World Puzzle Championship History
1998, Istanbul, Turkey

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Report filed by Zack Butler

Yes, folks, it's that time of year again. When geeks the world over gather in some exotic European locale to solve puzzles, drink beer, and wander around trying not to get fleeced by locals. And when I come home and write about it.

This year, the World Puzzle Championship was contested in Istanbul, although with the Japanese, not Turks, setting the stage with a grand suite of puzzles - numerous rounds of standard (excellent) pencil-and-paper logic puzzles, but also a few mechanicals (a nice change, even for those of us fairly inept at solving them) and a few short time-bonus rounds. And when the dust had settled and the scoring finally complete, the U.S. team once again came out on top, with the Japanese making their best showing ever, finishing in second. On the individual side, American Wei-Hwa Huang won for the third time, while I managed to overcome a first-day stumble to finish second. (Sort of. More on that later.) Meaning we regain possession of the Puzzle Star. (I think. I'm not sure I actually saw anyone take it with them, and it is awfully heavy...)

The week began (after the long series of flights and meeting up with the Dutch and Germans in the Istanbul airport and the Finns on the bus outside it) with a grand dinner overlooking the Bosporus, which included the opening ceremonies. (Peter Ritmeester was particularly amusing when, pressed in to service as the Hungarian captain, had to take their name badges to the front of the room for the introductions.) After dinner we got to watch a belly dancer, during which we tried to decide if her, shall we say, more-Vegas-than-traditional style was in fact closer to the norm these days.

The imported Seattle weather lasted into the next day, when we were toured through some of the major tourist sites of the city. After talking to a guy selling batteries from a briefcase next to a couple of millenia-old obelisks, I was able to take pictures of said obelisks. This was also when we began to learn that however the rest of the population may behave, our Turkish tour guide was extremely interested in keeping us on schedule. ("Okay, you have five minutes to take pictures here, then we're going on.") Those of us in tourist amble mode were hard pressed to keep up.

Nonetheless, an awe-inspiring (I guess that's the point, right?) trip through the Sultanahmet mosque followed by lunch at the Topkapi palace (home of the worlds second largest diamond and a pair of 48 kg solid gold candlesticks), where our tour guide managed to sneak us into the Harem (and isn't that the best way to visit one?). Finally, a brief visit to Hagia Sophia (where a fresco of the Virgin Mary and child Jesus now shares a wall with Arabic-lettered stained glass). Then dinner in Kumkapi (no dot on the "i"; we got some pronunciation lessons from our hosts), home of many seafood restaurants and kids selling overpriced items to tourists.

Two days of puzzles followed, both very long days capped off by long bus rides to Asia. Apparently, even though Asia and Europe are very close in Istanbul, in order to make the trip seem worthy of the "intercontinental" adjective, a severe traffic jam is put in place over the only two bridges across the Bosporus. Which meant a 2+ hour ride to dinner. Except for those of use who took trolley, ferry and taxi to dinner Friday, about which I will only say that drivers in Istanbul are everything they're said to be.

And on Friday, the bug hit. Or at least, Ron says it was a bug, and he seems to know these sorts of things. Could have been food poisoning, I suppose. Nonetheless, many competitors were a bit incapacitated on Friday (I was lucky enough to have the worst hit only after competition, although I didn't eat at all Friday.) The Finns had it the worst - I won't describe Erkki's plight in detail, only to say that he brought back memories of Pete Sampras at Wimbledon. Playing through the pain, indeed. Results were slow in coming, but we felt we had a moderate lead heading in to the final team round, and hoped to avoid an incident like last year's group choke. Which we did, it turned out - while we solved the final puzzle (thanks mostly to Wei-Hwa), our close competitors did not, and the victory was presumably sealed.

Which left the last day for carefree sightseeing, including a fairly long ("OK. Now only another 20 minutes.") ferry ride to the Prince's Islands for horse-drawn carriage rides and lunch along the water (not that most of us ate anything). We wandered around the town and took the ferry back, ending up at the (in)famous Covered Bazzar. Truly covered, and truly bizarre. The main street really looks like a covered-over street, wide with real storefronts and numbers on the shops. But back a bit, it was more like some underground warren full of leather, rugs, and turkish delight. Every store selling the exact same set of items as every other store of the same type. Somewhat interesting, but it would have also been nice to see something a bit less tourist-oriented.

We came back ("Quickly to the bus now") to the hotel to get ready for dinner, at which we were again entertained by a variety of folk and belly dancing (perhaps a bit too much) and a three-piece lounge music band in which the guitar player never moved anything besides his hands (and occasionally his eyes). Even when playing a polka. When the busloads of other tourists showed up (after the speech by the Turkish Minister of Culture), it became clear that the awards would not be given out there. So we returned to the hotel for that, with the ceremony beginning about midnight. After which they released the scores and graded papers of the last four rounds, in one of which I was shorted 50 points. Thus the confusion about my placing. I was willing to settle for simply telling people I had finished in second (rather than fourth, meaning no trophy or trip on stage), but a long discussion ensued (hopefully not rustling too many feathers), the results of which are that I'll be able to tell you all I finished second - with official sanction. As will the Japanese solver who had been awarded second, as it should be.

So, after a single celebratory beer (taking it easy on the road to recovery), I headed off to bed for a two-hour nap before the long trip home. I think I made it.

Some questions have remained unanswered in this recounting, as always, to which you might be able to get answers out of me if you ask. To wit:

• How is Istanbul like Stamford?
• What is Metin not allowed to do?
• Turkish Jeopardy?
• Which Turkish folk dancers would be really good quarters players?
• Hello? TW Express? Is anyone paying attention?

Team standings:

1. U.S.A

2. Japan 3967
3. Hungary 3670
4. Netherlands 3591
5. Czech Rep. 3532
6. Germany 3314
7. Turkey 3179
8. CIS (Russia) 2585
9. Romania 2508
10. Poland 2270
11. Croatia 2082
12. Finland 1600
13. U.N. 1087
14. Kosova 571


1. Wei-Hwa Huang


2. Zack Butler


3. Akira Nakai


4. Michael Ley


5. Niels Roest


6. Shinichi Aoki


7. Robert Babilon
    Czech Rep.


8. Norikazu Shibata


9. Istvan Gyorgy


10. Miklos Mocsy


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