Wei-Hwa Huang, who quit his job as a software engineer for Google this summer and is currently not working, got a $10,000 bonus today when he upset the world Sudoku champ to win the top prize in the 2d annual Inquirer Sudoku National Championship.
Huang, 33, beat defending national champion - and world champion - Thomas Snyder, 28, by just 26 seconds to complete the advanced puzzle in seven minutes and 39 seconds, as hundreds of Sudoku players who had competed all day at the Convention Center looked on.
In all, players won $20,000 in prizes and, Huang's victory entitles him to a seat on the United States team that will play in the world Sudoku contest next spring in Slovakia.
Both Huang, a four-time World Puzzle champion, and Snyder, a two-time and current world Sudoku champion, will likely be on the team representing the United States at the world Sudoku championship. But in addition to the $10,000 he won yesterday, Huang won his expenses for the trip, to be footed by The Inquirer.
The stream of Sudoku players in Saturday's contests for beginner, intermediate and advanced categories attempted to fill in the empty boxes of the numbers puzzle which, according to an Inquirer survey, is the most popular puzzle in the country. About 167 million Americans have played it - 56 percent of the adult population.
The contestant to beat, ultimately, was Snyder, a bioengineering postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University who won the national championship at the first contest here last year, then went on to win his second world championship in India. In that match, Snyder was defending his title, which he'd won the year before.
By the time the first round began Saturday at 11:30 a.m., 728 puzzlers had registered - 81 in the advanced category, 326 intermediate solvers and 321 in the easier beginners' category. Most were from the Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but some came from 25 other states, Canada and Europe.
"The ages range from single digits to well into their 80s, and we're really thrilled about that," Brian Tierney, chief executive officer of Philadelphia Media Holdings, which owns The Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com, told the applauding crowd.
Later in the day, Mayor Nutter addressed the crowd, posed for pictures with the winners and referred to the other championship contest in the city, several subway stops south, where the Phillies were going against Tampa Bay in the World Series.
"There are two incredible events taking place here this weekend in Philadelphia. There's a little game going on right here later today," he told the cheering puzzlers and spectators. The mayor's sister, Renee Messina, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J., was among the competitors.
Last year, the first national championship, also sponsored by The Inquirer, set a Guinness Book of World Records mark for the most people playing the game at once: 857. The Inquirer has bid to host the World Sudoku Championship in 2010 in Philadelphia, and should know the outcome next week, when the World Puzzle Federation chooses the site at its championships in Minsk, Belarus.
Will Shortz, puzzle editor of the New York Times, National Public Radio's puzzlemaster and the nation's leading puzzle expert, again hosted the national championships. Along with him was Maki Kaji, the Japanese puzzle publisher who gave Sudoku its name in an acronym taken from words that mean "single digits only."
First, Kaji addressed the Convention Center crowd in Japanese through a translator, and then donned a Phillies cap, to enthusiastic applause from contestants and spectators.
Kaji gave the remainder of his speech - his first time speaking publicly in English, he said, switching languages. "It took 30 seconds" to come up with the name, he said, because he had a appointment to be at the horse races, one of Kaji's favorite pursuits.
After that, Shortz began the competition rounds with "Ready. . .set...solve," hundreds of pencils went into action and the race for the national champ was on.