Ask Dr. Sudoku – Championship Chatter

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Last Saturday finished another 6 week cycle of offerings from Grandmaster Puzzles. It also finished a rather busy 6 weeks of puzzle construction and testing, including three different puzzle championship rounds. Two of these have now been hosted (the US Sudoku Qualifying Test/Grand Prix Contest, and the US Puzzle Championship) and one will be a future surprise. This gives me reason to think a pause for some reflection and discussion about some of these puzzles would be a valuable use of the “gap” time before our next spurt of new puzzles and possibly new genres begins. [It also gives me a chance to hopefully address some server issues.]

The USPC is one of the few championships that follows the World Puzzle Federation’s model of puzzle balance including observational puzzles, word manipulation puzzles, and often some “trick” puzzles alongside a mix of classic constraint satisfaction types and variants. I figured — given existing contributors — that I would be most called upon to make some innovative word and observational puzzles alongside some original (read: previously unseen) variants that would hold new surprises for all solvers. The first puzzle I wanted to highlight is one that is meant to be recognizable and friendly to even the casual solver: the USPC Word Search.

I had a few ideas in mind this year for creating an interesting word search, and settled on a variety rebus gimmick where entries may or may not contain a shortened set of characters in a single square. Having previously used digit word phrases for a Sudoku Masterpieces puzzle (Some Err1ous Spelling!) and having much of that research on hand, I took my time getting a good interlinked set of “Digi2rds” together for the USPC puzzle. The missing middle shaped like an octothorpe was another goal I had in mind to give the puzzle some character. I also laid some traps around the middle for solvers trying to intuit words too soon. While many solvers will turn their noses up at a word search, I still see great value in having such puzzle styles represented on a puzzle championship. I hope I managed to give an intriguing challenge with the puzzle below.

Word Search by Thomas Snyder


Theme: Hidden Numbers

Rules: Standard Word Search rules. Also, a digit may be used in place of its letters when spelled out. For example, “DIGIT WORD SEARCH” might appear in the grid as “DIGI2RDSEARCH”. 25 characters are missing from the grid and must be identified to complete the puzzle.

Answer String: For the USPC, the answer string was the 25 missing characters in order. For this week, you can just hit the solved button on an honor system if you think you’ve solved it.

  • FoxFireX says:

    I enjoyed doing the word search, especially since I seemed to bomb a lot of the test otherwise. It was the USPC last year that spawned me to get back into doing more puzzles overall, so I was really hoping to show myself this year that I’d improved, but looking at the answer key, I’m actually expecting that I have regressed. It was a fun afternoon regardless, and it was really entertaining to actually start putting a concept of “Oh yeah, that guy!” together with the authors in the booklet.

  • Jack Bross says:

    I did get this one during the test, and thankfully didn’t fall into the false quinine trap (recognized there were two and held off…).

    Given that I figured we might be replacing “Fourier Series” with “4ier Series” it was impossible not to think of the SMBC cartoon about that: Fourier and Fourier

  • Giovanni P. says:

    I did this one on the test and got it correct, so I can press the solved button with no qualms :).

    It’s definitely an interesting word search. You can get a bunch of the entries pretty quickly if you keep your eyes open, but it was figuring out how the missing characters are filled in that took me the most time on this one. To make it work, you have to have a bit of an a-ha moment regarding a couple of the entries, and once you get that, you have to get them in the right way. I’m keeping it a bit vague on purpose just in case someone else wants to solve this and looks at the comments.

    • drsudoku says:

      Leaving the last entries to become a sort of criss-cross puzzle was a goal — a lot of these word searches with missing middles can be short-circuited by finding just the internal entries but here there were some almost entirely hidden inside and getting the word list to a manageable size is probably the only sure way to go after the center.

  • Francis says:

    This was definitely more fun than most word searches, but couldn’t compare to the Tight-Fit TomTom and Thermo Skyscrapers, which I think are the logic puzzles of the year (so far, anyway). Great stuff.

  • It was interesting how much you had to work at finding words in the outer part of the grid before placing the last few in the center.

    I had several moments of panic where I was worried about confusing 1s and Is in my handwriting, my reading, my typing, … definitely made the final entry of the answer key a lot more nerve-wracking. I’ll have to write my 1s very distinctively next time there’s a puzzle involving 1s and Is to save myself a lot of stress later.

    I think Tight Fit TomTom has a lot of potential as a math puzzle for kids, too, if we can make some that are a bit easier as puzzles and focused more on the arithmetic options. Time for me to get to work, perhaps!

  • dohz says:

    I…seem to be running into a problem (sry for resurrecting five-year-old post).

    V oryvrir V’ir ybpngrq rirel jbeq rkprcg sbe bar, UBARLZBBARE. V’ir svyyrq va gur erfg bs gur chmmyr rkprcg sbe fbzr bs gur evtug pbyhza bs gur bpgbgubecr, juvpu frrzf gb or jurer gur ynfg jbeq jbhyq or sbhaq. Fb gur pbyhza, sebz gbc gb obggbz, jbhyq or CE1BZ1U, ohg gur L jbhyq or zvffvat. Guvf unf gb or n zvfgnxr ba zl cneg, evtug? Zl fbyir frrzf irel pybfr abarguryrff.

    • drsudoku says:

      Gung vf pybfr, naq vg vf abg pyrne jurer lbh unir n zvfgnxr. Jung ner gur sbeprq yrggref sebz bgure jbeqf va gur evtug pbyhza? Fvapr gur C vf abg sebz UBARLZBBARE, gung vf tbvat gb or bar bs gurz sbe C??????. Jung ryfr?

  • dohz says:

    Gur sbeprq yrggref V unir va gur evtug pbyhza nygbtrgure ner C?1?Z?? (gur C sbeprq ol FCBEG7G↙️, 1 ol ENQV12EX⬅️, naq Z ol GURENZBARF↘️ naq FBSGZ1L⬅️). Zl ncbybtvrf vs guvf vf qvssvphyg gb ivfhnyvmr, V unir zl cebterff frg hc va ZF Cnvag va pnfr funevat na vzntr jbhyq or arprffnel.

  • dohz says:

    Oh my goodness I can’t believe I got so hung up by such a small and silly mistake right at the end. Well! I’m past it now, hahaha geez. I guess sometimes one can get locked into achingly close solutions to the point of failing to make the most minor alternate considerations.

    • drsudoku says:

      On different puzzles we all can have these facepalm moments, where until we take a break or stand back enough we can’t find the thing we overlooked. Congrats on getting to the answer.

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