Here’s the story from the Philly Inquirer about Saturday’s chamionships. I also recommend checking out the accompanying video, which is nicely done.

Complete results are here.

Today’s example, known broadly as a distance puzzle, is a type that shows up often at competitions. It again showed up in one of today’s individual rounds.

The instructions: Fill in the circles with different integers, starting with 1, such that each pair of consecutive integers is farther apart than the previous pair. (Hint: You’ll have to do a little time-traveling back to high school geometry and dust off that Pythagorean Theorem!)

Here is an example of a solved puzzle:

Well, I made it. And with minimal bureaucratic nightmares or anal-probing. I attended the welcome dinner last night, where the American team (as well as the other guests of the team and Nick Baxter, the team captain) seemed more than willing — enthusiastic, even — to “talk puzzles” with me. That’s the good news.

Here’s the bad news:

  • My flight out of JFK was delayed by 90 minutes, which was exactly the amount of time of my connection, so I spent most of the first 12 hours of the trip freaking out that I would have to spend the following night roaming the streets of Kiev, Ukraine, waiting for the next flight to Minsk. Fortunately, Aerosvit’s (“Ukrainian Airlines”) pilot made up about an hour in the air (which made me wonder, as Seinfeld once quipped, Why don’t they always make up an hour in the air??…), so I made it to Ukraine with plenty of time to catch the connecting flight. My luggage, however, was not as fortunate, and I was forced to spend my first night here without dental- or armpit-hygiene products.
  • I couldn’t sleep on the flights, and so I arrived not only jeg-lagged but sleep-deprived. I set my wake-up call for 9:00 a.m. (no alarm clock in the room) and, figuring 10-11 hours of sleep would be enough to catch up, went to bed around 10:00 for the first time since maybe junior high. Next thing I know, it’s 10:30 and I’ve missed breakfast. Apparently wake-up calls from high-end Belarussian hotels neither call nor wake up.
  • Fast-forward one hour. I arrive in the lobby for the WPC-organized 12 o’clock field trip to a local farm (“lunch and dinner in tradition Belarus folk style!”) to discover that they apparently decided, extempore, to move the trip up an hour; no one called me to let me know. According to Lonely Planet, “If you only make one day trip from Minsk, let this be the one.” Great. Even worse, I was planning to use the outing — the only extended period of relaxation in the WPC schedule — as my best opportunity for informal interviews and eavesdropping.
  • I called the airline to recover my luggage. No dice. Call again tomorrow, she says, mostly in Russian.
  • And so, here I am, in the lobby of the Hotel “Belarus” (as they endearingly punctuate it), blogging to you from a laptop that has 9 minutes left of battery time, and with my volt-converter in a suitcase that may or may not be on a runway in Kiev somewhere.

Thus, no time for further updates. No time for new Puzzles of the Day or answers to old ones. No time for anything other than:

More to come tomorrow. Perhaps.

Just returned from Philadelphia, where I spent the day at the 2nd annual National Sudoku Championship. As far as I know, it was just a coincidence that it took place the weekend before the WPC, but it was serendipitous nonetheless, for both the U.S. team and myself: them, because they could consolidate two of their biggest puzzle competitions of the year into one trip (and two of the members, Thomas Snyder and Wei-Hwa Huang, could use Philly as a “stopover” on the way to Europe from California); me, because it gave me the opportunity to catch my first glimpse of the competitive puzzling community before flying out tomorrow. So what did I see?

An impressive display, by both the organizing committee and the players. Apparently over 1,000 people competed, which would mean a new Guinness World Record (breaking last year’s) for simultaneous sudoku participation. Yet the atmosphere was more library than sporting event: it could hardly have run smoother. Will Shortz hosted, fulfilling his emceeing duties with earnestness and a dash of flair (“Ready, Set, Solve!”), and the red and green t-shirted officials were on the ball throughout the day. Until the finals, it was a bit like watching a thousand people take the SAT, so I spent most of the early rounds wandering around the convention center, chatting up puzzle-book company representatives and family-business entrepreneurs trying to cash in on the sudoku craze (Joe Sudoku, perhaps?) with their own variations.

The playoffs, however, were worth the wait. The three finalists in each division (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced) competed on giant white boards in front of the audience. Lucky for me, two of the finalists in the Advanced division were also members of the U.S. puzzle team: the aforementioned Snyder and Huang, both from the Bay Area. Huang is a four-time individual World Puzzle Champion; Snyder was the defending world and national sudoku titlist, and the first ever perfect-scorer in this year’s national qualifying test for the puzzle team. Heavy hitters both.

In the playoff, Snyder appeared to take an early lead (although, to be fair, what do I know about sudoku?…), filling in spaces while Huang made notes in and outside the matrix. Then, after three or four minutes, Snyder looked stumped. He got down on one knee, as if proposing marriage, and stared at the board without making a mark for what must have been two or three minutes. Meanwhile, Huang continued his slow but steady pace. Around the 7-minute mark, Snyder got up and began what looked like a furious comeback, but Huang picked up his pace as well — those last few squares go fast, even for novices — and ultimately it was too much ground to make up for Snyder. Huang finished at around 8:20, a minute or so ahead of Snyder, and took home a cool $10 grand for his toils. (I’ll ask him next week what he plans to do with the money.)

Oh, and I saw this too:

First time I’ve ever seen the blueprint of a men’s room laid out for me at the entrance. Probably unnecessary, but at least it was correct. I know because when I tested its accuracy by walking straight ahead, I bumped into the wall jutting out away from those sinks. Bloody nose and everything.

In honor of today’s National Sudoku Championship, today’s puzzle will be a sudoku. There’s a twist, though. This one’s called an “Arrow Sudoku,” and in this variation, each circled number is the sum of the numbers along the corresponding arrow path. (Otherwise, use the standard rules of sudoku.)

As always, answer to appear tomorrow in the comments thread.

Last night I attended a panel discussion at the Japan Society, in Midtown, called “Puzzling the World,” about the popularity of Sudoku and crosswords. First Japanese puzzle designer Maki Kaji, who is known as the “Godfather of Sudoku,” spoke through an interpreter about how he discovered Sudoku in the mid-’80s and, 20 years later, turned it into the phenomenon it is today. Then Will Shortz, crossword editor of the Times and all-around puzzle lord (if you don’t know who he is, odds are you’re not reading this anyway), discussed his all-time favorite crosswords and how he makes his daily Times selections. Finally Liane Hansen, the host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday (where Shortz does his popular “Sunday Puzzle” segment), moderated a discussion with both of them.

Some fun facts and other highlights from the evening:

  • Shortz’s “Sunday Puzzle” podcast gets downloaded over 100,000 times per month.
  • When Kaji came upon Sudoku, in a games magazine in 1984, it was an obscure puzzle called Number Place. He was the one to name it Sudoku, “su” being Japanese for “number,” “duku” meaning “single” (like a bachelor). He chose that as the name because “the single-digit number should be kept alone and unmarried, like a bachelor.”
  • The name Sudoku is only trademarked in Japan (by Kaji); everywhere else it is in the public domain. Thus, with the exception of Kaji’s company’s puzzles, Japan is actually the only country in the world where Sudoku is not called Sudoku.
  • Sudoku, while always popular in Japan, didn’t truly take off until 2004, when Kaji got it a spot in the Times of London, and the Brits fell in love with it. A year later it appeared for the first time in an American paper (The N.Y. Post). The rest is history.
  • The crossword puzzle first appeared in 1913, making its debut in the New York World, and became a national craze in the ’20s. Strangely, the Times — now, of course, the standard-bearer for the country’s best crosswords — was the last major American newspaper to print them, holding out until 1942. (The Times still refuses to include Sudoku.)
  • Here is Kaji, on the merits of Sudoku: “Please remember that Sudoku is not a mind-training or brain-training game. It’s not mathematics; it’s not educational. It is a worthless game. It is a time-killer…. In case that you are so involved in Sudoku that you are lacking reading time, or your wife is not making your lunch or dinner, or your husband is staying at home playing Sudoku and irritating you, then retire from Sudoku as quickly as possible and move on. Please get tired of Sudoku — and [instead] get involved in my other new puzzles.”
  • Shortz disagreed with that sentiment, calling puzzles of all types “excellent mental aerobics.”
  • Shortz receives 75-100 crossword submissions a week from puzzle-makers. How does he choose? He starts with his six basic rules of what makes for a good crossword:
  1. It must be symmetrical (i.e., if you spin it 180 degrees, it will look the same as it did before).
  2. Every square must be used twice.
  3. No 2-letter words.
  4. No repeated answers within the same puzzle.
  5. It has to be a real word. (For this one, Shortz laughed and said, “I had to include this one — believe it or not, we get a lot of submissions with completely made-up words.”)
  6. It should avoid “crosswordese” (e.g., “Esne,” a totally obscure 8th-century Anglo-Saxon bishop of Hereford, which often appears in crosswords because it uses common letters and begins and ends with “e”).
  • There’s an old maxim amongst puzzle-designers: “Every type of puzzle has a flaw.”  For instance, crosswords’ flaw, Shortz said, is the abundance of short, often obscure words. Double-crostics’ flaw is tedium: transporting the letters from the first set of blanks to the second.

As a storyteller and teacher, I’m partial to the puzzle below. It seems like the type of problem you could give to students of almost any age, and for classes ranging from creative-writing to math.

Again, answer to appear tomorrow in the comments thread.

“Cartoon Sequence” The six panels in this cartoon (A-F) have been mixed up. Put them back in their logical order.

Answer key: List the six letters in order.