If it’s the week before the August Bank Holiday, it’s time for the annual Mind Sports Olympiad, and it’s time for me to roll this post out again. (Don’t worry; this year I’ll add some fresh bits.) This will be the twentieth installment of the annual mental-games-and-skills-themed multi-sports festival. You know how a certain major thing happening in Brazil at the moment, which I choose not to name because you can’t be too careful these days, has some of the world’s most prestigious contests in many different physical sports? The principle behind the Mind Sports Olympiad was to try to emulate that for brain games. The budget has never really been there to attain this at the very top level, but the event has kept going year after year and developed its niche. (Given how careful we are encouraged to be regarding the O-word, you might have thought that the Mind Sports Olympiad was skating on thin ice, but it survives through the traditional use of the word in long-established context, following the pattern of the Chess Olympiad and the Bridge Olympiad.)
Some people prefer to focus their efforts on a single mind sport at the highest level they can attain, others take a much broader view that it’s more fun to compete at many different games, and the Mind Sports Olympiad is a great place for those who take the second viewpoint. This web site has a lot of sympathy with the principle. By analogy, some people like only exit games, others only logic puzzle contests, others only cryptic crosswords or mechanical puzzles or geocaching or one of maybe a dozen other things; this site tends to believe that if you like one but haven’t been exposed to the others then it may well be that you turn out to enjoy the others as well.
This year’s event runs from Sunday 21st August to Monday 29th August and is held at JW3, the London Jewish cultural centre. (Accordingly, there is no play on the evening of Friday 26th or at all on Saturday 27th, being the Sabbath.) The most immediately relevant event to readers of this site is the contest in sudoku and kenken (also known as calcudoku – think killer sudoku, but with other mathematical operations as well as addition) on the morning of Sunday 28th August, which this year has £140 of prize money provided by sponsors. However, there are contests in scores of other mind sports as well, plus an open play room with a well-stocked games library open each day. You might well recognise some of the attendees.
Neil Zussman won the contest last year and Mark Goodliffe won the contest for each of the last two years before that, so expect competition to be fierce – but if the event sounds interesting at all, you can read his write-up to get a better feel of what it’s like in practice. Perhaps the You-Know-What taking place at the moment are putting you in a competitive mood!
As a side note, another particularly interesting event at the MSO is the Decamentathlon, a three-and-a-half-hour test of skills in ten different mental events. (The memory test involves a physical pack of cards and a long number to memorise, the rest can reasonably be compared to written exam papers.) Originally the ten skills tested were bridge, chess, creative thinking, draughts 8×8 (“checkers” if you’re from the US), go, intelligence, mastermind, memory skills, mental calculations and othello, but these have varied over the years. This year, bridge, mental calculations and othello are out; backgammon, sudoku and kenken are in. If this appeals, Thursday morning will let you try to win the game of many games!
Lastly, The Guardian are posting puzzles every fortnight, though they don’t make you hang around for the answers; the most recent set is nicely thematic.