August 19th, 2012
|09:51 am - The games between the games and the games - plus: puzzles!|
The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park may be taking a breather between the two halves of its summer of sport, but in between are two independent attempts to be a counterpart for mental activities rather than physical ones.
The second World Mind Sports Games is taking place - techncially, just about to conclude - in Lille, France; like the first one, it features tournaments in chess, bridge, go, draughts (specifically, members of the draughts family) and xiangi ("Chinese chess"). The organising body has representatives of the governing bodies of the first four of those; xiangqi may be there more for the historical reason that the first event took place in China than for any other reason. The governing body's statutes have provision for other mind sports to join, but I'm not sure whether this is more than merely theoretical; it's interesting to note that those four mind sports are the only ones sufficiently well-established and big-business to have been accepted into SportAccord, the general sports' governing bodies' congress. (For instance, there was a poker group associated, promoting a "Duplicate Poker" format, in a similar way to the one used in bridge to mitigate the "luck of the deal" factor - but they don't seem to appear on the books any more.)
The World Mind Sports Games has a daily bulletin, though sadly it's not as dynamic as I would hope; most of the features have a pre-written feel to them, the interviews are really merely non-interactive questionnaires and it's not even as if there's analysis of the games that were played. The most interesting item was a passing mention of a "mathematical games" match between Belgium and France, but no mention of what these games were or how they might be played. (I have half a feeling that these games also appear in the annual games festival in Cannes, which are no more specific.) Another interesting part of the World Mind Sports Games web site is a suggestion that SportAccord will be organising another World Mind Games in China this December; same again. If there's sufficient local support to make the business model work in China on a regular basis, great!
More accessibly, the fifteenth annual edition of the Mind Sports Olympiad started yesterday in London and runs until Monday 27th. Impressive number, fifteen. This features tournaments in forty or so different mind sports; while the event does not change particularly quickly, more and more relevant games are being introduced over time. I'm particularly tickled by the presence of a Scrabble Variants tournament, which is new to the MSO and reasonably imaginative, plus the return of the Mystery Game tournament. The history suggests it happened before in MSOs 3 and 4 - '99 and 2000 - but I have a vague recollection of having played in one myself in 1998. That year's mystery game was a pure-skill card game from an excellent games rulebook, but the game was sufficiently crunchy and bereft of giggles to be not so much to my taste.
Credit to the MSO for moving a wider selection of events to the evening, which ought to go some way towards making the event more of a practical proposition for those who live and work office hours in London but still want to participate. Entry is available to everyone who ponies up, and the prices have also been more reasonable in the last year or two than they were in the first few years when I worked behind the scenes. Fingers crossed that the MSO can keep doing its thing and getting the word out to the masses. I'm particularly glad this year that it didn't have nomenclature issues with use of the O-word; whether this reflects common sense on the part of LOCOG and associates (because the event has used it long before London started planning a bid, and the name follows the eighty-year-plus tradition of the Chess Olympiad) or just the event flying under their radar will probably never be known.
If you don't feel like travelling to play face to face, there are plenty of remote-solving puzzle contests available this weekend and next weekend; actually, almost too many. This weekend sees the fourth Skyscrapers and Variations contest; while it's held at the Logic Masters Germany site, both site and instruction booklet are German-English bilingual; how convenient for us Anglophiles that English is the lingua franca of the puzzle world. Choose your own starting-point and you have two hours to complete the contest, up to midnight tonight. I'm not sure which time zone applies, but German local time (i.e. Central European Summer Time) would be my guess. The instruction booklet suggests that it has quite a few puzzles that look likely to be deliberately kept towards the accessible end of the spectrum; the variants look well-balanced on the familiar-to-innovative spectrum, as well. It's nice to see another format develop its own variants and contests, even if it is a "numbers once per row, once per column, one more constraint" sort of puzzle.
This weekend also sees the online UK Sudoku Championship and the latest Logic Masters India monthly puzzle contest. Each of these last two hours; again, start any time, but you also have the whole of Monday to complete them. (The UK Sudoku Championship is conducted in UK local time; LMI uses Universal Time, effectively GMT, so an hour off from British Summer Time.) The UK Sudoku Championship has one standard and thirteen variants, and I'm inclined to believe that the standard is set to try to discriminate between the top solvers, for the top two earn places on the UK team. This month's LMI test uses examples of original formats from a Turkish magazine; eleven formats, eight of which have multiple puzzles in the contest. I get a very good feeling about this one, not least the variety of formats mean it's likely to be particularly good practice for next weekend, because...
Next weekend sees both the US Puzzle Championship and the UK Puzzle Championship take place online. Now this makes me say "[annoyed grunt]"; I am glad that the puzzle season is not just a single qualifying contest long any more, but having those two championships the same weekend strikes me as solver-unfriendly. (The UK announced their date first, and I don't think the US can use a "we're always this weekend" argument without history not being on their side. Nevertheless, nobody agreed with my call for the UK to reschedule, so the clash is going ahead.) Both tournaments are 2½ hours long and neither has their instruction booklet published yet, but both are likely to be extremely high quality and I think there's a fair chance that the UK test is likely to be more accessible.
For what it's worth, the UK championship was just about my single favourite contest last year, though LMI had a couple of very good ones as well, and I think that people who think "oh, I quite like puzzles but I'm not very good at them" are likely not just to enjoy, but to really be able to get their teeth stuck into, the UK event. The US one will likely be at least as good, but harder.
If you want to qualify for the US team then you have to use the official start time of 1pm EST - but both tournaments will be open all weekend (again, not sure on the precise times or time zones) so that solvers around the world can take part at their convenience. A big thumbs-up to the US for adopting global best practice in this regard, though US puzzle bloggers who are used to posting wrap-ups after the mandatory 2½-hour window are kindly requested to hold off posting their (nevertheless very welcome!) wrap-ups until after the window has closed to let the rest of the world have their go. One place in the UK WPC team will go to the top-placed UK solver in each of next weekend's contests.
So two weekends, five contests, eleven hours of puzzles; at least they've fallen well with my shift pattern. Looks like I need to get a new printer ink cartridge! As a reminder, Angela and Otto Janko kindly maintain a calendar of online puzzle contests; while I'm very grateful to anyone who has the creativity and generosity to put together an online puzzle contest (for instance, I've never done it, and I don't think I actually could, because the established standards are so high), I think there is scope for increased co-ordination in the future. With a similar degree of output, we could have a contest pretty much every weekend, rather than alternating deluges and droughts!
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