Watch and listen

Videos and podcastsA video, a channel of videos, and (saving the best for last!) a series of podcasts.

You probably know the story of Masquerade, the 1979 picture puzzle book that spawned the armchair treasure hunt genre. It’s fully discussed at Dan Amrich‘s site, and there was a BBC radio documentary about it a few years back. (Cough.) It is known that the person who won the hare did so by dubious means, and that they later on (co-)founded a company of their own to start a second competition with the same prize, distributing the cryptic clues through an unsuccessful pair of computer games rather than through a book. Dan Amrich’s site discusses the computer games briefly, but Stuart Ashen, who shoots fish in barrels through discussion of old computer games, has a charming video of a presentation he gave making the case that Hareraiser may have been the worst game ever. Well worth a view.

If you like watching people discussing puzzles and their solutions, you’ll very likely enjoy the The Aha Moment” channel on YouTube. It takes real-world puzzles (five so far, of which four came from a reasonably recent month of Puzzled Pint) and explains how they’re solved, or reasonable approaches you might take along the route to solving them. These videos fill a niche for people who think that “they couldn’t ever solve these sorts of puzzles” as they do so much more than just going down the single line that happens to work in any particular instances, and they’re lovingly made. Part of me looks forward, in time, to the same sort of approach being applied to incredibly difficult (e.g. some of the tougher MIT Mystery Hunt) puzzles, and the lines that people might go down before they find what happens to work.

Lastly, “Escape This Podcast” is something new under the sun. It’s a podcast series in which puzzlemaster Dani has designed a number of fictional escape rooms and invited her friends to play through them in the style of, roughly, a freeform tabletop role-playing game, where the real-life players describe how they would interact with the items in the room in order to solve the puzzles. More generously still, Dani publishes extensive notes for each game, so that someone who reads the notes can act as referee and run the game for other players in turn, which is hugely cool and a delightful addition to the world of escape room games at home, at a cost of zero. (I’m aware of people having used these notes to re-run the games, and it does work in practice as well as in theory.)

The podcast is skilfully made; Dani has a really good attitude and wants the players to see all the hard work she has put in. There have been five episodes to date, and I’ve listened to the first three; the players in each so far have not sprinted through trying to set an unbreakable time, so it may well be that you – as first-time listener – can solve the room more quickly than the players do on the podcast, which is always fun. Highly recommended; fingers firmly crossed that Dani keeps enjoying sharing the products of her fertile imagination with us!

Register soon for The Hunt for Justice!

Hunt for Justice logoPuzzle hunts come and go. This year, new additions include the Cambridge Puzzle Hunt and Galactic Puzzleball, though the MUMS hunt has had a year off. I long enjoyed reading about the epic weekend-long van-based hunts in the United States, and it doesn’t seem like the people who have made them over the years feel the same need to create them any more. However, the desire to create puzzle events is still there; it’s just that the focus these days seems to be to place them on the Internet where the whole world can play, not just people who happen to be in the right place at the right time. Sounds like a very practical step to me!

The Hunt for Justice is an upcoming online puzzle hunt that will take part on Saturday 21st October. The hunt will nominally take place between 1pm and 9pm Eastern, which works out at 6pm UK time Saturday 21st to 2am UK time Sunday 22nd time. (Both countries will still be celebrating daylight savings time, though not for long afterwards.) In truth, the puzzles will be available afterwards, but live support and puzzle answer nudges will be available during those hours. Experienced teams may well be able to complete the hunt in five hours or so.

The most distinguishing feature of the hunt is that teams participate online from the location of their choice, but they will be sent a box of props and physical artifacts in advance of the hunt starting which may be used during some of the puzzles. Accordingly, there is a charge to take part, which covers the cost of producing and sending out the box of props, but also covers a donation to the Innocence Project charity. The charge is US$80 for teams in the US and US$90 for teams requiring international postage. Team size is unlimited, but teams of 2-4 are recommended. Theoretically you could have a team spread over more than one location, by registering two smaller teams who each receive their own box of props and have these smaller teams work together.

The line-up of people responsible for putting the hunt together is impressive. They have extensive organising and writing credits for Puzzled Pint and local in-person hunts as well. The team compare their hunt to DASH in terms of style and difficulty – or, more precisely, a relatively tricky year’s DASH, for there has been plenty of volatility from year to year. You’ll get nine puzzles and a metapuzzle for your money.

I’m really excited about The Hunt for Justice in a way that I haven’t been for the other hunts because it has been designed to take place in a single long session – a good night’s entertainment for a team – rather than being something that hangs over a period of several days and invites you to spend an indefinite period of time over the course of a week or so. That sort of format will suit some teams better; I’m particularly attracted to this format. Registration closes August 1st, so you have only just over a week to register. Less than three months to wait!

How tough was this year’s UK Puzzle Championship?

UK Puzzle Association logoNotably tougher than usual for strong contenders – indeed, arguably the toughest yet – but only about as tough as usual for the rest of us.

It’s tempting to say “There, done” and move on, but the conclusion is an unusual one and worth explaining. As ever, the most important thing is a rousing round of thanks to everyone at the UK Puzzle Association (hereafter UKPA) for putting the championship together year after year, from the puzzle authors (from around the world!) to the test compilers to the system administrators.

How would you compare the difficulty of one year’s championship to that of previous ones? The analysis I’ve performed in the past compares what sorts of scores people are getting year on year, expressing the scores as rebased percentages, with a score of 100% representing all the puzzles being solved within the time limit. (If you do solve all the puzzles correctly within the time limit then you earn bonus points depending on how much time you have left, which rebases your score to one of over 100%.)

UK Puzzle Championship difficulty graph

Click on the image for a bigger version of the graph

The small version of the graph isn’t the clearest, but the large version is much more so. This year’s data is represented as a purple line. The purple is unfortunately fairly close in colour to the 2015 brown line, but each year uses a different shape of data marker, and the 2017 data’s marker looks more like a cross than any before it. The other way to recognise the purple line is that it’s almost always at the bottom of the graph.

I’m not too worried by this conclusion, as there’s a clear reason why it’s not comparing like with like. Previous UK Puzzle Championships have allowed participants 2½ hours to complete the paper, whereas this year’s championship only permitted participants two hours. While it would seem reasonable to assume that people will have sufficient clue about where their strengths and weaknesses lie to imagine that they would be broadly unlikely to be able to score as many points in the fifth half-hour as in the half-hours before it, I get the impression that had everyone been allowed 25% extra time, scores would have been higher across the board. Maybe not commensurately higher, but probably not far off. This would have put the line in or near the pack, rather than being a low outlier. So I asked why this year’s event was shorter, and the answer is reasonable.

There’s no particular reason why the UK Puzzle Championship has to be any particular length, and my gut feeling is that it had previously settled on a 2½ hour duration because the US Puzzle Championship that has run for almost 20 years has traditionally been 2½ hours long. (The very early days may have been longer still – but the very early days were conducted by fax, rather than online.) The longer the test, arguably the closer it comes to replicating the several hours per day of puzzles at the World Championship, and arguably the more accurate a job it does at declaring a champion; the longer the test, the more work there is involved in its creation and operation, and the more off-putting it may be to more marginal participants.

It is to be noted and celebrated that there were a record 29 UK participants on the scoreboard this year, with the previous best being 25 in two separate years. It’s also worth noting that there weren’t any UK participants who started the test and then failed to submit a single correct answer; if there’s something to moderate the joy at the UK record of 29, it’s that last year had 25 on the scoreboard plus another five zeroes. Are people who don’t answer even a single puzzle correctly of use or interest to the UK Puzzle Association? Probably not in terms of trying to pick a representative team for a world championship, perhaps more so in terms of creating a contest where people enjoy themselves, no matter how marginal the participant, and then come back year after year and tell their friends about it.

UK Puzzle Championship repeat participation graph

Click on the image for a bigger version of the graph

Again the thumbnail says little, but the larger version paints a picture. For each of the previous six years, the data from the above chart is replicated but the data points are either pluses or crosses. (There are no lines. I can’t work out how to make the lines do what I want them to, and I can’t work out how I did it last year.) A plus represents a player who came back in at least one successive year; a cross represents a player who has not yet made another appearance.

Accordingly, this year’s data is not yet included as we won’t know until 2018, or later, who will return from 2017. There are sporadic crosses towards the top from time to time, but the vast majority of crosses are towards the bottom of the chart. The other way to look at it is that the UKPA does very well at retaining the middle of the pack from year to year!

My views are largely the same as last year. I think increasing the number of participants has to be a major goal for the UK Puzzle Association, perhaps close to the most major goal. Noting that, happily, newspapers are more frequently starting to publish a more interesting variety of logic puzzles, I’d be inclined to make sure that there is reasonably heavy representation of deliberately very accessible puzzles every year, both accessible in terms of style and familiarity as well as difficulty. This is part of the reason why I so heavily promote the WPF Grand Prix’s “Paper C” puzzles.

Nevertheless, the UKPC remains my favourite online puzzle contest of the year. Thanks again to everyone for keeping it that way!

UK Puzzle Championship 2017: the stats

Latest UK Puzzle Association logoThe UK Puzzle Association have published the results to their recent UK Puzzle Championship. Did you take part? Were you happy with your result? If so, congratulations!

James McGowan won to pick up his fifth UK championship, so he gets the biggest congratulations of the lot! Adam Bissett earned second place, only the fourth person ever to make it to the top two in the seven years of the contest, and Tom Collyer finished third for the fourth year in a row, missing out on second place by one point. These best British performances were well up there with those of some very accomplished solvers from around the world. For me, the best news is that this year saw nine first-time UK solvers, to take the number of UK solvers putting points on the board up to 29. The previous best was 25, achieved last year and once previously, so this is quite a step in the right direction. There was quality as well as quantity, too!

As ever, this site continues to update a year-on-year chart of UKPC performances:

 201120122013 2014201520162017BestTimes
James McGowan112112117
Neil Zussman 21221 15
Adam Bissett  136 5224
David McNeill23     22
Tom Collyer864333337
Steve Barge3 35 4635
Michael Collins9469710447
Emma McCaughan610811481047
Thomas Powell 1257471146
Adam Dewbery 13 4   42
Ronald4      41
Roderick Grafton12510109 856
Heather Golding   12 6553
Paul Redman5      51
Nick Gardner 106    62
Saul Glasman    6  61
Mark Goodliffe7 13131512876
Nick Deller107 1511131876
Eva Myers147 1612111376
AJ Moore  971991475
Ben Neumann    816773
Chris M. Dickson10181922171819107
Paul Slater   13101515104
Gareth Moore16 11 13  113
Chris Nash  11    111
Pat Stanford      12121
Anthea McMillan  1517141315135
tom123513      131
Liane Robinson1514     142
Timothy Luffingham 14     141
Robin Walters 1718 161724165
Kenneth Wilshire18201621   164
Sam Boden 161719   163
Abigial See17      171
Daniel Hunt      17171
Alison Scott   18   181
Chris Harrison    18  181
blueingreen19      191
quixote 19     191
crayzeejim     19 191
Andrew Brown20 21    202
Neil Rickards     2022202
Laurence May 20     201
United Kingdom  20    201
David Cook   20   201
Jonathan Wilson    20  201
Hector Hirst     20 201
Matthew White      20201
Ken Ferguson     2421212
Eilidh McKemmie 22     221
Gary Male  22    221
Tomaz Cedilnik     22 221
Fuchsia A     22 221
River Edis-Smith  23    231
Daniel Cohen   23   231
David Collison      23231
Abdul Hadi Khan   24   241
shirehorse1   25   251
Mark Greenhalgh     25 251
Amber Pease      25251
remy      26261
Chris Green      27271
Joanna Drury      28281
EmmaHB      28281

The ordering is hopefully obvious: best position, ties split in favour of most appearances, ties split in favour of second (or subsequent) best position, ties split in favour of oldest better performance. Errors and omissions excepted and corrections are welcome; for cussedness, this chart declines to split places between players on equal scores on the “time left” tie-breaker. Many thanks to everyone who has been involved with setting the puzzles or organising the contest over the years, especially Liane Robinson and Alan O’Donnell, the most frequent contest compiler and administrator. I’m looking forward to finding out who the UK team will be, with invitations going out to top performers both in the in-person UK Open Championship earlier in the year and in the online UK Puzzle Championship just now.

The UK Championship may be over, but the Puzzle Grand Prix rolls on; the sixth round takes place on the weekend of 14th-17th July!