Posts Tagged ‘Minsk’

Without ado, the blow-by-blow from the second day of competition at the WPC:

8:30 a.m.  The wakeup call. This time they bother with it. The woman on the other end sounds as unhappy about waking me up as I am to be woken up.

9:05 a.m.  Breakfast. It’s a bit like Asia here in that they pretty much serve the same food for breakfast that they do for lunch and dinner: in this case, many varieties of anonymous meats, sometimes covered with cheese; potatoes, sometimes covered with something unidentifiable; and no fruit wheresoever. The exception is the table of rapidly stale-ifying permutations of American cold cereals.

I can’t find the American team, so I sit with Valter Kvalic, an imposing Croatian who used to compete but now attends as a key member of the World Puzzle Federation. He has big, carpenter hands and a salt-and-pepper beard, and when he talks — in slow & accented but competent English — his eyes roam from side to side, past my head, as if there is something more interesting behind me. He tells me that his biggest goal for the WPC is to increase participation in future WPCs amongst the WPF member nations. There are currently 43 countries with membership, but only 22 were able to afford to send complete teams this year.

9:25 a.m.  At the coffee/tea station, I run into Ken Wilshire, one of the British competitors I ate dinner with last night. He is emptying a packet of Nescafe into a cup. “Shouldn’t you be drinking tea?” I say. “One cup of coffee in the morning,” he replies, “then tea for the rest of the day.”

I ask him how his team did yesterday. “Not very well,” he says with a grimace. “We were ready. We prepared well. The problems are just too hard for the British team. We’re a bit shell-shocked.”  I point out that it’s only half over. “That’s true,” he says. “We could do well today. We’re British, so we’re full of optimism.”

9:55 a.m.  The updated scores are out. The five traditional puzzle powers top the standings: Germany is in first, with 2637 points, followed by the U.S. (2542), Japan, Hungary, & the Czech Republic. Ken Wilshire and his (team)mates are 19th (out of 22), with less than half the score of the leaders (1033).

Individually, there is virtually a three-way tie at the top between Hideaki Jo of Japan (554 pts), defending champ Pal Madarassy of Hungary (553), and Thomas Snyder (553). Roger Barkan is 12th with 500, Wei-Hwa Huang 25th with 410, and Zack Butler 29th with 379. Wei-Hwa and Zack have their work cut out for them today if they want to finish in the top 17 and qualify for Friday’s playoffs.

10:00 a.m.  The first two rounds today are individual paper-and-pencil tests, so I decide to leave the hotel for the first time and explore Minsk a bit.

10:05 a.m.  It’s cold, gray, and windy outside, but this feels appropriate given Minsk’s Soviet hey-day era aura.

10:10 a.m.  I arrive at my first crosswalk red light. Lonely Planet strictly discourages jay-walking here, as any transgression, however minor, can result in unpleasant confrontations with KGB cops. So I wait. And wait, and keep waiting. I feel like a schmuck. The other side of the street is 15 feet away — it’s just a parking-lot exit — and there are no cars even showing hints of movement in the lot, yet here I am waiting for the little green man anyway. The lady next to me seems perfectly content to stand and stare. I begin to wonder how the Russian Revolution ever happened. The green man appears. I wait for the woman to move before crossing myself.

10:40 a.m.  My Lonely Planet map is shitty — it’s in English, for one, and small — but it doesn’t matter anyway, since there are no street signs in Belarus. I decide to follow my intuition, which is how I’ve managed to get lost in every city I’ve ever visited, ever. I’m more worried about finding my way back to the hotel later than I am about missing out on the one or two buildings supposedly worth seeing here.

11:00 a.m.  Despite the crisp air and wind, Minsk smells like exhaust. Evidently smog testing is still stuck with all the other Western values on the other side of the border.

12:00 p.m.  I wander into one of the many underpass stalls hawking CDs, DVDs, video games, even cassettes. I am surprised to find they sell soft-core porn. I almost pull the trigger on a “XXX” Cinemax DVD for 11,000 Belarussian Rubles (~$5.oo), but I figure it is probably just the American version dubbed in Russian, which would be a huge disappointment, so I pull out, as it were, at the last moment. Also, I’ve seen that one.

12:20 p.m.  I wander into what must be Belarus’s version of Costco — an enormous musak-less warehouse packed with aisle after aisle of much too much everything. The overriding smell upon entering is salami. Women outfitted in various primary colors (if it’s blue, it must be cheese…) make their pitches to me as I pass. Some even smile. I settle on a bottle of water and some sort of instant-lunch pastry. It’s a bit like a flattened-out churro, except that it doesn’t have cinnamon or sugar and it’s more fried and has meat inside instead of air. I take three bites — two more than I would have taken were it not for politeness and guilt — and toss it in the trash as surreptitiously as I can.

12:35 p.m.  I get lost on the way back. I fuckin knew it.

1:00 p.m.  OK, my feet really hurt.

1:15 p.m.  Luckily, Hotel Belarus rises 23 stories into the sky like a dull, ugly beacon. When I finally see it, I’m good to go.

1:35 p.m.  I arrive back in time to catch the second half of the day’s first team round: a three-dimensional “manipulative” puzzle involving wood-carved diamonds. The Americans let Wei-Hwa carry much of the load — these are his specialty — and finish third, ahead of both the Germans and the Japanese.

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