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The road to Hungary - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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May 25th, 2005


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10:04 pm - The road to Hungary
addedentry, bateleur, bopeepsheep, daweaver, dezzikitty, dr4b, dumbgenius, foppe, gwendolyngrace, imc, jvvw, len, mr_babbage, oinomel71, pchou, rhiannon333, songmonk, strangefrontier, tall_man, themightyuser, uqx, whipartist, xnera, zorac and Peter Sarrett, I'm calling y'all out... (and anyone else who wants to be called out, of course!)

The fourteenth World Puzzle Championships will take place in Eger, Hungary between the 12th and 17th 8th and 13th (whoops!) of October this year, the week after The Witching Hour. You can represent your country, if you can make the grade. This year, you have a better chance than ever of being at the main event: "If you do not make your national team, you can still be at the event as guest or as member of an unofficial B-team (you can compete like all the others, but your results will not be listed in the official results)." I've been to three World Puzzle Championships and blogged live from the most recent one.

Finding out about your country's selection test is sometimes a little easier said than done; the puzzle ratings blog mentioned the Dutch qualifying competition, for instance. However, parts of the UK, US and Canadian teams are selected by the Google US Puzzle Championship, the biggest and most famous qualifying competition of them all. Safe to say, wherever you are in the world, a strong performance in the US qualifier is likely to catch the selector's eye. If your country doesn't have a formal team - ringbark, you would be solving from New Zealand at the time and could probably represent them if you liked - then you can use this to knock up at least part of a national team with yourself on it. Brits, the standard required isn't that high - I was able to qualify twice, after all! - and there's a free holiday, one of the best holidays of your life, at stake. (If that wasn't enough, the fact that Google sponsor the event and will be impressed by strong competitors as potential employees doesn't hurt...)

The other reason why you should be interested is that it's just plain fun. Two and a half hours to complete as many of the fiendish, imaginitive and interesting logic puzzles on the paper that you can. Two and a half hours is enough that you can really get into it and eliminate distractions from behind; it's not so long as to be inaccessible. The paper will probably have about fifteen or twenty puzzles on it; the puzzles are hard, and last year's median (half-way-up) US score was about 82 points out of 432, so about 19%. Every single puzzle answered is a little triumph. They're not knowledge puzzles, they're not language puzzles, anyone can do them - cold hard logic, coupled with imagination to work out the winning technique. It's also free to take part, too! Tell your friends!

Put the date in your diary: Saturday June 18, 2005 at 1pm ET - 10am Pacific time, 6pm British time. Make sure you register at least two days in advance. Look, British folk, if you've been at all amused by the current Su Doku craze, try this - this has more imagination and variety than a month of daily columns. If you like solving Su Doku, you'll love solving these.

If you're keen, the best way to get practice (or, the other way to look at it - the other way to get lots of fun puzzles to solve!) is the archive of the previous six online qualifying tests, with answers. The precise puzzle formats change from year to year, which is part of the reason why they're so good, but the flavour remains the same. I think things have broadly got tougher over the years, so start with the 1999 event and have a concentrated stab at it. Don't worry about the time limit, just try to solve as many as you can. (You'll get faster with practice!) If you're really struggling, here are discussions of solution techniques for the 1999 and 2000 qualifying tests - you'll see that they are hard, but definitely possible.

Bank on hearing about this here at least, ooh, once or twice more before the qualifying test itself on Super Saturday. Now get solving!
Current Mood: hopefullookin' forward to it!

(38 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:bateleur
Date:May 26th, 2005 02:39 am (UTC)
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I won't be getting involved with that. At least not this year.

Thing is, whilst I admire the purity of the puzzles, this is very much like the Maths Olympiad. However much we all wish otherwise, the puzzles conform to standard types and scores depend heavily on the familiarity of the contestants with the range of puzzle archetypes.

At the highest level, it's a pretty good test of puzzle solving prowess. Otherwise, like every other game, it favours those who put in the hours over an extended period.

From Matthew's commentary on 1999 puzzle 24:

"I am told that the lone solver is a veteran member of the US team and as such has seen enough Letter Bourses that he could solve them in his sleep."

'nuff said.
[User Picture]
From:jvvw
Date:May 26th, 2005 03:58 am (UTC)
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I'm not convinced that scores in the Maths Olympiad depended that heavily on familiarity with a range of puzzle archetypes. The people I know who got into the British team and did well are genuinely better mathematicians than me not just people with a greater familiarity with the type of problems.

A certain amount of familiarity helps in the sense that without it, you probably don't stand a chance, but you can certainly have that familiarity and not be able to do the problems.

I'd say it's a bit like the difference between getting the top upper second and the top first in exams at Oxford. You almost certainly won't get the top first without working through some old exam papers, but working through old exam papers, working hard and being bright enough to have been selected by the university in the first place probably won't guarantee you more than an upper second.
[User Picture]
From:imc
Date:May 26th, 2005 11:45 am (UTC)
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And I did get the top First… but I was still never any good at the Invariants/Achimedeans' problems drives.
[User Picture]
From:jvvw
Date:May 27th, 2005 02:06 am (UTC)
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Was that Maths or Maths and Comp?

I think there are slightly difficult types of mathematical intelligence and Oxford exams measure a slightly different type from the problems drives. In the same way that some people are more algebraists than topologists or analysts.

I had my share of success in Oxford exams, maths olympiad stuff and the problem drives, but I definitely felt most at home with Oxford exams because I like more abstract stuff.
[User Picture]
From:imc
Date:May 31st, 2005 08:15 am (UTC)
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It was indeed Maths and Comp.
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:May 26th, 2005 01:24 pm (UTC)
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I'm mostly with Juliette on this one. Your analogy is very interesting and I think pretty apt, but I regard the questions in both the Maths Olympiads and the World Puzzle Championships as being varied and off-the-wall enough that while you need to know, if not the basic principles off by heart pat, then the thought processes that go into solving basic sorts of task and have the imagination to adapt and apply them to the unusual variants that the competitions pose.

You have six years' worth of past papers in the qualification test here, so you can see the extent to which specific examples of even fairly similar sorts of puzzle differ from each other. I also tend to believe that each year the puzzles have been getting more twisted and varied from the essential formats, simply because global knowledge of the basic formats is becoming more and more taken for granted. You tend not to get a standard Battleships or a standard Easy As ABC or a standard Minesweeper, at least not ones that are worth more than a small number of points. If anything, this is taken to the point of slight inaccessibility - even the easy questions aren't quite standard enough to be accessible to all.

Have a look at several years' worth of questions and see what you think!
[User Picture]
From:bateleur
Date:May 26th, 2005 01:36 pm (UTC)
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Yes.

The odd thing is that you both sound like you're disagreeing with me but are actually supporting my argument.

I'm not saying no original thought is required, I'm complaining that familiarity with the puzzle archetypes is a tedious and unfortunate prerequisite.

Consequently, whilst I technically could spare 150 minutes to try the test itself, I have no real interest in it because I'd be competing on a hopelessly not-level playing field until such a time as I'd built up a background in similar sorts of puzzles.

Certainly as gameplayers we put up with learning openings in chess, learning conventions in bridge, learning patterns in Go and so on... but these days I'm very reluctant to take on a new game if it suffers from this ubiquitous design flaw.
[User Picture]
From:jvvw
Date:May 27th, 2005 02:02 am (UTC)
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Are there any games that don't to some extent? Although I agree that some games fall more into that category than others and like you I tend to prefer games where I large amount of experience or knowledge isn't too much of an advantage. However part of the enjoyment of playing games is seeing ways to play them better and improving how you play. Any game that gives you that enjoyment will probably favour an experienced player over an unexperienced one.

It's a fundamental problem with assessing students at mathematics. If somebody has seen a problem or one similar to it before it's easy, if they haven't then it's difficult. Obviously there's a huge grey area inbetween. Imagine trying to prove theorems in Galois Theory from scratch compared with proving them when you've seen the proofs in lectures.

I wonder if somebody could come up with an objective way of testing of mathematical intelligence and if they could whether it'd be fun to do different versions of the test repeatedly.

[User Picture]
From:bateleur
Date:May 27th, 2005 02:19 am (UTC)
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Well... what can I say except that I'm impressed. Not only a pretty much perfect analysis, but you raise some interesting questions too.

Hard to work out who you really are from your LJ userinfo, but consider yourself randomly 'friend'-ed on principle !

(Aside: I actually did try to prove the main results from Galois Theory before I'd met the proofs in the lectures. And yes, it was hard. Or at least I'd like to think so, since I didn't cleanly complete any of them. )
[User Picture]
From:jvvw
Date:May 27th, 2005 07:31 am (UTC)
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I think I have met you via OUSFG people rather a long time ago...
[User Picture]
From:jvvw
Date:May 27th, 2005 07:31 am (UTC)
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Or maybe via Hanbury?
[User Picture]
From:bateleur
Date:May 27th, 2005 07:40 am (UTC)
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Either is really quite likely... Or both. Oxford's like that some days.
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:May 27th, 2005 01:59 pm (UTC)
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Fair enough, but I doubt you'll find many games at all with the learning curve that attracts you: deep enough to reward repeated play and improvement, not so immediately steep as to make your initial experience horribly uncompetitive compared to veterans. In fact, I suspect that either I've misunderstood your requirements or you're looking for a contradiction in terms. :-)

This may well still be a fun 2½ hours spent in a new game universe compared to 2½ hours spent exploring some other sort of game universe. Or possibly not - depends on how much you like puzzles, really! I maintain that if the concept of a timed logic puzzle contest has appeal then this is currently the most entertaining practical realisation of the concept.
[User Picture]
From:bateleur
Date:May 27th, 2005 02:16 pm (UTC)
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Let me put it this way: if I was going to devote some time to puzzles (which I may do, one of these days) I'd be much more tempted by the MIT Mystery Hunt.

I doubt you'll find many games at all with the learning curve that attracts you

You're certainly not wrong there. I take up very few games these days and spend far more time designing them.

I suspect that either I've misunderstood your requirements or you're looking for a contradiction in terms.

I don't yet know enough to answer that definitively. Some remark about Holy Grails seems appropriate here... <grin>
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:May 27th, 2005 02:38 pm (UTC)
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Can't fault your taste. Consider penciling parts of Friday 13th (ooh!) to Monday 16th January in for the hunt in your calendar.

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