Coming up this weekend: the UK Puzzle Championship

The eighth annual UK Puzzle Championship takes place this weekend. It’s an online contest with no charge for participation. You have two and a half hours to solve the language-neutral culture-free logic puzzles in the test. This year there are 36 puzzles in the test; 9 styles of puzzle appear twice with different levels of difficulty, the other 18 puzzles appear once each. There are some number puzzles and others are styles you might recognise from some newspapers. Others still might be new to you unless you’ve gone looking for puzzles on the Internet already, or taken part in previous competitions; a few may well still be new to you even if this is far from your first such puzzle contest. The instruction booklet is already available from the official competition page – and, if there were any clarifications, they’d be on the discussion thread on the forum.

It’s a pleasant development that newspapers seem to be including more interesting puzzles these days; you may well recognise some of the puzzle styles in the championship from newspapers. If you know that you enjoy those, there’s a good chance that you’ll enjoy the less familiar ones. There are plenty of places to find examples of most of the puzzle styles to practice beforehand, though you’ll need to do some digging, and sometimes let automatic translators take the strain. Start your search at the puzzle site, or at Croco-Puzzle. You can play a variety of logic puzzles using Simon Tatham’s Portable Puzzle Collection, which is available on many major operating systems for both computers and phones. The “Logic Games – Time Killers” app is available for iOS and Android as well.

If you finish in the top two places (excluding those who have qualified already at the live event earlier in the year…) among UK solvers then you become eligible to represent the country as part of the national team in the 27th World Puzzle Championship. This year it’ll be taking place in early November in Prague, along with the World Sudoku Championship. The UK team finished a superb fifth out of 19 official national teams in the World Puzzle Championship last year and sixth out of 23 in the World Sudoku Championship, so you’ll need to be extremely strong to compete on a global stage.

You can start the two and a half hours that you have to take on the puzzles whenever you like after midday (UK time) on Friday 22nd June, but you must get your responses in by 2:25am on Tuesday 26th – so Monday evening is the latest time that you can start. You’ll need to register for an account at the UK Puzzle Association site, and download a file with an encrypted version of the puzzles from the contest page. You’ll get the password to open the puzzle file when you choose to start your clock.

This contest traditionally aims to cater not just for world-class solvers but for ones of much more modest ability as well, with the inclusion of relatively accessible puzzles as well as tougher examples of the same types meaning that there’s something for many different puzzles. Only the very best in the world will be able to solve all the puzzles within the time limit and not too many will come close, but there’s plenty to get your teeth into even if you only manage to crack a handful of puzzles in the time allowed. Several UK-based escape room enthusiasts have taken part in the past and enjoyed it. Whatever your level, if this sounds like your sort of fun in theory, it comes highly recommended in practice!

Prepare to register for DASH 10 in London

The tenth DASH puzzle hunt will happen in London on Saturday 22nd September. DASH stands for “Different Areas, Same Hunt”; part of the attraction is that the same event will also be run in cities across the United States, in Europe and in Australia on the same day, so competition is more global still than it has been in previous years. At this time, this year’s line-up features 16 locations in the US, four in Europe (London, Enschede and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and Nicosia in Cyprus) and one in Australia (Melbourne). Other locations might yet be added later; Boston has hosted every DASH to date but hasn’t yet found a host.

In DASH, teams of typically 3-5 players solve maybe 8-9 puzzles as quickly as possible over the course of, perhaps, 5-8 hours. You travel (generally walk) from puzzle location to location, enjoying the journey and hopefully the weather. The travel is not timed, so you can take whatever comfort breaks, meals and other pauses you like between puzzles, though there’s an overall time limit for practicality. The cost is a flat US$60 per team around the world. Each team is required to bring a smartphone running iOS or a recent version of Android; much of the administration will be performed by an app called ClueKeeper. Bring your own pencils, scissors, tape, clipboards, lemonade, magic wands, marked decks of cards, pentagons and so on.

DASH has historically tended to concentrate on word and picture puzzles, rather than logic puzzles, with a focus on pattern recognition and some codebreaking here and there along the way. Some puzzles may draw on previous ones; there may well be a metapuzzle to tie everything together at the end. The DASH style is to have an overarching story running through the event, though there aren’t many clues as to this year’s theme yet. Take a look at past years’ puzzles from DASHes 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 to get a feel for the form and difficulty level.

DASH tries very hard to be accessible and family-friendly:

  • It’s possible to register for the more difficult Expert Puzzles at the very start of the hunt, though clear guidance is given as to which level of difficulty will suit you best;
  • It’s always possible to take hints on each puzzle if they’re required (indeed, the software keeps rolling hints along on a timed schedule even if you don’t ask for them) and there’s never a worse punishment than a missed scoring opportunity for not solving a puzzle;
  • The puzzles are often designed so that everybody in the team should be able to contribute to each puzzle, because feeling “we solved this together between us” is fun;
  • In practice, there really is an ethos of offering as many hints as are required in order to get people through as many puzzles as possible and making sure people are having fun at all times.

It has only been confirmed relatively recently that some superstars have stepped up to the mark to keep the streak of DASH happening in London every year alive. Organise your team now as registration for London is expected to open at 2pm, UK time, on Saturday 9th June. Previous years have had space for around 25 teams in London and last year there appeared to be only three slots left after 12 hours. As puzzle events become more and more popular, I would expect DASH to sell out more and more quickly still, unless it proves possible to host more teams.

More information may well be posted at the London Twitter feed, or send questions to the London organisers. (If you’re less interested in playing and more interested in helping out, or if all the teams’ places have been filled, you can also volunteer to help, and maybe even playtest the puzzles if you’re really quick – so if the 22nd September date doesn’t work for you, this might be your chance.)