Looking forward to the 2017 Mind Sports Olympiad, including a Sudoku and Kenken contest

Mind Sports Olympiad medalsOK, I do a post like this one every year, but it’s better than there not being an event to post about. (This year, I’ll even remember to put the tags back in.) If it’s the week before the August Bank Holiday, it’s time for the annual Mind Sports Olympiad. This will be the twenty-first installment of the annual mental-games-and-skills-themed multi-sports festival. This year’s event started on Sunday 21th August and will be running until Monday 28th August and is held at JW3, the London Jewish cultural centre. (Accordingly, there is no play on the evening of Friday 25th or at all on Saturday 26th, being the Sabbath.) This is the first time that the traditionally vagabond festival has stayed in the same location for four years running.

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.

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 27th 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 has won the contest for the last two years 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 Mark’s write-up to get a better feel of what it’s like in practice.

Changing the subject a little, but only a little, I touched upon the Mind Sports Olympiad and the topic of getting puzzle events at wider mind sports festivals a few months back in a “How would we get puzzles at the Olympic Games?” post, touching upon hypothetical possible membership of the World Puzzle Federation within the International Mind Sports Association. With this in mind, I note that the IMSA recently put a new set of statues in place. Section 7.2 has a clear checklist of criteria to meet:

  • History – the IF shall be fully operating for a minimum of six years;
  • Universality – the IF must have at least 40 national federations on at least 4 continents and be not dependent on any specific language;
  • Practicing skilled competitions only – there may be no luck factor in determining the competition outcome;
  • Regularly held national, regional, and international competitions;
  • Well-established rules governing the practice of each sport and mechanism to ensure the application of the rules;
  • Clear and consistent criteria of the eligibility for competitions;
  • Compliance with the General Principle of the Olympic Charter and with the IOC Code of Ethics;
  • Compliance with the World Anti-Doping Agency anti-doping code;
  • Adoption of the principle of the arbitration of the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS).

There’s also a section 10 about potential “Associate Member” status, and I reckon that the WPF could take Associate Membership up almost straight away if it wanted to, not being too far from ticking all the boxes above. It’s fun to think about other mind sports which might or might not choose to apply; Scrabble is arguably the most obvious omission from the IMSA, possibly requiring some duplicate format to get around the “no luck factor” stipulation, but the “universality” criterion could be argued to have been directly aimed at the World English Language Scrabble® Players Association and its counterparts.

Section 10.4 of the IMSA statues reads An associate member shall contribute to the IMSA finance by payment of its annual dues and other charges as deemed necessary by the Executive Committee, and that perhaps might be the most convincing reason for the WPF not to join…!

This weekend is Indian Grand Prix weekend

World Puzzle Federation Grands Prix 2017 logoThis weekend sees the final round of the World Puzzle Federation’s Puzzle Grand Prix, with puzzles written by an author for India. This year’s Grand Prix series has been a little troubled, with one round postponed and another round replaced by an unofficial contest at late notice, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the contests to date.

The Grand Prix series is a collection of eight free-to-play online puzzle contests, each set by representatives of a different country. Each round is available for 3½ days, from 10am GMT on Friday to 10pm GMT on Monday. (This is likely to translate to one hour earlier in local time, for so many of us have sprung forward but not fallen back.) During that 84-hour window, you can press the “start the timer” button at a point of your choice; you then have an hour to score as many points as you can by submitting answers to the puzzles from that round.

There are three parallel one-hour contests that take place in the same weekend each round, referred to as classes A, B and C. Puzzles in the “Class A” and “Class B” contests are culture-free language-neutral logic puzzles, of which the Class B puzzles may be slightly less exotic; puzzles in the “Class C” contest are “understandable and solvable to a general audience” but are not necessarily language-neutral or culture-free; they might require a little external knowledge, or they might require “you either know it or you don’t” instinct rather than deduction.

The precise types of puzzles in each of the three contests for a round are announced a couple of days before it starts, and the instruction booklets with the details have already been published. Take a look at all three booklets – maybe start with the Class C booklet first – and then solve the set, or sets, of puzzles that look the most fun. If you look at the Class C booklet, you’ll see that there are an unusually high proportion of relatively low-scoring puzzles; these can be picked up as quickly as you might hope, though they’re not trivial. Something for everyone this time round!

Coming to a conclusion on Kickstarter: Escape This Book!

"Escape This Book" campaign logo

In the recent post about puzzly videos and podcasts, xr kindly pointed in the comments to FLEB’s YouTube channel with sumptuously and skillfully made videos about puzzles. Most of them show puzzles being solved, and most of the puzzles being solved are wonderfully elaborate physical puzzles, featuring some of the most famous physical puzzles from the recent history of puzzle hunts along the way. Other videos touch on puzzle design and puzzle history.

As well as a highly accomplished solver, FLEB is also a designer of some note, and the currently highest-profile project in the news at the moment is Escape The Book!, a physical and/or digital book full of puzzles he has created and whimsical illustrations by Simona Karaivanova. “Escape the Book! is a physical hardcover puzzle book with elaborate puzzles, beautiful illustrations, and an engaging story. The book centers on the adventures of five children who find themselves trapped inside five fantastic books. Each of these stories (or sub-books) is a miniature puzzle hunt, and the answers to their puzzles combine to form a challenging meta-puzzle. Solving each section advances the story and allows one of the children to escape.

So you know what you’re getting into, the campaign links to a draft of one of those sections, and the child in question’s trap sees them becoming “Alice in Puzzleland”. The .pdf form of the book requires a donation of US$15, the printed copy a donation of US$25, and you can get the pair for US$30 (or signed for US$35). However, being a Kickstarter campaign, this will only happen if the campaign funds in its entirety.

At time of typing, there are 21 hours to go in the campaign, and the campaign is just over 70% funded, with just over $7,000 left to be raised of the $25,000 goal. It’s known that nearly-funded Kickstarter campaigns often see an uptick in activity in their closing hours, relying on one more renewed push of activity and promotion, but the success of this one is particularly finely balanced, right on the knuckle; the Sidekick analysis tool suggests that the project has a 47% chance of funding completely in time.

Are you the one who might push it over the edge and into reality?

Business Update

UK and Irish escape room count over the past five years
produced by Ken Ferguson of Exit Games UK

The graph above reflects part of the state of the escape room industry. We are lucky to have Ken Ferguson keeping record so meticulously, and the graph comes from a recent statistical update he wrote; he is the Google to my Yahoo!, which is why my coverage has pivoted away from escape rooms to such a large extent. The trampoline park industry appears to have grown in the UK at a comparable rate to that of the escape game industry, probably even a quicker rate still, according to very limited data quoted within this Guardian article; it would really be useful to see more granular data on the trampoline parks for a fuller comparison. (Certainly the escape game industry has done relatively well at keeping itself out of trouble in terms of adverse news stories, which the trampoline park industry hasn’t.)

Nevertheless, past performance is no guarantee of future results, as the stock market disclaimer goes. Within the last month or two, I’ve seen two very respectable, puzzly people say “Are escape rooms still a thing?” and “I kinda feel like I’m over escape rooms now? Am I just getting old?”; no names, no pack drill, no trace on Google. On the other hand, someone else made unprompted negative comments about the ubiquity of the escape room genre in public as far back as GameCamp 2016, now almost 15 months ago. As I said at the time, “one of the ways you know your genre has made it is when there’s a backlash against it“. If you’re serious about starting your own room, don’t let me put you off; keep doing your research, and you might well get a lot from this seminar on the topic – though a lot of the legal specifics are from the US rather than from the UK.

I firmly believe that (a) escape room games have an awful lot to offer that other genres don’t, (b) we’re still only really scratching at the surface of what the wider escape room game industry has to offer and (c) I don’t think you’d find many people willing to argue that the overall quality of new games hasn’t gone up over time. I also firmly believe that the wider escape room game industry doesn’t have a right to exist and keep growing, and will need to keep innovating and reinventing itself over time, sometimes in large ways and sometimes in small ones, in order to remain in good health. So far, so very very good; I’ve privately called the top of the market in the UK at least three or four times – and so far, quite happily, I’ve been wrong each time. Ken reports that the number of closures so far this year has been remarkably low; it may be harder to track closures than openings, for things can just fade away, but this is another indication still of good health.

Ever since Escape Hunt was bought and floated on the Alternative Investment Market, because they have become a public limited company, much more of their business has to be conducted in public. The shares are neatly up from the price at which they were placed, which is excellent news; the price doesn’t seem to move too much and the market for them might not be all that liquid. The company’s web site’s investors section will be worth following over time. The statement at the recent AGM is interesting – “The key metric by which we judge our franchisee business is the share of revenue which we receive from our franchisees” – and the annual accounts will always be of interest. You can always follow the details of any UK company that’s a plc or a ltd. at Companies House, whether it’s an escape game company or not; for instance, Escape Hunt plc, Tick Tock Unlock Ltd., Clue HQ Ltd. and so on, and so on. (Many small escape game companies are operated by sole traders and thus cannot be found in this way.)

Lastly, purely for completeness, if you can buy shares in any publicly traded company and build up a long position in it in the hope that the price will rise, you can quite probably find a broker who will help you build up a short position in the hope that the price will fall as well. If you are sophisticated enough to know what you’re doing and were of a mind to do so, neither of which is true in my case, the likes of SpreadEx might be able to set you up with just such a contract…