Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sudoku, A New Craze

One of the newest crazes to hit popular culture in the United States is the Sudoku craze. I do not usually involve myself in these types of trends, but I admit I was curious about Sudoku. I had heard some people say it was a lot of fun, and others felt it was silly or too hard. I heard enough people say they did not understand it to think that it may be a good thing to try since I love brain teasers.

I got hooked on playing Sudoku the first night I picked up a book. The concept of the game is simple. It is based on an ancient Japanese teaching tool that taught its students to think of creative ways to problem solve. A traditional Sudoku puzzle has nine squares across and nine squares down. The puzzle also is divided into 3X3 boxes within the puzzle. There are nine of these smaller boxes.

Each column in the puzzle must have each number one through nine once, and the same applies to the rows and the smaller boxes within the puzzle. One error, and the puzzles will not work. You will know quickly if you make an error.

There are a number of ways to think of the solutions to Sudoku puzzles. The books or games you buy will have puzzles with some of the numbers filled in. Your job will be to complete each of the squares. The easiest way to begin is to see which of the smaller squares has the most numbers already filled in. If you are doing beginner puzzles, you may find that they have only one or two numbers missing in some boxes. Look to see which numbers are missing. Let us say that 1 and 8 are missing.

You would look on the row with a blank box. Do you see a 1? How about an 8? Now check the columns. If you see a 1 in one of the columns, then you know that blank box has to be an 8 because there cannot be two 1s in the column. The other blank space must be a 1 by default. Now you can move on to the next box. Sometimes there is only one square in the entire puzzle that can be solved at a given time. You will need to work on each square until you find the one you can solve, which will open up at least one other square to be solved. Most of the time you will have a cascading effect, and you will be able to solve many of the squares once one of them falls into place.

If you find yourself becoming a Sudoku junkie, never fear. You will not run out of games to play although it is unlikely you would remember any repeats anyway. Sudoku has millions of possible combinations, and by starting with fillers, you will add millions more to the possible puzzles you can get.

Sudoku comes in book form, which is probably the most popular just by virtue of being cheap. You can find Sudoku books in mass merchandisers for as little as $1, or you can pick up giant books for $15 or $20. Many companies also are beginning to make electronic version of Sudoku puzzles so that you can play anytime. They are wonderful little gadgets that let you play on the road or in waiting times. My electronic Sudoku is probably the most exciting gift I received this year at Christmas. The best part is that they are under $20, so you will be saving money by getting the electronic version if you play very often.
If you have friends who also are into these types of things, then you may find that they will enjoy playing against you. My husband and I have taken up Sudoku battles to see who can solve puzzles more quickly, and it really can be a lot of fun for the nerd in you. Knowing that you can figure out the answer before someone else can be a great form of mind-challenging competition for you. There are plenty of ways to enjoy Sudoku, so you should give it a try the next time you are looking for something to do.

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