Sep 30, 2009

Youth triumphs over experience at the Times' National Su Doku Championship

The ballpoint pens were ready, the clock carefully set and the desks manouevred into lines as parallel as the puzzle grids upon them. Outside the hall, contestants sipped their tea nervously, picking at plates of custard creams.

But on Saturday, entrants of the Times 5th National Su Doku Championship were keen to emphasise that the only real squares in the building were the ones they were about to fill.

“I’m proud to be a geek,” said Andrew Hartley, 37, a first-time contestant. “I don’t mind the stereotype.”
More than 100 amateur logicians were shortlisted for this year’s championship, out of a record 770 entrants. To qualify for the final, competitors had to fill out four fiendish Su Doku grids in an hour’s session and were then ranked by speed. Once completed, sheets were held in the air, checked for accuracy and points deducted for errors. After two rounds, the final eight sat the afternoon’s grand finals at the Institute of Education in London.

Each had their own method — pencilling numbers in the corner, filling in lines, squares, or all of the above. King of the grids this year was Tom Collyer, 23, who stole the title, cup and £1,000 prize money from Nina Pell, 22, the reigning champion. They now share the distinction of being the only players to win the national championships twice. Their methods are polar opposite but their rivalry as fiendish as the puzzles — Su Doku can be a hare and tortoise race.

Mr Collyer, a maths PhD student from Coventry, admits that hubris has tripped him up more than once in a competition.

“More haste less speed,” said Mr Collyer, who can fill a grid a minute and is ranked 26th in the world.
Ms Pell, a Sheffield maths graduate, is known instead for her steady consistency and accuracy. “I’m not sure I even like it that much,” she said. “It’s just habit.”

An addiction, however, that means she can finish a super-fiendish Su Doku in 13 minutes. An easy one can be polished off “as quickly as it takes me to write the numbers”.

Mike Colloby, 51, a design engineer from Gunnislake, Cornwall, had been seeking to steal the trophy from the youngsters. Since returning from the World Championships in Slovakia in April, he had trained for three hours a day. “If you practise a lot you can do it subconsciously. The numbers just come to you,” said Mr Colloby. “The World Championships are held over three days,” he added. “But this is do-or-die.” Yet his determination was in vain. Thomas Drake, from Wokingham in Berkshire and the former youth runner-up, and Abigail Vallis, from Birmingham, both 18 years old, came in second and third respectively.

But the greatest controversy of the day was the accidentally conjoined puzzle sheets that caused Ms Pell to fill out one too many grids, costing her time and, at 28 minutes, landing her in fourth place.

Instead, the hare crossed the finish line first: Mr Collyer took 17 minutes to arrange 324 fiendish numbers into four Su Doku grids. The next-best time was barely 30 seconds behind.

“They were noticeably harder this year but that plays to me,” said Mr Collyer. “There was a point at which I was stuck but my guessing technique is shambolic. So I didn’t guess.”

He says he may spend the prize money on entering the US Championships in Philadelphia at the end of next month but in the meantime he is going to take a break.

But what will the Su Doku champion do without puzzles?

“Get things done,” said Mr Collyer.

Now the championship is over he can put the quiz books away and make a start on those chores.

Tmes Online

Sudoku is good for you, cancer patients learn

Anyone who has tried and succeeded at the popular number placement game of Sudoku also knows that it should come with a surgeon general's warning: Sudoku may be addictive, causing you to lose track of time and to become unaware of your problems as well as your surroundings.

Once you start a Sudoku puzzle, you want but one thing, and that is to get the numerals 1 through 9 in their proper places in that row, that column and that block.

And that's good news, according to Om Johari, a retired IIT scientist who recently presented the merits of Sudoku to a group gathered at the LivingWell Cancer Resource Center in Geneva. LivingWell provides non-medical support services at no charge for people living with cancer.

"Sudoku is popular because you need to know so little to enjoy it," Johari said. "It is not like a crossword puzzle where success might depend upon a strong vocabulary or knowledge of a particular topic. To do Sudoku you only need to know the numbers 1 through 9."

Puzzle workers use logic to place the numerals in the grid so that each appears only once in each column, row and small box. No math is involved.

Johari, of Elk Grove Village, ran an electron microscopy lab at the IIT Research Institute in Chicago, edited and published scientific journals, and is now a volunteer, teaching meditation, laughter and Sudoku strategies at north and west suburban senior centers, libraries, park districts and centers like LivingWell. He was enjoying Sudoku in puzzle books for many years before it appeared in the newspapers and remembers when his grown sons were small that they would do the puzzles as a family.

At the LivingWell center, he told a group about the mental health benefits of Sudoku for everyone, but particularly those living with an illness like cancer:

--It is great exercise for the brain, he said. Although the puzzles vary from easy to very hard, he believes the easy and medium puzzles provide enough of a mental workout. "If you stress yourself over the difficult puzzles, you are missing the relaxation benefits of Sudoku," he said, suggesting that fans try a difficult puzzle once a week. "When you can't do it, just leave it and come back."

--Sudoku teaches patience. "There's no guesswork in Sudoku," said Johari. "If you guess, you're sunk."

--Sudoku relieves stress. "You do Sudoku, and you forget arthritis pain. You forget you are confined to bed. You forget the daily stresses of life," Johari said. "Sudoku lets us put everything else away for those minutes we spend on the puzzle."

--Doing Sudoku helps relieve loneliness: "Sudoku puzzles are solved by oneself at one's own pace," he said. "These puzzles are particularly great when one is confined to bed, at home or at the hospital. All you need is a puzzle and a sharp pencil with a good eraser."

Cancer patient Ann Preuss of West Chicago listened to Johari's presentation and told the others why she likes the game.

"When I was in chemo and taking treatments, Sudoku seemed like the one thing that could make me focus," she said. "It helped me a lot in that way."

If your mind wanders too much during Sudoku it will take you long to complete the puzzle, Johari added. "Eventually you learn to focus, and that helps you to focus in other aspects of your life."

The name Sudoku comes from a Japanese phrase that means "the digits must occur only once." Although it can be simple, it can also be extremely difficult, as puzzle fans know. Johari also taught ways to approach the number puzzle.

"I'm not going home with you," he told the class. "Please feel free to ask a lot of questions."

Joni Mount of Elk Grove Village, facilitator of the Elk Grove Village Multiple Sclerosis Self Help Group, recently asked Johari to present his Sudoku program to her group.

"It is important to note that 50 percent of people with MS suffer from cognitive problems, so exercising our minds is very important," she said. "It is important that people realize they can attempt these puzzles and can learn them. Personally, I know I need to do them regularly because it is kind of a litmus test on how sharp I am."

Mount, who has MS and does about four Sudoku puzzles a week, said she loses her touch if she goes too long without doing them.

"Sudoku looks very intimidating and, to someone with cognitive issues, almost impossible. Om's mild manner and patience served the group well," she said. "He made it less intimidating and gave them confidence."
Chicago Tribune

Sep 28, 2009


THE number’s up for puzzle fans...filling in a Sudoku grid or doing a crossword can be fattening.
Anyone who taxes their brain on word games uses up energy needed to exercise, according to a study.
It explains why some people feel exhausted doing a puzzle even though they have not got out of their chair.
The reason is that willpower is like a muscle and when it is used a lot for one task it may be too tired for another, Canadian researchers reported in the journal Psychology and Health.
Two groups of volunteers were sent for evening gym exercises for eight weeks but one were set a series of mental tests needing ­concentration by day.
They did not exercise as hard, said Professor Kathleen Martin Ginis. She added: “They were more likely to skip their exercise ­sessions. You only have so much willpower.”
But the good news is that you can build it up, such as by listening to music or taking a walk.
Sticking to tasks that require concentration also increases your stamina. The professor said: “Willpower is like a muscle. It needs to be ­challenged to build itself.”

Sep 25, 2009

Fish to pick winner of £675,000 house

A businessman is letting his pet fish choose who will become the new owners of his £675,000 house.
Dave Mackie is running an online Sudoku competition where his luxury home in Lancashire will be given away as a prize.

He has already received thousands of entries around the world, but will let his 'koi' pick the winner from the correct entries.

The insurance broker and puzzle fan plans to install a touch sensitive pad in the pond and when the fish touch it one of the 14,000 entries will be selected.

He hopes this will mean the fish select someone who will look after them when he moves out… though given it is random they are just as likely to end up with a cat lover.
275x250.jpgDave said: "As well as being beautiful and majestic creatures, koi have an aura about them and are very perceptive and sensitive to what is going on around them.

"They are the ideal symbols of love and friendship and I have no doubt they will pick the right winner – someone who will get on with the neighbours and someone who will look after the fish themselves."

275x250.jpgOnce they’ve paid a £50 entry fee, entrants complete an online Sudoku puzzle to receive a place in the prize competition to win the stylish detached home, complete with sauna and steamroom, on Lancashire’s picturesque Fylde coast.

Puzzle fanatic Dave, a director of an insurance broker, has proved that what he is doing complies with UK law as it is a prize competition relying on people’s skill to crack the Sudoku – and not gambling.

Dave, 49, explained: “I think a 14,000-1 chance of winning this house is a great opportunity for someone."

The contest will run up to Feb 1, 2010 – or until Dave has 14,000 entrants, more info is available at



Sep 24, 2009

Tokyo Game Show '09: EA showing off PSP Mini titles, Tetris and Sudoku

The official Playstation Blog has relaeased information that EA is making a big push for the casual market on Sony's PSP Go. The two titles they are showing off at TGS are Tetris and Sudoku, classic standards in mobile gaming fare.
The new PSP Minis collection has been established by Sony to branch out to casual players who desire bite-sized entertainment while on the go. The minis will be what games are on the iTunes app store. These games are small in size and their price will also be easy on the wallet. These games will have their own section in the Playstation Network Store and will launch on October 1, 2009 along with the PSP Go.

Corn maze offers a taste of history

The young and young-at-heart are invited to find their way out of the Fantozzi Farms Corn Maze during its grand opening celebration. In honor of Patterson’s 100th birthday, the first 100 visitors will be admitted free this weekend.

The corn maze, which this year features a Patterson Centennial theme, will be open until the end of October. The maze includes an image of the Center Building and the dates “1909-2009.”

MazePlay, a company that specializes in corn mazes, used a tractor with a global positioning system to get the maze just right — as it has since 2003, when the Fantozzi family first opened the maze.

“I sketched the design for this year’s maze on paper and then sent my sketch to MazePlay,” co-owner Denise Fantozzi said. “MazePlay took my idea and added the lines for the maze paths.

“The Patterson Centennial maze design was meant to incorporate some of the symbols of Patterson, such as the Center Building, the palm trees and the apricots.”

The corn mazes — a large one and a smaller one — cover about 12 acres and include more than 5 miles of paths for adventurers to tread.

A new addition this year is Maze Sudoku. The corn maze tickets are printed with a game grid on the back for customers who wish to play.

The game is similar to the mathematical version of Sudoku, but with shapes instead of numbers. Checkpoints throughout the maze will help customers fill in the grid, and small prizes will be awarded to those who solve the puzzle.

Besides the mazes, there’s a pumpkin patch, hay bale pyramid, hay bale labyrinth, corn seed box, petting zoo, educational displays and a new addition, weekend pig races.

Scary fun is also back this year with the haunted maze Friday and Saturday nights. Two Westley brothers, Jeremy Goubert, 14, and Jordan Goubert, 15, like to help provide spooks and chills in the haunted maze.

“We like it — it’s fun,” Jordan said. “Sometimes we help them out a little bit scaring on weekends. A lot of people go and scare (the customers).”

• Contact Maddy Houk at 892-6187 or
Patterson irrigator

Sep 20, 2009

Rossendale puzzle fan's fight to use home as a prize

A ROSSENDALE businessman and puzzle fanatic has spoken of his nightmare eight-month battle against red tape after finally securing the right to use his £675,000 luxury home as a Sudoku prize.
Dave Mackie, director of CBG Insurance Brokers, Bacup Road, Waterfoot, launched his online competition in January and his website received 50,000 hits from across the world in just two days as his story went around the globe.
However, Mr Mackie said that after 900 people got the Sudoku puzzle correct and paid the £50 entry fee, payment providers PayPal stopped supporting the competition.
The 49-year-old said he then set about an eight month fight to prove his competition complied with UK law as it is a prize competition relying on people’s skill to crack the Sudoku – and not gambling.
He has now re-launched the competition and said he was contacting the 700 prospective entrants who have been in touch with him since the competition was put on hold, as well as the 900 who have already entered, to re-assure them he has now got the green light.
Once they have paid a £50 entry fee, entrants are asked to complete an online Sudoku puzzle.
Mr Mackie said they would then receive a place in the prize competition to win the stylish detached home, complete with sauna and steamroom, in Hambleton on the Fylde coast.
“I thought Sudoku was a tough challenge but sorting all this out has been an even tougher challenge,” said Mr Mackie.
“When I launched the competition, I was inundated with entries and hits on the website but after two days everything just stopped.
“PayPal said they thought it was gambling, even though I told them it was a prize competition, relying on people’s skill to solve the Sudoku puzzle and had a solicitor’s letter confirming it complied with UK law.
“I now have a new payment provider, London-based Perpetual Payments, part of the Voice Commerce Group, and one of their directors is on the Gambling Commission, just to emphasise that everything is completely legal.
“I have been frustrated to the point of distraction but I said this competition would work, I went on TV to say I would use my house as a competition prize and there is no way I was going to let people down.
Mr Mackie said the maximum odds of winning his home are 14,000/1 and the competition would run until February 1 next year or until he had 14,000 entrants.

Sep 19, 2009

Memory prowess linked to gaming

Video war games could enhance a key element of intelligence that is vital to success in life, an expert has claimed.

Spending time on the Facebook networking site and solving Sudoku may have the same effect, according to psychologist Dr Tracy Alloway.

However, text messaging, micro-blogging on "Twitter" and watching YouTube were likely to weaken "working memory".

Working memory involves the ability to remember information and to use it.

Dr Alloway, from the University of Stirling, has extensively studied working memory and believes it to be far more important to success and happiness than IQ.

At a job interview, a candidate will employ working memory to match answers to questions in the most impressive way.

'Endless stream'

Her team has developed a working memory training programme that greatly increased the performance of slow-learning children aged 11 to 14 at a school in Durham.

After eight weeks of "Jungle Memory" training, the children saw 10 point improvements in IQ, literacy and numeracy tests.

Some who started off close to the bottom of the class ended up near the top.

"It was a massive effect", said Dr Alloway, who is discussing the issue at the start of the British Science Festival at the University of Surrey in Guildford later.

Video games that involve planning and strategy, such as those from the Total War series, may also train working memory, Dr Alloway believes.

"I'm not saying they're good for your socialisation skills, but they do make you use your working memory," she said.

"You're keeping track of past actions and mapping the actions you're going to take."

Sudoku also stretched the working memory, as did keeping up with friends on Facebook, she said.

But the "instant" nature of texting, Twitter and YouTube was not healthy for working memory.

"On Twitter you receive an endless stream of information, but it's also very succinct," said Dr Alloway. "You don't have to process that information.

"Your attention-span is being reduced and you're not engaging your brain and improving serve connections."

She said there was evidence linking TV viewing with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) while extensive texting was associated with lower IQ scores.

Sep 18, 2009

Lego robot solves Sudoku puzzles

Lego Mindstorms are futuristic toys for creative kids. But who knew these DIY robots can get creative themselves and solve puzzles?
Swedish programmer Hans Andersson bought a programmable Mindstorms NXT kit for his two daughters and then began tinkering with it himself. The result: a toy that can autonomously solve Sudoku puzzles in what looks like a matter of minutes.
The Sudoku Solver scans the entire puzzle with a light sensor before determining the missing digits in each square. Its computer performs image processing with a thresholding algorithm to make sense of the sensor data. Recognizing the existing numbers in the puzzle seems to be the most difficult part of the process.
Solving for missing numbers is easy with a backtracking algorithm, according to Andersson. "But since the Mindstorms processor is rather slow, and since it doesn't allow for recursive functions, it took some care to optimize it," he writes. The toy can still do Sudoku better than me.
Andersson has also created a Mindstorms robot called Tilted Twister that can autonomously solve a Rubik's Cube in about six minutes.
Gotta love robots. Now they're playing with our toys; next they'll be playing with us!

Sep 17, 2009

From one to nine in world record time

TWO years ago a 27-year-old American with a PhD in chemistry set the Guinness World Record for the fastest completion of a sudoku puzzle. His time was two minutes and 8 seconds.
Last week Lucus Yeo, an 11-year-old boy from Castle Hill with a passion for formula one racing, smashed that record.
It took 10 days for him to complete his first puzzle several years ago. "So from then on I was just trying to beat 10 days, and then it became a few minutes. Now here I am."
His time last week was one minute and 38 seconds.
"You have to break the world record for yourself to find out how it felt," he said.
His principal at Castle Hill Public School, Bryan Mullan, said his talent "came out of the blue".
"In terms of his personality, he comes across as quite disorganised in some ways," Mr Mullan said.
"His desk's always all over the place. He doesn't come across as an organised person."
There are 81 squares on a sudoku grid. Within the grid there are nine smaller grids, each with nine squares. To complete a game, a player has to fill in each row, each column and each smaller grid with the numbers one to nine. The grade of difficulty depends on how many numbers are already provided.
"To do it effectively he has to hold those 81 spaces in his head simultaneously," said Mr Mullan, who will shortly send witness statements, documentation and a video of Lucus's attempt to Guinness World Records.
Like Lucus, the American world record holder, Thomas Snyder, achieved his time playing an "easy" grade of the game. However, because each of them played games created by different people, it could be somewhat difficult to compare their times.
Dr Snyder said he has recently completed games in under one minute, but these times have not been sent to Guinness World Records.
"All that being said, the time of your young champion is tremendously impressive," he said.
"I'm sure he will continue to get better as he grows older and competes more."