Sunday 30 October 2022

Unofficial Championship Host's Guidebook

Before I get going, a couple of quick note to self: 

  1. Move this somewhere more permanent on the blog, and dig up other similar posts!
  2. Finish the post!

I don't know exactly how much appetite there is for this kind of post, but I don't think it's of no interest at all.  Hopefully it's of more interest than the existing WPF guidebook that exists somewhere on the internet, but that I am not interested enough in to find and link to right now.

The best approach to this kind of thing is to somehow work backwards from a successful outcome.  To that end, I will draw on my many experiences as a competition participant as well as my experience as a competition organiser to run through all the things a participant tends to experience at a well-run event.

These then can be regrouped from an organiser's point of view.

Leading up to the event

Firstly a participant needs to be vaguely aware of the basics of the competition; namely the location of the hotel and the dates of the competition.  The associated costs of the competition should also be advertised well in advance. 

  • Set up an organising committee, and a holding company for the event (this could be an existing puzzle association).  This company should have its own bank account.
  • Set up an event budget.
  • Set up a project plan.
  • Conduct negotiations with a venue to the extent you can fix a date.
  • Set up a website to provide basic information.  It is likely the website will also be useful in handling registrations (see below)
  • Set up event branding (usually a logo).
With regards to the organising committee: this can be flexible depending on the specifics of the tasks in hand.  My advice would be to have at least three different roles as a minimum:
  • Committee Chair/Overall Project Leader
  • WSC Competition Director
  • WPC Competition Director
At the risk of repeating myself, these should be three different people.

A participant then needs to be aware of how it is they are going to be able to attend.  This will depend on various national qualification schemes.  There needs to be enough time that the competition organisers allow national organisers to both organise qualifiers and then also to confirm the teams.

  • Clearly communicate the dates of the competition.
  • Clearly communicate registration deadlines for the competition.
  • Clearly communicate the extent to which you will facilitate transfers from airports/railway stations etc.
  • Indicate roughly to what extent "unofficial" participation (guests, B team, C team etc) will be possible.
The registration itself is best handled with designated team captains from each participating country.  This gives rise to the following tasks.

  • Record arrival/departure travel information.
  • Translate this information into a plan for transfers.
  • Record any other special requests and liaise with the hotel accordingly.
  • Ensure there are plans and policies in place to ensure the safeguarding of any children (i.e. explicitly require they travel with a responsible adult).
  • Manage registration cashflows, including communication of receipt.
  • Manage other correspondence, including official invitation letters and anything else that will aid competitors obtaining any necessary travel visas.
There are generally a lot of participants and teams to liaise with, so it is highly recommended that the registration process involves at least some level of automation of data capture and management.  The cashflows are also very important, as it may well be that there are large sums of money due to the hotel before any competitor fees start coming in.  The following tasks are therefore something participants don't really see

  • Managing any bridging loans the event requires (typically these are covered by individuals, although the WPF has also fulfilled this role historically).
  • Explore options for event sponsorship, and any other kind of financial support.

Immediately before the event

Once a prospective participant has registered, paid up and sorted out travel, the next thing on their mind will be the competition itself.  The first sight they see of this are the instruction booklets.  In theory, typically the instruction booklets are published two weeks before the start of the competition.  In practice, typically things are running behind schedule and two weeks sounds like a very generous allowance!

There is some consideration to be given to the publication of the instructions.  In the two weeks leading up to the event there is a small subset of participants who are able to dedicate significant time and effort into understanding the more novel elements of the competition by constructing for themselves a set of example puzzles that go beyond what has been communicated by the instruction booklets.

It may well be that the competition directors take a view on how fair this is.  One option available to them is to communicate what the novel elements of the competition will be ahead of the official instruction booklet.

Anyhow, I begin to digress.  Let's get back to the tasks at hand.  In 2014, the publication of the instruction booklets happened at the same time as print deadlines for both the instruction booklets and the puzzle booklets.  This brings into focus the following activities that need special focus from the competition directors.

The most important task is not always obvious:

  • Work out a detailed schedule for the competition week, including individual competition time, team competition time, play-off time, break times, meal times, and socialising times.
  • From here you can begin designing your competition round structure.
In my opinion, designing to a timetable is critical.  It will involve avoiding subtle mistakes like having too much puzzle solving in the day, reducing team rounds to after-thoughts and allowing insufficient time to socialise and debrief with other competitors on the puzzles you have just solved.  In recent years (since 2017 perhaps) the total puzzle solving time of the week has grown and I don't think this is necessary to maintain the integrity of the competition.  I think we've probably passed the optimal total solving time and so my philosophy here is that less is more.

Beyond that, the tasks of a competition director also include:

  • Obtaining competition puzzles.
  • Maintaining a set of puzzle rules.
  • Maintaining a set of example puzzles. (Ideally these should be full size and not totally trivial)
  • Drawing up puzzle grids for each of: example puzzles, competition puzzles, competition solutions.  (There is much more to say on this).
  • Having a system to dynamically generate competition rounds in booklet form.
This last point is going to be critical to get right if you are interested in saving yourself a lot of time.  I use a LaTeX system that draws puzzle rules from a common source to ensure consistency of wording and examples in the competition and instruction booklets.  I have heard of many other competition organisers doing something similar.

In an ideal world you have this hooked up to a testing database, which ensures the correct points and totals are assigned consistently between the competition and instruction booklets.

The tasks relating to testing I have kept separate as obviously testing is super important to ensuring your competition is successful.  The main dimensions to testing a puzzle are as follows:
  • How many solutions does it have? [The answer is either: None, One or Many]
  • If the answer is one, what was the solving time?
  • If the answer is one, does this match the corresponding solution?
  • If the answer is one, did the solve require any "high-variance" type deductions?
Ideally you will apply this schema to both competition puzzles and example puzzles.  Obviously if you need to compromise effort that you should focus efforts on the competition puzzles as the main priority.

  • Finding a group of reliable test solvers
  • Testing prospective puzzles in their original format (pass 1)
  • Testing prospective puzzles in their redrawn format (pass 2)
  • Testing prospective puzzles in their redrawn format against the solutions in their redrawn format (pass 3)
  • Liaising with authors where one of the (at least!) three passes reveals a puzzle does not have exactly one solution.
  • Finding a mechanism to translate testing times into points allocations.
  • Keeping points allocations consistent across different rounds.
  • Finalise an early-completed-round bonus points allocation consistent with the overall points allocation.
  • Reviewing points allocations and making manual interventions where necessary.  This will be necessary at some point.
  • Reviewing final round structures.
The competition director needs to be intimately familiar with each and every puzzle in the competition.  My opinion is they MUST have solved each puzzle in the competition a minimum of three times.  Ideally the rest of the testing pool will have done the same.  Note that wherever you redraw puzzles, mistakes happen, and therefore they MUST test puzzles after the redrawing process.  Any typos identified here will send you back to square one.  There will be typos.

The last tasks after round design involve bringing everything together.

  • Confirming competition hall rules (for both participants and non-participants).
  • Confirming play-off formats and rules.
  • Final review of every puzzle booklet as drawn up on computer.
  • Final review of the instruction booklet as drawn up on computer.
The rest is then printing and publishing.  There are still things to think about.

  • Confirm whether colour printing is required.
    • If colour printing is required, have you considered colour-blindness?
  • Confirm paper quality (i.e. not glossy, not too thin etc)
  • Confirm paper size.  Usually this is A4, however if you are based in North America this may well be Letter.  Needless to say the paper size you are printing on needs to match the specification of whatever software you have used to draw up the booklets.
  • Confirm print quality (i.e. not laser printed so that the ink can be erased)
  • Confirm layout.  The gold standard here is not to print puzzles back-to-back within booklets in case solvers ink from one side of the page seeps through to the other; however perhaps compromises need to be made in relation to the printing budget.

During the event

[to do when I'm feeling less tired, ill and drained]
[to cover the following]
  • Event Signage
  • Volunteers/event staff
  • Goody bags, including t-shirts.
  • Competition hall set-up
  • Audio-Visual Requirements
  • Seating Plans
  • Food and Refreshments
  • Non-competition events (football, karaoke, evening entertainment)
  • Excursions
  • Photographs
  • Individual Rounds
  • Team Rounds
  • Grading
  • Solutions
  • Scoring System
  • Communication of Results
  • Play-Offs
  • Prizes
  • Press Conferences/Media Relations
  • Liaising with the WPF (e.g. for GP play-offs)

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