Thursday 18 October 2012

Kraljevica '12 day 3: Excursion

The rest of day 3 was to provide a respite from the intense day of competition on day 2, which I certainly welcomed.  We were to be bussed away on a series of coaches to have a tour of the nearby city of Rijeka.  Waiting for these buses to arrive, I found myself in a brief moment of solitude sitting in the sun, and was joined by multiple WPC champion Wei-Hwa Huang.  Wei-Hwa is something of an oasis of calm within the US ranks, and I can only imagine how much of a pleasure solving the sudoku team rounds must have been for them with him directing the solve.  I asked how things were within the team ranks and how his own preparation was going, and found his reply to be quite telling.  Being on a team with the twin peaks of intensity provided by Palmer and Thomas apparently rubs off on even the most phlegmatic of characters, and so whilst Wei-Hwa stated he was just here to have some fun, he also mentioned he felt a little pressure to get some preparation in just to keep his head above water.  We were briefly chatting about the various travel opportunities puzzling was providing us, when fate dealt a cruelly ironic blow, and Wei-Hwa pointed out that if I wanted to go on the excursion I should probably head over to the buses.

So I was conscious of the fact the tour guide on the bus was saying various things on the bus as we headed towards Rijeka, but as with last year I took the opportunity to whip out my notebook and get working on the little killer I was intending to publish on the Friday.  I’d had a good idea, but couldn’t quite flesh it out by the time we arrived.

There we were, probably in excess of 100 puzzlers on tour let loose in the city, which to be honest was quite a surreal experience.  We were loosely being guided by the tour guides who’d been on the buses through the landmarks of Rijeka, which firstly included some sort of a church which I presume from wikipedia was Svetište Majke Božje Trsatske.  This loosely translates as being a “sanctuary,” but the main church bit was far from tranquil as the puzzling horde invaded!

The next stop off was some sort of fort, with a good view of the city below but which was otherwise fairly unremarkable.  That said, it did provide the first starting of the German Michael Drinking Unit (Ley and Smit), who seemed to be sat down in every bar with a cigarette and a refreshing beverage to hand at every turn during this excursion!  After we’d all had our fill of the castle, we trudged back to the buses to be taken down the hill and into the city proper.  On the walking tour, I can’t claim to have been paying much attention, although I was quite amused when a fairly unimpressive arch was pointed out as having once thought to have been a triumphal arch (I can’t for the life of me think why when you compared this to say, Rome, Paris, or Barcelona for example...) and instead turned out to be an entrance to some Roman building.

Anyhow, I latched on to a group with the Americans and Prasanna.  Being hugely cultured individuals, we decided to pay our respects to another of Rijeka’s magnificent arches - or should I say golden arches?  Anyhow, I was of the opinion that it was quite hot and humid and it was high time to follow the lead of GMDU and find a nice place to sit down.  Whilst apparently Prasanna and Thomas were talking about the slim likelihood of me being able to roll out of the gutter and back onto the bus, later, I was having a good chat with Nick Baxter, Rodders and Will Shortz about far more important things: namely sport!  Not that I care all that much, but apparently the Ryder cup was still something of a sore point for Nick and Will.

As much as I’d have like to have lingered in the bar doing my best to fulfil Thomas’ prediction, we soon had to move back to the bus, to be taken to some hotel for a dinner, and the WSC closing ceremony.  Entering the hotel, we offered a choice of aperitifs (oh how I love mystery Eastern Europea spirits!) before I broke ranks with team UK and plonked myself down on what was to turn out to be the American table.  I should probably state that I’m all for team unity and the rest of it, but these championships come round once a year and I think it’s a waste not to go a mingling with everyone else - and it’s not as if for most of the breakfast/lunches/dinners at Uvala Scott weren’t being spent with the team.  Instead I found myself speaking about “math” with Josh Zucker (JZ mk II!), JZ (mk I) and Anderson Wang.  I think I managed to amuse them with my “talent” for factorising quadratic equations with integral coefficients by eye rather than an anything more pedagogical, but I was definitely pleased to employ some geometric group theory to help confirm an answer to a fiendish triangle counting puzzle Wei-Hwa had come up with.

The dinner drifted pleasantly by with the wine flowing and more puzzles appearing on the dinner table, before it was time for the prize giving ceremony.  The Poles were obviously jubilant with Jan’s victory, and had seemingly managed to acquire several of the aperitif bottles in preparation for a long night!

After the prize giving I thought it was probably best to say hello to Mike Colloby and Alan O’Donnell, who were the last of team UK to arrive having only just been driven in with Stefano.  Alan was participating on the WPC B team, whereas Mike had the important job of presenting the British bid to host the world championships in 2014.  I also managed to congratulate George Wang on the Chinese success.  Rereading an article he penned for I think the 2007 WPF newsletter it is remarkable to think how far puzzling in China has come in the last few years!

Being a little tipsy at this point, I stumbled onto a different bus to be driven back to Uvala Scott, which turned out to be a good thing as on it were both the victorious Poles, as well as a few of the Japanese.  Moreover, there was still plenty of the bottles of spirits going around, and Kuba took itself upon him to conduct the drinking on the bus, walking up and down the aisle inviting everyone to swig with him from the bottle.  Outstanding!  Needless to say, this wasn’t an opportunity the legendary Tetsuya Nishio was going to pass up on, and there were shouts of “Kampai” and “Na zdrowie” all round.

The remaining business of the day was to be held in the bar back at Uvala Scott.  Yuka Noyama had very kindly given me a copy of a rather exciting looking Japanese sudoku magazine - which was in stark contrast to anything you might find on sale here in Britain - and I had suggested that Jason go find so we could set up some racing!  In retrospect, it should probably not have surprised me as to how bad I was going to be, but I thought a relay team of myself, Gaurav Korde and Bram de Laat should have easily had the beating of Jason and the Greeks (perhaps they were Argonauts?).  The early running was good as I finished the first puzzle a minute or two ahead of Jason; I have a picture of him still working to prove this, ;-)  but things were to level out as some drunken idiot kept making mistakes.

The only thing for it was to grab another beer, and chat with the Poles for a bit before belatedly realising there was like some important competition or something due to be starting in the morning, and that we should probably attempt to get some sleep.  Or something!

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