3rd Brands Queen’s Cup win for Kota

[Photos credited to Thailand Crossword KumKom Amath and Sudoku Association, Supachai Thongsawang, Thananon Boonkrong and Yuhei Kusui]

There are several events in the three-day competition including Quizzes

There were several events in the three-day competition including English quizzes

The 9th Brands Sudoku Queen’s Cup was held alongside the 30th Brands Crossword (Scrabble) King’s Cup last weekend in Chaengwattana, a district in Bangkok, Thailand, a country where Scrabble reaches schools in the most isolated communities. With kids learning the rules of Scrabble before they even finish kindergarten, one can’t help but wonder how Thailand manage to produce two Scrabble world champions while the population still speak no English. The media never fail to cover the New Zealander Nigel Richards who impressively captured his 12th King’s Cup (and earning $10000 USD) by outscoring Singaporean Scrabbler Hubert Wee in the finals. Moving on to our interest… obviously the Sudoku aspect of the competition…

Current World Scrabble Champion, Nigel Richards, remains perfect

Current World Scrabble Champion, Nigel Richards, remains perfect

5 preliminary rounds were used to select the five finalists. All eyes are on the international favourites: current and former world champions Kota Morinishi and Jan Mrozowski. Two more Japanese were also labeled as ones to beat in Yuhei Kusui (winner in 2012) and Takuya Sugimoto. After skipping last year, Indian Rishi Puri was also looking forward to another podium finish after two consecutive silver medals in 2012 and 2013.

Main attraction: Scrabble, Scrabble and Scrabble.

In their tournament of a lifetime, hundreds (if not thousands) of kids of all age groups compete in Scrabble.

So who are Thailand’s hopes?
Sinchai Rungsangrattanakul is no doubt the most consistent player netting wins after win in various local tournaments throughout the year. However, the Queen’s Cup had mysteriously been untouchable for him since his win in 2010. The spotlights shining on Sinchai might want to look at another candidate; national team member Supachai Thongsawang, who just finished high school. A little reminder that Supachai eked out 3rd place last year against this tough field.

Not to be underestimated; Supachai Thongsawang in his new university attire

Not to be underestimated; Supachai Thongsawang in his new Chulalongkorn University attire

Sudoku playing field

Sudoku playing field

The qualifying rounds saw 4 people running away with tickets to the finals: Jan, Kota, Sinchai and Takuya. The 5th and final spot was somewhat undecided until the last day where Supachai, Yuhei and Rishi all had realistic chances. Repeating a miraculous feat, it was Supachai who once again squeezed through to the finals, producing the same set of finalists as last year!

Tight race for the finals

Tight race for the finals

In a new twist, the finals would consist of 4 well-known Sudoku types to be solved simultaneously on a large board. An exciting final was brewing up. Kota took a slow but steady approach and was first to tear through all the puzzles, winning his 3rd consecutive title. Surprisingly, the youngest finalist Supachai was second to finish! He would spend a few extra seconds too long checking his answer which opened the door for Jan to raise his hand, submitting his answer and overtaking him! Both Sinchai and Takuya were filling in their last digits of the diagonal sudoku before turning in.

Standing from left to right: Takuya, Sinchai, Jan, Supachai and Kota

Standing from left to right: Takuya, Sinchai, Jan, Supachai and Kota

In an unbelievable turn of events, Jan had 1 error in the alphabet sudoku which bumped Supachai, who had no mistakes, up to second place! Jan settled for 3rd while Sinchai and Takuya’s error-ridden boards were only good enough for 4th and 5th this year. Kota leaves Thailand with $5000 USD.

Hat-trick. Kota has won the Queen's Cup in 2013, 2014 and now 2015

Hat-trick. Kota has won the Queen’s Cup in 2013, 2014 and now 2015

You can try the puzzles used in the finals yourself

You can try the puzzles used in the finals yourself

When can we see more sudoku tournaments that offer such prize money?
And, dear future organizers, please scrap the computer-generated puzzles.

Past events now available

You might notice something different in the menu above.
That’s right! Past puzzles now available!

You can grab puzzles from the very first event way back in 2012 up to the latest event, Manila, held last month. Speaking of which, a parcel from Nikoli arrived containing…

These three books will be mailed out to Zach, Michael and Nick as SOTR celebrates its 3rd birthday. I have other events lined up for another exciting season.

Watch this space!

After Manila #2 – Decorations

I love including minor details into puzzles. For example did you notice the siren-shaped blanks in the coffee wordsearch? Two big examples of minor features in Manila:

Bulletin Board
A childhood of Mario Kart courses made me a huge fan of unused details. Though “unused” is not entirely true since it certainly adds depth to the gaming experience. Incorporating details (like signs on a Mario Kart course) into a logic puzzle contest on a blog like this is sadly pointless. Starting at the Harbour to read a paragraph of introduction might come to mind.


After solving the commodity puzzles, another seemingly meaningless feature appears: the Bulletin Board. I’ve had the idea of solvers leaving their mark as the make their progress at the back of my head for a while now. It takes Manila for an excuse to introduce it since both the Harbour and the Bulletin Board housed sneaky hints to Rick the Pilot’s whereabouts (as mentioned in the previous post).


With only 6 solvers posting, the reception of the Bulletin Board was quite dim. Edison was actually first if you exclude Rick. Then the board was left to rust for two weeks until Alan, 11th person to finish, came along to break the ice. Also I’m left to wonder who Rato is. Perhaps his boat capsized somewhere en route to Manila Bay Pier?

Captain Alokin
Our pirate had a rather brief showing in Puzzle 4, that’s very little to invest in a character. The Captain and his crew was originally a four-part mini puzzle series; invade his ship, prepare cannonballs, fire and take the loot.

What you saw was only the “fire” part (Outside Battleships) since three other puzzles all broke and I had already spent too long tweaking them to no avail. The loot at the end was a loop puzzle which would spell out MALACHITE. Rick was also going to give you malachite taking you to the finish – but alas, he had to give you a random string of letters instead.

Why Alokin? That’s a shout-out to Nikola Zivanovic, who is currently the highest-ranked solver at SOTR to have never won a prize. Closely behind is Ivan Koswara, both at 8 events and still without a prize. So that’s the drill. If you don’t win, take consolation in the fact that you can become a bad guy in SOTR. Perhaps Ivan can be an earth-hungry alien next time…

After Manila #1 – Rick the Pilot

Before the event started, a little info was given about the board game.
postman1Yet in the journey, there was no apparent way to find a pilot. And a lot of you wondered what was up with Pilot Service. Second clue was at the Harbour where several signs were plastered with notices, one of which was…

postman2Or you could have reached the Bulletin Board and found that Pilot Service was indeed available. Unfortunately it was locked.

postman5So if pilots are available, how do we hitch a ride?
The Bulletin Board might help…

postman3The coffee house word search had blank cells that spell out a trivia question for the answer key. Most of you might work out the question without having to even find all the words.
But what happens if you did find all the words?

IMG_6291Reading the leftover letters: “Hello there! I’m Rick, I am a pilot. Can you buy me a coffee? I forgot my wallet. Wow! Thank you! Say, should you be in a leaky situation, call me. My number is the two digit number on the first oil barrel.”

So what is this leaky situation?

postman4 Remember this other sign at the Harbour?
The picture of oil barrel is similar to the one on the map. This suggests that somewhere along the journey you will have some sort of oil leak.

Sure enough, at puzzle 3, this happens and Rick does come to the rescue.
The double-digit number on the first barrel is 48 and this opens up “Pilot Service”. Most of you probably haven’t seen it but here is the pilot puzzle:

Find 5 planes in the grid. Cells occupied by a plane cannot touch each other, not even diagonally. Each plane parts have different weights. An example of a plane is given. The numbers outside the grid represent the total weight of all the plane segments in that row or column.


Once this is solved, Rick takes you straight to Manila Bay Pier, skipping the last three puzzles entirely!

I only know of two people that hitched a ride with Rick; first was Nick Brady. But only after he went all the way to Puzzle 5, couldn’t solve the puzzle because it initially had multiple solutions, and then return to find Rick.

“I ended up coming here thanks to Rick’s Pilot puzzle, but I had made it all the way up to a solution to puzzle 5 that I believe is valid, but wasn’t accepted. Only then did I try tracking Rick down, solving his puzzle hoping for a clue and to my surprise being given a direct answer.”

Another person was Ivan Koswara who had an alternate (better?) approach. Once he got the message at the coffee house hinting at a two-digit number, he immediately tried all possible two digit combinations to hack open Pilot Service! Eventually he got to 48 and solved… “Perhaps my most favorite puzzle among the [puzzles] I solved”.
You cheater, you!

 Did anyone else find Rick?

Results of Manila

Manila Bay Pier has welcomed its last visitor and is now closed. 23 solvers survived the journey and carried four commodities to start a new life in the capital.

Here is the order they reached Manila Bay Pier: Edison He, Nick Brady, Zach Polansky, Gavriel Hirsch, Kishore Kumar, Nikola Zivanovic, Antonis Lalatsas, Antonios Fantakis, Ken Levine, James McGowan, Alan O’Donnell, Branko Ceranic, Thomas Powell, Robert Vollmert, Sinchai Rungsangrattanakul, Arturo Vial, Michael Mosshammer, Raphael Lehrer, Ivan Koswara, Matej Uher, Andrew Brecher, Franck Wallez and Zbigniew Laskowski.

At the pier, all entrants took turns devaluing certain items and investing in commodities of their choice. Several people, one of whom is James McGowan, found that … “a 2-1-1-1 investment will always be middle of the field, so I need to invest 3+ in one commodity and hope that it is worth more than the other three, in which case I should just invest all 5 in it because it is worth more than the other three”.

That is exactly what happened. By putting all eggs in one basket you pretty much have 1 in 4 chances of winning since; at the end of the day, at least one commodity will be worth the most. I only reasoned this out two days after launching Manila so it was too late to change anything. Next time I promise a better luck-based game.

Interestingly each commodity had at least one person who invested all 5 in. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the final net worth after all the spills had been subtracted:

manilares1Ginseng’s the most promising commodity here!
And here are the results:

The 4 people who struck richest are; Zach Polansky, you and I know him as Jack Lance, who run his own puzzle blog with on and off weeks introducing themed gimmicks each time. He was third to reach Manila Bay Pier. Next we have James McGowan, previous winner of Race up the Sky, looking to win his second event. I enjoy his commentary that comes along with all his submissions very much, an SOTR regular. Another past winner is Thomas Powell, joint winner in Anchors Aweigh last year and almost won again in Nikoli Hurdles 2, now another shot at Manila. Notice how regulars seem to have more chances of winning? Enter! Enter!
And rounding up the top investors is Michael Mosshammer, I sat behind him at the 24HPC this year exchanging a few words throughout the day. He and the other 3 now compete for the top 2 prizes.

Tie-break; each competitor is given an extra 3 pesos to invest in the remaining commodities. Everyone was told about the situation: 4 people and looking for 2 winners.

Before we get there, I also promised a third prize. Zbigniew Laskowski was the last submission just before the deadline making the total of entries reach exactly 23. This means that essentially, the last prize will be awarded to the person who came in last place!
We have two competitors tied with this distinction: Nick Brady, a regular at SOTR since Colour Restore and Robert Vollmert, another puzzler I met in Hungary last April. They were also given another 3 pesos but were only told that they were competing for the 23rd-place prize (crucially, were not told to aim for last place).

Let’s announce the 3 winners:
manilares3 Congratulations to Zach Polansky from the United States, Michael Mosshammer from Austria and Nick Brady from the United States! 
Zach will receive Specially Selected Nurikabe, Michael will receive Specially Selected Masyu and Nick gets the Specially Selected Fillomino.

Now we have another event wrapped up!
After a few posts about details of Manila, my next event will be announced.

If you don’t want to miss future events, click the subscribe button on the right hand side of this page and have updates sent to your inbox. A blogger can only stay as long as his readers are still around so thank you all for participating!

Until next time!

3 days left!

9/6/15 – **Submissions to Manila are now closed. Please wait for results to be calculated.

We are anchoring in just under 72 hours.
If you’re still out there, now is the time to hurry!

I always send a confirmation email back to all entrants, so if you have entered and have yet to receive a reply – try resending your entry (after checking your spam inbox).
I’ve taken a peek at the current standings and the possibility of a tie-breaker is likely.
So after the deadline, try check your emails as there might be a tie-breaker to decide the winners.

Next time you’ll hear from me is the announcing of the winner of Manila!
Until then.

Still at sea?

manilaoffbanWe have a little over a week left until Manila closes. I know some of you are still out there in the treacherous waters so give it all you got in the upcoming few days!

totteokiprizeRegarding the prizes, stated originally was prizes for the top two plus the 29th place competitor – if less than 29 entries: 23rd place competitor takes it.

Currently I have less than 23 solvers with correct submissions so if the total doesn’t reach 23 by the end of Manila… guess I’ll keep the last prize for future events.

Don’t let that happen.
Happy solving!

Manila starts!

Launch time!
Competitors can now hit the seas and head to Manila!

manilaoffbanDetails are at the ABOUT MANILA page on the menu above, give it a good read before starting at the HARBOUR. Some of the puzzle ideas and examples were taken from Ko Okamoto, Nikola Zivanovic, Serkan Yurekli, Riad Khanmagomedov and WPC 2011 Hungary.

Manila will be opened for 29 days ending on the 8th of June.
Any questions can be made here:

I’m looking forward to sending, not one, but three of you, prizes next month.
Happy Mother’s Day!

*** At just over 20 hours of launching, Manila Bay Pier has already welcomed its first competitor! Looking forward to see more of you! ***

Next destination: Manila

My next event is inspired by the board game Manila.

61NFQ9DRTML._SY300_The year is 1821 and under the rule of the Spanish crown, you are orchestrating secret trades with other tribes in mainland Asia. Using punts, you load your boats with four precious commodities: coffee, ginseng, jade and satin. These will be worth a living once they are successfully smuggled out to Manila.

In the game, you have to deviously plan which commodity to take, how you’re going to navigate the boat and be careful of notorious pirates. You could also bribe pilots to give you a ride to Manila.

I will incorporate all these elements into a puzzle adventure…

manilabannerAll of the puzzles, except one, are logic-based and will be language-neutral. However, due to the narrative nature of the event, some reading may be required. I did my best to keep it as simple as possible for non-English speakers so everyone should be able to enjoy Manila.

Also you can contact me throughout the event with any help you need, big or small.
One last good news; this event will have 3 prize winners!
Your chances have just tripled!

See you in Manila!

24HPC recap without the puzzles

[Personal recap of the 24HPC]


Budapest Ferenc Liszt Airport

On the forward trip, I sat next to a Turkish college student who was studying in Hungary. I asked what “Akil Oyunlari” meant in Turkish. He said “umm…like brain games”. He was born in Antalya so I was like, “hey, that’s where they hosted the 2009 WPC”, which was an excuse to explain why I was going to Budapest to solve puzzles. Pushing my luck of shoving puzzle talk to a stranger’s face, I also asked if he knew who Serkan Yurekli was. And I got a positive response!
“Yeah. He was on TV one time, I think he makes puzzles right?”
I admit I’m terrible at coming up conversation topics.

Like last year, I was the first to arrive and the last to leave Budapest. It certainly helps to spare a couple of days rinsing off your jet lag, especially when one had just covered over 17,000km in about a day and half. My first priority of looking for non-sparkling water was achieved at a dairy just across the road. Illiterate in Hungarian had me buying bagfuls of snacks based solely on its marketing appearance. I did enjoyed most of them fortunately.



The next day, I met Tom and Neil at breakfast and had plans for two escape games in the city. We went early in case of the very likely event of us getting lost, which meant we had a good hour munching on coffee and cake at a lovely store next to the location of the first escape game.

We were joined by the German puzzle team of Silke, Robert and their friend Hammond. The first game was held in a quiet residence and was hosted by a polite woman who apparently wasn’t the host of the English-language version, but we can agree that she did a fantastic job running the game.


On board the SS.Elzzup!

As with all escape games, the theme was loosely-based on a narrative. Hell, I can’t even remember the theme now. A friend is getting married in France? Somehow you’re on a boat to New York? He was framed for something? We needed to find a train ticket? A ring? Oh, I give up.

[Spoilers ahead: if you plan to play an escape game in Budapest, you might suddenly be the most competent member of your team]

So the first room was decorated like a boat and we had to find 5 coins to open up the next room. It wasn’t obvious, but there were 5 “things” to do and it was sensible to assume that they run independently and each lead to a coin. We had no system going in, everyone just solved whatever they felt like they could. All I can recall was peeking through a chest to see a picture of a sailor, holding a mop and hitting a seagull. On the ceiling was a seagull and there was a mop lying on the floor. The clever trick was that the mop was magnetic and it had to drag a key from a ledge on the ceiling. Going on simultaneously in the room, was a map puzzle being solved to unlock a rope ladder which Robert had to climb to a balloon which contained a coin.


Tom’s head on a bus

The second room was the train scene. We had to fill a briefcase with the correct set of five items to finish. There was an invisible code written on the mirror that Neil helped me solve, a classic logic puzzle that Hammond and I solved, while others revive a dead cellphone to get specific time schedules for a train ticket hidden behind a picture. There was a dummy in the room (I think it was the ticket collector) which we mercilessly murdered because what else do you do in escape games? You flip the whole room upside down and look into every inch of every single item that was there. The dummy’s head rolled right off by the time we finished.

We clocked in at 36-37 minutes, without hints, and were told that the current record was around 34 minutes. Ah, we did great. Afterwards, we returned to the same café (called Death by Decaf) for seconds and headed to the next escape game. It was held in a spacious cellar (or “dungeon”, as Neil insisted). The theme this time was that we had to stop a biotechnical warfare by finding some sort of poison concocted by some mad professor. The room was his lab and there were heaps of things to solve.


We had better times

My favourite had to be where a box was opened by placing a stethoscope on to the heart of a skeleton. Several puzzles ended up adding one piece to a chessboard so we incorrectly assumed that the chessboard was probably the last thing to be solved and proceeded to solve other puzzles in the room. We burnt at least 20 minutes trying to figure out how to make sense of colourful chemicals on the table and got nowhere.

We had to phone for help and the host directed us to “a green monster”. There was a green rubbish bin and surely enough, magnetized to inside of the lid was the crucial final chess piece. Gahh, honestly we must’ve opened that bin at least five times each. Good warm-up for the 24HPC.


Another 300 or so puzzles to understand the rules of


Listening to my occasional sighs; my table neighbour Matthew Stein from USA.

Fast forward to the end of the competition, I left Budapest for Dubai. The purpose of entry on my VISA was cultural/sports which prompted “what sport were you playing in Budapest?” at the customs. I thought for a second before replying, “puzzles.”
Of course I got a confused look.
“Like sudoku”
That elicited an “Ahh… I know sudoku. Wait. You flew all the way from Auckland to solve sudoku?”


The newly renovated competition room meant generous working space for us

In Dubai, I tried their Snooze Cube, which was a little bedroom for transits. Air-conditioned, free Wi-Fi, universal outlets and the room goes pitch black when the lights were switched off. Absolutely perfect.




I listended to a few podcasts and slowly nodded off…


Home time!


Quiet Melbourne Airport at 5am

After two more transits at Melbourne and Auckland. One last domestic flight carried me home.


No more planes for me.
Until next time!