A Dutch Treat: A review of the 2003 World Puzzle Championship

Thursday, November 27, 2003 Individual competition winners

As the global urge for new logic puzzles continues Conceptis announces the availability of Hitori - the fifth within the company’s series of number-logic puzzles. The classic version of Hitori has been a popular number-logic puzzle in Japan since the beginning of the 90s.

Championship teams

The Papendahl sports complex near Arnhem, Netherlands is a sprawling conference center used by Olympic hopefuls to perfect their physical skills. However, between October 14 and 19, 2003, there was an entirely different population on the campus when the brightest puzzlers from countries around the world competed in the 12th annual World Puzzle Championship (WPC). Founded by Will Shortz* in 1992, all WPC tournaments consist of puzzles that are language- and culture-neutral, thus enabling people with widely different backgrounds to compete on an even playing field.

Championship and sponsors

Puzzelsport, a division of Sanoma Uitgevers - the Dutch-based publishing company - organized and hosted this event. Editor-in-chief Rob Geensen and his colleagues, most notably Hans Eendebak and Jan Lam, supervised the creation and marking of all the puzzles.

There were 24 countries represented in this event: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Japan, Korea, Kosovo, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the USA.

Old Friendships

WPC Organizers Team Competition - Germany

During the welcoming party on arrival day (Tuesday), solvers and guests renewed old friendships, met the new competitors, slaked their thirst at the bar, solved puzzles, played card and word games, chatted, competed in cutthroat table tennis games, and generally had a lot of fun. Most of these activities were repeated nightly as solvers unwound from the intense competitive sessions.

On Wednesday, the customary question-and-answer session on the puzzle instructions ran shorter and cleaner than those of previous years because the organizers had had the foresight to place the instructions on the official WPC website one week before the event, enabling solvers to know what puzzles they would be encountering.

The only organized off-campus event was a half-day trip to one of three local sites. Puzzlers had their choice of going shopping, visiting Burger's Zoo, or touring an open-air museum. All puzzlers ultimately arrived at the museum for dinner featuring a fantastic meal and a "to-die-for" dessert buffet.

Solving standard WPC puzzles

Playing puzzles on PCs Team Competition – The Netherlands Team competition

On Thursday and Friday, puzzlers spent almost all the daytime hours solving standard WPC puzzles like Battleships and Magic Squares. Space limitations preclude the listing of every type of puzzle in the competition. Some highlights included:

"The Dirty Dozen", an individual solving round, which included one type of puzzle from each of the previous WPCs, plus a new visual/logic puzzle called "Star Battle."

Three picture-forming logic puzzles from Conceptis: a PAP (Pic-a-Pix),LAP (Link-a-Pix) and a FAP (Fill-a-Pix).

"The Weakest Link," a team round, where each member of a team had to solve a puzzle individually to get one quarter of the final puzzle. Only the teams from Belgium and the Netherlands managed to finish this "killer round."

A computer "Crossword Maze" puzzle, where all puzzlers had 15 minutes to find an optimal solution. One player in each round was "lucky" enough to have his/her every move documented on a large screen for the viewing audience.

A 30-minute "sprint" round where only the number of puzzles solved mattered.

A "relay" round where solvers needed the solution to the previous puzzle to be able to solve the next puzzle.

The final team solving puzzle - an exciting cube-construction puzzle. Team USA was the only team to solve this round.

Correct or not

*Will Shortz

Will Shortz is the crossword editor for The New York Times and the puzzlemaster for National Public Radio. He is also the director of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament - the oldest and largest crossword competition in USA, and the host and puzzlemaster of the crossword tournament website.

After all the individual and team rounds were finished, the eight highest scoring competitors were eligible to compete in the playoffs. During the semifinals, the first seeded contestant played the eighth seeded contestant; the second contestant played the seventh contestant, etc. Each match-up featured two competitors on stage solving three giant puzzles. Unlike playoff rounds in former WPCs, these rounds did not have preset time limits. Thus, a round ended when one contestant indicated he was finished and wished to submit his answers. At that time, the other contestant was also required to stop solving. The winner was decided based on whether the submitted answers were correct or not -- the progress of the other contestant being completely irrelevant.

This same format continued during the semi-finals. At the end of this penultimate round, Ulrich Voigt (Germany) and Wei-Hwa Huang (USA) beat out their opponents, Michael Ley (Germany) and Roger Barkan (USA), respectively.

2003 World Champion

Semi final competition Official WPC 2003 sign

During the finals, Voigt and Huang both polished off a Star Battle puzzle rather rapidly, but were stuck on the other two, a cross sums puzzle and an ABCD fill. Once Voigt figured out the key insight needed to make progress on the cross sums, he raced ahead and became the 2003 world champion.

During the awards ceremony/dinner/farewell party on Saturday evening, the top solvers received handsome trophies of a globe/jigsaw puzzle cast in metal. Contestants continued to dance, drink, chat, and play games till the wee hours of the morning.

When the WPC officially ended on Sunday, everyone departed from Arnhem with warm memories of this wonderful event. There was unanimous agreement that the 12th WPC was a Dutch treat to be savored until WPC 13 in Opatija, Croatia in 2004.

Top three team scores

  • 1 Germany (3967)
  • 2 USA (3886)
  • 3 The Netherlands (3859)

Top eight individual solvers

  • 1 Ulrich Voigt GER
  • 2 Wei-Hwa Huang USA
  • 3 Roger Barkan USA
  • 4 Michael Ley GER
  • 5 Niels Roest NLD
  • 6 Sébastien Leroy BEL
  • 7 Shinichi Aoki JAP
  • 8 Zoltán Horváth HUN