Born and raised in a puzzle family, Hana Koudelkova (Czech Republic) is currently the director of the World Puzzle Federation. This interview includes less of the puzzles, but more of the puzzle community and its future. While we count down to the big event in Kraljevica, let's give some thoughts about the structure that draws the puzzle family together.
- Can you tell us a bit of yourself?
There is nothing special to say about me. I was born and have lived the whole life in Brno, Czech Republic. My mother is a lawyer and my father was a teacher. Now they are running their own publishing house. I am married and have one 2-year old daughter. I studied Italian and Latin at the Faculty of Art in Brno. I speak English, Italian and a bit of Spanish. Right after my studies I started to work for Motorola, managing a team taking care of customers in Southern Europe. I also worked in Kira publishing house (my father´s company); mainly during the big puzzle events he was organizing. Some of you might remember me from WPC 2001 in Brno or later during WSC2007 in Prague where I was a member of the core team responsible for coordinating, planning and supporting daily operational and administrative functions. I was also responsible for all PR related activities, such as press releases, network presentation, managing press conferences etc.
- Our guests in this column are generally puzzle people, especially designers. As you know, puzzle fans who gather once a year do not know much about each other. So we are trying to make some difference by these interviews. I suppose you are neither a puzzle solver nor a designer, but you are the director of the WPF and that is as important as solving or designing puzzles. How did you end up in puzzle world, did you participate in any contests, or to be more clear, what is your history with puzzles?
Actually, my life started in the puzzle world, then was for a while a bit aside and now returned back to the beginnings. As you know, my father is running a very famous Czech publishing house, so crosswords and puzzles have always been a big part of my life. I was attending crossword clubs and also won some Czech tournament for juniors. But after that puzzles became only my hobby and I did not spend so much time with them. To be honest I am quite behind the trend now, I only solve Sudoku from time to time. But what I have always liked are logical or funny puzzles my father gives us quite often and uses us as test-solvers. As I already said I was also involved in many puzzle events organized by Vita, such as Czech National Championships, WSC, WPC etc.
- From a critical perspective, WPF’s structure seems a bit cumbersome to me, and I am not the only one who thinks so. It is just like a community of some people who get together once or twice a year. Don’t you think it should be somehow more active? Where does the federation stand, considering its objectives?
I definitely do agree, this is what we all want, to be an open group of all the puzzle fans, to be a central point for everyone who wants to know more about puzzles, who wants to solve more than one Sudoku a week. The thing is that not everything can be changed within a year and by a few people. But I hope we have been improving.
- What are your personal commitments in this structure? There have been some positive changes with your assignment and the first steps were communicational changes like the website and Facebook page. What else can be changed to help satisfy the WPF objectives?
You are right, new up-to-date web page and Facebook are the first steps that should lead to my personal goal, to make the WPF more visible. At the beginning, I was so excited about all the new changes I wanted to carry out, but I got stuck a bit as not all the people around me were that excited. What I am afraid of is that just one person cannot change it completely; it is all up to you, young and enthusiastic people willing to spread your big hobby all around the world. I hope WPF is now open to any tips, suggestions and improvements.
- As an insider, what can you say about the difficulties in the path of WPF? Does it have any plans for using its sources more effectively, by means of puzzle people all around the world?
The biggest issue is communication, we are such a big group of enthusiastic people but I would say everybody is playing on his own narrow field and is not much interested about the others. What I plan is to force everybody who is somehow involved in WPF to be more active and understand that any benefit they bring to the WPF will return to them. We also need to understand the life has changed and computers and the Internet play a very important role and WPF need to focus this way. One of the ideas is to run a world online Sudoku/puzzle tournament with several rounds organized by different countries. The top players could then meet face to face in the finals at the WSC/WPC and compete for the title of the Internet World Champion. This is one of the ideas and the more ideas we have, the better.
- What should a puzzler expect from WPF?
Hopefully a source of any information related to puzzles. I am happy to say this has already started to happen. I am getting many, many questions from people all around the world on different topics. Some want just a contact person, some want to organize their own event and need advice, some want to get a nice book with puzzles. But what has been true for ages is that whatever is related to WPF guaranties high quality and professional approach.
- Does WPF aim at spreading to more countries? And does it have any long term plans about taking the puzzles to a new level by implementing it into education, so that it becomes more than just a hobby? What can be done for these?
Of course, it is the biggest wish to be all over the world. This year we managed to get some new members like Australia, Canada and many of them have renewed their membership after a few years, like Bangladesh or India. I think big thanks belong to all the people who have been running the WPF since the beginning. They have done a lot for the puzzle world and I know how difficult it sometimes was. Now it is up to us to lead the WPF in a “modern” way. What we plan to focus on next year is to get some sponsors or partners and use these sources in education, try to attract more and more people and really focus on juniors. One of the things I plan to push through is a special championship or at least separate division for juniors and also for people competing for the first time. These are one of the key objectives for next year.
- If watching something is not enjoyable, it does not get the attention it deserves. Can the world championships be transformed to something more “visual”? Ferhat had a suggestion of splitting the championships into some categories and driving competitive spirit. Each category would have a winner and it would lead to more excitement and more champions. Is this possible?
To be honest, watching people looking at a piece of paper can hardly be as attractive as football or other popular sports. It will never be like that. But what you can see is that there are moments during the championships like the finals, that are quite attractive also for people who are not so deeply involved. I do not think separation to more divisions could bring more excitement for the “outside” people. When we spoke about it with my father a few years ago, he said he found it as giving the medals to all of the 10 disciplines in the decathlon. Will the race be more attractive then? And I fully agree with that. But it is just a matter of discussion and for sure we plan to implement new types of tournaments in the next years. I think at least under 18 and above 40 is a must for next years.
- WPC/WSC hosts are organizing the events with their own puzzle people, which is both good and bad at the same time. It is good because that country eventually has more puzzlers; and it is bad because as the country changes, the puzzle quality changes as well. But there are many puzzle designers all around the world. Again a suggestion from Ferhat: Can a “puzzle designing team” be built for this purpose? This team would prepare the puzzles for every championship.
As you said, this brings good and bad things at the same time. What I like about it is that it is always a bit different. Even though it is always Sudoku, each country brings in some specifics and it will never be the same and annoying. I can imagine people now complaining about different levels of puzzles would after a few years complain about monotonous puzzles. But I think the combined situation will come in place in the next years as some countries willing to host the championship in the next years do not have their puzzle makers and will ask the WPF to provide them with the puzzles. At that point, Ferhat´s “Puzzle designing team” should come into play.
- What do your people think about puzzles, what is the culture in Czech Republic, books, magazines, competitions etc..? I know mechanical puzzles are popular throughout the country, is your puzzle culture mostly based upon those? Is the success of Czech Team in mechanical rounds is a result of this culture?
The roots of the Czech puzzling are definitely in crosswords. It has been a really important part of the Czech culture for ages. Hundreds of puzzle magazines are being published in the Czech Republic and it is a huge number for such a small country. Regarding the mechanical puzzles, the situation is a bit different. There are no competitions apart from some Rubik cube style, there are no magazines, there is not even any web page related to this hobby. Mechanical puzzles prepared by the well-known author Václav Obšívač appeared at the WPC 2001 in Brno but not after that. As one of our representatives said, "the success in Minsk was one piece of good spatial imagination and five pieces of luck".