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A Short History on Sudoku

by: Allison Thompson

Now being hailed as the Rubik's Cube for the 21st Century, Sudoku has become the fastest growing puzzle game throughout the world. Sudoku which in some cases be spelt as Su Doku and is pronounced as Soo Doe Koo is an abbreviation of the Japanese phrase suuji wa dokushin ni kagiru meaning the digits must remain single. Although many people believe it to be of Japanese origin, it isn't. The only thing truly Japanese about it is the name.

In Japan there is a Publishing House called Nikoli who publish the countries leading puzzle publication Monthly Nikolist and it was members of the staff that noticed there was an interesting number puzzle game called The Number Place being published in the American version of their puzzle magazine called Dell Puzzle Magazines. So in April 1984 Sudoku as it is known in Japan and across the world made its debut in the Monthly Nikolist, although it was originally known as Suunji wa dokushin ni kagiru by Kaji Maki the president of the company at the time. Although the maiden issue of Sudoku enjoyed some modest success, its success is really down to the fact that the Japanese people are puzzle crazy.

It was only after a couple of significant changes had happened which resulted in the puzzles popularity taking off. Firstly the name was changed to Sudoku (which is a lot easier to remember) then Nikoli Publishing House introduced 2 new rules for the game in 1986. These were that the numbers were to be arranged symmetrically and the given numbers could not exceed 30. Today you will find that there are at least 5 publishing companies now producing a monthly magazine which is solely devoted to this game in Japan. As for the name Sudoku it is rather a brand name instead of being a generic one and it has been legally registered by the Nikoli Company in Japan. Because of this any other company producing versions of this game must provide their own names for their versions.

Other stories that are doing the rounds concerning who created Sudoku are various; one being that it was created by a team of puzzle creators in New York. Then the other story also doing the rounds is that a retired architect and puzzle enthusiast by the Howard Gerns invented the game. Yet although these stories conflict because they credit its invention by different people, they do in fact agree on two points.

Firstly that Sudoku was first published in 1979 by Dell Puzzle Magazines with the title The Number Place.

Secondly that both Gerns and the puzzle creators from New York were inspired to produce their own versions by the game called Latin Square of Leonhard Euler. Leonhard Euler was a Swiss mathematician who presented a paper called De Quadratis Magicis at the St Petersburg Academy in 1776. He demonstrated that a magic square can be created by using 9, 16, 25 or 36 cells (blocks). However there were conditions that he imposed on the value of the number variables which brought about the creation of his magic square, this then evolved into Latin Squares on later papers that he presented.

But the versions of Gerns and team puzzler's games differed from Euler's in 2 ways. The first being that Euler's version does not have any regional restrictions and secondly that Euler did not create or intend to create a puzzle. But it was the fact that Gerns and the team from New York saw the potential of a hit puzzle being produced from Euler's work and thus proceeded to create what would be the grandfather version of modern day Sudoku.

In 1997 a retired judge based in Hong Kong called Wayne Gould happened to see a Sudoku puzzle in a Tokyo bookstore and he decided to produce a digital version of the puzzle, which he worked on from 1997 until 2003. Then in 2004 he found himself presenting this unknown puzzle to The Times newspaper in UK and within a few days of it appearing in The Times other newspapers had begun to print their own versions. In fact it became so popular that versions of it were soon to be found in Australia and New Zealand, and by 2005 it had become known as the fastest growing puzzle game throughout the world. Soon after American Newspapers were hearing about this fast growing puzzle and by April 2005 the New York Post was publishing it own version of the game also. Which is quite strange really as it originated from New York some 20 years previously?

Because it is a number puzzle and therefore does not require the use of any letters from any particular language, there is no language barrier. The game is now published in many different publications around the world from magazines to newspapers to books solely dedicated to this highly popular puzzle. You will even find websites that now offer digital versions of the game for either a fee or for free and this will certainly guarantee the games continued success in the future. It also makes it more accessible to the younger population. The race is even on for companies to create a Sudoku puzzle which is specifically designed for mobile phone users.

Sudoku is a logic puzzle which challenges old and young alike and in studies carried out it has been found that those who play Sudoku regularly have increased mental skills.