We met up at Middlesbrough Train Station, with superfi's train being a positively restrained 7 minutes late. A drive-by quick trip to Forbidden Planet was all that separated us from a trip to Hungry Jacks, even though the queue was longer than I had ever seen it before. We sat outside in the sun by The Bottle Of Notes, a ten year old strange piece of sculpture in the centre of the town which initially attracted attention as a supposed waste of money but won a few awards. Three kids came and used it as a climbing frame, overseen by two presumably-parents. There was much colourful and inventive invective; we particularly liked the kids calling each other "necrophiliac", "bum-sniffer" and "winnet". The kids climbed ever higher up the 35' structure, not least inspired by their mother(?)'s cheerful encouragement of "Keep going, you little fags". At least one of the kids was bawling about the height they had reached, though it was impossible to tell whether the disquiet was genuine or not.
Later, our party of three advanced to the shade, mostly enjoying fruufoo's Encyclopedia of Unusual Sexual Practices. This was sadly not quite as encyclopaedic as I would've liked, but still had a few amusing entries. We particularly liked timeophilia, the attraction to wealth and status, with the note that the Roman Emperor Caligula particularly liked to relax neck-deep in a vault of gold coins. It was noted that so does $crooge McDuck and so the One True Pairing was born. Now we aren't the first to spot the resemblance, but there yet might well soon be an addition to The Erotic Adventures of Scrooge McDuck (disappointingly work-safe link) that even they hadn't thought of. (Oh yes, and $crooge's appearance in the Forbes Fictional Fifteen is funny.)
The other jolly idea we had was to apply the traditions of fandom to the tremendously influential ongoing storylines of the Cambridge Latin Course. Now I don't know how many of you followed the adventures of Caecilius, Metella, Quintus et al (al as an abbreviation of alii - others - rather than as a character called al) but it was a formative introduction to episodic narrative while teaching us Latin as well. The scope for fandom malarky is considerable, not least exploring the evident slashy subtext, getting into flame wars against the Ecce Romani plebes, bizarre interdimensional crossovers through time and space and the like. We all know what sort of hanky-panky the Roman Emperors got up to, not least after reading the glorious detail of the above-mentioned encyclopedia, so there's no reason why the ordinary citizens couldn't get up to as much fun.
As it happens, there is a fab colourful new fourth edition of the series replacing the old one at the moment and a little search finds it for a vaguely reasonable £9.25 + P&P from amazon.co.uk. Have a look at some sample pages from the North American edition; if you can read this 2MB PDF without it crashing, you might be as amused as I was by the tale on page five. Sundry minor characters ejaculate euge! at each other and one of them says quid tu dicis. I have a sudden desire to translate that as "What you say?" and try to translate all the rest of All Your Base Are Belong To Us into Latin, but that's just me.
Other highlights of the trip included a trip to another of Middlesbrough's trendy pubs which I would never otherwise visit were it not for these fascinating ladies leading me astray and discussion of lots of Japanese animation of which I currently have virtually no concept. A lot of fun, some extremely clement weather and an excellent reminder of the fact that you really can't get an idea about how people are in real life from reading their LiveJournal. The two of them might both kill me for this, but superfi behaved a lot more like how I would have expected phoenix_dru to do from her LiveJournal and vice versa. The three of us shall have to meet soon so the two of them can exact a joint revenge on me for this most sweeping of statements.
After that, a quick check on LJ and a quick lie-down before the World Puzzle Championship.
You've probably already seen mention of the problems with this year's online qualifying test - specifically, the password wasn't posted until about thirteen minutes after the scheduled start of the test. (The server was running about three minutes fast all day and so the official figure was 16 minutes, but the offset was at least consistent throughout.) I had done no particular preparation at all for this year's qualifying test, despite some well-laid plans. I'll discuss the questions now, which will probably only make much sense if you're familiar with them. (They're still downloadable if you're interested.)
#1 was a completely standard Battleships problem. I solved this in five minutes, but remember feeling that with practice - and battleships are fun problems to practice - I could probably have shaved a minute or two off that time.
#2, "Pentomino Division", was pretty standard. There must be a swifter solution technique than mine, which was to work out all the possible pairs and use trial and error to determine which was accurate. This took maybe 10-15 minutes for 5 points - not so good.
#3, "Making Change", had a clever twist in the tail. I didn't spot this in my first three minutes, but got it in about five minutes second time around.
#4, "Dutch Treats", was a reasonably standard incomplete wordsearch. 15 minutes, 15 points. If you're really competitive then you'll not worry about tyring to find all the words in the grid and only consider the ones which contain letters you need to fill in, but I'm not sure how you'd do this in practice.
#5, "Dutch Segway", was an insanely intricate mirror-image spot-the-difference. Spent about 5-8 minutes on this, eliminated one of the six, gave up.
#6, "Common Element", was a tough but extremely clever example of the type. For the first two questions, I managed to get the more obvious half of the connecting rule to narrow the nine down to three but no further. Spent 5-10 minutes, no answers.
#8, "Unlucky Sevens", was remarkable. I concentrated on the four words where every letter intersected with the start or end of another word and eliminated four of the 29 possibilities. Then I took a pot-luck guess, filled one of the words in. By a 1-in-25 miracle, it happened to be the right one which made everything fall in place around it. Not sure what the strategy for working out what the first word to place really must be. I think the actual answer was just about intuitable from the question number and title if you had enough chutzpah.
#10. Got the first three of these sequences. Clever and cute.
#11, "Jigsaw Word Search", was my final race-against-the-clock puzzle. (At least, against the first deadline!) The key to this one is to start with the only eight-letter word, which can be placed uniquely. Everything falls into place around it. Cool!
#12, "Special Latin Square" solved itself just through careful and methodical progress. Took about 15-20 minutes for 20 points.
#13, "Number Place" was a pretty easy example of the genre. 10 points plus possible 5 bonus if we ever work out how these bonuses work, 8 minutes.
#21, "Rolling Block Maze" - I worked on this for 5-10 minutes, but didn't get the answer. I managed to get some possible starts and some possible ends, but couldn't connect the two. A physical model would probably have helped here.
I started frantically typing my answers with fewer than five minutes to go and finished with about two left, but didn't manage to actually submit my answers until after the expiry. (I wasn't too worried - everyone had the same problems.) Then the entry form pointed out the extra 13/16 minutes, so I had a look at #9, "Minesweeper Path". I managed to solve about 2/3 of it in those last 10-ish minutes but made a major mistake from which I couldn't recover to find the solution.
The solutions are available already; I think I got all the answers I submitted correct, modulo comma placement, which makes me happy. Accordingly I'm hoping for a score of 110 or 120 if I've somehow picked up the bonuses as well, which which I am very satisfied - more because I always had puzzles to enjoy trying to solve throughout the time and never felt I wasted a huge amount of time on a bad solution rather than anything else. That's just as much as I could ask for.
The key question, I suppose, is "Will my score be large enough to get me on the UK team?"; as ever, the answer depends far more on who else from the UK has taken part rather than anything else. I think Ken Wilshire and ericklendl have both clearly beaten me by about 20 or 30, but I beat Alan O'Donnell. We shall see the results soon - this week, hopefully. I would be thrilled if someone who I didn't previously associate as a WPC puzzler but who read about it from me on their Friends page turns out to have got an unexpected massive score and qualifies for the team. (There might also be some nationality eligibility questions concerning a very cool guy called Michael Colao, who entered under "New Zealand" but has been living in the UK for years and will have British citizenship in weeks.) I hope for a well-placed alternate's position, as in 2001, and am on standby as a substitute should the UK (as almost always) is unable to field its strongest possible team - the O'Neill factor.
Despite the problems, great questions and great fun - more so than any other timed puzzle event I've yet found. Roll on the 2004 qualifying test!
After the qualifying test, beef casserole for dinner, some light comedy, some British heavyweight boxing and some provocative, fascinating and hugely worthwhile LJ posts. Definitely a fine day in my book.