“And STILL… undisputed championofthewooooooorld…”

Ulrich Voigt, ten-time World Puzzle ChampionThe photo above, taken by the Japan Puzzle Federation, is of Ulrich Voigt, shortly after winning third place in the World Puzzle Federation’s in-person final of their year-long GP competition. This was just a warm-up for him, preparing his defence of his individual title. The previous post saw him listed as number one seed going into the play-offs.

The quarter-final saw finishers numbers seven to ten compete over three puzzles, for a single spot in the semi-final, with the lower-ranked finishers suffering late starts relative to the seventh-placed finisher by way of a handicap to penalise them for their lower finish. Bram de Laat of the Netherlands started the quarter-final first, by virtue of his seventh place finish, Zoltan Horvath of Hungary started second for finishing eighth, Japan’s Kota Morinshi finished ninth and so started third, and the USA’s William Blatt started fourth, having being promoted to a tenth-place finish upon appeal. (Previous tenth-place finisher Roland Voigt responds very reasonably.) The first puzzle, a Slitherlink (a.k.a. Fences, Rundweg etc.) was probably the one that had the biggest impact in the quarter-final; Kota Morinshi overtook the two previous starters and never looked back, even after having to erase a big chunk of his third puzzle. Kota finished the quarter-final first to reach the semi-final, and the potential double championship remained on!

So, in the semi-final, Kota Morinshi started some time after sixth-placed finisher Peter Hudak of Slovakia, somewhat longer after fifth-placed finisher Hideaki Jo of Japan and even longer still after fourth-placed finisher Palmer Mebane of the USA. In Palmer’s own write-up, he talks about the five puzzles he faced. He points to an unusual technique that he used to crack the Suguru puzzle, on his way to defend his fourth-place finish and qualification for the final.

Palmer had a 4’20” penalty to make up, with third-place finisher Florian Kirch of Germany suffering a 3’40” hold and second-place finisher Ken Endo of Japan having to wait 2’49” until after first-placed qualifier Ulrich Voigt of Germany started his final. This was longer still at seven puzzles: in order, Battleships, Area 51, Kakuro, Nurikabe, Unequal Length Maze, Neighbours, and Masyu. Mebane spotted a quick constraint on the 3-length ships to make up much of the time disadvantage on the Battleships puzzle, and was fast on Area 51 and Kakuro despite a minute-long penalty for a wrong answer on the second and 30 seconds struggling with a false solution to the third. After catching up further on the Nurikabe, Palmer writes:

(…) Unequal Length Maze is a fiddly Erich Friedman type without a lot of logic in it. An odd choice for a playoffs. Apparently this one went really poorly for Ken Endo, leading to his eventual 4th. In contrast, I saw a way to include a path pattern I often see in the solutions for these and finished it in 15 seconds. I was rather incredulous at this, my invigilator David McNeill was moreso (…) and Josh Zucker from the USA B team said it was his favorite solve of the championship.

Palmer made up more time still on the tricky Neighbours and final Masyu, so had come back a long way from his 4’20” initial deficit. Not quite far enough, for Ulrich Voigt had finished 22 seconds earlier to claim his tenth world championship. (This is the first time he’d won three in a row, and the first WPC “threepeat” since Wei-Hwa Huang bowled a metaphorical turkey in 1997-1999.) Florian Kirch was also making up time, finishing within a minute as well to take the third step on the podium. Full results to follow shortly when available. Congratulations to all the play-off participants, and to the top-placed teams as well.

The whole concept of a play-off for the finals remains slightly controversial, though it has been well-established since 2000. There is scope for criticising the extent to which the results of the first two days of competition are, arguably, close to thrown out when the result of the handicapped fifteen round decide the overall result. It’s almost a made-for-TV finale before the event has started to attract TV coverage. There have been a variety of play-off formats used over the years; this year’s was relatively well-received, for making the headstarts relatively large while keeping the solving interesting. It’s interesting that Palmer Mebane fairly explicitly targets finishing first before the play-offs over finishing first in the play-off, and he’s not alone in that opinion. Nevertheless, there are no realistic signs of play-offs being removed from championship consideration in future years.

Stretching back to last century, perhaps American Gladiators is to blame?

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