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.

Quick results from the World Championship

World Puzzle ChampionshipThe 25th World Puzzle Championship has been taking place in Senec in the Slovak Republic this week. Considering how many participants there were, the organisers deserve a lot of credit for posting results either as .pdf files or on an automated system as frequently as they have.

The results of this year’s World Puzzle Championship is, to some extent, maybe not a complete reverse but at least something of a counterpart to last year’s. Last year, Germany’s Ulrich Voigt was a convincing leader in the main body of the competition but Japan’s Ken Endo won the play-off to take the championship; this year, Ken Endo scored most points in the main body of the competition – in fact, his dominance over the rest of the field may be one of the biggest that the competition has ever seen – but Ulrich Voigt ended up winner after the play-off. Congratulations to Ulrich on his eleventh championship! Palmer Mebane climbed from third to second in the play-off and Ken Endo finished third.

In the team contest, the Japanese team won the main body of the event by a very healthy margin – but, once again, the play-offs proved decisive and the team podium finished Germany – Japan – USA for the fourth time in five years. (Glad nobody did take me up on my offer of a small bet.) The UK A team finished eleventh, about which I think they have every right to be pleased; Neil Zussman was on red hot form and finished twelfth of the 104 official competitors. Congratulations!

There were play-offs for the Under-18 and Over-50 championships and it’s not immediately clear who won those, but I enjoyed seeing that the US team’s Walker Anderson was not only top ten overall and (presumed) number two under-18, but also best newcomer. I wasn’t aware of Walker previously, but the line of this 2½-year-old news story that’s available to the public implies that he can now only be somewhere between 15½ and 16½ years old, so not just barely under-18. Wow. Future world champion? Perhaps.

In other puzzle competition news, this Tweet suggests that Mark Goodliffe won the Times Crossword Championship today. This is Mark’s tenth title, tying him all-time with John Sykes whose titles came between 1972 and 1990. Congratulations there, too!

It’s World Championship time

World Puzzle ChampionshipThe 25th World Puzzle Championship, and its younger sibling the World Sudoku Championship, will take place next week in Senec in the Slovak Republic. You can find the details at the official web site. It’s a competition featuring rounds and rounds of culture-free, language-neutral (mostly logic) puzzles. The final version of the instruction booklet has been posted, so you can see examples of the sorts of puzzles that are going to be faced.

I’m not quite energetic enough to do as in-depth a preview as I have done in previous years, but here are some quick notes. The World Puzzle Championship this year will have 25 full national “A” teams, one up from last year; welcome to Austria and Belarus, farewell (hopefully briefly!) to Romania. There will also be participants – if not full teams – from Belgium, Canada and Luxembourg, the first two of which have had podium-placed full teams in the WPC’s early years. With the make-up of sundry “United Nations” teams, as well as nations’ “B” teams (and, unusually, five “C” teams and even a “D” team) there will be fifty teams in total. This is hugely impressive, though it’s to be noted that this means teams are split over a number of different hotels, which is a slightly different way of doing it than most years – though a very practical one. It’s a particular thrill for me to see that Berni and Silke of Croco-Puzzle are getting to play on the German “B” and “C” teams.

The UK team retains Neil Zussman and Tom Collyer from last year, though substitutes in Adam Bissett and Thomas Powell for James McGowan and David McNeill. (David can’t make it to defend his over-50 titles in both sudoku and puzzles; a pity, not least because it neatly blows up one of my predictions.) The UK team would be doing very well to finish in the top ten of national “A” teams this year.

For the last two years, this site has tipped Japan to win and they’ve finished second. The German “A” team is missing Florian Kirch, for the saddest of reasons, and Michael Ley (who finished eighth in the main rounds) is on the German “B” team once again. The Japan “A” team has last year’s champ Ken Endo and last year’s fifth-placed Kota Morinshi, but also has Taro Arimatsu and Hideaki Jo who finished 1st and 3rd in 2010. That’s too scary a line-up to ignore, and thus this site tips Japan once again, and would be prepared to back it up with a small bet at even money.

Looking ahead to 2016: predictions for the year

Peering into a Crystal Ball

This site has ran predictions features over the second half of 2014 and over the whole of 2015, assessing the accuracy of the predictions each time so that the world can have a giggle at just how wrong the guesses were in the first place. Let’s have another go for 2016, more because it’s fun than for any other reason. (Compare to the 2016 predictions for London by The Logic Escapes Me.)

That said, predictions are only so-o-o-o interesting. It’s more fun to think about plausible edge cases; it’s more fun to predict a long shot than something more obvious, but who’s to say what’s obvious and what isn’t? This list of predictions will also attempt to minimise the extent to which it covers previously-trod ground, as “this was an entertaining long-shot that didn’t happen last year and remains an entertaining long-shot this year” isn’t particularly exciting. A couple of other starting-points for predictions: this site will steer clear of predicting things it believes to be foregone conclusions already, and this site will attempt to make the most ambitious predictions that it feels confident making; this site would set over-under lines for the numerical predictions only a little above the figures quoted.

This site considers each of the following to be at least slightly more likely than not:

  • This site will become aware of more than 51 exit game openings in the UK and Ireland in 2016. (Not part of the prediction, but this site suspects that at least 40% of the openings will come from brands and people already in the business in 2015, with a decreasing number of people starting from scratch. Deliberately short-lived pop-up games are not included in the count.)
  • This site will become aware of more than 13 exit game closures in the UK and Ireland. Not every closure is a catastrophe: some businesses have decided to deliberately run a game with a finite duration, possibly with later sequels in mind.
  • At least one brand will have at least nine locations open in the UK and Ireland in 2016. (This is perhaps the most marginal of predictions, but eight seems just a little too safe to predict.)
  • Crowdfunding will get harder; no reasonably traditional exit game based in the UK or Ireland will attract more than £5,000 in funding in 2016 unless the people behind it have an established track record in this or another closely related industry.
  • Many of the biggest gaps in the market will close. At least one exit game will open in 2016 within eight miles of the main train station in at least four of the seven following locations: Reading, Portsmouth, Milton Keynes, Hull, Middlesbrough, Coventry and Peterborough. (This site has heard people talk about possible sites in two of these, but that’s far from a done deal. Other possible cities have been rejected from the list for being too safe a prediction.)
  • The exit game industry will continue to grow sufficiently quickly that this site’s estimate for the number of unique players in the UK or Ireland by the end of December 2015 reaches or exceeds 750,000.
  • There will be a meeting in the UK or Ireland in 2016 with exit games as its focus which attracts more than 50 attendees.
  • This site will become aware of someone that it does not already know at the time of making this prediction running an exit game for friends and family on an amateur basis within the UK and Ireland in 2016 using something more elaborate than, say, a Breakout EDU kit or similar.
  • London and at least two other UK towns will each hold at least four Puzzled Pint events in 2016. (This site has six possibilities in mind.)
  • There will be a UK DASH event and it will sell at least 25 team spaces – or sell out completely if the organisers choose a lower capacity – within 12 days.
  • There will be at least 18 locations in at least three countries around the world at this year’s DASH.
  • Ulrich Voigt will win the World Puzzle Championship this year for his eleventh victory in seventeen years.
  • David McNeill of Northern Ireland will defend his over-50s title in at least one of the World Sudoku Championship and the World Puzzle Championship; hopefully both!
  • This site will finally predict the WPC winning team after picking second place for the last two years.
  • This site loves stories of marriage proposals taking place at exit games and there have been at least ten customer proposals on record. A more interesting prediction is that by the end of 2016, this site will become aware of at least one proposal between a couple who got to know each other by both working at the same exit game.

This site considers each of the following to be less likely than not – maybe something like 30% likely each? – but nevertheless these are interesting possibilities.

  • Some company may bring larger-scale live escape events to the UK, with relatively many teams playing the same game at once. (This is inspired by SCRAP’s Real Escape Game events playing in France and Spain as well as other continents, and is surely slightly more likely than last year.)
  • An exit game brand in the UK and Ireland may take over at least one other existing game, or maybe even another exit game brand altogether.
  • There may be a single-day puzzle hunt in the UK and Ireland that is not the continuation of a series run in previous years and that attracts at least a hundred players.
  • There may be some interactive transmedia storytelling (or an Alternate Reality Game, as people called them a decade and a bit ago) to promote a new exit game or a new room at an exit game.
  • This site may become aware of an Irish exit game community; the rooms do exist, as well as the Boda Borg centre at Lough Key and doubtless other things far too cool to exist in the UK yet, so it would be a delight for someone to start a blog with an Irish focus and maybe even get meetings going as is starting to happen in the UK.

This site considers each of the following to be much less likely than not – maybe something like 15% likely each? – but nevertheless these are entertaining outside possibilities.

  • There might be a TV puzzle show made in the UK or Ireland to match up with the best puzzle shows that we’ve had in the past; if someone were to commission a local version of The Genius and it were to live up to its potential, that would count, or if someone were to make a really good exit game TV show, that would count too.
  • There might be a puzzle competition (as opposed to an armchair treasure hunt or puzzle hunt) launched in the UK or Ireland which is designed to be played in teams – maybe even an inter-town league or an inter-university championship. This site really misses the Croco-League.
  • Someone might start an overtly humorous blog about the genre in the UK and Ireland: two-thirds serious content, one-third shtick.
  • Someone might start an attraction just north of Heathrow called The Crystal Hayes or in South Essex called The Crystal Grays

Reviewing this site’s predictions for 2015

Crystal ballAt the start of 2015, this site made a number of predictions as to what might happen over the course of of the year. The accountability department declares it time to go back, review those predictions and have a good laugh. Expect counterpart predictions for 2016 early in the new year.

There is a 5% chance that an exit game business sufficiently motivates and enthuses its staff to vote it into the top twenty of the next Sunday Times “Best Small Company to Work For” list.

No. Apparently this was never likely to happen in the first place as companies have to be at least three years old even to be eligible for nomination. Companies have won local business awards, though.

There is a 10% chance that the newspapers will find a new style of puzzle that attracts half as much public attention as sudoku. There is a 80% chance that the newspapers will claim they have done, but only a 10% chance that it will actually stick in close to the way that sudoku has.

Not the 10% chance, at least. A quick search for "the new sudoku" points to Hidato in The Guardian, which hasn’t caught on.

There is a 15% chance that the world will gain a second global monthly puzzle event. There’s a definite reason for one to exist: the wonderful Puzzled Pint is for the benefit of the community, which (generally) goes to visit a different venue each month in each city. Suppose there were a second event run for the benefit of the venues; individual bars (etc.) could adopt the event, pledging to host a puzzle night in their location each month. There are places that would find that a compelling attraction!

Not to this site’s knowledge. The closest is Puzzle Night, which has yet to spread beyond Minneapolis – St. Paul in the US.

There is a 20% chance that some company brings larger-scale live escape events to the UK, with relatively many teams playing the same game at once. (For those who get the distinction, think Real Escape Game as opposed to Real Escape Room.)

Couldn’t really say so in the way this was intended. Corporate entertainment companies have games which come close to fitting the bill, but they’re not (to this site’s knowledge) selling team tickets to teams of all-comers. Compare to this Irish event or this Dutch event. On the other hand, exactly those sorts of events are happening in France and in Spain, so it’s definitely possible that they’ll come to the UK at some point.

There is a 25% chance that the 25th anniversary of The Crystal Maze, which will happen on 15th February this year, will see a reawakening of interest and the show will catch the public mood once more.

Yes; yes, with bells on! £927,252 worth of yes!

There is a 30% chance that one of the big players in the leisure industry starts a chain of exit games within its own facilities, or teams up with an existing exit game business which wants to expand rapidly by opening in a number of facilities. For instance, if you’re going to go to either of the branches of the real-snow indoor ski slope Xscape, you know you’re prepared to spend money, and the chance to play “Escape at Xscape” would surely be irresistible…

Not yet proven. The escape room at Namco Funscape would count (though is, perhaps, one-fifth the size of what this site had intended) but this site has not yet seen evidence that it’s available at more centres than the London County Hall centre. If it is available more widely among the chain, then it counts.

There is a 35% chance that the UK team produces its best performance in the next World Puzzle Championship, beating its previous best of sixth from the twenty national “A” teams in Beijing in 2013.

Not quite. As recently discussed, the team were so-o-o-o close to matching their previous sixth place finish, but seventh it will have to be.

There is a 40% chance that another UK city develops a puzzle community like that of London, with at least one regular monthly event and at least one larger annual event – maybe as simply as hosting its own Puzzled Pint and DASH events, maybe something of its own. All it takes is someone willing to be the first onto the dancefloor.

A very honourable mention to the wonderful Exit Games Scotland and their exit game binges, which is something that even the community in London does not have. It would be very prescriptive (to put it far more kindly than it would deserve) to suggest that the community in London is, in any sense, the only way to have a community.

There is a 45% chance that the UK mass media will catch on to just how cool exit games are. Maybe the “The One Show” team will go and play, or someone will take the idea to Dragon’s Den, or The Apprentice might consider them to be sufficiently zeitgeist-y to take an interest. At the top end, this site might dream of a revival of The Adventure Game, which effectively featured (among other things) room escape games a good thirty years ahead of the time.

Only to a very technical extent, what with the UK version of the Discovery channel signing up to show repeats of the US Race to Escape show, and not actually starting to air them until 2016.

There is a 55% chance that at least one exit game will earn the Living Wage Employer mark. Perhaps there is at least one out there which pays the stipulated wage already. This site doesn’t believe that every exit game can afford to pay the stipulated level; indeed, many owners, especially of very new games, will be some way from covering costs, and consistent wage rises might force them out of business outright. However, perhaps there’s a business out there who would take pride from going down this route.

Not as far as this site is aware.

There is a 60% chance that the next World Puzzle Championship will be won by Ulrich Voigt of Germany, which would be his eleventh overall and the first time anyone has ever won four in a row.

While Ulrich was the very clear leader going into the play-off, he was only second place coming out of it, so that prediction pays out on “no”.

There is a 65% chance that the exit game industry continues to grow sufficiently quickly that this site’s estimate for the number of unique players in the UK or Ireland by the end of December 2015 reaches or exceeds half a million… and this site will not attempt to fix the figures just for the sake of proving this relatively weakly-held prediction correct.

You’ll see soon. (SPOILER! Nearly, but not quite.)

There is a 70% chance that at least one exit game will start to advertise itself using a formal endorsement from a reasonably well-known, mainstream national or international celebrity.

Not yet. The Escape Room of Manchester have posted several photos of Manchester United’s Daley Blind playing there, but that stops short of a formal endorsement.

There is a 75% chance that the Puzzled Pint community of London will continue to grow, flourish, with teams getting to know each other ever more closely and look forward to meeting each other at the other puzzle events that exist through the course of the year.

Puzzled Pint in London was getting about 50-60 attendees late in 2014. It has grown so large that it has had to split into two locations and now attracts 90-110 attendees most months. That’s a definite yes.

There is a 80% chance that eleven or twelve of the calendar months of the year will see at least one new site open for business in the UK or Ireland.

Very much so, and any fault here in the prediction was one of a lack of ambition.

There is a 85% chance that there will be a UK-based exit game review blog set up this year, to which this site will very happily link. There are many different sites out there who want the publicity from the reviews that they might get; be any good (goodness knows, this site doesn’t set the bar high) and proprietors will be climbing over themselves to invite you to play!

Yes, hooray! QMSM, Escape Game Addicts and The Logic Escapes Me fill this site with joy every time they post. Still room for plenty more, though!

There is a 90% chance that the London leg of DASH 7 will expand from 8 teams in 2013 and 21 teams in 2014 to at least 25 teams for 2015. The London capacity for 2013 and 2014 was 25 teams, so it’s quite possible that London DASH might well sell out.

The London leg of DASH did indeed sell tickets to 25 teams within the space of about two weeks, so this prediction counts as fulfilled (in an airline sense) even if only 23 teams did turn up on the day.

There is a 95% chance that at least two existing exit games covered by this site will officially call it a day.

Sadly so, ending on a downbeat note, but the strength in depth of the market as a whole is something that causes this site great delight.

Wrapping up the 2015 World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for the 2015 World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the teams

UK teams at the 2011 World Sudoku and Puzzle Championships

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

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

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

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

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

The Puzzle team is as follows:

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

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

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

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

The very best of British luck to both teams!

Looking ahead to 2015: predictions for the year

Crystal ballThis site ran a predictions feature over the second half of 2014 then assessed the accuracy of its predictions. More strictly, the piece was a series of probability estimates, which is not quite the same thing. This year, to make things more explicit, this site will split its estimates into challenges, which represent interesting predictions that have an outside chance of happening but this site considers to be less likely than not to happen in 2015, and actual predictions, which this site considers to be more likely than not to happen in 2015.

CHALLENGES

There is a 5% chance that an exit game business sufficiently motivates and enthuses its staff to vote it into the top twenty of the next Sunday Times “Best Small Company to Work For” list.

There is a 10% chance that the newspapers will find a new style of puzzle that attracts half as much public attention as sudoku. There is a 80% chance that the newspapers will claim they have done, but only a 10% chance that it will actually stick in close to the way that sudoku has.

There is a 15% chance that the world will gain a second global monthly puzzle event. There’s a definite reason for one to exist: the wonderful Puzzled Pint is for the benefit of the community, which (generally) goes to visit a different venue each month in each city. Suppose there were a second event run for the benefit of the venues; individual bars (etc.) could adopt the event, pledging to host a puzzle night in their location each month. There are places that would find that a compelling attraction!

There is a 20% chance that some company brings larger-scale live escape events to the UK, with relatively many teams playing the same game at once. (For those who get the distinction, think Real Escape Game as opposed to Real Escape Room.)

There is a 25% chance that the 25th anniversary of The Crystal Maze, which will happen on 15th February this year, will see a reawakening of interest and the show will catch the public mood once more.

There is a 30% chance that one of the big players in the leisure industry starts a chain of exit games within its own facilities, or teams up with an existing exit game business which wants to expand rapidly by opening in a number of facilities. For instance, if you’re going to go to either of the branches of the real-snow indoor ski slope Xscape, you know you’re prepared to spend money, and the chance to play “Escape at Xscape” would surely be irresistible…

There is a 35% chance that the UK team produces its best performance in the next World Puzzle Championship, beating its previous best of sixth from the twenty national “A” teams in Beijing in 2013.

There is a 40% chance that another UK city develops a puzzle community like that of London, with at least one regular monthly event and at least one larger annual event – maybe as simply as hosting its own Puzzled Pint and DASH events, maybe something of its own. All it takes is someone willing to be the first onto the dancefloor.

There is a 45% chance that the UK mass media will catch on to just how cool exit games are. Maybe the “The One Show” team will go and play, or someone will take the idea to Dragon’s Den, or The Apprentice might consider them to be sufficiently zeitgeist-y to take an interest. At the top end, this site might dream of a revival of The Adventure Game, which effectively featured (among other things) room escape games a good thirty years ahead of the time.

PREDICTIONS

There is a 55% chance that at least one exit game will earn the Living Wage Employer mark. Perhaps there is at least one out there which pays the stipulated wage already. This site doesn’t believe that every exit game can afford to pay the stipulated level; indeed, many owners, especially of very new games, will be some way from covering costs, and consistent wage rises might force them out of business outright. However, perhaps there’s a business out there who would take pride from going down this route.

There is a 60% chance that the next World Puzzle Championship will be won by Ulrich Voigt of Germany, which would be his eleventh overall and the first time anyone has ever won four in a row.

There is a 65% chance that the exit game industry continues to grow sufficiently quickly that this site’s estimate for the number of unique players in the UK or Ireland by the end of December 2015 reaches or exceeds half a million… and this site will not attempt to fix the figures just for the sake of proving this relatively weakly-held prediction correct.

There is a 70% chance that at least one exit game will start to advertise itself using a formal endorsement from a reasonably well-known, mainstream national or international celebrity.

There is a 75% chance that the Puzzled Pint community of London will continue to grow, flourish, with teams getting to know each other ever more closely and look forward to meeting each other at the other puzzle events that exist through the course of the year.

There is a 80% chance that eleven or twelve of the calendar months of the year will see at least one new site open for business in the UK or Ireland.

There is a 85% chance that there will be a UK-based exit game review blog set up this year, to which this site will very happily link. There are many different sites out there who want the publicity from the reviews that they might get; be any good (goodness knows, this site doesn’t set the bar high) and proprietors will be climbing over themselves to invite you to play!

There is a 90% chance that the London leg of DASH 7 will expand from 8 teams in 2013 and 21 teams in 2014 to at least 25 teams for 2015. The London capacity for 2013 and 2014 was 25 teams, so it’s quite possible that London DASH might well sell out.

There is a 95% chance that at least two existing exit games covered by this site will officially call it a day. These don’t have to be unhappy endings; for instance, Oxford Castle are listing their Jailbreak event as happening until the end of January only, then presumably they will put the game cleanly back in its box. Fingers crossed that they choose to get it back out again at some point.

Looking ahead to 2015: your puzzling New Year Resolution

Lord Kitchener suggests your country needs youAre you from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Malaysia, Singapore or Spain? Keep reading to the end…

Yesterday, this site discussed the way the puzzle season culminates with the world championships in sudoku and puzzles each year. The World Puzzle Championships have happened annually since 1992 and the World Sudoku Championships annually since 2006, in a variety of countries around the world. National teams of four compete; countries with fewer than four representatives often team up with each other to form “United Nations” teams. Some particularly productive countries send two teams in some years.

I was fortunate enough to be part of the UK’s team for the World Puzzle Championships in 2000 and 2001, and the non-playing captain of the UK team in 2004. (As non-playing captain, I made up the numbers on another transnational “United Nations” team.) This was a real privilege and very probably the highlights of my puzzling career. At the time, I wrote up my 2000 experience (thank you, Wayback Machine, for providing permanent archives: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5) and my 2004 experience (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8 and part 9). In short, each of the three years, I had a tremendous time despite proving extremely far from world championship class and finishing very close to last.

Is trying out for the world championship right for you? If you’re interested enough to be reading this, almost certainly. The company is stunning, both within your country and from other countries around the world. The puzzles are as exciting and innovative as they get… though as challenging as you would hope world championship puzzles might be. The hospitality varies from year to year, but were three different sorts of great in my three years. Don’t just take my word for it, though; if the idea sounds good at all, go and look up other people’s write-ups of their WSC/WPC experiences. (For instance, Liisa of the Finnish team has written up her five visits, and this site’s WPC 2014 coverage has links to several 2014 commentaries as they were being produced.)

There’s a saying that “everybody likes solving puzzles, and nobody likes not solving puzzles”. If you qualify for the championships, unless you know you’re good, you can expect to spend the vast majority of the (probably) two days in competition not solving puzzles… or, at least, not successfully solving them. However, you’ll never not solve puzzles in better company, or not solve more interesting puzzles! (The Grand Prix series puzzles are an excellent way to practice.) No matter how badly you do, you get a great – and rare – story out of it at the very least; few people ever really get to represent their country at a meaningful world championship where 20+ national teams come to compete.

Unfortunately from an individual perspective, it’s rather harder to qualify to be on a World Puzzle Championship team these days than it was when I did it. Specifically, I qualified for the 2000 team by coming in the top four UK entrants in a qualifying test… when only six tried out. (Of course, I finished fourth.) The UK team is very much stronger than once it was, which is fortunate news from a national perspective, and why we finished sixth out of twenty in 2013, as opposed to much closer to the bottom in earlier years. Whether you stand a realistic chance of competing and representing your country depends at least as much on the strength of competition you face within your own country as anything else.

This year’s event will comprise the 24th World Puzzle Championships and the 10th World Sudoku Championships, and they have been announced as taking place between October 11th and October 18th at the Ramada hotel in Sofia, Bulgaria. The championships were previously held in Bulgaria in 2005, in the city of Borovets; you can find descriptions in the next year’s WPF newsletter.

How do I try to qualify for my country’s World Championship teams?

It depends which country you’d be representing. The World Puzzle Federation follows IOC guidelines about the recognition of countries, and eligibility depends upon citizenship rather than residency. I’m not aware of there having been kerfuffles over people with dual citizenship, or anyone ever changing citizenship for puzzle team representation yet. Here are four specific cases:

a) I would be representing the United Kingdom.

Keep watching the UK Puzzle Association web site for details of team selection. At a guess, selection for the UK teams for 2015 will follow established patterns from recent years, which apply similarly (though maybe not exactly equally?) for puzzle and sudoku teams:

1) The top UK solver at one WPC qualifies for the next WPC team.
2) The top UK solver at the in-person UK Open Championships qualifies for the next WPC team.
3) The top two UK solvers at the online UK Puzzle Championships qualify for the next WPC team.

Various rollover procedures exist for people who qualify for spots but are unable to take them up for whatever reason.

b) I would be representing the United States of America.

Keep watching the Team USA web site for details of team selection. At a guess, the selection procedures will follow established patterns from recent years:

1) The top (some number from 0 to 3) US solvers at one WPC qualify for the next WPC team.
2) The top (some number from 4 to 1) US solvers from the US Puzzle Championship and US Sudoku Team Qualifying Tests qualify for the next WPC team.

c) I would be representing a country that is a World Puzzle Federation member.

You can find out if your country is a World Puzzle Federation member or not by looking at the official membership list. Each country’s member is listed along with their contact details; get in touch with them and ask what your national qualification route is. Many countries run their own qualification tests; others use the results of other puzzling nations’ qualification tests.

d) I would be representing a country that is not a World Puzzle Federation member.

Again, look at the official WPF membership list and see which countries are missing – not least Australia, Ireland, Malaysia and Singapore, among 150+ others. Hint hint hint.

If you’re fortunate enough to come into this category, participation becomes much easier. You can register for personal membership of the World Puzzle Federation for €50 per year; this gives you the right to to participate in the WPC/WSC if your country is not already represented by a national team, no matter what your standard.

Of course, the barrier to entry is that you have to pay to participate in the championships, and you have to pay to get there. The minutes of the 2014 WPF general assembly suggest that the entry fee was planned to be €500 per player, though this might conceivably have changed a little with the move of the championships to Sofia. This covers not just the cost of entry into the championship, but also several nights’ high-quality accommodation, extensive meals and entertainment; you tend to get a lot for your money, even without taking the cost of the puzzles and their marking into account. There’s also the cost of getting to Bulgaria in the first place to consider.

All told, it might be compared to the price of a short package holiday to an upscale, though far from luxury, destination. You certainly get a lot for your money; it’s not as if people take payment for organising the events. It’s all done out of love!

This might be a very unusual chance of a lifetime for a one-off experience. Do you want to try to go to Bulgaria and feel the love for yourself?