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.