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Da Vinci and Google - Finalist!

That's right. You may remember I wrote about the Google puzzle contest tie-in with the Da Vinci Code movie. Well, I'm a finalist. Me and a scant 9,999 others.

I was fairly optimistic that I could make it to be a finalist. I think I'm probably faster than some when it comes to many kinds of puzzles, and I guessed that from the pool of people out there who would bother solving 24 heavily movie and Google promoting puzzles to enter a long shot contest (you see what I'm getting at; I don't think we're talking millions of contestants, here), I stood a good shot of being one of the first 10,000 to finish.

Now, however, the pond is smaller and the average fish size has gone up. Only one will win. I don't know what to expect of the puzzles, but I'm thinking it'll come down to some luck: either I'll solve the final puzzles quickly, or I won't. Fastest out of 10,000 puzzle solvers? Only if I'm lucky.

I've had fun playing, though. Can't argue with that.

Da Vinci puzzles Googled

Google, in what I think may be their first promotional partnership of this kind, is hosting a puzzle challenge related to the upcoming release of The Da Vinci Code movie.

A new puzzle is released every day for 24 days (this is day 2). They say the puzzles will get progressively more challenging. Once those 24 puzzles are out, the first 10,000 people to submit answers get a 'replica' (I'm guessing cheap and plastic) of a codex from the book/movie. Those 10,000 people are finalists, and they have to solve 5 more puzzles. The winner gets a bounty of Sony goodies, and a trip to the major cities from the story: New York, Paris, Rome, and London.

I'm playing along for now; I like puzzles anyway, and a short daily puzzle never hurt anyone. I do hope they get a little tougher as time goes by, though.

If you're wondering "how they get you", it's this: to play, you have to have or establish a Google ID (free), and to play the puzzles you have to visit Google's Personalized home page. That's what's in it for Google; anyone playing will have to visit the personalized home page, possibly every day. If Google can convince new users to stick around and try the home page, that's eventually good news for them; they could someday have AdWords ads based on your home page content. Google's Personalized home page has some nice features, but I haven't made it my home page, and I've known about it for a while.

Anyway, if you are interested in the Google/Da Vinci puzzle challenge, you start here:

Sudoku = 'Unwed Numbers'

American Scientist has a great article on the mathematics of Sudoku. The author, Brian Hayes, first gives a brief history tracing the origins of Sudoku and its spread across the world. One interesting tidbit: many Japanese know the puzzle better by its original English name, "Puzzle Place", while most enthusiasts in the US and UK know it better by its Japanese name, "Sudoku".

Hayes also discusses the number of possible distinct solutions (3,546,146,300,288, or 4×10^12, once you've accounted for a number of symmetries), the minimum number of 'givens' required to solve a puzzle, and the relative strengths and weaknesses of solving methods a computer might use.