WPC 2011 Update 1

motris and I wrote these day 1 recap posts at the same time while sitting across from each other at a table, but we did so separately and did not do anything to avoid saying the same things or whatever. You can see his post here. As a lot of it will be the same stuff as what I’m saying here, perhaps you can pick your favorite blogger and read theirs, unless you like the extra perspectives and want to see both.

Plane flight down to Hungary didn’t go so well. On the red-eye I must have fallen asleep in a funny way, which is not hard to do in an airplane seat, since I woke up with a splitting headache. Then I had the sudden realization that my connection to my last flight was a very short one, so then I had to sprint through the airport, and customs felt like it was taking forever. When I reached the gate, everyone else had already boarded, but I did make it on. However my luggage apparently did not and arrived later after I had to leave the airport to get to the competition site. I only got it back about a day and a half after I arrived in Hungary. Luckily, the second day for WPC-only people was a break day for sightseeing and excursions between the WSC and WPC, which gave me time to get rid of both the literal and figurative headaches.

I did get to catch the WSC playoffs and see Thomas Snyder deliver a fairly convincing victory shortly after arrival though. Good job to him. A lot of us were pretty sure it was coming, but it was exciting all the same.

That’s probably enough preamble. Here’s my rundown on the day 1 WPC rounds, 7 of them in all, with the last two team rounds.

Round 1 was “In memoriam”, with several puzzle types associated with some recently deceased authors and/or presidents in the Hungarian puzzle circle. This one went okay, although there was some dead time spent on a Russian Number. This is the only round which we have scores, and just as I am posting this it was also handed back. I dropped 30 points to a fiddly path puzzle (motris dropped the same amount to an arithmetic goof on a different puzzle), but my score was close enough to the second place round score, which satisfied me. No one came within 70 points of Ulrich who trashed the round.

Round 2 was “Assorted” and went very well. Several puzzles that I threw down the answer to in half a minute or less, most prominently the more difficult of the two Hex Loops. Also very few puzzles that got time spent on them without being finished. Of the few top-tier contestants I’ve spoken to, it seems I’ve finished around 50 points higher. This is before the mistakes creep in though; I confess my checking was lax this round.

Round 3 was “Cows”, a bunch of variations of Star Battle. Why the Hungarians needed to give this type a new, silly name is beyond me. I was a little scared of this round due to not knowing whether to attack most of these by logic or by bifurcation. Star Battle is frequently a guessing puzzle, but the variations might have more logic to them. Anyways, I went with a more logical approach and ended up not doing too well. motris evidently had a decent round (at least much better than mine) by doing a lot more guessing. Oh well.

After a break was Round 4, the most feared round: “Borderless”. Grids with classic types that use row/column based clues, except the grids are (usually) much larger than they need to be and you have to find the embedded grid that can be solved. All other row/column clues can be ignored. The US team spent a lot of time trying to prepare for this one. We tried to come up with strategies (eventually settling on “This round has a big element of luck; use your intuition and hope for the best”), made plenty of practice puzzles, etc. Most of our practice puzzles were 10 by 10 or thereabouts, around the size of the examples, and they were manageable solves that felt to be around the point values of the puzzles in the round. Overall I was breaking these practice puzzles, making bad guesses, and generally failing at them. Thus, not a round I was looking forward to.

Then we get to the round. Holy hell, what were the organizers thinking?! Typical grid sizes were 15 by 15 to 25 by 25. How can we make sense of these messes in 30 minutes? I tried to make my way through them as best I could and ended up coming up with lucky guesses on a large number of the puzzles. I ended up with only 3 left unsolved, none of them the really high-valued ones. When I start discussing with people after the test, it turns out this was a phenomenal performance, as everyone else found it just as hard as I did. Some good players evidently had no puzzles with half the time limit (15 minutes) used up, and they only got a couple out in the remaining time. I had a lot of time to do checking, so I think my score will stand, meaning this one might kick me up a couple hundred points in the rankings. Talk about lucky. That compensates for a relatively bad round 3.

Round 5 was the awaited classics round, where people like motris tend to strut their stuff the most. Except that all of us found out a minute into the round that really, there was no classics round. While all of the puzzles in this round were familiar types, all of them were very gimmicky and used the familiar rules in strange and amazing ways. motris described it as one of his favorite WPC rounds ever (Borderless being on the other end of that spectrum), although he and other top solvers also lamented the fact that there was basically no classics round this year. As for performance, I came out of the round feeling decent but not fantastic. Turns out I held level with the top players (not factoring in mistakes), with motris a little ahead of all of us.

That’s all the individual rounds. Beforehand I expected day 1 was going to be a little worse for me. But if I don’t drop too many points to errors (unfortunately this could happen), I think I’ll be hovering around the top of the rankings, mostly thanks to a lucky round 4. Now day 2 on the other hand plays to many of my strengths, and so I hope to jump up the rankings a little once that day is over and scored. So this sets me on track to place very well in the preliminary rounds. None of us know what types the playoffs will use, so I don’t know how advantaged I will be there, but crossing my fingers.

After a second break, the team rounds 6 and 7 began. The first was Board Games; 8 different puzzles using the pieces of some provided board games, with no writing utensils allowed. Our team organized a system beforehand where each of us picked our two favorite puzzles and started with them, then afterwards drifting around to others we thought we could help on. This turned out to work extremely well, and we all matched with types we were great at. motris and I finished both of our puzzles at about 12-15 minutes in, with Wei-Hwa and Will both done around one each (not sure exactly). Wei-Hwa gave motris a Tangram Battleships that I joined a little later. The way in which the two of us worked together to take it down had me feeling then that we were bound for a dominating performance (reminiscent of the feeling I got after some USPC solves), and in discussions with other teams afterwards this seems to have been one of the harder puzzles. By then I think Wei-Hwa and Will had wrapped up the last few, so after less than two minutes of checking we called finished with 12 of 40 minutes left on the clock. Germany’s B team declared at around 3 minutes left, and Germany A finished with only about 20 seconds (no time bonus). No other team finished. 360 points of time bonus over basically every other country. A great round for the US team.

The last round was Naval Puzzles. A massive grid that had Anglers, Snake, Clouds (which they insisted on calling Islands), and Lighthouses, with all kinds of rules about how the different elements interacted. It was also a “Reverse Weakest Link” round. The initial puzzle was uniquely solvable but also pretty much intractable in the time given by design, so one could send one member at a time to solve an individual puzzle in one of the four types for hints (no points).

We had a fairly elaborate approach sketched out for this one: notation, who does what, when to do individual puzzles, etc. I think most of our decisions were the correct ones, but some rough solves on individual puzzles may have hurt us a bit (the individual Lighthouses in particular were too large) and we ended up with about 80% of the whole puzzle done at the end of time. Japan as far as I know was the only team to finish, doing so very near the end. That’ll be worth a chunk of points for them, although I think our massive edge from the previous round will make up for that.

Alright, that’s enough for now. More to come probably at the end of tomorrow.

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