The 2017 MIT Mystery Hunt happened last weekend

"MIT Mystery Hunt" Indian head penny1) Before addressing the main topic of the piece, a quick heads up to say that one of the lead organisers of DASH 8 in London has enquired whether anyone is willing to run DASH 9 in London this year. Interpret this as you see fit, but there must be reason why that question is being asked in that fashion.

2) If today’s current affairs have got you down, Dan Katz (see below) points to Puzzles for Progress; donate to your choice of ten US causes that might need your attention more today than they did yesterday and receive a bundle of puzzles by a collection of highly-regarded authors. It’s something concrete that anyone can do wherever in the world they are.

3) The annual MIT Mystery Hunt took place in at said Institute of Technology in the greater Boston area last weekend. A quick summary is that it’s, arguably, the world’s most extreme open-participation puzzle hunt; a couple of thousand or so players form several dozens of teams, each of perhaps as few as five players or as many as 150. These solvers spend up to two-and-a-bit days solving puzzles non-stop, taking as little sleep as they dare. There is no limit to the difficulty of puzzles; many of the world’s very best solvers take part, and some of the puzzles are written with this in mind. It’s a practical assumption that most teams will be able to directly or indirectly be able to contact the equivalent of a postdoctorate academic in virtually every subject under the sun, high-brow or low-brow, whether in person or online. For a longer description of the hunt, see my 2015 article on the topic, complete with links to write-ups of what it feels like to participate and to some of the most spectacular puzzles.

This year’s seems to have been extremely well-received. It’s also distinctive in that the winning team found the coin in under fifteen and a half hours. This is definitely on the short side as MIT Mystery Hunts go, possibly even the shortest in recent memory. In recent years, the trend has been for the hunt organisers to accept answers between the start of the hunt, shortly after midday on Friday, until typically early Sunday evening. In this regard, more than one team can have the fun of seeing everything that there is to see and finding the coin. It’s on the record that this year’s hunt was designed to be relatively accessible in this regard; a record seventeen teams each got the fun of finding the coin, many of whom had their first ever complete solution. Congratulations to all the teams who found the coin, but most of all to Death and Mayhem who found the coin first!

One of the team of organisers, Dan Katz, who it’s fair to say is more well-known (or, at least, notorious) than most hunt participants has started an exciting hunt-themed blog with reflections on the hunt-writing process and what this year’s event felt like from the organisational side. Discussion of the hunt and related topics has become somewhat more disparate than in previous years (though, to some extent, a subreddit fulfils some of the role that dear old LiveJournal did five or more years ago) though Jennifer Berk has kindly been collating links relating to this year’s event. It’s also worth looking at four-time World Puzzle Champion Wei-Hwa Huang’s Facebook post on the subject of the duration of the hunt as well.

You can see the puzzles from this year’s hunt, along with their solutions, and they’re well worth reading as amazing pieces of craftsmanship, even if you don’t try to solve them yourself. You’ll see that there are some puzzles associated with fictional characters, introduced in the context of the hunt, and others with the quests in which they participate. The character puzzles are intended to be less challenging than the quest puzzles, and it’s a delightful development that there are deliberately more accessible puzzles in hunts these days – indeed, it’s on the record that the hunt organisers had deliberately intended to make this hunt more accessible than many in the past. On the other hand, these relatively accessible puzzles are still intended to take an entire team half an hour, or an hour, to solve – so still daunting challenges.

To get a further flavour for this year’s hunt, the kick-off pastiche and the wrap-up meeting have both been posted to YouTube. These make fascinating viewing. I particularly enjoyed learning the stats quantifying the success that the organisers had in their attempt to make the hunt relatively accessible. Not far off a hundred teams registered in the first place, but some of these registrations may have been less than serious, small teams might have merged before the event began, or some teams might have been registered more than once. Of the teams that took the event seriously:

  • 83 teams submitted at least one answer
  • 82 teams submitted at least one correct answer
  • 70 teams solved at least five puzzles
  • 58 teams solved at least one quest puzzle
  • 55 teams rescued the linguist in person
  • 49 teams solved at least one character meta-puzzle
  • 29 teams completed the character endgame
  • 28 teams solved at least one quest meta-puzzle
  • 17 teams completed the hunt and found the coin

Some past hunts are more forthcoming with their stats than others, and of course every hunt has a different structure, but these figures compare very favourably to what I remember from previous years and reflect the degree of success that the hunt team achieved in its aim of relative accessibility.

I would be inclined to believe that if the most famous attribute of the MIT Mystery Hunt is the very considerable difficulty of its puzzles, its second most famous attribute is the traditionally considerable size of its teams. Another part of the wrap-up video addresses this fact. It’s true that there are half a dozen teams around the 100-150 solver mark, many of which are surely not present in person at the venue. It’s also true that some of the other 17 teams to find the coin are just (“just”!) fifty strong, with a notable outlier around the 35 mark. It’s also true that some teams of 25 or so, or even down to around a dozen, can solve around a hundred or so of the just over 150 puzzles to be solved – but those must be power-packed teams indeed. Dan Katz touches on the topic, but it’s something that comes up every now and again in Mystery Hunt discussions. It is MIT’s event, after all, and some people like the “you bring your puzzle-solving army, we’ll bring ours, no quarter asked or given” arms race of it – or, if there’s any event in the world with that spirit, the MIT Mystery Hunt seems to be the one where people have settled on.

Very occasionally, write-ups will mention that some team or other have remote cells of solvers working together on puzzles from afar, and some teams mention that they have remote cells in the UK. A couple of times, I’ve spent a weekend here in the UK with two or three other solvers working very hard on a small number of puzzles. It’s fun, though I suspect it can only be a fraction as much fun as solving on-site, and there’s so much that you have to miss from solving remotely – but it may be much more practical, as well as tens of degrees warmer some years. As the interest in puzzle hunt puzzles and puzzle hunts increases in the UK – see the last post as evidence! – it would be fascinating to know just which teams have remote cells in the UK, and whether any of those cells are actually open to potential new participants.

Thanks to the setters and congratulations to the winners. The rest of us can just follow the countdown until next year!

Coming up next week: the Cambridge Puzzle Hunt

cambridge-puzzle-hunt

I’ve posted about the CUCaTS in-person puzzle hunt organised by the Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society annually, at the end of the academic year, for the last five years. Happily, this isn’t the only puzzle hunt interest at Cambridge University, for members of Trinity College’s Mathematical and Science societies are working together to put on the first (and, hopefully, not the only) Cambridge Puzzle Hunt. Hurrah!

The hunt takes a very similar format to the MUMS, SUMS and mezzacotta hunts of Australia: there will be puzzles released on each of five four days; after each set of releases, each of the successive three days sees hints released to the that day’s puzzles. It’s not immediately clear from the rules if there is a scoring system, a metapuzzle and/or a physical object within Cambridge; if anything, signs point to no. Teams can have up to five members; unusually, there is the option to register as a solo solver.

It’s not clear what the level of difficulty can be expected to be, but first hunts often tend to be pretty hard, and Trinity College has a fearsome academic reputation. For mathematics, at least, the saying goes – or used to go? – “there are other universities, there is Cambridge, and there is Trinity College, Cambridge”. I went to another university!

Registration does not appear to be open yet, but ((Edited a second time:)) registration is now open and a registration deadline of the end (UK time) of Saturday 28th January has been announced, with the rules and Facebook pages now agreeing that there will be four sets of puzzles released from Wednesday 25th January onwards. Accordingly, if this is of interest, better not hesitate in starting to follow the hunt’s progress. There’s a mailing list and a Facebook page, so keep looking out for more information really soon.

What an exciting start to the year!

Live from the latest Unconference in London!

It’s the biggest unconference in the UK yet! The attendance number is to be confirmed but possibly around ninety. Certainly there is too much fun to contain on a single floor! We have four sessions today, each offering six different options to choose from:


H and S, legal matters

Design for unusual groups

Sourcing

In game Monitoring and clue giving

Sales and marketing tips

Venues

Bad competition and crisis plans

Designing great experiences

Finance: pricing and costs

In-game automation technology

General marketing: what games rooms are

Pop-ups

Insurance

Suppliers and Premade Rooms

Scaling Up

Booking systems

Social media

Non-room games
Copyright information
Cyber security

Franchises

Using client information

Cross Promotion

Future of the industry

An exciting, busy day! ((Edited to add:)) Sadly too exciting and busy for me and I have had to call it a day at lunchtime, but I look forward to hearing more about it for those who could stick around for the whole day.

It’s the most puzzleful time of the year

"Bob Schaffer's puzzles"Don’t take that title literally; you could make claims for both the World Puzzle Championship week or the MIT Mystery Hunt weekend. Do they have songs, though?

The short version of this post is that Dr. Bob Schaffer has launched his fifth annual short online holiday-themed puzzle hunt, which you can start at any point of your own choice after 8pm GMT today. Everything that this site said on a post on the matter two years ago remains true; this year, the hunt is hosted via ClueKeeper and costs US$7.99 to play, plus completely optional charity donations with no impact on gameplay.

Here’s the longer version.

This site loves puzzle hunts: trails of interconnected puzzles, whether online or in person, commonly solved in teams. If the idea sounds enchanting, even if you have no prior experience, this site thoroughly recommends a free online play-wherever-whenever game called the Order of the Octothorpe as a genuinely accessible starting-point that makes no prior assumptions and starts from first principles.

Once you’ve got your teeth into that, an excellent option for a bite-sized second step is Dr. Bob’s Online Holiday Puzzle Hunt. Bob Schaffer is a senior research engineer who, as a sideline, runs Elevate Tutoring. This non-profit public benefit corporation trains small numbers of disadvantaged US college students to become excellent tutors, and requires these tutors to use their training to provide free tutoring to disadvantaged school students. He has run puzzle hunts, both online and in person, partly as a fundraiser for his tutoring organisation.

For the past four years, he has run small such puzzle hunts online from each December 24th. These, too, are deliberately accessible; the 2012 hunt sets expectations with the comment “The puzzles in this hunt are meant to be enjoyed by all. The experience is meant to take 1-2 hours. Those new to these types of puzzles may need to click on the free hints. Experienced puzzlers should get through hint-free in an hour or so.” The 2013 hunt is similar, with the fastest solutions being matters of tens of minutes.

The 2014 hunt was launched with the comment “This hunt has three main puzzles and a simple meta puzzle. The puzzles are geared toward beginner puzzlers, but were designed to entertain newbies and experts alike. I would say that this hunt is a bit more challenging than the 2012 and 2013 hunts. Beginners can take advantage of the hint system to overcome hurdles while experienced puzzlers can challenge themselves to solve the puzzles as quickly as possible.” There’s an online interface which can provide hints on demand; participation is timed, but scoring is optional. (The scoring system is essentially that of DASH.) The 2015 hunt follows the same pattern. All four hunts can be played on demand. There is no charge for playing, though you are gently invited to tip the Elevate Tutoring in return. The 2013 hunt was great fun and is recommended by this site and the other hunts are likely to be just as good.

2016’s hunt is marginally different. “This year, I am hosting the hunt through the ClueKeeper website. With this, you will experience smoother scoring, a better hint distribution system, and an improved answer submission process. ((…)) to play in the hunt this year, it will cost you $7.99. ((…)) This also supports ClueKeeper – and, for those in the puzzling community, I hope you can respect this as well – ClueKeeper is awesome! I also made the hunt a bit longer than usual to hopefully help further justify the cost. ((…)) if you really want the puzzles for free and you have no interest in receiving any hints or being scored in any way possible (or supporting ClueKeeper) – send me an email and I will send you the PDFs in February after all of the paying competitors have had a chance to participate.” This doesn’t sound unreasonable in the least.

From there, where next? There are many options, not least Dr. Bob’s other work. As well as these deliberately very accessible events, he has several longer and more advanced works to his credit, some of which can still be played online. Great work and a great cause!

Industry advertising at the UK Games Expo

UK Games Expo 2017The UK Games Expo describes itself as the largest Hobby Games Convention in the UK. It has taken place in Birmingham for each of the last 11 years and attendance is in the low tens of thousands annually. It’s a three-day event, so the figure might have some triple-counting, but that’s still very impressive. It features organised tournaments and open gaming across a wide variety of genres: board games, trading card games, miniatures war games and RPGs, both tabletop and live action. Increasingly it features game-themed entertainment events as well. (It’s almost easier to define it in terms of what sorts of games it doesn’t focus upon: traditional mind sports, physical games and digital games.) While far from all exit games players have interests in these fields, enough of them do that this seems to pose an obvious opportunity: people who go to the UK Games Expo have a much larger-than-average chance of being interested in exit games.

There is a plan to have some sort of industry-wide presence at the event. Potentially there will be a bespoke game to play, showcasing what a number of different exit games have to offer, but which will need considerable manipulation to fit into a convention context. There would also be the scope to heavily advertise your exit game brand at the event. More on this may emerge at the next unconference on 10th January, as previously discussed, but there may be no spaces left for it, so the best way to find out more would be to get in touch with Liz Cable.

Could there be a really good puzzles and games pub?

Scenario bar in Dalston by Loading. Used without permission, adapted from unknown photographer.I took a bus, earlier today, that went down little White Lion Street, right past The Crystal Maze; this will always make me smile.

I’m dreaming out loud here, but is the world now ready for a really good puzzles and games pub? If someone were to make one, would it be able to stay in business? This flight of fancy comes from observing a number of different, apparently successful, business models:

  • Loading Bar, as pictured above, has a couple of examples which support a business model which intersects “games” and “pub”;
  • Lady Chastity’s Reserve has a couple of examples which support a business model which intersects “escape room” and “pub”;
  • Draughts and Thirsty Meeples, among others, support a business model which intersects “board games” and “licensed cafe”;
  • Noughts and Coffees doesn’t have a fully developed web site, but has two locations, one of which is a straightforward board game cafe, and the other of which hosts escape games and also features a board game cafe, though currently only at the weekends.

Putting it all together, I’m envisioning something that isn’t a pub but is in fact a licensed cafe with board (and potentially, subject to appropriate soundproofing, digital) games very readily available, at least one escape game on the premises, at least a couple of regular quizzes, room enough to host interesting events like a Puzzled Pint and encouragement and sponsorship of game-themed clubs who want to meet there – chess, Scrabble and the like – and so on.

A licensed cafe would mean that there would be no minimum age restrictions on the participants, and it’s not unknown for cafes to host the types of event commonly known as pub quizzes. There’s also a cultural difference in that a bar (and, even more so, a pub) has a connotation of the function of the trip being repeated purchase of drinks, whereas a themed cafe has a connotation of the function of the trip being purchase of food and drinks, as well as participation in enjoyment of the theme – here, by playing games. Could you hang out at a cafe in good company for hours? Certainly so.

Could this survive and make money in the long term? Certainly it would need the right hand at the tiller, and that hand is not mine. Getting the atmosphere right would take some careful balance; the atmosphere would need to support playing games – quite possibly, people who are at the venue with quite different sorts of games in mind – and also support the continued existence of the venue as a cafe, selling enough food and drink (and paid-for gameplay, and games, and other ancillary products) in mind.

You’d also have to be very careful about whether the venue were to develop regulars or not, and what effect regulars might have on those who are attending and less familiar with what the world of games offers. This is a known and solved problem at board games cafes already, so I don’t consider it insurmountable. It would definitely need some deliberate welcoming policies to keep the atmosphere convivial and accessible to those who consider themselves more casual attendees. In my mind, I don’t want an exclusive Private Members’ Club – and, as much as I enjoy reading about the likes of San Francisco’s Jejune Institute (see also HuffPo and The Bold Italic; the cardhouse.com write-up is amazing), that’s not what I’m after either.

There’s also the potential that I could be falling for at least one or two of the Geek Social Fallacies – would people who regard themselves as gamers of one sort or another really want to share a space with gamers of a different sort? That might be trickier. I used to attend a games club which featured people playing minatures wargames, RPGs, trading card games and board games under the same roof – often, in the same large hall. I get the impression that that’s pretty rare. Adding more into the mix – escape games, quizzes, clubs for specific games – might only make things trickier. While there are plenty of examples of business models with the intersection of two different things, perhaps there’s good reason in practice why the limit seems to be two.

Lastly, what might be a good name for the whole thing? How I Met Your Mother got there first with a fictional bar called Puzzles

A world championship for escape game teams? Red Bull Mind Gamers: Mission Unlock Enoch

Red Bull Mind Gamers: Mission Unlock Enoch, copyright Red Bull GmbH

image copyright Red Bull GmbH

Just over 18 months ago, I reported on a Escape Room Game Jam held at MIT in association with Red Bull and their associated feature film division. Things went quiet and it seemed that the trail had gone cold on this one. The trail has heated back up; it looks like it heated back up a little while ago, but I haven’t seen anyone talking about it, so here goes.

Red Bull Mind Gamers calls itself a “platform for curious minds, with games and challenges to provoke their thinking“, featuring a selection of online puzzles testing strategy, logic, creativity, visual thinking, abstract musical thought and memory to various extents. The “Brain Food” section features articles and interviews on related contemporary mental game topics.

There has been a countdown to the site’s main event, Mission Unlock Enoch, whose self-description of “global competitive mind gaming tournament” is a gussied-up way of saying “sort-of-escape-room world championship”. Hurrah! This is far more exciting and relevant to interests here than anything else recently done by any other purveyor of caffeinated chilled sugary beverages. (Unless you know otherwise…) It’s all tied up with their MindGamers movie, previously referred to in passing as DxM.

25 teams of four will receive paid travel to Budapest in February 2017 to take on the “ultimate mixed reality Escape Room Tournament”, with the overall champions earning a three-day trip to Boston. Wherever you are in the world, you can attempt to win one of four global wild card spaces by attempting to complete this single-player online game as quickly as possible. (Practising the other games on the site might help.) The other 21 spaces are awarded to national champions to parallel national qualifying competitions held in 21 different countries: Singapore, South Korea, the US, Oman, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Norway, Switzerland, and a dozen current EU nations, happily including the United Kingdom. Lots of important gaps in the list: Australia, Canada, China, Japan, and so on, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Accordingly, there is a national qualifying competition in the UK to determine our representative at the world finals. This will take place at Breakout Manchester on December 5th and at Breakout Cardiff on December 7th. “Within 20 minutes, your team of four players will have to connect their mind skills and solve a multi-player mind game in order to ‘unlock’ and leave the room. The fastest team per country gets to enter the final Escape Room in Budapest in 2017.” Each player only gets one try; you’re not allowed to play on more than one team, or to play in more than one location. It’s not clear how the company are planning to avoid spoilers here; procedurally generated puzzles might be one solution that remains reasonably fair in terms of difficulty.

It’s not quite even that simple! In order to get a place at Manchester or Cardiff, you need to rack up a score towards the top of the local chart for the single-player online game. Top scorers there will be invited to pick their team and their time of choice for the qualification day at Manchester and Cardiff. You miiiight be able to get to play in the qualifiers just by turning up on the day even without scoring well at the online game, but this isn’t guaranteed and I wouldn’t risk it.

The overall pattern looks like this: play the online game alone, do well and earn a spot at Manchester or Cardiff, do very well with your team there and win a trip to Budapest, do extremely well with your team in Budapest and win a trip to Boston. (Maybe, just maybe, the prize will be to go to Boston when the MIT Mystery Hunt is on. That would be a neat circle from the location of the original game jam.)

Not much else is known at the moment, except maybe anecdotally from past players. You can read the rules, the FAQ and the terms of participation as .pdf files, but you may get more of an insight by reading the interview with the designers. One open question: who (or, I suppose, what or where) is Enoch and why should Enoch be unlocked?

Inevitably I’ll be hundreds of miles away from anywhere useful, working the day shift on the Manchester qualification day and the night shift on the Cardiff qualification day, but it would be a joy if whoever the UK representatives eventually turn out to be were part of the community. (Or, the other way around, it would be strange if the UK representatives weren’t part of the community, by choice.) We’ll be cheering the UK team on in Budapest in February!

If you do decide to go for it, the very best of luck to you – and please tell all about it on December 8th!

New year, new unconference

"The Steam Room" at Drink, Shop and Do in London2016 has undoubtedly been a spectacular year for escape games, but it has been such a bad year in terms of the way has gone that I’m looking forward to 2017 already. There’s something very specific to look forward to at the start of 2017.

Start 2017 with a fantastic meetup with like-minded Escape Room owners and enthusiasts. Your lunch and welcome and wrap-up drinks are included. In a gorgeous themed bar just five minutes from Kings Cross we can host up to 70 folks for the latest in our series of escape game unconferences. We will then segue neatly into Happy Hour (which goes on for three hours here, apparently)

The fourth UK escape game unconference, and the second in London, will take place on Tuesday 10th January 2017, at The Steam Room bar within Drink, Shop and Do, which legitimately is about five minutes’ walk from King’s Cross station. (Depends which exit you use; two minutes from the closest exit, seven or eight from the furthest one.) It’s just down the road from ClueQuest, Omescape and doubtless others. It’s also quite an interesting area in its own right, but more of that another day.

Tickets are now on sale. If you book very, very soon (by the end of October?) then there are still a very small number of tickets available for £28 + booking fee, representing a 20% cut on the standard charge of £35 + booking fee. That’s not a trivial sum, but as well as excellent company and incisive discussion that you’re not going to get elsewhere, the sum pays for lunch and drinks. (Take a look at the Drink, Shop and Do web site; the sum pays for pretty pricy lunch and drinks.) If you’re interested enough in the genre to be reading this, you’d very probably have a whale of a time, whether you’re a player or a professional. Take a look at posts about the first three unconferences to get a sense of what to expect.

The other interesting thing about Tuesday 10th January is that it’s the second Tuesday of the month, so it will be a Puzzled Pint night as well, once the unconference has finished. If you’re come from afar for the unconference, why not make a full day of it in London, and see what Puzzled Pint is about as well?

Quick results from the World Championship

World Puzzle ChampionshipThe 25th World Puzzle Championship has been taking place in Senec in the Slovak Republic this week. Considering how many participants there were, the organisers deserve a lot of credit for posting results either as .pdf files or on an automated system as frequently as they have.

The results of this year’s World Puzzle Championship is, to some extent, maybe not a complete reverse but at least something of a counterpart to last year’s. Last year, Germany’s Ulrich Voigt was a convincing leader in the main body of the competition but Japan’s Ken Endo won the play-off to take the championship; this year, Ken Endo scored most points in the main body of the competition – in fact, his dominance over the rest of the field may be one of the biggest that the competition has ever seen – but Ulrich Voigt ended up winner after the play-off. Congratulations to Ulrich on his eleventh championship! Palmer Mebane climbed from third to second in the play-off and Ken Endo finished third.

In the team contest, the Japanese team won the main body of the event by a very healthy margin – but, once again, the play-offs proved decisive and the team podium finished Germany – Japan – USA for the fourth time in five years. (Glad nobody did take me up on my offer of a small bet.) The UK A team finished eleventh, about which I think they have every right to be pleased; Neil Zussman was on red hot form and finished twelfth of the 104 official competitors. Congratulations!

There were play-offs for the Under-18 and Over-50 championships and it’s not immediately clear who won those, but I enjoyed seeing that the US team’s Walker Anderson was not only top ten overall and (presumed) number two under-18, but also best newcomer. I wasn’t aware of Walker previously, but the line of this 2½-year-old news story that’s available to the public implies that he can now only be somewhere between 15½ and 16½ years old, so not just barely under-18. Wow. Future world champion? Perhaps.

In other puzzle competition news, this Tweet suggests that Mark Goodliffe won the Times Crossword Championship today. This is Mark’s tenth title, tying him all-time with John Sykes whose titles came between 1972 and 1990. Congratulations there, too!

It’s World Championship time

World Puzzle ChampionshipThe 25th World Puzzle Championship, and its younger sibling the World Sudoku Championship, will take place next week in Senec in the Slovak Republic. You can find the details at the official web site. It’s a competition featuring rounds and rounds of culture-free, language-neutral (mostly logic) puzzles. The final version of the instruction booklet has been posted, so you can see examples of the sorts of puzzles that are going to be faced.

I’m not quite energetic enough to do as in-depth a preview as I have done in previous years, but here are some quick notes. The World Puzzle Championship this year will have 25 full national “A” teams, one up from last year; welcome to Austria and Belarus, farewell (hopefully briefly!) to Romania. There will also be participants – if not full teams – from Belgium, Canada and Luxembourg, the first two of which have had podium-placed full teams in the WPC’s early years. With the make-up of sundry “United Nations” teams, as well as nations’ “B” teams (and, unusually, five “C” teams and even a “D” team) there will be fifty teams in total. This is hugely impressive, though it’s to be noted that this means teams are split over a number of different hotels, which is a slightly different way of doing it than most years – though a very practical one. It’s a particular thrill for me to see that Berni and Silke of Croco-Puzzle are getting to play on the German “B” and “C” teams.

The UK team retains Neil Zussman and Tom Collyer from last year, though substitutes in Adam Bissett and Thomas Powell for James McGowan and David McNeill. (David can’t make it to defend his over-50 titles in both sudoku and puzzles; a pity, not least because it neatly blows up one of my predictions.) The UK team would be doing very well to finish in the top ten of national “A” teams this year.

For the last two years, this site has tipped Japan to win and they’ve finished second. The German “A” team is missing Florian Kirch, for the saddest of reasons, and Michael Ley (who finished eighth in the main rounds) is on the German “B” team once again. The Japan “A” team has last year’s champ Ken Endo and last year’s fifth-placed Kota Morinshi, but also has Taro Arimatsu and Hideaki Jo who finished 1st and 3rd in 2010. That’s too scary a line-up to ignore, and thus this site tips Japan once again, and would be prepared to back it up with a small bet at even money.