This post is about the German Puzzle Championship “Logic Masters” 2021 which took place yesterday as an online event. I want to write about the various rounds as long as my memory is fresh. If you want to solve the puzzles in an unbiased way, you may want to do so before reading on.
First of all, some acknowledgements to Christoph Seeliger are in order. He was the main organizer of the event; there were a dozen puzzle authors who contributed separate rounds, and Christoph was the one who first put them together and then spent the entire day watching over the contests. This was no doubt an incredible work – many thanks to him!
Second, below you will find some critical remarks on several of the championship rounds. You may notice some correlation between my assessments and my personal results in these rounds. Although I can imagine that my results are tainting my views, I believe some of what I have to say is objectively correct. Anyway, let me start by saying that I think anyone who ended up ahead of me deserves to be there. Congratulations in particular to Ulrich – the appeals period is not over yet, but it would take an earthquake to affect his victory.
Now, to the different rounds. There were nine rounds of 45 minutes each, which I think is a lot for an online competition on a single day. I was pretty exhausted after the event, and I guess so was everybody else. I am not sure what the best volume of an online Championship is, but I think this was a bit too much; perhaps six or seven rounds would have done.
Round 1: This was a Welcome round, and a very good one in my opinion. The combination of puzzles was excellent (some well-known styles as well as a few unfamiliar hybrids), covering most branches of the taxonomy tree. Plus, the difficulty of the puzzles varied to a reasonable degree, without any actual rocks to crush. This is exactly what I believe a Welcome round should look like. I skipped three intermediate puzzles but managed to solve the rest.
Round 2: An Instructionless round. I had some reservations beforehand, although it turned out the examples I dealt with were quite clear regarding the rules. And, once again, the difficulty level was pleasant; I left out one of the four groups (one of the cheaper groups, consisting of four puzzles) and finished the rest with precisely one second left on the clock. Booyah.
Round 3: This is where the trouble started for me. The round featured puzzle combinations: There were four groups of three puzzles each, and within each group there were two basic styles and then a hybrid of the other two. Here I made two expensive mistakes. In the Anglers/Nurikabe hybrid, I stumbled upon my own notation and, having erased parts of the solution earlier, mistook a fishing line for a few mere water cells. My solution for the (basic) Summon looked fine at first glance, and it took me several minutes afterwards to spot the rule violation, but in the end it was genuinely incorrect.
Anyway, these errors were on me. My main issue with this puzzle round is about balance – something I intend to write about in a future article, but bear with me for now. Most of the basic puzzles were very cheap, and the hybrids were disproportionately expensive. The six cheaper puzzles in this round would come to a total of 80 points, which is half the value of the Star Battle/Summon hybrid. The Masyu/Skyscrapers hybrid was worth 100 points, and the two mistakes I made cost me 130 points. I solved four of the cheap puzzles but obviously could have spent the time better.
Another thought: It is my position that combinations like these make good puzzles if the components somehow interact. The Masyu/Skyscrapers hybrid I solved felt like two separate puzzles. I started drawing the Masyu loop (with only a little input from the Skyscrapers component), and at some point I decided to close the loop as fast as possible, in order to leave as much space as possible for the number entries. This led to an irregular Skyscrapers grid, with not even much Skyscrapers logic behind it. I would not call this puzzle a disappointment, but it did not feel like an actual hybrid either.
Round 4: The first of three Assorted round, and it was a nightmare. First of all, it was highly unbalanced as well. With the experience from the previous round I decided to skip the cheaper puzzles entirely and focus on the hard ones. It might have been a good strategy on another day, but this time I broke the Cross Sums puzzle and ended up with only two completed puzzles.
Mind you, I could have approached the round differently. However, apart from Ulrich, barely anyone completed more than half the puzzles, even among the top solvers, which I consider a bad sign. This round was, in my humble opinion, completely unsuitable for a 45 minutes time window. Unless one is a multiple world champion, one can either ignore the harder puzzles from the start and accept travelling in the second class car of participants, or one can have a go at one of the big targets and risk getting stuck there.
I spent ages with the Even/Odd Japanese Sums, but what really put me off was the Cross Sums. Enter numbers from 2 to 8 – seriously? Why not from 1 to 7? That would effectively yield the same puzzle. It appeared to be designed specifically to confuse the solvers. Well, it worked, at least in my case. After three attempts, I was stuck in a contradiction with not enough time to get out. In the last few minutes of my window I tried to guess the Master Word solution in frustration, but with no success either.
Round 5: Another Assorted round, but it came after a lunch break, which was good because I felt I was close to a heart attack after the disaster from the previous round(s). This round still felt a little overloaded (I solved eight out of sixteen puzzles and made a stupid mistake with the Stations, overlooking one of the solution code columns), but at least it was a decent assortment of puzzle styles. Like the Welcome round, it contained some classics and some unfamiliar types, so that I got to pick the puzzles I liked most.
Round 6: This round, labelled “Divide and Conquer”, had an interesting concept: In each puzzle, the clues had to be split up into two separate grids, which then had to be solved independently. I did not have enough time to do the Shakashaka (well, I was not going to anyway), and I broke the Masyu, but the puzzles themselves were great; each of the ones I tried had a nice flow. I often started using intuition near the end because of the time limit, but I still enjoyed the puzzles very much.
Round 7: The third Assorted round of the event, and another experience I would rather forget. To be fair, I did not like most of the puzzle types featured in the round, which is obviously not the author’s fault. In particular, the second half consisted entirely of loop puzzles which I had rarely solved in the past, and I was never good at Coral puzzles, either.
Still, there was again some of the “overdoing” I mentioned before. There were two expensive Japanese Sums variations with wildcard clues and an unknown range of numbers to enter. One of the two rule changes would make for an interesting puzzle, but both at the same time? And two of these puzzles? That was entirely unnecessary in my opinion, apparently to make the round as tricky as possible.
I never understood why authors try to make an already difficult puzzle exceptionally hard by replacing most of the clues with question marks, just to keep the given information at an absolute minimum. Puzzles can be nice even if there is a redundant clue somewhere, you know. I started off with the first of these two Japanese Sums variations, but after a lot a sweat I decided not to try the second at all. Instead I spent an eternity solving the Coral, then misread the solution code instructions, miscounted a large group of unshaded cells and watched another 100 points float away. And finally I broke the Roller Coaster puzzle. Not my finest hour.
Round 8: Geisterbahn! (For some reason, I keep hearing the word with the tune of the Spider-Man theme in my head, which is not beneficial for the solving, I can assure you.) I guess I am pretty much the only participant – at least in the upper section of the table – never to have solved a Geisterbahn round under contest conditions. I tried to familiarize myself with the potential rules beforehand, yet I made a silly mistake early into the round.
In the end, the round felt overloaded, too. Eleven puzzles with instructions that are essentially unknown before the round begins are simply too much in a 45 minutes window. Perhaps 60 or even 90 minutes? Clearly this was not an option with the championship day already as stocked as it was, hence one could question the round selection for the event as a whole. Anyway, I ended up with three solved puzzles (two actual “puzzles” plus a filler, to relax the mind a little). But Ulrich reached the same score with eight puzzles, including a mistake in one of them. Again, this feels wrong in terms of balance.
Round 9: An interesting concept, consisting of six times two puzzles where the second puzzle in each set requires some input from the first. I got my hands on less than half the puzzles, but this time it was on me again. First I had a mishap transferring the clues from the Easy As Puzzle to the ABC Box. This cost me a lot of time; fortunately, I spotted my mistake in time. And second I made a computational error in the Japanese Sums which I could not fix. Instead I jumped to the Yin and Yang puzzle and managed to save at least 10 more points.
These mistakes near the end can be explained by the exhaustion after a full day of competition. When it comes to such tendencies in the results over the different rounds, it appears I am not the only one. The scoring tables show a decline in the number of solved puzzles approaching both the lunch break and the end of the day. This suggests that, except perhaps for a handful of participants at the very top, the event was a bit longer and harder than it should have been.
To summarize: My favourites were the rounds 1, 2 and 6, followed by 5 and 9. On the other end of the spectrum, I did not like the rounds 4 and 7 at all (for the reasons I gave above). The Championship as a whole was too extensive for my taste. As such, it joins a growing list of contests which I feel are over the top, such as past championships, Grand Prix rounds, etc. Of course, as mentioned at the beginning, my view may be tainted by my own results.
There is always feedback to the effect that people now have a large amount of puzzle material left which they can enjoy in the following weeks. To be honest, this is not my way of thinking. When there is a contest, the proper amount of puzzles should me determined by the extent of the contest, not the time after it.
I am under the impression that people are slowly forgetting that puzzles are ultimately there for the solvers. Sometimes I think authors are so excited by their creations that they forget to wonder whether they are still suitable for the audience. This is something we can see in the Puzzle Portal as well; we should keep in mind, though, that the Portal platform serves a totally different purpose. When it comes to puzzle events, the current trend bothers me, and I hope we can stop it.
It is said that one is either part of the problem or part of the solution (or just part of the landscape). I should not exclude myself in any of this, because I know that I have frequently published more and harder puzzles than necessary in the past – yes, including championship rounds. I am not a championship author in the near future, although I have volunteered to design the puzzles for next year’s qualifier. Thus time will tell if I can live up to my own expectations and satisfy the demands I am setting myself.
There is another possibility to consider. Maybe I am overly sensitive in this regard, and the mainstream view is that contests are fine the way they are, with people solving just 30% of the puzzles on average, and all that. If this is the case, I am simply no longer up for it. I used to participate in such events with a certain ambition, and the results of the recent years have already shown that I can no longer compete with the top of the world – regarding both pure solving skills and endurance in larger events.
If I was, say, a professional Snooker player, I would probably hold a press conference now, announcing my retirement. This would be an overreaction in every regard, of course. In my previous post I said that my enthusiasm for competitive puzzle solving is back, and yesterday’s championship put a damper on it. But rash decisions are always a bad idea, and I think the best thing to do is take another break and see how things unfold. So long.