Puzzle(r)s in Pop Culture: Superhuman

Superhuman is a television show on FOX that combines elements of game shows and talent shows, wherein people with exceptional mental abilities are tested on the air, competing for a $50,000 grand prize.

The show has featured exhibitions of memorization, visual acuity, math and puzzling skills, and more, offering people the rare opportunity to show off the mind’s amazing capabilities. (It also bucks the trend of modern reality competition shows by not having the contestants judged by a smug British man.)

Actor Kal Penn hosts the show, and the three panelists who comment on performances and help choose the winner are boxer Mike Tyson, singer Christina Milian, and neuroscientist Dr. Rahul Jandial.

And on last week’s episode, “All Parts Extraordinary,” a face familiar to puzzlers and crossword fans appeared on the show: Tyler Hinman.

The former 5-time American Crossword Puzzle Tournament champion was pitted against four other contestants with impressive mental abilities.

Chris Authement, a math whiz, was tasked with adding up all the pips on giant dominoes as they fell, correctly counting 535 pips in the time allotted.

Tatiana Marquardt, a mother of three with impressive memory recall, was tasked with memorizing five days of scheduling for three different kids. Each day had four activities. The judges then randomly chose a child and a day of the week, and she had to pack their backpacks for each day’s agenda. And she nailed all three days.

Dave Farrow, a computer scientist with a focus on robots, memorized a grid of 108 blue and red balloons (laid out in an 18×6 grid). Then, based on the judge’s choices, he was asked to recall the color of a particular balloon, the pattern of a particular column of balloons, and finally, a particular row of balloons. Recited backwards. And he did so.

Luke Salava, a lawyer with a knack for facial recognition, had to learn the faces of 100 members of the studio audience. Then, three of those people were removed, and that entire section of the audience was reshuffled. His task was to identify the three new people in the crowd. And he did so with ease.

When it was Tyler’s turn to show off his puzzly skills, he had a serious challenge ahead of him.

This grid of crisscrossing 5-letter words can only be completed with the letters in a 9-letter word provided alongside the grid. But Tyler had five of these grids to solve, and he wasn’t told which of the five 9-letter words went with which grid.

Oh, and he only had 3 minutes and 30 seconds in which to solve all five grids.

He went right up to the wire, but solved all five grids, showing off not only his deductive reasoning, but his vast vocabulary and his speed-solving technique, honed by years of crossword solving and tournament competition.

After all five competitors had their time to shine, the judges narrowed the field to three: Chris, Dave, and Tatiana. And the audience voted electronically for the winner: Dave Farrow, master of balloons.

Honestly, I thought both the judges and the audience picked wrong. Tyler was the only one who really had to work out his technique in front of the crowd, showing missteps and false paths that he corrected on the fly.

He actually talked through the process as he solved, which to me was more engaging and interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, the acts of memorization were very impressive, but only Tyler and math whiz Chris were really under a time limit. (Tyler’s was literal, while Chris’s was kinetic, since the dominoes were toppling.)

Also, I can’t believe that Luke didn’t at least make the top three, let alone win. 100 faces to memorize and reshuffle in your head? That’s mind-boggling to me.

Alas, such is the flying fickle finger of fate. Still, it was a strong showing for a world-class puzzler, an exhibition of puzzly talent that did not fail to impress.


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The UK Sudoku Championship! (Or should that be Sudo-UK?)

Hot on the heels of The Indie 500 crossword tournament last weekend, the UK is also gearing up for a major puzzle event: The UK Sudoku Championship!

The event spans June 10 through June 13, and chairman Alan O’Donnell of the UK Puzzle Association sent out the Instruction Booklet for this year’s event a few days ago, which kicks off a string of major puzzle events in Europe and across the world, including the UK Puzzle Championship in a few weeks.

Although the UK Sudoku Championship is only open to competitors from the UK — with the top two earning a place on the UK team for the 2016 World Sudoku Championship — international players are welcome to test their puzzly mettle as guest solvers.

But even if most PuzzleNationers aren’t eligible to compete, you can still enjoy the challenge of some topnotch Sudoku puzzles. Let’s take a look at some of the diabolical puzzles they’ve cooked up for this year’s event!

[An Extra Regions puzzle, a variation on Classic Sudoku.]

In addition to some Classic Sudoku, Extreme Sudoku, Sum-Doku (or Killer Sudoku), Jigsaw Sudoku (or Geometric Sudoku), and Thermo Sudoku — all of which I explored in detail in my Wide World of Sudoku post — there are some variants I’ve never seen before, like this Linked 6×6 Sudoku.

In this puzzle, you have two grids to complete, but with the additional wrinkle that no number placed in the left 6×6 grid will occupy the same square in the right 6×6 grid. So you have more solving information than expected, but it’s spread out across two grids.

This Deficit Sudoku puzzle also uses the 2×3 box format, but arrayed in a 7×7 grid. This means that any of the numbers 1 through 7 can be in each 2×3 grid, which makes it slightly harder than if you were only using the numbers 1 through 6.

(Plus you have no information on what number goes in that solo square in the center of the grid.)

The curiously named Odd-Even-Big-Small Sudoku employs clues outside the grid to help you fill in some of the squares along the perimeter of the grid, telling you that two odd numbers, two even numbers, two small numbers, or two big numbers will occupy the nearest two spaces in that row or column.

This is a solving mechanic I’ve never encountered before in Sudoku, and I can see it posing an impressive challenge to the average Sudoku solver.

That unconventional style of cluing sets the tone for the rest of the unusual puzzles that competitors and solvers will encounter here. In the above grid, a Consecutive Pairs puzzle, those dots indicate that the neighboring numbers connected by those dots are consecutive numbers, like 5 and 6 or 2 and 1.

(You can also try Consecutive Pairs Sudoku in Will Shortz’s Sudoku and Sudoku Spectacular, both published by our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles.)

XV Sudoku works in similar fashion, with x’s and v’s instead of those little dots. The x’s mean the neighboring numbers add up to 10, and the v’s mean the neighboring numbers add up to 5.

This Eliminate Sudoku uses arrows to indicate that the number in the arrow box will not be repeated in any of the boxes that follow that arrow. So, for instance, if you place a 3 in that arrow box next to the 2 in the upper-right 3×3 grid, none of the boxes that arrow points at along that diagonal will contain a 3.

Like the dual grids in the Linked 6×6 Sudoku, this puzzle is interesting in offering more information on what’s NOT in a square than what IS.

The final new puzzle in the Instruction Booklet is my favorite, but that’s because I’m a sucker for palindromes in puzzles. This Palindrome Sudoku features gray lines that indicates spots where — you guessed it! — the chain of numbers reads the same backwards and forwards.

Similar to Thermo Sudoku in its solving style, Palindrome Sudoku takes advantage in the restrictive nature of Sudoku solving by adding a neat little twist.

You can check out the full Instruction Booklet here, and remember to keep your eyes peeled on June 10 when the actual puzzles go live!


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