Sudokubomber Caught

In case you’ve missed it, The Philadelphia Inquirer has been in the middle of a scandal for the last three weeks. A sudoku scandal.

On October 24, the paper hosted this year’s Sudoku National Championship, where a theretofore unknown solver going by the name of Eugene Varshavsky blazed his way to the top. He earned entry into a three-way finale, where the contestants fill in blown-up puzzles live onstage.

But any prowess that Varshavsky might have displayed in the earlier rounds was absent under the spotlight. Before the easel, Varshavsky, despite his strong performance in the previous rounds, was immobile in a bulky hooded sweatshirt and didn’t look like he had a clue of how to go about filling the grid. Still, he’d made it to the finals, and even his non-showing there entitled him to third place and a $3,000 prize.

Sudoko solvers, including the tournament’s runner up, began to raise obvious questions about Varshavsky. First among them: wasn’t it weird that someone with the same name had come out of the blue to beat a grandmaster at a Philadelphia chess tournament just a few years before, and run off to the bathroom once tournament organizers asked him to consent to a search to determine if he was concealing some cheating aide?

Thanks to the sweatshirt, Varshavsky was dubbed the Sudokubomber. Much speculation focused on the possibility that his bulky clothes could have hidden some sort of aide—perhaps a radio device, or camera, that could relay information to an outside accomplice running a solving tool. Things got to the point where the Inquirer decided they should ask Varshavsky to come in to the paper’s offices for some additional testing.

Today, John Timpane, an Inquirer reporter who’s been following the story, has a piece reporting that after retesting the contest’s organizers have stripped Varshavsky of his prize and title.

“The reexamination results were very much consistent with Mr. Varshavsky’s onstage performance,” said Will Shortz, The New York Times’s puzzle editor and a tournament organizer, in a statement. “We have concluded that Eugene Varshavsky alone could not have solved the Round Three puzzles during the championship…”

One more puzzle solved.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.