Wednesday 28 July 2021

Puzzle Projects

First a quick update: I haven't written here for a little while, which feels a bit personally disappointing.  I suppose part of it reflects my continuing malaise within the puzzle community. As I've previously said, it used to be a place where I thought I fit in, and increasingly I am made to feel as if I do not.  The best way I can describe this is that any enthusiasm I have for the puzzle community has been blunted by expediency, apathy and lethargy.

About this time last year I outlined that I'd like to try and work on a bunch of different puzzle projects as a way of trying to get back into the swing of things.  In some ways it was going to be part of my own recovery, but for a number of reasons none of them really happened.  The main thing to say is that I haven't forgotten about them, and I would like to try and make them happen.

Recently I have been thinking about what a week-long online global festival of puzzles might look like. And yes, I have been corresponding privately with some relevant people before you ask, dearest reader.  But I'd also like to share the sorts of things I would hypothetically like to see.

As such an event is global, such a festival needs to be a collection of individual smaller events happening around the clock, perhaps with repeats.  This is partly because of the issue with time zones, but also because participants may have other commitments such as work or school at various times during the day.  

The events need to be interactive because, bluntly, everyone is pretty fed up with sitting in on large video calls they aren't participating in.  I also think the sense of interactivity is increased when you know you are doing something at the same time as everyone else.  Some of the most fun I have had puzzling this year has been as a result of the contests on puzzle duel where everyone has to show up to start solving at the same time.  The USPC (at least when it was happening) also retains a greater excitement because it remains a competition everyone participates in simultaneously.

I'd also suggest that if such a festival of puzzles is to appeal to a wide audience, then you need to start moving away from the (by now mature) format of the WPF's grand prix series.  I no longer believe that that format holds widespread appeal for people who haven't done a puzzle competition before.

That spiel sketches out a vision for such a global festival of puzzles.  All that needs to be done is to take a timetable view of the week, and to fill it up with the events themselves.  Some ideas for these events include:
  • Shorter (1 hour max) competitive puzzle rounds, grouped around single puzzle types with perhaps some gentle variation (Frequency: every 8/12 hours)
  • Longer (perhaps 2 hours) competitive puzzle rounds full of more "creative" variations, combinations and novelties.  (Frequency: maybe 1-2 of these in the week)
  • The return of the nikoli time trial!  Single puzzles to solve with the first person to register a solution being the winner (Frequency: every 6 hours)
  • Non-competitive puzzle club: at the start of a 24h period, a harder puzzle is released and the aim is to return an answer within the 24 hours.  At the end of the week there's an award for everyone who returned correct answers for all of the puzzles
  • Puzzle authors club: at the start of a 24h period, a puzzle assignment on some kind of a theme is published, and then authors go away and submit their creations.  Puzzles are judged by an expert panel, with the results published later for everyone to have a go at.
  • Team competition: the return of the croco-liga!  Teams of 4 are formed, with 4 puzzles for each round and teams allocating a puzzle to each team member who then face off 1v1 vs. another team.  The timings for a competition bracket begin to get a little tight, but if you have a straight knock-out then 4 rounds accommodates 16 teams, 5 rounds gives you 32, 6 rounds 64 and so on.
    • This could either have free-for-all teams, or else also be organised around national teams.
    • Even better if you could somehow observe the puzzles as they are being solved
  • Non-competitive collaborative solving: those interested can join some kind of a lobby, and from there share a link to get involved with a collaborative solve.  Perhaps some of the functionality as developed by Rob Vollmert for might work here?
  • You also want some kind of chat room after each event has finished, so that people can gather together and discussed what just happened.
I'll finish by stop by dropping my pretences and coyness.  I am well aware that the WPF is trying to plan such an event.  Having previously declared I couldn't give a flying focaccia about whatever it is that the WPF is doing, I attended a meeting back in April where the idea of such an event was mooted, with a committee formed and the promise of ideas being brought back for further discussion a month later.  As far as I can tell (I might be wrong!) planning for this event had only really begun in earnest as of July.

I have been very badly burned by volunteering for the WPF before, so I have absolutely no intention in getting involved this time round.  On the other hand, if an event like the one I sketched out above could ever come to fruition, then I think it would be an amazing event with the potential to transform the puzzle community.  If the WPF - or indeed anyone else - picks up on any of the ideas above, then I am very happy for them to run with them and to try to make something like this happen.


  1. I have recently had a couple of discussions about what a week-long online puzzle event could look like and what the constraints/limitations would be. (Those discussions were based on the idea of a WPF substitute for a WSPC week, but it was a private exchange; if the event takes place, I will have no hand in it.) As you say, one of the main issues is about availability. My guess is that, even if people were willing to spend a week for an on-site World Championship, we cannot expect the same kind of commitment for an online event. This should certainly be taken into account when the schedule is created.

    That said, I actually like the idea of "Puzzle Festival" instead of an actual Championship week very much. I am not sure about the perfect composition for such an event - some of the rounds you have listed sound more appealing to me than others, but this is probably as it should be. In any case, I consider it important to clarify right from the start that there is no overall competition in a Festival format. And I sincerely hope that no attempts are made to come up with something in between - I would except that it would only combine the downsides of the two different approaches.

    Getting back to possible Festival rounds once more, I would very much like to see some real interaction rather than just what you describe as interactivity. I have no issue with "classic" online contests (that is, contests where the participants solve puzzles within a given time window on their own). And obviously, anything which goes beyong the above may require additional technical elements; I have no idea what is available and what is possible in this regard. Still, if there are any team events, for example, I hope they will be about more than just people forming more or less random teams and then adding up the individual scores.

  2. Hi Roland - yes that's a really important point, that there is no overall champion from the week. I think anything that tries to replace the existing WSC and WPC in an online environment will always have too many questions hanging over the legitimacy of the competition, compared to an on-site event. It would be unfair to the eventual winners.

    Variety is also important I think - there's a big opportunity to break out of a fairly mature format and to try and be a few more things to a few more people than just the usual crowd (or indeed to give some of the also-rans in the usual crowd something different to think about)

  3. Interestingly, your suggestion of a "Puzzle Authors Club" is exactly what is currently happening on a regular basis on the CtC Discord under the alternative name of "speed-setting", although the time window there is usually between 60 and 90 minutes.

    1. Hi Sam, personally I couldn’t think of anything worse than “speed setting” in those kinds of times, although I guess others beg to differ. Maybe I’m being unfair in suggesting that that seems to be more about the authors showing off themselves, rather than the puzzles, but I don’t see how adding time pressure like that produces better puzzles than without.

      I think 24 hours is still possibly a bit tight to be writing puzzles on demand, but in any case I think it would have to be done at intervals in multiples of 24 hours to ensure fairness across global time zones.

    2. I think it's just that the goals are different. Speed-setting isn't about getting the best puzzles possible, but about getting people to try their hand at trying new constructions in a low-commitment way, where they can fail fast and produce something small and/or simple if needed. In that regard it's been quite successful.

    3. Fair enough - to get back on topic, these are only a few ideas I’ve had floating around for a while, and I’m sure many of them need refinement and I’m sure there are many other good ideas out there too. There’s something very similar on another discord server, although those assignments are generally a bit too “creative” for my tastes.

      I guess the main point here isn’t what I or any other person particularly likes (or not) on an individual basis - as Roland says its probably the case that completely all the events would be to any individuals tastes. It would be good to include something for more novice setters too, perhaps taking out the competitive/judging element, and maybe even making it more collaborative.


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