It’s World Puzzle Championship week

This year’s World Sudoku and Puzzle Championships are taking place in Bangalore in India. There can’t be as much coverage of this year’s event on Ex Exit Games as there has been of previous years’ events, but it shouldn’t go unmentioned altogether.

The World Sudoku Championship has finished. UK team member Tom Collyer writes: “the competition is over now, and congratulations go to Kota Morinishi who took a 3rd world title by the equivalent of a small fraction of one puzzle amongst 100s to edge out the previous champion Tiit Vunk. The team title was taken by the youthful and equally charming Chinese team. UK finished 6th overall, which I believe is an equal best showing. Individual results have David at 17th, myself at 30th, Mark at 32nd and Heather at 41st – which I think also represents our strongest showing for a while. Thanks to the Indian organisers for putting out a varied and high quality set of puzzles!

The World Puzzle Championship starts tomorrow. The UK A team is strong: Adam Bissett, James McGowan, David McNeill and Neil Zussman; James and Adam won their places at the online UK Puzzle Championship and Neil and David won their places at the in-person UK Open Puzzle Championship. (Tom Collyer, who wrote the above piece, finished third in both.) If people are in form, and the signs from both A and B teams in the sudoku event are highly promising, then perhaps an equal best showing in the puzzle championship might be within reach, which would be a highly impressive achievement. Every year I tip Japan for the team world championship and Germany win, but looking at the line-ups, I’m going to tip Japan again.

You can take a look at the instruction booklet for the World Puzzle Championship to see what sorts of puzzles they’ll face. I get the impression that the duration of the puzzles is high this year, even by World Championship standards, and the location of India has brought some teams to participate this year who appear less frequently. I think New Zealand are first-timers, Korea are sending a great number of teams, and while this may say more about my memory than anything else, I don’t recall seeing Bangladesh, Iran or the Phillipines represented (at least, in the World Sudoku Championship) in the past. Welcome!

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 UK Puzzle Championship weekend

Latest UK Puzzle Association logoIf the in-person puzzle competition highlight of the year is DASH, then the online puzzle competition highlight of the year is the UK Puzzle Championship, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a two-hour contest of language-neutral culture-free logic puzzles and it’s free to enter. This year, there are 27 puzzles in the test, all of different types (as opposed to other years where one style of puzzle features more than once). Some of them are word puzzles, and others are styles you might recognise from some newspapers. Others still might be new to you unless you’ve gone looking for puzzles on the Internet already, or taken part in previous competitions; a few may well still be new to you even if this is far from your first such puzzle contest. The instruction booklet is already available from the official competition page – and, if there were any clarifications, they’d be on the discussion thread on the forum. ((Edited to add:)) James McGowan has collected examples of the types of puzzles used in the contest and posted them to that thread. These examples will probably be more difficult than the ones used in the contest, so don’t worry if you struggle with them!

If you finish in the top two places (excluding those who have qualified already at the live event earlier in the year…) among UK solvers then you become eligible to represent the country as part of the national team in the 26th World Puzzle Championship. This year it’ll be taking place in mid-October in Bangalore, in India. The World Sudoku Championship is at the same venue just days before; congratulations to the winner of the recent UK Sudoku Championship, Mark Goodliffe, who’s earned his spot on that team.

You can start the two hours that you have to take on the puzzles whenever you like after midday (UK time) on Friday 23rd June, but you must get your responses in by 2am on Tuesday 27th – so Monday evening is the latest time that you can start. You’ll need to register for an account at the UK Puzzle Association site, and download a file with an encrypted version of the puzzles from the contest page. You’ll get the password to open the puzzle file when you choose to start your clock.

The reason why I enjoy this contest more than all the others is that there’s always plenty to keep you occupied even if you, like me, are quite a modest puzzle-solver who tends to get put off relatively easily by tougher puzzles. (Traditionally I finish something like fourth or fifth last in the UKPC.) As a rough starting-point, if you score one-third of the possible points, then you’re likely to finish in about the top half of the contest; if you score one-half of the possible points, then you’re likely to finish in about the top third. Unless you have your eye on a national team place, it’s really all about the joy of trying some puzzles of types you might not have seen before. It’s great fun, and a great tradition; it’s my single favourite online contest of the year!

US Puzzle Championship on Saturday; Czech Grand Prix this weekend

World Puzzle Federation Grands Prix 2017 logoTomorrow’s a big day. Not only is there the Prison Escape event in Shrewsbury and the start of the CUCaTS puzzle hunt in Cambridge, there’s also the US Puzzle Championship.

This is a free-to-enter online puzzle championship, open to everyone around the world. It has a fixed timeslot, which is arguably more convenient for European solvers than its native US ones: 6pm to 8:30pm UK time. During those two and a half hours, score as many points as you can by answering culture-free language-neutral logic puzzles of differing values. Register for an account at the US Puzzle Championship site and you can already download an instruction document containing details of the puzzle styles that will be used and relatively simple examples of the puzzles. It looks like the first half of the test contains a mixture of reasonably familiar puzzle styles and less familiar but closely related styles; the second half of the test contains puzzles that are variants of some familiar styles. It’s bound to be a tough test but huge fun for those who take part.

If you don’t want to wait, or if the time slot doesn’t work out, or if you’d prefer a more accessible challenge, this weekend also sees the fifth round of the World Puzzle Federation’s Puzzle Grand Prix. As usual, this free-to-play online puzzle contests, this time set by representatives from the Czech Republic, is now available and will remain so until late Monday night, UK time. 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.

You can’t give your full attention to all the events going on this weekend, for the ones with fixed timeslots overlap – but, whatever you choose, there’s plenty to enjoy!

News round-up for early June 2017

News round-upThe news goes round and round and round and eventually up, so here are some things you may have seen or may have missed, with links varying from the artistic to the competitive but making interesting steps in between. Many, but far from all, of them come from the not-so-secret secret Escape Room Slack, which has recently reached 300 members. Slack is a real-time chat forum; if you’re old like me, think IRC – or if you’re very old like me, think of a talker. For a 300-member online group, it remains surprisingly overwhelmingly well-mannered and friendly, and highly knowledgeable and often very funny. The volume can be high, but the #uk-general channel is more focused.

1) Here’s a step towards something really exciting… though, perhaps, only a baby step. The Crowne Plaza hotel in Melbourne is now offering a hotel suite complete with its own in-room escape game within, available now and until the end of August. You’re looking to pay more than AU$100 supplement over the cost of a suite without the escape, and the supplement gets you a 45-minute game to play. I’d be prepared to pay a hefty premium for the privilege of staying somewhere with a mystery to spend, say, a long evening diving deeply into, and it’s also true that people will pay considerable convenience fees for goods and services to be delivered to their hotel room rather than going out to a destination – so if there can be room service food, and room service movies, then why not room service escape games?

2) Towards the higher end of what the genre might be, Broadway World covers the recent launch of immersive experience The Path Of Beatrice, developing upon the themes of Paradiso: Chapter 1 which launched last year. Investigating further, I get the impression that it’s not a direct sequel so much as a wraparound that can be played before or after the central escape room itself. The ticket price is… not just more in line with that of interactive theatre than that of escape rooms but half an order of magnitude higher again, but perhaps the prospect of a multi-day experience is commensurately ambitious.

Ticket buyers for The Path of Beatrice will embark on a journey comprised of multiple short, location-based episodes that explore the complex backstory of the Virgil Corporation and the mysterious narrative of Paradiso: Chapter 1. Each experience will feature a series of unexpected and suspenseful events and missions that reference David Fincher’s early masterpiece “The Game” and the cult classic “The Institute.” The experience will unfold with the exchange of packages, virtual correspondences, and interactions with performers and other players delivering clues in unlikely, site-specific locations around the city.” There are plenty of reviews of Paradiso: Chapter 1; the one from Room Escape Artist may be the most relevant.

3) I covered DASH 9 fairly extensively, but somehow failed to discover that there was a survey held afterwards about the event. Around 160 teams replied, but reply rates varied heavily from location to location – for instance, most of the Fremont teams replied, but very few of the San Francisco ones did. (And none of the London ones, for that matter.) Broadly highly positive, encouraging stuff, but the nuance is worthwhile. The set-piece big physical puzzle was the most popular in its two appearances; the transparency jigsaw, the cryptic crossword variant and the final AR puzzle were the least popular, though still far from widely panned. It’s not immediately clear whether the puzzle styles were inherently unpopular or just the way they were executed. In other news, there’s convincing evidence that lots of teams had silly names, and quite a few teams had rude names, for some of the glyphs we encountered along the way.

4) Iain, who was lead GC for the excellent DASH 7 in London and who has kindly posted a few articles at this very site, points to a description of how someone staged a pop-up escape game at an adult retreat. There are a few very cute ideas in there which might set your mind in motion if ever you have interest in staging the poppiest-up of amateur pop-ups for your own entertainment. The title of the piece will set the theme, as well as clue you in to where the retreat took place: Escape Room: Lesbian Relationship Edition!

5) Heading from the more artistic to the more competitive, there’s a very interesting-looking attempt at a Polish Escape Game Championship taking place now. Teams must be made up of members of the industry-wide site (bookings facility, news site and social network of sorts) and start by an online qualifier of a NotPron-style decode-the-images-into-passwords puzzle trail. In each of five regions, 12 teams will make it from the online qualifier to a live regional final, and the best two of those twelve will go forward to a national grand final. The national final will be played by those ten teams at the WroEscape conference at the end of October in Wrocław. What an exciting initiative!

6) The Crystal Maze will return to Channel 4 on Friday 23rd June and they’re starting with another Stand Up 2 Cancer celebrity special; TellyMix reveals the line-up of five, and the official trailer looks pleasingly authentic. (It has been suggested that there will be 41 different games played over the 20 episodes, which is respectably varied.) As ever, the maze itself is the star, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing the games. Less seriously, NewsBiscuit wraps up the last piece of outstanding business from the original series decades ago.

A highly-regarded and reasonably well-known UK escape room posted today that Jonathan Ross, Jane Goldman and at least some of their family came and played at their site, and apparently did rather well! It’s not the first site at which they are known to have played, and I have a suspicion that it’s not their second site either – they’re famously a family of gamers of many different styles. Accordingly, it’s very tempting to imagine that they’re begging – begging – their agents to get to play one of the celebrity episodes of The Crystal Maze. (It’s possible that Ross has a TV deal which restricts him to ITV which might rule it out, but he’s certainly done comedy for Stand Up 2 Cancer on the channel in the past.) They’re certainly more famous than most of the members of the celebrity team listed above!

7) Finally, Escape The Review have recently committed a truly heroic piece of blogging: a guide to escape rooms in Europe. “Europe has a thriving, complex escape scene, and the games I’ve played myself around various European cities are only a tiny fraction of the games available. So the information here is based on recommendations from other enthusiasts, reviewers and owners, in many cases taken from the Escape Room Enthusiasts group on Facebook, plus links to relevant review and directory sites. Where an area is well covered by local blogs and directory sites, I’ve linked straight through to those; where suggestions come from other sources I’ve attempted to combine them into a brief summary.” At the very least, it’s an amazing starting-point for more specific investigations. What a spectacular piece of work!

June is puzzle contest month

June 2017 calendar with fireworksI hope your June goes with a bang, much like the background of this photo!

June is an exciting month for free-to-enter online puzzle contests, with at least one every weekend:

  • This weekend (i.e., you have until, I believe, 11pm UK time tonight to finish) sees the latest round of the WPF’s Sudoku Grand Prix contest, this one written by Serbian authors. The Sudoku Grand Prix rounds consist of a single 90-minute paper, where all the puzzles are sudoku and sudoku variants; take a look at the Instruction Booklet to see precisely what will be required.
  • If that’s your thing, next weekend kicks it up a notch. The World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships take place this year in India between Sunday 15th and Sunday 22nd October. More specifically, it’s happening near Bangalore (sometimes said to be the Silicon Valley of India!) at a resort called Clarks Exotica. The UK will have a team, as usual, and there is at least one space on it available for the winner of (or top person not already qualified from) the UK Sudoku Championship, which will be a two-hour paper that happens at a point of your choice between Friday 9th June and Monday 12th June.
  • The weekend after that, it’s the fifth round of the WPF’s Puzzle Grand Prix, this time set by authors from the Czech Republic; usual format, three parallel one-hour papers, and I’ve really been digging the “C” section papers. However, that’s not all; the US Puzzle Championship also takes place that weekend – and this is one where you don’t have the latitude to schedule it yourself, for it’s a two-and-a-half hour paper starting strictly at 6pm UK time. Historically the puzzles here have been around World Championship level of difficulty; anyone who solves (at least almost) all the paper in the time limit is a genuine world championship contender, and anyone who scores 50% would be likely to be reasonably competitive in the world championship. Take a look for the instructions a little closer to the time.
  • One weekend later still, the weekend of Friday 23rd June to Monday 25th June, is the UK Puzzle Championship. Hooray! As much as DASH is my in-person competition highlight of the year, this is my online competition highlight of the year; it’s genuinely accessible but still sufficiently discriminatory at the top end to be useful in picking a representative for the puzzle team at the world championships, as discussed above. More about this closer to the time, surely. Incidentally, while we’re talking about the world championships, a tip of the hat to the Indian organisers for having the bravery to run an event without play-offs this year. Play-offs are fun, especially for spectators, but for a championship it feels much more appropriate to decide the champion in the style of a decathlon than in the style of Gladiators.
  • The weekend after that will be four weeks since the previous Sudoku Grand Prix round, so another one will tick around again, and so on the cycle goes.

How would we get puzzles at the Olympic Games… or something like it?

International Mind Sports Association logo (presumably their copyright)This is a post I’ve been working on in the background, on and off, for a while; every time we discuss competitions, especially international championships, it comes back to mind.

The direct answer to the question is that it would seem vanishingly unlikely to ever get puzzles at the Olympic Games before other mind sports: games like chess, bridge, go and so on. It’s a subject that has been raised in the past by these mind sports’ governing bodies, but there has never been substantial progress on this front. (The highest-profile examples of mind sports at a festival of otherwise physical sports that I can find is that chess has had a couple of appearances at the Asian Games and the Universiade.) So let’s focus on the “…or something like it” instead, where there may be more to consider than you think.

(This is a long old piece; not far off three thousand words, hence the cut.) Continue reading

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.

This weekend, your country needs you

UK Puzzle Association logoThis weekend, the UK Puzzle Association will be holding its annual UK Puzzle Championship. This takes place online, it’s free to enter and it’s open to everyone in the world. You should enter; if you read this blog, I’d bet bitcoins against baht that you like puzzles enough that you’d get a kick out of taking part.

Clear yourself a 2½ hour window at a time of your choosing between noon on Friday 24th June and 2am on Tuesday 28th June. (Both times are quoted as British Summer Time; you can start at any point up to 11:30pm on Monday 27th June, so you have 3½ days.) During that time, you aim to score as many points as possible by solving the 28 puzzles, submitting your answers on a web form as you go.

The puzzles are mostly logic puzzles, but there are some arithmetic puzzles and word puzzles. Go to the contest page and download the instruction booklet which tells you what sorts of puzzles that there are on offer this year. Maybe you can find ways to practice some of them, or puzzles like the ones in the contest, but most are original twists on possibly familiar themes and working out how to solve them is part of the fun. ((Edited to add:)) Someone has put together a list of sources of practice puzzles of many of the types.

There are plenty of online puzzle contests in the calendar. The UK Sudoku Championship took place the weekend before last; congratulations to Heather Goulding on her victory. The second round of HIQORA took place recently; the announcement of the twelve making it to the World Finals included a UK representative at one point (Chris Bryant – surely not the Labour MP for the Rhondda?) but it looks like the real world has intervened and someone else will be taking the spot.

That said, the UK Puzzle Championship has been my favourite (or, rarely, second favourite) contest of the year for several years running. It’s deliberately accessible, instead of seeking to emulate World Championship difficulty, so as many people as possible can enjoy the thrill of proving to themselves that they really can solve puzzles that looked impossible at first. Normally I finish about three or four places from the bottom (which used to be good when there were only half a dozen UK entrants at the start, but these days there are something like two dozen, so it’s rather less good) but even so I have had a great deal of fun along the way – and you can too, no matter how little you rate your own puzzle solving skills.

Why does your country need you? Well, the UK Puzzle Association uses this as a qualifying tournament to select about half of its team for the World Puzzle Championship, which this year will be held in Senec in Slovakia between 16th October and 23rd October. The 2014 event was in Croydon here in the UK; this site covered the event extensively. Opportunities to represent your country in meaningful global competition come rarely; puzzle fans, there are no better ones!