Before I get to day 3, I should note that the team results showed that even despite a mistake on the weakest link (which was my fault, and not related to the misgrade), our sizable lead going into those two team rounds stayed sizable. So the US team took first place this year. Yay!
As a bummer, I messed up the Pento Office in round 12, but I still managed to top the round by a sizable margin. You know it was a good run when you can drop the highest-valued puzzle like that and still stay ahead.
Since my sleep schedule here has been really shifted and I wake up when it’s still dark, I pushed my playoff preparation to the morning. I had a quick breakfast in the middle of that, and not too long after the 10 competitors gathered in the hall for the semifinals. Like 2011, we had 10 puzzles and 10 rows of desks, with a shrinking field where only the first 7 competitors to finish the 4th puzzle could keep going, only the first 5 competitors to finish the 7th puzzle could keep going, and everything was over after 3 competitors finished the 10th. The preliminary round performance gave time bonus, with 1st starting immediately, 10th starting 10 minutes behind, and everyone else linearly interpolated. I didn’t quite make my goal of forcing 2nd to start 5 minutes behind, but Ulrich (in 2nd) started a bit over 4:50 behind and everyone else was over 5 minutes, so close enough.
Although 2011 presented us an interesting set of puzzles for its row-elimination playoff set, the semifinals here turned out to be mostly quick, easy puzzles, over half of which took maybe a minute, so I’m not going to do a thorough rundown of each one. The notable moments were that I had a really bad time with the 2nd puzzle, a Nurikabe Scrabble, but I only lost about a couple minutes on the field from it. Other than that, I had passable performances on everything, so I rarely had anyone next to me or even in the row behind me. That means I don’t have much interesting to say, and I got a safe 1st place for this leg.
I did get a view of everyone after finishing. A few minutes after I finished, Thomas had beaten Ulrich to the final row, and turned it in a bit before. But he was unfortunately marked wrong, so Ulrich just managed to squeeze into second place. It reminded me of their race on the last puzzle in 2011; Thomas got to the row first, but still fell just a bit short. I also saw that William Blatt, a US teammate who was the 10th seed, had managed to pass row 4 without being eliminated, so congratulations to him for improving his ranking by at least 3.
That meant the finals were between Ulrich and I. These were like 2012: best of 5 on whiteboards on stage, with minimal erasing possible. Ugh. The format treated me well last year but I still don’t like it. There were some improvements: one was that we could use the second copy of a sheet if we needed a full erase. The type choice also changed a bit: in the pool of 10, we could choose one then knock out another, with the semifinal 1st place getting more picks. Ulrich and I made the type choices, I took a walk outside while the organizers were setting up, and then things got started.
Puzzle 1: Tapa
We were greeted with an animal-shaped grid (consistent with the Zodiac round) and only single 6 and 7 clues. I immediately jump on a break-in point, which I realized one minute and one contradiction later was not a break-in point and I was being a total idiot. Unfortunately we’re on white boards, so I have to change colors and hope I can ignore my earlier writing. I treat it as a bifurcation, flip it around… and shortly thereafter run into another contradiction. Now I’m out of colors and have lots of shaded squares on my board, so I started trying to write big dark dots. I don’t know what I did to get going a third time, but that broke too. At this point, the organizers reminded me I could get a clean form of the puzzle; I took the opportunity.
What I did from that point is hazy, but I started and shortly thereafter broke the puzzle about 4 more times, with shading in both colors, then dots both colors all having been in vain. Ulrich also called for his second sheet during this period, so apparently we were in the same boat. Finally I just do a random bifurcation in a corner, propagate it out, tweak where it broke, and somehow manage to come up with the right answer. I drew this one with black lines connecting cells, so I spent another minute and darkened/thickened them as much as I could (keep in mind: I had shaded black cells and black dots all over, along with a healthy dose of blue, some part of my final solution and some not) and turned in, not sure the grader would even try to understand what the hell I did. Somehow I did get marked correct.
Oops. 1-0, with a horribly ill-gotten point.
Puzzle 2: Kakuro
This one went decently. When I ran into a fairly ugly sum (19 with 4 numbers) that had lots of high numbered candidates which I didn’t want to analyze, I switched colors, gave it the lowest one, and kept going. Right as I was filling in the last cells, Ulrich called done; the audience was apparently thrilled by the close race. I turned in seconds later just in case, and Ulrich was marked right. My grader then pointed out to me I had written a 3 somewhere that I meant to have a 2, so… I wasn’t winning that one anyway.
Puzzle 3: Digital Numbers
This is a 3 by 3 grid of LEDs which need the numbers 1-9 once. Like in the WPMM price tag puzzles, some of the total number of blackened LED positions in each row and column are given. I had done some analysis of the total number of LEDs for the numbers 1-9 beforehand, and I had done well on digital puzzles earlier which is why I chose this type. When the puzzle began, I immediately applied that analysis to get a 0. Nice. Then it broke. Not nice. Bring in the second sheet.
I realized I had probably inverted the actual number in my head, so now I had a 3 clue instead. Nice. This went a little better, and after a bifurcation I eventually called finished. It was wrong (two 4s, no 3). Before I could even wait the minute out, Ulrich finished and was marked correct.
My grader, again, pointed out to me that the clue my analysis was filling in should have been a 2. Evidently I just flatly remembered the totals I had computed wrong, so I probably didn’t stand a chance on this one after all. Probably should have just redone the addition using the given bank after messing up the first time… but I could go on and on about “what if”s for this series of puzzles.
By the way, I swapped a 3 and 2 to miss the Gapped Kakuro in round 5, which was the mistake that probably lost me the most points of any of the ones in the preliminaries. I didn’t know I had a thing for swapping 2s and 3s…
Puzzle 4: Pentomino
The wackiest and hardest of the four puzzles we did. I caught on to some of the main insights quickly, but my logic was moving at a snail’s pace, and the grid size and whiteboard format made me extremely reluctant to guess. This might be the one time where the large whiteboard got to me, because Thomas told me afterward that the column clues were how to move forward on my grid, and indeed I hadn’t been paying attention to them at all. After getting a bunch of pieces and not seeing anything for a bit, I tried a guess, continued it almost to completion… and right as I realized it broke with no tweak in sight, Ulrich was marked correct.
Oops. 1-3, and second place.
So as you can see, the “Playoops” that Thomas titled his own playoff post with probably applies even more to my situation. I made not one but four of them and thereby blew an entire two days of great solving. Go me.
Everything I said before still holds; I will go home proud of my performance on the first two days and the semifinals. Also, apparently the finals this year were where the organizers stuffed the equivalent of 2011’s “Evergreens” style round, where they use familiar types in ridiculous ways. Hence puzzles 1 and 4. This seems to be an odd choice, given the whiteboards and the high pressure environment; having us sort through weirdness too is a bit of an overload. I would encourage this not to be done in the future, but that is not the excuse I will use for my performance. Neither is being nervous on stage, given my composure the past two years.
I think it was simply that the karma of not having ever had a bad individual round in the last 2.5 days finally caught up to me. The mistakes I made on stage are exactly the kinds of mistakes I often make on competitions; for example I know that at least one of my finals Tapa “deductions” is something I’ve done in competitions before. These were the braindead moments I just hadn’t been having in the previous rounds, despite the fact that I usually do. Moreover, having made them on a whiteboard where erasing is really hard (apparently possible, but I never even tried to) exacerbated their effect on my performance significantly. And of course, I turned in two finals puzzles that were wrong, whereas in the preliminaries and semifinals, my mistakes on individual rounds not including visual puzzles totalled 3 – Digital Honey (3), Gapped Kakuro (5), and Pento Office (12). (Let’s not talk about the weakest link round; sorry teammates!)
My biggest regret about this is for the audience. If someone blows away the preliminaries like I had, it probably would be nice to get a taste of how it was done on stage. I utterly failed to deliver, so regardless of the things said to me (all positive) after everything was over, I’m sure almost everyone left the room disappointed. I don’t know how Ulrich was doing on these; maybe watching him compensated for my idiocy, although certainly not on the Tapa where it seemed like we were both not at our best.
And that’s the end of this year. Congratulations to Ulrich for his 9th title. I’m still getting my thoughts straight about what I want out of next year, and since my big goal was accomplished that might take more than a day or two, so this will probably be my last post about this year’s competition. At the very least, I can’t foresee anything that would prevent me from showing up to the UK-hosted WPC next year, so you can expect me there.