This is a bit of a ‘random thoughts’ kinda post. But before I go on, I want to share that my parents got me this T-shirt and I love it:
Anyway, the main reason for this post is, I’ve been thinking about the difference between casual puzzle solving and competitive puzzle solving. Soon I’ll be starting the 2023 editions of Sudoku Mahabharat and Puzzle Ramayan, and the WPF will start the 2023 editions of the Sudoku GP and Puzzle GP. There are competitions galore online and maybe some offline too as we start another season leading up to the World Championships. *Edit*: I shouldn’t mention all this without mentioning the lovely beginner-friendly contest this weekend on LMI, PANFOPCWHTTAPA 3. The first two editions were great for newer solvers looking to learn new puzzle genres and get into competitive solving for the first time. Check it out!
This process, largely, ignoring small mishaps and challenges here and there, has been carried out quite smoothly in recent years (in another discussion it may be worth actually appreciating what we are able to do as a community year on year with little to no monetary benefit and a heavy lack of personnel in some cases) and I have confidence that that will continue.
However, this post is for discussing other things we can do, to keep the casual puzzlers component of the community involved through the year to a similar extent. I’m very interested in exploring this side of things more. Over recent years I have been trying to capture people in different ways. One big way is trying to expand our author pool for SM and PR and give new and young authors a chance and platform. Puzzle construction doesn’t involve the same pressures of competitive solving and is probably more accessible in that sense for those who are interested in the hobby to keep in touch with it meaningfully.
Another way is to hold more casual mini-events as part of our National Championships. During the offline Indian Sudoku Championship there was a simple team round I ran after the main competition while the organizers were checking, where groups of 3 got together to figure out the connection between some Sudokus and try to solve them together. Similarly, during the offline Indian puzzle Championship, I simply put together groups led by some prominent authors of our community, to teach people the processes involved in writing puzzles. The aim of these side events (other than giving the checkers time to put out the results) is to introduce a social component within the experience.
The last way, which I don’t see enough of (I may just be missing it) across the community and probably want to focus on more here, is to hold meetups regularly. Since India is a large country, we mostly plan meetups specifically for Mumbai, the city I live in. The first meetup I had in Mumbai, was basically just a two-person hangout where I helped another solver get through some tough Sudokus. This was many years ago, and since then, with that other solver’s help and others along the way, we built a regular functioning group with monthly meetups in the area.
After the obvious gap caused by Covid-19, we are now rebuilding this meetup culture. We have a stable venue and a consistent agenda comprising of:
1. Casually start solving some (hopefully) approachable Sudokus that vaguely escalate in difficulty while I float around helping where needed, but also get aided by the stronger solvers who attend these.
2. Introducing and teaching a new non-Sudoku puzzle type.
3. Having a team-solving round from some past competition, trying to group more established solvers with newer/casual ones.
The feedback I’ve got from the participants is overwhelmingly positive, and over the years its given some casual solvers a good way to stay connected. It also gives some of them more encouragement to participate in competitions, knowing that the social component carries forward even if they’re not necessarily contenders for the top positions.
The other, more unexpected positive I’ve seen is the variance in demographic. While most of India’s (and the world’s) top solvers are males around 25-35 years of age, the Sudoku meets I conduct have many regular female participants. I can’t help but feel there’s something there, for whatever reasons, with casual solving being more appealing to female puzzlers than competitive solving. I remember conducting a meet pre-covid where there were 22 participants and 20 were female! The demographic has leveled out more post covid, but it is still usually a good ratio.
These meets are pretty easy to conduct. Find a local cafe that allows for group meetups, use some selection of puzzles from an old LMI set or GP set or WSC/WPC set and just get together and interact while solving. It probably helps to have some solvers around who are more established and can help, but it is quite doable without that too.
I’d like to see more offline meetups in different places. I think it definitely benefits the community in ways that competitions do not and goes hand in hand nicely with the competitive part.
I’d also love to see other suggestions to tap into casual puzzle solving audiences and keep them engaged. There have been some good attempts, with Tawan’s quizzes and contests, the Puzzle GP’s experiment with a casual section, etc. which are good ideas to build on too.
I’ll end this post with photos from our most recent meet, where they surprised me with a cake and a small celebration at the end of the meet to commemorate my WPC performance. It was a fulfilling and heartwarming end to the meet and shows that we are building a pretty cool community with these meets.