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27 October 2009 @ 06:52 am
The Sudobomber story develops...  
From the Philadelphia Inquirer: Possible Cheating Probed at Sudoku Tournament (they get a fundamental point wrong - its round 3 not round 2 that matters) - let's hope the evidence (such as the appearance of his test papers and whether it looks like a grid someone would have when solving a puzzle, versus a grid someone would have when copying/being read an answer) leads to a fairer resolution here. There is still no way to restore a final with three advanced competitors, but not rewarding someone who gamed the system is a good start.

[ETA: NPR is reporting on it as well as standard AP wire. While indeed the Weekend Edition's Will Shortz is an organizer leading an investigation, I believe my contributions to exposing this cheater should not go unmentioned as they also borrow the frame I gave the story and the quotations around this person's name here on this blog.]

[EFTA: I've been interviewed a couple places now, including Philly's WHYY, for developing coverage tomorrow. Will Shortz has already been interviewed about this on All Things Considered and a couple new details are emerging from the cone of silence around this investigation. Most significantly, Eugene registered not just the day of as a walk-on, but also in the middle of the tournament and he only competed in Round 3. This is quite significant IMO. My observations of him after he finished 2nd is so far the only eyewitness account of this solver during the general qualification.)

The Sudobomber aka Eugene Varshavsky, in "action" (or I guess, inaction). The big headset bulge is expected in the finals, but who knows what was under the hood earlier.

Dr. Sudoku aka Thomas Snyder, in action and motion-blurred, before his mistake.

To think the next four minutes would take me through the whole range of OMG!!! I Won! to (gulp) two sixes to Congrats Tammy to No, Will, there are three errors on my grid to WTF is going on over here with "Eugene". Nothing is simple in the world of puzzles.
Mike Selinker selinker on October 27th, 2009 03:25 pm (UTC)
You've been Heaneyized! I will call that picture "The-Sky-is-Falling Thomas".
motris motris on October 27th, 2009 03:32 pm (UTC)
And you should get a copy of my book, just for the stories and the cartoons.
Mike Selinker selinker on October 27th, 2009 03:46 pm (UTC)
Hey! Are you saying I'm not smart enough to do the puz... wait, don't answer that.
onigame onigame on October 27th, 2009 09:11 pm (UTC)
I feel compelled to mention that I contributed to the creation of the cartoon, possibly even more than Thomas did.
Mike Selinker selinker on October 27th, 2009 09:25 pm (UTC)
I will call that picture "The-Sky-is-Falling Thomas/Wei-Hwa, or Possibly Wei-Hwa/Thomas."
motris motris on October 27th, 2009 09:32 pm (UTC)
Agreed, certainly more than me. Wei-Hwa had an all powerful sample graphic that inspired Francis' work. All I am, I guess, is the empty face who uses Dr. Sudoku as an email handle and otherwise, with a Ph.D., has fit the title for awhile. I will take a large amount of credit for framing the book around a mad scientist's exploits with sudoku from my already used drsudoku moniker, and then Wei-Hwa and I took it amazing places from there in different ways.
nathan_0 on October 27th, 2009 04:27 pm (UTC)
It's sort of a fascinating image. What was he thinking during those eight minutes? I figured at the time he was in the depths of complete and utter performance meltdown, a notationless solver in the throes of brain lock. That seems unlikely at this point. Was he just counting down the time? Surely he felt compelled to make some effort, standing there. But if so, was he really such a neophyte solver that those two 5th row items were all he could come up with?

And such audacity to use the same name as in the chess tournament. I'll bet dollars to doughnuts Eugene is known to the casinos in Atlantic City.
lunchboy lunchboy on October 27th, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
Well, you can't cash the check if you don't use your actual name.
(Anonymous) on October 27th, 2009 08:36 pm (UTC)
what happened??
Hey Tom, this is Nate (I won the beginner section). I could barely see the stage from where I was in the far corner, but everytime I saw Eugene, I didn't see him move even once. I thought it was odd but I also couldn't see his board at all and figured it was maybe half filled at worst. Was it really entirely (or virtually entirely) blank?

As I learned firsthand, it isn't easy to fill out the giant puzzle, you do obviously get nervous, and you have to frequently take a step back to see the whole board, but even the most basic first numbers should easily be filled in. Very odd indeed.

motris motris on October 27th, 2009 11:35 pm (UTC)
Re: what happened??
The best image I have from the end of the competition shows only placements in R1C3, R5C2, and R5C9. So three numbers, and no other marks. Of course, I've only gotten images from others who have sent them, since I have not been given any information from inside the investigation and I was a competitor on stage and certainly wasn't doing my own photography.

I really hope scans of his round 3 paper are made public as I am sure they are completely clean without pencilmarks which is also, like the state of the final board, not possible. The recent news discovered by listening to an NPR interview of Will Shortz is that this guy registered during the competition and only competed in Round 3. This adds further to the doubt of a legitimate performer (although if I can still turn in papers faster than a cheater, it suggests he should have given himself another round or two of buffer but then he wasn't exactly smart in just about any way).
(Anonymous) on October 28th, 2009 12:01 am (UTC)
puzzle marks
I'm just an old novice, but I'm using Sudoku to keep my brain active. Therefore, I try to avoid making any marks on the puzzles. I'm pretty much successful with that technique on all the Philly Inquirer puzzles - although my time probably suffers.

At least in my opinion, I wouldn't consider the absence of marks to be conclusive.
motris motris on October 28th, 2009 12:17 am (UTC)
Re: puzzle marks
I can solve without marks as well. In 1.5-2x the time. What's important to me, and certainly true in a competition setting, is even if you solved without puzzle marks to a point, at some time on very hard puzzles you get stuck, and then you do something. Typically, this is add notes to the grid. So, if you've only gotten 3 digits in 8 minutes, wouldn't you start using some systems of notes or candidates or guesses? I have not solved and do not solve sudoku from the Philadelphia Inquirer's provider so I cannot compare their rating systems, but the hard puzzles here are likely at the highest levels in the newspaper or a notch higher, comparing to the newspapers around here that I do track (but also don't solve).
Ellen ennienyc on October 28th, 2009 12:53 am (UTC)
This is all fascinating. Make sure you get a cut of the movie deal!

Very suspicious that he only came for round 3. I wonder what contact info he provided when registering, and if it checked out. And if they can find the people who sat near him or perhaps one of the judges in his area, who might have noticed odd behavior.

Like Francis said, the contestant would have to use his real name in order to cash the check - unless he was a friend of Eugene V. who would then cash the check for him.

Also, I wonder if the Eugene the media reached in Philadelphia was really Eugene but just said he wasn't.
motris motris on October 28th, 2009 01:09 am (UTC)
He was ~two chairs to the right of Wei-Hwa and a little behind and to the left of Tammy McLeod but I'm sure that they were focused on solving puzzles, whereas I was free to see this guy for a bit of time. Fortunately, a TIME reporter was covering me and Wei-Hwa all day so I'm hoping in some of the shots of him there is some more of "Eugene" since they were so close.
(Anonymous) on October 28th, 2009 03:47 pm (UTC)
cheater's cleverness (or lack thereof)
::(although if I can still turn in papers faster than a cheater, :: it suggests he should have given himself another round or two of buffer Well, you probably didn't actually finish before he did. Rather than turn in the paper in 5 or 7 minutes and then discover that no-one else finished in less than 20 minutes (or some such possible time - he certainly wasn't capable of gauging how difficult the set would be for solvers) he waited until you'd finished, then almost immediately turned in the set - creating a time that would not draw attention. Possibly he or a confederate were spectators in the first round and saw that you turned your set in first and gambled that you were already in the finals. (If he didn't get into the finals, he could wait until next year. Do we know that he wasn't around last year?) Their experience with the chess tournament probably taught them that they shouldn't draw attention to themselves too soon. If he'd been an early finisher in one of the earlier rounds people might have come over and tried to talk to him, possible either seeing his electronic help or drawing attention to his reclusive behavior. ::but then he wasn't exactly smart in just about any way). They were smart enough to fool the organizers. They just didn't account for the attentiveness of puzzle solvers. JHR
(Anonymous) on October 29th, 2009 06:52 pm (UTC)
Re: cheater's cleverness (or lack thereof)
I think you are giving the Cat in the Hat too much credit!
To wait for Thomas to finish in order to not draw attention?!? What if somebody else had finished first? The whole cheating organization would be for nothing.

I think "Eugene" or whoever he was, is actually rather stupid and rudimentary in his approach. He managed to organize the relaying out the sudoku, getting the solution and writing it down, but he failed in so many little details.

I would go for all 3 rounds and make sure to place in the top 5 in every round, and will make sure I win one of them, because only winning guarantees one a final.
Then I would spend a week solving some sudoku, ensuring I will not sit there wandering what the rules of sudoku are for whole 8 minutes and writing down 2 numbers when 9s and 3s are simply obvious.
I would not use the same name that was made "popular" in 2006. I would use a name of a friend who would cash the check for me.

motris motris on October 29th, 2009 07:50 pm (UTC)
Re: cheater's cleverness (or lack thereof)
I agree with your response to the earlier comment - it is hard to predict how long it would take to go through the confederate-based transfer of a solution, and certainly the cheating here was not as intelligent or sophisticated as it could be to escape detection. I shouldn't have to take my time to outline what could be done, but as a course instructor and a sudoku solver I've got some ideas of what else could be possible.

The response of organizers not so much to disqualifying this contestant - that seems obvious to me - but to changing/improving their rules and proctoring to prevent a future, smarter attempt from happening will be critical. I do not want to become a Sudoku Cop, but I also don't want to again levy charges of cheating on a solver that got by the organizers' watch based on incredibly lax standards of watch.
motris motris on November 2nd, 2009 12:40 pm (UTC)
Seems likely that it is the same person although I have not had any chess players confirm an identification from the photo I have.
(Anonymous) on November 5th, 2009 08:19 pm (UTC)
Hey, it's Nate again. I just sent an e-mail to an old chess acquaintance of mine from back in the day to see if he knows anything about this guy. Will let you know what I hear.
Ravenscroft: Art! defenbaugh on November 2nd, 2009 11:09 am (UTC)
Any time any amount of money is up for grabs in a contest, there will be a %100 chance someone will cheat to get it and certain rules need be applied to ensure the validity of a contestant. Wearing a HOOD so as to not be able to tell the identity of an individual would be a big give away I would think as its tantamount to a disguise.