Everything You Need to Know About Sudoku (A Brief History Lesson on The Origins of the Game)

These days, Sudoku seems to be everywhere. You’ll find it in magazines, in books, in newspapers, and on tons of websites online. This logic game has even been approved by the Alzheimer’s Association of America as a method to potentially help circumvent dementia. The beleaguered newspaper industry has revamped lifestyle sections around the modern-day Rubik’s cube that is this special type of puzzle. Puzzles appear regularly in The New York Times, The UK Daily Mail and The Washington Times. In the late aughts, Brittons had a regular ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’-style game show around Sudoku titled SUDO-Q on the BBC.

To learn the true origins of Sudoku, though, one must travel to 1783 Sweden. There was a movement afoot which utilized mathematics to prove the existence of God. It was an 18th century Renaissance Man named Leonhard Euhler who provided the crux of the meat-and-potatoes arguments in public debates. At the time, Euhler was credited with the reverting traditional thinking on mathematical concepts such as flow dynamics, the notion of key numbers for pi, calculus and movement in liquids.

“The prince of maths” would write over 1,100 books and papers and father 13 children before his natural death. However, Euhler’s Latin Squares concept provided the foundation for modern sudoku. Dubbed ‘Magic Squares,’ Euhler included a number and symbol in every grid. He didn’t subdivide into nine blocks, however, which is the Sudoku standard.

Over the centuries, newspaper puzzle editors fine-tuned Euhler’s Latin Squares concept. In 1892, France’s Le SiËcle newspaper (read: ‘The Age’) tinkered with the grids and introduced an idea for solving arithmetic problems around the outer edges. (As any Sudoku devotee will point out, you’re not solving math problems.) Le SiËcle also included double-digits, which is another Sudoku no-no.

In 1895, Le SiËcle’s competitor came close to publishing a Sudoku puzzle. The only difference? Le Siecle didn’t mark the subsquares. The initial directions included the line, “Use the numbers 1 to 9 each nine times to complete the grid in such a way that the horizontal, vertical, and two main diagonal lines all add up to the same total.” In some capacity, a variation of Sudoku appeared in France dailies and weeklies right up until the onset of World War I.

Modern sudoku crystallized in 1979 with the popularization of coloring book-style crossword puzzles book at American dollar stores. The foremost progenitor of this ‘Number Place’ game appeared in Dell Pencil Puzzles and Word Games magazine in 1979. Howard Garns was a retired septuagenarian when he sold his concept to Dell in the late-70s. Garns stopped contributing to Dell and others stepped in to take over the mantle. One of these Garns devotees included a Japanese editor for Nikoli magazines.

The 1984 introduction in the Monthly Nikolist included the new title, Sudoku. Roughly translated, Sudoku means the ‘numbers must be single.’ In Japan, logic games are popular and Sudoku became a bestseller in Japan. In other markets, though, Nikoli received initially tepid feedback.

Nikoli would emerge as a major influence on the distribution of Sudoku puzzles to the masses, popularizing the puzzles with their books dedicated to the subject.

“Our puzzles are not for education purposes, nor are they aimed at developing the brain. They are just a way of killing time and enjoying recreation,” Nikoli president Maki Kaji told Japan Times in 2007 after the explosion of Sudoku into a worldwide phenomenon.

“Perhaps it was a matter of timing, along with the availability of cheaper sudoku,” he said.

Eurocentric standards soon prevailed. In the late-90s, British fans of Japanese-style Sudoku tried their hand at creating their own puzzles. The buzz finally got the attention of the Times of London, which began publishing puzzles regularly in 2004.

Sudoku has since worked its way into countless lives as a daily staple of fun, brain exercise, and entertainment and earned its spot in the history of personal entertainment.

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Chad Barker, Your Sudoku Professor

Chad has been teaching people how to play Sudoku since 2008. The Professor specializes in breaking down complex logic into simple and easy to understand methods that help you solve more sudoku, faster, with fewer mistakes.