Friday 17 July 2020

Puzzle Sprints: pilot version

The purpose of this post is to see whether I can manage to roughly approximate the halcyon days of the nikoli time trials.  The idea is for anyone who is interested to turn up to this blog at a fixed date and time, and then race to see who can get the fastest solve time for a particular puzzle.  For the time being, the particular puzzle will very likely be a classic sudoku.

In retrospect this doesn't sound anything like a time trial.  Therefore I will call my version "Puzzle Sprints".

The way it will (hopefully!) work, at least initially, is as follows.
  1. I will schedule a post at a fixed date and time with a link to a Google form, which contains all you need.  For the real thing, the fixed date and time will be advertised in advance.
  2. The form requires you to be signed in to Google (in order for me to impose a limit of one response per participant).
  3. Therefore, to participate you will need both a Google account, and to be logged into that Google account.
  4. Once the form loads, you should see a short description, together with:
    1. A link to the puzzle to be solved in an external online solver.
    2. Space to enter your email and nickname.
    3. A static image of the puzzle with the two answer keys marked.
    4. Space to enter the two answer keys into the form.
  5. To take part in the Puzzle Sprint, open up the link to the online solver and solve the puzzle.
  6. Once you have solved the puzzle, come back to the form, and then enter in the corresponding answer keys.
  7. When you are done, hit the "Submit" button.
  8. Once you have submitted, you can click the "View Score" button to instantly see if the answer codes you submitted were correct.
  9. After a certain amount of time has passed, I'll declare a cut-off and publish the results.
For those interested in this pilot version, please note there is absolutely nothing at stake here.  You are more than welcome to poke around, but for the next few hours after this initial post, it is highly unlikely you will be getting anything out of this, as I will be making plenty of edits and updates.  It is mostly for my own benefit for now.

Once I am happy with the way things seem to be working (I will edit in a message to this effect within this post when I am happy), please do feel free to have a go.  If nothing else, submitting an entry to this pilot version is a good way for me to see who might be interested in this kind of thing.

There are several limitations to the approach as it currently stands.
  • I don't like people having to log into Google to be able to do this.
    • I don't like having to worry about collecting people's emails.
    • Ideally there'd be some kind of self-contained and robust log-in system akin to things like nikoli, fed, croco and so on.  This would completely negate the need to use something like Google forms in the first place.
  • I am not 100% satisfied with any online solving interface for the purposes of these Puzzle Sprints, where the emphasis is very much on speed solving.
    • I don't want an undo function
    • I don't want a trial and error function
    • I do want much better pencil-marks
  • I also want the online solver to directly interact with the form so there's no extra faff switching between solver and form.  (This is no longer an issue once you eliminate the need for a form...)
  • If this were to ever get very serious, I would also want some way for winning solves to be verified.  (Most likely this would involve saving some kind of solve history and having replay functionality...)
  • Now the cat is out of the bag, anyone can come along and imitate my idea.  
Not that anything I've described here is original, and I have no doubts any number of more talented people could execute this much better than I can but this is still something that I'd like to try and get off the ground on my own terms.  As per my other posts, I'd like to be able to do something positive again for my own benefit as much as anything else.  If people still insist on being negative about that (or anything else), then all I can say is that I'm done caring.  Such people are no longer of any interest to me.

There are the following advantages to the approach.
  • Everything is more or less under my control.
  • The format gets to the heart of what is really exciting about speed-solving.
  • My reputation as a good puzzle author.
  • My reputation as a good sudoku competition director.
  • I am willing to eventually provide cash prizes (for UK based participants)
That's it for now.  I'm intrigued to see whether anyone is going to be interested in this.


  1. This is a very exciting initiative!

    Just letting you know that there are no answer keys marked on the puzzle image.

  2. yeah, the image there is a placeholder for now, I decided to watch the cricket for the rest of the afternoon rather than keep playing around.

    I like that the pzv online solver also generates me a decent SVG image that I can potential use and alter to add some arrows in for the answer codes, but I suspect it'll be less of a faff for me to simply further automate my existing SVG templates.

    Of course it would be brilliant not to need answer codes at all, but I'm going to walk before I run and stick to the tools I am comfortable with to get this off the ground.


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