ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Baseball had its Black Sox. College basketball has had its point-shaving scandals. Even contract bridge had its notorious charges of illegal hand signals at the 1965 Bermuda Bowl. So, why should tournament Sudoku be any different?
Suspicions of cheating arose at last weekend's Philadelphia Inquirer National Sudoku Championship. Those suspicions surround the third place winner, Eugene Varshavsky, because after competing brilliantly in the qualifying rounds, he appeared to be completely inept in the championship round, raising the question, did he have unseen help when he was succeeding?
Well, joining us now is the tournament director Will Shortz, who's familiar to many of you. He's NPR WEEKEND EDITION's puzzlemaster and also crossword editor for The New York Times.
Welcome to the program, Will.
WILL SHORTZ: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: And, first, tell us about the difference between the preliminary rounds and the championship round in the tournament. Was there anything different about how one had to compete?
SHORTZ: Yes. There were three preliminary rounds Saturday morning. Each round had three puzzles, and the fastest and the first person to finish all those puzzles correctly would qualify for the championship round at the end of the afternoon, and that one is conducted on stage for everyone to watch.
SIEGEL: Now, Mr. Varshavsky, who won $3,000, I gather, for finishing third, was described as wearing a hooded sweatshirt in all the rounds or only in the qualifying rounds?
SHORTZ: Well, it was interesting. He came in in the middle of the tournament, so the only one that he actually competed in was the third round. Thomas Snyder, a previous year's champion, was the first person to solve that round. He turned around to see who would follow him and it was a person he had never met before, never seen before and who was wearing a hood.
SIEGEL: Okay, then to the championship round. Was he wearing a hood once again?
SHORTZ: In the championship round you wear headsets to block out outside sounds. When the round started, he pulled the hood over his head as he was solving.
SIEGEL: Let's think conspiratorially for a moment here. If I were competing in a Sudoku tournament and I concealed some device to assist me under a hood, what could I do? How could I possibly cheat at Sudoku?
SHORTZ: Well, I'm just speculating here because I don't know what happened here. It would be possible, for example, to, in the preliminary round, photograph the puzzles with a device, send them off somewhere else to a confederate to solve the puzzle by computer and then give you the answer for you to fill in.
The playoff puzzle was available only on stage. The audience didn't have it. So if a playoff contestant had a confederate, there was no way, really, for him to get the answer to the person onstage.
SIEGEL: Okay, next wrinkle. A man also named Eugene Varshavsky - and we've been trying to reach Mr. Varshavsky, and we reached another man named Eugene Varshavsky in Philadelphia, but evidently not the right one - there was another man with the same name suspected of cheating at a chess tournament in Philadelphia a few years ago. Is it the same person?
SHORTZ: I have no way to know.
SIEGEL: Well, how are you going to go about trying to resolve the allegations or at least the suspicions of cheating here?
SHORTZ: Well, first of all, we're going to look at his paper in Round 3. Normally, when you solve Sudoku, you make marks to help you solve the puzzle faster. So we'll be looking for those. Second, we'll be looking at film and photos of the event. And third, we'll interview the people who were sitting next to this contestant and anyone who had - who was with him during the day.
SIEGEL: Is this potentially the loss of innocence for championship Sudoku, Will?
SHORTZ: Well, I'll tell you, I've directed the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament for 32 years. This is my third year directing the Sudoku Championship. I've directed many puzzle events over my life, and I'm not aware of any instance of cheating before. So, this really took me by surprise.
SIEGEL: Well, Will, thanks a lot for talking with us today about it.
SHORTZ: Thanks, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's Will Shortz, who's the crossword puzzle editor of The New York Times and also the puzzlemaster at NPR's WEEKEND EDITION.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.