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The state of the sport of puzzles - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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April 7th, 2011

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09:28 pm - The state of the sport of puzzles
This is a sequel, to some extent, to a counterpart post I made just over five months ago.

In the past, I've long enjoyed reading about the world of the World Puzzle Championships, and have been lucky enough to take part in the finals three times (twice as a UK team member, and once as UK team captain) in the first half of the previous decade, in the face of relatively weak competition. The sport of culture-free logic puzzles has developed radically over time so that (a) competition in the UK is rather stronger than once it was and (b) this is much less important than it used to be; even if you are a relatively casual or new puzzle solver, like me, then there are satisfying opportunities which will let you take a sporting approach to your puzzle participation even at a fairly modest level of attainment.

My biggest obsession at the moment is the German-language Croco-Puzzle site which is so addictive that I am starting to consider it to be Cracko-Puzzle. Last year I wrote up a walkthrough of the croco-puzzle web site, with a focus on the Überraschungsrätsel daily puzzle meta-game. (It's slightly out of date, but should get you through.) It's certainly more fun and less frustrating the better you are at the puzzles, but even when I started playing the site for the first time and struggled with the puzzles it was still rewarding.

There are enough people on the very enjoyable UK Puzzle Forum who play it that I have started a Croco-Puzzle ladder for UK solvers. In part, it's a suitable venue to try out this ladder competition format that I devised (or rediscovered) a few years back, and people seem to be enjoying it. There's always room for new entrants if the concept appeals, and I am considering running counterpart ladders for solvers in other countries at some point if there is demand - and once any bugs have shown up and been squashed.

The UK Puzzle Association has also announced how the UK Puzzle team (and the UK Sudoku team) will be determined this year. In the past, the results from the US Puzzle Championship have been used for selection. It's been a great contest for years and it will still continue to be used to generate one member for the UK team - but no longer is it a case that if you try the USPC and don't make the grade then your puzzle season is over for another year. There has been promised to be a counterpart UK Puzzle Championship, probably the week after the US Puzzle Championship, which will determine a second place; if the UKPC can be as good a contest as the USPC, then the puzzle world will benefit considerably.

The remaining two places in the UK team will be determined by cumulative performance over a series of four tests; your best three performances in the upcoming four monthly puzzle contests held by the consistently excellent Logic Masters India web site will determine who gets to go. The LMI tests differ from the USPC and UKPC tests in that you have freedom to choose the starting-point of the test within a two-day window, so you can solve the tests at a time that suits you. The first of the four tests takes place this weekend. Meg and I are looking forward to quintus_marcius coming to visit this weekend, but I am glad that I can both pay full attention to being a host when he's there and still have time to solve puzzles in order to take part once he has gone.

This self-timed puzzle competition route potentially offers the theoretical risk that someone might cheat their way into a UK team place, but I am confident that this risk is theoretical rather than practical; two of the four places are still to be determined by performance in competitions where there is (practically?) no chance that the contestants will have seen the puzzles in advance, and it's not as if that is a sufficient tool to eliminate cheating by itself. Perhaps the most cheating-resistant method would be a suitably proctored face-to-face competition, with the italicised side-note being a passing nod to a single participant taking an unusual route to a minor prize in a competition in the past. Such competitions pose considerable logistical challenges for both host and participants, though the Times newspaper has been sponsoring crossword and Sudoku contests in the UK for years.

In other news, next month sees a big-money Sudoku championship in Beijing, and it'll be interesting to see whether that has an impact on the world stage. If you can't afford to fund yourself on a trip to China - I can't! - then there are plenty of opportunities for remote contest participation; the Diogen puzzle club of Russia host contests with time limits measured in days rather than hours from time to time, PuzzleFountain has a contest every weekend, several of which I have enjoyed, and enough independents host their own contests from time to time that the best ways to keep up are the janko.at puzzle event calendar and the UK Puzzle Forum's puzzle competitions board.


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