Monday, May 26, 2008

Gearing up for puzzling

The Google US Puzzle Championship is less than 3 weeks away! After my poor performance in 2007, I'm eager to prove myself this year. Ideally, if I had optimized time, I should have scored ~200 points in the 2007 competition, but failed even to match my score from the year before. If you want to see an analysis of my mistakes in one poorly formatted run-on paragraph, feel free to read the above-linked post.

My plan at this point is probably to capitalize on the fact that finals week will be pretty empty for me, so it will give me a chance to do a couple of things in preparation:

1) Read through Tom's blog to scavenge for tips and strategies. I actually didn't realize that he had devoted an entire post recently to the USPC, and only thought that he had some posts up primarily on Sudoku, but YAY!

2) Work through some old puzzle competitions, trying to remember the key piece of data that unlocks the rest of the puzzle. This should help me get into the mindset of hunting for these rather than trying some blind manipulations of the puzzles.

3) Work through some of the puzzles I've been neglecting in Mensa's blue book. While I'm not a big fan of Mensa's IQ arrogance, the puzzle books they publish are quite nice and both a large variety of puzzles and a range of difficulty for each puzzle type.

4) Stop playing so much DROD. I learned about DROD through, which has the occasional post covering a smattering of puzzles, optimization problems, and math research related to games and such. At the moment, I'm on levels 13, 14, 15, and 16 (using the warp in level 12 to make all of those levels available through the restore function) of the Architect's Edition, a free open-source version of the original DROD. While the puzzles are not quite as nicely play-tested as, say, Journey to Rooted Hold, free trumps $20 at the moment.

There is a version of the original DROD using the new engine: King Dugan's Dungeon. However, it does cost money. I will probably buy it at some point for the online tracking system. In addition to the updated graphics, voice acting, and new secrets, it does add a couple features that are very desirable and missing from the Architect's Edition: the ability to undo the last move (even if it resulted in death), and a timer to keep track of Roach Queen, Snake, and Tar Mother behavior. I'm not sure if the engine for KDD is the same as that for The City Beneath, which includes the excellent ability to click on orbs and see which doors will be activated and in which way. Regardless, I did come up with an excellent workaround regardless. Overhead markers work great (being water-soluble) for writing directly on your monitor! This has helped me immensely, by notating switches, as well as marking the location of walls and trapdoors otherwise hidden by Tar.

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