Virtually everyone reading this probably already knows the “twist” of the last post, which was that I ended up winning the world championship. Furthermore, the likely chance of us having made no error on the last team round came true and we won over Germany by an extremely narrow margin. Finally, the US team members went from preliminary round positions 2nd, 3rd, 9th, 21st to final standings 1st, 3rd, 4th, 21st. The playoffs were very kind to us.
It seems the individual time breakdowns for the WPC playoffs never got posted, which is a bit of a bummer as it’s something I would have really liked to see. Besides a time comparison between Ulrich, Thomas and I on each puzzle, I also wanted to see the times for the 3rd puzzle Pointing at the Crowd, which multiple people (Thomas, Bram, Nikola) reported later as being a performance killer. As said in the last post, Ulrich and I also sunk plenty of time into it, but I feel it would have been hard to go too much faster. I was hoping to make this post after that went up, but I suppose not. Oh well, no huge loss.
In the absence of that, there is a number of things I would like to say about the results and my performance. Officially, I won the world championship by finishing the playoff puzzles first, and by a substantial margin at that. What I do not believe is that I was the best solver at the 2011 WPC this year. A lot of my reasons for believing this are things that have been elaborated on before, although major props to the Hungarians for having no snafus. To summarize what determined the results, Ulrich evidently had a mental block on puzzle 8, a type that is far more intuitive than logical, although I don’t know any specific details. He and I had the distinction of not having mucked up any other puzzle in the playoffs, meaning I was there to pass him and win and he managed to recover and hold on to 2nd even as Thomas was rapidly closing in.
So if the playoffs had been converted to an equivalent sequential preliminary round (logistically impossible to do with all solvers in the competition, but let’s play pretend), it’s a round I would have destroyed. And the sequential part (puzzles must be solved in order) is important. If Ulrich had the ability to start the Divide and Conquer, put it off, and come back to it later with fresh eyes, it might have been a different story. As noted in the linked-to post on playoffs, the playoff format has substantial ramifications. Is a sequential round the best decider of things? Perhaps the most dramatic way, but speaking as a competitor that’s not a satisfying reason.
My actual playoff win was by a margin that probably meant I would have won even if I had 7 or 8 minutes of ground to make up as opposed to 2.5 (can’t be certain since the times aren’t posted). That’s about a 900 point disadvantage there, more than any solver scored in any individual round. Was my playoff performance good? Yes. 300 points worth (my actual deficit to Ulrich) better than anyone else? I strongly doubt it. 900 points better than anyone else? Absolutely not. As a preliminary round equivalent I think I might put the performance at 150 better than Ulrich as a loose upper bound, and it’s probably closer to half that.
I would buy being considered the second best solver at the WPC. I had a secure second place finish in the preliminary rounds and a solid playoff run showing I would have lost no ground there if that were a regular round. But there are not too many metrics that would evaluate me as having been better than Ulrich, who among other things obliterated the rounds in the afternoon of day 2 with top scores on 11, 12, 14, and a near-top one on 13. My disadvantages in 11, 13, and 14 could be attributed to some goofs of various kinds; I could understand matching his score if I had better runs. Still, that says something about his scary consistency.
It’s round 12, the long 80 minute “Hungaricum”, that really convinces me that I have no business being called the best solver. The scores show that the top 5 totals on this round were 870, 820, 665, 630, 590. I was the 820, and even before the scores came out I felt really good about how I had done assuming no errors. It was a lot like how I felt after round 2, a similarly long “Assorted” round on day 1, where I indeed ended up with the top score by a decent margin. So when scores come out and I turn out to have the expected 820, I expect a kick up in the rankings. That came true… if you ignore Ulrich’s score of 870. 870! I was on fire that round, over 150 points ahead of any non-Ulrich solver. What on earth would I have had to do to squeeze out 50 more points? How is that even possible?
So congratulations Ulrich. Even if you messed up a Divide and Conquer on day 3, you were clearly the top solver at the 2011 WPC. I’ll take the title for what it’s worth, but there’s plenty of ground left to cover. Winning the preliminary rounds next year is one aim, but who knows how viable that is. The puzzle types this year did kind of swing my way in general, with almost no Sudoku, very few Kakuro/Killer-style adding puzzles (so much for all of that practice), nothing like Dominos or Kropki that makes me cringe, and a lot of more abstract novelty types that I’m better at. I could see myself having more trouble on a different composition of types as I am now. A good showing next year might take some work to clean up the weaknesses I have left. There’s no getting complacent from one win this year.
I suppose this is starting to sound like another request to do away with playoffs, but I really do not feel this way. I can sort of see some of the merit from the standpoint of those that aren’t mired in trying to survive them. I would consider this more of a plea for everyone to be able to see past the bottom line on the results and press. The official standings show that I got 2nd place after two hard days of individual rounds and then had a very good playoff run. Apparently that means I am called the world champion, but it should be clear I was not the best solver there. Part of my peace with the existence of playoffs is knowing that a lot of others do think this way as well.
As these are probably my last words on the contest, I will acknowledge one thing conspicuously absent from a lot of my comments is my evaluation of how the WPC was put on, something you find a lot of in Thomas’s posts for example. I attribute this to my lack of experience; I can say a few things here and there (not having any playoff screwups was a pleasant change from past years), but overall I’m still trying to figure out just what to reasonably expect from organizers in these competitions. Thomas for example has many WPC/WSC attendances and a huge hand in organizing a WSC, and I have only two trips to a WPC.
Okay, now for a dramatic change in gears from competitive solving to constructing.
Awhile ago I promised I would return to posting at the end of November earlier this month. I’m going to extend that to the end of 2011 now. In the gobs and gobs of puzzles I did before and during the WPC from all kinds of sources, I’ve begun to think more about my own construction tendencies and what exactly I want to accomplish when I’m making puzzles. There could be some changes once I’m active again, maybe minor, maybe major, although I do not expect my overall output to decrease much. The main reason for the break is to work out exactly what it is I want to be doing, so it’s hard to be specific now. In the meantime, the Heyawake guide is likely to be finished some time in December.
Anyways, as compensation for taking a bit longer to get back to posting, here is a PDF containing 9 puzzles I wrote to practice for the 2011 WPC. These 9 types were novelties for which no past examples existed (Windows is the only exception; it was written before past incarnations were pointed out to me), so expect some things you haven’t seen before. Instructions are provided, but you can refer to official instructions if you also want examples.
I should note that in most cases these puzzles can be a bit rough around the edges. They were constructed hastily and intended to be practice puzzles as opposed to masterpieces. The Borderless Coral in particular was deliberately made to have no logical solution for this reason. The XI Snake at the end is probably the only one that could stand with what I usually post on my blog, so I encourage you to try that one at least.