Puzzle competitions coming up soon

Selsdon Park HotelThere are exciting puzzle competitions coming up soon, both in person and online. The online contests take place this weekend, the in-person ones next weekend. The online contests are free to enter and you can do so at a time and place of your own choosing; the in-person contest has a specific time and location and fees must be charged to cover the cost of booking it.

The second round of the World Puzzle Federation‘s Puzzle Grand Prix series takes place this weekend. It’s a 90-minute contest, which you can start as soon as 10am on Friday 19th February but which you must complete by 10pm on Monday 22nd February, so you have half a week in which to pick your 90-minute window. (Those times are the ones quoted in theory, the ones in practice may be an hour later.) This set of puzzles has been devised by the Slovak team. As with the previous round, the puzzles have been divided into Casual and Competitive sections, with the Competitive section more traditional constraint-based grid puzzles and the Casual section slightly more freeform, though not necessarily easier. Log in to the GP series web site then download the instruction booklet to find out the types of puzzles in advance, then plan your attack.

If you prefer Sudoku, though, then Logic Masters India have a contest for you this weekend where the puzzles have been devised by Belfast’s David McNeill, the over-50 World Sudoku Champion – and over-50 World Sudoku Champion, too! David has been a mainstay of the UK puzzle scene for well over a decade and is a very experienced puzzle setter, so this promises to be a treat. This weekend’s contest is called Triplets and Triangles; it too is a 90-minute contest, available between Saturday 20th February and Monday 22nd February at times to be confirmed. The contest has 14 puzzles, starting with classic 9×9 sudoku, running through some variants themed as the title of the contest suggests, and ending up with some brand new puzzles that seem to combine two other variants into a single new challenge.

In person, the UK Puzzle Association are running the UK Open tournaments in sudoku and puzzles on 27th and 28th February at the Selsdon Park Hotel near Croydon, pictured above; increasingly this has become the home of puzzles in this country, most famously for being the site at which the UK held the World Championships in 2014. Again the instruction booklets have been posted; most notable is Bram de Laat’s second round, “Two to Five”, with sixteen different puzzles in four general styles: room placement puzzles, split wall puzzles, division/dissection puzzles and number puzzles. In each of those four styles, there’s a puzzle that relies on two-themed properties (pairs of cells, sets of two adjacent rooms, dominoes with two digits and so on…), a puzzle themed around threes, a puzzle themed around fours and a puzzle themed around fives. Delightful design! The event is always highly convivial so do take a look and see if it’s your sort of fun.

The 2015/2016 Survey and some events coming up

Abstract survey graphicThis site has just sent out 75 e-mails to exit games in the UK, with representing total of 88 locations, inviting them to take part in a survey. If you see this and didn’t get the survey – either because this site might have used the wrong address, or couldn’t find an address at all in a handful of occasions – then this site apologises and invites you still to send in your responses by e-mail. The views of players and other participants would also be interesting and most welcome (perhaps as a comment to this post?) but only site operators will have their responses tallied for the final results.

All responses are anonymous; if you choose not to mention the name of your site in the answer to a question then nobody will know the answer has come from you.

1. How was 2015 for you and for your business?
2. How do you feel 2015 was for the world of exit games in the UK at large?
3. What can you reveal about your plans for 2016?
4. What do you expect to see happen to the UK’s exit games in 2016?
5. What are your biggest concerns for 2016?

This site hopes to have a few dozen responses trickle in over the next week or so (there have been ten responses within about as many hours so far; credit to the proprietor of Puzzle Room for being the quickest off the mark) and will collate and present the results in an article here. The first place to hear the results will be the The Great Escape UK unconference taking place in Leeds on Wednesday 13th January (i.e., a week tomorrow). There have been at least twenty people sign up for the unconference, and the unconference structure is a tried and tested model, so it should be a really good day. There still are spaces available if you haven’t signed up yet and want to come.

However, if you don’t want to have to wait another week, there’s fun on the agenda this weekend. Scott Nicholson is promoting the first BreakoutEDU Game Jam which invites people to use the BreakoutEDU toolkit of generic exit game apparatus to devise educational exit-like games that might be played in the classroom, library, museum or other educational environments. (While the equipment list is a constraint, it’s also a platform; you can rely on other people having the right equipment to replicate your game.) People are invited to meet up in locations around the world to co-operate on their games. This site isn’t yet sure if there are any locations definitely confirmed for the UK this weekend, but the Facebook events page definitely suggests there’s interest here. For some people who might be interested in creating their own room but know that they aren’t well-suited to making it a business venture, this might be an ideal opportunity.

If that’s not your thing, it’s not the only option! The World Puzzle Federation‘s 2016 Grand Prix competitions start this weekend with this year’s first Sudoku Grand Prix, set by the Dutch team. If 90 minutes of hard but interesting sudoku and variants sounds like your cup of tea, register an account at the WPF site (which is free!) and take a look at the instruction booklet. Then carve out a 90-minute slot this weekend (late Friday through to most of Monday) and go wild!

Looking forward to the 2015 Mind Sports Olympiad, including a Sudoku and Kenken contest

Mind Sports Olympiad medalsIf it’s the week before the August Bank Holiday, it’s time for the annual Mind Sports Olympiad. This will be the nineteenth installment of the mental-games-and-skills-themed multi-sports festival. You know how the Olympic Games have some of the world’s most prestigious contests in many different physical sports? The principle behind the Mind Sports Olympiad was to try to emulate that for brain games. The budget has never really been there to attain this at the very top level, but the event has kept going year after year and developed its niche.

Some people prefer to focus their efforts on a single mind sport at the highest level they can attain, others take a much broader view that it’s more fun to compete at many different games, and the Mind Sports Olympiad is a great place for those who take the second viewpoint. This web site has a lot of sympathy with the principle. By analogy, some people like only exit games, others only logic puzzle contests, others only cryptic crosswords or mechanical puzzles or geocaching or one of maybe a dozen other things; this site tends to believe that if you like one but haven’t been exposed to the others then it may well be that you turn out to enjoy the others as well.

This year’s event runs from Sunday 23rd August to Monday 31st August and is held at JW3, the London Jewish cultural centre. (Accordingly, there is no play on the evening of Friday 28th or at all on Saturday 29th, being the Sabbath.) The most immediately relevant event to readers of this site is the contest in sudoku and kenken (also known as calcudoku – think killer sudoku, but with other mathematical operations as well as addition) on the morning of Sunday 30th August, which this year has £140 of prize money provided by sponsors. However, there are contests in scores of other mind sports as well, plus an open play room with a well-stocked games library open from 10am to 10pm each day.

Mark Goodliffe has won the contest for each of the last two years, so expect competition to be fierce – but if the event sounds interesting at all, you can read his write-up to get a better feel of what it’s like in practice. Perhaps the World Athletics Championships taking place at the moment are putting you in a competitive mood!

Meet the teams

UK teams at the 2011 World Sudoku and Puzzle Championships

The UK teams at the 2011 World Sudoku and Puzzle Championships in Eger, Hungary

The first-choice teams have been announced for the UK’s representatives at this year’s World Sudoku and Puzzle Championships, taking place in mid-October in Sofia, Bulgaria.

The Sudoku team is as follows:
– David McNeill (Reigning World Senior Sudoku Champion)
– Heather Golding (winner, UK Sudoku Championship 2015)
– Tom Collyer (winner, UK Open Sudoku Championship 2013, multiple-time setter)
– Mark Goodliffe (winner, Times Sudoku Championship 2014)

1st reserve: Neil Zussman
2nd reserve: Michael Collins

While everybody has been too right-minded to say anything foolish, the continued and repeated success of women in sudoku competitions worldwide would surely shoot down at a stroke any stray sexists who wanted to make an issue, where none exists, of the differences between men’s and women’s ability at competitive puzzles.

The Puzzle team is as follows:

– James McGowan
– Neil Zussman
– David McNeill
– Tom Collyer

1st reserve: Mark Goodliffe
2nd reserve: Emma McCaughan

The puzzle team looks at least as strong as the UK has ever had. The UK’s best performance at a World Puzzle Championship (sixth in 2013) was with that line-up except for Thomas Powell instead of David McNeill – and McNeill, as well as clearly being on great form, has been the top UK solver at the WPC four times out of his five appearances.

This is the UK team that Exit Games UK has long hoped for. The puzzles are getting harder and the standard is getting stronger; you need to run ever faster just to keep up. When this site predicted a 35% chance that the UK team produces its best performance in the next World Puzzle Championship, beating its previous best of sixth from the twenty national “A” teams in Beijing in 2013, it hoped to see a line-up just like that one to break the national record.

The very best of British luck to both teams!

Mid-July news

Rolled-up newspaperA jumble of short news stories this time:

  • After recently moving to Caledonian Road, clueQuest have opened two more “Plan 52” rooms between Thursdays and Sundays, to go with their first two open daily. Additionally, they have released plans to expand further with a new game, Revenge of the Sheep; a trailer video reveals a little more. There’s still one free trial spot left for 3:30pm on Wednesday; apply via their Facebook page.
  • Tomorrow is the second Tuesday of the month, which makes it Puzzled Pint day around the world, notably in London. This month represents the fifth anniversary of the event starting and the theme reflects its Portland origin. Solve the latest location puzzle to find out where the London East and London West groups will be meeting. London East has a few spaces left (tickets are free, but run out to limit numbers) – London West has no limits other than those imposed by the space of the bar.
  • As previously discussed, there are still a few hours left to take part in the UK Puzzle Association‘s annual online UK sudoku championship. Start by 11:59pm tonight and you have two hours to solve as many of the sudoku and variants as you can, with the top two qualifying for the UK team for the World Sudoku Championship later in the year.
  • The Exeter Express and Echo had a news story a little while ago about an upcoming exit game there. If you’re in town, you might be interested in this Kickstarter campaign; the town had a pop-up board games café for three months in a temporary location and are now crowdfunding to set up for good. An exit game and a board game café would make for a very fun town.
  • Also as previously discussed, the Kickstarter campaign for Hyde only has three days to go, and the impressive £12,000 of pledges raised is sadly only about a quarter of what the campaign needs to fund. The creators have plans for a dark maze that they could make in practice with current technology this year; while it’s not the same thing, perhaps success there may help sell people on the concept for a second attempt to crowdfund while there isn’t a 500-pound gorilla being funded at the same time.

News round-up: convention, DASH 7 video and sudoku championships

News round-upLots going on at the moment. Normally this would be three separate posts, but there’s so much else to write about!

1) This site recently mentioned the Escape Games Convention in Stuttgart, Germany on 4th September. Katharina Wulf of co-hosts ExitVentures (who are apparently putting together a printed German-language magazine) wrote on a forum as follows:

We (as the oragnizing team) are trying to make it valuable to come for English speaking people as well. Here some information in English: One highlight will be the talk of Attila Gyurkovics. He is the first operator of live escape games in Europe with ParaPark (Budapest) and the first one who developed live escape games on the basis of flow theory. Attila Gyurkovics will talk about his experience and his future visions. Prof. Nicholson (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada) will give scientific insights into the field and an overview over the North American market via video message.

((…)) In addition there will be some workshops focusing on following topics: “Live escape games next level” (about innovative new room concepts) and “Live escape games association” (about the creation of common structures for the industry in Germany). ((…)) The video message from Prof. Nicholson and the speech from Attila Gyurkovics will be in English. Beside that we will offer the workshops in English, too. Furthermore we will be able to provide you with information in English for the other agenda items. In the session the participants will elaborate relevant topics in small groups. This can be realized in German or English.

It’s looking ever more tempting, especially for us non-German-speakers!

2) The UK Puzzle Association are running their annual UK Sudoku Championship online this weekend. Start after midday on Thursday, up until the end of Monday, and you have a two-hour window of your choice to score points by solving the 17 sudoku and sudoku variant puzzles. The top two finishers will earn places on the UK team for the World Sudoku Championship. It’s always a great contest for sudoku fans and there are no charges for taking part.

3) Lastly, back at DASH 7, Yasmin Curren took extensive video through the day. She has taken weeks of hard work, for which we’re all surely very grateful, to apply her magic; the results are a spectacular three-minute summary of the fun to be had, though perhaps the puzzles – being less telegenic – have to take second place. Be sure to look out for the Quidditch, Wronski Feint and all:

Competition season’s coming

Grid of squares, with a "TEST" buttonIf you’re a competitive sort then there are a few interesting opportunities coming up.

The biggest regular cash prize in the world of puzzles – at least, in this country – is that of the annual Sudoku championship held by The Times. Next week is qualification week, with a puzzle printed in the newspaper every weekday. Solve it and send your time in. You don’t need to be a subscriber to see the competition’s terms and conditions. Incidentally, the regular qualifier is because the world of armchair treasure hunts occasionally pays out bigger purses, as do related prize puzzles; notably, Eternity paid out a cool million pounds back in 2000.

The 20 fastest solvers of each of the five puzzles, plus the eight best solvers from the previous year’s event, qualify to attend the finals. (The 100 qualifiers have to pay £25 per head for the privilege of taking up their place; last year’s top eight get in for free.) Whoever turns up on the day will take part in one of two one-hour, four-puzzle semi-finals; the fastest four from each make this year’s elite eight who shoot it out in one further round to win a top prize of a greasy grand in the hand, with second and third paying £200 and £100 respectively. You can find descriptions of finals day from 2013 and 2014, by Mark Goodliffe, who won the second of the two.

That’s not the only way to win a thousand pounds with your puzzle-solving ability; Twisted Attractions have launched an exit game called Panic! in Birmingham with a thousand pounds being paid to the fastest team of 6-8 players to complete the game over the course of the four months or so that it’s open. More on this to follow.

Alternatively, a contest that you can play against worldwide competition from the comfort of your own – but just for fun! – is the current (sixth of eight) round of the WPF Puzzle Grand Prix. This has been running all weekend, but you have until 11pm UK time on Monday night to complete the 90-minute paper, starting at a point in time of your choice. There are 24 puzzles: six different styles, four examples of varying difficulties in each. This round is produced by German authors; the Instruction Booklet reveals the six styles this time, and there are some corkers. You can practice Spiral Galaxies as part of the essential freeware Simon Tatham’s Portable Puzzle Collection, you can practice Skyscrapers, Snake, Japanese Sums (without zeroes) and ABC-Box at the wonderful Croco-Puzzle and Battleships has several sites devoted to it alone. Looks sure to be a lot of fun; if you can carve out 90 minutes, give it a try!

This weekend’s competitions

"In the Navy"(Image derived from a Casablanca Records property.)

This site has previously written about a couple of cryptography competitions, more specifically involving the decryption of ciphers, aimed at UK school students of various ages. Starting yesterday, the US Navy have launched a second story-heavy game which “will once again challenge followers on ((Facebook)) with puzzles to help stop a fictitious opposition group“.

More specifically, this photo leads to a very weakly hidden message (easy to decipher, though the community tend to point hints – or even outright spoilers – in the comments for each puzzle) which acts as a “location puzzle”, if you will, to another location online where the actual game’s puzzles will be posted on a daily basis. The first ten solvers to e-mail the answer to the final puzzle to the given e-mail address will be declared winners and certificated accordingly.

If you prefer sudoku to ciphers, you have about another week to solve the Sudoku Excavation 2015 competition. This has puzzles in each of fifteen sudoku types – neatly, six 6×6 and nine 9×9 – and a meta-puzzle where the clues are unlocked by correct answers to the first fifteen outer puzzles. These first fifteen are in a range of difficulties and come highly recommended by someone with a very strong track record for sudoku solving.

Also coming up this week: Sunday is Quiz The Nation once more; the standard may be getting higher, but the number of competitors is not yet too vast so you might well be able to pump some cash out of it. Additionally, Tuesday 10th sees Puzzled Pint, which this month expands to fourteen locations in thirteen cities in three countries, not least in London. (There’s no reason why it couldn’t happen elsewhere in the UK as well; all it needs is a bar, maybe 1-3 people to act as Game Control by checking answers and handing out hints, and at least a couple of teams of players.) This month’s location puzzle has now been posted, so go and see if you can find your way through it.

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?

Looking ahead to 2015: the sudoku season starts early this year

Sudoku generated by Simon Tatham's Puzzle PackThis site has been updating its event calendar to celebrate the New Year. There are a great many puzzle contests and puzzle hunt events to look forward to in 2015, which this site will discuss over the coming days. Exit games have not had events as such to look forward to so far, but perhaps someone will find a convincing way to make an interesting event happen such that it might be featured in this site’s calendar for everyone to get excited about.

The puzzle contest season each year peaks with the World Puzzle Championship and World Sudoku Championship, of which more tomorrow. Only the best can qualify for the national teams there, but the puzzle season at large isn’t restricted to the best solvers. For instance, Logic Masters India offer online contests in puzzles and sudoku each month. However, the World Puzzle Federation started their own annual Grand Prix series competitions for puzzles in 2014 and for sudoku in 2013. This provides a predictable, regular, well-organised global season for all fans.

The competitions run on a four-weekly schedule; there’s a weekend with a sudoku competition, then a weekend off, then a weekend with a puzzle competition, then a weekend off, and the schedule starts all over again. Both seasons are eight contests long, starting in January and running through to the end of July – and this is because the first contest has already started. Each contest starts at noon, European time, on Friday and runs through to the end of Monday, again European time. Accordingly, there are just over 48 hours remaining on the clock for you to play this time.

It’s free to participate; just register at the Grand Prix site. Download the Instruction Booklet and take a look at the types of the 15 puzzles, all to be solved within a 90-minute window of your choice. Each puzzle has a point value, so you can get a feeling for the difficulty; the most difficult puzzles will be well and truly World Championship difficulty, and the lowest-value puzzles will be genuinely relatively accessible. (The difficulty levels may well have been tweaked with the evidence of last season in mind, too!) You don’t need to play all either contests in a series; your best six scores will be counted. The top ten scorers are invited to the World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships to compete for the Grand Prix title in person.

The first sudoku contest features six classic sudoku puzzles as well as examples of nine different sudoku variants: some quite familiar, some very innovative. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s familiar and yet with exciting twists; find a spare 90 minutes over the next day or two and give it a go!