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A Polish puzzle solver named Jan Mrozowski became the world Sudoku champion Saturday evening for the second time, and a team from Germany took home the national trophy after two days of tense play in Center City among about 120 of the world's best Sudoku solvers from 32 countries.
Mrozowski, 23, threw his head back in victory after finishing the last puzzle in the final play of the World Sudoku Championship - a round of 10 puzzles that took him 54 minutes, 4 seconds to complete. Shortly after that, the civil engineering student from Krakow, who won the world championship last year in Slovakia, was lifting a silver bowl over his head and being hoisted into the air three times by his six teammates.
In the last puzzle, he determined fairly quickly that a 1 belonged in what was supposed to be the most difficult cell in the Sudoku grid. But Mrozowski, who benefited from an eight-minute lead going into the final because of his top score, had incorrect numbers in some other cells, and fumbled momentarily as the other three players began to catch up. Then, after a flurry of erasures and rewrites, he won the title.
"This time, it was really hard," he said in slightly halting English. "I made some stupid mistakes."
The puzzles were "really hard," he said, "especially in these conditions." The finals were held under the glare of lights and cameras, with more than 100 people watching.
The German team was followed, in order, by teams from the Czech Republic, Japan, Canada, and Britain. Sixth was Mrozowski's Polish team.
The U.S. players came in seventh.
Many of the puzzles were challenging variations on the typical Sudoku.
In one round of team challenges Saturday, three representatives from the different countries were given a classic grid with a block of numbers filled in, and jigsaw cutouts of parts of the grid, also with numbers. The teams had to place the jigsaws, which could overlap, correctly onto the grid to complete the puzzle.
The puzzles that teams and their members solved in the 10 rounds consisted of some classic Sudokus - the grids run daily by newspapers around the world including The Inquirer, which has been sponsoring the national championship and won the bid to host the first world championship held in the United States.
The puzzles were constructed by two master American solvers: Wei-Hwa Huang and Thomas Snyder, each a winner of the national Sudoku competition.
Both provided commentary while the four top solvers competed in the final round for the title in 75 minutes of play, beginning around 6 p.m. in a large room on the mezzanine of the Courtyard Marriott, across from City Hall.
The other contestants watched as the four tried to finish the 10 last Sudokus, each of varying difficulty levels and challenging different solving skills. One could have been solved several ways - except for one cell, which the player had to determine.
Each sat at a table beside a proctor, who checked over one puzzle before the contestants could go on.
Their solving was carried on a screen divided into four parts, one for each of the four finalists, who wore earbuds under large soundproofing headphones during the running commentary.
From those earbuds, the players were hearing the sounds of a crowd from a reception, recorded at the United Nations, so they couldn't hear the audience and the commentators. It was "like walking into a room with many people talking a hundred different languages . . . actually a quite pleasant sound," said puzzle master Will Shortz, the host of the championship. It was an apt soundscape, given that anyone hearing the world championship teams as they walked through the Marriott Courtyard this weekend was treated to a polyglot of tongues.
The object of traditional Sudoku, which is the world's most popular puzzle and employs logic but no math skill, is to fill in all 81 squares in a grid divided into nine three-by-three boxes. Each row, column, and box must contain every digit from 1 through 9. Some squares come filled in, and players determine what to place in the rest of the cells.
Some of the Sudoku variations in the world competition required math skills and did not even look like grids, or were grids with twists on the normal rules of play.
Officials were on the lookout for cheating, but expected none in a competition that was limited to the world's best players and that awarded trophies, not money.
In what officials called a rare occurrence, the third-place finalist at the national championship here in the fall was suspected of cheating with earbuds inside his hooded sweatshirt, and was disqualified after failing a retest.
On Saturday, Jakub Ondrousek of the Czech Republic finished second, Hideaki Jo of Japan third, and Germany's Florian Kirch fourth.
"Because this is a world championship, we had already expected this level of difficulty," said China's MengLei Ma, at 13 the youngest competitor, who was translated by her mother, Haiqin Hou.
Ma came in 66th out of 120 contestants. She was 12 when she won a seat on the two-person team in a national competition.
"They were quite hard puzzles, but they were all doable," said Tiit Vunk, a competitor from Estonia.
"I wanted more time to complete them, because I wanted to solve more puzzles," he said of the rapid-fire timing that the competition imposes. "I like to solve puzzles."
Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or firstname.lastname@example.org.