Annual Pilgrimage to the USPC

One event I look forward to every year is the USPC. What makes this event stand out from your regular online tests is the amount of innovation that constantly pop-up year after year. Forget the usual types that you routinely solve all year round, here, it’s not an exaggeration that the USPC showcases some of the most creative constructions I solve puzzles for. These are the heavy-pointers which require insight and thinking-on-the-spot rather than common types which needed constant practice to get good at. Therefore, most of them end up being elegant one-off puzzles and will likely not see any of its siblings in the future (a notable example is the Criss-Cross Sums from the practice test).

When the IB was published, the run of “Almost…” puzzle names left a bitter taste. The USPC never had to rename puzzle types (that existed before) to make some sort of theme – so why now? What was wrong with Zero Kakuro, Pentapa or Snake Pit?
*They were rebranded as Almost Kakuro, Almost Tapa and Almost Fillomino.

That clamor aside, solvers from Asia had to endure the grueling duration that lasted well into the early hours. Given the quality of the USPC, a handful of loyal solvers from less-forgiving time zones make the annual pilgrimage annually. The start time for me was exactly midnight and finishing at 02:30 in the morning.

My plan was to solve backwards and leave the easier puzzles for later when it can be speed-solved during the last few minutes. I’ll share my two and a half hour experience below.

21. Blizzard
The USPC never run out of surprises. A hexagon grid! You can always expect the USPC throwing something different from the IB at you; this tricky gimmick I usually greet with a gleeful grin, but this Blizzard was tough. So 1-6 had to appear in each hexagon but working on the 1s and 6s was dawdlingly painful. Despite making a few guesses to shorten the solving path this puzzle took me around 18 minutes. Ouch.

20. Timid Dominoes
A new type. I added the column clues and found that the 5 gaps in row 10 had to add up to 28, that’s 5, 5, 6, 6 and 6. Then what…?
I stared at the grid for another 3-4 minutes and moved on. I realize afterwards that I didn’t carefully comb over the IB enough and missed the rule which stated that all dominoes must interconnect. Rage!

19. Almost Fillomino
Carl Worth, who became the latest regular contributor to GMP, has made several nice one-off types to USPC before. In his GMP debut he had a week of Snake Pits but those were easier than this one. I didn’t see any gimme deductions and decided to skip this one also.

18. Almost Slitherlink
It only took me 5 seconds to make the judgment of skipping this one as well. I’m not comfortable with normal Slitherlink and that’s not changing this time. I did solve this afterwards and found it to be a lot easier than I expected.

17. Almost Star Battle
This one was interesting. One important rule was that every wall had to separate two regions. If you solve enough Tripod Sudoku or Walls Fillomino you’d be familiar with some tricks when reconstructing the regions. Once you see how the long portion of the centre region had to expand outside to accommodate one more star, the puzzle falls quickly.

16. Almost Tapa
I wrote a Pentapamino for this blog a few years back. In that puzzle, locating the X pentomino was a crucial step to complete the puzzle. Here, when I got stuck – I naturally asked myself, where could that sly X piece be? And thank Tapa gods! There’s only one place for it! The remaining pieces became trivial.

15. Almost CrissCross
The size of the grid intimidated me and after blanking a few circles, I couldn’t see anything and flicked over to the next page.

14. Almost Sudoku
If I remember correctly this type appeared in the 2012 Croatia WSC. A nice clean puzzle that didn’t cause too much hassle.

13. Almost Yajilin
The same mistake kept repeating itself over and over and when I made the wise decision to recount all the shaded squares, the error was discovered and appropriately mended. But it did cost me precious minutes.

12. Almost Kakuro
When prepping for the 24HPC, I explored Zero Kakuro (which appeared in Serkan’s round) so I still recall some of the tricks involved. When systemically trying out all the 12-sum combinations I ran into dead-ends. Which meant I screwed up the adding in one of the paths – and I wasn’t ready to invest anymore time retracing those steps. Disappointingly had to move on.

11. Tapa
If this Tapa was in the Classic Tapa Contest I’m willing to bet that I topped the rankings. After studying the layout and saw no obvious steps. I dived in by making one guess, which was followed by two more guesses – and thank the Tapa gods again I was right!

10. Tetris Crisscross
My favourite puzzle hands down. Loved the scrabble, loved this variant, loved the Cihan Altay’s tiles and everything else about it. Another masterpiece by Serkan. Where is Cihan nowadays?
9. Kakume
This type is new to me. I had to bite my teeth to refrain from logically going over each educated guess. A fun type and a neat puzzle indeed.

8. Sudoku
Sadly it has become a tradition for USPC to include common Nikoli types, that are actually quite difficult, and having it undervalued. This year’s sudoku was marginally more forgiving than the ones from the last few years though.

7. Pent-Across
Finally, a one-off puzzle by Carl! You had to realize that words will be filled in three 5×4 chunks and then have those chunks stacked in the right order. Not too difficult but truly a delight to solve.

6. Nurimeizu
Geez, 5 points? If you’re not already acquainted with Nurimeizu, I can’t highly recommend enough that you ditch this puzzle. There are a few rules you need to consider in Nurimeizu and most medium-level Nikoli Nurimeizus don’t even require you use all of the rules. I could be missing something but this puzzle was far from 5 points.

5. Division Swap
They didn’t teach me long division at school. Next.

4. Zapcar
Each year at the USPC, I pay back the karma for the visual puzzles in my 24HPC sets. For 4-5 years and counting I only manage to find 9 differences and that last difference keeps alluding me. The trend continues. I revisited this puzzle when I had 8 minutes left and only found 9 differences. And Patrick Merrell is a good artist.

3. Masyu
Another year and another undervalued Masyu. Can we not scare newcomers?

2. Cave
Now this is worth 10 points. Can you imagine this straightforward Cave being worth the same as that monster of a Masyu?

1. Battleships
I somehow feel Battleships can be a lot tamer for 5 points but I’ll stop complaining.

I’m looking at a 200-something point finish.
How did you guys find the USPC?

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3 responses

  1. From what I solved I think I got 148 points, which I’ll take over my 2016 score (49 points; my very first contest). On Friday I did a bunch of Nurimeizu from the book I got from Puzzledo, so that was quick 🙂

      • That would be quite something 😛 I solved 1-14, excepting 10 and 13, but only found 8 differences. Perhaps I should have tried #10 instead of hunting for more differences at the end….

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