World Puzzle Championship History
1997, Koprivnica, Croatia

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Report filed by Zack Butler, 9/29/97

A week in the company town or Can we come in second and still have fun? or (with a little caesar's accent) Koprivnica! Koprivnica!

With 5 seconds left in the fourth quarter of game 7, the two-time defending champion Bulls, up by 2, get called for another illegal defense penalty. Barkley hits the free throw and gets the inbound pass to Olajuwon, who sinks the layup to win the championship.

At least, that's how it felt. Unknowingly ahead by 268 points going into the final team round (worth 300 with 200 bonus available), the US team made a large tactical error hoping for some unneeded bonus and ended up without any team points, finishing second to the Czechs, 9414-9382. And like the poor basketball analogy, there were many other places in the tournament where we could have done a bit better. And also like the poor basketball analogy, we did pretty darn well, all things considered. Wei-Hwa Huang of the US became the second two-time world champion, and Ron Osher finished second. The other members of our time, Nick Baxter and myself, were 19th and 9th, respectively.

However, I'm happy to report that the answer to the first question posed above is "Yes." Once again wined and dined and folk-danced to extremes (this time by the large "Podravka food factory", the sponsor of the competition and near-owner of Koprivnica), we learned a few things about Croatia (they eat lots of soup there, for instance) and generally enjoyed ourselves.

The bulk of the US team arrived in Zagreb after two executive lounges and five hours in Munich. We then hung out in the park at the Zagreb airport (apparently they don't need much parking there) waiting for the other teams (and our bus to Koprivnica) to show and watching all the UN forces drive away. (The fighting is all far away, but Zagreb is the closest easily-accessible airport.) After hanging out in the airport cafe with the Germans, Dutch, Finns, and Polish, we bussed out after the Turks arrived.

In fact, we spent quite a bit of time on the bus, especially day 2, which included a trip to Zagreb, then to the Castle Brzanec and another castle (Trakoscan) before coming back for dinner (5 hours or more in the bus). Impressive castles, and fun to be in the central square of Zagreb amongst the pigeons when the noon cannon went off. (You'd think after hearing it every day they'd be a bit less skittish.) But still, a long ride the day before competition.

And so we come to the competition. Shivering. It was in an unheated tent, which was fine except for before the first round, when it was at best 50F. And in that first round, after the taking of pictures and the speaking of dignitaries, the Americans choked, me worst of all. Then we took the big group photo, but luckily the blinding sun made us squint rather than grimace. The afternoon went a bit better for us, and we went off to dinner at the famous naive art center in Hlebine in a better mood.

In Hlebine (not the ancestral home of Helene), we were treated to music and fresh-roasted chestnuts before being led through the gallery of Naive Art, which originated in Hlebine with Ivan Generalic and is now known world-wide. We were then treated to another large dinner and folk dancing under the watchful eye of Croatian TV, who wanted us too join them. Which we did. We can only hope it was deemed to ridiculous too air.

Competition day 2: Second verse, same as the first. Slowly improving throughout rounds 3 and 4, including a 1-2-3 finish in round 4, we then suffered the group brain-fart described above. With competition over, we then proceeded with the drinking portion of the week, kicked off by our dinner engagement at the opening of a new Carlsberg brewery in Koprivnica.

The final day in Koprivnica was a bit of an anti-climax, but still fun. In past years, we've had a blow-out party the last night, winding up in time to catch the bus to the airport. But with two nights after the competition, no one knew the protocol. The morning was spent playing (or watching) soccer (depending on if you were American or not). The afternoon took us to the Podravka museum (I told you they own the town) which included some evil farm implements, and the house of the aforementioned Generalic family. Then on to a nearby lake to eat lunch and soak up the sixth consecutive beautiful day. Kamer proved himself to be at least as good a stone-skipper as puzzle solver, which is no small feat. From there it was back to the hotel for the banquet and awards ceremony, followed by the usual hearty band closing the bar (having wasted half my party potential the previous night, i was unable to join them for the duration this year).

Sunday found the east-coast Americans with a day to kill, so we skipped the 8:00 airport bus, and Stan, Ron, and I took the 10:35 train to Zagreb (some interesting negotiations involved). Will and Helene, feeling under the weather, spent the day in Koprivnica sleeping, eating, and walking. After my first trip on a real compartment train (I half-expected suspenseful music to start playing and Sean Connery come running in to hide under my seat), we spent the afternoon looking for an open store in Zagreb. We first found the Japanese eating lunch outside their hotel (they stayed two extra days in Zagreb) and joined them, then later found Jeroen of the Dutch team also wandering around. We did not, however, find an open store. Or the McDonalds. No, that required Ron and I to walk 3 miles in the evening only to find it 1/4 mile from the hotel. A question: if you saw an empty McDonalds cup sitting on a windowsill by the sidewalk, within what radius would you expect to find the McDonalds?

We then arose early Monday, met Will and Helene at the airport, and flew (and flew and flew) home. I was then treated to my jet-lagged brain awakening my poorly-rested body at 4:30 this morning, and managed to convince it to go back to sleep long enough to wait for the bagel store to be open. Maybe not as good as N.Y. bagels (you win, Helene), but after a week of Croatian breakfast, a sight for a tired palate.

In the traditional "Other stories upon request section":

• Nightclub high-school (or is that high-school nightclub?)
• Travel tips for those in Zagreb on a Sunday
• Ceramic chickens!
• Painful late night multinational jam session
• Stan's fate as it relates to Monopoly

Team standings:

1. Czech Republic


2. USA


3. Hungary


4. Germany


5. Turkey


6. Slovakia


7. Japan


8. Romania


9. Netherlands


10. Poland



1. Wei-Hwa Huang


2. Ron Osher


3. Robert Babilon
    Czech Republic


4. Michael Ley


5. Petr Nepovim
    Czech Republic


6. Miklos Mocsy


7. Pavel Kalhous
    Czech Republic


8. György István


9. Zack Butler


10. Markus Gegenheimer


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