10th World Puzzle Championship 2001

Brno, Czech Republic Oct 8th - Oct 14th, 2001

Trip Report

© Liisa Sarakontu 2001-10-17
Sama suomeksi - you can read the same text in Finnish too

My trip reports from Oulu, 2002 and Opatija, 2004 are here.


"Puzzles" mean many types of nice little problems to solve, mostly based on pictures and diagrams but also on numbers and letters. Crossword puzzles are actually one type of these puzzles and by far the most popular of them. Puzzles are still rather unknown here in Finland and many people think that they are just for kids. Most puzzles here are published in kids magazines. But there are puzzles for adults too, and the World Championships have been held since 1991. We have had Finnish Championship now for two times and a Finnish Puzzle Club, Ahaa, has been created.

Finnish team for 2001 consisted of our double champion Pekka Ikäheimonen, seasoned puzzle maker Juha Hyvönen, Liisa Sarakontu who was fourth this year in Finland and Heljä-Maija Vanhanen, seventh this year in Finland. Juha was taking part for the seventh time, the rest of us were first-timers. Our captain was Erja Gullstén and we had two guests with us, Pekka's wife Kaisa who ended up doing most of the captain's duties and Tuuli Rauvola, who has been a team member earlier.

Next year's (2002) World Championship will be in Oulu, Finland and that's why Erja, Tuuli and Juha spent most of their week planning for next year.

Monday Oct 8th

The Finnish team met at the Helsinki airport soon after noon, and although the Milano plane disaster from that morning and other recent sad incidents were in our minds, we bravely stepped in the plane to Prague and were on the way. I had met all the members of our group earlier once or twice, but as I didn't know any of them well, the waiting time at the airport and the flight went quickly while we were getting to know each others. At the Prague airport we were immediately met by a member of the the organizing committee with Turkish and American teams, which had arrived a little before us. We went to a bus and headed towards Brno, which is about 200 km from Prague. First we admired the views, but when it got dark the Finnish team gathered at the back of the bus and played word games for the rest of the trip:

- I'm thinking of a 5-lettered word, all letters different.
- It is a spike?
- No, but two letters correct.
- Spore?
- Three correct letters.
- Aspen?
- Right, that's it! Your turn to think of the next word.

We arrived at the fancy Holiday Inn hotel rather late, so we had just time to register ourselves and take our luggage to the rooms before the opening banquet. The head of the Brno championship organisation team, Vítezlav Koudelka, welcomed us warmly, then we ate and listened to a fabulous singer imitator, "Alphabet Singer", who took us from Louis Armstrong to Zucchero via characters like Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Suzi Quatro. We raised glasses with Canadians, who sat in the same table, but soon it was time to go to the room to start leafing through the papers we were given. Too many of the puzzle types were totally new to me, uh huh...

Tuesday Oct 9th

In the morning my room mate Heljä and I got up before seven, went through a couple of puzzles, watched seven o'clock news (we had both BBC and CNN in the hotel tv), had a good breakfast and then went to a brisk morning walk - this was to be our routine for all of this trip. At 10 o'clock there was an information meeting. Because the Finnish team had arrived so late yesterday, we left this meeting after an hour to go through the puzzles by ourselves. Pekka explained a couple of them to the rest of us. Now we also found out that Heljä, who speaks some English, couldn't read it well enough to understand them all, so we used the rest of the morning for translating them into Finnish for her.

After lunch we had a trip to a nearby wine producing area and a large castle in the middle of it. We had some wine tasting there and group photos were taken. I'd like to have stayed longer in the huge park around the castle because all the interesting birds (woodpeckers, nuthatches, black redstarts and a possible kingfisher) there, but we had to be back at the hotel for dinner. The rest of the evening was spent by going through the puzzles and translating them.

Wednesday Oct 10th

First competition day, now it is starting to get really exciting! All the 105 puzzle solvers from over 20 countries went to a big meeting room next to the hotel, and I got to share my long table with Tamas from Hungarian B team and his cute toy fox. Heljä sat a couple of rows behind me, Pekka at the back end of the room and Juha close to the front door. We had 1.5 hours for part 1, which started at 9 AM, then a short break and part 2 after that. Oh no, why on earth do they make such difficult puzzles? I crossed my eyes when searching for the differences in the three rockets for so long that I got a headache. Some time a relax during the lunch break before the afternoon competition started at 2 PM.

The day was done around 6 o'clock, then we had dinner and after that I was so tired that I barely managed to walk to a nearby small restaurant and have a glass of white wine and go through the puzzles for the next day. No hanging in the bar nor partying through the night! We would have had a trip to limestone caves that night, but no energy for that either.

Thursday Oct 11th

When checking the results for the previous day, I noticed that although I was far from the top, I was not among the last competitors either and so perhaps I wasn't there in vain after all. Our top guy Pekka had done very well and I decided that I try to get a higher place than my competition number, 71, and I also try to beat the most experienced of our team, Juha, because I was surprised to notice that I had right now a slightly better score than he did.

This day was nearly identical to the previous one. Hard puzzles all morning, lunch break and more puzzles during afternoon. Late afternoon we had the last parts of the individual competition, which were rather fun with that fashion show and other action. Before dinner we had time for the first team part, and we had to arrange wooden blocks covered with numbers into right (or wrong) positions. The evening went just like previous one, a glass of wine, translating the next day's puzzles and then to bed.

Friday Oct 12th

The team competition day. Today we were in the local WTC building, which was situated next to our hotel. The Finnish team did quite well in a couple of puzzles including the magnetic pieces, but not so well in too many others. We managed to make only three of the required forms out of the wooden blocks, and the "boat" we had instead of the fourth correct form won us some happy laughs from the nearby tables.

The competition part was now over, hooray! Now it was time to take it more easy. In the afternoon we went to a sightseeing trip with a historical tram and ended up at the center of Brno. It was only 2 kilometers from our hotel, but I hadn't had time to visit there before this. Most of the teams went to a guided tour around the old city center, but Juha, Heljä and I preferred to wander at our own pace and do some shopping.

The official evening party was held at a local University of Technology. After some folk music we had the main thing, the final results. First the team competition, and every team was called to the stage one by one. The US team was totally superior, all the four team members were among the top twelve. The Finnish team was 19th, and there were 26 teams altogether. In individual competition the top ten were given prizes, and the champion was Ulrich Voigt from Germany, He just managed to get by Czech Robert Babilon, who had been in lead for most of the competition. Third and fourth place went to Americans. The best Finn was Pekka with his 18th place. I reached my target when I finished 69th and was the second best of my team. I was probably 3rd or 4th of all the few women taking part in this very masculine sport. The full results can be seen at WPF pages.

The evening was still young, wine was free and my spirit was high, so when all the Finns once again started talking about next year's arrangements, I left them and started to search for more funny people to talk with - we can think about next year later, now it was time for fun! I had already been irritating at least Canadians, Turkish, Japanese and Czechs (yes, I am the overweight blonde Finn who tried to tell stupid jokes to everybody) and was just going to attack Americans, when it was time to dance and before I had figured out what to do, somebody had already tapped my shoulder and to the dance floor I went with all the other nationalities. Some of the competitors wanted to be more serious and moved to further tables to play cards and talk about puzzles while the rest of us shed sweat on the dance floor and admired that handsome Turkish chest hair. The last slow dance with one of the Japanese, and then to the hotel already before midnight. I went to the bar with the rest of the Finns, but as they just talked about next year, I hit the hay soon after midnight.

Saturday Oct 13th

Early up, breakfast, everything got packed and then to Prague. Finns shared the bus with at least Turkish, Germans, Polish and French. On the way a local guide told us about the history of this country, but I might have closed my eyes a couple of times during the trip because I think that some centuries went kind of fast forward.

We came to Prague after noon. The bus left us at a castle area, and the plan was to visit a couple of buildings there and then continue down to Old Center area but four Finns Tuuli, Juha, Heljä and I ran away already after the first ten minutes. We spent the afternoon by strolling in the the big, pretty parks of the city, walking along the banks of Vltava river, sitting on a bench every now and then to eat picnic lunch and to watch birds (hordes of long-tailed tits, a buzzard hawk, hobby falcons, cormorants) and then went over the historical Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) to the Old Center. There we mainly concentrated on avoiding too dense groups of other tourists and found a nice and quiet place to have a beer. We met the rest of the group shortly at the main square with the clockworks, and then left them once more and walked along the river banks to the railway station, where we first met the Japanese and French and where the rest of the competitors arrived at 17:45 to get to the buses. And when the lost Polishman was found after more than half an hour of wondering, even our bus was ready to leave to the hotel outside the city area and to the final farewell party.

The castle-like countryside hotel was waiting for us in the darkening night and as we were hungry, we went right away to the dinner. The first part of the night I spent with Finns, but when the discussion inevitably turned to the next year's competition, I turned my back to them and concentrated on chatting with the British team members, who were sitting at the other end of that table. The bronze medalist from USA, Zack, joined us for a while and we did our best in making him tell us hints for solving puzzles.

Then I found myself from the Dutch and German table, where I sat beside the champion himself, Ulrich, and tried with him to put back together a 3D puzzle that I had accidentally managed to solve. When the restaurant was closed at 11, the going was so good that everybody who was still up went to the hotel bar. There one table concentrated on bridge, another started a mini puzzle competition, a pair of Finns were sorting out some personal problems and the rest of us gathered around a table where a group was playing a card game called Kings. I sat between a Turkish and an American efficiently preventing them from concentrating in the game and kept asking stupid questions about puzzles from the American team captain, Nick, who sat close by. Too bad I had to go to bed already at half past one so that I could catch the bus in the morning.

Sunday Oct 14th

A quick breakfast, then to the bus which left a couple of people at the main railway station and at the bus station in the center of Prague, and took the rest of us to the airport. A quick goodbye to the Dutch and UK teams, and then to the plane. During the flight some of us were sleeping, some filled crossword puzzles and I talked with Juha about the competition, puzzles and all the other most important things in the world.

Then we were back in Finland, and Heljä and me headed straight towards Espoo while the other stayed at the airport waiting for the flights to Turku and Oulu. It was nice to be back home, the family showed me that they had really missed me and my 10-year-old daughter hugged me tightly at least one minute before asking why didn't I bring her more candy. The rest of the evening I just kept on telling my husband Jukka everything that has happened during this week.

And now I should start doing the normal routine again. I should clean the aquariums, do some laundry, unpack the rest of my stuff, read all the about 400 new email messages in my mailbox and sort out an ugly flame war on a mailing list whose list mom I am, but perhaps I first solve a couple of little puzzles. Or perhaps two dozen. Or...



- excellent organization
- a roomy place for competitions, oxygen didn't run short there
- a nice, quiet hotel
- cheap prices, very good beer and wine - and lots of them
- beautiful, warm weather
- it was so fun to see that there are at least over a hundred of similar weirdos in the world like I am!


- the results could have been all the time on a wall of the hotel lobby, for example
- some of the puzzle explanations were rather long and in too complicated English.

if I make it to the Finnish team next year, I promise:

- to practise more and with more variable types of puzzles
- to tell the first-timers of the team things I would have wanted to know this year
- to be present for the whole information meeting, or make sure that at least one team member is there
- to mingle more with other teams from the first days, not just during the parties
- to get in better physical shape - no problems with puzzle solving and boozing, but not enough energy for partying
- not to irritate my team members by telling them about every new bird I see
- not to tell anybody, especially the Canadians, that "Blame Canada" is their national anthem.

You are welcome ask me anything about puzzle hobby in Finland (and about anything else, if you like). My email address is lsarakon@cc.hut.fi

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