Looking ahead to 2015: your puzzling New Year Resolution

Lord Kitchener suggests your country needs youAre you from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Malaysia, Singapore or Spain? Keep reading to the end…

Yesterday, this site discussed the way the puzzle season culminates with the world championships in sudoku and puzzles each year. The World Puzzle Championships have happened annually since 1992 and the World Sudoku Championships annually since 2006, in a variety of countries around the world. National teams of four compete; countries with fewer than four representatives often team up with each other to form “United Nations” teams. Some particularly productive countries send two teams in some years.

I was fortunate enough to be part of the UK’s team for the World Puzzle Championships in 2000 and 2001, and the non-playing captain of the UK team in 2004. (As non-playing captain, I made up the numbers on another transnational “United Nations” team.) This was a real privilege and very probably the highlights of my puzzling career. At the time, I wrote up my 2000 experience (thank you, Wayback Machine, for providing permanent archives: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5) and my 2004 experience (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8 and part 9). In short, each of the three years, I had a tremendous time despite proving extremely far from world championship class and finishing very close to last.

Is trying out for the world championship right for you? If you’re interested enough to be reading this, almost certainly. The company is stunning, both within your country and from other countries around the world. The puzzles are as exciting and innovative as they get… though as challenging as you would hope world championship puzzles might be. The hospitality varies from year to year, but were three different sorts of great in my three years. Don’t just take my word for it, though; if the idea sounds good at all, go and look up other people’s write-ups of their WSC/WPC experiences. (For instance, Liisa of the Finnish team has written up her five visits, and this site’s WPC 2014 coverage has links to several 2014 commentaries as they were being produced.)

There’s a saying that “everybody likes solving puzzles, and nobody likes not solving puzzles”. If you qualify for the championships, unless you know you’re good, you can expect to spend the vast majority of the (probably) two days in competition not solving puzzles… or, at least, not successfully solving them. However, you’ll never not solve puzzles in better company, or not solve more interesting puzzles! (The Grand Prix series puzzles are an excellent way to practice.) No matter how badly you do, you get a great – and rare – story out of it at the very least; few people ever really get to represent their country at a meaningful world championship where 20+ national teams come to compete.

Unfortunately from an individual perspective, it’s rather harder to qualify to be on a World Puzzle Championship team these days than it was when I did it. Specifically, I qualified for the 2000 team by coming in the top four UK entrants in a qualifying test… when only six tried out. (Of course, I finished fourth.) The UK team is very much stronger than once it was, which is fortunate news from a national perspective, and why we finished sixth out of twenty in 2013, as opposed to much closer to the bottom in earlier years. Whether you stand a realistic chance of competing and representing your country depends at least as much on the strength of competition you face within your own country as anything else.

This year’s event will comprise the 24th World Puzzle Championships and the 10th World Sudoku Championships, and they have been announced as taking place between October 11th and October 18th at the Ramada hotel in Sofia, Bulgaria. The championships were previously held in Bulgaria in 2005, in the city of Borovets; you can find descriptions in the next year’s WPF newsletter.

How do I try to qualify for my country’s World Championship teams?

It depends which country you’d be representing. The World Puzzle Federation follows IOC guidelines about the recognition of countries, and eligibility depends upon citizenship rather than residency. I’m not aware of there having been kerfuffles over people with dual citizenship, or anyone ever changing citizenship for puzzle team representation yet. Here are four specific cases:

a) I would be representing the United Kingdom.

Keep watching the UK Puzzle Association web site for details of team selection. At a guess, selection for the UK teams for 2015 will follow established patterns from recent years, which apply similarly (though maybe not exactly equally?) for puzzle and sudoku teams:

1) The top UK solver at one WPC qualifies for the next WPC team.
2) The top UK solver at the in-person UK Open Championships qualifies for the next WPC team.
3) The top two UK solvers at the online UK Puzzle Championships qualify for the next WPC team.

Various rollover procedures exist for people who qualify for spots but are unable to take them up for whatever reason.

b) I would be representing the United States of America.

Keep watching the Team USA web site for details of team selection. At a guess, the selection procedures will follow established patterns from recent years:

1) The top (some number from 0 to 3) US solvers at one WPC qualify for the next WPC team.
2) The top (some number from 4 to 1) US solvers from the US Puzzle Championship and US Sudoku Team Qualifying Tests qualify for the next WPC team.

c) I would be representing a country that is a World Puzzle Federation member.

You can find out if your country is a World Puzzle Federation member or not by looking at the official membership list. Each country’s member is listed along with their contact details; get in touch with them and ask what your national qualification route is. Many countries run their own qualification tests; others use the results of other puzzling nations’ qualification tests.

d) I would be representing a country that is not a World Puzzle Federation member.

Again, look at the official WPF membership list and see which countries are missing – not least Australia, Ireland, Malaysia and Singapore, among 150+ others. Hint hint hint.

If you’re fortunate enough to come into this category, participation becomes much easier. You can register for personal membership of the World Puzzle Federation for €50 per year; this gives you the right to to participate in the WPC/WSC if your country is not already represented by a national team, no matter what your standard.

Of course, the barrier to entry is that you have to pay to participate in the championships, and you have to pay to get there. The minutes of the 2014 WPF general assembly suggest that the entry fee was planned to be €500 per player, though this might conceivably have changed a little with the move of the championships to Sofia. This covers not just the cost of entry into the championship, but also several nights’ high-quality accommodation, extensive meals and entertainment; you tend to get a lot for your money, even without taking the cost of the puzzles and their marking into account. There’s also the cost of getting to Bulgaria in the first place to consider.

All told, it might be compared to the price of a short package holiday to an upscale, though far from luxury, destination. You certainly get a lot for your money; it’s not as if people take payment for organising the events. It’s all done out of love!

This might be a very unusual chance of a lifetime for a one-off experience. Do you want to try to go to Bulgaria and feel the love for yourself?

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