Jan Mrozowski’s hand darted with catlike deftness across the giant grid stuck to the wall in front of him. First one corner, at full stretch, then the other, his solving of the final puzzle in the World Sudoku Championships was reminiscent of the routines Pan’s People performed on Top of the Pops.
With a final flick of the pen and a short step backwards to check his handiwork, the Pole turned and gave a triumphant cry that signalled that the search for the world’s best Sudoku solver was over for another year.
The room, filled with chatter and a fug of body odour, echoed briefly with applause as contestants from 27 countries acknowledged, in some cases grudgingly, the new champion.
The contest in the dusty, provincial Slovakian town of Zilina had rumbled with controversy as it reached the final stages. The countdown to the final puzzle was read out as “6-4-5-3-2-1”, some puzzles had several solutions, rules were often unclear until the last moment and many grids were too hard to be solved by logic alone.
Thomas Snyder, who won in 2008 and 2007 but narrowly failed to make the final this year, dismissed the event as a farce. “The ridiculousness of it has gone up another notch,” the American said as he watched the final. “It is like you’ve had a championship for basketball and then for the final you have a different sized ball, higher hoops and trampolines on your shoes. It’s a crap shoot. Why don’t we just line them up, give them a pack of cards, and let them play poker until they get a winner?”
Vincent Bertrand, of Belgium, was delighted none the less when he completed the classic Sudoku puzzle in 3 minutes and 6 seconds, smashing the 5 minute 25 second record previously set by Mr Snyder.
Tom Collyer, one of two people from the British team to reach the semi-final, observed that the grids in the final were so large that contestants had to retreat a step from them to see the whole puzzle. One of the puzzles even fell off the wall, revealing a surprise second puzzle beneath. The second puzzle in the final proved even more controversial. “It’s not a Sudoku,” said Mr Collyer, a mathematics graduate. “It’s a Latin square with certain restrictions.”
Sudoku’s, strictly speaking, should be marked with regions within the larger grid that contain each number only once. A Latin square does not, but it must have each number only once in its longest diagonal lines.
Latin squares were one of 38 different varieties of puzzles thrown at the contestants, some bearing little obvious resemblance to the classic form. The names of the Sudoku’s included irregular, external, magic, crossword, roman numeral, digital, snowflake, snake, predator, domino and neighbours. Some, such as mayan Sudoku, had no recognisable numbers at all.
Mr Mrozowski’s victory remained unclear for an hour while judges, who contribute their time voluntarily, considered a protest from Turkey that the rules had not been explained properly, but finally he emerged triumphant. “I don’t yet know how I feel,” the 22-year-old engineering student told The Times. “It’s too soon. The last puzzle was very hard to work through logically, so I made a guess at one point. It was wrong, but I was able to go back and change it, and the answer became clear.”
Branko Ceranic, of Serbia, finished in second place, followed by Robert Babilan of the Czech Republic. Eastern Europe, where puzzles are a way of life, also dominated the team competition. Slovakia, buoyed by the advantage of playing on their home turf, came first, followed by the Czech Republic.
The British team, which included Nina Pell, the Times National Sudoku champion, finished in 12th place. David McNeill, of Belfast, was the most successful competitor from the UK, finishing 18th out of 128 contestants.
Tags: Sudoku | WSC