Losing it

Hi folks,
a few minor thoughts on how my (puzzle) life goes on these days. First of all, I have begun to make some plans (family visits, real-life events, etc.) for the time after the pandemic. The vaccination campaign is picking up pace, and I am hopeful that – even though Covid will likely survive out there – we can go back to what we used to call normality.

This requires that we continue to take the pandemic seriously. Clearly it is not a good sign if some leadership suggests that people inject themselves with household cleaner, although in fact this applies to every single human being out there. We cannot afford to abandon all caution every time the infection numbers drop, now or in the future – who knows, maybe another mutation will come up against which our current vaccines do not work at all, and we will have to start from scratch again.

But, speaking about “normality”, we are not there yet anyway. It is just that I see some light at the end of the tunnel. Meanwhile, I am continuing my puzzle activities, which cover both designing and solving puzzles. Regarding the former, here is a short reminder that the third Beginners Contest will take place next weekend. And, as usual, I have some long-term projects in development.

As for the latter, there was a time when I was barely interested in puzzle-solving, but it appears I have left that state behind me. As Jane Austen would put it, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man with much spare time at his disposal must be in want of some puzzles. There seems to be no shortage of puzzles these days; with the Sudoku flood still ongoing, it is just that one has to dig a little deeper to find quality work.

For once, I took part in the UKPA Masyu contest I mentioned in my last post. I managed to solve all the puzzles in about in hour – not a great time, but I felt the result was “tolerable” even by Mr. Darcy’s standards. My guess was that it would take the top solvers somewhere around 35-40 minutes. Instead, gosh, Ken Endo and Walker Anderson did it in 18 minutes. No doubt these guys are crazy, but in a good sense.

As mentioned above, the Puzzle Portal is still being flooded by all sorts of Sudoku variants. My personal approach is to periodically go over the recent publications and put everything that I dislike on my ignore list immediately. One could solve them instead and then give these puzzles the lowest rating – an issue that has been discussed in the forum of the German community at length.

At least two authors seemed to be quite upset by this, calling it bad behaviour, but I think they were way out of line. There simply is no consensus about good behaviour in the Portal currently. In fact one might argue that the publication of puzzles at this pace is the root of the problem. If the one is legitimate, so should be the other.

Just to make sure that my opinion is not limited to prejudice, I took a little time and studied some of the puzzles I had elected to ignore earlier. I do not get why people make a fuss if the rating of such a puzzle drops below 95%. You see, they are not all diamonds. It has been suggested to filter out some bad votes, but as I see it, at this point the ratings are meaningless anyway. I would rather see the rating system scrapped entirely.

Which brings us to the motivation behind these mass publications. I have been active on this site since around 2008, and I have published a total of 14 puzzles in the Portal since then; many of these guys have produced more this year alone. Why not set up some contests instead? Maybe they want to get noticed by Cracking the Cryptic – I do not know it that is still realistic, but it has been pointed out that this might be the main idea.

I used to be less than a big fan of CtC, to put it mildly, but what they do now is equally ridiculous in my opinion. I visited their channel once more to see what the state of things is, and it has not improved one bit. Last time I spoke about CtC, I criticized their use of superlatives in their assessments, and the way in which they describe Sudokus has gone downhill even further. Apparently CtC is preparing to publish a book, and they called it nothing less than “the greatest Sudoku book of all time”. At this point I could not stand it any longer and turned the channel off.

If this is all about money, let these folks do what they want. (And we should recognize that they have gained a lot more attention for Sudokus – or puzzles in general – in the world than our community has.) But as far as standards go, I feel that they are doing the puzzle community a disservice. Like I said before, puzzle evaluations are useless if we use only the top 5% of the scale. At one point a Portal contributor complained that the rating of his creation has been “destroyed” by a vote, meaning that it is now below 90%. Seriously?

The rating system in the Portal already suffers from the fact that only people who have solved a puzzle can evaluate it (hence in most cases the ratings come from the admirers alone). And no one really wants to be the first to issue a bad rating. But likes and dislikes both have their rightful place in the world. By dismissing criticism and rejecting negative opinions entirely, we are losing our touch with reality.

3 replies on “Losing it”

On the motivations of the Raetselportal uploaders: I know a good number of them via Cracking the Cryptic and I don’t think anyone is posting puzzles there to get noticed. On the contrary, most of the puzzles uploaded there tend to have previously been published in the CtC Discord server, where visibility to CtC is much higher.

I think it really is just the case that these authors want get their puzzles “out there”, so to speak. They’re proud of their creations and want them to be solved by people. Most of them don’t belong to any national association or other puzzle society – CtC was the beginning of their puzzling life – and the Raetselportal is the only place where they can easily “officially” publish their puzzles and automatically have an audience.

Since the new authors have mostly arrived in the last year, most of them don’t realise that the rate at which puzzles are being published is so unusual. The new subculture has developed very quickly.

You may be right about the CtC ties in general; I have only picked up some bits and pieces, and I barely know any of the new Portal authors.

When it comes to the specific motivation, I am not convinced, though. Certain comments posted by some of these authors sound as if they are trying to maintain a “schedule” – for lack of a better word – with their publications. And this, in return, suggests that these puzzles are not ready yet, but that they are designing them under some self-inflicted pressure.

I do not know what to make of this. Clearly there is a want for an audience – we all know it, I guess, and the recent discussions about ratings speak for themselves. But it appears to me that simply having their puzzles “out there” does not fully cover it.

A rating system such as that on LMD really ought to be evaluated as a binary classification problem – so that if the rating suggests a puzzle is good, then indeed the puzzle is good (a true positive), and vice versa if the rating suggests the puzzle is worth skipping then that is indeed the case (a false negative). I get the impression that there are fair few false positives and false negatives these days, which erodes credibility from the system.

Of course whether a puzzle is good or not is mostly subjective, but I suspect you aren’t the only one noticing a bunch of false positives and false negatives.

Re cracking the cryptic and their disciples – I have to confess I am mostly turned off their content these days, and the ever-present click-bait style exaggeration hasn’t really helped things (more false positives at work!). I think what Sam says above is true, that people are looking for an “official” place to publish, but I also agree with Roland in that there is something about (elements of) the community which just feels a bit unhealthy to me. I can’t quite put my finger on it – perhaps it’s a case of me being clouded by have a sense of not feeling welcome or respected by that crowd – but there does seem to be a kind of neediness there too. That in turn seems to have turned into a kind of competitiveness between setters (again something I’ve apparently missed the boat on, I’m still very miffed about being left out of said greatest sudoku book of all time) which I think plays on this neediness. I saw a recent reference to “speed setting”, and I couldn’t imagine many things worse!

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