The preliminaries are now over. In individual rounds, my day 2 afternoon was the usual: awesome. My team round performance was so-so, but if we’re clean we’ll have stayed level with the rival teams across both.
The afternoon began with the visual puzzles round. I thought I was going to struggle with a lot of these, but the puzzles were fairly clean and easy, so I managed to finish with about 2-3 minutes left. I spent the rest of the time checking, since there were some nasty puzzles like a counting one or a “find the flag that appears twice in this huge grid”. People all around the room were calling finished up to 10 minutes early, so I wouldn’t be surprised if my hopefully perfect 300 with no bonus is near the third quartile or even the median (in a championship where I’m topping over half the rounds). But I was expecting to do a lot worse on a visual puzzles round.
Next was zodiac. 12 reasonably standard types, each one associated with an animal of the zodiac. So the grids were all irregularly shaped. In a championship where I was always on fire, this was probably my best showing. Forward the whole way, never getting stuck, seeing what few hard insights there were almost immediately. I finished with 10 minutes left, out of 45. Thomas finished with a bit over 1, and I don’t know if anyone else did. A lot of people reported being one or two puzzles away – Hamle and Pento Office were the main culprits – so it was a pretty easy round. It was a good way for me to close out the preliminaries.
That ended the individual segment. I decided before the day 2 afternoon to make my goal a 5 minute advantage in the playoffs, which translates to the margin between 1st (me) and 2nd being greater than the margin between 2nd and 10th. Whether I did it depends on how Hideaki/deu did on the final rounds, since he had solid 2nd in the last posted standings. But I have a shot.
The team rounds began next. First was weakest link samurai. Weakest link rounds are where team members start solving individual puzzles, and get to go to the team table only after finishing them. Typically they come with some information about a larger team puzzle that serves as the round conclusion, so you often have to wait for all four team members to finish before much can be done. Hence the name weakest link. Here, the team puzzle was a set of Samurai puzzles (google Samurai Sudoku to see the grid shape this implies), with each team member having to solve a corner of the samurai as an individual puzzle and the larger puzzles being at the team table. There were 5 Samurai puzzles, so each contestant got 5 individual puzzles, and the organizers mercifully let you pick one to skip before you could go to the team table.
For the round itself… worst part of the championship so far for me for multiple reasons. First, no matter how you look at it, I was the weakest link. My individual solves were just terrible. Then I finally turned in four puzzles and got marked wrong. Indeed there was an error in the last puzzle I checked, meaning I had wasted a lot of time thoroughly scanning the other three. Then I turned in and… got marked wrong. I proceeded to stare at my puzzles for about 5 minutes, unable to find any other errors. Finally I realized I could much more easily resolve this by just doing the 5th puzzle I skipped before so I’d have four right ones. It turned out to be trivial too, so skipping it was a bad idea. I turned my five puzzles in, and then got to go to the team table, way after anyone.
I informed my team members one of my puzzles was marked wrong earlier, which mattered because those puzzles have to be right for the round time bonus to be given. So my teammates took them and checked each one themselves. Not only did they find no errors, they informed me that my third checker had put a check mark on all five puzzles. (The rules meeting suggested this couldn’t be counted on, but it seemed each puzzle would be fully checked if the graders didn’t have long lines. And I was very late.) The most likely possibility is that I was misgraded and should have been at the team table much earlier, with my teammates having all my corner pieces to help them too. I think I let an unabbreviated WTF rip here, before I finally collected myself and got started on the Tapa samurai that my team had generously left for me to do.
We continued checking my individual puzzles after our samurais were done just to be sure, but still no errors presented themselves, so we turned in and immediately informed the organizers of what happened. As usual, the Hungarians are great at running these events, so they quickly came to resolve things. We reached an agreement about being awarded a bit more time bonus if my puzzles were clean, since my first four puzzles had never been touched from when the second grader looked at them. If they were marked correct for the final score, then they had been correct then. I feel like it was resolved very well, and I’m glad it didn’t happen in more sensitive circumstances (read: playoffs). Most of the frustration I felt after the round came at how bad my performance had been anyway.
The day finished with a strange round involving drawing a huge snake across lots of individual puzzles. The rules were several pages long, so I won’t waste time desribing them all. Suffice it to say the snake was apparently going through China and we cracked it fairly efficiently. I believe we finished one minute ahead of the Germans, who were the 2nd place team that we needed to hold off.
Next is the playoffs. Some people have noted that my enormous lead resembles Tiit Vunk’s preliminary round dominance in the World Sudoku Championship that ended a few days ago. In those playoffs, Tiit struggled with the puzzle in the second table, losing his 5 minute advantage and more, and ended up knocked out by the first cut, ending in 8th place despite amazing solving before. Perhaps I would fall victim to the same? My response has always been what I said at the end of the last post: I already had my lucky playoff win two years ago, and I had really come to win the preliminaries, which I seem to have done. I won’t be too rattled if I have a similarly disastrous run on day 3.
Those playoffs are now all that remains. Despite what I said above, it would be nice to cap off my first two days with a dominating victory tomorrow, so I don’t plan to hand over my current rank without a fight. Historically, playoffs have treated me very well, but who knows when my luck will end?