Puzzle competitions coming up

weekly calendarTwo competitions coming up this weekend, there’s a gap on the weekend of the 18th-19th (which suits me down to the ground, as I’m actually playing The Crystal Maze on the 18th) and two more on the weekend of the 25th-26th.

The weekend of the 10th-13th sees the sixth (“Serbian”) round of the World Puzzle Federation’s Puzzle Grand Prix and the instruction booklet is already available. Usual drill: 90 minutes, free to play, score as many points as you can by solving puzzles, start no earlier than midday European time on Friday 10th and finish by midnight European at the end of Monday 13th. Take a look at the types of puzzles in advance; I’d say these look pretty tough, but every round is delicately balanced on the tough-to-accessible spectrum and it’s just that this round has puzzles that don’t play to my strengths.

This weekend also sees the online UK Sudoku Championship – you can click through there for the link to the instruction booklet – and that runs in a somewhat similar fashion. Two hour time limit, free to play, score as many points as you can by solving sudoku and sudoku variants, start no earlier than midday UK time on Friday 10th and finish by 11:55pm UK time at the end of Monday 13th.

On the weekend of the 25th-26th, it’s the other way around: another round of the Sudoku GP and also the UK Puzzle Championship. The UKPC is expected to be 2½ hours long. It’s been my favourite puzzle championship of the year for a few years now and it deliberately contains more identifiably accessible material than just about all of the rest of the contests. If you’re going to enter only one contest, I’d recommend the UKPC above the rest. Participation is free and open worldwide. The top two UK participants from each of the UK championships qualify for the UK team for the World Sudoku Championships or World Puzzle Championships, as appropriate.

I may have taken a pot shot at sports’ governing bodies at large in my previous entry, whether physical or mind, but many thanks to all those who have created these contests, tested these contests, or created and maintained the infrastructure to make them available to the public at large.

Wrapping up the 2015 World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships

World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships 2015 logoLooking through older posts, the preview post for the 2015 World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships has been left hanging without a review for a couple of months. Here’s a quick summary of the scores from Sofia.

The sudoku championship was won by Kota Morinshi of Japan, who was number one going into the play-off as well as coming out of it, with the Japanese team victorious ahead of China and the Czech Republic. Silver medallists China took the top three places in the under-18 rankings, as strong a sign for the future as there can be. The UK finished eighth, taking the top two places in the over-50 rankings; David McNeill defended his over-50 title from 2014 and Mark Goodliffe was not far behind.

In the puzzle championship, three-time defending world champion Ulrich Voigt took a commanding lead into the play-off final, but Japan’s Endo Ken overtook him in the play-offs to take the title for the first time. (There is some discrepancy in the conversion of Japanese names to Western counterparts, but this site tends to consider it polite to prefer the name ordering that he chooses himself; this year, at least, he could just be referred to as Champ.) The under-18 title was won by Yanzhe Qiu of China for a third successive year, finishing ninth overall. This site calls search engine dibs on the phrase “future World Champion Yanzhe Qiu”.

The UK team finished seventh, within a gnat’s Kropki of equalling their best ever performance of sixth, and David McNeill won the over-50 title for both puzzles and sudoku. Congratulations to all the participants; I’m pretty sure that the UK teams are largely happy with their performances this year. If there’s a disappointment from an outside perspective, it’s that there wasn’t nearly as much coverage of the event as I’d have liked; Endo Ken has written up his experiences in English, modestly and honourably noting that he only won the play-off rather than the body of the tournament, but there’s little otherwise to share, unless you know otherwise.

At the risk of being a little reductive, possibly the easiest and most accessible way to enjoy the championship as sport is to consider it a contest between nations. 24 nations sent “A” teams of four solvers, each of whom scored points over 11 rounds of competition. These four solvers’ totals are added, along with the team’s results from three rounds of team competition, to produce an overall total score which determines the national placements. (As well as the 24 “A” teams, there were also 11 national “B” teams, 3 national “C” teams and 8 “United Nations” transnational teams, for 46 teams in total. By comparison, the German B-team would have beaten all but two of the national “A” teams, and the Japan B-team would have beaten all but five.) Here are those national totals:

			1st	2nd	3rd	4th	Total	Team	Grand Total
1	Germany		5910	4380	4055	3940	18285	7940	26225
2	Japan		5475	4630	4620	3325	18050	6680	24730
3	USA		5055	4150	3605	3225	16035	7780	23815
4	Hungary		4610	4365	3525	2708	15208	6180	21388
5	Czech Republic	4025	3500	3435	3260	14220	6060	20280
6	Slovakia	3880	3700	3637	2585	13802	5140	18942
7	UK		3725	3280	2765	2745	12515	6340	18855
8	Poland		4105	3790	2815	2135	12845	4800	17645
9	Serbia		4460	2190	2190	1965	10805	6260	17065
10	India		3805	2830	2640	2210	11485	5500	16985
11	France		3205	2955	2505	2490	11155	5660	16815
12	Netherlands	4625	3080	2395	1230	11330	5100	16430
13	Turkey		3215	3155	2150	2020	10540	3600	14140
14	China		4505	2230	1895	1525	10155	3700	13855
15	Romania		3240	2005	1730	765	7740	3500	11240
16	Italy		2490	1900	1660	1630	7680	3100	10780
17	Estonia		3160	2075	1600	600	7435	2800	10235
18	Greece		2230	1825	1500	1140	6695	2200	8895
19	Russia		2125	2060	1340	865	6390	2500	8890
20	Switzerland	1995	1645	1305	990	5935	1700	7635
21	Croatia		2235	1555	1135	735	5660	1400	7060
22	Finland		2890	1440	1415	1025	6770	0	6770
23	Bulgaria	1015	865	725	375	2980	800	3780
24	Korea		625	570	335	230	1760	800	2560

Back in October, this site proposed some odds, just for fun, and wasn’t too far off. True, the prediction was for Germany to only be second favourite, narrowly behind Japan, and was for the Czech Republic to be joint seventh rather than fifth. It gets a bit too close to being personal to say “If only _______ hadn’t got such-and-such a puzzle wrong!” Other than that, this site’s top seven is not looking too bad!

The 2016 championships will take place in Senec in south-west Slovakia. Fly to Vienna in Austria then travel fifty miles East and you’ll get to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia; another ten miles or so further and Senec will serenade you. The first chance to qualify for the UK teams for 2016 will be face-to-face at the UK Open Puzzle and Sudoku championships at their usual home of the the Selsdon Park Hotel near Croydon on 27th-28th February, with the top two finishers in each contest winning their places on the team!

Time for the 2015 World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships

World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships 2015 logoWay-oh, we’re going to Sofia!

This week’s highlight is the World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships. After last year’s triumph in Croydon here in the UK, the 24th World Puzzle Championship and 10th World Sudoku Championship are being held in the capital of Bulgaria. The sudoku championships as such are held on Monday and Tuesday; the puzzle championship starts on Thursday and crowns its champion on Saturday. As ever, the puzzle writing is likely to be of the highest quality, but it has a tremendous way to go to live up to that of last year; you can see what sorts of puzzles will be featured in each one in the sudoku instruction booklet and puzzle instruction booklet. The actual puzzles themselves will need to be solved quickly enough to pose a challenge to befit the best solvers in the world; most mere mortals (hello!) would struggle to solve many of them given a whole day.

It’s a fascinating championship and doesn’t receive a great deal of coverage as the global sporting event that it is. Exit Games UK covered last year’s championship intensely, being a home championship that will surely not be repeated for years, though all the signs point to the UK having done as good a job as any first-time host. This year’s event might not get quite the same extent of coverage as last year’s, but it’s far too much fun not to cover at all. The preview article is arguably the most fun of all to write – compare to last year’s! – though almost the most uncomfortable in the knowledge that you’re writing about real people and just possibly they might read what you say. For the avoidance of doubt, this coverage concerns the puzzle championship rather than the sudoku championship.

As ever, one starting-point for treating the World Puzzle Championship as the sport that it is, is the Wikipedia article, but the motherlode is Tim Peeters’ site. You can get the results from the four most recent championships within the World Puzzle Federation‘s newsletters for 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, each with the results from the previous year’s championships. This year’s participants list points to there being representation from 30 nations in the puzzle championships; it looks like there will be (subject to confirmation) 23 full national teams of four solvers, plus another dozen or so “B” teams, possibly a couple of “C” teams and some number of transnational “United Nations” teams made up of assemblages of national teams that happen to be smaller than the full complement of four. It’s no secret that it’s cheaper to attend an event in Bulgaria than it is to attend one in the UK, and that has evidently made a difference.

The 23 years of the World Puzzle Championship have only seen four different national teams win. The Japanese team won one, the Czech team won three, the German team have won five and the team from the United States of America have won the remaining fourteen. The US team has a 23/23 record at finishing in the top three places, though last year was probably about as close as it has ever been, the German team have finished on the podium 13 times in the last 15 years and the Japanese team’s unbroken run on the podium stretches back ten years. The Czech team were on the podium seven times in the first ten years; the Hungarian team have made four podium appearances and the Dutch team three, including two second places. Other teams on the podium have included Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Poland and Turkey.

At this point, it’s worth pointing out that these championships surely represent an amazing sponsorship opportunity for an exit game brand who wanted to present themselves as the global leader and attract attention from a great number of puzzling communities at a single stroke. All eight G8 countries are represented at the WPC, so is India, so is China, so are all manner of other exciting and relevant nations. The Escape Room Directory points to eleven exit games in Sofia, reportedly one practically across the road from the hotel. One can imagine that most of the games in town will be played in a wide variety of languages over the course of the coming week and word will get round as to which are the best.

Let’s take a look at the top contenders, in descending order of last year’s finish.

Germany won last year, though it was closer than the scoreboard might suggest because Japan entirely reasonably went for a go-for-broke strategy in the final team round. On the other hand, the German line-up have real strength in depth, with the German B team scoring enough to beat all the A-teams outside the top three, and the four German B team members all outscored the fourth-place German A team solver! This year’s A-team is starred by Ulrich Voigt, looking to add an eleventh world championship and to be the first ever to win four in a row. He is more than ably supported by Florian Kirch who finished third last time, Philipp Weiß (unofficial 27th last time, though unofficial 17th two years previously) and Robert Vollmert (unofficial 18th two years running). Michael Ley has a real chance at being the best B-team solver for a third time. If you can make it through the super-stacked German trials, you’re definitely good enough to be a play-off contender. A hugely strong line-up.

Japan also has remarkable strength in depth; looking at the Grand Prix results, with seven of the top eighteen finishers over the course of the series (to Germany’s four!), arguably even more so. Yet there were questions over the Japan Puzzle Championship that settled the Japan line-up; when the dust settled, this is how the chips fell. Ken Endo (who wrote that article) was second going into last year’s play-off and finished handily ahead of the pack in the Grand Prix, so is clearly a very serious contender for the individual championship. Kota Morinshi has finished ninth two years running and has also been excellent in the Grand Prix. Ko Okamoto finished fourth in 2007 and 2010 and almost matched Ken Endo as a guest two years ago. Maho Yokota finished 12th four years ago and 17th two years ago. This is again exceptionally powerful, though it’s tempting to wonder how much they might miss Hideaki Jo.

The US team are powerhouses once again. Palmer Mebane has a four-year streak on the podium and was the last person to beat Ulrich Voigt, in 2011. Wei-Hwa Huang has won it all four times. William Blatt has finished in the top ten for the last two years, and the fourth member this time is Roger Barkan, who has three podium places to his credit. All four have shown that they know what it takes and there is nothing like a weak link here; this bodes very well for the team rounds.

At this point, time to speed up and concentrate principally on the highlights of some of the other teams. Peter Hudak has earned three playoff places in the last four years for Slovakia and they’ll miss him badly this year, though Matej Uher, Matúš Demiger and Štefan Gašpár are all reliable top-30 solvers. From the Czech Republic, Jan Novotný and Jana Vodičková have had years where they’ve been well in the top fifteen; Hungary have three-quarters of their 2013 line-up who finished fourth, featuring 2007 world champion Pál Madarassy, five-time top-ten finisher Zoltán Horváth and Zoltán Gyimesi. Bram de Laat has a four-year top-ten streak for the Netherlands and is backed up with experience.

What of the United Kingdom team? Exit Games UK is bullish. There’s something of a running theme above; nations with strong line-ups where it’s easy to think of one or two very strong solvers who would add considerably. On the other hand, this is the UK line-up that this site has long hoped for, as discussed; for this site’s money, it’s the strongest UK team yet. Neil Zussman and James McGowan have been top-15 solvers for the last two years, with this year’s Grand Prix form guide putting them on par with some very strong names. Tom Collyer has been improving year on year and being instrumental in hosting last year’s championships surely being a great way to get involved. David McNeill has five WPC appearances and has been top among the UK team for four of them. If you want a form guide that’s less than a month old, the team’s performances at LMI’s Puzzle Ramayan again hints at people being there or thereabouts.

Apologies to the Polish, Turkish, Canadian, Chinese, Indian and other teams who do have strong solvers, but you have to draw the line somewhere. It would be a delight for any of them to take this as inspiration to prove this preview wrong, especially if that sentence has swept them aside into just the “and other teams”! Part of the fascination is looking for breakout stars who come from nowhere. It’s always thrilling.

How well can the UK team do? At the start of the year, this site predicted a 35% chance that the UK team might beat its previous best performance of sixth place. Knowing the participant lists now, 35% may be a shade too slim. Four finishes in or around the top quarter, particularly with a couple close to the play-offs, would probably be good for fourth or fifth place, if the team round performances match up to the individual performances. It’s going to be very exciting to follow the team’s progress in Bulgaria!

Coming in to writing this preview, the presumption going in was that Germany were going to be strong favourites. On reflection, Germany might have the strongest top half of the line-up and Japan may have the strongest bottom half. If the US perform close to their strongest throughout, they would surely be very hard to stop as well. For the sake of punditry, the call is going to be Japan, but it’s got to be really close!

For the purposes of entertainment only, here are the Exit Games UK odds:
Japan 11/10
Germany 11/8
USA 7/2
Hungary 16/1
Slovakia 33/1
United Kingdom 50/1 (or 14/1 against a top-3 finish, or 5/4 against a top-5 finish)
Czech Republic 66/1
Netherlands 66/1
China 80/1
Canada 80/1
India 80/1
Poland 80/1
Turkey 80/1
Any other named country 100/1

Meet the teams

UK teams at the 2011 World Sudoku and Puzzle Championships

The UK teams at the 2011 World Sudoku and Puzzle Championships in Eger, Hungary

The first-choice teams have been announced for the UK’s representatives at this year’s World Sudoku and Puzzle Championships, taking place in mid-October in Sofia, Bulgaria.

The Sudoku team is as follows:
– David McNeill (Reigning World Senior Sudoku Champion)
– Heather Golding (winner, UK Sudoku Championship 2015)
– Tom Collyer (winner, UK Open Sudoku Championship 2013, multiple-time setter)
– Mark Goodliffe (winner, Times Sudoku Championship 2014)

1st reserve: Neil Zussman
2nd reserve: Michael Collins

While everybody has been too right-minded to say anything foolish, the continued and repeated success of women in sudoku competitions worldwide would surely shoot down at a stroke any stray sexists who wanted to make an issue, where none exists, of the differences between men’s and women’s ability at competitive puzzles.

The Puzzle team is as follows:

– James McGowan
– Neil Zussman
– David McNeill
– Tom Collyer

1st reserve: Mark Goodliffe
2nd reserve: Emma McCaughan

The puzzle team looks at least as strong as the UK has ever had. The UK’s best performance at a World Puzzle Championship (sixth in 2013) was with that line-up except for Thomas Powell instead of David McNeill – and McNeill, as well as clearly being on great form, has been the top UK solver at the WPC four times out of his five appearances.

This is the UK team that Exit Games UK has long hoped for. The puzzles are getting harder and the standard is getting stronger; you need to run ever faster just to keep up. When this site predicted a 35% chance that the UK team produces its best performance in the next World Puzzle Championship, beating its previous best of sixth from the twenty national “A” teams in Beijing in 2013, it hoped to see a line-up just like that one to break the national record.

The very best of British luck to both teams!

Your country needs you

Latest UK Puzzle Association logoNext 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.

Clear yourself a 2½ hour window at a time of your choosing between noon on Friday 26th June and 2am on Tuesday 30th June. (Both times are quoted as British Summer Time; you can start at any point up to 11:30pm on Monday 29th 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 a mixture of logic puzzles, 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 some are original and working out how to solve them is part of the fun.

There are plenty of online puzzle contests in the calendar; however, the UK Puzzle Championship has been my favourite or second favourite of the year for several years running. It’s deliberately accessible, 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 for its team at the World Puzzle Championship, which this year will be held in Sofia in Bulgaria in mid-October. Last year’s 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!

Coming up this weekend: the UK Open Sudoku and UK Open Puzzle Tournaments

Selsdon Park HotelThis post is a little closer to a repeat than usual, but it’s an important topic and there’s easily sufficient new information to be worth a nudge.

As previously discussed, this weekend sees the UK Puzzle Association‘s annual UK Open tournaments in sudoku and puzzles. At the top end, this event will qualify two members of each UK team for October’s World Championships in puzzles and sudoku, this year taking place in Sudoku Sofia (what a Freudian slip)! in Bulgaria. For the rest of us, it’s a weekend of good company and fun in-person puzzle competitions.

The sudoku tournament happens on the Saturday between 10:30am and 3pm; the puzzle tournament has its first session between 4pm and 6:30pm on Saturday and its second session between 10am and 4pm on Sunday. There will be a communal meal after the Saturday session and the reports of the catering from the World Championships (and the previous year’s UK Open) were very favourable.

The instruction booklets for the four rounds of the sudoku competition and the six rounds of the puzzle competition have been published. They look superb. Additionally, there are two team rounds, the details of which are yet to be published. Round six of the puzzle competition looks particularly interesting: standard examples of eight different puzzle formats, but the gimmick is that you go on to transfer your answers to the grid of a metapuzzle, which can then be solved for extra points.

In-person puzzle events are always fun; this one particularly caters for those towards the competitive end of the scale. It’s very probably too late to get involved this year, but if you haven’t done so already, do take a look and see if it tickles your fancy. (This site eagerly – and jealously – awaits reports of just how much fun it turned out to be!) There’s always next year for the next in-person UK Open, and there will also be the online UK championships in puzzles and sudoku coming up, probably over the next two or three months.

Events to enjoy in March and May

many-handsSo this photo represents either many hands making light work, or a little-known hundred-player team puzzle. (Perhaps a puzzle where the players are rooted to their various spots but still have to transport items around the room from where they are located to where they are needed?)

There are fewer than a hundred days remaining until the scheduled global date for the seventh DASH puzzle hunt. The same stories, puzzles and (effectively) hunt will be played in locations across the US and also London; the London leg saw eight teams in 2013 and 21 in 2014. This was before Puzzled Pint started to get anything like the traction that it has done in recent months, so it’s hard to know just how big London DASH might get – or, if there is a 25-team limit like last year, how soon it might sell out. A recent post suggests that DASH 7 will be played in at least fourteen locations so far, with a couple of DASH usual suspects (including previously-ever-present Los Angeles) still to check in. Still time for other cities to join the party, including if anyone wants to run one elsewhere in the UK, but the deadline for city registration is March 15th.

Fingers crossed – but no inside information – that the theme of the event gets revealed reasonably soon after that, and team registration starts not much later still. Last year, team registration opened just under two months before the event, so maybe it’s time to think about whether you want to play, and who you might want to play with. Whatever happens, if you’d rather help out than play, the London team will be sure to welcome playtesters and (particularly) on-the-day volunteers; they’ll ask for expressions of interest very soon.

Before then, though, is the UK Open weekend, taking place in person at the Selsdon Park Hotel and Golf Club in East Croydon. This will feature a sudoku championship on Saturday 21st March and a puzzle championship stretching over Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd March. The UK teams for the 2015 world championships (taking place in Sofia, Bulgaria in October) will be decided in part by performance at these tournaments.

Apparently there are 40 registrations so far, making this the largest UK Open event to date by quite some distance, and strong testament to just how successful the World Championships held by the UK team at the same venue the previous year were. (Over 10% of registrations come from overseas, hence the second part of the title UK Open, representing quite some commitment.) It’s still possible to book, though the block room booking has been made and remaining accommodation is subject to the general availability at the hotel.

They’ve both been spectacular in the past and are both very likely to be tremendous again this year. Pick your favourite, or play them both!

Coming up in March: the UK Open Sudoku and UK Open Puzzle Tournaments

rsz_selsdon-1News reaches this site of the precise details regarding the UK Puzzle Association‘s upcoming UK Open tournaments in sudoku and puzzles.

This year’s UK Open tournaments will take place over the weekend 21-22 March 2015, once again at the Selsdon Park Hotel in Croydon. This is the venue that we used for the 2014 World Championships. This growing annual event is a must for anyone with an interest in puzzles or sudoku. Although there will be a competition element to the weekend, more importantly it is the annual opportunity to mix with others sharing your interests in a relaxing environment.

For the competitively minded, there will be competitions. Each competition will be made up of manageable rounds, much like a mini world championship. There will be a variety of prizes on offer, including best newcomer, and best overseas competitor for each event. These events will be used as part of the selection process for the UK teams, where the top 2 British competitors in each event will earn a place on the A-team to represent the UK at the 2015 World Sudoku Championships (WSC) or World Puzzle Championship (WPC) that will be held in Bulgaria in October. Everyone is welcome to participate, including overseas competitors. Children under the age of 16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The sudoku tournament happens on the Saturday between 10:30am and 3pm; the puzzle tournament has its first session between 4pm and 6:30pm on Saturday and its second session between 10am and 4pm on Sunday. There will be a communal meal after the Saturday session and the reports of the catering from the World Championships (and the previous year’s UK Open) were very favourable.

The pricing is based on obtaining a mixture of day and 24-hour passes. What it means is that attending from 4pm to 4pm for the puzzle tournament and meal will cost £90 including bed and breakfast accommodation; if you want to attend both sudoku and puzzle tournaments, attendance will cost £120. Alternatively, if you live sufficiently locally that you just want to turn up for the tournaments only, that can be done for £60 – but when so much of the appeal is the good company and good food, that may be a false economy. (A more expensive, but possibly better still, option might be to stay for additional nights at the start and end, to enjoy more of the company and the venue.)

This site loves online puzzle contests, but getting together for events in person takes things to a whole new level, and attending the counterpart event in 2012 was a highlight of the year. If you have ambitions to represent the UK at the world championships, this event is particularly strongly recommended, though not absolutely essential; there’ll be at least one space on each of the sudoku and puzzle teams given to top performers on the online UK championships. Whether you consider yourself championship class or not, it’s recommended either way!

(Ooh yes, and if you fancy winning some money to help pay for your attendance, the second Quiz The Nation happens tonight from 8pm onwards, as discussed last week. New versions of the apps have been released for both Android and iOS; this site was among the proportion of players who struggled with the tech last week, though most people seem to have been fine, so update now in good time for tonight’s 8pm start. Downloading the app comes with free tokens to play the quiz; the top ten finishers get paid cash prizes of between £50 and £1,000 and there are spot prizes to be won along the way as well. It’s slightly more quizzy than puzzly, but the mental agility and intelligence rounds may well make it to puzzle fans’ tastes.)

Reviewing this site’s predictions for the second half of 2014

Crystal ball iconAround half-way through the year, this site made a number of predictions as to what might happen in the second half of the year. It’s time to go back and review those predictions. Expect counterpart predictions for 2015 early in the new year.

There is practically a 0% chance that the whole exit game industry proves a fad that goes as quickly in 2014 as quickly as it came in 2013. Nothing lasts forever, but there’s no reason why the industry – or, at least, its best sites – shouldn’t be in it for the long haul.

Happily, this did not come to fruition.

There is a 10% chance that the UK mass media will catch on to just how cool exit games are and base a series around them with properly integrated puzzle solving, rather than the merely disguised quiz of, say, the US Exit show.

No joy so far on this one, but who can know what the channel commissioners of this world are being offered?

There is a 20% chance that one of the big players in the leisure industry – perhaps a chain of bowling alleys, or cinemas, or maybe even gyms or similar – will get on board and bring a corporate, commodified approach to the exit game business to compete with all the plucky independents this site loves so much.

This site is not aware of any progress on this issue.

There is a 30% chance that there will someone will hide a treasure in the UK with a hunt that really catches the public attention. Perhaps Masquerade must be a one-off in its impact, but there have been plenty of worthy successors. Maybe the clues will be shared in a book, maybe it’ll follow the tradition of Alternate Reality Games promoting mass media works, maybe it’ll be something new.

The biggest hit in this regard, to this site’s knowledge, was Gold Hunt London, and the success of that seems to be more likely to be measured in the hundreds or thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands.

There is a 40% chance that existing exit game sites continue to grow and grow – as just one example, clueQuest is set to open its second Operation BlackSheep room on August 1st! – and that there is a single site which manages to serve forty teams on the same day. Thirty a day seems like a very unambitious target, forty a day pushes it to the “40% chance” category.

This site clearly didn’t see Escape Hunt coming, which serves forty a day – and the rest! – on a regular basis, and has had many days in which they have sold all seventy slots. Other than that, the next busiest site would appear to be clueQuest, which opened a fifth room and serves thirty-five teams on Saturdays.

There is a 50% chance that the next World Puzzle Championship will be won by Ulrich Voigt of Germany – after all, he’s won two of the last four! (Maybe this is underselling him; the full story is that he’s won 9 of the last 14, but surely the opposition is getting stronger as well.)

Indeed he won. On reflection, saying there is a 50% chance does not really count as a prediction either way.

There is a 60% chance that the monthly party that is Puzzled Pint will keep growing and growing in London, exposing more and more people to the puzzle hobby… at least, once autumn comes around and the nights start to draw back in.

It was attracting 10-11 teams in April-June and 13-14 teams in October-November, though the distributed Puzzled Pint experiment for December was less successful.

There is a 70% chance that at least one existing exit game covered by this site will officially call it a day, in addition to those which just might fade from sight. (And, still, the exit game industry would compare favourably with so many others when you think about startups failing quickly.)

This one is probably more of a miss than a hit. One site has been on a long-term “break between seasons” with no sign of a second season and a second site is up for sale, with bookings suspended, but neither have officially closed down. Could you count the Lock and LOL misfire in the category? Probably not quite.

There is a 80% chance that there will be a day where this site can list at least twenty sites open for business in the UK and Ireland, with at least five in the London area.

You’ll see the stats in a couple of days; this came true and then some to the point that the prediction proved rather conservative.

There is a 90% chance that the 23rd World Puzzle Championship and 9th World Sudoku Championship, scheduled for Croydon here in the UK on the 10th to 17th of August, will go with a bang and be a success to be proud of for years.

Arguably this is difficult to measure, but this site is not aware of ill-feeling towards the event and is aware of high compliments paid to it, which would seem to be a reasonable metric.

There is practically a 100% chance that something incredibly cool, of which this site was not previously aware, will make itself known. Maybe it’ll be… not just any exit game, but the exit game of all exit games; maybe it’ll be a puzzle game like of which nobody has seen before; maybe it’ll be the hottest new puzzle trend since sudoku. Be sure that this site will really, really enjoy telling you about it.

Again, this is so vaguely-defined as to be only subjectively judgeable. However, this site would offer Boda Borg and the CUCaTS puzzle hunt at Cambridge University as extremely strong candidates for the category. This site’s absolute highlight of the half-year was the Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play puzzle hunt; incredibly cool, sure, but this site did have an inkling that it was coming.

World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships, London 2014: a personal opinion

"FIN" film stripThis will very probably be the last post this site makes as part of its London 2014 coverage. This site generally tries to keep its coverage relatively neutral and personality-free; this, unusually, is an opinion piece from one of the Exit Games UK authors.

It’s probably no surprise that people in the UK Puzzle Association started seriously kicking around the idea of bidding to host the World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships in the UK around the time of the 2011 event; the bid to host the event in 2014 was made, and accepted, as part of the 2012 championships. At the time, I was a dissenting voice. My opinion on the proposed bid ran as follows:

Bluntly, but completely honestly, I think 2014 is – at the very least – a year or two too early for the UKPA to be considering running the annual WPF tournaments. I get the impression that it’s going to be a huge process and will largely consume the efforts of the association for a year or two.

While the UKPA is so small, my preference would be to spend at least the next couple of years focusing on expanding our membership and getting a strong domestic puzzle scene going, so that we can build up really strong and enthusiastic resources before we take on the biggest project of them all.

I sent this by private message to the UKPA’s directors. It was clear that mine was a minority opinion, so I had my say once, left it at that, and drifted away from the UKPA, leaving them to do their own thing. They do it extremely well; I wrote a preview of the UK Open face-to-face puzzle and sudoku championships in March, and of their online UK Puzzle Championship, probably my single favourite long-form online puzzle contest each year, in May. I’ve given publicity to the UKPA’s activities where and when I can, without otherwise being involved.

After having attended the face-to-face UK Open events in 2012, I was convinced that, while the UKPA membership was small, it had sufficient talent to be able to run the world championships… barely. I would never have said that I thought they couldn’t do it, but I did think (but not say out loud) that, in practice, the organisation was so small that they couldn’t do it without driving themselves incapable through overwork, to the point of putting the organisation itself at risk.

The last two weeks show that, as it turns out, I was wrong. I acknowledge that and am delighted to have been proved wrong.

It’s likely that the team putting together the event was one of the smaller teams in recent years. It’s definitely true that there was an immense amount of work put in long before the event came to fruition, and very little sleep indeed was had by the people running the event while the week itself was in progress. I haven’t yet seen a great deal of long-form blogging about the event itself (though see Roland Voigt, Palmer Mebane and the Canada team) but the social media instant feedback I’ve seen has been extremely positive.

Accordingly, while there is not yet necessarily much primary source material to suggest how this year’s championships compared to previous years, the second-hand feedback implies that it was about as good as the event has yet been, and certainly at the very top end of expectations. I get the impression that the event was relatively low in terms of bells, whistles and miscellaneous “jazzmatazz”, but that the important bits were all present and correct. Certainly there were no broken puzzles, which is to the event’s massive credit.

While thanks and praise should be given to puzzle authors from around the world, for the puzzle-writing has been a global task for years now, as far as editing and testing are concerned, the buck stops with the local organising committee, and they did not disappoint in the least in that regard. Full spreadsheets have now been published with the World Sudoku Championship scores and World Puzzle Championship scores; while my preview may not have picked the winners, I’m adequately pleased with the extent to which I was there or thereabouts.

Many congratulations and great gratitude to the organisers and volunteers who put on the year’s event. Their hard work and excellent results have done the UK proud. Next year’s championships have been announced as taking place in Bulgaria; if you’ve enjoyed this site’s coverage of this year’s events, and think you might enjoy taking part in an event that will get covered in the same way around the world next year, start your practice now! Details of qualification for the 2015 UK teams will be published as soon as they are available.