For previous championships I have the feeling that arriving before about 10 in the evening gives you sufficient time to settle down, because I hadn’t quite woken up on the morning of competition with the usual butterflies in my stomach. I’d woken up at 8 and was showered and changed and down in the restaurant a half hour later, and still nothing. I can’t say I was particularly enamoured by the breakfast either. The whole cold breakfast meats with bread and mustard wasn’t particularly what I wanted so in the end I plumped for some cereal. It didn’t seem to make a difference between the yellow supposed corn version or the brown supposed chocolate version - both ended up being fairly cardboard-y. Nothing very liberal sprinklings of sugar couldn’t fix!
Before competition was due to start at 10, the official (sudoku) photos were getting going at 9. Wandering up to the sunny balcony I was very pleased to meet some of the Polish team, and in particular Aga, looking resplendent in their team t-shirts. I had particular interest in these shirts because about a month ago I had the wonderful distraction from writing up my Ph.D thesis provided for me when Aga had asked me to design a 6x6 sudoku puzzle for the back of her shirt. Seeing it in person I think has definitely provided the pinnacle of my published puzzles thus far! Anyhow, there was a bit of faffing around whilst different teams lined up and posed, Team UK looking very fetching in a sort of sky blue, before there was a big group shot.
So, onto the competition. I have to say I wasn’t particularly enamoured by my seating position, situated as I was directly in front of two-time champion Jan Mrozowoski, with Fred Stalder out for blood on my directly to my right and with Tiit Vunk within touching distance on my left. Jakub Ondrousek and Yuhei Kusui were also immediately visible. No pressure then!
WSC Round 1: Pinocchio
So this was to be a 25 minute round of classic and diagonal puzzles, with the small twist that there were to be exactly 3 distinguished clues in the grid with the property that exactly two were of the correct value, and one was lying. In practice solving these wasn’t particularly different from solving classics and diagonals, but there was an extra gimmick in that you only needed to solve the 3 squares marked A, B and C in the grid before moving on. So I thought I’d done quite well on this round, getting all but one of the puzzles out - and getting ⅔ of the way through the last - but as is always with my promising starts there were a couple of hitches. Apparently you actually needed to solve another square, by marking down the correct value of Pinocchio - goodbye 5 points. Also apparently you didn’t want to horribly break one of the puzzles you thought you’d have solved - goodbye another 9. This brought my round total of a competitive looking 40 points crashing down to a mediocre 26/50. Jakub O and Tiit were to claim bonus points for this round, with Kota and Jin Ce also getting full marks.
A pause for breath, a stroll to the toilets and back via the coffee machine and the water dispenser, and wham bam slam, straight on to…
WSC Round 2: Smurfs
So rather than having a big long round of classics, the organisers decided to jazz this round up a little by having 10 sets of 3 linked puzzles to solve in 80 minutes. The link between each puzzle in a set was a pair of adjacent cells which would contain the same digits. Hmmm, so perhaps not all that jazzed up after all. Looking back on this, I think I somewhat under-performed here, finishing only 5 complete sets plus a further 2 out of 3 from a 6th. This is especially easy to say, looking back, when I saw that I’d needlessly thrown away a further 9 points by having precisely two digits wrong in two of the puzzles. I apparently developed a terrible subconscious habit of filling in the last empty cell with the value of an adjacent given clue, rather than what it should be. This makes you look like a bit of an idiot, to say the least. Fred and Bastien were later to laugh (this became a common theme) and Kota was to simply say “I can't say anything…”
Anyhow, my total was brought down from 74 to 65/160. No-one was to finish the set, and only 4 puzzlers did manage to hit this round for a century: namely Kota (who utterly smashed this round for 138), Chen Cen, Jan M and Jakub O. Perhaps my effort wasn’t quite as bad as I thought.
So at this point, an 80 minute sudoku solvathon can best be described as mentally taking it out of you, and perhaps this can be somewhat exacerbated by psychological effects, but we weren’t quite ready for lunch yet. Oh no. Onto:
WSC Round 3: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
So in the instruction booklet, 45 minutes for 7 linked puzzles of shall we say “smaller” dimension all feeding into one final puzzle to solve seemed like this should be a good round to target. Each of the 7 little puzzles featured two circled cells, and pictures of two of the seven dwarfs. You had to work out which dwarf corresponded to which circle and then transpose everything over to the final puzzle.
So 6 of the 7 puzzles solved fairly easily. There was then a tight fit sudoku which I broke repeatedly, including terminally in pen. By this stage I had ascertained the values of the 7 dwarfs, so had a look at the 30 (!) point snow white puzzle. I managed a grand total of 2 digits for this puzzle. I was later to be assured by Yuhei that the tight-fit had a very nice, and appropriately enough, tight, solving path - but that snow white was in fact a bit of a monster. I imagine my score of 51/90 was a common score for the round - but it was a phenomenal round for the Japanese dream team, with Kota and Hideaki Jo also finishing. Zoltan Horvath was the fourth puzzler with bonus points.
Phew. On to lunch. More buffet faire, but it was definitely nice to be able to sit outside in the beautiful sunshine whilst we were eating, basking in temperatures that back home in the UK would easily have passed as one of the better weeks of “summer”! What was less pleasant was the fact that lunch didn’t seem to be accompanied by any sort of water or drink. Aha, we all thought, we’ll try the competition water dispenser, but lo and behold the powers that be had decided to temporarily stop them dispensing. The dessert included a fruit salad, which allowed a temporary solution, but before the fun and games were to begin again, it was time to head back up to the bar. For a lemonade.
WSC Round 4: The Muppet Show
So this 60 minute round was probably my least favourite of the competition. It was essentially a large collection of irregular sudoku, some with an additional diagonal constraint towards the end, with another linked twist. Instead of givens across the collections of puzzles, there were images of 9 of the muppets (I believe Neil could name them all, I am not even going to try!), where each individual muppet represented the same digit across all the puzzles, and where the set of the 9 muppets covered each of the digits 1-9. Hmmm, sounds a bit complicated put like this, but for the first 20, maybe 30 minutes had the room buzzing to the soundtrack of fluttering puzzle booklets as everyone tried to ascertain the precise value of each muppet.
Actually, although this task was a little laborious, it wasn’t so hard to work these values out. But this wasn’t a great deal of the story. It turned out, that to my eye at least, that these irregulars had come out of the generator, and weren’t particularly pleasant to solve - which is a shame because you can get really quite creative with the geometry of the 9-cell regions of irregular puzzles. Anyhow, I thought I’d manage to slog out 5 of these puzzles, but an error crept in and so a potential score of 34 was down to 28/120. It seems a lot of people were doing rather better with these puzzles than I was, so perhaps I was just having a bad round. Top scorer was Jan M with a formidable 86!
In the short break before the next round, I noticed that you could get not one, but two espressos from the machine into the supplied plastic cups. And you could get a lot of sugar into those bad boys as well!
WSC Round 5: Professor Balthazar
No, you neither? Apparently our learned friend is a Croatian cartoon. The real theme of this 60 minute round however were sudoku variants with an arithmetic flavour, so think grids where sums or products of pairs of cells were marked, or killers, or kendokus amongst others. I can’t really recall much about this round, apart from the little killer which I believe was the best puzzle of the championships, and which firstly inspired a Friday Puzzle, and subsequent beautiful offerings from both Fred and Bastien on their blogs. Back to the round, I think 7/14 puzzles is probably under par, but at least there were no mistakes, giving me 55/120. No centuries for this round, but again Jan M led the way with 98.
More water, more coffee, and wow, I’m really beginning to pee pretty frequently!
WSC Round 6: Disneyland
Disneyland!? Are you serious - this was more like a house of horrors. As has been apparent, Jan M had ben having quite a good afternoon thus far, but even when the round was over and I turned round to ask him how it went, all he could manage was a pained “no comment!” So for this 50 minute round, there was no discernable theme in the puzzles beyond the fact they were assorted variants. Albeit some that I’d not really seen much of since the 2007 WSC in Prague. I started the round zipping through a star puzzle in a couple of minutes, and then proceeded to get a grand total of 3 further puzzles out in the round. I did manage to break the fortress, which was unfortunate, and I made a bad decision not to start the consecutive puzzle (easyish) and instead go for the non-consecutive (ohmygod). This is without mentioning the 15 minute slog, for a measly 5 points for the outside sudoku. In case you hadn’t worked it out, that’s a pretty pathetic rate of points per minute. Ah well. As much as everyone probably felt they flunked the round, 23/100 was pretty bad. Kudos to Kota for trebling that, getting 69.
Those last two rounds in particular had left me feeling punch drunk, but there was time to draw breath for the last of the individual rounds.
WSC Round 7: TNT
I have no idea why this was called TNT, or why the three puzzles were referred to as Bob Rock, Number 1 and Alan Ford. A cartoon was put up by the scores later, so I guess these were more Croatian friends. Anyhow, in 10 minutes the idea was to solve a 9x9 classic puzzle with a 7x7 irregular puzzle joined onto the top left and the bottom right corners. This round was ripe for finishing - I’d finished the example in less than 7 minutes - and so I was keen to finish things on a bit of a high. And I managed to pull it off, just about, although I had to correct a small error made in pen by writing over the affected digits even harder in pen. Hmmm. Not a pleasant looking grid, but I did manage to catch things and finish the puzzle 11th fastest - which might have been potentially 6th all being clean - with a minute and 48 seconds to spare. So 32/30 points for the round, and more importantly a round finished, which is now something I’ve managed at two consecutive WSC’s. More astonishing was the performance of Jin Ce, who finished first a full two minutes ahead of Jakub O.
And that was that for the individual part of the WSC! I think I was more in favour of the format last year, where things were spread over two days. I really needed a beer at this point - not least because towards the end of the afternoon the sun was shining directly through the windows of the competition hall turning things into something of a greenhouse. I did head up to the bar, and for this first time I resisted the temptation for a beer and instead got myself another lemonade. I suppose I must have wandered about slightly dazed, talking to a few friendly faces before realising I should go back and find Team UK and have a discussion about team strategy.
WSC Team Rounds 8 & 9
So I’m going to lump both of these rounds together, because in practice I was pretty useless for both. The first involved organising a set of 12 grids into a diamond formation so that 3x3 boxes were shared. I had very little to offer in sorting out this organisation, Neil, Michael and Rodders were much better here, but instead when positions were verified I still had it in me to quickly crank out the puzzles. I think we were reasonably successful with this round, scoring 120/200 points. The second team round involved 6 classic puzzles, with 18 pieces to place, 3 per grid, which render the classics solvable. We thought we had a good system going here, but speaking personally I was floundering at this point and couldn’t really add anything to the team effort. I think Neil was responsible for the one puzzle we did get, earning team UK a fairly paltry 25/150.
I must have been very slow getting off the mark to get to the restaurant for dinner, because by the time I made my way in there was a huge queue. I instead decided to by a beer, find the UK table, sit there, finish my beer and only then get some food. Actually, the buying of the beer raises an interesting point. I had assumed that since the hotel charged prices in euros, there would be no problem spending euros in its establishments. Going along with this merry assumption was all well and good because I’d taken out some money out in Trieste, but the reality of the situation was that the bar was only accepting coins in €2 increments for beers and soft drinks alike.
Thus after dinner was finished, and team UK moved upstairs to commandeer a couple of tables, I was beginning to worried about the dwindling supply of shrapnel in my wallet. It was nice however to spend a little more time socialising with Team Uk than is usual for me at championships. AJ Moore, of the WPC B team, had arrived during the day and it was good to chat with him and Rodders. Rodders I’d met before at Times championships, but AJ was a new face to me, although I’d heard of him through mutual friends Mark Goodliffe (Magoo) and Simon Anthony (Pieman). All three are involved with the editing of the fiendishly difficulty themed crossword magazine, the Magpie. As it happened, AJ was good enough to pass on a promo copy of the Magpie after the championships. I am ashamed to say I am less than a third of the way through the easiest ‘A’ grade puzzle, although the number puzzle was very satisfying!
I guess rather than give details about all the conversations after that point, I’ll conclude the day but mentioning that Jason and I began our conspiracy to get some more after hour races started for future evenings, and that whilst WSC results were slow to filter through, marked puzzle booklets were beginning to filter back, and Aga had also failed to mark Pinocchio in one of those puzzles from round 1. The trend of Bastien and Fred and Tiit and everyone else laughing at the silly mistakes that I’d made was also to begin!