I was perhaps a touch late down to breakfast, but thankfully not feeling the worse for wear from the previous night. Team UK were discussing dominoes strategies, led by James, and which mainly involved abusing uniqueness like a boss. I sort of nodded my head along without contributing too much to the discussion. Unfortunately I was in my own little world when it was mentioned that rather than the WPC desks being allocated individual names, only countries and teams.
As we all filed into the room, it was quickly apparent that Neil and James has nabbed the best two UK-A seats. Perhaps this was for the best as those two were always going to clearly be beating both myself and Liane, but all the same after my positioning in the WSC, I can hardly say I was enamoured to be sat with Bram de Laat directly to my left, Ulrich Voigt directly to my right, Palmer Mebane a few seats back at 7 o’ clock and Hideaki Jo a few seats forward at 1 o’clock. I will not complain in the slightest about having Michael Ley nearby - not because he isn’t a formidable puzzler too, because he most certainly is - but because before rounds he’d turn round and offer people some boiled sweets to help you going through the rounds. I have made a note of this and I shall be trying something similar for future competitions.
WPC Round 1: Domino Hunt
So I don’t think I’ve described the bonus structure attached to various rounds throughout both competitions. The idea was to have a relatively short round which the organisers anticipated people would finish. If not enough people finished during this time, then a 5 minute extension would apply for everyone. I think Ulrich did manage to finish in time, but I completely forgot about the extension and was guilty of rushing through the 10 point puzzle, as well of a couple of others. So whilst I thought I had done reasonably well to have finished all but the last puzzle this round, it turned out that in my eagerness to abuse uniqueness I had made several mistakes. Three in fact, scoring me 24/60 for the round.
Another short break, and then onto a longer round. A nice two hour round!
WPC Round 2: Blackjack
This round was kind of cute, with lots of 21 themed puzzles. In retrospect I think I probably got far too bogged down with the giant octopus puzzle, and only got 10 of the 21 puzzles out. Moreover I made a silly mistake on the Zebra puzzle - a kind of paint by numbers puzzle which a priori had no connection to 21 but as you solved it revealed a giant pictogram of a certain two digit number. Anyhow, 65/240 points is probably indicative that this is exactly the sort of round I’ll need to improve upon if I want to better my (so far) modest placings!
Onto lunch. I was back to feeling dazed, and after finishing in the restaurant headed upstairs to the bar (for a lemonade!) and to get out my puzzle notepad. I was still aiming to get my little killer puzzle completed and ready for publication on the blog for Friday, but the great thing about these championships is the fact you never seem to be alone for long. Tiit wandered over and gave us some Estonian puzzle magazine. Inevitably Jason materialised and before you knew it we were racing again. I wanted a shot at him on a kakuro (unwise), and a killer (also unwise). I think at this point Thomas - who was in the background somewhere blogging - had spotted a pattern, but I managed to pull things back to 2-1 with a good slitherlink solve. I can’t remember the order of the other puzzles, but I think he then took easy as ABC, and I got the battleships and the hitori. I’d like to think that I got the nurikabe to make things 4-3, but I honestly can’t remember. I have the horrible feeling Jason probably shaded it.
Clearly I already had bigger things on my mind. Like:
WPC Round 3: Twisted puzzles
This was basically a round of classic puzzles, where each of the puzzles had a solitary instance where the rules were bent slightly. So think a kakuro with one cell left empty, or tents where one tree had two tens tied to it. This round I spent a lot of time not getting the magnets out, and getting bogged down with the four winds with one lying clue, but all in all 48/120 wasn’t quite as disastrous as blackjack.
Still, no time to dwell on missed opportunities, the rounds kept a comin’!
WPC Round 4: Easy as ABC
Strangely enough, this featured no classic Easy as ABC puzzles, instead we a fun crossword variation, a cute snake variation and a somewhat clunky hex grid variation. Three of each and half an hour to get things done. Oh, except I don’t think any did. Except maybe Ulrich (his third finished round of the day incidentally) and so we got the 5 minutes overtime again. I managed all the crosswords and two of the three hexas, sadly breaking the third. I get the feeling my time might better have been spent on the snakes, but 36/60 was at least better than half the points available, so not too bad.
Time for a coffee. Get cup, press espresso button. Press espresso button again. Spoon in enough sugar to get a dentist twitching slightly. Get some water so I wouldn’t dehydrate. Take a trip to a toilet. Have a bit of small talk with people sat around me, mainly Bram and Vasso. Prepare for the next 90 minute round.
WPC Round 5: Black and White
A round with lots of shading! I got 9 of 15 puzzles out, although as is always the way none of the really big hitters in the round. Most frustratingly this included a really fiddly tapa puzzle worth 22 points which I just couldn’t tweak, despite probably spending the last half hour trying and failing to get a solution out. I claimed at the time that I was going to boycott tapa forever and ever - or at least a few months? Weeks!? - but I’m sad to report I accidentally did one on croco recently. No mistakes though, so at least that’s something. 57/180 however is probably a score which undersells me. Again!
That was that for the individual rounds, but as with the WSC there was a half hour break where the room was set up for the team round. This second day of competition, and the temptation to go up to the bar and get a nice cool refreshing beer was greater than before, but again I managed to resist, instead guzzling down a bottle of coke. Perhaps I should have had more of a discussion with Team UK regarding the team round, but I kind of hoped James had a bit of an intuition given his thoughts posted on the UKPA forums beforehand. Anyhow, we got ourselves into position, right next to the German A team, ready for:
WPC Round 6: Marina
So this was just a giant optimisation puzzle where you had to place plastic boats on a massive grid with a marina drawn out. Various bits of the marina had different (x5, x3 and x2) multipliers, and there were a few convoluted rules about making sure that every boat had enough space to individually get out. I’d like to say we had a strategy, but what ended up happening was the four of us took a corner of the grid, filled it up, and then rotated round to start tweaking. At the time, we had no idea how successful this would be, but I think it worked out OK because despite accidentally placing too many of one particularly type of ship, thus losing easy points, we finished slap bang in the middle of the pack. Of course we were only to find this out much later; instead we left the competition hall feeling pleased with the detour from churning out puzzle after puzzle. An optimisation problem of course needs a good sense of what is going on, but there is necessarily a large intuitive component to getting a good solution out. Interestingly enough, AJ had a different perspective on things. Since you had no idea how well you had done as a team, there was a lingering dissatisfaction for him. On reflection I can certainly see how you’d think this.
For dinner, I think other members of team UK were efficient enough to grab a big enough table that we could all squeeze around, which was nice as typically we had to split our rather large contingent over at least two tables. As per normal dinner lingered on before everyone slowly migrated upstairs to the bar.
Initially things were a bit quiet, Fred and Bastien were chatting away, and Bram was probably sat there with his laptop putting up something for his blog. I think he’s unrivalled for the amount of practice material he prepared, and I took the chance to catch up with what Thomas and Palmer had had to say on their particular little patches of the internet. I certainly got a chuckle reading about Thomas sleeping with socks on his hands to stop the insects biting in the night; thankfully I had no such problems with my room.
I had also managed to get the little killer for my blog, and set about formatting it up. As a professional graphic designer who knows nothing other than Illustrator I got to introduce him to Inkscape, of which I am very fond of, even if you have to run it under X11 on a mac. Neil was naturally curious and so I got him to have a go at solving it, challenging him to get it done before I came to giving it a rating. My dearest readers are invited to look back at that particular blog post to see whether he managed this challenge. Fred and Bastien came over and made lots of useful and helpful and particularly delightful comments about symmetry, and much laughter was had at my expense!
Inevitably the bar session reverted into another puzzling showdown, again with Yuka’s excitingly presented sudoku magazine. I should mention this was doubly novel for me as the magazine read from back to front! After the previous night’s experience, I think Bram had rightly been concerned about joining forces with me again, and so instead formed a formidable trio with Jason and Tiit. My trio, presumably motivated by a desire to laugh at me some more, featured my two favourite francophones.
Having used up the actual relays in the magazine the previous evening, we had to improvise somewhat, and ending up flicking to the back of the magazine. Or front of the magazine I should say! We found a two page spread of classic sudoku, ominously labelled with numbers ranging from 40 to 70. What could these numbers mean!? Anyhow, the format this time round would be 3 individual solves, 3 paired solves and then 1 with all three of us.
Getting stuck into the puzzles it quickly became apparent that the “mysterious” numbers could only be time targets. I was up first and so thankfully had the easiest puzzle. I actually made steady progress through this one, and let out a half-delighted “x-wing” as I managed to get the puzzle up. My opposite number, Tiit looked up and asked firstly whether I had guessed, and secondly whether I had made a mistake. I’m not sure he was totally convinced by either of my denials! Anyhow, after these puzzles the difficulty ramped up and everyone was using things like forcing chains and other solving techniques that should never see the light of day in competition. Beyond x-wings, swordfish, xy-wings and simple colouring I’m afraid I’m not much use here - although the x-wing I spotted that led to no digit being placed was met with more (!) laughter from Fred. I think he was especially appreciative of the help I could offer after he’d cracked the hard part of the puzzle where I would point at the grid and say “two.”
At some point it reached about half 1 in the morning, when Bram said that he’d regretfully have to pull out of our self-inflicted sudoku painfest as he (rightfully!) argued he didn’t want to compromise his 2nd day of competition. Unless you count the excellent spectator sport of endless mockery directed at me by Fred and Bastien, I can safely say that he missed nothing!