This weekend, I sat down at my desk with a few sharpened pencils and a copy of the UK Sudoku Championship puzzles, ready to pit my puzzly skills against sixteen Sudoku and Sudoku variant puzzles.
According to UK Puzzle Association rules, I had two hours to complete as many puzzles as I could.
And let me tell you, my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, I don’t think I could have completed this entire packet in twice that time. The UK must feature some seriously impressive and speedy Sudoku solvers.
[If only I could puzzle with both hands like this brilliant youngster.
Image courtesy of Deccan Herald.]
Now, I’m by no means a weak Sudoku solver — deduction puzzles don’t faze me — but I’m not a fast Sudoku solver, so I knew the two-hour time limit was, at best, a pipe dream. Nonetheless, I set my timer, determined to give it my all.
The packet opened with a Linked 6×6 Sudoku, which was a pleasant starter. The two grids complemented each other nicely, and only needing the numbers one through six once per 2×3 box kept the solve quick.
That was not the case for puzzle #2, a Deficit Sudoku. In the Linked 6×6, you knew that the 2×3 boxes within the grid would contain the numbers one through six, which made it easy. In the Deficit Sudoku, the 2×3 boxes contained six numbers, but the options were numbers one through seven, so that certainly that came with puzzle #1 vanished instantly.
The Deficit Sudoku was certainly hard, and given that those two puzzles were only page one, my progress thus far didn’t bode well for the rest of the championship experience.
[A sample Deficit Sudoku.]
Puzzle #3 ratcheted up the difficulty with a Surplus Sudoku, one that featured boxes of eight squares in various shapes. Each box featured the numbers 1 through 7, plus one of the numbers again. If the design was to overwhelm the solver with possibilities, mission accomplished!
After laboring over the puzzle for a good twenty minutes or so, I had to move on without completing it. This would become a recurring theme in this puzzle packet.
Puzzle #4 was the elaboratedly named Odd-Even-Big-Small Sudoku, and although I got farther with this one than the Surplus Sudoku, I also had to bow out and move on after hitting the wall. This was page 2 of the championship, and it was a brutal step-up in challenge from page 1.
[A Sudoku loaded with numbers and adjectives.]
Puzzle #5 was a Classic Sudoku, obviously designed to restore a solver’s confidence after the one-two punch of Surplus Sudoku and Odd-Even-Big-Small Sudoku, and I knocked it out quickly. Huzzah! Back on track!
Puzzle #6 was also a Classic Sudoku, but one with desperately few set numbers. The upper-right 3×3 box and the lower-left 3×3 had NONE, and the upper-left 3×3 box and the lower-right 3×3 box only had two apiece.
Although I was able to fill the body of the grid quickly, those four corners had me stymied. For the third time in just over an hour, I put a puzzle aside unfinished.
That lack of set numbers was a recurring theme in the championship packet, making Puzzle #7 (a diagonal Sudoku) and Puzzle #8 (a Jigsaw Sudoku), much tougher solves than I expected. By this point, I put aside the timed aspect of the solve entirely (my two hours was nearly up, and I’d been interrupted a few times anyway), and just focused on doing my best to complete as many puzzles as possible.
This was about puzzly pride at this point. *laughs*
The next four puzzles — an Extra Regions Sudoku (where the shaded-in areas also contained the numbers 1 through 9), a Sum-Doku (or Killer Sudoku) with no set numbers, a Consecutive Pairs Sudoku with only eight set numbers, and an Odd Sudoku (with the shaded boxes requiring odd numbers only) — I’d categorize as tough, but fair.
I can see how a championship packet like this would separately the very good solvers from the truly great.
[A diabolical XV Sudoku.]
That was clearly the goal of puzzles #13 and #14. A Thermo Sudoku with only nine set numbers taxed me to my limit, and the XV Sudoku that followed was the hardest puzzle in the entire set. Admittedly, I was a little burnt out at this point, but it remains the toughest Sudoku puzzle I’ve ever attempted.
The final two puzzles, a Palindrome Sudoku and an Eliminate Sudoku, felt like a cakewalk compared to the gauntlet of challenging puzzles that preceded them. It was nice to close out my solving experience strong, nearly four hours into the challenge.
I fully intend to go back and take another crack at all the puzzles that bested me, but for now, I need a little break from these devious little grids.
Kudos to everyone who tackled the UK Sudoku Championship, and to some of the world-class contenders I saw on the final results board, I tip my hat to you all. The top nine finished all 16 with perfect scores in under an hour and a half! That is a blistering speed!
I may not have what it takes to be a UK Sudoku Champion, but I’m glad I accepted the challenge. It was a satisfying, intriguing, and occasionally humbling way to pass a few hours.
You can give the 2016 UK Sudoku Championship puzzles a shot yourself by clicking here. Good luck!
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