Primed for Puzzles


Maybe it’s laziness, but when I fix on a thought process that requires a quick answer, my focus goes fuzzy. I’m forced to notice that the complex circuitry “upstairs” isn’t pulsing as precisely as I’d like it to, and I’m prompted to move on without counting my losses. So, I miss out on things – like the “boxed number” puzzles, as I used to call them, in the newspaper.
My husband has been doing the Sudoku puzzles in our local, daily paper since it first ran them last year. Although I’ve glanced at them a few times, I didn’t read the instructions. Mark’s good with math; I’m not usually so inclined. Oh, I can do quick arithmetic in my head – like adding price tags or figuring tips, but that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s problems that need careful deductive reasoning that sometimes leave me behind.
Even if I’d wanted to try Sudoku, by the time I got to our newspapers, they were always done. Sometime last summer, my husband started sharing that section of the paper with our oldest daughter. She was soon hooked like her dad, carrying newspapers around like she never had before, tucked in her purse. Noticing her new hobby, a friend bought her a thick book full of nothing but Sudoku grids. I faced up to the fact that I was missing out.
One night, lying in bed, I watched Mark penciling figures in the little boxes. He picked up on my show of interest and explained how you work the puzzle. I couldn’t follow as quickly as he was moving, but I got it! He was doing a gold level puzzle (the most difficult); there were also silver (middle level) and bronze. He’d save me a bronze.
The next day, he handed me a paper folded to the Sudoku. Saved for the right moment, I sat down, intent on the little box, and compared the columns of squares: most blank; a few containing numbers. I hit some snags, but I finally finished the puzzle.
I wasn’t content to solve the puzzle without understanding the words behind it. My research told me that Sudoku is internationally known as the fastest growing puzzle in the world. Pronounced (SUE- dough-coo), it is the Japanese abbreviation for a longer phrase which can be translated “the numbers must occur only once.” The puzzle caught on in Japan in 1986, but this kind of puzzle, originally published by Dell in 1979 under the name Number Place, was the design of retired architect (and puzzle constructor) Howard Garns of Indianapolis.
Gradually gaining popularity under various names, Sudoku was picked up on a daily basis by the British Daily Telegraph in January 2005. Realizing their sales were up simply by the puzzle’s presence, other Telegraph Group newspapers took it up very quickly.
The aim of the puzzle, according to, “is to enter a numerical digit from 1 through 9 in each cell of a 9×9 grid made up of 3×3 sub grids (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. Numbers are used for convenience, but any nine characters work as well. There is nothing mathematical involved. Completing the puzzle requires patience and logical ability.”
Finally, I got my hands on a gold level puzzle before Mark did. I’ll need all the patience and ability I can muster to complete it, but I can use the exercise. This mental workout requires the forgiving rubber soles of some good erasers.

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