Are Handcrafted Sudoku Puzzles Better than Computer Generated Ones?

This was recorded during Sudoku Week 2020 on October 6th. Transcript below.

Hey everybody. Welcome back, today we’re going to talk about the subject of whether or not handcrafted Sudoku puzzles are better than those computer generated ones. So let’s dive into that real quick here.

So we got a question from somebody and honestly, I’m not sure if he deleted the question later or we just couldn’t find this specific question cause we came in. I think it was yesterday. And he was asking about the difference between handcrafted puzzles, the people generating, you know, actually creating a puzzle by hand versus doing it on computer.

It’s a great question. And the interesting thing is, is that the only publisher that I know that as far as publishing broad puzzles, that I know that actually publishes handcrafted puzzles is, is Nikolai. And I’m going to stop right now, that’s part of what these books that you see here are, these are Nikolai books straight from Japan.

Nikolai is a Japanese puzzle publisher. They’ve been doing it for decades. They’re really good at it. And they, they make great puzzles, handcrafted puzzles. I believe all of them are. I’m not sure if they devolve into computer generated at all. So we’re going to talk about the difference there, but you can actually win a stack of these Sudoku books.

You can win a stack of nine of these in our grand prize drawing. If you head on over to You can actually sign up to win these among other great prizes, including access to all of our lessons, the Insiders Club, and two private coaching sessions, One-On-One with me, to help you solve more Sudoku, solve it faster, solve harder Sudoku with fewer frustrations and mistakes. Okay. So head on over to to do that.

So what about these handcrafted puzzles? What about the difference between computer generated? Well, again, Nikolai being…there may be others out there and you could learn how to craft your own puzzles. That might be an interesting thing to learn, I should say. But there’s so many other puzzles out there. It’s almost like, you know, if you just want to solve them, it’s not really that important for you to do that now.

So with that regard, I can almost guarantee you that all of the puzzles that you solve, that you probably solve, are computer generated. I mean, if you were to solve something from like, let’s see here, something from like this, Frank Longo’s black belt Sudoku, or one of the other ones like the Brown belt or the green belt or the white belt Sudoku, if you were to solve just about anything, anything out of your newspaper. We talked earlier about the history of Sudoku, how Wayne Gould and his Pappocom puzzles, his company, there had a puzzle maker, it was all computer generated. He actually enabled the puzzle Sudoku to be widely accepted in these newspapers by giving them the puzzles that he computer generated.

So, again, most likely you’re solving computer generated puzzles. So is there a difference, you know, which is better? Okay. Well, I will say that probably, you know, 10, 15 years ago, we basically had the Wild West of the internet. And everybody with a computer out there was writing computer programs to create Sudoku puzzles and putting them out there on the internet for people to download.

The problem was is that they had flawed programs, a lot of them did, and they were flawed programs. They didn’t go back and recheck the puzzle to see if they were good puzzles. And so a lot of bad puzzles got published. I remember I used to get this a lot when I first started people would say, send me a puzzle and say, “I can’t figure out what to do next.” And they’d be in a deadlock situation that there was no logical solution.

And it wasn’t because they made a mistake. It was the puzzle makers fault. And that has that type of thing has gone down. People have, those things that are bad, they didn’t last. Those websites, people aren’t gonna put up with that very much. So it still happens on occasion, but it’s actually very rare.

So basically the bottom lines of the programs have gotten better. The back checking has gotten better. And so we really don’t have the problem that we did with the computers creating bad puzzles that we used to. Again, still could happen.

So what are the real differences? Well, let me tell you about what I consider to be some of the good things about handcrafted puzzles, especially the ones coming from Nikolai. I’ve got one of those puzzles up here on the board here. And what I have found is that they are much more interesting. If you just look at the design of the givens, I mean, you may not notice it, but I think it comes through, okay.

When you are solving and when you pick up the puzzle, even though you may not be paying much attention to it, it does come through. This is an attractive puzzle. It’s almost like it invites me to come in and solve it because of the layout in the nature, the pattern of these givens, you’ve got this diamond shape here in the middle, and you got these other diagonals out here in the corners.

It looks cool to me. And I love that. That’s what I love so much about the Nikolai puzzles. I mean, they don’t look like this, all of them, but they all have something about the design of the givens that is inviting. It makes it much more fun to solve.

And even there are a number of times where, and you could see the symmetry here. This is a center symmetry puzzle. I love symmetrical puzzles as well. And we’ll get into that when we get the computer generated in just a minute. But this is center symmetry, if you draw a line, you know, in any angle, basically, one half of it is a mirror image of the other half, as far as where the givens are at, not what the givens are, but where they are. Okay. What’s here is symmetrical to what’s here and you can do it left right top, bottom diagonal, anyway.

And that kind of symmetry is very, very interesting to me. I love it. And what that leads to a number of times is that you’re solving is symmetrical as well. So you might find that you’re solving, you’re making a lot of progress up in this box, for example, and then you come down and you might make a similar progress in this box down here, you’re solving is symmetrical, not always, but it is kind of interesting. And I find that happens a lot with the, with the handcrafted Nikolai type puzzles.

And I want to tell you right now, I am not getting paid by Nikolai to say any of this stuff, okay? They’re not giving me these books to promote or anything like that. I just thought it was a great idea. We don’t have a partnership, all I have is that they’ve given me permission to use their puzzles in my videos and stuff like that. So just let you know I’m not getting paid to do this.

But let’s compare that with computer generated puzzles now computer generated, this doesn’t happen as often, but I will say that I have noticed more often, obviously, especially with some of the outlying computer generated stuff that you find on the internet, not the mainstream stuff, that they are not symmetrical puzzles. They’re weird. I mean, you might have like a whole bunch of numbers over here and nothing over here. And it’s just weird. To me, again, it’s not as inviting. It’s kind of like ugly, you know, I don’t want to solve it because there’s this level to it.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad puzzle, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be unsolvable or you’re going to get some sort of deadlock situation that you can’t solve, whatever. That doesn’t mean necessarily that, but the symmetry is not inviting to me. It kind of offends my eye if you will.

But beyond that, they can be very symmetrical. A computer can generate that. We actually do, we generate puzzles ourselves here. We generate puzzles at Sudoku Professor exclusively for our Insider’s Club. We do it with a computer with software and it gets back tested and everything like that. And it gets hand tested as well before it gets released to the club members.

But you know, most computer generated puzzles, they can be relatively plain and serviceable. I mean, they’re not necessarily as inviting as some of these handcrafted ones are. They’re kind of like the family station wagon, as opposed to, say some sort of fancy European sports car. You know, if you will. That’s the difference, computer generated, plain, serviceable, the hand generated can be a lot fancier looking and more fun to play. Just my opinion, not always.

But so then this person that commented again, I wish I could give them credit for it, but we just can’t find it. Maybe he deleted it. I don’t know. He also asked, he referenced whether there was a difference in the techniques needed to solve the puzzles. And I’ve actually found that that’s not the case, that there really isn’t necessarily a difference in the techniques.

I have noticed though, that the Nikolai puzzles tend to be easier to solve. They tend to tend to be easier puzzles overall. Okay. Now there are some notable exceptions and some of the puzzles that were in books that we’re including in our giveaway will have the high level techniques, swordfish, jellyfish type techniques in them as well. So there definitely have some really, really hard puzzles, very difficult puzzles with some high level techniques in there.

But generally speaking, they tend to be a little bit on the easier side, what I would consider to be Bachelors and maybe a little bit of Masters. But occasionally they get up to the hards. And I don’t know why that is. I’m not sure. But it may be related to the labor involved. If you handcraft puzzles, you’ve got labor. I mean, people are actually working to actually create these puzzles and it takes time and then it takes time to test them. And it may be that it’s very difficult, you know, then to create hard, really hard puzzles that take more time to test. I’m not sure. Maybe, maybe not.

But in general, you’re going to find a broad application of techniques. No matter what the puzzles you do, I mean, you could pick up a puzzle, let’s see, like this one right here. This is another Frank Longo book. This Absolutely Nasty Sudoku. I love that book right there. It’s got this absolutely nasty apple on the front with an absolutely nasty worm coming out of it.

Anyway, these are really hard techniques, but there’s still a variety of really hard puzzles. They’re what I would consider to be what we would put into the Masters up to Doctorate level puzzles and anything from Either-Or Coloring goes into those. Some Swordfish, some let’s see, what else was on this one? I have some notes on the back. We have 3-corners or the X-Y wing, Chains and Cloaked 4 Corners, all these different things. So in parlance of the internet, you might find coloring and X-Y, XYZ wings X wings, obviously all that other stuff.

We have different names for them here at Sudoku Professor because we believe that all of those names have kind of become meaningless and really kind of distract from what you’re really trying to accomplish with the puzzle. Anyway, that’s what we have here.

So real difference between the two, not a lot. As far as solving is concerned, not a lot, as far as the attractiveness of the puzzle, I think it does play into it a lot.

Alright so hang around, next time. We’re going to end this session in just a minute, but what I wanted you to do is come back for the next session. It’ll be our last session for the day. We’re going to wrap up. This is a marathon. We have been at this for three hours, although we’ve had some breaks, but we’re going to wrap this up, I’m going to talk about pencil marking.

There’s always a bit of controversy with pencil marketing people. People hate it. People love it. People, you know, do it in lots of different ways. I’m going to give some examples of that on here. We’re going to talk about the differences. And if you have questions about that, while we’re doing the session, join in and post those questions in the comments of the video.

And in between now and that one starting, I want you to head over to and sign up and get signed up for this fantastic giveaway that we’re doing. Get your friends to sign up as well. And you’re going to have your chance to win all these prizes. And you’ll be getting emails as well about these next live sessions that we’re doing for the rest of the week, so that you can know ahead of time what we’re doing. You’ll get an email that we’re going to do some live solving puzzles, and you’ll be able to download those puzzles ahead of time and solve with us. So I look forward to doing that with you in about, I don’t know, 10 or 15 minutes. So I’ll see you then.


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Robert Barker