and had actually solved the puzzle just to the left of Satan’s 240V iodine secreting rusty jagged testicle vice – thus setting up Team USA as the only team to have finished the relay. However it turned out that there had been a mistake. Although Thomas had equally (in spirit) solved leg 2, he had inexplicably written in a 2 as a 3. And whilst it was nice to know that I was in good company, the gravity of his mistake completely outweighed mine as it meant that the US only scored points for the first leg – the same as the vast majority of the other teams. I thought it prudent to scamper off and join the rest of the Brits.

The special programme was remarkable in that political correctness was thrown out the window. Random competitors were drawn out and the girls competed in putting makeup on a boy’s face; whereas the boys were left to peel potatoes. Utterly surreal if you ask me – but the real Ricky Gervais moment was to come when they were all asked to dance to The Blue Danube waltz – and it turned out this was a little bit too much for the personal faith of the Turkish girl. The “little final” came and went and to be honest I can’t remember much about it. And just as I thought my limits of the surreal were pushed to the limit, it was time to start a round of competitive sudoku. At 11pm.

Round K

Entitled nightmare in Zilina, basically these were 6 hard puzzles, which noone got done in the hour. There was a killer puzzle, which I didn’t do because the cages were dotted in a way as to obscure the visuals of the puzzle, a rock hard diagonal which I had to guess at and even a slightly mental 9×9 puzzle that had split cells so actually you had to put in numbers 1-13. However my enduring memory of the round was the so-called halloween puzzle. Basically an alphabet sudoku (with a fiddly non-adjacent rule to allow for the repeated letters), I started solving and got to a point where I had a non-unique solution. This – especially after round E – made me very angry and I left a rather rude message for the organisers on the paper. One of the translator people – also acting as invigilators – saw this and gave me a wink…this was just as well as I had missed the constraint which said that the word “halloween” had to be visible in the grid. With that satisfied, the puzzle came out uniquely. I quickly erased my rude message!

Anyhow, after that round was all said and done, I was faced with the question as to what exactly do you do at the end of a sudoku solving day that spans the best part of 15 hours? The answer is of course obvious. You go to The Pub. Joining me in the panorama bar at the top of the hotel bar were David, Ariane, Michael, Jason and Times journalist Jack Malvern. The bar itself was something else – stuck right in an 80’s time warp with disco lights, and a singer who was doing her best to croon out tunes that if I’m being totally honest belonged in a porno. On the other hand the 80’s theme was going down very well with Jack and Jason. I could only feebly protest that actually I was born in 1986!

The intention had been to stick around for a couple of beers – and this initially seemed to be the case as David and Michael rather sensibly slunk off to bed. However, the magic word tequila soon got aired, and before we knew it three shots of the stuff had appeared in front of myself, Jason and Jack. This evening was beginning to get epic, as Jack got in a round of shots – Ariane joined in this one – and the fun really began to get started. Some drunk Slovakian came to sit down with us, mumbled something incomprehensible, and then took off to the dance floor. The main moves he and his chum appeared to possess involved sliding about on the floor a lot.

Meanwhile, the people behind the bar had taken a shine to us and were bringing over free shots for us. These were all of completely unknown origin, and we had no hope of identifying them. The most memorable of them was called “the embryo” and essentially did look like an embryo in a shot glass. I’m sure it must have been egg or Bailey’s or something but for all I know it could have actually have been the unspeakable! Now, this was all a little interesting from a personal perspective as it was getting quite late and I was getting a little drunk, and I had to be up fighting fit for a probable World Championship Semi-Final in the morning. However, there was just time for one more round of shots. Absinth.

All that needs to be said on the matter is firstly, that Jason had never had absinth in his 30+ years – which I can only surmise is because the stuff might actually be banned in the US, and secondly this wasn’t the mincey-faggot 50 or 60% volume stuff you get over here. This was the real deal, brought over by the barman who performed the beautiful ritual of burning sugar over the drink. Knocked back down in one was a real eye-opener, and it was perhaps for the best that the bar shut there and then. Although not without a cameo appearance from a statuette of a rather darkly toned saxophonist, which I think we named Tyrone. And with that I’ll end this entry.

Monday 4 May 2009

WSC Zilina report part 3

We sat down to eat in the hotel restaurant as the full eight of the British contingent. After more than three hours of puzzling in the morning we were very hungry and the menu presented in front of us promising pork and dumplings sounded very promising. Then we turned the menu over to see what the lunch options actually were. In the end I made a very safe call with the chicken – but David was a little more disappointed with his choice. Actually watching David eat is a remarkable experience – obviously his voracious solving appetite transfers over to a voracious appetite, and his solving speed transfers over to seeing a clean plate soon appear. The (rather sparse) beef he plumped for in the end was “nice whilst it lasted”.

After dinner, everyone retired to their rooms before the afternoon puzzling session kicked off. However, I elected to read my book in front of the big TV in the hotel bar. There was some tennis on, and to my extremely mild disappointment pretty Slovakian girl seemed to be losing to pretty French girl. C’est la vie. After a while I was joined by Mike, who it transpired was also a maths graduate. Pair this up with maths finalist Nina and soon-to-be maths fresher George an a common theme soon pops out. This is not to be read as sudoku having any mathematical content whatsoever – my theory is that simply maths students have an exceptional capacity for logic. We were later joined by the rest of the team, and the time we thought we had went by far quicker than we had thought. Time for the team rounds – where the great UK A vs B rivalry would begin!

Round E

The first of the team rounds was split up into puzzles E.1 E.2 and E.3. The first was a multisudoku – three linked puzzles; the second an “eightdirections” – think a sort of crossword with prescribed strings of digits to be place in the grid; the third was a classic sudoku, but with the ambiguity of the 8’s and 9’s being replaced simply x’s. With three persons per team this sounds simple enough but the twist came that the three pieces of paper we were given were labelled E.a, E.b and E.c – each with a third of the three puzzles on them. In the rather unclear instructions, I had gotten the impression that drawing blank grids to concatenate the information from each paper was forbidden – but I looked over and saw the Czechs doing it we did so too to speed the solving process up somewhat.

The versatility of our team soon came good. When the multisudoku had been cracked, leaving 3 individual puzzles I took over when the others were struggling (being arguably the best at solving hard sudoku). I soon found why the others were struggling – the multisudoku had multisolutions. Michael’s talents were more suited to the eightdirection – however it was to transpire that this too had multiple solutions. George took on the x sudoku, and solved it without much incident – which made a change!

Frankly, to have puzzles with multiple solutions in a world championships is a little bit unforgivable.

Rounds F & G

For these two rounds, we had to decide upon an order on which we would be solving puzzles. For UK B this would be Michael first, then George and then me. Round F was called musketry – and basically the puzzle was akin to a samurai sudoku with 5 linked grids – however they were in a + rather than an x formation. This allows a lot more interaction and so can be clued more sparsely – hence giving a much harder puzzle (A standard Times samurai takes me 10-15 minutes by myself). We would be given 10 minutes solving the puzzle each before we had to pass it on to the next person. As the person on the last leg, I received the puzzle about half done. I stared at the thing for a couple of minutes before realising that if I was going to get it done, I’d be having to guess. I did so. I guessed wrong. Nil points. This was alright however as very few teams actually did get it out in the 30 minutes. Still, if I thought I was feeling a little helpless then the best was still to come…

Round G was a relay in which puzzles were to be solved individually, and one at a time. When one person was done with a puzzle then they tagged the next person in the relay in and they could start their puzzle.

Leg 1 was some sort of weird origami paper folding 8×8 sudoku. Michael nailed this; I believe he was probably the first in the room to get it done, well within 10 minutes. At this point I’ll stress again Michael’s incredible logical and analytic mind which allows him to crack new and unsudoku-like variants. With a little more (not that he’s slow mind you!) solving speed and he’d be a really formidable solver.

Leg 2 was taken from just to the left of the 240V iodine secreting rusty jagged testicle vice in Satan’s torture cabinet. In essence, you were given a blank 9×9 grid, and expected to fill it up from a choice of 18 (incomplete) 3×3 boxes, in order to put together a valid sudoku which could then be solved. Whoever decided not to test solve this round – thereby ensuring this puzzle wasn’t ruled out as being totally unsuitable for a championship – needs to be introduced to the instrument just to the right of this jigsaw sudoku.

George must have had the most time spent on this of the room and was nowhere near finishing it. Nor were most of the other teams in the room – consequently most leg 3’s spent an hour doing nothing. Ridiculous, and totally unsatisfying. It turned out leg 3 was a pretty hard puzzle too – whereas legs 4-6 would probably have taken 10 minutes combined. You really have to wonder.

Round H

So after a personally frustrating team performance, it was next time for an exclusive “playoff” round for the 29 best performers of round B, the symbollogy round. At stake? A place in the “little final”. The point of this round? Who knows! Well – very limited amounts of bonus points would be the actual answer. However it strikes me as very odd to set up different rounds where not everyone could participate, whose purpose was to award points that were ultimately not going to make much of a difference anyway. If they wanted to award bonus points, they should have just done so at the end of round B.

Deep Breath – I shall continue.

I was the only member of the UK team to make it through to this playoff, and ended up being a little late to come forward to the front. This turned out to be a bad thing because it became clear I would be sitting surrounded by 3 very able Japanese solvers. To my immediate left was Yuhei Kusui – 2nd in the world in 2007 and 2008 – a truly top-drawer sudoku solver. He is also the most charming person you could ever wish to meet, and was the only one of the three who could speak any English. In front of him was Hideaki Jo, one of the world’s premier puzzle solvers. It’s probably fair to say that sudoku are a relative “weakness” for him – although to clarify, that’s a bit like saying Ronnie O’ Sullivan has a “weaker” left-handed game – it’s still better than pretty much everyone in the world. The third of the trio was Ko Okamoto. As things would transpire, he’d actually finish above the previous two – needless to say my surroundings were nothing short of formidable.

Anyhow, it turned out that I did get the puzzle out, but I was 11th quickest. The top 9 went through to the little final. By this stage I didn’t really care anyway – I was more than ready for dinner, as were most of the other people in the room fed up with being excluded. I managed to get across my point to the Japanese guys that I thought things had generally been too hard – they understood this and nodded vigorously. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Hideaki Jo had already independently identified me as a fellow solver when I tried to introduce myself!

The length of this afternoon session post probably reflects that this was the lowest point of the championship for me personally – so well done for reaching the end of this entry…

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