Report by Zack Butler
A week in the company town
Can we come in second and still have fun?
(with a little caesar's accent) Koprivnica!
(A recap of the 97 World Puzzle Championships, held
last week in Koprivnica, Croatia, as I saw them.)
With 5 seconds left in the fourth quarter of
game 7, the two-time defending champion Bulls, up by 2, get called for
another illegal defense penalty. Barkley hits the
free throw and gets the inbound pass to Olajuwon,
who sinks the layup to win the championship.
At least, that's how it felt. Unknowingly
ahead by 268 points going into the final team round (worth 300 with 200 bonus
available), the US team made a large tactical error hoping for some unneeded
bonus and ended up without any team points, finishing second to the Czechs,
9414-9382. And like the poor basketball analogy, there were many other places
in the tournament where we could have done a bit better. And also like the
poor basketball analogy, we did pretty darn well, all things considered. Wei-Hwa Huang of the US became the second two-time world
champion, and Ron Osher finished second. The other
members of our time, Nick Baxter and myself, were 19th and 9th, respectively.
However, I'm happy to report that the answer
to the first question posed above is "Yes." Once again wined and
dined and folk-danced to extremes (this time by the large "Podravka food factory", the sponsor of the
competition and near-owner of Koprivnica), we
learned a few things about Croatia (they eat lots of soup there, for
instance) and generally enjoyed ourselves.
The bulk of the US team arrived in Zagreb
after two executive lounges and five hours in Munich. We then hung out in the
park at the Zagreb airport (apparently they don't need much parking there)
waiting for the other teams (and our bus to Koprivnica)
to show and watching all the UN forces drive away. (The fighting is all far
away, but Zagreb is the closest easily-accessible airport.) After hanging out
in the airport cafe with the Germans, Dutch, Finns, and Polish, we bussed out
after the Turks arrived.
In fact, we spent quite a bit of time on the
bus, especially day 2, which included a trip to Zagreb, then to the Castle Brzanec and another castle (Trakoscan)
before coming back for dinner (5 hours or more in the bus). Impressive castles, and fun to be in the central square of Zagreb
amongst the pigeons when the noon cannon went off. (You'd think after hearing
it every day they'd be a bit less skittish.) But still, a long ride the day
And so we come to the competition. Shivering.
It was in an unheated tent, which was fine except for before the first round,
when it was at best 50F. And in that first round, after the taking of
pictures and the speeching of dignitaries, the
Americans choked, me worst of all. Then we took the
big group photo, but luckily the blinding sun made us squint rather than
grimace. The afternoon went a bit better for us, and we went off to dinner at
the famous naive art center in Hlebine
in a better mood.
In Hlebine (_not_
the ancestral home of Helene), we were treated to music and fresh-roasted
chestnuts before being led through the gallery of Naive Art, which originated
in Hlebine with Ivan Generalic
and is now world-known. (If you've heard of it, let me know.) We were then
treated to another large dinner and folk dancing under the watchful eye of
Croatian TV, who wanted us to join them. Which we did. We can only hope it
was deemed to ridiculous to air.
Competition day 2: Second verse, same as the
first. Slowly improving throughout rounds 3 and 4, including a 1-2-3 finish
in round 4, we then suffered the group brain-fart described above. With
competition over, we then proceeded with the drinking portion of the week,
kicked off by our dinner engagement at the opening of a new Carlsberg brewery
The final day in Koprivnica
was a bit of an anti-climax, but still fun. In past years, we've had a
blow-out party the last night, winding up in time to catch the bus to the
airport. But with two nights after the competition, no one knew the protocol.
The morning was spent playing (or watching) soccer (depending on if you were
American or not). The afternoon took us to the Podravka
museum (I told you they own the town) which included some evil farm
implements, and the house of the aforementioned Generalic
family. Then on to a nearby lake to eat lunch and soak up the sixth
consecutive beautiful day. Kamer proved himself to
be at least as good a stone-skipper as puzzle solver, which is no small feat.
From there it was back to the hotel for the banquet and awards ceremony,
followed by the usual hearty band closing the bar (having wasted half my
party potential the previous night, i was unable to
join them for the duration this year).
Sunday found the east-coast Americans with a
day to kill, so we skipped the 8:00 airport bus, and Stan, Ron, and I took
the 10:35 train to Zagreb (some interesting negotiations involved). Will and
Helene, feeling under the weather, spent the day in Koprivnica
sleeping, eating, and walking. After my first trip on a real compartment
train (I half-expected suspenseful music to start playing and Sean Connery
come running in to hide under my seat), we spent the afternoon looking for an
open store in Zagreb. We first found the Japanese eating lunch outside their
hotel (they stayed two extra days in Zagreb) and joined them, then later
found Jeroen of the Dutch team also wandering
around. We did not, however, find an open store. Or the McDonalds. No, that
required Ron and I to walk 3 miles in the evening only to find it 1/4 mile
from the hotel. A question: if you saw an empty McDonalds
cup sitting on a windowsill by the sidewalk, within what radius would you
expect to find the McDonalds?
We then arose early Monday, met Will and
Helene at the airport, and flew (and flew and flew) home. I was then treated
to my jet-lagged brain awakening my poorly-rested body at 4:30 this morning,
and managed to convince it to go back to sleep long enough to wait for the
bagel store to be open. Maybe not as good as N.Y. bagels (you win, Helene),
but after a week of Croatian breakfast, a sight for a tired palate.
In the traditional "Other stories upon
•Nightclub high-school (or is that high-school
•Travel tips for those in Zagreb on a Sunday
•Painful late night multinational jam session
•Stan's fate as it relates to Monopoly