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…

1 comment:

  1. The saddest part about this team nonsense is…I happen to like their relay ideas quite a bit! And, truth-be-told, the musketry thing was legitimate (although maybe we coulda used a few more minutes). If only that silly puzzle #2 weren’t such a bear then they would’ve had a nice competition on their hands. Instead it was marred by its nearly impossible difficulty. Too bad.


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