Results are finally posted and congratulations are due to Palmer Mebane for winning this year’s US Puzzle Championship. The closer race was for the remaining two US team spots and Jonathan Rivet was a convincing second and Will Blatt squeaked in at third. But a lot of others were one solved puzzle (or a few differences + bonus) away from a tie or being ahead. Sadly, this will be the first time in 20 years that Wei-Hwa Huang is not on the US team at a WPC (since the very 1st one in which he did not participate). His veteran leadership has helped in almost all of our team victories and it will be difficult to fill his shoes as I am now the most experienced of the US team members.
Statistics are not yet posted, but I expect to see low success percentages (20-40%) for the Number Tower and the Pathfinder puzzle. I don’t think all of these come from people spending a free guess, but often solvers will put a little time into a puzzle and then hazard the rest as the Number Tower certainly allows after you place the 3 and maybe a couple others before running into harder assignments.
The two largest surprises on the test were both Cihan Altay puzzles (which was not a surprise as his style is always “unique”). Duello was a rather interesting challenge, and was set-up to very easily break if solvers went in assuming that a 1-N number set was used for the avoided numbers. Many solvers complained about these unclear rules, but I’m left thinking that this is hardly the first time a puzzle has contained a surprise of this sort and worked well. If it weren’t for the competition pressure, I’d expect a much higher number of positive comments here. Thinking back, the 2010 USPC’s Sukazu, for example, described how numbers would be used and while many of us thought 1-4 were the likely set the puzzle managed to get other digits in there. It ended up my favorite puzzle on that test as a result. At the 2011 WPC I was less fortunate on a number square puzzle where all row/column values became a multiple of 11. It turns out 0 is a multiple of 11 in the constructor’s mind. Being stymied during the competition made me frustrated but after some rest and reevaluation it was a good fake-out too. So that this Duello puzzle quickly put a 1 at the edge of a column that with a 4 could not pack without two 0 clues was simply a typical USPC or WPC style surprise, allowed within the rules, meant to be encountered during the solve and resolved by . The puzzle is much better as a one-off style with this surprise, I think, and was certainly the author’s preference.
The Number Tower was the other surprise and the only puzzle I screwed up on the test-solve and submitted wrong, flipping the 6 and 7 (but might have caught in the extra time given competition conditions). I also posit that I might have guessed a rotation gimmick before the test if I’d had the 16 hours to think about the instructions. But I got rotation within the first minute of looking at the column certainly. It was definitely another patented “Cihan puzzle”, as he has his own creative style and exploits fonts and shapes and numbers in very creative ways while making his solvers similarly contort their brains.
The rest of the test was at a typically high quality level. Nikoli’s contributions included an interesting Sudoku (maybe a notch below their contribution from a few years back but very narrow in solving scope). Serkan had several nice solving puzzles including his Tapa and the Ambiguity with the USPC theme all over the middle that I only noticed after the test. Other US authors also had fun contributions in the Siamese Fences (Dave Tuller), Bombardoku (Adam Wood), and Pentopia (Grant Fikes), the latter being a puzzle I got to see early for this website and referred to the USPC for its good quality. As I intend to keep constructing and editing puzzles over the next year, you should probably expect me to be a constructor for the USPC again in 2014 and I hope the test is better for it. Thanks to Nick Baxter for all his work organizing the contest and to the other authors for helping put together a memorable championship.