October 14th, 2004



Once more I have written a long entry and once more I have not had the chance to post it. They're keeping us busy here, in a good way. :-) Puzzles start tomorrow and I am off to bed now at a reasonable hour but just to leave you with a little teaser, what is the connection between KAT, LEVEL, STOCK and PIANO and where might you expect to see them all together? Love you, Meg!

Your question for today: what is the connection between the words KAT / FLOOR / STOCK / PIANO and why might they all be found in the same place?

Today has been the customary excursions day at the World Puzzle Championships, primarily arranged so that those suffering from jet-lag from their trip from afar yesterday can acclimatise to the time zone. Almost the entire WPC team load themselves up onto two coaches and explore some nearby territory. (At the WPC in Stamford, CT in 2000, this took the form of a day trip down to New York City. I got to visit the World Trade Center while the twin towers were still intact, which turned out to be sort of fortuitous timing under the circumstances.)

Our trip today was around the Istrian region of Croatia. First we visited the delightful coastal town of Porec, which should have a hacek (sp?) above the c. A hacek looks like a set of devil horns, so it's an upside-down circumflex, and the whole enterprise looks like a >u rotated 90° clockwise. I'm sure there must be a HTML entity for a c-hacek, and at a guess, it's &chacek;, but I can't check.

Putting the typographic oddity apart, Porec is a small seaside town (perhaps low five digits of inhabitants) whose claim to fame is a Roman basilica, parts of which date from the 4th and 6th centuries AD. It's a Christian temple and there are gorgeous mosaics, including a giant golden Christ. Remarkably many souvenir shops have arisen to celebrate the basilica and the sea. Today's weather was fantastic: the most inconsequential of clouds in the sky and very light sea breezes. The sun was intense, but the overall temperature was still pleasantly cool (at a guess, low 60s °F). A really nice October day.

After Porec, we visited a traditional Croatian restaurant. The starter was once more pork'n'cheese, with the cheese being extremely strong, and once again there was soup as a second course. (Beans and corn in beef stock - so nice that I had seconds and thirds.) The main meal was a steak of unidentified dark meat (left untouched here) and a battered slice of rather gamey white meat (turkey?) accompanied by potatoes and what I imagine was sauerkraut. I've discovered that I like sauerkraut. Dessert was little balls of sponge with dried fruit in a sweet batter. One of the strongest reasons to qualify for the World Puzzle Championship is all the fine food you get at the events. Today I have eaten like a king, or a pig. (Or the king of pigs, more likely.) During the meal we were serenaded by two singers, a brace of synthesisers and some cheesy listening. (Hallmark of lounge style: a tendency to append a quick cha-cha-cha to the end of each song just because they can.)

Final destination of the afternoon was a village atop a tall hill of the local limestone called Motovun. (The village, not the limestone.) This was created while the area was under the control of the Venice Condottieri, so lions run rampant. The village has a fine festival every year and spectacular views, but otherwise doesn't have much to commend it other than an unduly exciting coach ride involving hair-raising hairpin bends. Then back to the ranch for dinner (a big buffet, so I got cheese'n'ham salad, vegetable soup, beef with chipsricecarrotscabbagespinach, a vanilla mousse, a bowl of fruit and a cream pastry) and an hour meeting to iron out remaining problems with the instructions for tomorrow's puzzles. Time for a little light blogging and off to bed for a good night's sleep, unlike last night's.

Last night we saw a very strange show on TV - no, not the uncensored T'n'A on DSF. It was effectively German puzzle TV, possibly comparable to Quiz TV on Sky Digital. A puzzle was shown on TV with an advertised €1,000 prize, a telephone number to call and a sixty-second countdown. Every now and again (often, but not always, when there was just a second or two left on the countdown) a caller would come on the air and submit an incorrect answer. Now if every caller made it to the air then they would seem to have nowhere near enough €0.9/min calls to pay back the prize, so presumably there were lots of callers who didn't make it to air. We didn't stay until the end, but presumably they do put someone with the correct answer on the air at some point, and doubly presumably there are many people submitting the right answer of which one has been selected at random.

The puzzle, by the way, was surprisingly difficult. We think it translated to "How many quadrilaterals (four-sided figures of any shape) are there in this shape?"
|\ /|\ /|
| X | X |
|/ \|/ \|
|\ /|\ /|
| X | X |
|/ \|/ \|
People on-air were guessing things like 12 and 18, but we gave up when we had reached 66. Not sure what the correct answer is, by the way.

The puzzles start in earnest tomorrow! The morning has an individual round and a team round of familiar formats in the morning, with a medley (answers to early problems lead you to having enough information to solve the later ones), a 91-minute round of standard formats, a round of arithmetical grids to fill in (in a race format) and a team competition to do with sorting 72 blocks into eight nine-piece jigsaws. Fun's a-comin'!

To answer the question I posed you: KAT, FLOOR, STOCK and PIANO are all found together on the map in our room showing the fire exits on this level of the hotel. Croatian has its own language, but KAT in Croatian, FLOOR in English, STOCK in German and PIANO in Italian are considered translations of each other.

Pardon my French Vanilla Ice Ice Baby Blue Eyes Down for a Full House of Commons

Choices for Internet access here are either pay-per-minute at 1 Kn for three minutes (about 9p) or 100 Kn for presumably an hour and a half, but the pay-per-minute option isn't letting us use our pre-typed blog reports. Accordingly it's looking like another placeholder until we have an uninterrupted block of 90 minutes for prime time Internet access. Then there'll be a big blog backlog all at once.

Quick summary: I am having lots of fun but solving the puzzles almost comically badly. The British team are 14th of 23, but only counting the results of two of the six rounds to date. Off to bed for an early night. Love you, Meg!

After some disturbing dreams about rejection, down to business: the first day's play in the World Puzzle Championships. The first official engagement was the team photos; the British boys were decked out in our uniform blue T-shirts, with a discussion yesterday as to whether they were Ice Blue or Baby Blue leading to the compromise that they were Ice Ice Baby Blue, extended to the full official colour designation of the title. There is a cheeky "Union Flag split into eight to turn it into a puzzle" motif, as well. All credit goes to ericklendl, adding T-shirt design as another of his talents.

As well as posing for the British team photo, I posed for the photo immediately afterwards, which was that of the United Nations B team. This is composed of the Czech Republic team captain, a guest from Belgium (Guy Can'trememberhissurname, but he's appeared in at least four or five WPCs in the past), Laszlo from Hungary and me. I think there are twenty national teams plus three United Nations ones: United Nations A, United Nations B and United Nations H. (The latter is effectively the Hungary B team, but official rules say one team per country, with sundry captains, guests and other hangers-on participating under a neutral flag.) I suspect the 20 nations are the 18 from last year minus one (Ukraine?) plus India and Finland as expected and a return for Bosnia-Herzegovina. National flags are on display, but the local vexilologist (sp?) points out a diplomatic faux pas - the B-H flag in use is the one from immediately after the 1991 establishment of the country, which is no longer in use. Gasp!

Round one first; not as obvious as it might seem - tomorrow, we're all taking the rounds in the order 9, 7, 8. Round one was an individual round with thirteen puzzles, all difficult examples of familiar formats. I tried a familiar puzzle at first - Battleships - but couldn't solve it within about 20 minutes, which is what we refer to as a Bad Start. After that I struggled through a nonogram / paint-by-numbers (MAME: logicpro) puzzle that took me rather longer than it ought to have done, plus a skyscraper which might have earned me a handful of points. All told, then, a very modest performance, barely on the board at all. Sadly none of the British team hit the ground running, all four solvers being rather disappointed with their performance. Happily, the very hard puzzles were less difficult than those of last year, widely considered to be too difficult, even for the best solvers.

So to round two, a team round: 39 minutes for four solvers per team to crack 13 problems. I made a long, concentrated attack on a numerical puzzle (identify words from pairwise comparisons, showing how many common letters there are in some of the pairings) which resulted in naught; neither of my other efforts (a numerical puzzle and a "put these six pictures in the correct order to tell a story" puzzle - though the differences were so small that it was effectively a "spot the difference" to start) bore fruit either. The British team solved 10 out of the 13, but sadly the smallest 10. Nevertheless, we considered ourselves pleased, all things considered.

A typical buffet lunch followed and only then did I start to feel a little disappointed by the quality (or otherwise) of my contributions. I knew that everyone was finding it difficult, but I was simply not fast enough or practiced enough with the types of puzzles on offer to be able to hang with most of the competitors. Still, negative thoughts out of my mind for the afternoon session.

We'll speed up a little now because "this is how I did" starts to get a little repetitive. Round three was a medley of puzzles: four puzzles where the answers from one are required to solve the next. I was adequately pleased to solve two, which didn't help given the arithmetic-progression scoring system (10 for one, 30 for two, 60 for three, 100 for four). Round four had one puzzle in each of thirteen styles, each style representing a World Puzzle Championship (12 past and one present, the latter having a new format). These longer (here, 91-minute) rounds are the backbone of the Championship, leaving you feeling exhausted. I was pleased to solve two puzzles of types that I had never solved before, but it was otherwise another low-scoring round, taking my performance from "comically poor" to "so bad it's unbelievable", probably borderline "shouldn't be here".

At this point we finally received the results from the first set of puzzles, which I have to say were slightly disappointing: Britain were down in 15th of 22, with my United Nations B team in 17th. Given that I had been hoping for top ten all along, this wasn't a good start. Only the best 18 or so individual scores were (briefly) shown with the GBR boys still some way off in the distance, though Laszlo from Hungary on UNB had outscored all the real Hungarian team and was in a slightly embarrassingly high eighth place.

Nevertheless, so to round five, "Lucky Thirteen". The concept behind this round is best illustrated with an example. Fill the numbers one to nine into the octothorpes below so that each row, when calculated in left-to-right order as opposed to usual mathematical order of priority, comes to 10:
# - # * #
+   +   +
# + # - #
-   /   +
# + # + #
I plead "fair use" blindly here.

The solution technique is to write down all the ways to pick three digits that add up to 10, work out which ones use a common digit which might go bottom-right, then work out what might be multiplied by what to make the top row work, and the rest falls out from there.

At first I thought I wouldn't get any of the 13 of these to be solved in the round, but the first couple sorted themselves out fairly quickly. By this point the first few solvers had claimed to have finished all thirteen puzzles, for this was a race round - thirteen puzzles at 6 points each, with first five all-correct solutions earning bonuses to take the scores for the round up to 100, 95, 91, 87 and 83 respectively - a good system. Nevertheless, the rest of us had the remainder of our allotted 39 minutes to finish as many examples as possible. There was another twist to the round: each of the first twelve puzzles had a square marked in grey, which translated to the thirteenth puzzle (and, there being nine spaces in the final puzzle, possibly another of the first twelve puzzles as well). The thirteenth puzzle worked in reverse: given the numbers, or at least having worked them out, supply the arithmetic operators in order to make each row total 13.

You might not be too surprised to hear that I've gone into such detail about this round because, in the end, I managed to crack all thirteen puzzles with about a minute to spare. I thought that this had been a round with far too much time permitted given how quickly the best solvers had done it and how even slowcoaches like me polished all thirteen off, but it would eventually turn out that something like half the competitors didn't complete the round perfectly. (Quite a few tripped up on anoter little stipulation on puzzle thirteen!)

The day's final round had the teams join up together again to solve eight 3x3 jigsaw puzzles in 52 minutes. Not tricky in theory, except that the pieces had half-figures on each side, so the challenge was to work out the unknown orientation of each piece and then match the two halves of figures up to each other. Team United Nations B solved 7 of the 8, six of which were solved by Guy from Belgium. Fine teamwork, there, and one in which I played a crucial role. Sort of.

After six rounds of puzzles, we took a few minutes to relax and had a look through tomorrow's puzzles (mostly with the team round in mind) and attacked the buffet once more. Afterwards, the 9pm "look through tomorrow's puzzles and answer any questions you might have" session for another hour, plus a new set of scores - ones with only round one and round six taken into account. Britain had solved all eight jigsaws (many teams only got six or seven) to move up a place to 14th, but within 42 points of tenth place. Really it was very tight outside the predictable eight powerhouse teams.

At long last, blogging and bed! Earlier night than last night required, because tiredness was starting to kick in towards the end of the day. Six rounds down, six more to go - then the finals! :-)