More solving experiences

This is another short review of puzzle events I have participated in. There were three, to be precise, and they all took place two weeks ago: the second round of the Puzzle Grand Prix 2021, a Skyscrapers contest hosted by the UK Puzzle Association, and the online qualifier for the German Puzzle Championship. I was fortunate on several occasions and ended up better than I anticipated in all three of them – it seems I can still live up to my potential every now and then. Before I go on, many thanks to the authors and organizers.

The GP round was designed by Hungarian authors. It was based on a common visual theme, namely a heart-shaped figure, which was a nice touch. In some puzzles the entire grid had such a heart shape. This is something I am typically not happy about, because grid shapes different from those used in the instructions may lead to different solving elements and thus disrupt a participant’s preparation. However, in this case the change had barely any effect on solving techniques, so it was not a big deal in my opinion.

I ended up in 7th place, which was way better than I had hoped for. As expected, Ken Endo dominated the event; he made a mistake in one of the puzzles, but due to his amazing solving pace and the time bonus regulations, he still maintained a huge lead. Having completed 18 out of 20 puzzles and finishing about 200 behind him, I find myself in good company.

Then there was the Skyscrapers contest. Here I had a nearly perfect run and finished way ahead of everybody else. It is hard to describe how much this victory means to me. I have been into Skyscrapers for more than 10 years and wanted to know how good I really am. Even though it may be considered only a “fun contest”, this has been my first real competition in terms of Skyscrapers (ignoring some isolated puzzles on various puzzle web sites).

The contest was very nicely balanced, with a good mixture of Skyscrapers variants – some of them with additional geometric constraints like Regions or Diagonals, some with altered clues such as Sums or Knapp Daneben, and even an innovative hybrid (Parkour). I am very grateful to the UKPA and in particular David for assembling the puzzles and hosting the event.

I almost made a mistake with one of my answer keys, but due to my special interest in the contest, I double-checked and fixed my error. This is something I do not always do, and quite a few other participants do not always seem to go over their solutions either, even when they can afford it. I am not sure what the best way to handle incorrect submissions is; see this earlier post on the subject for a few thoughts. Anyway, it is a little sad if someone loses a potential top position, as Tantan Dai did in this case.

Finally, I took part in the online qualification round for the German Puzzle Championship “Logic Masters”. (Due to the continuing pandemic, there are interesting plans about a new online format this year, which are currently being implemented. I am not sure how I view the ideas, but given the circumstances, one should appreciate any initiative in this direction.)

I perceived this contest as the hardest of the three, and the results seem to confirm my view. Initially I was a little frustrated, since there were several puzzles that I found difficult to approach and two particularly hard ones which I did not really try within the given window of 150 minutes at all. My result – about 65% of the available points – felt unsatisfying at the time, although it turned out to be sufficient for a comfortable second place.

Afterwards I had a discussion with Rainer Biegler, one of the authors (whom, let me clarify right away, I regard as one of the most productive and reliable members of the German puzzle community), and he raised an interesting point. It has been customary for a while to design contests of this type such that the best competitors can be expected to complete all the puzzles. In fact I took this for granted; however, there is no stringent reason for this.

In the past I have often tried to design my own contests accordingly; to be honest, lately it has not occurred to me to go down a different path. But Rainer has pointed out that, as opposed to actual Championships, it is quite reasonable in qualifying events to provide more puzzles than can be solved in time, so that every participant can select the puzzle types he likes most.

I have to think about this last issue some more. Meanwhile let me repeat my thanks for the organizers of the above contests. I have spent a lot of time creating puzzles (perhaps more than solving them) over the last few years. Lately I find myself more on the participating side again. I am not sure if this is just a short-term tendency, but it feels good all the same.

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