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.


  1. I’ve started getting into Sudoku lately. For a long time I stuck to the elementary puzzle in the Independent, leaving the advanced one well alone. Recently I got around to giving the advanced one a go and found there is no difference between them. This got me wondering how the puzzles are put together and how the level of difficulty is gauged. When I’m doing the puzzles I seem to enjoy it but when I’ve finished I’m not so sure because I’m faced with a sea of numbers, a bit less meaningful than a crossword, on the face of it.

  2. Newspaper sudoku is a form of mental masturbation. Fun whilst it lasts, but when you reflect upon it you’ve not done gained any fulfilment from doing what you’ve done dozens of times before. Generally, compilation and difficulty rating is entirely done by computer. Human written puzzles are generally a lot more fulfilling as there’s always some sort of neat innovation and clever ideas written in.

    I’m sure there’s something entirely analogous to be said for computer generated crosswords too…


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