Season’s Greetings

Cho Phraya River, Bangkok, Thailand

Sorry, no Christmas tree puzzles from me.
I want to spend this post summing up 2014 and give a brief outline of plans for next year. I keep my personal life a good distance from this blog, so you can guarantee that no ramblings about life in general will be seen. On that note, academically this year had been one of the most depressing years for me. This blog is a nice sanctuary from the demanding workload required from me on a daily basis.

Here at SOTR, a season starts after August, which was when the very first event was held on this blog two years ago. The first season included; Code Road, Nikoli Hurdles 1 and Race up the Sky. This puzzling season started with Colour Restore which happened near the end of 2013. It was followed by Anchors Aweigh in March 2014; I love Battleships so it was good that I finally managed an event based solely on that. I experimented with a format-change in July Giants and, to me, it seemed successful. I hope to introduce you to more giants in 2015.

That means Nikoli Hurdles 2, held in October, kicked off the third season of SOTR. I have sent prizes to winners from 4 continents. I’m looking forward to future winners from South America and Africa. Though, let’s hope I’d never have to send an expensive package to Antarctica.

Continuing season 3, my next event will start early 2015. It is currently undergoing rigorous testing to ensure you get the best puzzles SOTR have to offer.
Take a look!

sudosinbannerWant to guess what is going on?

Thank you for being such an awesome audience throughout this year. I hope to see you again in 2015 and future years to come. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Wish you all a safe holiday and here’s to 2015!

Light Read #4 – The Chinese Formula

In London 2009, at the World Memory Championship, Wang Feng surprised the field with a solid debut performance finishing at 5th place. This definitely got China conferring and in 2010, China auctioned off the rights to host 3 years of the World Memory Championships. Believing this would create a boom of Chinese mental athletes and hoping to produce a world champion of memory within three years, they set up the venue for the 2010 edition at Guangzhou.

By the time you finish fingering through all the cards, Wang Feng would've had it all memorized.

By the time you finish fingering through all the cards, Wang Feng would’ve had it all memorized.

In a little more than one year, the same Wang Feng claimed gold in his home turf at the 2010 World Memory Championship, setting the new world record of memorizing a deck of cards in just over 24 seconds. The record is later broken by Simon Reinhard in the 2011 German Open. In conclusion, China got their world champ in just one year of hosting. The three-year contract continued with Wang Feng also winning the 2011 title. The planned third year happened last week. The 2014 World Memory Championship will be held in outskirts Hainan and was dominated by Swedish Jonas von Essen.

WMC-banner-2014-600Last August in Tromso (Norway) 172 countries participated in the 41st Chess Olympiad. With an average rating of 2698 and as the 7th seed, China wasn’t sending their strongest possible line-up. Their (then) number ones and three Wang Hao and Bu Xiangzhi were absent. In the end, Wang Yue led China’s team and overcame all odds to clinch the gold medal by a reasonable margin.

Wang Yue was China's Board 1 at this year's Chess Olympiad.

Wang Yue was China’s Board 1 at this year’s Chess Olympiad.

I noticed another correlation with China and brain sports.
When Jin Ce was promptly scooped up by a mob of cameras after his win at the Beijing WSC 2013, I threw in the question, “With two young finalists in the top 10 out of nowhere, how did China pulled that out?” Tom Collyer, of Detuned fame responded, “I don’t know, but it must have involved a closed room with no windows”.

Whatever it was, it worked. China produced a World Sudoku Champion in a span of three years. The revelation could possibly be Chen Cen’s solid 7th place at the 2010 Philadelphia WSC. In 2011, George Wang consulted the World Puzzle Federation and organized the first Beijing International Sudoku Tournament (BIST). This huge event acted like a prodrome of China’s main goal; which was to host a world championship and ideally produce a Chinese world champion in the process.

Jin Ce defeated Kota Morinishi 3-2 at the WSC 2013 finals.

Jin Ce defeated Kota Morinishi 3-2 at the WSC 2013 finals.

Looking back, I attended the 2011 BIST in a very lax mood. College mercifully gave me half a week off and in an instant I was on my way to Beijing. I didn’t have my competitive nature with me at that time, and I absorbed every puzzle as a constructor. Instead of practicing I poured over the very well-made instruction booklet looking for beautiful patterns. I still do, but now I learn to separate casual-solving from competition. My puzzle booklet from 2011 BIST was so neat I couldn’t believe that they were written in a competitive environment. Here, take a look at this.

Neat writing and all notations erased. Clearly, I wasn't in the mood for speed solving.

Neat writing and all notations erased. Clearly, I wasn’t in the mood for speed solving.

To achieve this level of clean handwriting, one had to simply not care about rankings. I remember gingerly erasing numbers where I thought it could have been neater. Oh, the top circle of this 8 could use a little upsize (erases), eh? This nine has an uncomfortably long leg (erases). Of course, I don’t do that now but back then I just don’t have the competitive juices in me. Despite a dismal performance, I genuinely enjoyed the 2011 BIST. A year later the event was followed up with the 2012 BIST, then China felt they were ready to stage the 2013 WPC/WSC. There, Team China dominated the team standings and Jin Ce was crowned world champ.

It seems when China wants to achieve something, they quickly have full support from various reliable agencies and always ready to put itself on the map. However, I’m not entirely convinced. In the recently-concluded 2014 WSC, Jin Ce finished in a comparatively depressing 10th while a new name entered the sudoku elite in Dai Tantan who came in 6th. One explanation I’m trying to sell is that the puzzles from both BISTs and the 2013 WSC were alarmingly similar. I also notice the same variants popping up with high frequency in my collection of Chinese sudoku books. Practice and exposure to a certain style had to play a role.

Puzzles, due to their versatility, are different by a wide margin. Until there’s a Chinese world puzzle champion, I’m going to blindly stick to my hypothesis. Though, Qiu Yanzhe (19th in the 2014 WPC) might have something to say about that next year…

Fillomino and Ripple Effect are Reader’s Choices

Before the end of Nikoli Hurdles 2, a poll was opened for a couple of weeks to determine two puzzles for the next edition. Five puzzle types, all from filling-in-numbers genre, were listed and we have an outright winner.


People sure love their Fillominos!

With twice as many votes than the second most popular type, it would be a sin to exclude it from the next set of hurdles. At a distant second is Ripple Effect, a type where I have explored a while back. I will promise to include them as Reader’s Choice next time.

I’m not promising any dates for Nikoli Hurdles 3 as they are other events down the pipeline.

Do look forward to them and thank you for voting!

Solutions to Nikoli Hurdles 2 – Part 5/5

kanaorepuzPuzzle 8: Kanaore
Too many errors prevented me from being happy about this puzzle. One is that Wall-E had 1941 next to it for a few days before I noticed it. It was clearly copy and pasted from Dumbo’s year of production. The initial diagram had the “7” arrow pointing the wrong way which led to impossible solutions which halted many solvers. To make matters even worse, the wrong diagonal was shaded for the answer keys so no one could reach the finish line!

Repairable mistakes but nothing could prepare me for… that darn N!

Kanaores are solved on empty grids. They should not have any givens, but the mistake was so disgustingly severe I had no other options but to dismantle the entire puzzle which I was not keen on doing. I completely overlooked the N despite test solving it twice! Maybe I was too excited that the bottom half of the puzzle squeezed itself into uniqueness, I forgot that the N from ALADDIN could sneak its way back to grab the N from TARZAN.


Had none of the above happened, I would look back at this puzzle and be rightly proud of it. I looked at a few examples from Grant Fikes’ blog (he uses the name “Seek and Spell”) and started brainstorming ideas. I wrote this puzzle in a coffee shop during the time when no matter where you went, they would open “Let It Go” from Frozen. I must have subconsciously come up with the idea then.

Looking back at the puzzle I am still slightly irked by that N.
Hopefully by next year I would finally let it go.

Let it go… Let it go….