Sudoku

Sudoku is an insidious little game which snuk into our daily newspaper earlier this year but which we’ve only just started to play. While we don’t do crosswords it’s become a nice ritual to site huddled on the sofa trying to work out where those pesky numbers belong.

There are games and forums, help etc on the site so if you like logical puzzles this might be worth a look.

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  1. May 19, 2006

    from the NZ Herald and it’s Diggable: The Rock God of the Puzzle World

    Wayne Gould, of Sudoku fame

    Thinking outside the square with Mr Sudoku

    29.12.05
    By Julie Middleton

    Mr Sudoku, Wayne Gould, is a big boy at heart. That’s what his wife, Gaye, says. Mr Gould, 60, thinks he’s an introvert. I reckon, after a 70-minute interview at his mother-in-law’s Manurewa house, that he’s a supremely happy nerd.

    It’s a combination that has made the bank manager’s son from Hawera a Sudoku millionaire. He has groupies. He has imitators. He is the rock god of the puzzle world. Various stories have told how Mr Gould picked up a Sudoku book in Tokyo, Japan, after retiring as a judge, and has since marketed the logic game through newspapers into a global craze.

    His Sudoku grids appear in 350 newspapers in 57 countries, from New Zealand to Honduras, and even the Faroe Islands (chilly rocks halfway between Iceland and Norway, before you ask). And all of this since last November.

    But few know that Mr Gould has been a collector of tactile puzzles since boyhood and owns more than 200: “I buy them for their artistry and their workmanship.”

    The Gould family home in 1970s Matamata was a party house; visitors would invariably fall on the puzzle collection. “We had a rule in the house,” says Mrs Gould, 51, a linguistics professor, “that if you took a puzzle apart you had to put it together again. So we would have people lying on the floor at our parties, at 2 o’clock in the morning, stone cold sober, trying to put the puzzles back together.”

    Erm, why the rule? Mr Gould: “I had had so many puzzles I couldn’t guarantee to be able to put them back together myself.”

    Despite his obvious passion for his puzzles, Mr Gould is an oddly expressionless man; it’s possibly a legacy of years cultivating judicial inscrutability. He was a Matamata lawyer and father of two when recruited to Hong Kong’s judiciary in 1982.

    One of the first things he did there was buy a computer and teach himself programming “entirely from books”. When the judiciary needed its processes computerised, Mr Gould was invariably involved.

    But 15 years on the bench was enough: “I could have stayed until 2010, but that sounded a bit too painful, so it was a good opportunity to retire.”

    He is “not ambitious in the conventional sense, but when I pick myself a target and I’m interested in it, I like to achieve.” So retirement at 51 meant full-time devotion to puzzles, computer programming, and cryptanalysis (code-breaking) among them.

    When Mr Gould stumbled on a Sudoku book in Tokyo, he was en route to see his wife in Italy. Once he showed her the book, that was it: the Bay of Naples didn’t get a look in.

    Mr Gould thought the puzzle so gripping that he decided, for fun, to create a computer programme to spit them out. It took six years and occasionally drove him to frustrated tears. But he is “single-minded – I can only do one thing at a time, and concentrate wholeheartedly on that”.

    Suggest he is a tad obsessive and he hems and haws for a few seconds. “Mmm … aah, well, I suppose that would be a fair comment, compared to most people I suppose.”

    Sudoku’s blast-off in November 2004, after he gave it free to the Sunday Times in London, was a surprise: “I expected the puzzle to be popular, but only amongst people who were fans already. What I hadn’t expected was people who had never thought of themselves as puzzle fans getting so hooked on it.”

    Non-players, like me, are sad cases: “People like yourself,” – he says this with a slightly pitying tone – “if you had the time to indulge it for half an hour you’d probably find there’s more to it. It looks dry and a dull sort of puzzle, but there’s something about it that is very intriguing.”

    His marketing plan of giving the game to newspapers for free and charging $US14.95 (NZ$22.20) for his computer programme – it has extra-hard puzzles the papers don’t get – has been a spectacular success.

    The point of the freebies was “to spread the knowledge of the Sudoku puzzle because it was a good puzzle. The second objective was to write a commercial computer programme and make a bit of money off it. It struck me as being amusing that a judge could do that.”

    So has the puzzle made him wealthy? “Yeah, not badly … ah, yes, I mean, it’s earned over a million US dollars [$NZ1.48 million] which is pretty good going in such a short time.”

    Some have placed Sudoku on a par with Rubik’s Cube: “To even be mentioned in the same sentence as Rubik is a huge honour, I think.”

    Mr Gould takes about 20 minutes to do a hard Sudoku and about four for the easies – his wife, he says, is faster. She is his tester, and reckons she has completed more puzzles than her husband – about 10,000 since that Italian “holiday”.

    As well as enjoying the satisfaction of a completed grid, puzzlers must find their concentration and reasoning sharpened, says Mr Gould: “Their times come down very quickly and that signifies that they are teaching themselves how to think logically. It’s good to be able to practise logic – when you need it, you need it big-time.”

    There is little chance that fans will run out of hot Sudoku action: The number of possible games comes to an enormous figure, rendered most coherently as 6 x 1021.

    And Mr Gould has Son of Sodoku coming. Quite infuriatingly, he’s not sharing, except to say it’s a logic game similar to Sudoku. “I’m a very slow worker,” he says. “It will take me two or three years before I’m ready to go public.”

    The groupies will be delighted. They are “very loyal”, says Mrs Gould – see the website for evidence.

    Mr Gould also has pretenders; his view of the four or five people surfing his success is bittersweet. “It makes me sad, in a way, to think that I’ve created a very good living for a lot of people which wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for me,” he says. “On the other hand, I’ve done very well, in every way of measuring it, so I can’t really complain.” Sometimes, though, he does wish that he had chosen another name and trademarked it.

    Another little-known fact about Mr Sudoku is that he is in a long-distance marriage – for the time being, at least. Although the Goulds have a house in Mt Maunganui, and return there for Christmas, he lives in Hong Kong. She teaches linguistics at Plymouth State University in the American state of New Hampshire; they meet up all over the world. “We manage it quite well,” says Mrs Gould. “I’m never in America when it’s not term time. I do a lot of on-line teaching.”

    Mr Gould says he could have US residency, but chooses not to “for tax reasons and ideological ones, because I’ve got somewhat disenchanted with America”.

    To complicate matters, daughter Sally, 30, lives in London where she is a Channel 4 news producer; web developer Scott, 28, has just thrown in his job to work for his father from Wellington. (“They are very supportive, very proud of me, and love Sudoku.”)

    So what’s Mr Gould doing at the Mount over summer? “I’ll be lounging in the sand with a book, probably a puzzle. It could well be one of mine, because when each book comes out I solve the puzzles as if I’ve never seen them before.”

    And what would he be doing if he had overlooked that Sudoku book in Tokyo? He doesn’t pause for thought. “I would go into a library and get terribly intrigued by the first non-fiction book that I saw on the shelf. And that would be my driving passion for the next three months.”

    Numbers game

    The standard Sudoku formation is a grid of nine boxes, three wide and three high. Each box is divided into nine squares. Once solved, every number from 1 to 9 appears once in each vertical column, horizontal row, and box.

    It’s a game of logic, not counting, but has its roots in mathematics. Kiwi mathematician Brent Everitt says the puzzle most closely resembles the Latin square, a concept familiar to Swiss maths-man Leonhard Euler more than 200 years ago.

    “It’s a square array of numbers with certain rules,” says Dr Everitt.

    “Like Sudoku, you’ve got numbers 1 to 9, and you’ve got certain rules similar to Sudoku, like that each number can only appear once in each row and column.”

    “But Latin squares have other properties that Sudoku doesn’t.”

    From a mathematical point of view, he says, Sudoku “is very close in spirit to the kind of thing you find in combinatorics.

    “That is the study of discrete patterns – for example, how many different arrangements are there in a chess game?”

    Sudoku’s path to household name-status is vague, but the January/February 2006 issue of Scientific American places the puzzle in America in 1979, titled Number Place and published by Dell.

    The author’s identity is uncertain.

    By 1984, in Japan, the puzzle was altered slightly and trademarked Sudoku.

    ‘Su’ means number in Japanese and ‘doku’ means singular or unique.

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