Solving the monster: A review of the 2004 World Puzzle ChampionshipMonday, December 6, 2004
The small resort town of Opatija in Croatia sits between lush green hills and the Bay of Kvarner . Views from the waterfront include the Kornati Islands and sometimes a dramatic lightning storm. But competitors at the 13th Annual World Puzzle Championship (WPC) had little time to enjoy the views from their oceanside hotel. The organizers from Croatia 's Feniks magazine kept puzzlers busy with difficult brainteasers, all based on logic and math so that no team would have an advantage because of language.
Puzzle solvers familiar with five-time co-sponsor Conceptis Puzzles would recognize many of the puzzle types in the competition, but the organizers also created clever variants and difficult new puzzles.
Competitors from twenty-five countries struggled for three days through individual and team rounds that tested their ability to solve puzzles quickly and correctly. In team rounds, each country's players divided the set of puzzles amongst themselves based on each one's strengths and weaknesses.
Solve the monster
The final team round added another challenge: teammates could no longer divide and conquer but had to work as a unit to solve a single puzzle so difficult that most teams just made a guess as time ran out. Onlookers could walk around the tables in this event, and they heard tense discussions as the mental athletes came up with strategies to solve the monster they faced.
Players pushed brainteasers on themselves when they weren't competing. At every opportunity, they pulled out paper and pencils and started working through practice puzzles. Pads and puzzle books came out at meals, in the hotel lobby before and after the official matches, and even on the organized Wednesday outing to the coastal town of Porec and the medieval town of Motovun , perched high atop a hill with a 360° view of the surrounding countryside.
When they weren't solving puzzles, competitors played games with one another - World Puzzle Championship is a community above all else, and games allowed participants to talk to each other while continuing to exercise their brains.
By Saturday morning, the third and last day of the competition, tension had eased and most players were relaxed and chatty. Individual results were in, and only the top thirteen slots would be competing in the finals that day. Those Competitors just below thirteenth place were often quiet and withdrawn, but most non-finalists were happy to be free from the stress and looked forward to the final round.
Spectators watched as finalists competed
Team results were in as well, and many attendees took the time at breakfast to congratulate Team U.S.A. on their victory. But practice puzzles continued at their table: U.S.A.'s Roger Barkan and Wei-Hwa Huang were both finalists.
WPC's final round was the highlight of the competition. Spectators watched as finalists competed with each other on stage, using big pads of paper and markers - that's right, markers, without erasers. The audience witnessed each solution reveal itself under a puzzler's hand and they winced at every costly mistake. The finals are elimination rounds, with only a few puzzlers moving on to the next level.
In this year's final round, reigning champion Ulrich Voight of German finished second and ceded his crown to Niels Roest from the Netherlands, who came into the finals in ninth place but steadily worked his way through the quarter- and semi- finals to compete against Voigt and Roger Barkan. The crowd cheered as Roest quietly accepted the title: World Puzzle Champion.
About the author
Derrick Schneider is a food and wine writer, computer programmer and puzzle designer. He thought he was good at solving puzzles until he met the competitors at WPC. He can be reached via his website obsessionwithfood.com