So I was pleasantly surprised by the wealth of wisdom and good discussion that followed on from my first post, and I hope that continues. For this post I'd like to pick up on one comment from that discussion that opens up a new discussion:
In my eyes endurance comes down to two different issues. Firstly, there is the number of rounds, and secondly there is the relative length of these rounds.
To begin to address the first issue, it is helpful to examine the typical schedule of a WSC. This has varied from year to year, but generally the entire competition, including individual rounds, team rounds and play-offs has fit into two days of competition. A day is typically split up into morning, early afternoon and late afternoon sessions. I've done a little (hasty - please point out any mistakes) research and summarised the information in a table.
In terms of the first issue, we can see that a WSC is decided over roughly 5-6 hours of competition, with not too much variance.
WSC Individual Team Play-off 2013 Beijing 5h 40m (7 rounds) 1h 25m (3 rounds) 1h 45m 2012 Kraljevica 4h 30m (7 rounds) 0h 55m (2 rounds) 3h 00m 2011 Eger 6h 40m (10 rounds) 2h 20m (2 rounds) 1h 00m 2010 Philadelphia 6h 05m (10 rounds) 3h 10m (5 rounds) 1h 00m 2009 Zilina 4h 10m (5 rounds) 3h 45m (4 rounds) 1h 15m 2008 Goa 5h 00m (7 rounds) 1h 30m (2 rounds) ? 2007 Prague 5h 30m (6 rounds) 2h 00m (2 rounds) 2h 00m 2006 Lucca 4h 15m (8 rounds) - - 2h 00m
This brings me on to the second issue, length of rounds. In my research there were basically 3 types of round. The first are shorter, 10-30 minute rounds, which are typically sprints or one-off novelty. The second is the more bread-and-butter style rounds which are typically 35-60 minutes. The third seems to be very much the exception, the longer 90+ minute rounds.
As far as I can tell, there have only ever been 3 such rounds: the 120 minute round from Zilina, and the two 88 minute rounds in Beijing. In contrast, I found it remarkable that no round was longer than 45 minutes in Philadelphia - which I have long regarded as the gold standard for a WSC.
My first post has already discussed the potentially skewing effects longer rounds can have, given they inevitably feature many harder variants; instead I'd like to look at things from an endurance point of view.
The first thing to say is that every now and again most solver will have a bad round. The days are long and intense at a WSC, you are perhaps battling the effects of jet lag and so it seems inevitable that your concentration will lapse. If this happens half way through a particular round, then the longer the round is, the more you will be punished.
A slightly different angle, which every solver is familiar with, is when you get halfway through solving and you find that you have made a mistake. I know that when this happens to me it can often cause me to lose focus and confidence and affect the rest of my round - particularly when the puzzle is worth lots of points and I don't want my time to have been completely wasted. Again, the longer the round is, the more you can end up punished.
The argument then goes that if you have more and shorter rounds, there is more chance to reset your mind and recover during the breaks, and approach the round after a bad one in a much better frame of mind. One bad round doesn't have to make or break your championship.
As a counter-point, I'd also like to remark that most online competitions are typical 120 minutes long, and might be argued to be bigger tests of endurance than any single WSC round. But regardless of the length of the competition, we tend to see the same old names at the top the majority of the time.
I could go on for longer, particularly with regards to WPC influence where rounds are often longer, but I think now is the appropriate moment to let my audience make up their own minds, and offer their own perspectives and insights into the issue of round length. I look forward to your comments!