Teesside Snog Monster (jiggery_pokery) wrote,
Teesside Snog Monster

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Allez Japan!

Another world exclusive from Oulu, Finland, courtesy of roving reporter Ken Wilshire: Japan squeak past Germany in the World Puzzle Championship team contest, with Niels Roest winning the individual world crown.

Well guys,

It's over and I'm sorry to say that our team euphoria faded after round three. Dealing with the UK bit first: after Nick's stellar performance in round three elevated him to 21st position overnight and a really high feel good factor, unfortunately, the tables turned in subsequent rounds but he still finished a very creditable 34th and in the top half. It was very tightly bunched here and 5 more points would have risen Nick to 30th and 20 more points to 27th. The ones that got away.....

That was a good segway into Ken. Yes, despite being relaxed, practiced well over the summer and no other worries, still fell into the trap of starting too many questions and not finishing the ones that I started coupled with the silly errors on completing the high point ones, for examples, not reading a question properly (2 occasions) and euphorically finishing a grid puzzle, only to find I'd put the last line in the wrong place and hadn't checked the number at the bottom (in total 32 points thrown away and the time wasted......) But enough excuses from me: I didn't hack it, fell back down the order and finished 62nd.

The reason I mention my errors is that I was able to look at the answer sheets of the guys who came top - much more interesting and educative. Also, I chatted to them about their techniques. They use the same methods but much more confidently and quite simply make very few mistakes; they invariably finish practically all of the questions they start.

The individual championship and the team event were wide open throughout and the event would have been extremely exciting (more on this later). I don't know which one to put first but perhaps the most relevant to this story is that the Japanese team won (including a lady competitor - first time a woman has won the team medal!) by the meagre margin of 7 (seven) points - just less than the average score awarded for most individual questions. They pipped the Germans into second place with the USA trailing into 3rd a whole 24 points back (1905 / 1898 / 1874) and the Dutch in fourth place really a long way behind on 1633). Oh - the UN2 team (us) finished 14th of 18 but 35 points [see above - ouch] would have secured us 12th place. Before the start we hoped to make the top 10 and we would have needed 1241 to tie with Russia some 190 points more than we achieved (we scored 1051).

In the individual, Niels Roest took the lead after round three and never lost it. There was a play off for the top three so Niels was joined by the Voigt brothers (Ulrich and Roland - the younger brother's first time). It was held in the Oulu City Art Gallery (which had a special exhibition on puzzles on) and was open to the public. The three had 30 minutes (2nd and 3rd slightly time penalised according to scores) to solve 10 puzzles in front of everyone on easel size sheets (A0). It was most exciting and it went to the wire. Ulrich made one mistake and came third with five answers, but Niels triumphed over Roland by virtue of solving his last correct question after 25min whilst Roland's was after 27 minutes (both seven correct). Niels was a worthy winner (twice third in the last two years) and Roland a very creditable runner up (but Ulrich won the first time he competed!).

Niels' performance was even better when due to the lax organisation, the clock was started and no-one told Niels. It was left to Will Shortz to tell him to start and with Niels wearing earphones palying the muted sounds of the UN general asembly to soothe him he had no idea what was going on - he only knew when I told him tonight that over 20 seconds had elapsed before he started because I queried how calm he appeared at the start - calmly choosing which colour chunky felt pen to use with the clock merrily ticking away...... he really had no idea?! Ironically, he also did not find it easy to find out when the half hour was up because the two huge athletic field size clocks were positioned on either side and Niels was in the middle. He ran out of time just before completing the battleships, and again did not rush at the end - he simply did not know.

Peter Ritmeester informed me that Will Shortz was very troubled about the handicaps inflicted (accidentally) on Niels in case Niels did not actually win and lost by a small margin and breathed a huge sigh of relief when justice was done. Once again, watching these guys sketch out their answers and go to it for all to see was great sport. [...]

We really had a good time. So roll on Arnhem (14th to 19th October 2003) and our new sponsors BEAP. And it's Croatia for 2004 (first half of October) - on the Dalmation coast.
I knew you couldn't rule out Niels Roest! Japan's team championship has to be regarded as a somewhat of an upset; they finished second in 1998 and have had a handful of top-five finishes, but as often as not they have been a mid-table, marginal team. Many, many congratulations to all the participants, especially the champions. I look forward very much to reading more about the event, hopefully from other participants.

I spoke to ringbark on the 'phone for the first time today! Alas, the circumstances which have brought him to this country aren't happy ones, but it was still great to speak to him. We mostly talked about the Livejournal system; Ian raised some extremely interesting points. Ian questions whether the same system that scales at the moment to 700,000+ users (and a five minute search can't locate the statistics page, so I can't tell you how many of them are still active) will still work well once there are ten times as many. Presumably finding users with specific interests, finding users with similar interests to yours and other searching-type activities are most likely to suffer. Most of the system should work reasonably well; just because there is a tenfold increase in the overall number of users doesn't necessarily mean there will be a tenfold increase in your number of Friends.

We also discussed what other social changes LJ might make to people's lifestyles in the future. Ian fairly frequently posts to dinner, which is a fun community for sharing details of what people eat. However, when he went to stay with a family friend and fellow LJ user (sheaj34), she looked through Ian's postings to dinner to find out what Ian likes to eat. Very cool indeed. I guess this could also be another use for interests lists.

Ian also commented that my journal tended to be based on what I'd been thinking about that day, rather than what had happened to me that day. An insightful analysis which I wouldn't have been able to pick up on; extremely interesting to hear. Certainly having read each other's LiveJournal effectively skipped what I usually find to be the first shaky hour of conversation with a new acquaintance, so we could jump more or less straight away to the interesting bits. Talking to people helps to turn Friends into friends, I have concluded; accordingly I should like to speak to as many of you as possible, be you Friends or lurkers, at your convenience over October. Brits can be contacted on the phone, non-Brits can be contacted through messenger services' voice chat facilities, for I have a microphone and am not afraid to use it. Talking to ringbark was great - I'd love to get to know the rest of you better as well!

Other than that, it was rather a sporting day. The Formula One finish was far more entertaining than most, though if I had been Rubens Barichello I would have maintained from the outset that I was trying a last-ditch overtaking manoeuvre given that it was possible that Michael's deceleration might have been involuntary. There does seem to be an aspect of prisoner's dilemma to it - Michael wanted to co-operate in arranging an impromptu formation finish, whereas Rubens wanted to defect and race for the line. Not sure that the gaps in utility between the various entries of the payoff matrix much resembles the games we're most used to, but there is something to the possibility there. Oh, and at the risk of showing how little attention I've been paying this season, I do like the colourful new graphics package much more than the dull yellow-and-black one.

It's only a shame that the two finished as much as 0.011 second apart, where it would have been hysterically funny if the gap had been one or two thousandths - or even a legitimate dead heat. Incidentally, if Tag Heuer had called it a dead heat - and remember that three-way dead heat in qualifying some time ago which I always thought was ever so slightly suspicious - what would have happened? Would the two drivers have received six, eight or ten points each, or would there have been some other sort of tie-breaker?

Well done to the European golfers for winning the Ryder Cup! Sam Torrance will always remain a smoky old duffer, but he's found his niche in cunning captaincy. I haven't seen people complain that "it wasn't fair" of the European team to put their best players at the start rather than the end, but it's just a matter of time. Now what I would love to see is some enterprising cricket captain take a lead from the European Ryder Cup team and organise at least most of their batsmen in increasing, not decreasing, order of perceived utility. It might well be considered to be "just not cricket", quite literally, but I think it would probably be a reasonably useful sort of additional gimmick at least for a while. (Counter-argument: you don't get "full use" from the batsman who is not out after the tenth wicket, so you would prefer that to be a weaker batsman rather than an established one.) Certainly it's got to be at least worth a try at some point.

Lastly, I attended the second day of an athletics meeting with a decathlon competition at Monkton Stadium in Jarrow, which I had seen mentioned on the Team Decathlon site. This involved a forty-mile trip North, but the parents went to visit the Baltic Art Museum and a fre other places around the region, so it wasn't too onerous. The meeting was real grass-roots level, with about twenty competitors and a total attendance of possibly sixty - counting competitors, friends, families, coaches, administrators, safety crew and all. However, it managed to attract one "name" athlete - that is, one I recognised by name - Kerry Jury, who was one of England's three representatives in the Heptathlon of this year's Commonwealth Games in the absence of Denise Lewis. (She finished eighth in the Commonwealths, out of ten, not eight as listed there. She finished fifth, behind Denise and three others, in the same event four years beforehand, with a score about 100 points higher.)

However, this was a decathlon rather than a heptathlon. Women use very slightly different implements to the men (lighter thrown items and smaller hurdles) and use a different scoring table but do the same selection of events. I got there at lunchtime, where the contestants had finished the hurdles and the discus and were just warming up for the pole vault. Lunch was a highly athletic portion of curry and chips, from the stadium's own snack bar. (Shame!) Non-Brits may not realise that curry in the context of "curry and chips" is quite a different thing to curry in the context of "curry and race", "curry and naan bread" or "balti". Chip shop curry is a dubious sludge with the approximate appearance and consistency of butterscotch. It is served warm and tastes vaguely sweet-and-sour, but rather more sour and spicy than sweet. Today's curry sauce contained sultanas and unidentified vegetable shavings which were presumed to be onion. It's moderately pleasant as an occasional alternative to bargain-basement vegetarian chilli. No, come back, it's really not bad. Honest.

There were fourteen decathlon entrants in all, nine men, three women and two girls. One man and one woman withdrew due to intermediate injury to leave twelve finishers. (The two girls, one under-15, the other under-13, did a number of cut-down events, finishing with a long-distance 600m - a race I'd only ever heard mentioned in theory for completeness on web sites.) Simultaneously, there was also a heptathlon competition which seemed to attract about another seven or eight girls and women, but it wasn't clear why some were doing the decathlon and others the heptathlon. One decathlon entrant was the father of another; the son was a recognised contestant, the father a guy aged over 50 who was evidently pretty fit but without any established decathlon training. The meeting was organised in a free-and-easy style to permit marginal and first-time decathletes to take part.

Happily, I had arrived in time to see the actual pole vault competition. The over-50 guy took his first vault at a height of 1.05m - good for, I believe, 2 points - and didn't clear it first time. ("Ah, you're meant to let the pole go once you've cleared the bar?") He made his way through the heights, struggling over on his third attempt at 1.55m, but cleared 1.65m first time. Most of the contestants went out at about 2.35m or so, but the class act of the field cleared 3.45m. It was a real education in pole-vaulting - I learned that the organisers can move the bar forward and backward (presumably relative to the pit into which the pole is placed) as well as up and down. There were a few dangerous-looking stall-outs, collapses and drops as well, but evidently nobody was hurt. One of the male decathletes was from Middlesbrough and came in at a height of 2.45m only to fail his first three vaults and score a big fat zero. (A good 200 or so points wasted. Hey ho.)

Likewise, the javelin discipline saw the spears doing a few things that you don't see on TV, tumbling end over end, bouncing off their point rather than sticking in and taking quite peculiar flight paths. It just goes to show how talented the practitioners who actually make it to TV are. Finally, the 1500m was a real struggle, but the athletes got a lot of support considering there were perhaps six or seven people left in the stands at the end. The points were added up and the winners declared. The winning men's decathlon score was 5169, with two other competitors over 5000. Apparently 5000 is the minimum score required to get into the national rankings, a sort of "good club athlete" standard for a non-specialist, with 6000 being the preserve of the specialist and 7000 the preserve of the talented specialist. (8000 is international class and only one man has ever broken the magical 9k.)

Kerry Jury was trying to break the British record for the women's decathlon, which is either 6517 if you believe the reported performances or about 6200 if you believe the quoted record score. She didn't quite crack it, but she did become only the second ever British woman to break 6000, finishing on 6145. I overheard her saying that she was rather scared about the 400m and 1500m, being events that are decathlon-specific - remember, the women's heptathlon uses 200m and 800m instead, with no 100m sprint - and that she went off too gently at the start of them. She also only jumped 5.31m in the long jump, apparently a metre under her personal best. It's a quirk of the scoring systems that the women's British heptathlon record is higher (6801) than the women's British decathlon record, probably an artefact of the rarity of British women's decathlons.

The people were nice and the atmosphere friendly, though it could have done with another fifty spectators. (Or another ten, really.) I've said that ambition #56 is to see fifty different sports live at a high level. This wasn't it. (I have crossed off track and field already, though, from a trip to Gateshead Stadium in the early '80s about which the only things I can remember are boredom with which I couldn't cope, lousy chocolate biscuits and a 300m race.) However, seeing sport at a relatively low level was fascinating in its own right - and even these relatively modest performers are at a far higher standard than I am likely to achieve. (Heck, even the over-50 guy scored 943, which is over twice as many as I think I could do.) Take a look at the full results, if you like.

A very interesting, entertaining and unusual day, all things considered. Apparently the decathlon in Hexham each year is much higher profile; being earlier in the season, it attracts international stars. Now I do have some relatives in Hexham who I see fairly infrequently, so the prospect of going up there next year and becoming a live decathlon spectator junkie seems quite attractive.


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