Posts Tagged ‘Cousin Todd’

Hello, and welcome to Really Smart Guys (or, as it shall henceforth be known, to save bandwidth, “RSG“), where one sort-of-smart guy will chronicle four really smart guys’ quest to win the World Puzzle Championship. If all goes according to plan — that is, if dictatorial former-Soviet republics have reliable WiFi — the aforementioned sort-of-smart guy (that would be me) will keep you up to date as the competition unfolds.

To get you started, here are some Questions That Will Be Frequently Asked Once This Blog Becomes Famous (QTWBFAOTBBF), or NAQ for short:

What is the World Puzzle Championship?

The WPC is an annual international logic-puzzle competition put on by the World Puzzle Federation — sort of a “brain Olympics.” The puzzles deal with numbers, shapes, pictures, patterns, even letters and words (though they are designed to be language- and culture-neutral). To get a sense of the types of questions asked, go to the bottom of this page and check out the puzzles from past years’ tests. In short, think sudoku on steroids. Really, really serious steroids.

As for the competition itself, about 15-20 countries compete, with four members each. This year, 25 countries are participating, with most of them fielding complete teams. The competition lasts four days. At the end of the week, individual and team champions are crowned. Of the 16 previous WPCs held between 1992 and 2007, the U.S. team has won the title 10 times, including the last two years.

When and where is the WPC held?

It’s usually held in October sometime; the location changes every year. This year’s competition will take place the week of Oct. 27 – 31 in Minsk, Belarus.

Who is on the U.S. team this year?

The defending champs are bringing back the same four from last year: Roger Barkan, Zachary Butler, Wei-Hwa Huang, and Thomas Snyder. You will hear more about them next week.

How did they get picked? Can I try out for next year’s team?

Well, for one thing, they won the championship last year. No one asks why the Bulls brought back Jordan, Pippen, and Phil Jackson every year. Also, all four of them scored magnificently on this year’s national qualifying test.

You can try out for next year’s team by registering for the 2009 qualifying exam. It will probably be sponsored by Google (as it has been for the past few years), and will probably be held in June. And you will probably have to score higher than two or three members of this year’s team to unseat any of them. Good luck with that.

Who are you, and why are you blogging about it?

My name is Michael Wolman. I am a New York-based freelance journalist, short-story writer, poet, blogger, and SAT & GRE tutor. In other words, I’m unemployed.

I first heard about the WPC when my cousin Todd actually qualified for the national team in 2003. Ever since then, I’ve wondered — I’ve been puzzled — as to why these creative puzzles and the expert puzzlers who solve them have not received more attention. There have been a few small stories here and there, but nothing of note in a major publication.

I finished grad school in June. When I began looking for a freelance project to pursue, the WPC jumped immediately to mind. The guys who form this realm (and yes, they are mostly guys; more on that next week) represent some of the sharpest, most creative minds in the world — and yet few people outside the insular subculture of hardcore puzzlers even know what the WPC is. If the few geniuses I’ve met in my life so far are any indication, the four members of the U.S. team — along with the 100+ other competitors from around the world — will be fascinating individuals on whom to report. I’m looking forward to the task.

Are you good at puzzles yourself?

I’m okay. I’ve taken the national qualifying test online a few times for fun, and my best score was 90 points, which is respectable by normal person standards. To give that a pinch of perspective, this year’s U.S. champion, Thomas Snyder, scored a perfect 365 (and finished 15 minutes early!).

Does that mean Thomas Snyder is four times smarter than you?


How does that make you feel?

I’ve come to terms with it. More disturbing, I think, is the corollary of that conclusion: that there must be someone out there four times stupider than I am. If this is in fact the case, let not this man be unleashed upon the world.

Is that all?

Yes, for now. More tomorrow.

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