Nov 29, 2009

Eugene Varshavsky Disqualified Based on Investigation

PHILADELPHIA, November 23, 2009 – The Philadelphia Inquirer Sudoku National Championship today announced the final winners in the advanced solving division, held on October 24, 2009. First place was awarded to Tammy McLeod from Los Angeles, CA. She is awarded $10,000. Thomas Snyder from Palo Alto, CA, won second place and $4,000. Chris Narrikkattu was awarded third place and $3,000 as a result of the disqualification of Eugene Varshavsky. Mr. Narrikkattu had placed immediately behind Mr. Varshavsky in a qualifying round.

Mr. Varshavsky was disqualified by Championship Director Will Shortz after his visibly poor on-stage performance during the championship finals led to an investigation. After qualifying for the finals by solving three puzzles in 14 minutes, Mr. Varshavsky entered only three digits of the final round puzzle after eight minutes. The investigation was conducted by Championship Director Will Shortz and Director of Judging Nick Baxter.

“Over the last three years the Championship has established a reputation as the championship for everyone and has a strong following in the advanced, intermediate and beginner sudoku community,” said Philadelphia Inquirer Sudoku National Championship Director Will Shortz. “The integrity of this competition is our highest priority and therefore, when we observed the inconsistent results in the advanced finals we commenced an investigation.”

The investigation included a review of completed puzzle booklets, interviews with some solvers, including Mr. Varshavsky, as well as other steps. A puzzle-solving re-examination of Mr. Varshavsky was conducted in which he was given the opportunity to solve a number of advanced and intermediate puzzles. Two of these were the very same puzzles he fully completed during the competition. After 23 minutes, he could fill in only 11 digits combined for the two puzzles before indicating he could go no further. His performance on other puzzles in this session was similarly well below expectations.

“The re-examination results were very much consistent with Mr. Varshavsky’s on-stage performance,” said Mr. Shortz. “Based on his re-examination performance, we have concluded that Eugene Varshavsky alone could not have solved the Round 3 puzzles during the Championship and, therefore, based on the rules of the championship which prohibit ‘outside help’ and grant the right to disqualify, have decided to disqualify him from his third place Advanced Division prize.”

“We are very pleased that a very thorough and professional investigation has been conducted and that the final results of the advanced round for the 2009 Philadelphia Inquirer Sudoku National Championship can now be announced,” said Edward Mahlman, Chief Marketing Officer of Philadelphia Media Holdings. “We are extremely grateful to Will Shortz and Nick Baxter for their diligence and hard work, and we look forward to the 2010 championship.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer Sudoku National Championship is the world’s largest puzzle competition and attracts a national and international field of contestants from a wide range of ages and backgrounds. This year the oldest participant was 93 and the youngest was 8. The championship includes three main skill divisions – beginner, intermediate and advanced. In addition to the winners of those three categories, prizes were also awarded to 27 more players who competed in a variety of age groups ranging from under 10 years to greater than 81 years. There were a total of 646 contestants and 183 spectators.

Other winners included Natan Tsyrulnik of Shelton, Connecticut, in the beginner division and Davis Borucki of Columbia, South Carolina, in the intermediate division. Borucki took home $3,000 in prize money and Tsyrulnik took home a check for $1,000. For more information please visit

Nov 25, 2009

Try the Sudoku diet: How to burn 90 calories an hour without leaving your armchair


By David Wilkes
Last updated at 9:49 AM on 25th November 2009

Sitting in your favourite armchair doing a crossword or Sudoku does not sound like a particularly effective way to use up calories.
But if you are about to postpone that trip to the gym and turn to the Coffee Break section of your Daily Mail instead, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Tackling puzzles for an hour, it seems, can burn more calories than are contained in many biscuits.

That was the eyebrow-raising claim being made by mental agility experts yesterday in a bid to encourage more people to log on to their brain-training website.

Doing puzzles and quizzes burns an average of 90 calories every hour, they say - while a chocolate chip cookie contains an average 56 calories, a custard cream 57 calories and a jammy dodger 85 calories.

Researcher Tim Forrester, from, explained: 'Our brains require 0.1 calories every minute simply to survive.

'When we do something challenging such as a puzzle or a quiz we can burn through 1.5 calories every minute.'
The brain is made up of millions of nerve cells called neurons which transmit messages to the body, he explained.

Neurons produce chemicals called neurotransmitters to relay their signals.

These neurons extract three-quarters of sugar glucose, available calories and a fifth of oxygen from the blood to create neurotransmitters.

So doing difficult crosswords or challenging Sudokus means your brain will crave more glucose and more calories too, added Mr Forrester.

This means that if you spent two hours doing puzzles, you would have used 180 calories - which is more than are contained in a creme egg (173) or a bag of Hula Hoops (175), and only slightly less than in a pint of beer (182).

A British Dietetic Association spokesman said: 'When thinking hard, the brain needs to get its energy from somewhere. It can get this energy from burning calories.

'The brain is like any other body part - if you are working it hard, it will need more calories to work well.'
But it is clearly not possible to think yourself thinner. This is because although the brain uses a lot of energy, it does not use fat to do so.

Unlike sugars, fat molecules cannot be broken down into glucose.

The amount of energy used by thinking is a very small percentage of the total energy used in the brain, which is constantly using energy to function, experts warn.

So if you want to lose weight, you will still need to exercise and eat healthily.

Last year it emerged that millions of people use Sudoku to improve their maths skills after being turned off the subject by dumbed-down teaching at school.

Many gave up after GCSE because lessons were too unchallenging, a study showed.

This 'lost' generation discovered an interest and ability in the subject through logic puzzles.

Although you do not need to be good at maths to do Sudoku, the grids demand logical thinking which underpins maths, added researchers at Reform think tank.

Nov 18, 2009

Let's Talk: Hooked on Sudoku

Davis Borucki has a thing for numbers.

The 15-year-old Richland Northeast High School student recently won the Intermediate Division of the Philadelphia Inquirer National Sudoku Championship, topping more than 500 competitors. The competition included three rounds, each featuring three puzzles, and competitors were rated on accuracy and speed.
Borucki plans to compete in the advanced division in April and hopes to compete internationally next year.

lets talk sudoku davis borucki
Why Sudoku?

Borucki: "I do Sudoku in addition to doing other things like watch TV and play video games. However, I prefer doing Sudoku when I can, because it is something I can do anywhere as opposed to watching TV or playing video games, which I need a TV or a game console to do. Sudoku also helps keep my brain active."
How often do you do Sudoku?

Borucki: "I try to do one Sudoku puzzle a day at least. I'm usually busy with homework from school or extracurricular activities, but I try to squeeze in a puzzle at least once a day because it is something I enjoy doing and it gets rid of stress."

When did you start playing?

Borucki: "I started playing Sudoku in eighth grade around November, when my math teacher gave me one as an extra credit assignment. I caught on quickly and became hooked on them. My first Sudoku competition was the second annual National Sudoku Championship in October 2008."

How did it feel to win the Sudoku tournament in Philadelphia?

Borucki: "I was really happy when I won my award. I had been practicing Sudoku a lot and had improved a lot from last year, so I was hoping that I would make it to the final round. I knew a lot of good competition would be at the contest, so I didn't come 100 percent certain I would win. I had a bunch of friends back home supporting me, which helped inspire me to do my best."

Any tips for beginners?

Borucki: "I would recommend that beginners start out on easy puzzles. If they are having trouble on a puzzle, they should try writing in all the possible solutions in the square, and then eliminating from there. Once they get better, they can either try to come up with more advanced strategies to solve them, or they can look up strategies online. I personally prefer coming up with them myself, because coming up with a new solution myself helps me use it faster and recognize it easier while working the puzzle."

Do you have any Sudoku heroes?

Borucki: "My Sudoku hero is Will Shortz. His puzzle books were the first ones I used ... Sometimes I will find errors in books by other authors, where a puzzle is either impossible to solve or has more than one answer, but in his (Shortz) books, there is always one answer. He hosts the National Sudoku Championship, so I enjoy being able to compete in the contest and getting to see him."

By Kevin Walker, Special to The State

Nov 16, 2009

Competing by the numbers

By Marissa Lyman
November 09, 2009


DOWNTOWN — Tammy McLeod has always been a little competitive.

Just months after picking up ballroom dancing, McLeod, 32, was already training to compete. After a venture into scuba diving, McLeod took more and more classes until she became a certified rescue diver. And most recently? McLeod turned her interest in Sudoku — everyone's favorite time-passing numbers game — into a national championship title.

"I sometimes find it hard to do things just for the sake of doing," McLeod, who works for Google in Santa Monica, said. "If there's a competitive aspect involved, it makes it that much more exciting."

McLeod got serious about Sudoku less than three years ago while she was traveling on business. Though she had tried the game before, this time she really got hooked. Within a few months, McLeod had entered herself in the National Sudoku Championship.

"It's open to everybody, which is why I decided to just try it," McLeod said. "I said, 'Hey, why not.'"

A few qualifying rounds later, that "Hey, why not" turned into a second place win.

A year later in 2008, McLeod returned to the competition to place third, and this year, in Philadelphia, at the end of October, McLeod beat the two-time world Sudoku champion to snatch first.

"Surprise is really the biggest emotion I've been feeling," McLeod said of winning the title. "I was just happy to be in the finals."

Having completed her puzzle flawlessly in 7 minutes and 41 seconds, McLeod earned herself a $10,000 prize, an iPod, a trophy and a spot on the U.S. Sudoku team. She will compete in the World Sudoku Championship back in Philadelphia in April.

Despite having three major Sudoku competitions under her belt, McLeod still gets nervous.

"When I'm up there I have to focus to try to get all the nervousness out," McLeod, who has also participated in math and chess tournaments, said. "I just pay attention to nothing else but the paper in front of me, and that's how I get through it."

This focus is impressive, considering McLeod has two very important things on her mind: her husband of three years and her 14-month-old daughter who both traveled to Philadelphia to cheer her on.

"My husband is very supportive," McLeod said. "It's very difficult and a lot of work to travel with a young child."

Originally from Singapore, McLeod has done a fair amount of traveling herself.

The programmer for Google's Picasa Web Albums moved to the U.S. as a student to attend MIT. From there, she was drawn to the West Coast, where the winters weren't quite so harsh and the climate reminded her more of home.

"I go back every one or two years," McLeod said of Singapore. "In September, I brought the baby back to visit her grandparents. It's hard, but every time I move I have a good reason for it ... Moving is just something that needs to be done."

McLeod's has moved extensively around Southern California as well, having lived everywhere from San Diego to Orange County. Now working for Google, McLeod started her family just beyond the city's borders, living on Santa Monica Boulevard in West L.A.

"I'm comfortable there because there's so many people from all the world living in the area. I'm not out of place," McLeod said. "I guess cosmopolitan is good word for that. I can be part of this city even though I haven't been there all that long."

McLeod also feels it's good to have finally settled.

"I've lived in many, many places," McLeod said. "Staying in one place feels good."

Having been in the Santa Monica area for four years now, McLeod says she loves both the feeling of acceptance and the historic Santa Monica Pier. Though work and parenting don't give her much time on her own, McLeod enjoys focusing on the baby and family field trips on the weekends.

"We might bring her to one of the parks ... We might go to the zoo in L.A. [or] bring her to the Farmers' Market," McLeod said. "We bring her out and about to eat stuff, do things."

Keeping up with the busy life of a parent, McLeod is thankful that Sudoku is something she can pick up even while she's looking after her daughter. About a month or two before a competition, McLeod begins to practice Sudoku every day. Some of her other hobbies, however, will have to wait until the baby is a little older.

"To go on a trip to dive, I need 5 or 6 hours. For dancing, I need to practice and take lessons," McLeod said. "I can't right now, [but] I plan to go back in a few years."

Until then, McLeod will continue Sudoku. She says she never plans on starting another activity until she stumbles across something new that piques her interest. In this way, McLeod can feed her competitive appetite and watch herself improve.

"When I do puzzles, I like to time myself. I have a way of seeing my progress, of different ways to measure my own ability," McLeod said. "I think that I like being able to compare [myself] to other people or compare myself to myself to see my own improvement."

Nov 15, 2009

Brand New Puzzle, the OCTO, Challenges Sudoku

ARLINGTON, Va., Nov. 9, 2009 — Doug Gardner, a government computer security specialist from Arlington, Virginia, has invented a new mathematical logic puzzle intended to challenge Sudoku’s reign as America’s paper puzzle of choice. The new patent-pending puzzle, called the OCTO, expands on Sudoku by introducing several new elements, including an octagonal grid, diagonal lines of non-repeating numbers, and summed number clues. The OCTO puzzle’s unique structure and additional clues increase the variety of techniques available to the solver, making an OCTO puzzle a richer puzzle experience relative to Sudoku. OCTO puzzles can also be created with variable difficulty, depending on how many numbers are initially provided as clues.

OCTO puzzles are available regularly in a half-dozen major university newspapers, with a total weekly circulation of over 100,000. Three books of OCTO puzzles have been published and are available online. The first two books, “OCTO Unleashed” and “OCTO Reloaded,” include OCTO puzzles in the full range of difficulty, from Easy to Very Hard. The latest book, “OCTO Genesis,” includes only Easy and Medium OCTO puzzles.

Doug Gardner, the inventor of the OCTO puzzle, is a self-proclaimed life-long puzzle fanatic. He developed the OCTO puzzle in a deliberate attempt to combine and improve on two different puzzles he enjoys. “I was getting bored with Sudoku puzzles and I really enjoy the crossword puzzle-like number game called Kakuro. I thought it would be great if I could combine the two puzzles into a single puzzle that required techniques from both. It turns out, octagons were the key.”

OCTO Puzzle Home Page

Nov 13, 2009

World's great puzzlers convene in Antalya

The 18th edition of the World Puzzle Championship (WPC) kicked off yesterday (3 November 2009) no in Antalya with an opening ceremony held at the Delphin Diva Premiere Hotel. Gathering “bright minds and free souls from around the globe,” the championship will pit puzzle-solving teams and individuals against each other in language and culture-neutral games including balance puzzles, Battleship, nonograms and Sudoku.

The championship includes many fun activities and side events such as a WPC soccer game, visits to historical and natural sites and parties.

Turkey’s Mehmet Murat Sevim took second place in individual scores at last year’s championship, which was held in Minsk. This year he will aim to win the championship on home turf. The Turkish team is rounded out by captain Salih Alan, Murat Koz, Taner Karabulut and Aziz Ateş. Japan’s Sudoku master Tetsuya Nishio, German six-time individual WPC champion at the Ulrich Voigt, and the world’s only female and first-ever international Sudoku champion Czech Jana Tylova are among those expected to compete at the event.

Famous American puzzlemaster Will Shortz, who was the organizer of the first WPC and is a board member of the World Puzzle Federation, is expected to observe the festivities.

The championship -- supported by the Mediterranean Tourist Hoteliers Union (AKTOB), TUI Travel, the Antalya Metropolitan Municipality, dried fruit and nut company Tadım, T-Box and Keypad Sistem -- will host around 200 competitors from 27 countries, including puzzlers from Greece, Israel and Luxembourg, who will be competing at the WPC for the first time. The championship will run through Nov. 8.

04 November 2009, Wednesday

Officials unfreeze some Sudoku Championship prizes

Officials of the 2009 Philadelphia Inquirer National Sudoku Championship have decided to unfreeze the top awards in the beginning and intermediate categories of last weekend's competition.But awards in the advanced category, frozen since Monday, stay frozen, pending investigation of irregularities.
Jay Devine, tournament spokesperson, said that director Will Shortz and judging director Nick Baxter had "decided to release the checks to the winners in the beginner and intermediate categories based on the review" but that they are "still examining some of the information and facts" regarding the advanced results.
The mystery of third-place finisher Eugene Varshavsky deepens, as a trail of bogus information and dead ends gets longer. Calls proliferate from the Sudoku community for changes to the rules and regulations for next year.
Tammy McLeod, first-place winner, said the $10,000 prize "wasn't the most important issue - the title is the real prize."
Speaking by phone from her job with Google in Santa Monica, Calif., she said she was shocked at reports of cheating: "It may seem naïve, but in the Sudoku community, there's a belief that, in such an intellectual community, people are more likely to be honorable. . . . And why would someone cheat - wouldn't that undermine the intellectual achievement of it?"
She said organizers have informed her only that the top prizes were being held. She had been unaware of Varshavsky in the final round, she said, although she was sharing a stage with him and second-place finisher Thomas Snyder: "I didn't know about all the confusion until my husband told me [Varshavsky] had hardly touched the board" in the final round.
No charges have been filed, and the word cheating has not appeared in any official announcements. But interest stays focused squarely on Varshavsky, whose dress, demeanor and performance were subjects of discussion later among both players and organizers.
Varshavsky walked in on Saturday, in the middle of the competition, did well enough to place among the top three advanced solvers - and then unaccountably did almost nothing in the final, championship round. He gave his residence as Lawrenceville, N.J., but no one by that name is listed in the town, and efforts to discover his actual residence have turned up a trail of dead ends.
A LexisNexis search revealed that a Eugene Varshavsky in 2007 had given his residence as an address in Ewing, not far from Lawrenceville. But that address leads only to HB Machines, where proprietors said they knew of no such person.
Sign-up sheets at the tourney asked applicants for name, street address, phone and e-mail. A W-9 tax form was required in the case of larger cash winnings, including name, Social Security number, and citizenship. The last is relevant because top winners who are U.S. citizens join the U.S. team for the 2010 World Championships, to be held in Philadelphia in April.
A person by the name of Eugene Varshavsky was questioned by officials about possible irregularities at the 2006 World Open of chess, also held in Philadelphia. There is a history of electronic cheating in chess tournaments, but tournament director Will Shortz says that cheating is unknown in Sudoku tourneys.
McLeod said that Snyder's blog "The Art of Puzzles" was instrumental in alerting the Sudoku community to Saturday's incident. "A lot of the top solvers know one another around the world," she said. "That communuity is very close. Once he published it there, the top solvers were well aware of it."
Snyder writes in his blog that organizers should have considered banning "cell phones or electronic devices." Unlike at some other tournaments, competitors were allowed to use such devices at the Inquirer event.
Snyder also writes that "it's certainly worth reviewing everything because this championship's integrity, and this host's integrity for next year's [World Sudoku Championships] is really at stake to me. [The investigation] at least shows the organizers are taking things seriously." Snyder writes further that "not rewarding someone who gamed the system is a good start."