Surprise! Nikoli Hurdles 5!

Another year is zipping by and to cap it off, SOTR will run two back to back events. Starting today is the 5th edition of Nikoli Hurdles. The format remains the same with eight puzzles to be solved in order. The answer to the previous puzzle is used to open the next puzzle. Based on the last readers’ poll; Satogaeri will make an appearance.

Tied for second were Slitherlink and Sashigane, so they both will be included in this year’s set. Solvers can enter their name for a chance to win a copy of Nikoli no Penpa 2018, once they reach the finish line. More information can be found at the ABOUT NIKOLI HURDLES page above.

The contest will close on December 20th. Shortly after on Christmas we will have our traditional end-of-the-year Christmas Quiz. Any questions can be made using this form.

Have fun!

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Tiit Vunk Wins 2017 BRANDS Queen’s Cup

[Photos in this report are courtesy of Thailand Crossword Association, Thananon Boonkrong and Yuhei Kusui]

Central Plaza Westgate was once again the venue for the annual BRANDS King’s Cup International Open. The $10,000 USD winner’s purse attracts a handful of top Scrabble players in the world each year. Held alongside is the Sudoku Queen’s Cup where the winner takes half as much at $5,000 USD. There were many side events including A-math (an equation-building boardgame) and Kumkom (a Thai version of Scrabble).
Continue reading

Jan Wins 2016 BRANDS Queen’s Cup

[Photos from the event courtesy of Thailand Crossword Game Association]

The annual BRANDS Crossword Game King’s Cup was moved from the capital to the province of Nonthaburi. Last weekend, hundreds gather at Central Westgate, a newly-built shopping complex which was just opened less than a year ago last August. The main event (Scrabble) attracted competitors from 20 countries. This year the narrative was more exciting than what the organizers hoped for.

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Central Plaza Westgate was opened just last year

Before the event Pichai Limprasert, ranked 101st in the world (due to less opportunities to play in official matches), had collected seven (!) consecutive wins in national events throughout the season. The level at the top of Thailand’s Scrabble players is very narrow – which made this record previously unimaginable. Would he be the one to snatch the 31st King’s Cup from 3-time world champion, New Zealander Nigel Richards?

Every square inch of the hall was used to accommodate thousands of competitors

Every square inch of the hall was used to accommodate thousands of competitors

Another venue inside the mall

Crowds gather at other venues inside the mall

When the 29-round qualifying matches begun, Pichai looked like a champion in the making as he led the pack from round 2 to round 5. His dominance was briefly interrupted by Singaporean Ming Hui Wee for four rounds before Pichai reclaimed his lead. Pichai reigned supreme until the very end (round 9-28!) until finally succumbing to Nigel Richards in their round 29 encounter.

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Scrabble players compete in 29 qualifying rounds…

The main event: Scrabble Open Division

… but only two spots in the finals

The two qualified for a three-game playoff and traded one win each allowing a cinematic last game. Nigel won that 469-356 and defended the King’s Cup once again, pocketing a handsome $10,000 USD.

Nigel Richards (left) defends his King's Cup from a new challenger, Pichai Limprasert (right)

Nigel Richards (left) defends his King’s Cup from a new challenger, Pichai Limprasert (right)

The match extended to a third game

The match extended to a third game

For the last two years, the King’s and Queen’s Cups remained with their defending champions – but this was to change since Kota Morinishi, after getting a new job, was absent from this year’s tournament. Familiar international favourites include Jan Mrozowski (his 4th trip to Thailand), Yuhei Kusui (who won in 2012) and his compatriot Takuya Sugimoto, who is still looking for his first podium finish.

Like previous years, the prizes were donated by the Royal Family

Like previous years, the prizes were donated by the Royal Family

A new name struck fear among the competitors in Tiit Vunk who flew in from Estonia to have a go at winning the Cup. Once again, putting up the resistance is half the Thai national team; Sinchai Rungsangrattanakul (who won in 2010) and Supachai Thongsawang (who came 3rd twice in 2014-15).

Jan Mrozowski, his 4th time in Thailand

Jan Mrozowski, his 4th time in Thailand

Yuhei Kusui was the last holder of the Queen's Cup in 2012, before Kota's three-year reign (2013-2015)

Yuhei Kusui was the last holder of the Queen’s Cup in 2012, before Kota’s three-year reign (2013-2015)

Sinchai Rungsangrattanakul, looking for his 2nd win

Sinchai Rungsangrattanakul, looking for his 2nd win

Newcomer, Tiit Vunk

Newcomer, Tiit Vunk

The format of 6 qualifying rounds provided little drama and 4 names quickly distanced themselves away from the field to secure spots in the final 5; Jan, Tiit, Sinchai and Takuya. Only Supachai and Yuhei had realistic chances to earn the 5th seat in the finals. When the preliminaries were over it was Yuhei who remain in the fight for the 10th Sudoku Queen’s Cup.

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2016 finalists: Takuya, Sinchai, Tiit, Jan and Yuhei

Ready..set.. go!

Ready..set.. go!

The finals consisted of 4 basic variants to be solved on stage. After three years of getting used to the whiteboard, Jan Mrozowski finished all four puzzles, just 21 seconds before Sinchai, and is rewarded with $5000 USD. Tiit Vunk earned the bronze medal despite having 4 errors in the Irregular Sudoku. The two Japanese finalists had uncompleted grids and finish 4th (Takuya) and 5th (Yuhei).

In action

In action

Jan Mrozowski adds another title to his name

Jan Mrozowski adds another title to his name

Sounds like a fun weekend to me!

Previous winners of the BRANDS Queen’s Cup
2007 – Chatchakarn Roongsiri
2008 – Panupol Sujjayakorn
2009 – John Robert Valcos
2010 – Sinchai Rungsangrattanakul
2011 – Poramet Yosamornsoontorn
2012 – Yuhei Kusui
2013 – Kota Morinishi
2014 – Kota Morinishi
2015 – Kota Morinishi

Only Kota has won more than once. Runners-up have included Rishi Puri (on multiple occasions) and well-known Chinese author and solver Chen Cen (2010).

UKPA Open 2016

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Next weekend is the UKPA Open 2016, to be held at Selsdon Park Hotel in East Croydon (WPC/WSC 2014 venue) from 27-28th February. If I live in Europe, where intracontinental travelling is less of a hassle, the UKPA Open would certainly be my yearly fixture.

Over 2 days, you can compete in the Puzzles or the Sudoku section (ever better, why not both?). Not everyone might be familiar with who’s who in WPC-style puzzles, but I can assure you the line-up of the authors is impressive. We’re talking years of experience in both small events, online blogs and all the way up to the World Championships.

Also, at the UKPA Open, the lack of restriction gives authors a lot of room of creativity; and you can definitely see that in the instruction booklets. My round is called “Ticket to Puzzle” (a rip from a well-known board game) and will feature railroads, train tickets and even Thomas the Tank Engine.

If you’re interested, applications can be made here.
Have fun!

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.

Kota retains BRANDS Sudoku title

The 2014 BRANDS Thailand Sudoku Open concluded today. The usual 2-day format was increased by one day since in Thailand; it’s a 4-day weekend. The tournament started on Friday and the venue shifted from Siam Paragon to Central Ladprao, both are department stores in Bangkok.

Three to a table in the middle of a department store? Come on.  [Photo: Thailand Crossword Association]

Three to a table in the middle of a department store? Come on.
[Photo: Thailand Crossword Association]

From what I see, the conditions were awful. The instruction booklet was very sloppy and an unhealthy fraction of the puzzles were clearly computer-generated. Really the only thing this event is still attracting both local stars and international participants is the money. The winner gets to pocket a nice $5000 US.

This year saw an all-time low of international names. Just Jan and Kota returned. Yuhei was busy and the entire Indian team had to cancel their visit because the dates clashed with their hastily-organized Times Championship. Last year’s finalists Farhan Hassin (Malaysia) and Tung Yi Wu (Taiwan) were also absent. My friend, Gabriel Gan (Singapore) usually turns up as with a handful of Chinese players but none came this year. The only country to consistently field in a team every year is the Philippines. But ever since variants start to make more appearance than classic sudokus, none of them managed to leave any impressive results for the last 6 years.

Poramet didn't actually turn up. [Photo: Thailand Crossword Association]

Two funny things: 1. The logo has been re-used for the last 4 years (note “2011”) and 2. Poramet didn’t even sign up.
[Photo: Thailand Crossword Association]

Let alone solvers from overseas, Thailand fielded an even less impressive roster. Only two members of our national team turned up. Sinchai Rungsangrattanakul, who recently entered to world’s top 10, was our nation’s favourite. College had me and Poramet occupied for the weekend so only rising star Supachai Thongsawang join Sinchai as our front-runners.

Given the many absences, the final five was somewhat predictable. Sinchai collected the most points in the preliminaries so he earned the stage’s centre. Sandwiching him was Jan and Takuya Sugimoto, a newcomer to the event. Kota was placed 4th and I understood there was a tight race for the last spot which was narrowly won by Supachai.

Close race a spot in the finals. [Photo: Thananon Boonkrong]

Close race for a spot in the finals.
[Photo: Thananon Boonkrong]

The finals must have been a nail-biter as Kota became the first person in this event’s 8-year history to successfully defend his title. Jan finished second again and the revelation of the tournament goes to 18-year old Supachai who squeezed out a third place win.

Finals on stage [Photo: Thananon Boonkrong]

Finalists on stage from left to right: Kota, Jan, Sinchai, Takuya and Supachai
[Photo: Thananon Boonkrong]

Here is the puzzle that was used in the finals. Print out a large copy and try solving it standing up on a wonky board to get the real simulation of the finals.

Final puzzle [Photo: Supachai Thongsawang]

Final puzzle
[Photo: Supachai Thongsawang]

You can compare your times with the finalists, here:
#1: Kota Morinishi (JPN) 8.43
#2: Jan Mrozowski (POL) 11.39
#3: Supachai Thongsawang (THA) 12.13
#4: Takuya Sugimoto (JPN) 14.03
#5: Sinchai Rungsangrattanakul (THA) 20.00 – DNF

I would love to welcome international solvers to this event, but I still think there are too many things this tournament can improve on. Our national association is not very energetic at addressing them so do come along but don’t expect the best hospitality cause you’ll probably be disappointed. Lastly, can I ask again who wrote the few handmade puzzles for this event? A lot of people want to know who our national association has ties with and why they are making it so secretive.

National Qualifiers

With college workload increasing, things are going to slow down from here. Two final parts of Anchors Aweigh solutions are still to come. In the meantime, why not check out some national championship puzzles recently? I use to enjoy comparing my results to other countries’ qualifying scores to see if I’d make the team if I was an official participant. With the WSC/WPC looming near, several countries are already forming their teams using online tests.

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USSC and USPC were the first to finish. The USSC looked a bit incomplete without Thomas Snyder writing his share of puzzles with Wei-Hwa Huang. The lack of notifications certainly didn’t help increase the number of participants either. On the other hand, the USPC is like a yearly tradition for me and having to sit out this year was a shame. As always, the puzzles are top-notch and I am looking forward to solve them later.

UKSC and UKPC followed trend a week later. UKSC is already finished but nothing’s stopping you from trying out the puzzles if you haven’t done so. Tom Collyer’s sudokus are usually clean, fair difficulty level and visually-appealing, which is just how I like sudokus. The UKPC started yesterday and will end on Monday. I have the vibe that UKPC looks better and better every year. And yes, I’m being bias because some of my puzzles are in it 🙂
You can see three of my puzzles mixed in with other great puzzles so dive in and see if you can beat Neil Zussman.

JNPC and JPC took place just a few hours ago. I remembered digging for Tetsuya Nishio Cup Number Place Championship (or something like that) and enjoyed it so much that I had to reprint the whole lot and redo it. The puzzles are bound to be awesome. Some Japanese puzzle fans generously translated these contests for us since last year so the JPC won’t be an instructionless test for foreigners anymore. Too bad the contest didn’t open for the whole weekend unlike…

IPC and ISC. The puzzle test takes place right now as I’m typing this and will open for 2 more days. The ISC will be on next weekend. I like the way LMI standardized the IPC/ISC sets throughout the years. You get a certain puzzle type and one of its variants to solve in 150 minutes. I also like the first puzzle of the IPC each year. It’s usually some fun match-ups or short puzzle questions you don’t see often in normal online tests. I’ve never took part in IPC/ISC because somehow each year I won’t have access to a printer during that particular weekend. This is 2014 and history is repeating itself. I guess I’ll compare my performance afterwards.

Back to my blog.
This morning I received a parcel in the mail.

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Ta-da!
Extra copies of Battleship Sudoku had just arrived!
I’ll be mailing this off to the 3 lucky winners of Anchors Aweigh as soon as I can.
Want to be as lucky as they are?
Well, you’ll have to enter!
Currently, I have new events drawn up for July and October. If my productivity improves maybe I’ll start early. Check this space for more announcements, or even better, subscribe to my blog updates to ensure you will not miss an event!

3rd LMI Puzzle Marathon

LMI continues its great tradition for the third year with their third Puzzle Marathon. You have from now until the 2nd of March to complete 10 gigantic puzzles but only your best 8 will count towards your results. This year I provided one of the puzzles, I can’t believe it has been more than 2 years since I wrote a puzzle for LMI.

Here are the 10 puzzles to keep you busy for the next 10 days:

Easy:
4×4 Sudoku by Rohan Rao
KakurOH by Me!
Yajilin by Ravi Kumar
Mini Coral by Bernhard Seckinger

Medium:
Statue Park by Palmer Mebane
Scrabble by Nikola Zivanovic
Araf by Yuki Kawabe
Nanro by Salih Alan

Hard:
Turning Fences by Bram de Laat
Heyawake by Tom Collyer

Have fun!

UK Puzzle Team Selection

The Otic Tower is closing in just over two weeks on the 13th July. I should be able to announce the results the day after. I’d like to thank every participant who already submitted their answers. Keep them coming!

Happening elsewhere is the UKPA Puzzle Championship. I sent in 4 puzzles, one broke and one wasn’t allowed to be used. So you’ll only see two contributions from me this year. A disappointment I hope to mend next year.

Good luck to the hopefuls competing for a spot on the UK puzzle team!