Monday, March 7, 2011

Mr. V and the Worlds Hardest Sudoku Puzzle

 Background:  I play sudoku every night before I go to bed.  I've been trying to keep my average time below ten minutes, it's not too hard since I've only been working on the easy level ones.  To help me do this, I imagined a bomb was attached to the puzzle and it would go off if I couldn't figure it out before the time was up.  Then I thought "If I was in that situation, I would just whip out my phone and use that Google Goggles app to solve it."  And that's where this story came from.

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Special Agent David straightened the papers he had been working on.  The case wasn’t a big one, but he had managed to stop the Chinese infiltrator.  It wasn’t hard, this guy wasn’t good.  The FBI believed he was a rogue agent working outside of any organized agency.

He was just about to pack his briefcase when his assistant barged in.

“You better get out here.  We got a call from some weirdo saying he’s put a bomb in downtown Pittsburgh.”

David quickly jumped up and ran out to the main room.  On the main screen was a guy in a white suit warring one of those Vendetta masks.

He leaned towards his assistant and whispered “Why is Anonymous on the big screen?”

“I’m not a member of Anonymous, I just like the mask.”  The man on the screen said.

David turned to the man.  “Who are you?”

“You can call me Mr. V.  I’ve called to let you know about my vendetta on the planet.  Mankind is too stupid to continue.  Children’s test scores are dropping and how does the government respond?  They lower the requirements to pass the tests.  The government passes crates new laws that take away citizens rights, and the citizens applaud them for it.  This planet is too stupid to survive.  I’m here to end it.

“There is a bomb in Point Park powerful enough to destroy the entire greater Pittsburgh area.  There is a countdown timer set to 24 hours.  If you can prove your intelligence and disarm it in that time, you earned another day of life.”

With that the picture cut out.

“Did you get a trace on that?” David called out.

“Yes, but it was over the Atlantic Ocean.”  Someone called out in response.

“Are there any records of a flight in that area?”’

“Nothing on the records.  Odds are it’s a private plane.”  Someone else called out.

“Crap.  If he has any intelligence, he’s already changed direction.  Get someone out there anyways just in case.  Alert the local and state police.  We need to evacuate the city.  Get the bomb squad to point park, I’ll meet them there.”  With that David ran out of the building.

Out at point park, David arrived in time to see the bomb squad finish setting up.  The bomb was completely out in the open.  It wasn’t even remotely hidden.

“Why didn’t someone call this in?  Something like this should have caused a panic.”  David said.

An officer walked up to the FBI agent.  “There was a report and a panic.  From what I hear it was at the same time your call came in.  When we called the FBI we were a little suppressed to hear you were already on your way.”

“And you are?”

“Sheriff Link” He responded showing his ID.  “What’s the first step?  I’ve never dealt with a nuke before.”

“Let’s see what the bomb technicians think.”

They walked over to the large cylindrical device.  It was completely unmarked except for a screen on the front showing a message “Click Here”.

“What’s it look like” David ask the tech that was already on his knees looking the bomb over.

Not bothering to look up the tech responded “There are no access panels, not even any seams.  We’re probably going to have to cut into it.”

“What about the screen.  What if we ‘Click here’?”  The sheriff asked.

“I didn’t want to touch anything until I learned more about the device.”  The tech responded finally standing up.

“Mr. V said he was testing our intelligence, so I don’t think he would set it to blow instantly.”  David said, then he touched the screen.

A face flashed on the screen, it was the same person with the white suit and V mask.  “This nuclear device is now armed.  You have 24 hours to disarm it before it kills millions and spreads radiation over half the country.  Good luck.  Oh, and don’t think about taking the bomb apart.  The case is pressure sensitive and rigged to blow if anyone touches it” The image of the man flashed again replaced by a grid with numbers in it.  Under the grid was a number pad and a countdown timer already on 23 hours and 59 minutes.

“What the hell is this?”  David shouted.  “Is this some kind of code?”

The bomb tech looked at the screen.  “It’s a sudoku puzzle.”

“What?”

“It’s a puzzle where you have to put numbers between one threw nine into the boxes so that there are no duplicates in each row or column or in the individual three by three grids.”

“So, all we have to do is solve a number puzzle to disable the bomb?”  David asked perplexed.

“How do we even know he’s telling the truth?  This thing could blow if we touch anything.”  Sheriff Link asked.

“I can try to take it apart. Creating a pressure sensitive case would require a lot more electronics then what could be put in this case and a nuclear device.”  The tech said.

Turning to the sheriff, David ordered “Evacuate the city.  I want everyone outside a ten mile radius before we even try.  You have five hours.”

“We’re already on it, but five hours probably isn’t going to be enough.  If a panic starts, we could be in over our heads.”

“Then pull in outside help.  Get everyone you can.”  David shouted.

Sheriff Link was already on his way even before David started yelling.  He had put out the call already, but he still didn’t think they could completely clear the city in less then five hours.  They can barely get everyone in or out of the city during normal rush hour and that’s without a panic.  The second a there’s a wreck; riots are going to break out.

Three hours later, the city was empty.  Sheriff Link, Special Agent David, and the five members of the bomb squad were the only ones there.

“The city is empty.  We’re still doing sweeps, but it looks like no one is within fifteen miles of the city.”  The Sheriff said.

“In only three hours.  Looks like you underestimated the people living here.”  David said condescendingly.

“After the flaming couch rolled threw Oakland, I think he had a valid concern.”  The tech said.

“The city is clear, get to work.”

The bomb tech turned to the device he had been carefully looking over for the past three hours.  He still couldn't see any direct way in. 

“Bring me the cutting torch” he said to one of his teammates.

Holding the torch he put his hand on the bomb casing.  As soon as he touched it, alarms went off.

“I told you I would know if you even touch the case.  This is your final warning.  Just to show you I’m serious, I have reset the clock to twelve hours.”  Mr. V could be heard from the screen.

True to his word, the clock at the bottom of the screen flashed to 12:00 and continued to count down.

“I thought you said he couldn’t do that.”  David yelled at the tech.

“No, I said he couldn’t do that and have a nuke inside.”  The tech shrunk away.

“We can’t take that chance.  You know what these puzzles are; can you solve this in twelve hours?”  The sheriff said stopping David from yelling more.

“Possibly,” the tech said.  “Butt...”

“Then get to work.” David interrupted.

“But, I don’t think...”  The tech started.

“You’re paid only to think about the bomb.  Get to disarming” David said.

The Sheriff took David by the shoulder and walked him back to the truck.  “Let’s get some coffee, this may be a while.”

Half way back to the truck the tech called out “I have the solution.”

David quickly turned around.  “What, how?”

“I was going to tell you, Google has an app for their phones that solves sudoku puzzles.” the tech showed him the phone.  “It took me more time to get my phone out and take the picture then it did to solve the puzzle.  How sure are we that if I put in the solution the bomb won’t just blow up anyways?”

“So far everything that this guy said would happen did happen and I don’t see any other choice.”  David took in a deep breath.  “Do it.”

As the tech pushed in the first number, several hundred miles away a light blinked on a screen.  Mr. V laughed behind his mask.  “Good, they have begun.  No one could solve that puzzle in less then twelve hours.  The city is doomed”

It only took a minute for the tech to get to the last number.  “Here we go.”  He said and pushed 4.  The bomb beeped and the screen went dark.

Hundreds of miles away Mr. V screamed.  “How could they solve that puzzle so fast?  There’s no way in hell these morons could solve it.”

Back at Point Park everyone was holding their breath.  Would the bomb still go off?  Nothing had happened for five minutes.

Finally David broke the silence.  “What you just did seems to be an obvious answer.  How could this guy not know about it?”

The sheriff responded.  “I’ve found that people who think they’re exponentially smarter then everyone else don’t watch the news.  They think it’s just drivel spouted by more morons.  It’s easy for them to get out of touch.”

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