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Su d'oh ku!
November 15, 2009 6:36 PM   Subscribe

Open Letter to the Sudoku community and the organizers of the Sudoku National Championship about the potential cheating of Eugene Varshavsky during this Saturday's tournament. An unknown "man in a hoodie" shows up late and unregistered to the 2009 Sudoku National Championship in Philadelphia, and wins third place despite skipping the first two rounds. Second-place finisher and 2007 World Champion Tom Snyder accuses him of having a radio transmitter concealed underneath the hood, feeding him computer-generated solutions. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Varshavsky, wearing a stocking cap, defeated a grandmaster in the 2006 World Open chess tournament. Has competitive puzzling lost its innocence?
posted by escabeche (97 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Via The Number Warrior, I should have said.
posted by escabeche at 6:44 PM on November 15, 2009


Go players remain unconcerned.
posted by ryanrs at 6:47 PM on November 15, 2009 [44 favorites]


That's pretty badass if he has a device that can be hidden inside a hat that can optically decode a sudoku or a chess board. Unless he has a keyboard of some kind sewn into his clothing or something. Either way, I admire his ingenuity, and wonder why he chose to apply it to something as weird as the Sudoku National Championship. I get the chess thing; defeating a grandmaster is kind of cool. It seems like this fellow could make some money with his inventions/expertise. Makes me wonder what the chip on his shoulder is. Interesting story anyhow.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:50 PM on November 15, 2009


Jesus. Sometimes you gotta wonder about the amount of effort it takes to cheat vs. the amount of energy needed to succeed honestly.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 6:50 PM on November 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Jesus. Sometimes you gotta wonder about the amount of effort it takes to cheat vs. the amount of energy needed to succeed honestly.

I suppose that depends on whether your particular brand of genius lends itself more to solving sudoku or to constructing the perfect sudoku-solving machine.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:53 PM on November 15, 2009 [14 favorites]


Salvor, it's significantly less badass when you realize he had an accomplice.
posted by ryanrs at 6:53 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Savor - I assume it's less of a cool James Bond like computer and more of somebody feeding him info via an earpiece.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 6:55 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Patrick Hodges is infamous for cheating in the Scrabble tournament community. Not long after this accusation by Jim Geary, Hodges was banned from tournament and club play for several years. The association (then) responsible for tournament play changed the rules to forbid the wearing of hats during play (which is how this all relates to the OP's post).

I stopped playing online Scrabble because of the rampant and obvious cheating, and one of the reasons I stopped playing in live tournaments was because of recurrent suspicious behaviour like Hodges' and behaviour similar to Varshavksy's. It would not be difficult to rig up a system much like some Blackjack card-counters have used in the past, with a hidden computer controlled by foot-tapping relaying info to the user. One recent tourney winner, who two years ago was a middling, intermediate player, suspiciously uses headphones, wears hoods, keeps an IPhone in his back pocket, and so forth.

Also: based on the scores in the World Puzzle Championship and the scores in the qualifying test over the last few years, it is an open secret that some qualifying players have cracked the encryption on the test files to give them extra time to work on puzzles.

So, yeah, competitive puzzling has lost its innocence.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 6:56 PM on November 15, 2009 [11 favorites]


whether your particular brand of genius lends itself more to solving sudoku or to constructingrunning the perfect sudoku-solving machine
posted by ryanrs at 6:57 PM on November 15, 2009


Salvor - "Makes me wander what the chip on his shoulder is."

I would guess some kind of microprocessor would do the job.
posted by mhjb at 7:00 PM on November 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


There's a "Sudoku community"? Huh.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:01 PM on November 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


How about if a sudoku expert somehow won the world championship of cheating. That would be a pretty cool story.
posted by Slap Factory at 7:02 PM on November 15, 2009 [19 favorites]


This is exactly the type of thing that tarnished the competitive Mad Libs community.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:05 PM on November 15, 2009 [32 favorites]


You can cheat at Sudoku?
posted by biochemist at 7:09 PM on November 15, 2009


This is exactly the type of marmoset that ravaged the beer-swilling Basic Dungeons & Dragons community.
posted by The Bellman at 7:12 PM on November 15, 2009 [54 favorites]


I have never--and will never--understand the mindset that involves cheating on puzzles like this. I can sort of get, as mentioned above, cheating in chess or something.. but Sudoku? Scrabble? Buh?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:16 PM on November 15, 2009


I have never--and will never--understand the mindset that involves cheating on puzzles like this.

I imagine that people who cheat on puzzles like these enjoy two things:

1) Cash prizes, and
2) the fact that people will be totally thinking "you have something on under your hoodie" but no one will ever call you on it until after you have your cash prizes
posted by 23skidoo at 7:24 PM on November 15, 2009


dirtynumbangelboy : I have never--and will never--understand the mindset that involves cheating on puzzles like this.

I can almost appreciate it as someone who, for about a year, wrote bots to kick ass at various cheesy online flash games. I had no interest in making the leader boards (and certainly never made a dime off it), I just took it as a fun challenge to see if I could write code that could beat real live humans.

Extending that to IRL... Well, I suppose some people take the same sense of fun, and think to themselves, "Self, I could make money doing this!", and the thought stops before they realize that they risk exposing themselves to worldwide ridicule for a $150 Applebee's gift certificate. :)
posted by pla at 7:28 PM on November 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sudoku. Is that something I'd have to not have a life to understand?
posted by cccorlew at 7:32 PM on November 15, 2009


Is that something I'd have to not have a life to understand?

no, sudoku players simply realize that their days are numbered
posted by pyramid termite at 7:39 PM on November 15, 2009 [25 favorites]


Is there anything that's just done for fun these days? Christ almighty, get a life.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:48 PM on November 15, 2009


Sounds like merely a pseudo-coup.
posted by heyho at 7:49 PM on November 15, 2009 [25 favorites]


turgid dahlia: "Is there anything that's just done for fun these days? Christ almighty, get a life."

Like it wasn't you I saw at the 2008 international MeFi favorite whoring championships.
posted by idiopath at 7:58 PM on November 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


Two words: Eudaemonic Pie.
posted by axiom at 8:02 PM on November 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Where I come from if dude has some weird thing in his hat while he's winning, a couple of gross hairy gorillas take him into an alley and poke him till quarters pop out his navel. But that's cuz we play for lots of money. And the mob hasn't really gotten into the world of puzzlesmastery or videogames yet but JUST YOU WAIT
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:11 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


There was previously a world sudoku championship in Žilina, Slovakia? How random. I have family there and it's not really a notable place.
posted by piratebowling at 8:17 PM on November 15, 2009


Stupid sudoku. Cool kids do crosswords. Or kenken. Though I did thoroughly enjoy this guy's letter--who knew sudoku grandmasters even a) existed and b) got so het up about stuff like this?
posted by Go Banana at 8:26 PM on November 15, 2009


I've always wondered about all the hats at high stakes poker tournaments. Specifically, I've wondered why players are allowed to wear them. Occasionally you'll even see players with visible earpieces, ostensibly listening to music.

I mean: Really???
posted by Sys Rq at 8:41 PM on November 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Somehow I cannot read "Open letter"and "Sudoku community" without expecting a link to an Onion editorial piece.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:42 PM on November 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


Like it wasn't you I saw at the 2008 international MeFi favorite whoring championships.

Oh please, my whoring is merely an amateur's whimsy.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:59 PM on November 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


Sudoku just always seemed like a bad dream from third grade where I would come to school without my math homework. I suppose people just like the little endorphin rush they get from filling in the boxes, but it seems like busy work to me.

*shuffles away to do the crossword puzzle*
posted by Burhanistan at 9:00 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


You may scoff at Sudoku now, but see how you feel when judgment day comes and the man in charge of the pearly gates starts handing out 9x9 grids.
posted by brain_drain at 9:06 PM on November 15, 2009


Well, now I wonder how many baseball players are cheating.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:26 PM on November 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sudoku National Championship?

So you can compete for bragging rights about being the fastest or solving the highest number of puzzles?

It might get you laid, but I doubt it.
posted by bwg at 9:53 PM on November 15, 2009


If a man is not enough of a gentleman to remove his had indoors, how can you trust him to be enough of a gentleman to play fair?
posted by deanc at 10:03 PM on November 15, 2009 [10 favorites]


You may scoff at Sudoku now, but see how you feel when judgment day comes and the man in charge of the pearly gates starts handing out 9x9 grids.

It's a test, to see whether you ask for pen or pencil.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:04 PM on November 15, 2009


somehow won the world championship of cheating.

Oh my god I want to see that happen. I want to see a world championship of cheating. Devise a goal that cannot be attainted without cheating, and not just any garden-variety cheating, but serious heavy-duty stuff. And you wouldn't need to enter, even; if you just happened to be walking by as the best-cheater-ever finished their 50th cheat and was about to get the goal, and you punched them in the face and took it, YOU WIN.
posted by davejay at 10:04 PM on November 15, 2009 [34 favorites]


"competitive puzzling"

Christ.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:09 PM on November 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


This just doesn't add up.
posted by grounded at 10:19 PM on November 15, 2009


"competitive puzzling"

Christ.


Your hobbies are so much less nerdy, right?
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 10:24 PM on November 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


I was convinced all my friends cheated at Bejeweled until I finally broke 250,000 myself.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:34 PM on November 15, 2009


Grandmaster Smirin, who dropped out of the tournament after losing to Eugene Varshavsky, complained that he should have been informed that Varshavsky was under suspicion even before the game was played. Smirin said that had he known that he might be playing against a computer, he would have changed his playing style to one designed to foil computer opposition.
That is hard core!
posted by undecided at 10:52 PM on November 15, 2009 [10 favorites]


"I want to see a world championship of cheating."

Me too, but I wouldn't want to be on the jury.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:07 PM on November 15, 2009


I have never--and will never--understand the mindset that involves cheating on puzzles like this. I can sort of get, as mentioned above, cheating in chess or something.. but Sudoku? Scrabble? Buh?

I will some day finish putting together my post about, among other things, accusations of cheating in the competitive Minesweeper world.

There is nothing people will not cheat at. Metagaming is a universal concept.
posted by cortex at 11:13 PM on November 15, 2009


"I stopped playing online Scrabble because of the rampant and obvious cheating"

It's interesting, I don't play scrabble, but how do you know they are cheating? I can understand how a low ranked player who suddenly starts beating grandmasters is suspected, but, unless you have been playing with the opponent over a long period, and their skill level suddenly rises, how can you tell, maybe they are just very good?

I can imagine online scrabble is pretty inane though because it's so bloody easy to cheat at scrabble and you could therefore never trust that your opponent is fully human.
posted by carfilhiot at 11:25 PM on November 15, 2009


Your hobbies are so much less nerdy, right?

Oh, my hobbies are totally nerdy. There's just more to them than "I can finish this puzzle before you!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:33 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Me too, but I wouldn't want to be on the jury.

I would. BRIBES AHOY!
posted by arcolz at 12:07 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


This kind of grudge can only be solved by a CAGE MATCH in a faraday cage. Although, I seem to remember a story about someone communicating with a card counting computer in their shoes by tapping morse input with their toes.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:29 AM on November 16, 2009


Go players remain unconcerned.

Yes, there's no debate in the go community as to whether joseki dictionaries, paper or electronic, should be allowed in tournament play.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:34 AM on November 16, 2009


Incidentally, Thomas Snyder (several time world Sudoku champion, but frequent US Sudoku Championship runner-up), the open-letter-writer, has written some funner-than-average Sudokus and other puzzles (a bunch of KenKen for instance), which are linked to here.

That's pretty badass if he has a device that can be hidden inside a hat that can optically decode a sudoku or a chess board.

Actually I've been thinking about that problem a fair amount lately, as I've been thinking about how one would write a sudoku-solver cameraphone app. I don't have any inclination to cheat in a sudoku tournament, but I often play in The Game, where solving aids (onelook, anagrammers, crypt solvers, shazam, etc) are considered fair game.

I don't think it would take an unreasonable amount of CPU time to parse a recognizable 9x9 grid and extract the dozen or so numbers from it. An iPhone has a 600mhz CPU; if it took it a minute to do the visual processing and solve the puzzle that's plenty fast enough to give an enormous advantage in a tournament. Thomas took over four minutes to solve (with an error) the final puzzle (and the winner took even longer)

Back to the topic at hand: Thomas has more recently linked to a video and, though he doesn't do any commentary on the video, he does say a bit about what's going on in the actual post. Though it's clear that whatever the guy is doing during the final it's not what he did during the rest of the tournament; he barely makes any progress at all. It sure looks like whatever system he was using broke down or wouldn't work in the final setting (which was a different format than preceding rounds, what with the giant whiteboards and the cameras and so on).
posted by aubilenon at 1:19 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Somebody, somewhere, is a professional sudoku player and a type nerd.
posted by june made him a gemini at 1:41 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


aubilenon: "I don't have any inclination to cheat in a sudoku tournament, but I often play in The Game, where solving aids (onelook, anagrammers, crypt solvers, shazam, etc) are considered fair game."

Godsdamnit, I just lost the game.
I wish there was a competitive The Game-playing league. It would be pretty much impossible to cheat there...
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:29 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jesus. Sometimes you gotta wonder about the amount of effort it takes to cheat vs. the amount of energy needed to succeed honestly.

I had a schoolmate who was just like that. The amount of effort which he went to to cheat in exams was incredible, and some of the intelligence work he used to get his hands of draft copies of the exam questions would put Mossad to shame. This didn't go unnoticed by the math teacher, who did tell him that he'd indeed do better to invest all that effort into studying rather than cheating.

Thing is, these days he's rather more successful than the class nerd (me). Which puts the lie to the allegation that school doesn't prepare people for life (it does, just not in the way it's supposed to).
posted by Skeptic at 2:56 AM on November 16, 2009


I want to see a world championship of cheating. Devise a goal that cannot be attainted without cheating, and not just any garden-variety cheating, but serious heavy-duty stuff.

Winner gets a starship!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:17 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, there's no debate in the go community as to whether joseki dictionaries, paper or electronic, should be allowed in tournament play.

It was a computer science joke. I actually know very little about the game Go. But if you want my opinion on electronic aids in tournament play: banhammer.

The Go community doesn't really have much choice in this matter. In a few decades cheap computers will be able to completely dominate even the strongest human players. You might as well just ban them now.
posted by ryanrs at 6:06 AM on November 16, 2009


Surprised nobody's mentioned this yet, but there is at least one iPhone sudoku reader, which takes a photo of a sudoku game board, reads it, and automatically solves it (or lets you play it on the phone). It's called iPhone Sudoku Grab. The programmer did an interesting blog post on how he wrote the image recognition algorithms: How does it all work?
posted by lostburner at 6:50 AM on November 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


Oh, hey, he worked on the MIT Mystery Hunt last year. "His Investigative Journalist" was very enjoyable.
posted by marginaliana at 6:59 AM on November 16, 2009


Godsdamnit, I just lost the game.
I wish there was a competitive The Game-playing league. It would be pretty much impossible to cheat there...
posted by PontifexPrimus


Actually cheating would be fairly simple, just don't tell people you've lost. Claiming your prize would be the difficult part.
posted by haveanicesummer at 7:20 AM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yeah, designing an optical sudoku solver is non-trivial, but it's much more likely that the guy had a two-way radio and quickly read off the grid to an accomplice.
posted by muddgirl at 7:23 AM on November 16, 2009


I've always wondered about all the hats at high stakes poker tournaments. Specifically, I've wondered why players are allowed to wear them. Occasionally you'll even see players with visible earpieces, ostensibly listening to music.

From my (limited) understanding of high stakes poker, gleaned from watching bits and pieces on TV, is that so much of it is based on human interaction and beyond whatever the cards hold. Card counting would be helpful, but there is too much invested for someone to not get noticed. Now if you could see what the other players held, that might be a bonus, but you still have the luck of the draw for or against you (and you have to keep from looking guilty).
posted by filthy light thief at 7:24 AM on November 16, 2009


Sudoku: crosswords for illiterates.
posted by monospace at 7:26 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


designing an optical sudoku solver is non-trivial

I wrote the opposite of my intention - an optical sudoku solver is actually pretty trivial.
posted by muddgirl at 7:34 AM on November 16, 2009


Yeah, designing an optical sudoku solver is non-trivial, but it's much more likely that the guy had a two-way radio and quickly read off the grid to an accomplice.

Non-trivial, but not particularly onerous. One of the biggest challenges is raw image quality for the input, since OCRing with a limited character set is a pretty solvable problem even for an amateur enthusiast at this point. The writeup that lostburner just linked is great and shows that while there's some science involved, none of it is of the rocket variety.

The optics on the iPhone are kind of butt; there are much, much better lens/sensor combos out there these days, so someone who wanted to make this work wouldn't have to put up with that kind of difficulty.

Which is not to say that he certainly was using an optical solution, just that I don't think there's any reason to think it's unlikely. And one nice thing about a camera instead of a radio is that he's not sitting there moving his lips or subvocalizing or whatever.
posted by cortex at 7:37 AM on November 16, 2009


And dammit.
posted by cortex at 7:37 AM on November 16, 2009


Sudoku: crosswords for illiterates.

Heh.
posted by cortex at 7:38 AM on November 16, 2009


In high stakes poker you have the normal guys who watch over the casino to make sure no ones cheating watching over you. Card counting doesn't help, because the cards are shuffled each time. Sure, someone could feed you the odds that your pair of cards have but theres thousands of poker players that have those odds memorized too. I guess someone could try to hack into the closed circuit cameras at the big tables, but I seriously doubt the casino wouldn't notice such a thing.

Plus poker players are a seriously whiny bunch, and several of them are experienced at exposing cheaters. They will have no trouble telling the casino to keep an extra sharp eye on you.
posted by cyphill at 7:45 AM on November 16, 2009


> designing an optical sudoku solver is non-trivial

Here's a Lego one: http://tiltedtwister.com/sudokusolver.html

Also of note, the most succinct solver so far:

def r(a):i=a.find('0');~i or exit(a);[m
in[(i-j)%9*(i/9^j/9)*(i/27^j/27|i%9/3^j%9/3)or a[j]for
j in range(81)]or r(a[:i]+m+a[i+1:])for m in'%d'%5**18]
from sys import*;r(argv[1])


http://scottkirkwood.blogspot.com/2006/07/shortest-sudoku-solver-in-python.html
posted by Hubajube at 8:21 AM on November 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


Yeah, it's trivial.

The video posted in this post is very damning. In the third round of the competition, Eugene was apparently the first person to finish who wasn't already guaranteed a spot in the finals, but in the final round by the time Snyder finishes his (losing) solution, Varshavsky had hardly started.

Apparently, Varshavsky will be retested.
posted by muddgirl at 8:31 AM on November 16, 2009


That post and the end of that video ("he made a mistake") are pure schadenfreude. Like a winning golfer turning in a bad scorecard.

"Penmanship, on the large board, cost me 6,000 dollars and a spot on the US team." Excellent.

"Any chess or sudoku players out there know a Eugene Varshavsky, who may or may not be from Lawrenceville, N.J.?"
posted by mrgrimm at 9:09 AM on November 16, 2009


Apparently, Varshavsky will be retested.

$10 says he doesn't show up. He won't want to give folks the chance to get a good look at or clear picture of him.
posted by mediareport at 10:00 AM on November 16, 2009


I don't understand why they don't have a "no hoodies, no hats except yarmulkes/turbans/other religiously required hats, and no sunglasses without a doctor's note indicating medical necessity" rule for these tournaments.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:29 AM on November 16, 2009


I played Sudoku for about a week, until I realized that I was using the same algorithm to methodically solve every puzzle. Being a coder by trade, the thought occurred to me that I could write some code to run that same algorithm and save myself a lot of time. That's when I stopped playing.

I guess this guy went a different direction with it.
posted by LordSludge at 10:38 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do people really think Sudoku counts as math? You could just as well swap the numbers for letters or chess pieces or something—anything. (Todd Rundgren album covers, for example.) Sudoku requires no mathematical skill whatsoever.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:06 PM on November 16, 2009


What does "counts as math" mean? Sudoku is essentially a constraints-satisfaction problem, which is absolutely in the domain of mathematics.

That it uses numerals for the display set is a superficial detail that's more about human interface than anything, yes, but so what?
posted by cortex at 3:12 PM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Sudoku is a puzzle. Like almost all puzzles, it requires analytical thinking. Some puzzles also require math skills. Sudoku doesn't. I don't see this being a very controversial statement.
posted by muddgirl at 3:13 PM on November 16, 2009


Also, what cortex said. "Math" in layman's terms generally means "arithmetic", but it's much broader than that.
posted by muddgirl at 3:13 PM on November 16, 2009


Sys Rq: "ou could just as well swap the numbers for letters or chess pieces or something—anything."

Math != numbers
posted by idiopath at 3:14 PM on November 16, 2009


Also, sudoku involves arranging ordered sequences that need to obey certain properties using a finite set of elements. This is at least mathematical as, if not more mathematical than, adding up some numbers.
posted by idiopath at 3:18 PM on November 16, 2009



I don't understand why they don't have a "no hoodies, no hats except yarmulkes/turbans/other religiously required hats, and no sunglasses without a doctor's note indicating medical necessity" rule for these tournaments.


Aside from the difficulty in being able to prove that your religion doesn't require a hat or some kind of head covering, most tournaments probably don't require this sort of thing because they want to be as open as possible--the theory is that it's a pure meritocracy where any savant could wander in off the street and (probably after forking over a modest entry fee) show their stuff. One second you're just another schlub in a hoodie, the next people are wondering who the new kid in town is. If you're dressed a little oddly or keep your head at a funny angle, well, that adds to the eccentric Rain Man charm. And, in both cases, Varshavsky seems to have almost (but not quite) figured out the sweet spot where he could enter, play long enough to win at least a few thousand bucks, and then leave before he could be scrutinized enough to draw suspicion.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:27 PM on November 16, 2009


Sudoku is not math. Billiards is not math. Checkers is not math.

Just because something can be explained mathematically does not make it math.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:28 PM on November 16, 2009


Sys Rq: "Just because something can be explained mathematically does not make it math."

Are you recommending competitive time trial theorem proving here? What kind of hobby would you say legitimately involves math, whose thunder is being stolen by the sudoku poseurs? Reasoning about sets and constraints and ordering of sequences is a kind of mathematical reasoning.
posted by idiopath at 3:35 PM on November 16, 2009


Sudoku is not math. Billiards is not math. Checkers is not math.

All involve applied mathematics to one degree or another.

Sudoku is probably the most explicitly logical of the three, in that there's not much you can do with a sudoku board by gut instinct unless it's a deeply trivial board. It's so explicitly a constraints-satisfaction problem that there's nothing to do with a decent sudoku board if you aren't aware of the logical problem at the core of the puzzle's mechanic.

Checkers and billiards can both be played from the gut a bit more, or at least played in a lay fashion where the logical or geometric implications aren't formally understood to be such by the player, though I think you'd be hard pressed to find many highly skilled players of either who isn't familiar with those concepts and how they apply.

Billiards is actually the odd man out here insofar as success at it depends disproportionately on a physical component—there is no applying english to a sudoku grid or stroke control in checkers, and people who have the brains for all three games could be prevented from success at billiards by physical obstacles that don't come into sudoku or checkers.

So of things to declare "not math", billiards is probably your best choice, but what usefulness you get out of that I have no idea, and denying that there's a lot of geometric analysis and basic mechanics that goes into successful play—whether described or conceived of in those terms by a naive player or not—is pretty silly, even then. And that's billiards, not sudoku.

So, seconding idiopath, what is it exactly that you think (a) "is math" and (b) is relevant to the discussion such that declarations about what sudoku isn't make sense?
posted by cortex at 3:53 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


You know, this is only going to become more difficult to control.

We're already getting to the point where a camera in a pair of glasses is small enough that you really can't see it, and hearing aids are not easy to discern from a microphone. We're very quickly developing artificial limbs and body parts, and pretty soon, we're going to be able to install devices on our bodies.

I wonder if Sudoko or other game championships in the future will require walking through a metal detector or some sort of x-ray device, maybe those things the TSA uses now.

This ain't no summer camp.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:40 PM on November 16, 2009


All I'm saying is that Sudoku can be played successfully by people without any knowledge of math.

That the process of solving the puzzle can be described in mathematic terms does not change that.

Sorry, but I'm just not seeing how that's an idea worth getting so worked up about.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:43 PM on November 16, 2009


All I'm saying is that Sudoku can be played successfully by people without any knowledge of math.

And all I'm saying is the validity of that assertion depends an awful lot on what you mean by (a) "knowledge of" and (b) "math". I'm honestly curious about where you draw those lines and why your assertion is interesting in the context of this discussion, and if you'd elaborate instead of saying folks are "getting so worked up" I might actually learn something about your actual point of view on the subject.
posted by cortex at 5:09 PM on November 16, 2009


You can write the equation for the moment at the joint of a cantilevered beam without any knowledge of "math". Does that mean structural mechanics has "nothing to do with math"?
posted by muddgirl at 5:14 PM on November 16, 2009


Someone's in some deep sudoku.
posted by armage at 6:06 PM on November 16, 2009


I simply suggested that merely arranging numbers on a grid does not necessarily involve mathematical skill. I never said it has "nothing to do with math," though, only that one needn't be aware of the concept of "constraints-satisfaction" to fill in some numbers on a grid. Sudoku requires no prior knowledge or skilled use of mathematics. Period.

Are we done with the derail yet, or would you like me to repeat that a few more times?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:12 PM on November 16, 2009


Are we done with the derail yet, or would you like me to repeat that a few more times?

If you repeat it a finite number of times, is that math?
posted by davejay at 9:10 PM on November 16, 2009


However, his performance rating
for the six games he played with the hat on was 2707, whereas the
performance rating for the two games he played without the hat was
2233.


No one is considering the power of a good hat. A man in the hoodie, with its plush hood and hand-warmers, is ready for a hurricane. A man in a stetsun can wrangle bulls and cowgirls. A snowboarding helmet is a license to flip.

I can't believe they took the man's hat. Why didn't they shave his head while they were at it?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:19 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


What about geometry, compass and straight edge constructions? No numbers whatsoever. That's really more of an art class, not math, right?
posted by ryanrs at 12:03 AM on November 17, 2009


most tournaments probably don't require [a no-hoodies rule] because they want to be as open as possible

Yeah, that's where they're being stupidly naive. When you start offering cash prizes, you start having at least *some* responsibility to eliminate obvious cheating. That the sudoku folks - including Will Shortz, for crying out loud, after the hoodie chess incident - didn't realize this and act on it is worth a little WTF.
posted by mediareport at 6:15 AM on November 17, 2009


If you repeat it a finite number of times, is that math?

If he repeats it indefinitely, it approaches math.
posted by decagon at 9:25 AM on November 17, 2009


Sys Rq : Sudoku requires no prior knowledge or skilled use of mathematics.

Actually, you both have it right.

What most people think of as "math", Sudoku doesn't require. The fact that it uses a collection of contiguous numbers has no relevance whatsoever to finding a solution (though I personally find it fascinating that simply by using numbers rather than letters or even pictograms, mathphobes instantly tune it out as something they "can't" do)

However, you most certainly can (and do, whether formally or not) apply group theory and combinatorics to obtaining a solution.

That said, you also need to "solve" several differential equations merely to catch a thrown baseball, a feat I doubt one MLB'er in a thousand could accomplish.
posted by pla at 10:31 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Poker also requires no math to play, as long as your goal is to lose most of the time.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:46 PM on November 17, 2009


And if the man in the hoodie plays soduku puzzle with a noodle with a poodle in a bottle, it's called a hoodie noodle sudoku poodle puzzle bottle battle.
posted by davejay at 7:41 PM on November 17, 2009


Varshavsky has been disqualified.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:12 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


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