Here are my trip reports from Brno, 2001 and Opatija, 2004.
Finnish Championship wasn't done the traditional way due to the fact that nobody had time to organize it, and so we used the US qualifying test on the net. The need of a computer, a printer and a good internet connection probably meant that several potential good puzzlers didn't take part this year, but the championship results were anyway used when the Finnish team for 2002 was chosen. It consisted of our triple champion Pekka Ikäheimonen, Eeva Teräsvuori who was 4th, Saku Huttunen from 6th place and me, Liisa Sarakontu. Pekka and I were part of the last year's team and Eeva and Saku were first-timers. Heljä-Maija Vanhanen from the last year's team took diligently care of the captain's duties this time.
It was nice to see so many familiar faces from last year! And several new faces too, like for example Saku from our team, whom I had never met, and the Japanese team which didn't take part a year ago. We chatted with each other (you wouldn't believe the amount of incredibly funny dirty jokes these boys could tell) and other people and took part in the betting the Turkish team was arranging. Although the familiar card game tables were quickly appearing immediately after the dinner, we didn't stay there too long but went back to our hotel to go quickly through the puzzle instructions and to get some sleep. As all the three of us shared the same room, the latter didn't work too well due to weird beds and rather different sleeping habits.
First we visited a weird not-exactly-genuine-Lapponian place called Kampsuherra's State. Some of the program there was rather ridiculous but luckily the tame reindeer were lovely and the dog Pörrö (= Fluffy), a Finnish Lapphund, was totally cuddly. The weather was rather cold and so perhaps the "magic" rites worked anyway, as I don't think that anybody got a bad flu during that day. Next we visited the Arctic Circle, which has been turned into a real tourist attraction with Santa's workshop and a huge collection of souvenir shops.
When we got back to Oulu, it was already time for dinner and after that we had the first puzzle information meeting. The boys didn't bother to take part, but Heljä-Maija, Eeva and I sat through it and made notes. Do we have to use all the shapes in tangram? What does "continuous" mean here? What if the submarines could anyway sail straight under the bigger ships? Do all the 20 pentominoes have to be different? It was quite late after this, so we went straight back to our hotel.
After the lunch there were some fast time bonus puzzles and as those weren't my stuff either, I was on a rather bad mood when we had the first team competition part. Luckily our team managed to solve the first part, the Celtic knots, in just a few minutes and although we didn't complete the other two in time, I didn't feel that bad any more. Also having enough beer on and after the dinner helped a lot.
Tonight the puzzle championship had some TV time as the local news staff had interviewed the main organizer Erja Gullstén and two of the competitors, Pekka from our team and Zack from the US team. It was shown on local news at 17:50 and a whole horde of us were sitting in front of the restaurant telly and cheering! After the dinner we had another information meeting.
In the afternoon we had another team competition part, which was done in the nearby art museum in front of public - and channel 3's news cameras. This time we really found out that we didn't know each other well enough to do team work, and especially I am certainly not a team player. We really fought over the deer puzzle and didn't have time to do the faces. Any one of us could have done the paint-by-numbers easily alone, but as a group we were just confusing each other's work. It didn't help that the camera crew followed us rather closely, but luckily they ended up cutting off some of the very tasty footage they got: Pekka lying on the table like a beached whale, and Eeva and I seriously screaming at each others. Only Saku's mild cursing (aw shit!) made into the news.
Then back to the Lasaretti hotel for the last team competition, the Oulutronic. By now we had at last realized that you can't solve a team puzzle by mixing all eight hands into the same mess and so Eeva and I let the boys do it alone. That didn't help solving it but anyway we managed to figure out how to turn it off and on and reset it.
Anyway, the competition was now over for all of us except for the top three, who were Niels Roest from the Netherlands and brothers Ulrich and Roland Voigt from Germany. That meant that the rest of us were totally free, and that meant enough rounds of beer! The national ten o'clock news had the puzzle competition as their last subject, the funny part, and again we all gathered in front of TV and had good laughs about it.
The rest of the Finnish team had left again rather early, and when I was going to follow them later, I noticed Erja and the Puzzle Master Juha Hyvönen checking some competition papers and at the same time studying the map of Oulu from the phone book. As I couldn't figure out how on earth they should need a phone book for these puzzles, I went to ask about it - and ended up being made to help to find a football (soccer) field and a ball for tomorrow's game. I know nothing about football, don't know Oulu that well and as it was already half past ten, we just had to decide that a school yard has to do. Luckily I knew one close by, and the US team had brought their own ball so that part was in order too.
At 11:00 was time for the final round in the art museum. Niels, who was in lead, had exactly 30 minutes to solve the given 10 shortish puzzles, Ulrich had about half minute less and Roland was to start last, another half minutes after Ulrich. It was all done in front of an audience. It was exciting! Ulrich was so fast and got a good lead by solving 4 of the puzzles in practically no time and Roland was following right behind with a slightly slower pace. Niels seemed to have problems from the beginning and put a couple of puzzles aside half done before finishing even the first one.
When half of the time was gone, we saw no way that Ulrich could be beaten - but then he got stuck with the battleships and digititis equation and Nield started pick up on speed. Roland had a steady pace all the time. When the time ended, we weren't sure who had won but the results were told after few minutes: The World Champion of 2002 was Niels Roest with 7 points! He had been 5th last year and 3rd at least twice. The second place went to Roland Voigt, who was a first-timer in these games and just 21 years old. He had 7 points too, but a slower time. Third was his big brother Ulrich, who has been the champion for the last two years. Congratulations to you guys!
After the lunch it was time for football. There were well over 10 players in both two teams, and wind, rain or even the ferocious ball-eating tree by the field were not able to prevent these guys (and one gal) from playing a full 2 x 45 minutes game. The spectators were not so durable, and in the end only one Polish guy and three Finns were watching the fast and furious game. The teams consisted of players from at least 8 countries, and we cheered equally for them both every time the ball was even close to a goal area. All the players survived the game and no bones were broken, although there were a couple of scary-looking incidents and Ferhat got rid of some of his blood and right shoe during the game. The result was something like 6 - 3.
Later on that afternoon we had a reception at the Oulu City Hall where we were given a boring speech and some tasty snacks and wine. In the evening there was the official result ceremony and a farewell party. Japan had won the team competition, Germany was second and USA third. Finland was 15th out of 18 teams. In the individual competition Pekka was once again the best Finn, and he was 23rd. I was second best on 45rd place and our rookies Eeva and Saku were 60th and 63rd. There were altogether 73 competitors. The full results can be found here (in Excel format).
After the dinner we had free time, but both boys from our team went home rather early and when Eeva also decided to go to bed, I was left wandering from one card table to another for the rest of the night. Some people continued to solve still more puzzles from the several magazines we had got during these days, the Japanese juggler showed all his incredible tricks and even the organizers had now some time to sit and relax. When more and more people started to leave, I left too.
Good to be back home! My daughter was upset when I hadn't brought anything for her ("Hey, mom was just in Oulu and not abroad! Did you expect that I would get you souvenirs from there? Oh, you really did.") but luckily was happy with the Japanese wooden 8-cube dice puzzle and tried to solve it for the rest of the night. I just had enough time that night to go through my email, the backpack and suitcase with all my dirty clothes and all those piles of papers can be sorted out next day. Or some other day.
Anyway it was a good competition. I had hoped to be above the middle and so I'm not exactly happy with my points and 45th (out of 73) placement. I would have been little higher without the manipulative part, but that proves that I'm just not versatile enough. Although I can practise on more puzzle types and get more experience, I'm not getting any younger or any faster no matter how much I try. But still, as long as the young talents like Eeva and Saku can't yet beat me, I'm going to try to make it in to the team again next year. The championships will then be in the Netherlands, and we'll see if I'll get a chance to visit there!
Ken Wilshire from the British team has written a trip report too, part 1 and part 2 are here.
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