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!

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