Thu, Mar 16, 2006 - Page 14 News List

We're all going Sudoku crazy

The first Sudoku world championships in Italy last weekend proved what a hot number the puzzle is

AFP , LUCCA, ITALY

A group of contestants from 22 countries complete 48 puzzles in the fastest time during the first day of the first Sudoku World Championships, in Lucca, Italy.

PHOTO: AFP

The Sudoku craze added another chapter in its phenomenal development last weekend when the gripping number puzzle made its debut as a spectator sport at its inaugural world championships in Italy.

Jana Tylova, a 31-year-old accountant from the Czech Republic, was crowned the queen of Sudoku on Saturday after beating off the challenge of two Americans in a frenetic final round of the two-day event which drew 85 contestants from 22 countries.

But it was the manner of her victory, as she hastily scrawled numbers on a flip chart in front of a room full of tense supporters and spectators, which struck Wayne Gould, the jovial New Zealander known as Suduko's "guru" since transforming the ancient puzzle into a worldwide craze.

Watching people think doesn't suggest a spectator sport with lasting appeal, but Gould sees the potential of the flip charts, which he had never seen used before in Sudoku.

One of the Americans, Thomas Snyder, found the unaccustomed attention a little offputting.

"It's something new that I have not done. It was a little distracting standing up in public and having all those photographers trying to get you from every angle, from the front, from behind. etc."

Gould's advice is that he should get used to it, as the Sudoku craze is here to stay: "I can see the day when video cameras could be fixed to the top of the flip charts.

"It doesn't really suggest itself as a spectator sport, but look at darts," he said, referring to top viewer ratings in Britain for televised darts tournaments.

"It could be like watching grand masters playing chess, only with more action," he said.

Tylova's victory was something of a surprise as she finished only ninth after the first round -- the only woman in the top 18.

Women made up around 30 percent of the competitors and that ratio held true to the end, when the quiet Eastern European joined the two confident, chatty Americans -- Snyder, a 26-year old chemistry graduate student at Harvard University, and Huang Wei-ha, 30, a software engineer at Google.

"These guys are quite exceptional. They're practically off the planet," Gould said. "I can't begin to understand how they do the puzzles. It's all a bit too stressful and serious for me!"

The three finalists, and many of those they left in their wake, are what World Puzzle Championship inventor Will Shortz calls "top solvers." All are veterans of his annual championship in the US.

The fiendishly difficult puzzles ranged from classic Sudoku -- the familiar newspaper style grid of three-by-three boxes -- to more celebral variations such as mechanical Sudoku and extra-regions Sudoku, all worked out against the clock.

Shy or not, Tylova's life is about to change as the new "sport" in which she excels continues to grow.

According to Gould, a 60-year-old retired judge, the impact of her win will be "huge."

Gould said earlier, before the final, that the victory would impact on the winner "more than he realizes. When he dies they'll put in his obituary that he was the first ever world champion.

"He'll just have to open is mouth and say something stupid and people will think it was clever."

Journalists managed to draw a predictable declaration of gender equality from the new champion.

"There is no difference between men and women and I tried to prove that even in logic, men and women are on the same level," she said to loud cheers.

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