Looking ahead to 2015: the sudoku season starts early this year

Sudoku generated by Simon Tatham's Puzzle PackThis site has been updating its event calendar to celebrate the New Year. There are a great many puzzle contests and puzzle hunt events to look forward to in 2015, which this site will discuss over the coming days. Exit games have not had events as such to look forward to so far, but perhaps someone will find a convincing way to make an interesting event happen such that it might be featured in this site’s calendar for everyone to get excited about.

The puzzle contest season each year peaks with the World Puzzle Championship and World Sudoku Championship, of which more tomorrow. Only the best can qualify for the national teams there, but the puzzle season at large isn’t restricted to the best solvers. For instance, Logic Masters India offer online contests in puzzles and sudoku each month. However, the World Puzzle Federation started their own annual Grand Prix series competitions for puzzles in 2014 and for sudoku in 2013. This provides a predictable, regular, well-organised global season for all fans.

The competitions run on a four-weekly schedule; there’s a weekend with a sudoku competition, then a weekend off, then a weekend with a puzzle competition, then a weekend off, and the schedule starts all over again. Both seasons are eight contests long, starting in January and running through to the end of July – and this is because the first contest has already started. Each contest starts at noon, European time, on Friday and runs through to the end of Monday, again European time. Accordingly, there are just over 48 hours remaining on the clock for you to play this time.

It’s free to participate; just register at the Grand Prix site. Download the Instruction Booklet and take a look at the types of the 15 puzzles, all to be solved within a 90-minute window of your choice. Each puzzle has a point value, so you can get a feeling for the difficulty; the most difficult puzzles will be well and truly World Championship difficulty, and the lowest-value puzzles will be genuinely relatively accessible. (The difficulty levels may well have been tweaked with the evidence of last season in mind, too!) You don’t need to play all either contests in a series; your best six scores will be counted. The top ten scorers are invited to the World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships to compete for the Grand Prix title in person.

The first sudoku contest features six classic sudoku puzzles as well as examples of nine different sudoku variants: some quite familiar, some very innovative. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s familiar and yet with exciting twists; find a spare 90 minutes over the next day or two and give it a go!

This weekend: a Sudoku Surprise!

Logic Masters India logoLogic Masters India is a web site that hosts interesting puzzle contests and sudoku contests. Many months see one of each, and there has never yet been a charge for participation. Some contests encourage you to print an examination paper out to find the puzzles, then solve it on that paper and type the answers into the web site; a few let you solve using an online interface. Some contests will give feedback straight away as to whether your submitted answers are correct (with incorrect attempts limiting your potential score!), others make you wait until the end of the contest’s time limit before telling you whether your answers were correct or not. The community has most of the world’s top competition solvers in, with contests frequently attracting 200 entrants or so; the site also holds contests to find India’s national teams for the annual World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships.

This weekend sees a contest called Sudoku Surprise, which features two examples in each of seven new forms of sudoku variants. It’s a 2½-hour test, set by David McNeill of Northern Ireland, and you can start at any point up to the end of Monday, UK time. The fourteen puzzles vary radically in difficulty; even relatively modest solvers stand a good chance at one of the puzzles of each of the seven types, whereas the other puzzle of each type is expected to be very challenging. Initial feedback suggests that this competition is rather a corker.

It’s also important to recognise David’s contribution to competitive UK puzzling; he was part of the UK World Puzzle Championship team in each of 2003 to 2006, the highest-placed UK finisher each time, with his best finish being 19th, a position that would not be bettered by a UK solver for eight years. He then concentrated on participating in the UK team for the then-new World Sudoku Championships in 2007 to 2011, again best-placed among the UK participants each year, with his sensational 4th-place global finish in 2007 a national record. He returned to competition at this year’s world championship, winning the title of World Senior Sudoku Champion as best-placed over-50 solver.

His day job is that of a senior university lecturer, with research interests at the forefront of the interface between chemistry and electronics. He’s also been as original and successful a puzzle creator as he has been a solver over the years, an enthusiastic devisor whose puzzles have brightened up many contests along the way. On top of that, he’s a lovely fella!

Sudoku’s coming home

sudoku japanese script logoThe history of sudoku is a long story – or, at least, a long-distance story.

Magic squares date back to China and were generalised by the great Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler. A hundred years ago, French newspapers published some puzzles that bear very considerable similarities to sudoku, if you squint. The birth and infancy of sudoku as they are generally known today is ascribed to Howard Garns, and it’s certainly true that there have been “Number Place” puzzles in Dell Pencil Puzzles and Word Games magazine since 1979. However, the puzzle only really grew up after it started being featured in the great Japanese puzzle company Nikoli’s monthly communications from 1984. Taking the analogy further, New Zealand’s Wayne Gould adopted the puzzle and introduced it back to the English-language mass market, starting with The Times of London in 2004. It has spread around the world from there.

Nevertheless, it’s probably fair to say that sudoku is largely considered a Japanese puzzle; certainly one of its Japanese names has broadly stuck, rightly or wrongly. This is the sense in which the ninth World Sudoku Championship represents something of a homecoming, for the individiual winner was Kota Morinishi of Japan, the first time the competition has been won by a Japanese solver. (Kota had finished second for each of the last thee years, so this does not come as a big surprise.) The individual results have been posted and the Independent has a report with a little colour about the play-offs. The team results will surely follow very soon.

Clearly Kota is in hot form and will be looking to do the double when the World Puzzle Championships start tomorrow, also in Croydon. Kota finished eighth in last year’s WPC, but also finished fourth in the World Puzzle Federation’s Puzzle GP series held over the year, so he’s definitely got a chance. Nobody has done the double before, though; the closest anybody has come is Dr. Thomas Snyder of Grandmaster Puzzles. Dr. Snyder won the World Sudoku Championship in 2007, 2008 and 2011, and finished second in the World Puzzle Championship in 2007 (and third in 2011). You have to imagine that Kota will be there or thereabouts in the puzzle championship, though there are a great many strong contenders trying to keep him from the title, not least his Japanese teammates.

Nevertheless, this site chooses to consider it a good sign for its prediction of Japan to win only its second ever team championship…

((Edited to add:)) While they’re not up on the web site yet, someone has posted a photo of the top of the team scoreboard. Congratulations to Japan for winning the team competition, by a narrow margin from Germany and China. As well as no individual ever having done the sudoku-and-puzzle double, no country has ever done it yet either – at least, until now!

The World Sudoku Championship is in progress

World Sudoku CHampionshipDay one of the World Sudoku Championship has seen a great degree of mass media coverage. The Independent on Sunday previewed the event, the Telegraph also previewed the event on the Sunday and then carried early event coverage on Monday, with a great many fun quotes from competitors. The event even made the 6pm national BBC radio news broadcast – skip to 27’35” to 29’39”.

The Guardian also had a piece, relaying gloom from the British team. (I did particularly like one of the readers’ comments, though, and suspect I may steal it to use heavily over the next ten years: I went to a sudoku championship once, but it was only to make up the numbers.) Further afield, Le Monde were very charming about the event, in French, and I would bet that the Chinese media covered the event heavily as well, for they are the favourites. The volunteers are busy marking papers, but some coverage from day 1 has been published.

I also enjoyed this witty comment on Twitter: Croydon hosts World Sudoku Champs. What will the legacy be? Will a generation be inspired? No 9-storey 9-room towers of dedicated infrastructure required, but more people trying out for the UK sudoku and puzzle teams next year than this year would be a great result.

A week and a half until the World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships

World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships logoOne of the highlights of August will be the World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships, taking place in the UK for the first time – specifically, in Croydon between the 10th and 17th. These will include the ninth World Sudoku Championships, held on Monday 11th and Tuesday 12th, and the 23rd World Puzzle Championships, held between Thursday 14th and Sunday 16th.

The registration lists have been published for both the sudoku and puzzle championships; this site hopes to be able to treat the championships as the sporting events that they are and provide a preview, paying respect to the competitors’ past achievements. Both individual and team contests should be interesting for each discipline. You can also look at the sudoku and puzzle competition Instruction Booklets and admire the invention that has gone into the design of the puzzles to be solved.

There are both individual and team rounds to be solved, with the puzzle championship in particular remarkably thematic in its partition of puzzles to rounds. One particularly interesting collection is the “Afternoon Tea” round, where the puzzles are “T Sets”, “T Rooms”, “T for Tapa”, “T for Trees” and “T for Times Tables”, the last of which look interesting and original here. Also noteworthily smart is the “Table for Four” team round, which sees a different coloured pen given to each member of the four-person teams – then each player is restricted to marketing in 20 of the cells in their colour in each 81-cell puzzle, according to the puzzle’s rules. Great teamwork and co-operation required!

Many thanks to all the puzzle suppliers for the contest – the puzzle design has been a global effort with well over a dozen suppliers for each competition – and, of course, to the organisers. It’s not too late to join in if you’re interested as the event is still looking for further volunteers. If you’re sufficiently interested in puzzles to be reading this site, it’s likely you’d enjoy helping out behind the scenes, and it’s also unlikely that you’ll get this chance again for quite a while. The volunteering opportunities page describes what positions are on offer to choose from and also what’s in it for you in return. If it sounds fun, it’s too good an opportunity to turn down!

Could the World Puzzle Championship make your company a star?

"Walk of fame" star marked "your name here"The 23rd World Puzzle Championship and 9th World Sudoku Championship are happening in the UK this year – specifically, in Croydon between the 10th and 17th of August. They are looking for sponsors.

Sponsoring the championship offers very particular targeted publicity to an audience who are sufficiently interested in puzzles to travel around the world to solve them. There is expected to be between 200 and 250 attendees from 25 to 40 nations, representing six continents, of which probably two-thirds will be competing in one contest, the other or both.

Aside from the contestants, most of the other attendees will be representatives of national puzzle bodies but also there will also be people from various aspects of the puzzle business in attendance. The World Puzzle Federation has a list of members so you can see the sorts of publishing companies and other organisations that run national puzzle bodies, and what sort of people you might reach through the World Puzzle Federation members. The connection is particularly strong in China; Beijing Media Network are sponsors of the Chinese team, and provided wide coverage of the events last year. There was also a piece in the Guardian about the 2006 event which may give you a better feel of who turns up and what goes on.

The commonality is that everyone who turns up is massively interested in puzzles, and the competitors are extremely able – at the top end, definitively world class. Many of them are very successful in their outside lives, whether they are competitors or not. Because so many people there have demonstrated a massive commitment to puzzles, they could well have the combination of resources and wherewithal to be considered potential investors or at least making extremely valuable contacts.

Additionally, because there are so many representatives from national governing bodies present, you would have the chance to get your message out to the puzzle communities of dozens of nations at once, and in turn they would pass it on to their own members and local puzzle contacts. It would be likely to be possible for a sponsor to negotiate access and introductions to the people involved, if this were of interest.

In terms of publicity, there are plenty of solutions possible. A lightweight solution could be distributing flyers to contestants for both championships in the arrival packs. More intensively, there could be the scope to brand a logo on question packs, event banners, web sites or to sponsor evening events. At the top end, a title sponsorship of the event could be possible; imagine having the championship trophy presentations in front of a banner with your company’s logo!

If this is of interest, the best person to contact is the chairman of the UK Puzzle Association, Alan O’Donnell. (His phone number is available on request, but it seems unwise to post it out in the open!) He’d be the person able to answer any questions you might have.

Sudoku and Kenken contest at the 2014 Mind Sports Olympiad

Mind Sports Olympiad medalsThe puzzle contest calendar rolls on; this weekend sees the sixth and final online leg of the World Puzzle Federation’s Puzzle GP, this one being the Turkish round. The instruction booklet is available; 15 puzzles to solve in your chosen 90-minute slot this weekend, with a suggestion that these may be rather easier to solve than some of the earlier rounds of the contest. (Thumbs up for that!)

The overall contest leaderboard has Hideaki Jo of Japan leading, with Japanese and German solvers taking the top six places. As only the best five scores from the six legs count, there’s still plenty of time for things to change; while the top five can only hope to replace their weakest score with a better one, nine-time World Champion Ulrich Voigt has only played four legs so far and may well replace a zero with another very high score. In any case, the top ten names on the leaderboard will be invited to the 23rd World Puzzle Championship, in London in August, to play off in a live final for the overall Grand Prix championship.

News reaches this site that there will be a contest in Sudoku and KenKen at the 18th annual Mind Sports Olympiad. “This year’s Mind Sports Olympiad will be hosted at JW3, a brand new premises in London situated on Finchley Road close to Swiss Cottage and Hampstead Village.” The puzzle contest takes place in its traditional Friday morning slot: this year, that is 22nd August, from 10:15am to 1:45pm. (The Olympiad at large takes place from Sunday 17th to Monday 25th August, respecting the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday 23rd.)

There is a three-year tradition of this particular format of contest, with Roderick Grafton winning the 2011 event, David Collison the 2012 event and Mark Goodliffe the 2013 event. Discussion of the event at the UK Puzzle Association forums suggest that the attendees generally have a good time. Entries are just £10, or £5 for concessions, and you can register at the JW3 web site.

Some years, the Mind Sports Olympiad has prize money; other years, it does not. This year is one of the better ones, with over £6,000 guaranteed in the prize pool, of which £225 will be split between the three overall medal-winners in the puzzle contest, with prizes of £100, £75 and £50. Well done, and thanks, to this year’s sponsors, Mitsubishi Electric UK and Winton Capital Management.

And speaking of sponsors…

The Times Sudoku championship

partly-filled partial sudoku gridTom Collyer writes:

The 5 qualifying puzzles have been in The Times every day this week – they are well hidden away in “The Register” which is a section after the business pages but before the sport. The finals will be happening in London (presumably The Times office in St. Katharine’s Dock as in previous years) on Saturday 30th August.

It is worth noting that the competitions puzzles state: “Entries must be received within seven days of the puzzle being in the paper.”
It also states that the 20 fastest times for each day will make the final (I have no idea how they’ll handle repeats – contestants may enter on each day).

So if you want to enter, then make sure you don’t hang around – get on it straight away!

Some write-ups of the finals exist from 2008, 2011 (see also…) and (briefly) 2013. It certainly sounds like people who make it to the final enjoy the day and hold the organisers in very high regard. Additionally, if you are a Times subscriber, you can find discussion of past finals in their archives behind the paywall.

If you like a wider variety of puzzles, it’s still World Puzzle Championship qualifier season, with the two-hour Dutch qualifier in a fixed slot next Tuesday evening. The instruction booklet is available, though all in Dutch without translation.

What’s happening this weekend

weekly calendarSo there have been a couple of preview posts recently, but this weekend is as busy as any yet seen by this site.

Are you in Norwich? The Knightmare Convention, discussing one of the most beloved children’s puzzle shows in UK TV history, starts today, featuring a hunt very late on Saturday night, which promises to be distressingly cool.

Are you in Wrexham? Saturday sees the Silent State hunt through the town, as part of the European Opera Day celebrations. Tickets are still available, with the ticket page promising “a mixture of puzzles, music, intrigue and theatrical happenings”. Even if the puzzles were dialled down fairly low, this would still promise to be distressingly cool.

Are you in London? If murder mystery is your thing (and if it isn’t, you’re probably lost) then “get ready to explore, puzzle and pun your way through the streets of London” with a door in a wall‘s The Diplomatic Corpse hunt. Tickets are £30 per head for a 4½-hour team game, though twentysomethinglondon have a discount code for Tuesdays. Early reviews seem as positive as you would hope for an event that promises to be distressingly cool.

If any readers go to any of the above, this site would be delighted to feature reviews or reports from any of these events; please send e-mail to the usual address.

Are you far from Wrexham, Norwich and London? It could still be a big weekend! Solvers from all nations are invited to take the two-hour UK Sudoku Championship paper online between now and Monday night – and, if that’s not enough, the World Puzzle Federation’s Sudoku Grand Prix features 90 minutes of puzzles from Japan this weekend. Alternatively, Logic Masters Germany feature the 2½-hour online qualification round of the German puzzle championship this weekend; instructions are available in English, and it’s good practice for the US and UK counterpart puzzle contests of the same length over the next two weekends.

Coming up later this year: Spring

Spring logo(If you’re following a feed, you may recently have seen an early version of a future article posted in error that I have not been able to recall. Please ignore it, and sorry for the confusion.)

News has reached the site of events coming up later in the year: there’s enough to justify a two-part feature. First, the events coming up sooner rather than later.

Spring has become online puzzle contest season, for May is fully loaded with them:

May 9-12: WPF Sudoku Grand Prix round 5: Japan, online
May 9-12: UK Sudoku Championship, online
May 17: US Puzzle Championship, online
May 23-26: WPF Puzzle Grand Prix round 5: United Kingdom, online
May 23-26: UK Puzzle Championship, online

It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, you’re welcome to participate in all of the above. There is a particular initiative for UK participants, though; the top two participants in the UK Sudoku Championship will earn places in the UK team at the World Sudoku Championship, which will be in Croydon this year between the 10th and 17th of August. It’s likely, though not yet confirmed, that one or two places for the UK team for the World Puzzle Championship will similarly be awarded to top UK performers in the UK Puzzle Championship.

The instruction booklet for next weekend’s UK Sudoku Championship has been published; it’s a two-hour contest. The two WPF Grand Prix events are 90-minute contests, and the UK and US Puzzle Championships are traditionally two-and-a-half hour events, and likely to be two of the most interesting online puzzle contests of the year.

If you’re a real World Championship contender, you might want to take part in 3½-4 hours’ worth of puzzle contests in a single day, as practice for the real event (though both world championships tend to feature many, shorter, rounds, rather than two very long rounds). As for the rest of us… I tried it once, and consider it to be for the hardcore only!