How tough was this year’s UK Puzzle Championship?

UK Puzzle Association logoNotably tougher than usual for strong contenders – indeed, arguably the toughest yet – but only about as tough as usual for the rest of us.

It’s tempting to say “There, done” and move on, but the conclusion is an unusual one and worth explaining. As ever, the most important thing is a rousing round of thanks to everyone at the UK Puzzle Association (hereafter UKPA) for putting the championship together year after year, from the puzzle authors (from around the world!) to the test compilers to the system administrators.

How would you compare the difficulty of one year’s championship to that of previous ones? The analysis I’ve performed in the past compares what sorts of scores people are getting year on year, expressing the scores as rebased percentages, with a score of 100% representing all the puzzles being solved within the time limit. (If you do solve all the puzzles correctly within the time limit then you earn bonus points depending on how much time you have left, which rebases your score to one of over 100%.)

UK Puzzle Championship difficulty graph

Click on the image for a bigger version of the graph

The small version of the graph isn’t the clearest, but the large version is much more so. This year’s data is represented as a purple line. The purple is unfortunately fairly close in colour to the 2015 brown line, but each year uses a different shape of data marker, and the 2017 data’s marker looks more like a cross than any before it. The other way to recognise the purple line is that it’s almost always at the bottom of the graph.

I’m not too worried by this conclusion, as there’s a clear reason why it’s not comparing like with like. Previous UK Puzzle Championships have allowed participants 2½ hours to complete the paper, whereas this year’s championship only permitted participants two hours. While it would seem reasonable to assume that people will have sufficient clue about where their strengths and weaknesses lie to imagine that they would be broadly unlikely to be able to score as many points in the fifth half-hour as in the half-hours before it, I get the impression that had everyone been allowed 25% extra time, scores would have been higher across the board. Maybe not commensurately higher, but probably not far off. This would have put the line in or near the pack, rather than being a low outlier. So I asked why this year’s event was shorter, and the answer is reasonable.

There’s no particular reason why the UK Puzzle Championship has to be any particular length, and my gut feeling is that it had previously settled on a 2½ hour duration because the US Puzzle Championship that has run for almost 20 years has traditionally been 2½ hours long. (The very early days may have been longer still – but the very early days were conducted by fax, rather than online.) The longer the test, arguably the closer it comes to replicating the several hours per day of puzzles at the World Championship, and arguably the more accurate a job it does at declaring a champion; the longer the test, the more work there is involved in its creation and operation, and the more off-putting it may be to more marginal participants.

It is to be noted and celebrated that there were a record 29 UK participants on the scoreboard this year, with the previous best being 25 in two separate years. It’s also worth noting that there weren’t any UK participants who started the test and then failed to submit a single correct answer; if there’s something to moderate the joy at the UK record of 29, it’s that last year had 25 on the scoreboard plus another five zeroes. Are people who don’t answer even a single puzzle correctly of use or interest to the UK Puzzle Association? Probably not in terms of trying to pick a representative team for a world championship, perhaps more so in terms of creating a contest where people enjoy themselves, no matter how marginal the participant, and then come back year after year and tell their friends about it.

UK Puzzle Championship repeat participation graph

Click on the image for a bigger version of the graph

Again the thumbnail says little, but the larger version paints a picture. For each of the previous six years, the data from the above chart is replicated but the data points are either pluses or crosses. (There are no lines. I can’t work out how to make the lines do what I want them to, and I can’t work out how I did it last year.) A plus represents a player who came back in at least one successive year; a cross represents a player who has not yet made another appearance.

Accordingly, this year’s data is not yet included as we won’t know until 2018, or later, who will return from 2017. There are sporadic crosses towards the top from time to time, but the vast majority of crosses are towards the bottom of the chart. The other way to look at it is that the UKPA does very well at retaining the middle of the pack from year to year!

My views are largely the same as last year. I think increasing the number of participants has to be a major goal for the UK Puzzle Association, perhaps close to the most major goal. Noting that, happily, newspapers are more frequently starting to publish a more interesting variety of logic puzzles, I’d be inclined to make sure that there is reasonably heavy representation of deliberately very accessible puzzles every year, both accessible in terms of style and familiarity as well as difficulty. This is part of the reason why I so heavily promote the WPF Grand Prix’s “Paper C” puzzles.

Nevertheless, the UKPC remains my favourite online puzzle contest of the year. Thanks again to everyone for keeping it that way!

UK Puzzle Championship 2017: the stats

Latest UK Puzzle Association logoThe UK Puzzle Association have published the results to their recent UK Puzzle Championship. Did you take part? Were you happy with your result? If so, congratulations!

James McGowan won to pick up his fifth UK championship, so he gets the biggest congratulations of the lot! Adam Bissett earned second place, only the fourth person ever to make it to the top two in the seven years of the contest, and Tom Collyer finished third for the fourth year in a row, missing out on second place by one point. These best British performances were well up there with those of some very accomplished solvers from around the world. For me, the best news is that this year saw nine first-time UK solvers, to take the number of UK solvers putting points on the board up to 29. The previous best was 25, achieved last year and once previously, so this is quite a step in the right direction. There was quality as well as quantity, too!

As ever, this site continues to update a year-on-year chart of UKPC performances:


 201120122013 2014201520162017BestTimes
James McGowan112112117
Neil Zussman 21221 15
Adam Bissett  136 5224
David McNeill23     22
Tom Collyer864333337
Steve Barge3 35 4635
Michael Collins9469710447
Emma McCaughan610811481047
Thomas Powell 1257471146
Adam Dewbery 13 4   42
Ronald4      41
Roderick Grafton12510109 856
Heather Golding   12 6553
Paul Redman5      51
Nick Gardner 106    62
Saul Glasman    6  61
Mark Goodliffe7 13131512876
Nick Deller107 1511131876
Eva Myers147 1612111376
AJ Moore  971991475
Ben Neumann    816773
Chris M. Dickson10181922171819107
Paul Slater   13101515104
Gareth Moore16 11 13  113
Chris Nash  11    111
Pat Stanford      12121
Anthea McMillan  1517141315135
tom123513      131
Liane Robinson1514     142
Timothy Luffingham 14     141
Robin Walters 1718 161724165
Kenneth Wilshire18201621   164
Sam Boden 161719   163
Abigial See17      171
Daniel Hunt      17171
Alison Scott   18   181
Chris Harrison    18  181
blueingreen19      191
quixote 19     191
crayzeejim     19 191
Andrew Brown20 21    202
Neil Rickards     2022202
Laurence May 20     201
United Kingdom  20    201
David Cook   20   201
Jonathan Wilson    20  201
Hector Hirst     20 201
Matthew White      20201
Ken Ferguson     2421212
Eilidh McKemmie 22     221
Gary Male  22    221
Tomaz Cedilnik     22 221
Fuchsia A     22 221
River Edis-Smith  23    231
Daniel Cohen   23   231
David Collison      23231
Abdul Hadi Khan   24   241
shirehorse1   25   251
Mark Greenhalgh     25 251
Amber Pease      25251
remy      26261
Chris Green      27271
Joanna Drury      28281
EmmaHB      28281

The ordering is hopefully obvious: best position, ties split in favour of most appearances, ties split in favour of second (or subsequent) best position, ties split in favour of oldest better performance. Errors and omissions excepted and corrections are welcome; for cussedness, this chart declines to split places between players on equal scores on the “time left” tie-breaker. Many thanks to everyone who has been involved with setting the puzzles or organising the contest over the years, especially Liane Robinson and Alan O’Donnell, the most frequent contest compiler and administrator. I’m looking forward to finding out who the UK team will be, with invitations going out to top performers both in the in-person UK Open Championship earlier in the year and in the online UK Puzzle Championship just now.

The UK Championship may be over, but the Puzzle Grand Prix rolls on; the sixth round takes place on the weekend of 14th-17th July!

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!

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.

My thoughts on the 2016 UK Puzzle Championship

UK Puzzle Association logoFor this final post in the short season of posts about the UK Puzzle Championship, everything I say below should be taken as being less important than a hearty vote of thanks to everyone at the UKPA for putting the championship together year after year, from the puzzle authors to the test compilers to the system administrators.

It’s easy to criticise a puzzle contest when you feel that you did worse than you deserve because puzzle styles at which you are particularly strong are, in your view, underrepresented. I’m going to do something different; I’m going to criticise this year’s UK Puzzle Championship for overrepresenting puzzle styles at which I was relatively strong.

This time, I did relatively well by being able to apply variants on one technique to several different puzzles. There were a lot of puzzles which essentially relied on adding together a subset of integers 1+2+3+…+n, for some value of n, to meet a given total. (Or, nearly equivalently, adding all those numbers together and deducing what must be missing to reach a given total.) The same technique was required for Bank Note, Last Digit, Sum Skyscapers, Kakuro (more or less) and Sumpix. Some years some puzzle styles are heavily represented; other years, other puzzle styles get lucky.

I don’t think it’s possible for there to be a reference distribution of puzzle styles (which might look like “one of these, one of those, one of the other…”) against which a UK Puzzle Championship would be measured. It’s one of the joys of the world of puzzle competitions that the constituency of possible puzzles from which source material can be drawn is so wide.

The closest to a taxonomy of (even only culture-free, language-neutral) puzzles that springs to mind is a classification put together by Dr. Tom Synder’s The Art Of Puzzles: “number placement puzzles (such as Sudoku and TomTom), object placement (such as Battleships and Star Battle), region division (such as Fillomino and Cave), shading (such as Nurikabe and Tapa), path/loop (such as Slitherlink and Masyu)“. That page gives plenty of other examples of puzzle styles that fall into each of those broad categories. It’s also key to note that even that page notes the number of other puzzle styles that don’t meet that categorisation. Alternatively, look at Mike Selinker and Tom Synder’s amazing Puzzlecraft on puzzle construction, which considers the wider world of puzzles at large; by a certain definition of the purpose of the UK Puzzle Championship, it would be reasonable for the UK Puzzle Championship to focus upon the culture-free language-neutral puzzles that are the World Championship’s focus.

It’s an open question what the UK Puzzle Championship is for. I can think of at least three motivations: to declare a UK champion, to select (part of) a UK team for the World Puzzle Championship and to raise awareness of organised logic puzzle competitions. Of those three, the selection seems to be the most important in practice; there is seldom much mention after the fact of competition winners as being national champions. (I can think of a few exceptions, all of which so far have been done in good taste, but it’s not the most prominent accolade in practice.)

I take a stronger view than most that the UK Puzzle Association should be using the potential to take part in the World Puzzle Championship as a very strong attraction and should be promoting that at every opportunity. Furthermore, I take the (somewhat radical) view that team selection should be through as many different routes as possible, so that more events can be promoted as qualification opportunities as excuses to get the word spread far and wide. I would promote this ahead of the apparent patriotism of making the UK Championship (and the in-person UK Open Championship) as important as possible. Further still, I would go further than most (though not all the way!) towards prioritising using the UK Championship as an awareness-raising tool over using it to be discriminatory at the elite end to crown a champion.

ukpc 2

Click on the image for a bigger version of the graph

There have been six UK Puzzle Championships to date; the above graph compares anonymised solvers’ performances on them. The dark blue line represents performances in 2011, the orange line in 2012, the yellow line in 2013, the green line in 2014, the brown line in 2015 and the light blue line in 2016. The horizontal axis represents the position of the solver relative to the cohort (the best performing finisher far left, the worst performing finisher who scored at least one point on the right, the median solver midway and so on) and the vertical axis represents the score of the solver, expressed as a percentage of the nominal perfect score assuming no bonus. Accordingly, an all-correct solution with a time bonus earns more than 100%.

It’s clear that the 2016 competition was relatively difficult, or at least that the quantity of material on the paper was rather higher than in the two previous years. The raw number of points possible were rather higher this year than in previous years; it’s not clear that a, say, 15-point puzzle this year directly correlates to a 15-point puzzle in previous years. The spread of point distributions between relatively low-valued and relatively high-valued puzzles varies considerably from year to year, too.

On the chart above, the data points from 2011 to 2015 have each been marked with a + or a X. Data points marked with + symbols refer to solvers who have participated in the contest in later years. Data points marked with X symbols refer to solvers in their last year of participation. Obviously the participants from 2016 have not been marked either way as it is not clear whether they will participate from 2017 onwards or not. Two conclusions I have drawn:

1) Every year from 2011-2015, there has been at least one top-six solver who hasn’t participated in future years. While you can’t make people participate if the date and time don’t suit, or if their interest in UKPC puzzles has waned, the potential UK team at the WPC would surely benefit strongly from their participation in the UKPC – and I would recommend proactively reaching out to them individually.

2) If you finish in the bottom 20%, you are no more likely (and, in three of five years, strictly less likely) to participate than not to participate in future years. Speaking as a self-certified, long-established “crap ‘un”, there have been years where I’ve been practically (and at least one year where I’ve been literally) the only bottom-feeder to come back and participate in future years. Now perhaps this would have less of an impact on the potential UK team at the WPC, but it doesn’t strike me as an indicator of robust health from metaphorical nose to tail.

The logic puzzle competition hobby in the UK has an unusually skewed distribution of skill levels. We are fortunate enough to have very strong solvers at the top end. The standard of the best solvers, around the world, is improving over time. (Conversely, the highest end of championship play requires increasingly difficult puzzles over time.) The dear Croco-Puzzle site once did an experiment by posing the same, otherwise unremarkable, series of daily puzzles a couple of years apart, and noted an improvement in performances over time.

The standard of the UK’s best solvers varies from year to year, but we certainly have very strong solvers at the top end. I tend to believe that a championship with the same cohort of top solvers at the top end, similar mid-tables and a rotation in the lower order, who try a championship and largely decide that it’s not for them rather than sticking with it and (hopefully!) improving over time, does not represent strong health. There are other mind sports which spring to mind, where there are competitions with the same, very few, extremely strong participants again and again, and no real infrastructure for the less accomplished to play and improve.

I do tend to believe that strong participants are made rather than born, simply by the degree of practice that the best solvers put in. On the other hand, they tend to be found rather than produced; perhaps my biggest hope is that some more people with the UKPC sort of smarts and a strong sense of competition find the championship. I’d really like to try to tap into the well-established mathematics competition infrastructure that keeps the best solvers engaged before university… but relies on university to give them chances to compete after that. Where do past International Mathematics Olympiad students go for their competition fix? In theory it could be the (seemingly similar) International Mathematics Competition for University Students, which happens to be in progress in Bulgaria this week, but in practice it doesn’t seem to be that way for UK universities. Certainly there have been some past IMO participants who’ve translated to the WPC very well; I’d love to try to grab other UK IMO team members to try out for the UKPC, if that were their sort of fun.

That said, the logic puzzle competition hobby is so much better off than it once was; originally, the season was just a single qualifying competition long – and up to 2010, the UK used the unforgiving US Puzzle Championship as that qualifier. The addition of the WPF’s Puzzle Grand Prix represents a considerable improvement, with relatively accessible puzzles included in every contest and a less-daunting 90-minute duration. The addition of the “casual” division to the WPF Puzzle Grand Prix papers represents a second considerable improvement to accessibility, even if it’s an experiment which might not quite have turned out in the way that was intended.

I’ll emphasise again that I offer profound gratitude to everyone at the UKPA for putting the championship together year after year; at the end of the day, it’s for the UKPA to decide their priorities and for them to devise a championship to do what they want to do. I’m not a UKPA member, not least because I know my opinion on this matter is an outlier, and I think it works well for them to do their thing and for me to do my thing separately.

There are, after all, many, many little separate puzzle hobbies – and, by and large, they’re all happy keeping themselves to themselves and doing their own little thing. (Which is not the way I would like it to be, but there is much in life that fits that description.) And yet if there’s one situation where one little self-contained puzzle hobby could do with making itself known to other little puzzle hobbies and trying to tap smart people who throw time and effort into puzzle hobbies, it’s for the purpose of trying to get a strong UK puzzle team together. At heart, this is a big part of the reason why I want to try to bring the little puzzle hobbies together, to try to get more brilliant people trying out for the UK team.

Dr. Gareth Moore puts it really well. Excerpting what he has to say: “The barrier to entry is certainly high, since you need to be familiar with so many different types in order to compete at a certain level. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that – but if the aim is to get new people involved, I would certainly say it’s important to always have a significant number of puzzles that are approachable to anyone. Similarly, it’s important to include puzzles that ‘everyone’ will be familiar with, so the kind of puzzles you might find in a newspaper.

To me, a big part of the aim should be to get new people involved, and that should include a strong representation of familiar puzzle styles, including “casual” puzzles (as opposed to grid-based Constraint-Satisfaction puzzles) such as picture puzzles, wordsearch-style puzzles, numerical puzzles, crossword-style puzzles and insight puzzles, at a genuinely accessible level of difficulty. This year’s UKPC did fit that bill to a limited extent and the UKPC – while I’ve seldom (if ever?) enjoyed it more than I did this year – certainly has done better in this regard in previous years. I’d like to see future UKPCs make that a higher degree of focus, while still remaining the ability to discriminate between the most capable and experienced solvers at the top end of the competition.

And I’d also like the moon on a stick while we’re at it, please…

UK Puzzle Championship 2016: the stats

Latest UK Puzzle Association logoThe second post in the short “UK Puzzle Championship” season is the annual statistics post. The UKPC results have been published and this site congratulates everyone who is happy with their result.

The biggest congratulations of all go to Neil Zussman on his second UK championship after winning three years ago. James McGowan was a strong second place and Tom Collyer picked up a third successive bronze, though finished closer to second than ever before. Globally, these performances (and that of fourth-placed Steve Barge) were very competitive and took some impressive scalps. The number of UK participants on the scoreboard bounced back up to a joint record 25, with seven first-timers this year – and only five solvers on the scoreboard for all six of the UKPCs to date.

As ever, this site continues to update a year-on-year chart of UKPC performances, in the style of Tim Peeters’ charts:

 201120122013 201420152016BestTimes
James McGowan11211216
Neil Zussman 2122115
David McNeill23    22
Tom Collyer86433336
Steve Barge3 35 434
Michael Collins946971046
Emma McCaughan6108114846
Thomas Powell 12574745
Adam Dewbery 13 4  42
Ronald4     41
Roderick Grafton12510109 55
Adam Bissett  136 553
Paul Redman5     51
Nick Gardner 106   62
Heather Golding   12 662
Saul Glasman    6 61
Nick Deller107 15111375
Eva Myers147 16121175
Mark Goodliffe7 1313151275
AJ Moore  9719974
Ben Neumann    81682
Chris M. Dickson101819221718106
Paul Slater   131015103
Gareth Moore16 11 13 113
Chris Nash  11   111
Anthea McMillan  15171413134
tom123513     131
Liane Robinson1514    142
Timothy Luffingham 14    141
Robin Walters 1718 1617164
Kenneth Wilshire18201621  164
Sam Boden 161719  163
Abigial See17     171
Alison Scott   18  181
Chris Harrison    18 181
blueingreen19     191
quixote 19    191
crayzeejim     19191
Andrew Brown20 21   202
Laurence May 20    201
United Kingdom  20   201
David Cook   20  201
Jonathan Wilson    20 201
Hector Hirst     20201
Neil Rickards     20201
Eilidh McKemmie 22    221
Gary Male  22   221
Tomaz Cedilnik     22221
Fuchsia A     22221
River Edis-Smith  23   231
Daniel Cohen   23  231
Abdul Hadi Khan   24  241
Ken Ferguson     24241
shirehorse1   25  251
Mark Greenhalgh     25251

Errors and omissions excepted and corrections are welcome; note that this site declines to split places between players on equal scores on the “time left” tie-breaker. Many thanks to everyone who has been involved with setting the puzzles or organising the contest over the years, especially Liane Robinson and Alan O’Donnell, the most frequent contest compiler and administrator.

Just two more weeks until the eighth and final round of the World Puzzle Federation’s Puzzle Grand Prix!

How to break in to the 2016 UK Puzzle Championship

Latest UK Puzzle Association logoA short “2016 UK Puzzle Championship” season begins with a piece about how to get started with the puzzles in the competition. The piece needs context, however; participants have frequently commented that there weren’t many easy puzzles in the contest, yet participants’ scores tended to skew relatively high, compared to previous years’ contests. It’s also worth pointing out that I tend to come near the bottom of the rankings table, typically beating about 20% or so of the other competitors. Accordingly, take what I say with a considerable pinch of salt – but, on the other hand, there aren’t many people talking about the puzzles. Considerable credit goes to James McGowan for posting links to practice puzzles in advance.

You are strongly recommended to download the puzzles, open them using the password 20_S3n3c_16 and look at them in parallel with this commentary. First and foremost, thanks to the puzzle authors for their contributions and to Liane, Alan and David for putting the contest together and making sure that it happened at all. I thoroughly enjoyed the event.

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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!

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.

Puzzle competitions coming up soon

Selsdon Park HotelThere are exciting puzzle competitions coming up soon, both in person and online. The online contests take place this weekend, the in-person ones next weekend. The online contests are free to enter and you can do so at a time and place of your own choosing; the in-person contest has a specific time and location and fees must be charged to cover the cost of booking it.

The second round of the World Puzzle Federation‘s Puzzle Grand Prix series takes place this weekend. It’s a 90-minute contest, which you can start as soon as 10am on Friday 19th February but which you must complete by 10pm on Monday 22nd February, so you have half a week in which to pick your 90-minute window. (Those times are the ones quoted in theory, the ones in practice may be an hour later.) This set of puzzles has been devised by the Slovak team. As with the previous round, the puzzles have been divided into Casual and Competitive sections, with the Competitive section more traditional constraint-based grid puzzles and the Casual section slightly more freeform, though not necessarily easier. Log in to the GP series web site then download the instruction booklet to find out the types of puzzles in advance, then plan your attack.

If you prefer Sudoku, though, then Logic Masters India have a contest for you this weekend where the puzzles have been devised by Belfast’s David McNeill, the over-50 World Sudoku Champion – and over-50 World Sudoku Champion, too! David has been a mainstay of the UK puzzle scene for well over a decade and is a very experienced puzzle setter, so this promises to be a treat. This weekend’s contest is called Triplets and Triangles; it too is a 90-minute contest, available between Saturday 20th February and Monday 22nd February at times to be confirmed. The contest has 14 puzzles, starting with classic 9×9 sudoku, running through some variants themed as the title of the contest suggests, and ending up with some brand new puzzles that seem to combine two other variants into a single new challenge.

In person, the UK Puzzle Association are running the UK Open tournaments in sudoku and puzzles on 27th and 28th February at the Selsdon Park Hotel near Croydon, pictured above; increasingly this has become the home of puzzles in this country, most famously for being the site at which the UK held the World Championships in 2014. Again the instruction booklets have been posted; most notable is Bram de Laat’s second round, “Two to Five”, with sixteen different puzzles in four general styles: room placement puzzles, split wall puzzles, division/dissection puzzles and number puzzles. In each of those four styles, there’s a puzzle that relies on two-themed properties (pairs of cells, sets of two adjacent rooms, dominoes with two digits and so on…), a puzzle themed around threes, a puzzle themed around fours and a puzzle themed around fives. Delightful design! The event is always highly convivial so do take a look and see if it’s your sort of fun.