WSC/WPC 2014 Recaps: Part IV – WSC bids, sight seeing

This one’s probably gonna be a little strong. Lets just jump right into it.

Right after the WSC closing ceremony, some of us were invited to a room to watch and discuss a presentation of some sort. This was mostly a last-minute thing because not that many people showed up. The people hosting the meeting were Puzzlium Inc. – represented by three Ukranians based in USA. Their presentation was related to a bid to host WSC/WPC 2015 using their app, Puzzlium.

I’ll first note down their proposals, as I understood them. Note that this is not an official post, I was just a spectator there who discussed some of these points during the meeting too. Since I am not personally a WPF member (and some others present at the meeting weren’t either), this seemed to be an open meeting. This seems to be an impromptu chance given by the WPF to the presenters to make their case in front of a group of WSC/WPC competitors. Anyway, what they planned:

1) The WSC and WPC would be in the USA, and the participants would attend as usual, selected by their respective countries. However, the solving would not be done on paper. Each participant will be given a device that supports the app, and the solving would have to be done on the device.

2) All puzzles would be created using the App, which automatically tests for solve-ability and uniqueness. No human dependency and so, zero chance of unsolvable or non-unique puzzles.

3) Even though the official participation would be on-site, anyone who purchases the app could participate in the same competition from their homes, as the puzzles would simultaneously be available for everyone on the app.

4) Printing costs saved, and all that financial stuff.

5) The difficulty will be decided in a dynamic way, based on a formula dependent on solving times for each puzzle as they were solved.

Now, my general reactions, including some things I didn’t mention on site, either because I thought they weren’t relevant to the organizational side of things, or because I thought of them only after further reflection.

Firstly, I’ll put up the point that was seemingly unanimously agreed upon by the puzzlers present there (but one that the presenters didn’t seem to fully grasp). We have National selections in each of the member nations and this selection process is what decides the teams eligible to compete at the World Level. This is similar to all World Level competitions. The Olympics don’t have officials sent to each home to ask the people to race and see if they are as fast as the competitors. They may or may not be, but that’s not the point. The World Championship is for those chosen to be the best at what they do. I fully support a process which encourages everyone from their homes, as a separate Championship, or even at a National level – but not the World Championship. Their way of combating this was to repeatedly ignore it and go on about how everyone must get a chance. I agree with that, but that should be before the World Championship, during National selections. Everyone must get a chance there.

Upon further reflection, I’ll add to this point – Just because they open it up to everyone using the app does not mean that they are taking the Championship to everyone either. It is simply opening it up to people who have heard of the App, have the money to purchase a device that supports the app, and have enough time on that weekend to devote to solving puzzles all day. Hardly a comprehensive selection. In fact, it is ironic that they used the argument for this that people might not be able to spend money to participate at the WSC/WPC, when money is obviously required for this too, unless they plan to send a free device with the app to every home in the world.

Another valid point brought up from our side – solving on the app means only using markings built into the app. This may be ok for Classics, but going to the rarer variations, and for puzzles different solvers have different notations. The most immediate example I can come up with for this is Fillomino, where some mark borders, some write in numbers, and some, like myself, draw lines passing through the middle of cells. Even if the app supports all of these solving processes, there may still be something I’ve left out that some other solver feels comfortable with. Limiting them to the possibilities of an app is not fair in competition. In reply, they said the app’s solving would be dynamic but did not feel the need to expand on this and resorted to the stance of  “this is a technical limitation which we will look at”. This is just one example, but there may well be many solvers who are at a disadvantage here for reasons other than puzzle-solving.

The third concern, is about the creative levels of a World Puzzle Championship being restricted immensely by the app. Some of us did raise this concern, as the only puzzles they could demonstrate to us were very simple in nature, and did nothing to indicate that they would be capable of designing an app dynamic enough to carry the variety required for a World Championship (108+70-ish types that appeared over the week in London this year, for example).

Also (something I didn’t talk about there as it didn’t seem fully relevant), as a puzzle author, I take offense to the insinuation that any random app can be as creative and innovative with puzzles as a human author can be. Its not that I don’t think this is ever possible – after all, human minds are the ones designing new technologies, and maybe in the future, a computer has an artistic artificial brain and is capable of innovation in our field. But this isn’t gonna happen anytime soon, and more than anything, there is no way you will convince me it is just by showing geometrical variants of Sudoku and a few dissection puzzles which appear random as far as themes go. Will they have cute themed rounds like the Great Outdoors, or English Country Gardens, as at this year’s WPC? Will they have a “Something New-ish” round with innovative variants? Will they be able to have an entire round each for Math variants, Neighbourhood variants, Geometric variants, Outside Clue variants, as at this year’s WSC? I have minor criticisms of this year’s World Championships too, but they are just that – minor. They are nitpicks based on personal preferences, but in general, the World Championships were of a high quality (and just happened to be one of the best ones I’ve participated in) which I don’t see being replicated by an app anytime soon.

The other big problem is the dynamic difficulty assignment. This completely eliminates strategy based on points (and also calls into question the presenters’ claim of going through WSC/WPC booklets and studying how things are done). They responded to this by saying they will have a group of pre-testers who will not participate which is fine, but negates one of their “positives” all the same. There were other topics that weren’t even brought up (mainly because some of these points turned into repetitive arguments that took us late into the night) like malfunctioning devices, or team round management, or the fact that to practice on the app for the WSC/WPC we still had to purchase a device which seems an unnecessary necessity in relevance to solving puzzles. But since I believe the points brought up at the meeting were more than enough to prove that this isn’t a good idea, its alright. Some suggested a compromise of one round being devoted to their software as a gimmick round, and as long as this is a low weight-age round, I have no issues with this plan, even if I won’t be a fan of it.

Ok, now moving on from all of this to a much lighter topic, the next day we had the Team photo followed by sight-seeing. Here, we saw Big Ben, which we learned was renamed, and is now known as Elizabeth Towers. We also saw Buckingham Palace and the Queen’s Guard. After this, the Indian team wanted to separate, as some of us wanted to finish some shopping, so I went with them.

During the time with the group however, I was mostly talking to Jarett Prouse and Fae Lau of Canada B (Yes, they Can B!) about the various ways guides directed their groups. We agreed that Magical Stuffed Fox was the most awesome guide-help (I was skeptical of it being magical, but Jarett insisted), but our own guide’s magical umbrella came close. This time, I can elaborate on why this was magical – each time our guide Sally raised the umbrella, the traffic stopped. This kept happening, about 4 times. At one point, I shouted out “UMBRELLA” just to see if it happened that way too, and it did! It was creepy. Anyway, we also agreed unanimously upon the worst guide-help among the ones we saw – a home-made “Follow Me” scrawl propped up on a stick. Ouch.

There was also a story about Canadian Geese in there somewhere, which was pretty entertaining, but I have apparently forgotten it now, so can’t go further. So I’ll fast forward to when I was with the Indian team, and we got back to the buses to get back to the hotel. 3 of the team were leaving at this point, to begin the journey back to India, as they were only there for the WSC. Deb Mohanty, Rishi Puri and Sumit Bothra all needed to get to the airport by the evening and couldn’t accompany us back to the hotel because of this. Goodbyes were said, and the rest of us got back on the bus. It was on the journey back that I spotted a restaurant with the best name any restaurant can have – it was solely titled “EAT.”. I like that. Anyway, other than that it was an uneventful trip back

Next time, I’ll post about certain complications with the Indian Puzzle team, and WPC Day 1.

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WSC/WPC 2014 Recaps: Part III – WSC Day 2

Apparently, I was wrong about getting the bonus on Round 7. Should’ve known looking at the points, but eh. Anyway, Day 1 was made so bad by Round 5 that I was just hoping to climb a little bit in the rankings on Day 2. Last year, I was 27th and with 3 rounds in Day 2, climbed to 15th. This year, there were just two rounds in Day 2 and I was 28th up to Round 5. Though the Round 6 results weren’t out yet, I knew the climb wouldn’t be much in that one. I also knew that coming up was my favorite round…

Round 9 – Endurance round (90 minutes) – 16/17 – 870/940.

Before this round started, the UK Organizers had to handle a slight misprint, so they made us turn to the page with the Between Sudoku, where there was an extra line, and informed us about it. I thought this was a good simple way to handle it, and also noticed a nifty WSC theme for the lines of the Between Sudoku as I was correcting the bad line. We then had to close the booklet again and wait for the start. I solved mostly in order, with Windoku, Diagonal (I didn’t try it as a Classic this time!), Anti Knight and Palindrome getting done pretty quickly. I noticed another WSC theme with the shaded areas of the Renban Groups but skipped it as I don’t feel that comfortable with the variant. This would end up being the one I didn’t attempt on the round. I solved everything except the (Renban Groups and) Eliminate Sudoku with about 12 minutes left, and I thought I broke it for a minute in between, but it turns out I had eliminated a possibility which wasn’t forced by the eliminators. Maybe I’m an arrow too. Anyway, fortunately I recovered from this and finished the Eliminate Sudoku with 2 minutes to go. At this point, I knew there was no way I was finishing Renban Groups in under two minutes, so just went about checking for empty spaces in everything. There were none.

Round 10 – Overlapping Scattered Sudoku (20 minutes) – 1/1 – 130/100.

I confess I was dreading this round. I hate all such all-or-nothing rounds where its just one Sudoku to solve, because the difficulty is at the organizer’s discretion, and harder ones can lead to some unnecessarily high variance in the scores. To the organizers’ credit here, this one was easy enough to be ~10 minute solve in general, and indeed, some of the best times on it were 7 minutes. Rohan did really well here and finished in 8 minutes, but this wasn’t enough to get him in the top 10 unfortunately, and he finished 14th. Me? I had a repeat performance of my Times Sudoku Championship 4th round earlier this year, which was a Samurai with a similar round structure. I solved the entire thing, spotted an error, erased the entire thing, and re-solved the entire thing. There too, Rohan finished earlier than me, but there he made a mistake and I ended up having best score on that round. I’m really thankful he didn’t make a mistake here, but I also wish I’d stop making these Overlapping Sudokus into Double-Solve Overlapping Sudoku variants. Anyway, I still managed to finish with 3 minutes remaining, which was ok, but dashed my hopes of being within the top 20.

I finished 21st. Rohan, as I said, was 14th, Rishi was 36th, and Sumit 55th. If only Rishi was 35th and Sumit was 56th, we’d all be multiples of 7. I am thoroughly disappointed that this didn’t happen. Or maybe I’m just projecting my disappointment of my own performance over there. Something like that. Anyway, there was one team round to go, which didn’t need as much co-dependence as rotation or stripping… I mean Strip Sudoku.

Round 11 – Team Round – Linked Sudoku – 5/5 – 3360/3000.

Like I said, this didn’t have as much co-dependence as the previous team rounds. The structure was simple. There were 5 Sudokus, a Killer Pro, a Diagonally Non Consecutive, a Toroidal, a Sum Skyscraper, and a Musketry Sudoku (Overlapping grids). Each of these were uniquely solvable but were really difficult. There were some letters marked in some cells in each of them, and same letters would be the same digit throughout. e.g., if there’s an A in the Toroidal and the Musketry, and if A=5 in Toroidal, it’ll be 5 in the Musketry too. So it was a simple case of solving each of our own variants and communicating a letter’s value if determined. All the variants were strengths for me, so we went a different route and I took the one which was everyone else’s weakness – Toroidal.

Rohan took the Diagonally Non Consecutive, Sumit took the Killer Pro, and Rishi took the Musketry. We managed to solve things smoothly enough, and Rohan was the first to finish his I think, so he began working on the Sum Skyscraper. Sumit finished Killer Pro around the time when I had made the Toroidal easy enough to just have the last bit of filling done. Sumit grabbed the Toroidal and told me to help Rohan with the Sum Skyscraper, but almost immediately threw it back and told me to finish, because again, he couldn’t read my handwriting to finish (at this point I think it is only appropriate that I submit my humblest apology to the markers who had to put up with the handwriting that my team cursed on day 1 and gave up on on day 2). Anyway, not much damage done, as I quickly finished the Toroidal, and went over to helping Rohan with the Sum Skyscraper. We managed to finish this as a team, since Rishi was done with the Musketry too. We finished the round with 9 minutes to go and ended the WSC on a positive note.

We had been ricocheting between 7th and 8th in the Team standings throughout the WSC, so we expected a 7th with the last team round being good. A 7th would’ve tied our previous best ranking at a WSC, one which we have achieved twice before. However, the French team who were 6th for most of the WSC, were kind enough to goof up in the last team round, making an error that cost them almost 2000 points and pushing them one point behind USA, down to 8th. We got pushed up to 6th, making this our best team ranking, and also a newsworthy fact for our sponsors to report.

The funny thing here is, we wasted a whole lot of effort trying to get the UK WSC logo in the background, only for Times to photoshop it out anyway. I’m guessing its because of some policy against publicity to other brands, or something. I would probably not do that, but its their paper, their policy, no issues.

Anyway, I confess I went to my room and slept through the WSC playoffs, but only after proving how horrible I can be at Tennis, playing against the rest of the Indian team. The playoffs this year had a better structure than recent years simply because the top 10 were divided into groups, with the final group being 1st-4th. This means the preliminary rounds winner can only drop to 4th at most, so at least in my opinion, it was a fairer structure. The playoffs apparently went fine, except for a minor glitch – in the final playoff, the markers judged a correct solution wrong somewhere, causing minor confusion. This did not impact the top two, so it was resolved simply by declaring a tie for 3rd place. The top 3 were as follows:

1. Kota Morinishi (Japan).

2. Tiit Vunk (Estonia).

3. Bastien Vial-Jaime (France) & Jakub Ondroušek (Czech Republic).

I congratulate the winners, and going by performances in online contests over the past year, this is a fair reflection of the world’s best solvers. Also, this was a WSC which was a lot of fun, and left me wanting more. My only criticism is a really selfish one – it needed more long rounds. It is down to personal opinion and strengths and weaknesses of each competitor I suppose, but as far as preferences go I will always prefer the longer rounds. Maybe next time I should just ask the organizers if I can sit and solve all the rounds at a stretch…

Anyway, that evening, the WSC closing ceremony took place. I cannot begin to explain just how entertaining this turned out to be. The Indian team table probably had laughter throughout dinner. We just could not stop joking around, not that anyone wanted to. Within all this though (literally within all of it, we somehow managed to keep joking), we also discussed some serious matters. The discussion inevitably went to Logic Masters India’s future plans. We have come a long way from the Mock Tests that started on LMI, to having themed contests, Annual feature Contests and Beginners’ Contests. Every puzzle enthusiast probably knows what we’re about by now, so I need not go further. This year we started our patronage system to get some funds, in order to progress things in India. So apart from all this, we discussed some new ideas, which will probably be publicized in the near future. Most of these ideas go towards finding and developing talent within India, but there may be something to interest International competitors too in the process. Either way, stay tuned.

That’s all for this recap. The next one contains controversy, magic and Canadian Geese!

 

WSC/WPC 2014 Recaps: Part II – WSC Day 1, Sudoku GP Playoffs

As I said on the last post, I woke up fine enough on the morning of the WSC. It was one of those “memory of a headache making you feel woozy” situations, which made me dread the fact that Round 1 was a 20 minute sprint round with just Classics. As a slow starter who thrives on longer rounds and isn’t great at Classics, I just wanted to get this round over with and move to the variants without much damage done.

Anyway…

Round 1: Classics. 7/10 – 130/200.

I came out of this round feeling really good about myself. Relatively, I had done well, since Rishi had solved 7, and Rohan had solved 8. I had solved 8 too, so at that stage I was about 5 points away from Rohan (he’d done a higher pointer along the way). Unfortunately, this round contained my only (uncaught) error of the entire WSC, and it just happened to be on the highest (25) pointer. So 155 turned into 130. However, I didn’t know this until later in the day, so like I said, I was feeling really good about myself. Which helped with…

Round 2: Common variants. 9/12 – 445/535.

Again, I felt good about this round. The Surplus and Deficit were good to start with considering I’m a slow starter, since they didn’t take much effort. The Surplus was valued high and I could see why but I sped through it nicely. I did have just 5 digits left on a 50 point Arrow Sudoku though, so little margins and all that again. But that’s a part of competition, so I wasn’t dwelling on it, and 445 seemed to be a good total. The bigger mess-up in this round, which I did dwell on for a little bit, was the silly thing I did of trying to solve the Diagonal Sudoku as a Classic for 15 or so minutes. When I discussed this with other competitors, they said they found it hard even as a Diagonal, so you can imagine how stumped I was, and how foolish I felt once I realized this. Ah, well, I didn’t have much time to think about it, because coming up soon was…

Round 3: Outside Clue variants. 8/9 – 435/510.

Another round which I thought went well enough. With 5 minutes to go, I had an Even Sandwich Sudoku left, and the two Classics offered at the end of each round. I picked the Classics, and got them both done. Overall, this was going well.

Round 4: Neighbours/Adjacency variants. 6/10 – 300/560.

Yea, this didn’t go well. I broke the 70 point Consecutive Sequences Sudoku, and could not find the way to fix it, and this lost me a significant chunk of time. However, due to a difficult Inequality Sudoku, not many finished this round, so at least the competitors weren’t too far ahead.

After Round 4, we went away for lunch, and in the back of my head, I know I had messed up the Math round of the last two WSCs really badly, even though it is generally my biggest strength in online competitions. I really wanted to do well here.

Round 5: Arithmetic variants. 3/9 – 165/555.

Yep. 3rd consecutive WSC. That thing’s really going to weigh over me in coming years. Not sure what I’m supposed to do because it isn’t a speed thing – like I said, it is generally my biggest strength in online competitions. And its not even like I get stuck. For all 3 WSCs, I have broken half the puzzles of the round. I just seem to solve wrong for that one round, for the WSC. This year, I broke the Killer Sudoku, which was the first one I attempted. Determined to not let that ruin my round again, I restarted it… and broke it again. Maybe I was being unnecessarily stubborn, but I restarted again… and broke it again. At this point, I finally left it. The Arrow, Star Product and Little Killer all got done fairly quickly. Then I just skipped over to Killer Pro, which was the highest pointer of the round at 120… and broke that too. Then I went to the Diagonal Arrow with about 5 minutes to go, and got through 90% of it, but couldn’t finish it on time. After the round, I let out a bit of a groan and just threw my pencil down in disgust. However, there wasn’t much time to reflect (which is probably for the best) since coming soon was…

Round 6: Geometric variants. 6/9 – 390/525.

Considering how I felt after the last round, I thought I recovered well here. Relatively speaking, this was a pretty good score, even though I started in a little bit of an uncertain way, due to the previous round. I got all the high pointers done except the Toroidal Sudoku. The Hex, which was valued at 140 didn’t take me nearly as long as the 85 point Sudokurve, which had more connections than usual, across 9 boxes instead of the “usual” 4. I’m not a big fan of this as I believe it makes it more workmanlike and has a lot of searching. I also messed this one up by using rows where there weren’t any grey lines connecting boxes, meaning I broke it once and restarted. Thankfully, I was able to finish it eventually. Until now, the quality was high, and all Sudokus were fun to solve, so this is a minor blemish, and is probably only down to personal tastes.

The individual rounds were done for day 1. I wasn’t feeling nearly as good about my performance as I did for the morning rounds. Since there were two team rounds coming up, again, there wasn’t much time to reflect (again, probably a good thing).

Round 7: Rotation Sudoku – Team Round – 2640/2880.

This round consisted of 6 Sudokus, each being divided into 4 4×5 quadrants. Each quadrant was denoted by a different color, and we were each given a pen which wrote in a matching color to one of the quadrants. At first, we were given 4 of the Sudokus (the other two would be given as one of the originals got done or skipped), and every 90 seconds, Tom Collyer (organizer) would shout rotate in varying tones and mock accents and what not, because well, it’d be boring to shout it in the same way each time.  When he shouted this, we had to pass the Sudoku we were working on, and get to the one passed to us. The catch was that we could only solve within our respective colors. This meant there needed to be some creative help for other quadrants by way of markings in our own quadrants. This meant the rest of the team felt the need to punch me, after being put through the ordeal of reading my handwriting for the markings. Sorry, team. Still, we did well in this round. There was one Sudoku we made an error in, so this was frustrating to figure out every 90 seconds, and it got really messy (not just me, everybody, so its not a handwriting thing here!), but we managed to make the digits clear eventually and fix it. We finished the round, but missed a few points because of an accidental digit placed in the wrong color. We protested this, because we had communicated this to the supervising organizer during the round and were told that one digit is fine and would be considered. I think we got the bonus but not the points for the quadrant with the problem. Not much of a gain.

Round 8: Strip Sudoku – Team Round 800/1600.

Many jokes were made because of the name. Even the media coverage in London had a little fun with this name. The round was actually about ordering some strips of paper that had rows/columns, one on top of the other, in such a way that the final visible Sudoku grid would be a valid solution. The solution wasn’t the requirement, the order of the strips was. We probably didn’t have the best preparation/strategy for this round, and didn’t do that well. We solved 2 out of the 4, and broke the 3rd one. We made a guess for this but it went wrong.

After this, and a quick dinner, the Sudoku Grand Prix playoffs were held. The difficulty was generally easy (I knew this since I had written a Classic for these playoffs, and the difficulty guidelines were pretty strict. If you haven’t seen it yet, the variation I submitted, a Repeated Neighbours, got rejected for being too difficult, and appeared on GM Puzzles. Quality wise, it is pretty good, I think, and worth a try. I fully understand why it didn’t meet difficulty constraints for the GP), so there wasn’t much chance of overtakes. India’s Rishi Puri was starting from the 9th position in these playoffs, and couldn’t make up much ground, but also didn’t fall behind, so he did well. He got a certificate for being a ‘Grand Finalist’ so that’s nice.

Tomorrow I’ll cover Day 2 of the WSC, which had the only 90 minute round of the WSC (everything else was 20 or 45). I knew I had a bad Day 1, but how much could I cover up in Day 2? Stay tuned…

WSC/WPC 2014 Recaps: Part I

Before I get to these, I just wanna quickly say that I do plan to resume posting puzzles on this blog again. It might be restarting around mid-September, but we shall see. Now I’m gonna start a series of recaps for the entire week. I’ll begin with the day before the WSC, because this day was a little eventful.

We had a stopover at Dubai on the 10th. We being me, Rohan Rao, Jayant Ameta and Kunal Verma. Rohan and me had started our journey from Mumbai, whereas the other two had to get to Mumbai from Bengaluru first. Anyway, in Dubai, I was already drowsy because I just cannot sleep on a plane. Ever. Once we got on the one to London, we encountered our first puzzle – the pilot made an announcement that the batteries were dead and that new batteries would be required, and would need to be transported from the other side of the airport. Yup.

Anyway, this caused a delay of about 90 minutes. If nothing else, it gave us a preview of sitting idle after finishing (the boarding of the flight) early. We reached London without any further delay, but with added sleep deprivation for me, causing a huge headache. Once we reached the hotel, we were greeted with two ‘surprises’.

First, our rooms weren’t ready. I’m guessing there was some confusion about clearing out the previous guests. The only thing I am sure of is it had nothing to do with batteries this time. The other surprise was that somehow Team India’s room allocation was messed up. This problem was magnified by the fact that the hotel staff had misspelled Deb’s and Rishi’s names and at first we couldn’t even find them in the database. Finally, we just went up to one of the two rooms already allocated to some members of our team, and set up camp there until the rest of us got allocated.

We started discussing a little about the rounds and all that, and somewhere during this time I realized that I didn’t have my suitcase with me. Oops. I’d forgotten it in Reception, and this was one of about 10 times over the week where I forgot something really important somewhere, but fortunately I found it there later. Puzzlers don’t steal. Thanks, puzzlers. Anyway, I retrieved the suitcase, got back, sat through the discussions without contributing much (headache), and then we went down for dinner and the WSC Q&A session.

I have no recollection of dinner on the first day. The Q&A mercifully didn’t have many questions, I just wanted to get to bed (except that I didn’t have a room allocated yet). The WPF flag was hoisted, the Qs were A-ed, the WPF Newsletter was distributed, much fun was had. For some reason, I thought we already had the newsletter and my team believed me (I don’t know why they would considering the state I was in). Thankfully we were able to get some copies later. Even more thankfully, I was able to get a room soon after the Q&A session.

Each set of rooms in the hotel were a little different, and the pathways were a Missing Labyrinth puzzle worthy of a 400 Club (refer to WPC IB to understand reference). Rohan claimed (and we later verified) that to get to his room from the competition hall, 17 turns were needed. My room was on the 2nd floor, and had a doorstep. I did not notice said doorstep until the next day (woke up mostly fine, the headache had subsided), and I have absolutely no recollection of bringing my suitcase in, but it was there this time thankfully. Tomorrow I’ll recap the WSC rounds. Even with all the problems on day 1, I should note that this turned out to be a fun week with two well-organized events.