See the last page of this link for the full playoff rules. I’ll assume knowledge of them for this post.
The top 8 were, in order: Ulrich Voigt, Thomas Snyder, Ko Okamoto, Palmer Mebane, Hideaki Jo, Zoltan Horvath, Bram de Laat, and Nikola Zivanovic.
The puzzles selected for the quarter finals. 1st and 3rd type selected by the higher seed, 2nd by the lower seed.
1 Ulrich vs. 8 Nikola: Chaotic Skyscrapers (6×6, 1-7), Ships in Formation (battleships var.), Discharged Magnets (magnets with part of grid not partitioned into dominoes).
4 Palmer vs. 5 Hideaki: Pipes (numberlinkish), X-Kakuro (product of first two plus rest), Tapa (?s are even numbers)
3 Ko vs. 6 Zoltan: High Wind (four winds with wrong clue), Rural Tourism (star battle-ish new type), Target (kenken with all same number)
2 Thomas vs. 7 Bram: Scrabble (word fillin), Easy as ABC Hexa Second, Andy’s Sudoku (a Sudoku variation on each edge: Skyscrapers, Little Killer, Outside, Outside Sum)
We started with a surprise when Ulrich messed up the Skyscrapers and got beaten by Nikola. However Ulrich was able to outpace him on the other two puzzles, although the Battleships puzzle was close. So Ulrich managed to win 2-1.
Then I had to go up against Hideaki. This series featured what may have been the two most lopsided matchups possible: him on a Kakuro and me on a Tapa. Hideaki jokingly crouched and held his head when I announced my choice of Tapa, and I wasn’t feeling much different when he chose the Kakuro. I figured who ever got the first puzzle out had the series, but shakeups were possible.
Quarterfinal 1: Pipes
Doing a numberlink-style type with unerasable marker… I wasn’t sure if I had chosen well here. Still, I managed to find good notation where I ticked the borders of cells where I was guessing there was a path. One of those guesses turned out to be wrong later too, so I was fortunate to have found that method. I eventually chased the grid to the center where I just had to figure out how to get the last few things to match up, and then my tweaking/numberlink sense came through for a convincing victory on this one. 1-0.
Quarterfinal 2: X-Kakuro
This type was from the Blackjack round where it was all 21 clues. It was extremely unelegant with a terrible point of guessing in one part, which actually stopped me from claiming those 17 points. So when I turn around and see all 21 again, I was noticeably annoyed (audience commented on it later). Still, I used the workins I found and gave it my best effort. I surprised myself by never getting very stuck and always making progress where I looked. Eventually my top and bottom linked up and a partial bifurcation in the middle gave me an immediate finish. I hurriedly raised my hand and held my breath for the ~15 seconds of checking time… and it turns out I barely beat Hideaki by about 5 seconds. Never, ever expected that to happen; the people I talked to afterwards thought similarly. As you might be able to tell, this puzzle, unlike the round one, was very nicely made. This was a consistent theme here, where the round puzzles were messy and the playoff puzzles were great.
Not only have I won 2-0, now the Tapa I selected for third stays in the pool to be used in future matches, which was very good for me. I’d need it in my next match against Ulrich…
Next was Ko and Zoltan. I didn’t watch these too attentively, as I hated both types, but Ko seemed to struggle with the High Wind while Zoltan got it out, and then he seemed lost on Zoltan’s choice of Rural Tourism (I would have been also) while Zoltan got that out too. 2-0 for Zoltan in the upset. Unfortunate for both Japanese to be knocked out in the quarterfinals, after their good WSC playoff showing with 2nd and 3rd.
Then Thomas went against Bram. A clean victory by Thomas on the Scrabble and Easy as Hexa, although Bram was going strongly on both too, so 2-0 there.
The semifinals were
1 Ulrich vs. 4 Palmer: Domino Hunt (some numbers missing), Tapa, Andy’s Sudoku
6 Zoltan vs. 2 Thomas: Yajilin (classic, for once), Paint by Frame (surrounded white/blacks are clued), Hexagonal Fences (slitherlink on hex)
I’ll give credit to Ulrich for his choices. Domino Hunt may very well be my worst type to solve, and my hatred of Sudoku is well-known. Still, I just had to luck out on one of them, because I wasn’t losing on the Tapa.
Semifinal 1: Domino Hunt
I tried. I got some things in the top, but missed a critical deduction for awhile. Ulrich turned in around the time I got it, when almost my whole grid was still empty. I knew this was going to happen… 0-1
Semifinal 2: Tapa
This was a very nice puzzle with only ? clues, so no odd numbers. I bulleted through it like I usually do on Tapa, finishing it when Ulrich was still working up from the bottom. The grader seemed impressed with my speed too; it wasn’t marked “correct”, it was marked “great job”. 1-1
Semifinal 3: Andy’s Sudoku
Probably the most dramatic moment of the whole championship. I was surprising myself by getting past all the sticking points at the beginning, and then cruising through to cleanup. Not really fast, but good considering my usual Sudoku. Ulrich on the other hand was changing marker colors several times, usually a sign of an error, so I was on a high. Eventually I put in the last digit, fight the feeling of excitement welling up in me, and turn in. 10 seconds later, my grader audibly says “not correct” and I have to wait out 50 more seconds. Oops. I go back, stare for maybe a minute or two, and then finally see a 6 that should have been a 7. I write over it, turn in again, and just then Ulrich is marked correct. 1-2
It turned out that indeed, Ulrich had screwed up and was solving in zillions of colors, so that’s why I had such a fighting chance. My error turned out to be incorrectly computing the missing set of digits in a column as 36 instead of 37. The 6 was a given number, which I was strangely blind to. Doing this actually screwed up more things, as the last 10 digits that propagated from there ended up all being wrong too. It was a very quick fix once I finally saw where the error was. In other words, if I had computed that missing digit set correctly, Ulrich would have been knocked out. But then again, if I get that liberty, Ulrich could have also not screwed up. So I was fairly comfortable with myself as I exited the stage. Fighting Ulrich down to the wire like that is an accomplishment in itself, and performing that well on a Sudoku was beyond my expectations.
The match between Thomas and Zoltan followed. Thomas got out the Yajilin fairly efficiently despite some bad guesses (or mistakes? not sure). He didn’t do as well on Zoltan’s choice of Paint by Frame, but his Hexagonal Fences solve was exceptional, so he was 2-1 and onto the finals.
What remained were the finals and the third place match. Finals had five types, odd-numbered ones Ulrich’s and even-numbered ones Thomas’s.
1 Ulrich vs. 2 Thomas: Easy as ABC Crossword (easy as on a crossword grid), Cave (same as Corral/Bag), Half Dominoes (two puzzles overlapping on 2 by 2), Streets (strange path puzzle), Coded Tetromino (tetromino dissection/cipher)
4 Palmer vs. 6 Zoltan: Target (still kenken), White Pentomino (inverted paint by pentomino), Numbers and Letters (something with sums and word lengths)
Zoltan and I went first before the big event.
Consolation Final 1: Target
A 7 by 7 Kenken with no operations and all cages 12. I’ve done enough Kenken to know what kinds of digit sets to get and the kind of global logic to use, so this was an efficient solve. Apparently a convincing victory against Zoltan. 1-0
Consolation Final 2: White Pentomino
Zoltan’s choice, but he had very little to choose from. Unlike the difficult one in the round, this one was very clean. I made a mistake early with a mistakenly computed grid size, but quickly caught it and restarted. I was told afterwards that Zoltan and I were steadily going with me lagging behind. At some point Zoltan went wrong (seemingly getting ahead as a result), thus running into a wall later. Meanwhile I continued firing through the fairly easy logic and had a clean finish. 2-0. Third place for me. I was happy; another podium finish is something to be proud of.
Then it was the finals. On Easy as ABC Crossword, Thomas made a bad guess/deduction/something in the top; me and Pal Madarassy were watching together and were wondering when it would get fixed. Ulrich had a clean, quick solve, so he won it easily. Cave is a type that US solvers are familiar with since we get it on the USPC all the time, so Ulrich seemed quite lost with very little on the grid while Thomas fired through it, tying it at 1. However, Ulrich tore through the Half Dominoes while Thomas’s relative slowness at arithmetic stymied him. Then on the tweak-heavy Streets, Ulrich managed to come up with the answer before Thomas did, ending the finals at 3-1 for Ulrich’s 8th title.
So the podium is Ulrich, Thomas, and me. Same set as last year (perhaps appropriately?) except I dropped down a bit. I feel that’s appropriate though. I said one year ago that I thought the Hungarians made a championship I could do exceptionally well at, leaving out styles like Domino Hunt that I have trouble with. This year, I had to face those weaknesses. It showed in my ranking, but I’m happy with how I managed them. I also am very happy with how well I recovered on day 2 from a relatively poor showing on day 1.
All that said, I knew Dominoes was a weakness, but I did not realize it was the weakness until this championship… something to do for next year, unless I don’t find the time like what happened this year. These were shortcomings I was hoping to clean up beforehand.
More final musings may come later; a Nikoli.com puzzle championship starts in 15 minutes and I might be racing some Americans and Japanese on it, which will be fun. I’m not done puzzling yet!
ETA: Post now has a bit more editing. Also, Thomas (touchpad) and I (wireless mouse) squared off against Hideaki Jo (trackball I think) and Kota Morinshi (wired mouse) on the 45 by 31 Nurikabe that nikoli.com released today. I had one of my better solves of the day and beat not only the room but the rest of the world for the first solve. There’s my T-shirt for the year; waited awhile this time. Thomas was next to finish (USA 2-0!), but I think Kota and Hideaki both had to deal with error correction, so they didn’t perform to their full potential. It was a fun little sequel to the playoffs today.