Friday, 30 December 2011

Friday Puzzles #137

Delayed I’m afraid, until I get back from my New Year’s jolly in Budapest – which will mean either next Monday or Tuesday realistically.

In the mean time, thanks for sticking around, and I wish you all the best for the 2012!

And I’m back!

Apologies for the delay in updating this, but if you look at it another way you’ll be getting two puzzles in two days. Which is nice. I haven’t seen many 2012 themed puzzles thus far, so I thought what I’d do is fall back onto a theming favourite, yajilin. I’m actually quite pleased with how this one has turned out out. Enjoy!
     #168 Yajlin – rated medium
All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009-12

Friday, 23 December 2011

Friday Puzzles #136

So I’m afraid it’s only very tame offerings this week, especially compared to last week’s! It’s the usual mix of things to do, places to travel to and from and other projects to work on. On the other hand, I’ve not tried one of these for a while, and it’s nice to know I can still knock them up on demand. Even if it is rather easy. Happy Christmas, dearest reader, and enjoy!
    #167 Masyu – rated easy
All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009-11

Friday, 16 December 2011

Friday Puzzles #135

Back to old times eh? I apologise firstly for the delay in getting a puzzle out in the first place, and secondly for then putting out something broken.

No such issues with this one. It’s moderately monstrous. I guess what with the small size and everything, some of the intended logic might get lost in small bifurcation chains, but I want you to know, dearest reader, there is definitely an intended solution path and I am really quite pleased with it.

Enjoy, finally!
    #166 Heyawake – rated hard
All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009-11

Friday, 9 December 2011

Friday Puzzles #134

I was up quite late last night writing puzzles, with the intention of putting up a sudoku puzzle. But apparently I wasn’t quite up to it, and went back to some loop puzzles. I thought yajilin might be a good idea, firstly because I’ve been having a little fun playing with some relatively unknown tricks, and secondly because it gives me a chance to give an alternative presentation another go. I think the way I’m currently rationalising things is that the bordered squares represent holes in the grid, and whether you put clues in these holes is up to you. This works perfectly provided you don’t have too many holes next to each other!

Anyhow, you’ve been spoiled this week, dearest reader, because here are two puzzles to brighten your day. Or something like that. Enjoy!
    #164 Yajilin – rated easy
   #165 Yajilin – rated hard
All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009-11

Friday, 2 December 2011

Friday Puzzles #133

So I’ve had a rather whirlwind week this week, including a trip down to BBC Television centre in London to offer my services as a sudoku “expert” (haha), as well as focussing some of my puzzling energies on a hopefully forthcoming UKPA project. Part of this is involving writing some easier style puzzles of more familiar type to try and encourage participation amongst those slightly more casual solvers.

Whilst I think it’s fantastic that some of the world’s best solvers maintain blogs with their own fiendish puzzling creations, I think sometimes its easy to overlook the beauty and elegance and simplicity of a really well made “easy” puzzle – and in particular the appeal these sorts of puzzles have for those who aren’t quite at the level of the MellowMelon’s of this world. The idea is that you don’t want things to be patronisingly easy, but you do want any sticking points to be resolved by the more casual solver after perhaps a few moments of careful thought. And of course you want a really pleasing design.

Something along the lines, hopefully, of this week’s puzzle. Enjoy!
    #163 Slitherlink – rated easy
All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009-11

Monday, 28 November 2011

WPC '11 - update #7

Right, so we’re up to Saturday. I woke up feeling a little rough – perhaps the late nights at the bar were catching up with me, but I think at this stage I was also coming down with something. All I could manage for breakfast was a couple of bowls of tea. Yes bowls, not mugs. The mugs were definitely smaller and had only one handle!

The main attraction of the day was going to be the WPC play-offs, but before this was to begin there was one remaining team round to get through. The “wrong” puzzles! Basically, a set of 8 different puzzles, with a set of 8 4×4 repair patches to fix the broken puzzles. I was quite pleased to quickly get the fillomino sorted out, and then proceeded to struggle for a long time with the nurikabe, reasoning that as a constructor I could feel out which area of the puzzle was broken. I think Neil, David and Gareth each got another puzzle out – which obviously reduces the complexity of the round massively, but we couldn’t really make any further progress. We thought we had nailed down which patch should be used for each of the remaining puzzles, but as it turned out the piece I was trying to get the nurikabe to work with was the wrong one. I briefly had a go at the battleships and lighthouses, but to no avail. Gareth then whizzed through it towards the end, thinking he had it done, but having left something minor out. So not a particularly great end to the WPC for GBR-A – I think it turned out that GBR-B had managed to beat us for this one.

Afterwards, there was a bit of a scrum around the scores. From a British perspective, it was awesome to see that Neil had held onto 10th place, and would therefore be taking a place in the play-offs. A bit further down the list (past countless Germans!) was David, who had faded a little but was still solidly top 50 which is something that he maintained was a good finish. I was next on the list, unofficially 69th, but officially 59th, which I guess I am happy about despite flirting with a top 50 finish myself for a little while. Gareth, the next Brit down the list (not too far behind me), had also flirted with the possibility of finishing ahead of me.

So yeah, having spent lots of previous posts moaning about how mediocre my performance was, this should be tempered by a couple of things. Firstly, I was the 3rd best Brit, which was something that I had put some pressure on myself to make sure I achieved, and secondly, I was not too far off that benchmark of the top 50. It wasn’t a brilliant performance, but not bad either, and with any luck (if I manage to qualify for the team!!) something I can look to beat and build upon in future years. GBR-A had finished in 11th place, a record high, which I guess was mainly by virtue of Neil’s individual score. I don’t think we particularly distinguished ourselves during the team rounds, so hopefully this augers well for a top 10 finish in future years.

Byron felt a little down about his performances – I think he was looking to make the play-offs again – but his personal theory was he hadn’t had enough practice. Equally as inconsolable was Aga, who after what had turned out to be a difficult second afternoon, had just missed out on not finishing on the last page of the print-off. Nevertheless, it was hard to be inconsolable for too long at any of these events, so we dusted ourselves off, and headed into the competition hall for one last time.

Our choice of seating was hardly ideal, right below the big projector screen which had a list of the play-off contenders together with their time penalties based on score differences from the main rounds. A priori, this seemed like a three horse race between Ulrich Voigt – who’d finished top of the pile – together with the Americans Palmer Mebane (2nd) and Thomas Snyder (3rd). Hideaki Jo, Bram de Laat and Peter Hudak, whilst all being incredibly strong solvers, seemed to have too much to do to catch up with the big 3, and the line up was completed by Nikola Živanović, Ulrich’s brother Roland Voigt, Wei-Hwa Huang and of course darling of this blog, Neil Zussman. Michael Ley of Germany could count himself very unfortunate not to be taking part, having finished 7th overall but nevertheless ineligible for the play-offs, seeing as he was only the 5th best German qualifier and therefore not a part of their officially recognised A team.

I’m a little hazy on the details, but essentially the play-offs started off according to the form book, with Ulrich leading from the front, Palmer seemingly catching him and Thomas not far behind. Further down the field, Wei-Hwa was beginning to make up ground from his starting position of 9th (what was it with being in 9th?), but Neil seemed to have tripped up on the first puzzle. By the time the first cut was reached, again after the first puzzle, Neil had unfortunately fallen along with (I think – I’m sketchy on the details here) Roland and Nikola.

At various points during the proceedings, handouts of the puzzles were given out. The first was a quirky no 4 in a row, and the second a battleships puzzles. Against the trend of my puzzling form, I had both these puzzles out in 2 or 3 minutes and the rather misleading feeling that these play-offs couldn’t be so bad! Anyhow, by this middle stage Thomas had seemingly lost a little ground on Palmer and Ulrich. On puzzle 5, I think a borderless something or other, Hideaki pulled off a solve which seemed in the order of about 30 seconds, which left him best of the rest by the time of the second cut. Remarkably it was Wei-Hwa who took the 5th spot – continuing the trend of the 9th starter surging forward. This meant that it was good-bye for Peter and Bram.

With 3 puzzles to go Ulrich still had the lead, with Palmer hot on his heels. Thomas hadn’t managed to recover and with puzzles running it out it was becoming apparent that the three horse race was now a direct competition between Ulrich – still the favourite – and Palmer. Heading into the 8th puzzle, which was apparently a divide and conquer, Ulrich seemed to hit a mental block. They were now close enough to see exactly when they were applying rigorous use an eraser. Or so I thought! I saw Palmer erasing out of the corner of my eye, and whispered to Aga and Byron that he was struggling too – except that what I must have seen was in fact a quick checking gesture. As the rest of the room was gasping at the sight of Palmer handing in first, they were laughing and informing me that I was stripped of any commentating duties I had bestowed upon myself. More importantly, Palmer had now taken the lead with one puzzle to go!

There was to be no further twist in the tail – as Palmer says you simply can’t not solve a password path – and as he handed in the last puzzle and waited an agonising minute for everything to be okayed, he put his head in his hands. Ulrich retained his composure after his stall on the 8th puzzle to take 2nd, just in front of Thomas who had belated caught up a little ground. Wei-Hwa had managed to overhaul Hideaki to ensure there were three Americans in the top four, capping off a dominant US performance which had also see them claim the team title. It seems Will is left in the shade here, but there’s no doubting what a great solver he is too, and completes an American team every bit as stellar as the Germans.

It was interesting talking to Thomas afterwards – I rather got the impression that he didn’t feel he had much hope of winning beforehand given the 5 minutes he was conceding to Ulrich, but he didn’t seem too upset with 3rd. Given his general dominance in the online LMI tests, not to mention that clinical WSC performance, it seems a little crazy that he’s still waiting on a first WPC title – but I suppose he’s really going to need to earn it with Palmer and Ulrich in this kind of form. Palmer remained calm and emotionally level during the aftermath – it struck me that if I were in his shoes with a maiden world title to my name that I’d be a little excited, but Palmer was barely even cracking a smile. On the other hand perhaps it is this level-headedness that is exactly what makes him a great solver – not phased when he hits a sticking point in a puzzle, and not carried away as he blasts his way through another set. Anyhow, I tried to inject some jollity into affairs and stole a picture with the 1st place trophy. All this achieved was a near miss with the 3rd place trophy!

At lunch I wasn’t feeling particularly great, and I don’t think I made it much further than a bowl of soup. Affairs seemed so bad that I thought I was going to have to pass up on some cake, but eventually I was brought to my senses and managed to squeeze down one piece. By this time I was beginning to get excited about the afternoon programme, an organised game of football in a nearby sports hall. David had earlier mentioned that various people at previous championships take this very seriously, and especially the Eastern Europeans. I wasn’t so phased by this, reasoning that I’m a pretty handy player myself and not nicknamed “twinkletoes” for nothing. This definitely amused Jason when I mentioned it to him.

As a big crowd gathered by the hotel lobby at 3pm, I was beginning to eye up who might be the danger men but not really coming to any conclusions. I was perhaps a little more apprehensive about the team I might end up, but no matter. We walked on over to the hall, and then various organisational chaos broke out in trying to form everyone into teams. This seemed easier for contingents like the Turks or the Poles, but it seemed that an Anglophone team was beginning to break out. And by anglophone, I mean me (GBR), Byron (CAN), Dave (CAN), Julian (CAN – although admittedly living in GBR) and Jason (USA) – which was I’m afraid to say a little disheartening as I get the impression soccerball isn’t such a huge deal on the other side of the Atlantic. Our team was completed by a Romanian guy whose name I didn’t catch, and Tatsuya, a member of the Japanese puzzle A team. I was especially pleased to have him on board because he was kitted out as goalkeeper and therefore resolved the tricky issue of deciding who amongst the rest of us was best qualified to go in goal (or as is usually the case with these things, the least qualified to be out on pitch). Our remaining team members included Martin (CAN), equipped with a camera in the stands, and I think I’ll claim Vasso (GRE) for moral support as well. Yes, I did say stands by the way – there was a fairly sizeable pitch, and on the sides there were maybe 10 rows of tiered seats for spectators. What a great idea!

A total of 6 teams roughly emerged, including a team made up of the Hungarian organisers, who got the fun and games going against a mixed team. The standard wasn’t particularly impressive, and I suppose this is where I started breaking out into a commentary in the stands, which swiftly became a lesson in tactics from Sports Coach Collyer to Team Anglophone as I pointed out where (in my humble opinion) the simple mistakes were to be avoided. The first of my utterly invaluable nuggets came as I noticed that various efforts on goal were very comfortable for the keeper, and therefore that the thing to do was to always keep your shots on goal low and on the ground. This definitely impressed Dave, who mentioned that similar wisdom also applied in hockey.

The second match involved the Poles and someone else – and the Poles were quite impressive. Jan M looked very composed in goal, and both Tomasz’s looked very composed on the ball. They strolled to an easy win in their 15 minutes, by which time I was positively itching to get out of the stands and on to the pitch. Our game would be versus a rather young and energetic looking Turkish team, and I vaguely set out a 3-3 formation, with Jason and Byron staying further back alongside our rather cultured – not to mention impressively moustached – Romanian sweeper, and myself, Julian and Dave pushing further forward. I am naturally a bit of a goal poacher by trade, but I also recognised that I was probably going to have the edge on fitness on the team so I thought it’d be best for me to perform a sort of manic role in the middle whereby I’d also try to make myself an option for a pass when our team were in possession.

Miraculously this seemed to hold to a plan as our defence held up reasonably solidly as the more assured Turkish team had the best of the initial play. When we had the ball as well, I was pleasantly surprised to see that rather than hold onto the ball too long and get caught in possession – another common mistake that Sports Coach Collyer had warned against – we were actually passing it quite nicely, albeit without too much quality in the final pass. And then!? On one such foray forward, the ball broke loose but I had managed to anticipate where it was heading. After cutting inside one defender I found myself with an opportunity to have a low snapshot with my left foot, and to my immense satisfaction I made a clean contact, putting the ball beyond the keepers left hand. Against all the odds team anglophone had the lead!

Naturally the Turks began to press forward more, but our defence was still looking quite comfortable and there was more space up the field to exploit. Twice we hit the frame of the goal as firstly I was sent through, and slid the ball past the keeper agonisingly onto the post, and secondly as Dave hit a ball that bounced up onto the crossbar (keep it low!! Although this one in fairness was nigh on impossible to do so). As we gained in confidence we over-stretched and let the Turks in, and via a couple of unfortunate deflections they had an equaliser.

At about 10 minutes, whatever it was that was keeping me under the weather was beginning to take its toll, and breathing became markedly difficult, and my mad running around the pitch stopped as instead I tried to recover by resuming my role as a goal poacher. The Turks perhaps looked the more likely winners as the 15 minutes drew out, but in the end we held on for a rather creditable draw. I was definitely pleased with how everyone had played, and rather than be exceptionally tense and competitive I was feeling remarkably chilled out. Or at least struggling for breath.

I should perhaps say at this point that I normally get immensely wound up for one reason or another whilst playing football (at least this is usually the case playing with the rather inept Maths mailing list – I can safely say puzzlers make for far better footballers than mathematicians) but the closest I came to spilling over was the rather short sighted decision to permute the first two games of the next round of matches between the four teams who had played the first two games in the first round of matches – leaving us to presumably play the Turks for a second time.

Anyhow, we eventually got on for a second time (after letting the Turks play someone else first), playing a team featuring some of the Croatians. We seemed to be holding up quite well, but conceded a few unfortunate goals continuously. Unfortunate, as in our team stopping play as a door opened at the side of the pitch whilst the opposition played on. It was all a little bit disappointing after our heroic efforts in the first game, but I got a consolation goal right at the end where I picked the ball in a fairly advanced position, shuffled about a little with my feet making room for an opportunistic pot-shot that caught the keeper off guard. I think the match ended 3-1 or 4-1 or something.

People were beginning to filter out by this stage – as I imagine some of my less committed but certainly no less dear readers have begun to at this stage of this monster post – and those who were left standing essentially kept going. By this stage legs were getting tired, but I had caught my breath back and was now able to exploit the state of affairs. Jason was to comment that he now saw why they call me twinkletoes!

We headed back to the hotel, bruised and grazed as you morally should be after playing a decent game, and it was by now completely dark. I headed up for a quick shower, before agreeing to meet Dave in the bar for a restorative beer or two before the closing dinner and the evening entertainment. We were joined at a table on the first floor (yes via more shocks from the hand rail) by some of the British team. Shortly after the second Restorative Beer we were called in to the competition hall for the dinner.

I think I shall cut short description of the evening entertainment, as I’m beginning to lose a little steam now with this point. Suffice to say there was plenty of wine, lots of applause for the winners of all the various competitions, and a few posing for photos – a lot of which you can see in my relevant facebook album. After the dinner there was a sort of Hungarian country and western band playing, one of Gyorgi’s favourites apparently. More importantly I had reunited with the Poles, who were wondering if I could really drink like they apparently could.

Part of this challenge involved Michael L’s prize for being the top unofficial scorer – he was given one of those 5 litre kegs of Bitburger that he wasn’t going to get on the plane back to Germany. I think it’s safe to say that he got the biggest cheer of all as he went up to receive the prize, and it was really nice to see his “unofficial” achievements (I think I might have created an extra space in the play-offs for him anyway if I were running things) recognised and to have the beer shared out amongst so many puzzling friends. After all, the wine was beginning to run out! The night was concluded firstly by a trip to the bar again, where we were treated to another rendition of Byron’s sudoku song, along with the wonderful experience of having been bought a beer by the legendary Tetsuya Nishio. I was perhaps more than a little merry at this stage, but had one last set of photos with the Poles before they headed off on their 3am shuttle to the airport. Will and Nick were also on this shuttle so it was nice to also see them off.

The last memories of the WPC involved karaoke to the not so small hours of the morning. I’m sure bleary eyed spectators must have been slightly entertained to see me go through a rendition of Karma Police – a surprise thrust upon me by Jason – but there I was in front of a screen with the words “detuned radio” forming my backdrop. Bram tried to get this with a photo, but was a little late, which is probably understandable. As the karaoke also wound down, I was left with Bram discussing the finer points of writing puzzles. I didn’t have my pad with me, but he did and it was fascinating to see some of his ideas and thought processes. If you haven’t seen his blog – it’s linked there I guess somewhere way up to the top left by now – then you should definitely check out his puzzles, they are great! And that was it, the last lingering memories of a really wonderful set of championships. It seemed fitting to see things out by talking puzzles until the cleaners came to chuck us out for their morning shift, all the while ignoring silly little urges like wanting to sleep!

If you’ve made it this far, dearest reader, then I can only say I am most impressed by your stamina, and I’ll begin the round of thanks by saying I appreciate your interest. Since being in Eger, I’ve noticed a massive upturn in traffic to this blog and I can only hope that you’ll stick around for a puzzle or two on future Fridays. I’d like to offer my personal thanks to the organisers for being responsible for certainly one of the best weeks that I’ve had in the last few years. It’s also very sad to have had to have said goodbye to so many good friends from literally all over the world. I guess we will all keep in touch via the magic of blogs and facebook and so on, but seeing everyone once a year is something that I’ve grown to love more and more as I’ve done these championships. Here’s hoping my streak at these things continues, and I get to see everyone for many years to come!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

WPC '11: update 6

Right dearest reader, I have a nice and empty Saturday morning to fill and we are going to get through this together!

I think I’ve managed to get this far without describing some of the quirks of the hotel. The first is that the hotel was internally connected to another adjacent hotel, which in particular had the restaurant where we had our buffet dinners and in particular, the large selections of cake. Let me tell you, the three cakes for dinner on the Friday evening (I guess bringing me to a count of circa 250 were an immense struggle and I made Jason take a photo of the finished plate once I was (eventually!) done. I suppose the walk to and from the restaurant helps justify all this cake as I can’t exactly describe it as short!

Another quirk of the hotel was the staircase leading up from the lobby and reception, to the space on the first floor outside the competition hall. In particular, this staircase is directly responsible for a massive phobia of hand rails. Maybe it’s fair to describe me as a highly charged individual, but these blasted hand rails would give me a small static shock every time I even thought about reaching my hands out to them! You’d have thought I’d have learned, but each time I did it I realised my mistake too late to pull my hand away from the inevitable ZAP. Perhaps what sums up my feelings on the matter best is expressed by what happened when I tried explaining this to whoever I was (I think Dave B), who calmly remarked he had no such problem and demonstrated that he could put hi hand on the rail with no such problem. I look on with incredulity, and then try the other hand rail. You don’t need to be a Monty Python writer to know what happened next.

I think in the evening Julian and Jason had planned on going to a nearby karaoke bar, and had maybe even convinced some local girls to come with them – but I remained a little whacked out from competition and instead focussed on finishing my slitherlink. There were no apparent seats or sofas going, so instead I followed Will B’s lead and sat myself on the floor propped up against a wall. This was actually quite fun because lots of people came over at various points to see what I was doing. Luckily for me it wasn’t immediately obvious that the puzzle I had made was verrry broken.

As I was beginning to format everything up on my laptop, I was dragged in to the competition hall for the evening programme. (Are you sure you can use a laptop for this?) This, turned out to be another round of puzzles, this time some out-takes from both the WSC and the WPC. I was still sat at my desk, struggling to turn my 10×10 slitherlink template into a 17×17 template, and assumed that I’d be assimilated into a team nearby, presumably with Aga B and the Poles; but in the end it turned out to be Byron, Jason and Vasso. Which actually forms a pretty strong team now that I think about it. I was handed a page full of sudoku, and struggled my way through these slowly but solidly. I had more fun with the sick kropki, and then even more fun with the borderless skyscrapers. I suddenly understood the fits of laughter that were emerging every now and again when what I thought was a broken puzzle could in fact by solved rather trivially as a 1×1 “grid!” Apparently there was also another trick like this with the borderless islands puzzle. Towards the end, I guess when my puzzle solving abilities were re awakening I was quite pleased to solve what I thought was quite a beastly non-consecutive sudoku by finding a finned x-wing to eliminate a 5 from a set of 589 which then brought some consecutive constraints into play which then solved the puzzle. Will B afterwards assured me that this wasn’t strictly necessary! In the last 3 and a half minutes I thought I’d give the odd/even view sudoku a go, not expecting to get it out. But I did, with barely seconds to spare, which was quite a high point to personally end on.

Much amusement was had later when Jason, who has gone to hand in the papers, swiftly returned to inform me that I had not written my “name” on the paper. I swiftly rectified this sorry state of affair by writing my “name” in the two empty squares I’d left in the non-consecutive puzzle. I’m glad to say that’s the first time all week that I’d actually made that particular dickhead error.

The rest of Team Vasso has also done very well, because we ended up finishing in 7th place, behind the likes of two Japanese team, an American team, a combined Czech and Slovak team and so on. We were also one team up from a certain GBR-A, who informed me that they’d clearly have done a lot better if they had another sudoku solver on board. Whoops!

There was much debate about what to do next – apparently the karaoke bar looked not only dead, but wanted an entry fee as well – however as always with these debates the single line of “let’s go to the pub.” Cue a few more beers, some games of pool, some bowling and much merry-making with by now what was becoming the usual crowd.

And whilst I’m on the subject of pool, and with a doubles pairing with Byron I feel I need to introduce my unofficial role of WSC & WPC Sports coach (and yes sports over sport is definitely a nod towards my North American brethren). Early in the week whilst we’d been bowling, I felt I played an integral part in turning around Jason’s so-so start into his one man show. The secret? A quiet word in Jason’s ear, calmly telling him that what he needed to do was “to bowl it down the middle.” We now move onto the pool, where I again wheeled out my calm-yet-authoritative tones and gently mentioned that if Byron wanted to start potting balls, he needed to “hit the object ball with the cue ball just there.” Again, this seemed to work a charm, as we doubtlessly romped to victory. Or something haha. More from Sports Coach Collyer tomorrow!

I can’t remember how long we were there for, but I guess we were there til the small hours of the morning again. I think that as I was leaving the Poles + others were gathered round a table playing poker. This was probably just as well because I find poker to be quite a dull game and this would certainly have sent me over the edge into some much needed sleep. Incidentally, Przemek has the same opinion, especially with regards to online poker. His approach is to play lots of games at once to keep him on his toes, whilst earning enough money from doing so to, say, not bother with anything quite as tiresome as a job.

Ok this entry is getting quite tangential now, so I am going to break off before I cover the last day in Eger!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Friday Puzzles #132

So in a previous WPC report entry, I mentioned I’d share what I thought was the pick of the puzzles. Well this is a sort of a pre-emptive strike on that front, because the puzzle I have in mind as the inspiration for this week’s puzzle is an absolute beast of a yajilin. However, rather than being a puzzle during one of the rounds, this was featured on a Japanese newsletter that was being handed round, courtesy of PuzzleTokyo, a society ran by students at the University of Tokyo (こんにちは – here’s hoping google translate isn’t screwing me over!).

What you need to know about this newsletter is that it was entitled “Habanero,” and what you need to know about this puzzle is that in the hotel in Eger I saw puzzlers as good as Byron C and Palmer M sitting and staring at it for quite a long while. And also that I feel happy enough about eventually (no doubt to the amusement of Aga B) solving it to post a picture of my solution:
It should also be easy enough to recreate the grid if you want to have a go at it yourself. In case I haven’t been clear, be warned. This solves with some absolutely beautiful logic from start to finish, but, easy it certainly ain’t.

On a slightly parallel thread, a couple of days I commented on Para’s blog that he’d hit the jackpot with yajilin presentation. Trust me to go and find an example which then exploits a potential ambiguity in what I thought was so great. As such I’ve made some slight modifications which I don;t think look so bad given the visual theme of the puzzle. Notice that without the arrows in the blank cells, it is ambiguous as to whether R1C1 is a blank clue or simply part of the grid! In a slightly similar vein, the blank clues at R1C7 and R7C1 might just as easily be interpreted – for solving purposes anyway – as cells in the grid to be trivially shaded in. What will we do with yajilin presentations, dearest reader?

    #162 Yajilin – rated medium
All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009-11

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

WPC '11: update 5

And so, dearest reader, we move ever onwards and towards a finished championship report, of sorts. The second day of the WPC, the Friday started rather late coming down for breakfast, although I was glad of the appearance of some tea bags – even if if they were Lipton yellow labels. The problem with these is although they provide a tasty tea, which is crisp and refreshing, you can’t really make them with milk without the resulting beverage tasting like cardboard. I need a properly robust English Breakfast Tea in the mornings!

The first round of the day, round 8, was a “screen test.” Which means puzzles that appear on a screen for a short while, before disappearing. This was all well and good having read the instructions, but what my bleary head did not particularly need at this stage was lots of moving elements to these puzzles bouncing all around the screen. Ugggh. Mind you, I actually scored relatively well on this round, gaining more points here (130/200) than I did on some of the other rounds.

Round 9 was a “sprint.” Five puzzle types: Ariadne’s thread, numberlink, simple loop, shikaku and yajilin; four of each varieties to do, all in half an hour. Most of these are loop types, and when you consider Palmer’s description of Ariadne’s threads as “basically consecutive numberlink,” they were all things I am pretty strong at. (Although I can’t really recall having solved an Ariadne’s thread before this round.) Indeed this seemed to play out, as I had all but one numberlink and the 4 Ariadne’s threads out with 15 minutes to go. These remaining 5 took another 10 minutes, but I was feeling pretty smug about myself when I was able to declare that I had “finished!” a round of a world puzzle championships with time to spare. As I was finishing off these last few puzzles, I realised my heart was begin to race in much the way it has done in the past when I have closed in on various sudoku victories – particularly in the sudoku time trials. I wonder if the top solvers get something similar at certain times – I guess it must for example in the final play-offs.

Anyhow, as I’m sure you have previously read, increased satisfaction and smugness came when I heard Ulrich’s voice behind me also declare, some 30 seconds later. In what turned out to be an otherwise mediocre performance, I think this round made my WPC (at least the competitive puzzle solving aspect to it!).

OK, whilst I’d love to linger on that beautiful moment a little more, it’s probably time to move on to the next round – which was “divide and conquer.” This was a novelty to me at least, and the puzzle can best be described as fillomino, with the touching region constraints removed, and with a list of given pieces to fit into the puzzle by the side. The examples I had solved had all a bit of a numberlink flavour to them, what with the solver having to pack in the regions in the optimal fashion. I ended up struggling with this round, with some counting errors creeping in, and generally making unwise puzzle choices which were very far from maximising the potential points I might have hoped to get from the round. Oh well.

There was one final round for the morning, round 11, due to start at 11 seconds and 11 minutes past 11. Can you guess what the date was on that Friday? Why it was the 11th day of the 11th month of the twelfth year of the millennium…wait a second 2011! For a brief, errmm, second? there were lots of 1’s appearing on a digital display being projected to us, but unfortunately the papers were still being handed out so we started about half a minute late. The round itself was another one to forget for me, scoring a fairly pathetic 110 of the available 550 points – again probably due to a fairly poor choice of puzzles to solve. I kidded myself that this round might have been rescued had I got the 66 point nurikabe out, but again another round to forget.

I can’t remember how apparent the scores were at this stage – now that I think about I can at least recall seeing some before turning in late on Thursday night (or technically Friday morning). Anyhow, I think there was enough information floating around that Neil Zussman was in and around the top 10, and in with a seriously good shout of being the first Briton ever to make a WPC play-off. On debut, no less. If I’m not getting across just how seriously impressive this all is, Palmer managed 19th on debut in Poland last year!

I think during the lunch break I’d given up on blogging on my laptop, but was hard at work on the 17×17 slitherlink puzzle I’d started on the way to the caves on Wednesday, with the expressed wish of having a Friday puzzle to put out on a Friday (am I meta-blogging again?) but as always, the start of the afternoon rounds seemed to interrupt everything.

Rounds 12, 13 and 14 formed something of a marathon, lasting respectively 80, 60 and 60 minutes each. I think it’s probably fair to say that by this stage of the week I didn’t quite have the mental stamina required to keep going with this, and bearing in mind the points on offer for these rounds were probably the main reason that I ended up with my mediocre final result. Anyhow, I think I’m really beginning to whine a little bit too much about this so how about I talk about the rounds instead.

The “hungaricum” – I guess this means something like Hungarian collection, because I saw various purveyors of tat at the airport trade under this same name – had some fun moments, most notably the windows puzzle. I’m trying to work out exactly what I spent my 80 minutes on here, because I recall solving fairly well throughout (modulo puzzle choice, haha) but my total of 245/1115 seems more than underwhelming.

I also managed to tot up 245 points for the set of “innovatives,” this time out of “only” 940. Again I’m left with the feeling of wanting to know exactly what I did with my hour – although I guess I spent a fair chunk of time on the sudoku snails. Looking back at the score-sheets, I suppose this was actually a more competitive score relatively speaking, but again a little underwhelming.

Finally, the “best of” round. There was a vote earlier in the day where we were supposed to list our favourite puzzles of the championship, with the implication that these would appear again in this round for us to solve. Under that assumption, I didn’t do anything like vote for which I thought were the most beautiful puzzles, and instead voted for the types I thought I’d be good at solving (so the sprint round again!). This strikes me as a little bit of a shame, because this is not how things worked out, and I missed an opportunity to acknowledge fellow puzzle writers. Maybe when I get a chance to solve all the puzzles I left (there were many) I’ll come back and publicly announce my votes for the best WPC puzzles, for whatever shred of importance that may bear to anyone!

Anyhow, the twist with the round was essentially it was a 60 minute sprint of puzzles featured from all the rounds, generally of quite a small size and of a fairly easy standard, but not always. A flat rate of 10 points per puzzle applied, which is kind of a fun idea as it rewards different people for being good at different things all at the same time. At the end of play I thought I’d counted 33 puzzles solved, but my official score of 30 begs to differ. This was a solid if not spectacular effort, I think on better form I might have managed closer to 40 puzzles in the hours, if not even more.

Anyhow, if you’ve gotten through the end of this post, I think you are some of the way to understanding quite how draining that afternoon was! On the other hand it represented the end of the individual round, which was definitely something of a relief, with only one team round and the play-offs to look forward to the following day. I think I’ll postpone descriptions of the evening’s celebrations til the next post!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

WPC '11: update 4

So I’m a little delayed, by approximately a week, but I’ll try and get things wrapped up.

So I guess we’re now past the rest day, ready to start competition on Thursday, the 1st day of the WPC. I’ve started writing this with only the instructions at hand, and without the results or my marked papers, so things will certainly be of a more impressionist nature. That’s the way it goes I’m afraid!

The first round was “in memorium,” dedicated to puzzle writers who recently passed away. Before things actually got going, some relatives were invited to the front to say a few words, and it was all a little poignant and sobering – I definitely felt moved as words were spoken about the puzzle community being a family, and how much it would have meant to the departed to see their puzzles being used at a world championship. Anyhow, the round got under way, and I recall solving a few puzzles which was something of a relief. My WPC campaign was up and running!

Round 2 was an hour’s worth of “assorted puzzles.” Whilst I felt I was solving reasonably well throughout this round I think my mistake here, as with many previous online puzzle contests as well as subsequent rounds in Eger, was my choice of puzzles. Generally I’m not amassing enough points to be making significant dents in the general classification.

The last round of the morning was “cows.” I’m not entirely sure where cows come into things, but essentially it was a round of star battle variations. This is a puzzle type that every time I think I have cracked, I always come across something new to throw me a little bit, and this was the case with this round. After getting the first two classic puzzles out reasonably quickly, I couldn’t get out the third for love nor money, and then proceeded to struggle away with some of the variations. With not much success – I only managed to complete one other during the time. Something of a disaster for me.

During the lunch break I think I finally got a chance to meet long time friend of this blog, Palmer “MellowMelon” Mebane. Palmer has the same sort of puzzling intensity about him as Thomas, and never seemed to be too far away from a puzzle. This probably seems a little vacuous given this much hindsight, but given Palmer’s results in LMI tests, as well as his spectacular victory in the USPC, but I always had Palmer down as a dark horse for the WPC title alongside the more experienced campaigners of Thomas and Ulrich. I also managed a little time to update the blog (wow – I’m blogging about blogging), but as I’m sure, dearest reader, you’ve already seen I had to quickly make tracks for the start of the afternoon session.

Round 4, “borderless,” was one I was more than a little apprehensive about, the idea of the round being you are given some classic puzzle types with outside clues, only the grids are much bigger than necessary, and there are some surplus rows and columns. In the half hour, I managed to get out the skyscrapers (much tweaking), and an easy as ABC which it turned out did use the whole grid after all. After the round it soon became apparent that the other easy as ABC was also trivial, in that it was a tiny 4×4 grid. Oh well. The round certainly could have gone worse.

Round 5 was one that I was more looking forward to, being a round of “evergreens.” Haha, what an evil round it was. I’ve not really had the chance to go over the numerous puzzles I didn’t do this round, but without the time pressure, and with my constructors hat on, I’m fairly sure I will fall in love with this round. Anyhow, basically there were all sorts of lovely twists to the puzzles in this round, to the point where rules to one puzzle were being used to define an almost entirely different puzzle idea. I basically remember struggling a whole lot with this round, maybe solving a meagre 3 or 4 puzzles during the hour – and pretty much on the spot resigning myself to a no more than mediocre debut WPC performance.

Speaking of debut performances, after the round was finished and I was necking several bottles of caffeinated sugar water, I got the chance to ask Ulrich how the round had gone. Speaking with fellow GBR-A debutant Neil Zussman I was astonished to hear that he was in the same ballpark for the round (circa 500 points), and I guess I was beginning to realise that we were going to see something completely spectacular. Certainly any pretensions of keeping up were disappearing rather rapidly!

The remaining rounds in the day were the team rounds. The first one was presumably courtesy of the sponsors, but was nevertheless a lot of fun. The idea is that you had various classic puzzle ideas presented in the form of board games. We were fairly confident we’d got 5 puzzles out, but were subsequently told only 4 were correct. Anyhow, I was fairly sure that the two puzzles I solved during the time were all good – the first was a set of cards with various arrangements of 5 matchsticks to be placed on a grid so that two cards in adjacent positions.

The second team round was also a lovely idea – a massive grid which combined four types: islands, snakes, anglers and lighthouses. Whilst 3 people were working on the main puzzle, the 4th team member was off solving an individual puzzle in return for a set of hints for the big puzzle. A priori, the implication was that these individual puzzles would be pretty easy, but in practice they were still at beast 3-4 minute puzzles. Perhaps what didn’t help was the fact that the first islands and lighthouse puzzles that I’ve ever solved were as part of this individual leg. The team as whole seemed to be making slow but solid progress, but unfortunately something seemed to break and we hadn’t quite done as well as we’d have liked to.

The puzzling done for the day, I was definitely in need of a beer, and was especially glad to grab one with Dave Baines of Canada. Dave has been angling for a mention in the blog, and I really like his idea of numberlink, except you are given that X cells in the grid aren’t going to be used so definitely keep your eye out for something like that in coming weeks. We were then informed that the evening entertainment was going to be a crossword tournament, which was good fun whilst I entering answers into firstly the American style square grid and then a more European style crisscross grid – but eventually both answers and beer dried up, and we left. I still have no idea just how well I did with this, although again with hindsight I can tell you that the Croatians were very good at this, taking 1st, 2nd and 3rd!

Time for some sleep? Not a a bit of it! We headed downstairs to the bar, which was also equipped with larger than normal pool tables and smaller than normal 10 pin bowling lanes. I flattered to deceive with my first bowl, hitting a clean strike whilst kissing the air but it went downhill from there. Jason again proved to be the dark horse, easily winning. Meanwhile, in the lane next to us, Alan O’D was once more winding up his international standard hammer arm, flinging bouncing bombs down the lane. I get the feeling Alan regards the speed gun at a bowling alley as more legitimate challenge than that of knocking mere pins down!

At about 1 or 2 or something we decided to leave the bar. To sleep? Don’t be stupid! To use the hotel table tennis and foosball facilities. Being a little tired and a few beers down I don’t think I impressed Jan M very much, but with a little warm-up I was playing some reasonable stuff with Sebastian M of Germany and Vasso of Greece. Finally I decided to call it a night, but not before chatting a little with Przemek of Poland. He is remarkable for any number of reasons, but two which came to mind were the fact he’s massively short-sighted without actually resorting to any sort of correction, and secondly that he enjoyed the evergreens round a lot.

Right, time for a break in blog posts. If nothing else, I need a pee.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Friday Puzzles #131

Some more book-keeping dearest reader, before we begin. Last week’s broken slitherlink will soon be fixed; indeed last week’s unfinished WPC reports will soon be completed. Oh – and there are a few more pages that I’ll be adding to the links section on the right, which I haven’t updated in quite some time.

I’m feeling a little bit drained and tired and ill this week, a combination of factors ranging from Eger withdrawal to bluffing my way through the proof of the wonderfully titled “tube penetration lemma.” Perhaps not one to google, that.

Anyway, this week a Nurikabe. I’ll be honest and say whilst I tested on paper, I didn’t do it on the png (which I never used to do, but actually catches more errors than you’d think it would). On the other hand there’s plenty of bite to the puzzle, and there’s even something of a theme going on. As well as my word that this isn’t in fact broken, touch wood. Enjoy!
    #161 Nurikabe – rated hard
All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009-11

Friday, 11 November 2011

Friday Puzzles #130

And so, dearest reader, it matters not that that I’ve been away all week at both a world sudoku championship and a world puzzle championship performing quite well in the former and somewhat forgettably in the latter. Here is a Friday puzzle which is (just about) on time!

Yup, no puzzling updates, because frankly at this stage I’m not sure I want to write about how pear-shaped things have turned and I am sure that you probably don’t want to hear about my moanings just quite yet, so here is a slitherlink, plain and simple. Conceived on a long and boring coach trip, no less. Enjoy!

EDITED EDIT: this one works!
    #160 Slitherlink – rated hard
All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009-11

WPC 11: update 3

So I’ll just make a brief update for now, without getting onto day 1 of the WPC, just to say that after staying up until 2.30am drinking, bowling and table tennis-ing I not only managed to finish a WPC round, I managed to finish a WPC round faster than 7-time world champion Ulrich Voigt. It seems I’ll have to be taken my victories as they come – like I say more detailed reports later, but I can’t go without mentioning that Neil Z is currently 9th (after the first day)

I’ve also realised that I’ve not posted the full UK results from the WSC. They were about to be typed, but apparently we have a round to start.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

WPC 11: update 2

The first WPC day is over and it’s been a little bit all over the place for me, but more on that later. By the by, the latest cake count is up to 22, although the bombshell this evening was that a set of 3 cakes appeared towards the latter part of the dinner period, replacing an earlier set of 2. !!!.

With the WSC over and done with it was probably just as well there was a rest day the day after. With the play-offs over and done with, there was then a Q&A session for the WPC. In practice this turned out to be the start of an evening of puzzle racing, with the first set being determined by a Japanese newsletter packed with what turned out to be devilishly fiendish takes on some classic puzzle types. The first round was a fairly tricky kakuro, with Thomas and Byron joining in too. As questions were being fielded, we were manically scribbling away with Jason eventually confirming his inevitable victory. We tried further examples from the newsletter but these turned out to be a little tricky for the purposes of racing.

We thus retired to the bar for a beer, before finding some sofas and some copies of a Turkish puzzle magazine and we set to work. We were fairly evenly matched on the numberlink in that one of us had managed to have the relatively small puzzle out before the other had blinked, but the treat came with the slitherlink where I put in a pretty rapid solve. By this point we were being observed by Ondrej S and Lenka V of the Czech republic, who were most impressed that I was filling in bits of the loop with no hesitation where there was no apparent logic. It would later turn out hat Ondrej – aka Cert – was also most impressed with my apparent 51 second diagonal sudoku solve on fed; alas I had to inform him the timer was broken and there was no chance I could even do a classic in that time.

Will B then joined the show, and he and Jason then began to start beating me into the ground with some of my less favoured types, such as easy as ABC and skyscrapers, before I started to pull things back on things like Nurikabe and Fillomino.

Anyhow, what had started as a series of sprints was swiftly turning into a marathon, and by the time we made it to 2am I had to tap out, and swiftly dodge the Indians who were playing some Indian poker (one of the highlights of the Beijing trip). Creeping back into the room, I thought that David must have been asleep…in reality I should have known better as he wasn’t back in til 3, having been puzzling with the Dutch.

A great start to the rest day then, but we had agreed to met over breakfast at 8. Perhaps this is a good point to introduce the other British protagonists to this tale. The rest of the A team includes David M, Gareth M and Neil Z, whilst we also have numbers for a B team, which includes Alan O’D, Nick G, Emma M and Liane R. I managed to get up for this, but was feeling the lack of sleep and hot water and missed out on the walking tour of Eger, instead choosing to make a couple of updates for the blog, as well as showering and generally attempting to wake up.

In the afternoon, the whole touring party was loaded up onto 5 coaches and taken on a bit of a mystery tour. The journey started becoming a bit of drag after the first three quarters of an hour or so, although it’s always entertaining to be sat alongside Byron as he hums away. After a bit of a nap I thought it’d be a good idea to start on a Friday Puzzle, using the back of the fiendish Japanese newsletter for a grid given that I’d manage to leave my notebook in the hotel room.

It turned out that the place we arrived to eventually was the entrance to some caves, which we were led through for a while to the great amusement of the on-looking bats, before we arrived at the ceremonial erm cave. There were lots of chairs laid out, and we were treated to a light show and some music before we were treated to a prize giving ceremony. Cue some flag waving from Tiit, broad smiling from Kota and a rather forced grin from Thomas. Of the teams, the Americans seemed a bit meh (Nick Baxter aside), the Czechs downright depressed and all smiles from the victorious German team.

I’m not entirely convinced this ceremony was worth the round trip although it was nice to take a nap after catching up with Aga and Przem…Psyho from the Polish team, and meeting Julian W from Canada.

The night was wrapped up with a visit to some wine cellar place in Eger where we had dinner and wine and fizzy water from dispenser-cum-fire extinguishers. Byron managed to get extraordinarily drunk (whilst still solving quickly), and I extraordinarily managed to find my way back to the hotel. And that was the rest day. Perhaps you can draw some conclusions from the fact this entry is by far the longest so far, and has nothing to do with puzzles. Haha…

WSC '11: update 7 / WPC '11: update 1

Ok So I’m running a little behind with the blog posts so I’ll try and be a little more concise recapping the WSC play-off. The qualifiers were in first, Thomas Snyder, then Jan Mrozowski, Tiit Vunk, Florian Kirch, Jan Novotny, Nikola Zivanovic, Michael Ley, Hideaki Jo and finally Jakub Ondrousek.

The play-off format was really good: 9 puzzles to solve, with competitors moving forward as they completed puzzles (which also included a 1 minute checking time). After three puzzles 10 desks became 7, after six 7 desks became 5 and from there a race to the line. Competitors were also given time advantages based on their total scores from the rounds. This translated into Thomas starting 3 minutes before Jan, and so on until Jakub started with a 10 minute penalty.

In the event Thomas started out front and stayed out front, right to the end. I believe the affectionate nickname “The Machine” has been used on this blog in the past, and that’s exactly what this performance was. Cool, calm and clinical – although I dare say the chairs were feeling a bit of punishment as he moved between desks. In contrast for example, Kota languidly strolled between desks, and was (very briefly) level with Thomas. It was as close as anyone got.

The main shock came with the elimination of Jan M after the first cut (maybe this was part of Thomas’ 2 year plan too?) – although perhaps almost as surprising was the fact that Hideaki, together with nearly a 9 minute penalty, did manage to make it. Perhaps it wasn’t surprising to see Jakub go out either, especially given his body language before finally being allowed to start – slumped out across his desk.

The first cut also claimed Michael Ley, who promptly called over an organiser and ordered a beer. Fair play.

The second cut saw a few see-saws between people who weren’t Thomas, but eventually claimed Jan N and Nikola.

Hideaki’s remarkable run continued, but in the end it was Kota who managed to hang on to 2nd, with Tiit claiming 3rd. Hideaki claimed 4th and Florian finished the list in 5th. Congratulations to all!

The WPC has started today and I have actually solved some puzzles. I have no idea what I should reasonably expect to acheive, but David has said top 50 would be good. I certainly want to be top 100, and preferably at least top 4 on the British team. As the afternoon rounds are about to begin, I should probably leave the shenanigans of the WSC aftermath and the rest day until next time…

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

WSC 11: update 6

So the last remaining rounds before the WSC came to a close were in the afternoon, by which time it had become apparent that I was up to 23rd, and this without my round 2 being taken into account – which was putting me on course to a best ever finish.

Apparently my tiredness this morning is keeping me from maintaining a coherent narrative so maybe it’s best to just get on with the rounds.

Round 11, as previously advertised, was called “not easy classics”, and to be honest was one of my least favourite rounds. It was all 9×9 classic puzzles, but it wasn’t particularly clear from the relative weightings of the puzzles that “not easy” meant that the puzzles would 4-6 minute solves, or whether this meant that bifurcation was the order of the day. In the end it was a mixture of both – or at least I think it was because once you start putting yourself in the mode for bifurcation then you start missing out on perfectly legitimate – but non-trivial – deductions and you sort of ruin any fun in the solving experience. Yes I solved some of the puzzles, but it was a bit of slog and given the potential weighting of the round I’m not sure I’m happy that those more skilled in that darkest of sudokuing arts, bifurcation, were going to be rewarded this much. Talking to Jana B of the Czech Republic on my left, and Byron on my right seemed to suggest I wasn’t alone in being a bit miffed.

Round 12 was a bit of a novelty round, a 3d sudoku (I think Thomas and Wei-Hwa have called these isometric in their Mutants book) which instead of being projected onto a planar piece of paper, was actually a bit of cardboard folded up, together with two pull-out pieces that revealed a further two alternative grids. To start off with, I felt much like a small child as I pulled the pieces apart and put them back together again, but in the end I started making progress and as is always the case with this particular sudoku type, the puzzle was done without me even realising.

At the time of writing, final standings have been published, but I appear not to have been credited with my 8 minutes worth of bonus points for this round, which is a little annoying as this would propel me from 23rd to 21st.

The last round was a team round entitled “weakest link”. A nice idea where the four team members had to first solve some individual puzzles, before each was given one of four 8×8 grid which interlinked with each other so that even digits in one corresponded to odd digits in another, and then high digits in one corresponded to low digits in some other. Unfortunately these were all inequality sudoku, which are generally a slog for me to solve. 2 of the 10 alternatives on fed sudoku are “greater than” and “GTaK”, and those are the two I usually leave. Maybe I should practice them more. Anyway, as it turned out we had David M, myself and Michael all get our grids, but we weren’t joined by David C in the hour so I can only presume he shares my sentiments about inequality sudoku. In the end it didn’t seem to matter much as we managed to break the 3 interlinking grids that we did have, and only had time to complete two and a half of them before time was up.

A fairly disappointing end in terms of the team performance, but I guess compared to last year in Philadelphia, we didn’t really adapt to the 4 man format rather than the 3, and with individual scores counting towards the team score too it had certainly helped that myself, George D and David M had all finished in the top 50.

This seems like a suitable place to break off before I talk about the play-offs. I could also frankly do with trying to wake myself up with a wander round the hotel.

WSC 11: update 5

So I’m now running a day behind, and I’m quite tired after staying up far too late with Jason and Will B racing on various puzzle types. Will was asking the other day whether I’d written nice things about him, and I now realise I’ve not had anything to say at all. Now that I’m here it seems crazy that he wasn’t on the US A team, but the 3 remaining Brits (who I’ve not yet introduced either – Mike Colloby, Gareth Moore and Nick Gardner) were very glad to have Will come and make up the numbers for an unofficial UN team.

Ah yes, enough excuses for delayed posts, and more actual content. The first round, which by my count was round 8, was full of decorated sudoku. This generally means that some cells in a puzzle had some sort of relation, and some decoration was made if and only if the relation held. There were two each of the five variants, typically one with lots of decoration, and then one with no decoration – i.e. you had to use the only if inference a lot. I’m reliably informed the Rossini was a monster; fortunately I skipped over this in the round. I ended up with 6 puzzles, again solid and unspectacular.

Round 9 was a sprint, containing six 6×6 classics, 6 9×9 classics, and 3 each of diagonal and irregular puzzles. Nothing too much to say about this round, except that I had a bit of a brain fart on the first irregular puzzle and then skipped the other 2; I still had a good round however, getting the other 15 puzzles out in the 30 minutes given.

Round 10 seemed a priori to be the one that was going to settle things, with a massive 940 points at stake, but in practice it was filled with so many puzzles that no-one was ever going to finish it and it was more a case of picking the right puzzles to do in the given 70 minutes. I can remember solving stuff in this round, but even immediately after at lunch I wasn’t entirely sure which puzzles I’d been solving – either 425 or 450 points worth. Anyway, this seemed like a fairly good effort.

The scores before lunch I think were roughly filtering through, and I was steadily rising from somewhere in the 60’s, and then the 40’s. I had the feeling that whilst perhaps not making up spectacular amounts of ground, I was certainly not conceding any.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

WSC 11: update 4

So there are only 10 minutes before the afternoon session begins, the joys of “not so easy” sudoku to look forward to, so I’ll keep things brief. The pop/rock quiz was a lot of fun, especially as I was chatting with the 3 finalists – Jason Z, Byron C and Dave B. Jason and Byron’s speeds on the buzzers were quite breathtaking at times, and I’ll look forward to editing the footage into something vaguely humorous. In the end, it was Jason who took the bragging rights!

Afterwards we went to one of the hotel bars, and stayed up late playing pool and drinking beer, in the good company of the Poles. Beers til 1am doesn’t sound like the best idea at a world championship, given that rounds start promptly at 9, but you have to enjoy yourself and besides, I find myself living on adrenaline for the duration of the competition anyway.

I’ll save updates of todays rounds til later, but scores are filtering through and at the time of writing I am lying in 23rd, steadily rising up the rankings. Let’s up this continues.

By-the-by, only 2 varieties of cake at lunch, although one was a rather intriguing lime and coconut cake. That’s 11 varieties and counting. Best so far has been the black forest gateau.

Monday, 7 November 2011

WSC '11: update 3

Ok I’m now well fed and have now had my 9th variety of cake, and feel much the better for it. First some book-keeping.

David McNeill has complained that my blog posts haven’t been Sarcy enough so far, and Thomas Snyder has claimed that of the 4 Coll’s (Collins, Collison, Colloby, Collyer) forming the UK contingent, I am not his favourite. In lieu of these two facts I shall now make a heart-felt plea to Thomas, proclaiming my love of American football in a hope to rectify all this.

The 1st team round was an absolute monster, a big circular job on a table with 8 puzzle interlinked by a devilish wheels system which the UK team couldn’t really make heard or tail of, and anything we thought was right turned out to be flawed information. We may have got 1 of the 8 interlinked puzzles out, but I am not even confident about this. Oh well. I realise this description probably doesn’t shed much light on this puzzle but I don’t care. It is over and never needs to be though about ever again!

The 2nd team round was much better. A collection of 4 puzzles together with 32 pieces to be placed as givens in the grids, 8 pieces per puzzle. The particular grid I was given was very hard to deduce anything from, but the others (in case I’ve not introduced them yet – David M, David Collison and Michael Collins) steadily deduced things, which simplified things nicely and we finished with 10 minutes to spare. This marked the end of the afternoon’s puzzling and we headed straight to the bar for a beer. Which was cold, and beer-like. Magic. There’s now a pop-rock quiz, a la Jeopardy, about to happen, so this is probably all you’re going to get for today. No scores available, as of yet.

WSC '11: update 2

Wowza – quite an afternoon.

Round 3 was, as previously advertised, the “easy classic”, where by easy you have things which could easily pass as Times fiendish. I made a very quick start but unfortunately broke a couple of the puzzles, and ended up leaving 5 of the 16 9×9 puzzles unfinished (although thankfully I got the 6 6×6 puzzles in the last few minutes). Chatting to Jason Z and Byron C this seemed to be a fairly solid, if not spectacular result.

Round 4 was the halved squares round. I feel a little bit annoyed as this was very finishable but managed to break an 8×8 example in pen, and then ended up with 3 minutes in the round to have a go at the 80 point 9×9 puzzle, which was much much easier than the example posted on this blog. Conceding at least 130 points to this round doesn’t feel like an accurate reflection of affairs, but I guess I have my own bad time management to blame here.

Round 5 was the final individual round of the day, with various grey squares in the middle with various constraints – for example various lines which spelled out sums and products for you to work out. Solid but unspectacular progress for me on this one as well with 7 of the 11 puzzles completed, and hopefully error free.

At the time of writing no scores are available so I’m unaware to the extent of the collection of errors that I’ve doubtlessly made.

Right, I’m fairly exhausted and we’re about to go to dinner, so team rounds will have to come later. Here’s to the 7th variety of cake and beyond!

WSC '11: update 1

So I’m a little conscious of having never gotten round to writing up a report for the Beijing sudoku tournament last May, so I’ve decided to try and proive quick updates as to what is happening in Eger as and when I get a spare moment to myself.

Travel (yesterday) was fun, but ended up arriving at Manchester airport in time for the flight, and minus much fingernail length. There was a lengthy wait on arrival at the airport in Budapest waiting for others to arrive, together with an even lengthier transfer from Budapest to Eger (go look it up), but in the end we arrived at the hotel safe and sound, meeting up with friends old and new.

The hotel itself is quite nice, although the room that I am sharing with puzzling veteran David McNeill can best be described as cosy – we’re talking a double room rather than a twin room. I had the pleasure of watching David solve in person the puzzle I posted on Friday, and as he toiled his way to the solution it was time to get some sleep.

On to today. There have been two rounds so far, and not a manually scribed digit made in anger. The first round we were presented with a booklet of 60 “puzzles”, except the grids had been filled out and you had to indicate whether they had been filled out correctly or not. This is easy when you spot an obvious error – but I have to confess to marking a few right which I wasn’t 100% confident on – I have a hard enough job spotting when my own grids are right let alone this variety of scripts, fonts, tallies, marks and so on. I wouldn’t call it a spectacular round for me, but I’m at least confident in all the puzzles I marked wrong.

Round two was a funny manipulative puzzle where digits were replaced by tiles with Hungarian landmarks – clues were printed on a rather large piece of paper with the idea being that the clues were all definitely wrong, but indicated that an edge-adjacent cell contained that picture. It sounds a bit of a nightmare, but I managed to get on a roll and finished the round with 7 minutes to spare, which is hopefully quite good. But yet it might be completely wrong – the problem with this puzzle being that each digit you placed then obscured some other clue so you can’t really see if you’ve contradicted yourself along the way. Fingers crossed eh?

Anyway, whatever. It’s hard to judge how things are going so far, especially given these first two rounds aren’t weighted very heavily in the grand scheme of things. On the other hand, all being well I have made a very solid start. The next round will involve some actual number placement (gasp) – a round of 22 easy classic puzzles and 45 minutes in which to solve them in. I suspect the Jakub O’s of this round might have this done in closer to 30 minutes, but I reckon this round is finishable for us mere mortals too, all being well. More to follow!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Friday Puzzles #129

So this is my last entry before I jet off to Hungary to have a shot at firstly the World Sudoku Championship, and then the World Puzzle Championship next week. I’ll be travelling with laptop and notebook so there might even be a puzzle next week. I invite you, dearest of readers, to be on the lookout for updates here throughout the week.

For those that are interested, the instruction booklets for each competition are filled with some intriguing ideas.

This week’s puzzle has been taken from the WSC booklet. The only previous examples of these that I’ve seen have been no larger than 7×7 grids, but I’ve whacked this up to full size. The rules are as follows: 1-9 exactly once in each row, column and marked region. Some squares are split in half; exactly one half is to be filled, the other to be left empty. You have to determine which. I’m not totally convinced this is genuinely a hard, but I’ll give it that label anyway what with the novelty value. Enjoy!
    #159 Halved Squares Sudoku – rated hard
All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009-11

Friday, 28 October 2011

Friday Puzzles #128

I’m running about as low on inspiration for a spiel this week as my laptop is its battery charge. Here’s a Nurikabe puzzle. It feels a little contrived but perhaps I’m just a little tired. Enjoy.
    #158 Nurikabe – rated medium
All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009-11

Friday, 21 October 2011

Friday Puzzles #127

So another Masyu again this week. I had wanted to send one of the tricks from last week to 11, but then all of a sudden it was 11pm last night and I wanted to sleep. I guess I’ll just wait until I’ve got a nice long stretch of time to myself, perhaps on a train or a plane or something. Anyway, more twisted symmetry. You’d almost think they were easy to put together! Enjoy.
    #157 Masyu – rated easy
All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009-11

Friday, 14 October 2011

Friday Puzzles #126

Wow – an entry on time – what is the world coming to!?

Well somethings never change. It’d have been really great to have pulled off this masyu with perfect symmetry, but as it is I’ve had to add an extra pearl to take the solution count down from 2 to 1. Can’t have it all eh? Still, I think there’s more than enough here to keep you entertained, and you might even need to use a slight twist on an old masyu chestnut to get you going. Enjoy!
    #156 Masyu – rated medium
All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009-11

Friday, 7 October 2011

Friday Puzzles #125

I’ve been at a wedding and will busy until at least Sunday. I’m afraid it’s more delays. In other news, I’m considering a career managing the the West Coast mainline.

EDIT: OK, here we go. Tom Collyer writes another easy sudoku. But not trivially so. Enjoy!
    #155 Sudoku – rated easy
All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009-11

Friday, 30 September 2011

Friday Puzzles #124

I’m afraid this week’s puzzle is also going to be a bit delayed, new laptop and all, perhaps until later tomorrow. Whatever happened to my time management!?

EDIT: After much delay, here is the puzzle. It’s another Nurikabe, a type for which I don’t think I’ve quite nailed my own individual style. On the other hand it means that I come up with lots of slightly quirky puzzles. But then I don’t know exactly how I should be rating them. I think for the sake of beginners I’ll leave this as a medium. Enjoy!
    #154 Nurikabe – rated medium
All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009-11

Friday, 23 September 2011

Friday Puzzles #123

I’m in a little bit of a rush this week, in particular the image quality might be a little below par for now. I also plan on editing in the grand final puzzles from the Times championship last week a bit later, but for now, you’ll have to make do with this yajilin. I think there’s enough here to bump it up to a medium. Enjoy!
    #153 Yajilin – rated medium
(can't find the old image.  Meh.)
EDIT and with alternative Akari-style presentation:
   #153 Yajilin – rated medium
 See also this link for an interactive web version, courtesy of Otto Janko.

All puzzles © Tom Collyer 2009-11

SECOND EDIT And for those who are interested, here are the puzzles from the grand final for the Times Sudoku championship. On the day, these must have taken me 20+ minutes, but when republished in the newspaper later in the week, I clocked 14.10. Perhaps some of that was familiarity, but I’d argue that only made a difference with one of the puzzles (#4). I’d even argue that 14.10 felt a little slow, and as I posted in a comment in the previous entry, I reckon the crème de la crème could be much closer to an aggregate 10 minutes.

As with last year, I don’t have any sort of permission to reproduce these, so I’ll take them down if requested, but no-one complained last year and I think it’s fair use in so much as this will provide highly interesting international comparison. Since there is no copyright in the paper, I can’t be 100% sure that these are from the Puzzler Media generator, but I think it’s more than likely that that’s the case.
    2011 Times Su Doku Championship Grand Final #1

    2011 Times Su Doku Championship Grand Final #2

    2011 Times Su Doku Championship Grand Final #3
And finally, my own personal nemesis – and as with the case with most nemeses there’s no particularly good reason why this would be the case! 
2011 Times Su Doku Championship Grand Final #4

Sunday, 18 September 2011

2011 Times sudoku championship

Time for a “quick” and rather sleep deprived write-up of the championship – if I don’t do it now then it’ll end up like the Beijing tournament where I never quite get around to doing it.

First off, I suppose I should offer a little explanation as to why I now refer to this competition as the Times championship rather than the UK championship. This is because the UKPA now has had two competitions calling themselves UK championships, and as WPF representatives have a more authoritative claim on being able to award a national title. Even if the Times event has more participants, glamour and shiny trophies!

Anyhow, semantics and pedantry aside, onto the report. Coming into the event I was feeling really quite confident in my classic sudoku solving times, and believed that if I could go through the championships without making a mistake, then there’d be at least a 50% chance Times title would be mine for a 3rd time. Obviously there’d be some strong competitors, and with a grand final format when anyone from 8 can take the title inevitably a little chance comes into things, but I thought I had an edge and as such could see little point worrying about things being a lottery.

The day itself started with a minor panic. Registration for the event was between 10.00 and 10.45am, with the 1st preliminary round kicking off at 11.00am. I’d got on the 8.50 train from Coventry to London Euston, due to get in about an hour later, thinking that another hour would be plenty of time to make it over to the News International building near Tower Hill. I had not counted on the signalling issues which had left the train still in the middle of countryside at 10.00am, delayed by about 20 minutes, so that when I arrived at Euston I was a bit of a fluster. I briefly headed down to the underground station, was greeted by a lack of funds on my oyster card together with a monstrous queue for tickets, before biting the bullet and getting a taxi to take me to Thomas More Square, near Tower Hill (as opposed to the one in Hackney – more on this later!)

I passed through the security and went up the lift at about 10.50, with little more time than to appreciate the spectacular views looking down onto the Thames and beyond, say a quick few hellos to some familiar faces (Mike Colloby; George Danker and his parents Martin and Max) as well as some less familiar faces whose names I recognise from the UKPA forums – David Collison and Rodderick Grafton.

At this stage I will have to make my apologies. Lots of lovely people came over and mentioned that they read my blog, which was really quite flattering. Unfortunately I don’t think I’m able to list everyone individually here. Suffice to say I really appreciated all the kind comments people gave me, and I hope you enjoyed the competition!

Anyhow, onto the first preliminary session. I think I was still a bit shaky as I went to tackle the first puzzle, because whilst apparently cruising through it I’d manage to make some sort of screw-up towards the end of the solve. I tried briefly to fix my error, before remembering the lessons of last year’s competition. Rubber out, start again. As is often the way when you restart a puzzle, progress often seems slower, but I plodded my way through and was on my way. The remaining 3 puzzles solved very smoothly though, and when I was done I managed to look round and see George Danker and Nina Pell still working, so I thought I’d afford myself the luxury of a couple of minutes checking. Everything still seemed good, and I turned in. As it happened, even with 5+ minutes wasted from the first puzzle I had still turned in 2nd in the room, behind someone I hadn’t come across before, Gareth Fuller. The usual suspects of George and Nina were also shortly done.

I should at this stage describe the agony of turning in your solutions very early, when you have as prolific a track record as mine of making Dickhead Errors. When I solve for pleasure, I’m always certain I have the right answer because I don’t guess and I have full faith in the processes of reason and logic. I don’t know my exact times, but I’d guess it was well over 40 minutes and it’s not a fun thing to sit there in silence, glancing round at the room and generally praying that you haven’t made a mistake.

Thankfully it turned out that I hadn’t, but I was still a little shaky heading into the short break – a good proportion of my cup of tea ended up in the saucer as apparently my hands weren’t in the most steady of states. Again there were lots of people who I was talking to but I couldn’t really focus on any one conversation. I suddenly realised that there was no sign of my good friend Rishi Puri. I called him up and it transpired that Rishi had made it all the way to the other Thomas More square, but he was hopefully of making it in time to watch the finals.

Onto the second preliminaries. I think it’s safe to say I nailed this, clean solves all the way through, and even after another extended checking period it was still a few more minutes until Nina was second in the room to hand in. Again more agonising in silence for what seemed like an absolute age, but at the end, the results were announced, and I was the best qualifier for the grand finals, having finished the two preliminaries perfectly with the 2nd and 1st quickest times. If I hadn’t already had enough confidence in my abilities, then I couldn’t really argue with these facts.

There was an hours break for lunch, and again I tried to get hold of Rishi – he’d made it as far as Tower Hill but couldn’t find anyone to direct him to Thomas More square. I put him over on the phone to Martin, who is a London cabbie, and sure enough with his calm directions on board, Rishi was there at reception just as I was heading out to pick up a sandwich from the nearby Waitrose.

Quick aside – the Waitrose BLT is really good!

And so onto the grand final. As the best qualifier, I had my pick of the 2x formation of seats. I’ve had this discussion with Thomas Snyder who argues there is an advantage to choosing a seat at the back because it gives you an idea of what your competition is doing – in particular if you have time to do a quick check. My own take on the matter is to simply bury myself into my own world – for this reason I like to take the front seats. If I really believed I was quickest, then anything anyone else was doing would only serve as a distraction. The other qualifies in order were: Nina, George, Mark Goodliffe (the serial Times crossword champion), Gareth Fuller, Matt Cannon, Kit Collingwood and Mary O’Connor.

Onto the puzzles themselves then. Puzzle #1 solved pretty smoothly, and judging by the lack of paper turning noises I was the quickest to get this done. Next up (due to the quirks of the folds in the booklet) was puzzle #4. I was making fairly solid progress through the puzzle, spotted some fairly subtle things which had given me some numbers in what appeared to be sticking points, and generally was under the impression that the puzzle was about to fall. And then I hit a sticking point. I put in some extra pencil-marks in the hope that I’d just missed a pair or something, but nothing doing. OK, fine, onto puzzles #2 and #3. These solved fairly quickly and without hiccup, so back to number 4.

Still nothing. So I’m half a puzzle from victory, so why not take a guess!? (Because you are terrible at guessing?). I try something and it doesn’t get me anywhere. A little erasing and start again. And then Mark Goodliffe declares! Panic! I try another guess and again nothing doing. Another declaration is made. Shiiiiiiiiiit! Shitshitshit! I decide to do the sensible thing and go nuclear with the rubber again. I get to the same stage I was at. Another declaration. ARRGHH! Still stuck. And then I bloody well see it. With a digits in R9C5 and R8C6 and a fixed pair in R9C4 and R9C6, the 8’s in the 4th column and the 5th column trivially forced the 8 to go in R7C6. How the bloody hell had I managed to miss something so bleedingly obvious!? I literally took my palm and applied it to my face. And then filled out the remaining half of the puzzle in about half a minute, as my self-directed rage propelled a flurry of solving. I was resigned to not winning as I saw George was one of those who had declared before me. The other was Matt Cannon.

It seemed obvious to me that Mark Goodliffe had again applied the same all-or-nothing approach to guessing as he had last year – and had as such hopefully made a mistake. I know Mark will probably be reading this, so I hope he doesn’t take too much offence when I say that the puzzles in the final in my opinion weren’t at the difficulty needed to needed for guessing and it would be highly unsatisfactory to me if a title was won on the basis of serial guesswork. Of course I fully understand his position – Mark is the first to admit that whilst he is certainly a pretty good sudoku solver, he isn’t quite at the fastest level, and as such his strategy gives him the best chance of winning. From his point of view it is a no-brainer and I fully respect that! It is certainly nothing personal to Mark when I say that I hope it doesn’t come off for him whilst the final puzzles remain at the difficulty that they do.

As it happened, serial guesswork is probably an exaggeration as he said he guessed only on 2 of the puzzles (as opposed to all 4 last year). Nevertheless a point of interest was raised whilst we waited for the final results to be confirmed. George, sitting in front of Mark, had apparently inferred by the fact Mark had turned in first that guessing was required for the last puzzle, and had taken his own guess to ensure quick progress to the end. This was exactly the position I was in, so it’d be highly hypocritical of me to pass any judgement here. If I’m right in remembering (and please correct me here) I think Matt had also said he’d guessed and that he’d probably made a mistake.

The results came back, and as I suspected, Mark had made a mistake – but the rest of the 7 had solved perfectly, which handed George his 2nd consecutive Times championship. I was left to rue missing something so blatantly obvious that had cost me in the order of 5 minutes. I could apparently afford to do that in the first preliminary round, but as I said to George, with solvers as good as he is around you can’t afford to throw away 5 minutes and expect to win. My congratulations go out to him!

The rest of the competition had me sat in my same chair in a strange state of frustration/annoyance/acceptance, as we continued the post mortem. The two solvers closest to me were Matt Cannon and Kit Collingwood – both it turns out relatively new to the competition and put everything into refreshing perspective. If you are reading, it was good to meet you!

The presentation was handled seamlessly by David Levy, and the trophy was handed to George by Andrew Stuart, author and owner of the excellent Scanraid/sudoku wiki website. I think he was pleasantly surprised when chatting afterwards that I (and numerous other top international sudoku solvers) regard scanraid as THE objective sudoku grading resource. He is more focussed on the solving strategies required to solve the sort of fiendishly difficult classics that I (and numerous other top international solvers) believe have no place in competition, yet still occasionally crop up. He very kindly gave me a copy of his book, detailing some of these strategies. I think it says it all that the techniques I draw the line at before guessing myself – x-wings/swordfish and y-wings – were detailed very early on in the book!

And with that, we said our good-byes, and I headed to the pub with Rishi and Mike. I think I’ve still got a bit of an inner-conflict going with my feelings about the championship and my own personal performance, but looking at things more objectively it was great to see some old friends, even better to meet some new ones, and a pleasure to indulge for a day with a large group of enthusiasts who share the same passion as I do. See you all next year – I will be hungrier than ever!

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