In a fit of maddness/bravado/extreme exhaustion from raising a toddler/etc., I decided to try out for the U.S. Sudoku team this past Saturday. I mean, I like sudoku, especially the handmade kinds. And when I heard that my man Thomas Snyder and his partner in crime Wei-Hwa Huang were involved in the construction of said qualifying test, I figured: what did I have to lose? Besides, you know, two and a half hours of my life. And hey, it was rainy up here in Boston, so ... I took the plunge.
Prior to said test, I safely gave myself a 4% chance of making it onto the team. It had been a long time since I'd solved any sudoku, classic or otherwise. I think I might have done the odd one in "Puzzlecraft" recently, but that was about it. But, I mean, I'm not that bad at solving am I? Remember back at Lollapuzzoola last year? The only word puzzles I was solving back then were of the cryptic variety and I came in second place. Sure, it was in the lower division, but ... Like KG said, "anything is possible." I knew that the qualifying test would have twenty puzzles, and four of them would be of the classic variety. The rest were varieties, some of those varieties were easier for me than others, so I guessed I could safely put myself down for about half the batch completed (give or take).
You can imagine the formula: out of practice BEQ + hard speed solve test = disaster waiting to happen. First puzzle went fine, but the second one stopped me cold. I mean, I burst out laughing it was so hard. I had to double check it was printed out correctly, or rather that I misread the instructions. Because sometimes when you add wacky additional logic constraints you can get away with less givens. Alas, this was not one of them. Just a plain old garden variety sudoku, with just the barest amount of givens and no obvious break in point. It was like going from a nice jog at the start of a marathon only to hit heartbreak hill at mile #2.
Humbled, I moved on. I was right there were four classics. and while those other two sudokus weren't gimmes, they still required a little advanced logic, but I got them. Still, I couldn't let go of the sting that goddamn second one gave me. I moved on to the first variety (one that required the numbers 1-9 in smaller 2x3 cages), and got that one after a bit of a struggle. I moved onto the next variety (just like a regular sudoku except the numbers 1-9 to appear once on the diagonals as well) and got stuck, so I went back to my nemesis: number two.
At this point, that projection of 4% chance of making the team seemed a bit rosy. I was competing for pride at this point, and dammit, I sure as hell wasn't going to not finish the classics. It was only then that I realized what rather mundane and arcane strategy was needed to get a toehold in my nemesis: a combination of finding hidden pairs and (here comes the facepalm) counting (counting!) what number(s) was/were missing from the sequence. Humiliating. This is some 101 level stuff there (mixed in with a little harder stuff, but the break in point was totally 101). Maybe I wasn't so hot after all.
I eventually got it, but couldn't finish anything else by the time ran out. End result: an unflattering five out of the twenty completed. Ouch. Still, these were some wonderful puzzles, so I pocketed the rest of the printouts and solved them how I solve all puzzles nowadays: on my feet, walking around, in the micromilliseconds of "downtime" between whatever Tabitha's doing. Guess what? I noticed I solved substantially faster in this environment. I totally screwed this test up! I should have been doing them while running after Tabs making sure she doesn't injure herself! D'oh! Well, at least I have a strategy for next year. That, and solving more puzzles from Thomas's website.
Share the puzzle. New one on Thursday.