Sudoku, sometimes spelled Su Doku, is a logic-based placement puzzle, also known as Number Place in the United States. The aim of the canonical puzzle is to enter a numerical digit from 1 through 9 in each cell of a 9×9 grid made up of 3×3 subgrids (called “regions”), starting with various digits given in some cells (the “givens”). Each row, column, and region must contain only one instance of each numeral. Completing the puzzle requires patience and logical ability. Although first published in a U. S. puzzle magazine in 1979, Sudoku initially caught on in Japan in 1986 and attained international popularity in 2005.
The name Sudoku is the Japanese abbreviation of a longer phrase, “suji wa dokushin ni kagiru,” meaning “the digits must remain single”; it is a trademark of puzzle publisher Nikoli Co. Ltd in Japan. Other Japanese publishers refer to the puzzle as Nanpure (Number Place), the original U. S. title.
The numerals in Sudoku puzzles are used for convenience; arithmetic relationships between numerals are absolutely irrelevant. Any set of distinct symbols will do; letters, shapes, or colours may be used without altering the rules (Penny Press’ Scramblets and Knight Features Syndicate’s Sudoku Word both use letters). Dell Magazines, the puzzle’s originator, has been using numerals for Number Place in its magazines since they first published it in 1979. Numerals are used throughout this article.
The attraction of the puzzle is that the completion rules are simple, yet the line of reasoning required to reach the completion may be difficult. Sudoku is recommended by some teachers as an exercise in logical reasoning. The level of difficulty of the puzzles can be selected to suit the audience. The puzzles are often available free from published sources and also may be custom-generated using software.
Published puzzles often are ranked in terms of difficulty. Perhaps surprisingly, the number of givens has little or no bearing on a puzzle’s difficulty. A puzzle with a minimum number of givens may be very easy to solve, and a puzzle with more than the average number of givens can still be extremely difficult to solve. It is based on the relevance and the positioning of the numbers rather than the quantity of the numbers.
Computer solvers can estimate the difficulty for a human to find the solution, based on the complexity of the solving techniques required. This estimation allows publishers to tailor their Sudoku puzzles to audiences of varied solving experience. Some online versions offer several difficulty levels.
It is commonly believed that Dell Number Place puzzles are computer-generated; they typically have over 30 givens placed in an apparently random scatter, some of which can possibly be deduced from other givens. They also have no authoring credits – that is, the name of the constructor is not printed with any puzzle. Wei-Hwa Huang claims that he was commissioned by Dell to write a Number Place puzzle generator in the winter of 2000; prior to that, he was told, the puzzles were hand-made. The puzzle generator was written with Visual C++, and although it had options to generate a more Japanese-style puzzle, with symmetry constraints and fewer numbers, Dell opted not to use those features, at least not until their recent publication of Sudoku-only magazines.
Nikoli Sudoku are hand-constructed, with the author being credited; the givens are always found in a symmetrical pattern. Dell Number Place Challenger (see Variants below) puzzles also list authors . The Sudoku puzzles printed in most UK newspapers are apparently computer-generated but employ symmetrical givens; The Guardian licenses and publishes Nikoli-constructed Sudoku puzzles, though it does not include credits. The Guardian famously claimed that because they were hand-constructed, their puzzles would contain “imperceptible witticisms” that would be very unlikely in computer-generated Sudoku. The challenge to Sudoku programmers is teaching a program how to build clever puzzles, such that they may be indistinguishable from those constructed by humans; Wayne Gould required six years of tweaking his popular program before he believed he achieved that level.
Although the 9×9 grid with 3×3 regions is by far the most common, numerous variations abound: sample puzzles can be 4×4 grids with 2×2 regions; 5×5 grids with pentomino regions have been published under the name Logi-5; the World Puzzle Championship has previously featured a 6×6 grid with 2×3 regions and a 7×7 grid with six heptomino regions and a disjoint region; Even the 9×9 grid is not always standard, with Ebb regularly publishing some of those with nonomino regions (also known as a jigsaw variation); the 2005 U.S. Puzzle Championship had a Sudoku with parallelogram regions that wrapped around the outer border of the puzzle, as if the grid were toroidal. Larger grids are also possible, with Dell regularly publishing 16×16 Number Place Challenger puzzles, and Nikoli proffering 25×25 Sudoku the Giant behemoths.
Another common variant is for additional restrictions to be enforced on the placement of numbers beyond the usual row, column, and region requirements. Often the restriction takes the form of an extra “dimension”; the most common is for the numbers in the main diagonals of the grid to also be required to be unique. The aforementioned Number Place Challenger puzzles are all of this variant, as are the Sudoku X puzzles in the Daily Mail, which use 6×6 grids. The Daily Mail also features Super Sudoku X in its Weekend magazine: an 8×8 grid in which rows, columns, main diagonals, 2×4 blocks and 4×2 blocks contain each number once. Another dimension in use is digits with the same relative location within their respective regions; such puzzles are usually printed in colour, with each disjoint group sharing one colour for clarity.
Other kinds of extra restrictions can be mathematical in nature, such as requiring the numbers in delineated segments of the grid to have specific sums or products (an example of the former being Killer Su Doku in The Times), demarcating all places arithmetically adjacent digits appear orthogonally adjacent in the grid, providing the parity of all cells, requiring the Lo Shu Square to appear in the solution, and so on. Some such variants forsake standard givens entirely.
Puzzles constructed from multiple Sudoku grids are common. Five 9×9 grids which overlap at the corner regions in the shape of a quincunx is known in Japan as Gattai 5 (five merged) Sudoku. In The Times and The Melbourne Age this form of puzzle is known as Samurai SuDoku. Puzzles with twenty or more overlapping grids are not uncommon in some Japanese publications. Often, no givens are to be found in overlapping regions. Sequential grids, as opposed to overlapping, are also published, with values in specific locations in grids needing to be transferred to others.
Alphabetical variations have also emerged; there is no functional difference in the puzzle unless the letters spell something. Recent variants have just that, often in the form of a word reading along a main diagonal once solved; determining the word in advance can be viewed as a solving aid. The Code Doku devised by Steve Schaefer has an entire sentence embedded into the puzzle; the Super Wordoku from Top Notch embeds two 9-letter words, one on each diagonal. It is debatable whether these are true Sudoku puzzles: although they purportedly have a single linguistically valid solution, they cannot necessarily be solved entirely by logic, requiring the solver to determine the embedded words. Top Notch claim this as a feature designed to defeat solving programs.
Here are some of the more notable single-instance variations:
- A three-dimensional Sudoku puzzle was invented by Dion Church and published in the Daily Telegraph in May 2005.
- The 2005 U.S. Puzzle Championship includes a variant called Digital Number Place: rather than givens, most cells contain a partial given�a segment of a number, with the numbers drawn as if part of a seven-segment display.
- Wei-Hwa Huang created a meta-Sudoku, where the object is to finish drawing the 5×5 grid’s pentomino-region borders so as to leave a uniquely solvable puzzle with no identically-shaped regions.
The puzzle was designed by Howard Garns, a retired architect and freelance puzzle constructor, and first published in 1979. Although likely inspired by the Latin square invention of Leonhard Euler, Garns added a third dimension (the regional restriction) to the mathematical construct and (unlike Euler) presented the creation as a puzzle, providing a partially-completed grid and requiring the solver to fill in the rest. The puzzle was first published in New York by the specialist puzzle publisher Dell Magazines in its magazine Dell Pencil Puzzles and Word Games, under the title Number Place (which we can only assume Garns named it).
The puzzle was introduced in Japan by Nikoli in the paper Monthly Nikolist in April 1984 as Suuji wa dokushin ni kagiru, which can be translated as “the numbers must be single” or “the numbers must occur only once” (literally means “single; celibate; unmarried”). The puzzle was named by Kaji Maki , the president of Nikoli. At a later date, the name was abbreviated to Sudoku (pronounced SUE-dough-coo; su = number, doku = single); it is a common practice in Japanese to take only the first kanji of compound words to form a shorter version. In 1986, Nikoli introduced two innovations which guaranteed the popularity of the puzzle: the number of givens was restricted to no more than 32 and puzzles became “symmetrical” (meaning the givens were distributed in rotationally symmetric cells). It is now published in mainstream Japanese periodicals, such as the Asahi Shimbun. Within Japan, Nikoli still holds the trademark for the name Sudoku; other publications in Japan use alternative names.
In 1989, Loadstar/Softdisk Publishing published DigitHunt on the Commodore 64, which was apparently the first home computer version of Sudoku. At least one publisher still uses that title.
Yoshimitsu Kanai published his computerized puzzle generator under the name Single Number for the Apple Macintosh in 1995 in Japanese and English, and in 1996 for the Palm (PDA).
Bringing the process full-circle, Dell Magazines, which publishes the original Number Place puzzle, now also publishes two Sudoku magazines: Original Sudoku and Extreme Sudoku. Additionally, Kappa reprints Nikoli Sudoku in GAMES Magazine under the name Squared Away; the New York Post, USA Today, The Boston Globe, Washington Post, and San Francisco Chronicle now also publish the puzzle. It is also often included in puzzle anthologies, such as The Giant 1001 Puzzle Book (under the title Nine Numbers).
Within the context of puzzle history, parallels are often cited to Rubik’s Cube, another logic puzzle popular in the 1980s. Sudoku has been called the “Rubik’s cube of the 21st century”.
Popularity in the media
In 1997, retired Hong Kong judge Wayne Gould, 59, a New Zealander, saw a partly completed puzzle in a Japanese bookshop. Over 6 years he developed a computer program to produce puzzles quickly. Knowing that British newspapers have a long history of publishing crosswords and other puzzles, he promoted Sudoku to The Times in Britain, which launched it on 12 November 2004 (calling it Su Doku). The puzzles by Pappocom, Gould’s software house, have been printed daily in the Times ever since.
Three days later The Daily Mail began to publish the puzzle under the name “Codenumber”. The Daily Telegraph introduced its first Sudoku by its puzzle compiler Michael Mepham on 19 January 2005 and other Telegraph Group newspapers took it up very quickly. Nationwide News Pty Ltd began publishing the puzzle in The Daily Telegraph of Sydney on 20 May 2005; five puzzles with solutions were printed that day. The immense surge in popularity of Sudoku in British newspapers and internationally has led to it being dubbed in the world media in 2005 the “fastest growing puzzle in the world”.
There is no doubt that it was not until the British Daily Telegraph introduced the puzzle on a daily basis on 23 February 2005 with the full front-page treatment advertising the fact, that the other UK national newspapers began to take real interest. The Telegraph continued to splash the puzzle on its front page, realizing that it was gaining sales simply by its presence. Until then the Times had kept very quiet about the huge daily interest that its daily Sudoku competition had aroused. That newspaper already had plans for taking advantage of their market lead, and a first Sudoku book was already on the stocks before any other national UK papers had realised just how popular Sudoku might be.
By April and May 2005 the puzzle had become popular in these publications and it was rapidly introduced to several other national British newspapers including The Independent, The Guardian, The Sun (where it was labelled Sun Doku), and The Daily Mirror. As the name Sudoku became well-known in Britain, the Daily Mail adopted it in place of its earlier name “Codenumber”. Newspapers competed to promote their Sudoku puzzles, with The Times and the Daily Mail each claiming to have been the first to feature Sudoku.
The rapid rise of Sudoku from relative obscurity in Britain to a front-page feature in national newspapers attracted commentary in the media (see References below) and parody (such as when The Guardian’s G2 section advertised itself as the first newspaper supplement with a Sudoku grid on every page ). Sudoku became particularly prominent in newspapers soon after the 2005 general election leading some commentators to suggest that it was filling the gaps previously occupied by election coverage. A simpler explanation is that the puzzle attracts and retains readers – Sudoku players report an increasing sense of satisfaction as a puzzle approaches completion. Recognizing the different psychological appeals of easy and difficult puzzles The Times introduced both side by side on 20 June 2005. From July 2005 Channel 4 included a daily Sudoku game in their Teletext service (at page 391). On 2 August 2005 the BBC’s programme guide Radio Times started to feature a weekly Super Sudoku. The world’s first live TV Sudoku show, 1 July 2005, Sky One.
As a one-off, the world’s first live TV Sudoku show, Sudoku Live, was broadcast on 1 July 2005 on Sky One. It was presented by Carol Vorderman. Nine teams of nine players (with one celebrity in each team) representing geographical regions competed to solve a puzzle. Each player had a hand-held device for entering numbers corresponding to answers for four cells. Conferring was permitted although the lack of acquaintance of the players with each other inhibited an analytical discussion. The audience at home was in a separate interactive competition. A Sky One publicity stunt to promote the programme with the world’s largest Sudoku puzzle went awry when the 275 foot (84 m) square puzzle was found to have 1,905 correct solutions. The puzzle was carved into a hillside in Chipping Sodbury, near Bristol, England, in view of the M4 motorway. The stunt was cleverly timed to coincide with a major road expansion, where an imposed 40 mph speed restriction allowed drivers to safely view the puzzle whilst driving.
CBS has run several stories concerning Sudoku, including on the Early Show in Summer 2005, and on the CBS Evening News that autumn, on October 26.
Most recently, Dr. House was clearly seen working on a Sudoku puzzle on his office computer in one scene of the December 13, 2005 episode of House, M. D.
See – I told you this section contained far more than you needed to know!