October 31st, 2010

swings

Puzzling times

I'm getting back into puzzles at the moment - specifically, culture-neutral, language-free logic puzzles, like sudoku and the sorts of puzzles you see published next to them. In my mind, the world of logic puzzles has advanced far enough recently that it has come of age and become a mass participation competitive mind sport.

A traditional criticism of the logic puzzle mind sport is that it has been so strongly focused around a single event, the annual World Puzzle Championships. It made for a very short puzzle season: either you qualified for the World Puzzle Championship or you didn't, and if you didn't then that was that for the year. If you were lucky enough to qualify - and while solving the puzzles is a matter of skill, being born in a country from which the competition was such that you could qualify is a matter of luck for all but the very finest - then your season would only be one contest longer. Recent developments have meant that there is a meaningful collection of competitions year-round for solvers of all standards... including the fifth to eighth best solvers in the US, who traditionally found it very difficult to find their place to shine.

I'm also drawing a distinction between the existence of puzzles to solve and the existence of puzzle competitions to solve. There have long been several sites with lots of logic problems to solve, but solving puzzles as a solo activity is somehow a little tame. I take the viewpoint that solving puzzles against the clock with your performance "under exam conditions" being compared against that of others is rather more sporting, somehow, than that of solving puzzles alone. This is contentious, of course; even restricting yourself to logic puzzles within the world of puzzles at large, there's a clear sporting element to the concept of "Who can solve the hardest puzzle?". I'm glad that there are different sporting approaches that can be taken.

There have long been several web sites with plenty of puzzles to solve; some give you puzzles to print out and solve with pencil on paper, others have applets to let you solve online. Collapse )

If those are the practice sites, where are the competition sites? I've posted more than once about Logic Masters India, which hosts a variety of puzzle contests (usually available to the world at large!) in similar styles to that of the US Puzzle Championship, which is still used as the UK qualifier for the World Puzzle Championship. The form is that .pdf files containing puzzles are uploaded; solvers download the files and have a certain time limit to submit their answers through a web interface. The contests are devised by people around the world; for instance, motris submitted a test a fortnight ago which was extremely well-received by those who took part. Collapse )

However, even Logic Masters India does not offer puzzle contests each day; one site that does is croco-puzzle, a German-language site with puzzles and puzzle contests to solve online. Most of these are free, but an online shop sells puzzle collections as well. (There's a weekly contest where the prize is credit for the online shop.) Of most interest to me is the Überraschungsrätsel, or "surprise puzzle"; this is a daily timed contest, one puzzle long. Every day there's a new puzzle, so far in one of 29 types. Every participant who opts in has their performance on each puzzle timed; the times are published, to provide a daily high-score table, and a rating scheme attempts to assess who has been the most successful solver overall. I've really got into this over the last five or six weeks.

The croco-puzzle Überraschungsrätsel meta-game isn't for everyone, but I think the people who like it will really like it. Collapse )

And yet you don't need to be a great solver to enjoy croco-puzzle; I'm down at 450th place in the world with an overall rating of 127, having solved 18 puzzles to date. I've enjoyed each one, many of which involved learning how to solve a relatively quick example of a type of puzzle that was new to me and having an interesting reason to do so. Most of the solutions have seen my rating creep up and I have clawed my way past the lower reaches of the rating table, though four times I've worked my way to a correct solution so slowly that I've ended up losing a point or two on the deal. It really is a low commitment - most days I've looked at the type of the day's puzzle, or how long it's taken the best solvers, and thought I didn't fancy it - but if you can pick your battles (today's Killer Sudoku looks likely to take far longer than I would ever want to spend) then it's a lot of fun even at my relatively low level of achievement. Puzzle fans should seriously consider whether they'd enjoy giving it a go, and I'd love to see more people I know taking part.

In other puzzle news, the 19th World Puzzle Championships took place in Poland last week, one of the very largest to date; their web site has all the information. Ulrich Voigt won the two and a half days of puzzles that make up the body of qualifying, and also won the semi-final, but he faced three of the four members of the Japanese team in the final and Taro Arimatsu squeezed him out for his first world title, following on from two fifth places and a seventh place in three previous tries over the last eight years. The US snatched the team championship from Japan. The UK sent a strong team but couldn't really find their feet and finished 22nd of 26.

Unrelatedly, the clocks go back in an hour or two's time in much of Europe, but they don't go back in the US for another week. Accordingly, for the next week, the difference between US and European time may be an hour less than you expect. Be warned!

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puzzle

croco-puzzle.de walkthrough

One of the most initially off-putting parts about croco-puzzle.de is the quantity of German text you have to deal with. To help those of you who might be considering giving it a go, I have prepared a walk-through of the site, from registering to my experience with a recent Überraschungsrätsel puzzle. The puzzle is a couple of days old, so there are no spoilers to be found. (Some of the terminology refers to things referenced in the later paragraphs of my previous post.)

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If this sounds like fun to you, or the process of learning new puzzles so that you can be rated for them appeals, then you really should consider give croco-puzzle.de a try. I think it's great, and admire the low degree of commitment that the site requires. The single biggest tip I'd have is - particularly if you're not a very confident solver - make sure to look at the high-score table to find out what type the day's puzzle is, and how long it might take you, before you decide to commit to trying to solve it. Today's puzzle is a Killer Sudoku which has a median solving time of over half an hour, so, yeah, that's one I'll not be trying. Perhaps tomorrow's puzzle may be more to my taste!

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