Championship Chatter – Some Other USPC Thoughts

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.

  • Scott Handelman says:

    This is the first year that I didn’t break 100, I think…would have gotten a 108, but I accidentally misnamed a pentomino so I lost 10 points and dropped down to 98.

    I had hoped this would be my first top 25 year, but the low score + mistake dropped me down to 56th. Not my worst year placewise, but definitely a disappointment.

    • Avatar photo Grant Fikes says:

      You misnamed a pentomino? But the only pentomino puzzle on the test was by me, isn’t it? People failing at solving my puzzles makes me sad. 🙁

      • scott handelman says:

        I did not fail to solve, I failed to get the correct answer key because I wrote n when I meant y which was stupid because I had already written n. I should have checked my answer before the test was over but oh well.

  • Jack Bross says:

    I was very surprised that my 133 was good enough to sneak onto the first page this year — I was sure I was going to drop out of the top 30 for the first time in a few years. Frankly, I figured a “good” performance for me was about two more puzzles (170-ish), and I would expect to need a good performance to get me into the top 25.

    At any rate, my experience solving was that in the first hour or so, I knocked out a good 80 points or so without pausing, and then hit something of a wall. After some wasted time with the Sudoku, I settled on the Kakuro as a good way to get back on the board. Which it was. I can almost always get through a tough Kakuro variation, and this one wasn’t all that bad, really. I missed a key insight in Looper, which I probably should have gotten (I’d say I got some but not all of the early stages, and one or two more insights would have gotten me off and running). Broke the Persistence of Memory, which I also probably should have gotten (did it after the test). Plus, I really should have tried the counting puzzle (would have been quick) and the Follow-Up word-packing thing (which wasn’t that quick, but I got through it very smoothly when I did it after the test). Eventually just ground my way through the Slitherlink, which was big points but also took me a long time. Slitherlink isn’t one of my better points-per-minute puzzles ever.

    I enjoyed Nikoli’s Masyu this year. Even though it lacked a certain thematic punch, the loop logic was good and it had just enough bite for my taste. I thought Nikoli’s Corral was too easy, befitting it’s 5-point valuation. The Tapa was good, also just enough bite — I actually solved the Battleships and the Tapa in Paint while waiting for the test to finish printing.

    Also, I have realized that my approach to STD puzzles is the same as making microwave popcorn. When the time between pops starts to get spread out too much, stop cooking before it burns. In this case, that would (obviously from my score) be 8 differences in about 6 minutes, then out.

  • tamz29 says:

    Non-test related. Is Wei-Hwa unavailable for the WPC or is this the first time he doesn’t get the bye anymore?

    • Avatar photo drsudoku says:

      He is available, and will be on the US Sudoku Team (and therefore likely a B-team participant at the WPC). The byes are given based on performance at the prior WPC, typically making the playoffs. Only Palmer (3rd) and I (2nd) did well enough to earn that bye.

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