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.

Dates for your diary

weekly calendarThis site has got somewhat slack with updating its events calendar to the point where even linking to it in this article would feel wrong. Nevertheless, there are a few things worth looking ahead to already.

  • The first leg of this year’s WPF Puzzle Grand Prix is in progress already, starting about half a day ago. You have until Monday evening, UK time, to identify a clear block of 90 minutes and earn as many points as possible by solving pencil-and-paper puzzles set by a team from India in the first leg of a metaphorical race around the puzzling world. Some of you may know that the puzzles are always very fine and the contest is reliably great fun; this year’s competition has an added twist to make it more accessible and help more people find their level of fun. More about that very soon, hopefully while the first leg is still in progress.
     
  • The Coney troupe of interactive theatre makers are holding a Scratch and Salon session at the Camden People’s Theatre from midday on Sunday. The “Scratch and Salon is an open event making play on the line between public space and corporate space, and exploring the ideas around the commons“. At midday, “A map will be unfurled of scratch adventures and other playful experiences to be discovered in the neighbourhood of CPT. You’ll need a mobile phone with credit to send text messages in order to play. From 3pm – We’ll reconvene in the Theatre and host a salon – first curated with provocations from speakers segueing into an open space discussion – on what it means to make play in this space, and the politics of public space and the commons“. Not immediately puzzly, but very likely to be relevant somehow; their shows always inspire interesting thoughts.
     
  • February 27th and 28th see the UK Open Puzzle and Sudoku Tournaments taking place at the Selsdon Park Hotel in Croydon; since the World Championships were held here a couple of years ago, this has surely become the spiritual home of competition puzzles in this country. The company is always excellent and it’s as close to the World Championship experience as you’re going to get.
     
  • Closer to the usual core of this site, Can You Escape? of Edinburgh are hosting a Disabled Access Day on Saturday 12th March. “Join us on Disabled Access Day between 10.30 and 12.00 to take a look around Operation Odyssey our space themed mission, giving you a chance to check if the room is suitable and have a go at some puzzles (not the ones in the room – that would be cheating!) ((…)) People taking part in Disabled Access Day can also get 30% off bookings on the day or bookings made on the day.” Clearly Can You Escape? takes accessibility seriously; see the entry in the FAQ, but also the site’s inclusion in Euan’s Guide for disabled access reviews. While it’s far from the only site to do so, Exit Games UK is not aware of anything quite like this Disabled Access Day before and this would appear to be an instant example of best practice, well worth consideration by sites up and down the country. If you want to see whether the site is right for you, e-mail Can You Escape? first because only a limited number of spaces are available.
     
  • April is set to be busy, busy, busy, though in a very good way. From 1st to 3rd April, Now Play This returns to the New Wing of Somerset House in London. It’s not clear what will be on the line-up this year as the open call is in progress; “This year we’re particularly keen on things with interesting controllers, games which deal with utopias, play in a city context, and work which encourages player creativity – but games outside these themes are also welcome.” The event is part of the larger London Games Festival, “running from 1 to 10 April 2016, the festival includes 15 official events across 10 different locations” – perhaps something exit game-related might be appropriate for the Festival Fringe?
     
  • The Canadian Caper will be running on April 9th at the Arts & Letters Club in Toronto. “A one-day only escape experience for up to 15 teams of six ((though it’s not immediately clear whether it’s 15 teams per show or 15 teams total over the three shows.)) This is very much an escape game. There will be puzzles to solve. Solving puzzles will allow you to progress through the space into new rooms where you will find new challenges and new puzzles. Ultimately your goal is to physically escape the space. Unlike a traditional escape game though there will also be actors that teams will need to interact with to gain information.” The first episode in the series was put on by a number of bloggers and their very talented friends; us UK types can just dream and be jealous, for it sounds hugely cool and it is delightful that the first episode is not just a one-off.
     
  • We don’t have it so bad in the UK, though; Saturday 16th April sees the Springtime Hunt in Shrewsbury organised by the Armchair Treasure Hunt Club. “Everyone is welcome to come along and compete, whether you are a member of the club or whether you just enjoy competing in treasure hunts. Gather for the hunt at 10am for an 11am start, and it’ll probably be about tea time when the treasure is unearthed. The £25 entry fee includes lunch as well as the hunt and its prizes. Go to the club’s website for more details of how to book your place.
     
  • Never enough, never enough; Up The Game happens two days later. “On the 18th of April Amsterdam will host the first international Escape Room & Real Life Gaming Conference.” Their speaker list is extremely exciting with speakers from several countries. While the early bird tickets have sold out, you can still buy Advance tickets at €100 each, plus a small booking fee, plus the Dutch version of VAT, which by the way has the charming acronym of BTW.
     
  • Last year, this site proposed an industry meeting at the forthcoming live The Crystal Maze attraction; while all 32 tickets have been sold (and there are already names at the top of the waiting list) it’s going to take place on Tuesday 26th April. Maybe something else interesting might be happening around that time too, you never know
     
  • And that’s not even referring to DASH 8, set to take place in cities around the world on Saturday 30th April!

What other events is this site missing?

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!