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…!

The sixth CUCaTS puzzle hunt: Cambridge, 17th-18th June

CuCATS fourth puzzle hunt logoThis will be the sixth consecutive year where the last Saturday of Cambridge’s Easter Term has seen the Cambridge University’s Computing and Technology Society stage an in-person puzzle hunt in town for 24 hours. They don’t make it easy. This is not just in terms of the puzzle hunt itself, but in knowing that it exists; it’s not on the society’s web site, nor is it on their Facebook page, but a well-placed e-mail confirmed that the game was on. The hunt seems to be intended to be played primarily by Cambridge students (though far from just by undergraduates!) and staff, but isn’t restricted to them; teams of up to three must have one person with a local e-mail address, but teams can have outsiders as well. Presumably the hunt has been well-publicised within the university.

The cat logo above is being used by this year’s hunt, though the pangram is not around it this year. The FAQ page describes the puzzle hunt as “a team puzzle-solving and treasure-hunting competition. Your team will navigate its way through a mental and sometimes physical obstacle course of challenging and fun computational, mathematical and linguistic puzzles scattered throughout Cambridge, seeking to cut its way through to the goal before everyone else. No preparation is necessary, just come along on the day!” – and that day is Saturday 17th June, with the time being 4pm.

The other thing to note is that puzzles from past hunts are available online, and they’re definitely towards the tougher end of the spectrum. While the organisation behind it is not the same one who put on the online Cambridge Puzzle Hunt earlier in the year, it’s not as if there cannot be crossover from society to society – and, indeed, the societies are moderately close in their essential interests. The more puzzle hunts people play, and especially the more puzzle hunts people set puzzles for, the better-calibrated the puzzles are likely to be.

I’m on shift this weekend and, frankly, get the impression that these puzzles are likely to be harder than I would enjoy. However, I know there are people in the UK for whom this hunt would be an excellent match, particularly the more technically-minded members of teams who did well at DASH or at online puzzle hunts, and if you come into that category then this may well be the hunt for you. Many thanks to everyone at CUCaTS for putting it on and making it available; it’s surely likely to be spectacular!

That said, it, also, is far from the only interesting thing happening this Saturday…

Coming this Saturday to Shrewsbury: Prison Escape

Channel 5's Jailbreak title card

We’ve talked about SCRAP’s many-teams-at-once events, often taking place in hotel ballrooms and the like; more originally, Immersive Events are staging a mass escape game called Prison Escape at the former HM Prison Shrewsbury, known locally as the Dana Gaol, next Saturday and twice more on Saturdays in July and September.

Prisoners have the day to attempt to escape, the first challenge will be getting out of your cell. If you managed this you will then have to navigate around the site, avoiding ((actors playing prisoners, prison governors and prison)) officers and any prisoners who might ‘grass you up’. You will need to use all of your cunning to decide which is the best route out of the prison site and timing will be the key to success. Go too early and you will get spotted, go too late and another prisoner may beat you to the finish. ((…)) The first person to successfully escape and reach the ‘contact’ will win (although there is no guarantee anybody will escape).

I’m being a little loose with the image above, but that’s far more because the event reminds me more of the Channel 5 one-off reality show from the year 2000, Jailbreak, than anything else. The event will be likely necessarily be somewhat convoluted to permit anyone the chance to escape at all, but likely not to be nearly as convoluted as the show. Jailbreak wasn’t a huge hit, but I remember it fondly and am delighted to see firms try large-scale events like this. Players who do not escape in time will not be locked in the actual prison overnight… unless they’ve paid an extra £35 per head for the chance to do so! (Bring your own sleeping bag and foam Karrimat, or similar, otherwise you’ll be directly on a cold hard metal bedframe or the floor.)

In the past I’ve wondered whether sites might host large-scale events, and for my money, this completely fits the bill. It’s much more specifically a large-scale escape than most of the other large-scale events that there have been. The fact that it’s at least nominally a solo event, rather than a team event, makes it only the more intriguing and distinctive. More power to the Immersive Events team, and I’d love to know how it plays out from an escape enthusiast’s perspective!

And yet it’s far from the only interesting thing happening this Saturday…

Doctor Jones! Jones? Calling Doctor Jones: a DASH 9 recap

Mötley Clüe team photo at DASH 9This blog posts in fits and starts; DASH always inspires a series of posts, and they’re always great fun to write. If you couldn’t attend this year, here’s what you missed; maybe it might make you interested in taking part in a future year. If you played DASH elsewhere and were keen to know how your location’s interpretation of the puzzles differed from that of London, you can get a sense of it here too.

Spoiler warning: now that DASH 9 is over, it’s time to enter spoiler territory. Every previous DASH has had its puzzles posted online reasonably soon afterwards. If you didn’t play DASH, it would still be a lot of fun to get a group of your friends together and try the puzzles for yourself once they’re made available. This post is going to be fairly generic, avoiding the Aha! moments for each puzzle, but the comments may be more specific, and there’s a deliberately spoiler-y picture as well, so if you want to avoid spoilers, I’d recommend skipping this post. Everybody else, dig in using the “Continue Reading” button below. Continue reading

The annual DASH participation statistics post, after DASH 9

Bar chart showing improving performance over timeIf it’s a few days after DASH, it’s time for the annual participation statistics post! Please find below an updated version of a table which details the number of teams on the scoreboard for each city in each edition of the DASH puzzle hunt to date.

Albuquerque, NM 6 6+1 3+2+0 4+0+0
Atlanta, GA 5+7 8+5
Austin, TX 2 11 12 13+4 10+4+0 17+6+0 20+4 18+4
Bay Area, CA Y(SF)
73(SF) 34+7(SF)
Boston, MA Y 18 26 29 27+2 30+7+1 30+6+0 38+13 33+10
Chicago, IL 17 14 10+1 15+9+0 16+24+0 16+16 20+19
Davis, CA 16 15 16 13+7 8+7+1 13+7+0 12+8 15+5
Denver, CO 3+12+0 6+7
Enschede, NL 9+2
Houston, TX Y
London, UK 6+2 8+13+0 14+9+0 14+8 18+6
Los Angeles, CA Y 7 22 21 15+4 15+2+0
(Sta Monica)
19+17 16+6
Minneapolis, MN 8+7 7+4+0
9+7+0 7+9 6+17
New York, NY 12 24 25 30+7 26+15+2 29+15+0 24+15 37+13
Portland, OR Y 6 17 19 19+2 11+7+0 10+10+0 12+5
Provo, UT 1+1
San Diego, CA 7
Seattle, WA Y 32 47 49 49+2 58+4+2 60+9+2 63+6 46+3
South Bend, IN 1
St. Louis, MO 2 2+3 7+8+1 8+10 7+11
Washington, DC Y 14 22 33 31+1 27+5+0 26+9+0 28+12 27+13
Number of locations 8 10 12 13 15 14 16 16 16

Here are some initial interpretations:

1) Errors and omissions excepted, with apologies in advance. The Minneapolis DASH 6 recast figures came from the organisers by private e-mail.

2) The numbers are drawn from the scoreboards and may not reflect teams that participate but do not make the scoreboard for whatever reason, or other infelicities. (On the other hand, it does include teams which do make the scoreboard even despite being listed as “not started”.) DASH 1 does not have a public scoreboard on the web site and thus “Y” represents the hunt having happened there with an unknown number of participants. When there are pluses, the number before the first plus reflects the number of teams on the experienced track, the number after the first plus reflects the number of teams on the “new players”/”novice” track (DASH 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9), and the number after the second plus reflects the number of teams on the junior track (DASH 6 and 7 only).

3) Interpret “Bay Area, CA” using the following key: SF = San Francisco (1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9), PA = Palo Alto (1 and 8), SR = Santa Rosa (2,3), LA = Los Altos (2), SM = San Mateo (3), HMB = Half Moon Bay (5), C = Cupertino (6), SJ = San Jose (7), F = Fremont (9).

4) I’ve been thinking for a while about knocking single-entry cities (Houston in DASH 1, San Diego in DASH 3 and South Bend in DASH 4) out of their own individual rows of the table and into a single combined row, a bit like the Bay Area, CA row. This might make the table easier to deal with. Fingers very firmly crossed that Provo, UT and Enschede don’t prove similar one-offs.

5) The line-up of 16 locations participating in DASH 9 was not too different from that for DASH 8; we lost Denver and previously ever-present Portland, each hopefully for only a year, and instead gained Enschede in the Netherlands and Provo in Utah. Fingers crossed for the return of Albuquerque at some point, too, so I can know where to turn left. (See also this comment from DASH about there having been some interest, that didn’t come to fruition, from Manchester, Mexico City and Vienna.)

6) It’s not a competition to see whose DASH can be the largest; all DASH organiser teams are glorious, generous paragons of virtue, whether their event had one team or 70+, and the community at large thanks them all for the time and effort that they put in. The two-track solution proved its worth again, with each location seeing at least one team on each track.

7) Numbers do appear to be slightly down in several of the larger locations. It’s tempting to wonder to what extent this is a result of demand being down and to what extent this is a result of a lack of availability of supply. Could some of the locations, if they had wanted to, have held bigger events if they had had more GC available? Could some of the locations, if they had wanted to, have held bigger events if they had larger sites for their individual puzzles? Were there many teams who wanted to get the chance to play but didn’t get to play in practice? (As ever, there’s no reason why bigger necessarily has to be better and there’s no sense in deliberately trying to emphasise quantity over quality.)

8) I’m about to do something quite unfair, for the barriers to entry are so vastly different, but here’s a table comparing the growth of DASH with the growth of Puzzled Pint over the last few years, courtesy in part of data from Puzzled Pint’s Matt Cleinman:

Month Puzzled Pint
Puzzled Pint
2012 13 300 April 2012 1 50
2013 15 295 + 53 April 2013 2 (N/A)
2014 14 307 + 101 April 2014 5 255
2015 16 333 + 151 April 2015 17 922
2016 16 363 + 159 April 2016 32 1461
2017 16 342 + 138 April 2017 39 1956

The DASH data, after DASH 9

D.A.S.H. logoThere’s no editorial here, and definitely no intent to suggest there is such a thing as an optimal set of values, but this might still be of interest to set some context for comparison purposes. The times refer to puzzles offered in the most popular (i.e. expert/experienced) track from DASH 5 onwards.

Edition Par time Fast* time Usual* time Teams Structure
2 5:00 1:51 4:32 173 8+M
3 6:00 2:57 6:42 298 8+M
4 6:00 1:53 4:48 300 8+M
5 4:30 2:14 5:32 295+N IB+7+M
6 5:50 2:33 5:10 307+N IB+8+M
7 5:45 3:38 6:55 333+N IB+8+M
8 6:40 2:33 4:35 363+N IB+7+M
9 6:05 1:55 3:54 341+N 9
* median,
* median,
N = normal track M = metapuzzle,
IB = icebreaker

Data remains available for DASH 2, DASH 3, DASH 4, DASH 5, DASH 6, DASH 7, DASH 8 and DASH 9. Note that the usual time was calculated from the median time quoted for either the middle-scoring 8 or 9 teams, depending on whether the overall number of teams was even or odd, and may not represent every puzzle being solved without a hint or even every puzzle being solved at all. The times quoted do not include the par or solving times for the unscored co-operative icebreaker puzzle from DASH 5, 6, 7 and 8.

Tomorrow is DASH 9 day

DASH 9 logoTonight is DASHmas Eve! It’s the night of the year where a good night’s sleep is most valuable and yet simultaneously most unlikely, for tomorrow sees the DASH 9 puzzle hunt take place in London, in the Netherlands and across the United States.

I very much hope to see you there – and, if you are there, do say “Hi”! My team is the same as the one in the photo last year; I’m the guy with spectacles at back right, indicating that somebody’s hit a six. Every year, I threaten to announce my arrival at the start location with a rebel yell and a round of high-fives as if I were a pro basketballer arriving on court, and every year so far sense and good taste have prevailed. We’ll see if this is the year.

Tomorrow’s weather forecast is for a dry, cloudy day. For at least three of the last four years, the forecast on DASH day has been for a risk of rain which has manifested as the lightest of sprinklings at the very worst, so a dry forecast really has me worried. In comparison with the trends I drew from previous installments of DASH, the feeling I get in my water is for there to be an icebreaker, eight scored puzzles (mostly on the shortish side) and a metapuzzle, with a combined par time of six hours, a median solving time of five hours, a worldwide total of 385 teams on the expert track and 165 teams on the novice track.

I’ll predict that London will be narrowly overrepresented in the top third of the Expert standings, though that wasn’t actually true last year. Misremembered Apple and The Magpie have been showing their chops in puzzle hunts through the year, both being world class teams on their day, and I understand that Moore and Lesk have at least one strong addition this year. The joy of this is that there could well be an amazing team that comes from nowhere and storms the event, much like Misremembered Apple did. (There are some usual suspects here, who I’d love to see in a team some day.) I’m on a team that’s plenty strong, too, though my contribution will be the enthusiasm, the comic relief and maybe, just maybe, having seen something before years ago that the other team members haven’t.

Lastly, set your expectations for a come-down at the end of the day, once the final meta is over and you have to end your day-trip to Planet Puzzle. That said, why not stay around for a drink and a chat with your fellow solvers at the end, if you can? (Especially you brilliantly quick front-running teams, though I know you’re busy people who might not be able to hang around to let us catch up!)

Many thanks to all the people who have put together the hunt: the global co-ordinators, all those who helped playtest and test-solve and the London volunteers on the day. Really looking forward to what’s very likely to be a fantastic event!

A big week coming up

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All sorts of things going on this week (and a bit). Narrowly on the US side of the border with Canada at Niagara Falls, Transworld’s Room Escape Conference and Tour runs from today until Wednesday, with the Room Escape Divas starting things off with a live recording of their podcast that starts very shortly after this post goes live. In Europe, we have to wait a whole week and a day for a counterpart conference of our own at Up The Game in the Netherlands. Both events have sensational-looking lineups of speakers; fingers firmly crossed that people share whatever parts of the content from each one that they can before too long.

If that’s too long to wait, there’s a recording of a webinar from Thursday held by luminary Professor Scott Nicholson, Gábor Papp from clueQuest and Bob Melkus from Fox In A Box. They discuss possible futures for the escape room industry using a scenario-building tool; this is a smart approach for dealing with unknown futures that I’ve seen used elsewhere, such as the UK National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios. (The escape room webinar models a matrix with axes fad/ongoing and luxury/everyday; the National Grid models a matrix with axes of strong/weak economic development and strong/weak priority placed on a low-carbon future.)

On Saturday, the DASH 9 puzzle hunt takes place in London, as well as in the Netherlands and across the United States. Going to the DASH 9 web site, it’s interesting to compare the descriptions of the event from location to location. London players should arrive before 10:45am in preparation for an event starting at 11am, which is a blessed relief in comparison to other locations starting at 9am or 10am. Different locations set slightly different expectations as to how long teams will take to complete the day; some locations say “We expect that most teams will solve all puzzles in ~6 hours”, others quoted “6-7 hours” and London says “~7 hours”, though the London route appears to cover slightly more ground than most. (The London route also includes a DLR ride; I understand that 23 teams are booked for DASH here and predict that 22 will show on the day, of which 21 will want to sit in the front seats and “drive” the train when they get on the DLR.)

One interesting thing to note – and I don’t know whether I’m reading too much into things here – is that the Boston location says that there “DASH 9 will start at 10 AM on May 6th, and last until 6 PM.” DASH events have a reasonable time limit, including travel time as well as solving time, for practicality’s sake for the organisers putting the event on. Last year’s limit was ten hours, and our dawdly team used 9½ of them. (We weren’t outliers in this; out of the 13 other London teams on the tougher tier last year, six of them took even longer than us. It was a long route, and we’re all pretty leisurely.) I wonder whether the Boston location comment suggests that the overall time limit has been cut from ten hours last year to eight this year? If so, then we’ll all need to get our skates on…

Weather forecasts for London for Saturday are quite benign at this point. That’s the really worrying part!

People to meet, places to be

Meetup logoAs the previous post was about an exciting Meetup group in Manchester, it doesn’t take the greatest leap of imagination to try to find out what other exciting Meetup groups there might be out there. There are a couple of other interesting links at the end as well.

I mentioned the Escape Rooms and Puzzle Rooms in and around London meetup in a post about a year and a half ago, but it doesn’t seem to have been the most active group, having organised two escapes in the middle of last year and one in February. There’s more activity in the Escape Roomers London meetup group, whose members went to The Crystal Maze earlier in the month and have two escape rooms planned for May. London’s Secrets Society meetup takes a slightly wider purview, including escape rooms but also treasure hunts, “theme parks, pop-ups and the occasional unusual bar“.

We’ve covered the activities of the Treasure Hunts in London group quite a few times and probably the best way to keep up with them is to join their Meetup group; as well as the titular treasure hunts, they have a plan to play The Million Pound Heist at Enigma Quests on Saturday. However, they aren’t the only treasure hunt group in London; the Cultural Treasure Hunt Meetup of London has events every two or three months. The group has an impressive 800+ members so the hunts may well be popular. They’re free to play, though donations to the museums in which they take place are welcome. The group begat a sister group based around Cambridge.

Indeed, there’s no reason why London should have all the fun. As well as the Manchester group mentioned last time, Bristol is in on it; it has its own local escape room addicts group, which does not yet seem to have attracted a critical mass despite the efforts of the organiser, and also an exciting-sounding Rare Duck Club whose focus is more generally on live games – often of considerable, impressive scope.

A couple of other links unrelated to the Meetup site: Dean from Escape Review mentions Secret London Runs in passing; they have a variety of running tours, many of which involve several legs of running to interesting locations punctuated by encounters that go together to create a puzzle to solve. Many of their events are centred around 10 km runs, including breaks, so you’ll know whether that’s a surmountable barrier to entry or not. Lastly, Play Exit Games is currently running a giveaway competition with the prize being free tickets to Modern Fables.

Introducing the Manchester Puzzle Hunts Meetup

Manchester Puzzle Hunts meetup logoThis is exciting! Curtis from Puzzled Pint recently pointed to the existence of a puzzle hunt meetup in Manchester. If their puzzles are anything like as good as their logo, reproduced above, then this will be an exciting development indeed. Manchester already has its own Puzzled Pint monthly, but local puzzle hunts as well would make this probably a more exciting puzzle community than that of London.

The first event is set to take place on Saturday 6th May, which is an amusing and ironic date. In London, this will be when the DASH 9 puzzle hunt is taking place. The cute thing is that at one point it appeared that there would be a DASH 9 leg in Manchester, presumably on the same day, though it didn’t come to fruition. Happily, it turns out that Manchester puzzle hunters might just get to play on the day after all – just a hunt of their own! (Another way to look at it is that if you wanted to play in London but couldn’t get a ticket before they all sold out, perhaps you have another option…) Going up to Manchester to get to play in a future hunt sounds very tempting, especially if it could be doubled up with a trip to the Manchester Crystal Maze, or any number of other exciting games there or thereabouts.

The Facebook thread is interesting; it suggested that, at the time, there were plans for DASH to take place outside the US in London, Manchester, Vienna, and Mexico City. Of those four, only London has made it to reality, but happily it has been joined by Enschede in the Netherlands. This year’s DASH is expected to take place in 16 locations; notably, Provo in Utah is a happy addition, but Denver is missing as is previously ever-present Portland. Just goes to show that nowhere can assume that someone will step up to make sure that the event will take place.

More reasons than ever to look forward to Saturday 6th May! Of course, if you can’t wait until then, Saturday 29th to Sunday 30th April (i.e., next weekend) sees the next 24 Hour Puzzle Championship in Budapest. I previewed the event in 2014 and the basics haven’t changed much since then. Last year’s event was won by Neil Zussman from the UK!