The Sudoku Professor Explains the History of Sudoku

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


Hey everybody. Welcome. We are live today.

Today’s an interesting format. What we’re going to be doing is we’re going to be talking about a lot of different topics. We’re going to do, like, this live session. And then we’re going to stop and take a break and we’re going to get set up for the next live session. Going to be a different topic, every time. Sessions could run, you know, anywhere probably from 5 to 15 minutes. And we’re going to keep doing that, for, I don’t know, it might last a couple hours, it might last more than that, but we’re going to keep doing this.

We have a lot of questions lined up, a lot of things we want to talk about a lot of questions that you have asked and a lot of other interesting things that I want to share with you. So we’re going to do that right now.

Today’s topic is the history of Sudoku. We’re going to take it from the very beginnings that anybody could have been able to dredge up, and we’re going to take that all the way to the present day.

But before we get into that, I did want to answer one question.

So as you know, we’re running the Sudoku player’s dream giveaway sweepstakes, and it is a big celebration that we’re having this week during Sudoku week. And we did get a question from one of our players, somebody who had a question about this. She said I have purchased all of your courses, why should I sign up for the giveaway? Well, it’s a good question because part of the giveaway is you get lifetime access to all of our courses, but she’s already purchased all of them.

So she wants to know why she should sign them up. So well, one, one reason I’ll tell you right now is that you also get lifetime access to the Sudoku Professor’s Insiders Club. Now we’re going to talk a lot more about that later. Later in the week, we’re going to get deep into that so that you understand what that’s all about. It’s a great community of players, but I’m sure you don’t have lifetime access to that.

You also don’t have, I’m pretty sure you don’t have any of these cool books that we’re giving away. These come straight from Japan. You can win a stack of these and that would be awesome. There are a lot of fun to play. There are some of the best books around.

As a matter of fact, we’re going to get into later today, we’re going to talk about handcrafted Sudoku books, which Sudoku puzzles versus computer generated Sudoku puzzles, and the difference that that can make.  That’s one of the questions that we’re going to handle later on.

So again, you don’t have lifetime access to the Professor’s Club. You don’t have these cool books, I’m pretty sure.

But the other great thing is that, once you sign up, you can actually then send a link to your friends and get them to sign up. And I’m sure they might not have of the courses. But they would have everything for free as well. They could win everything for free and whatever they win, you win also. So go check that out at, just type that into your browser, And also if you get our emails, then you will see that link at the bottom of every email that you get. It’s pretty much in the PS of just about every email that you’ve received this week. So make sure you check that out.

Okay. Now on to the history of Sudoku. So it literally does actually start all the way back in the 1700s. So, back in the 1700s, there’s this dude called Leonard Euler. That’s how he spells it, (it’s pronounced Oiler). And anyway, he came up, this guy I can tell you right now, he’s not much of a Looker by this painting, but nonetheless, he was one of those all around kind of great guys. He did physics, he did astronomy, he did math and all sorts of science. I mean, he was like one of the Mr. Science dudes of the day.

But around 1767, what he did is he came up with this process, this concept of a Latin square. And you’ll recognize this as similar, basically each row and column has a unique set of numbers in it. The way he did it though, and the reason why it was called Latin squares is that he actually used Latin letters and would have bigger squares and figuring all this stuff out.

Anyway, at the time he came up with this it was like a heavy math thing. I mean, we’re talking like that kind of math where there’s complex mathematics and stuff like that. Now, but that’s not where it ended up and we’re going to get to that.

I want to say as an aside that it was more recently discovered that right around 1700, 67 years before this time, this Korean mathematician gave an example of a Latin square, but he did it, and he did something unusual. He actually, instead of squares, used hexagons. It’s really kind of odd.

So moving on, we have to move on now to the 1800s and actually 1890s. And we start to look at these newspapers, this one French newspaper, Le Siècle, they published a puzzle, and you can see it’s very similar.

Now that publisher, Le Siècle, they publish the puzzle and it actually still had more of an arithmetic feel to it. In other words, you still had to add things up.

But then this competing newspaper, La France, started publishing it and they moved it more into the logic that we know today. I think that what we’re looking at here with that type of puzzle is we have rows and columns, but we don’t have these little three by three boxes yet. That hasn’t come along.

So we come out of the 1890s, and we have to get on all the way up to the 1970s. And there is this guy, Howard Garns, apparently he did things sort of anonymously. He didn’t really do it out in the open. He really kind of designed what we now know as the modern Sudoku puzzle. He didn’t call it Sudoku. I’ll tell you that in a minute.

But this was picked up by puzzle maker, Dell publishing, you probably know about them: Dell magazine, they publish all sorts of games, crosswords, word search, and all this other stuff. And they picked it up and started publishing it.

The name that they used was Number Place. You may have heard of that. And it’s technically correct, in that regard. I mean, you are trying to place numbers in the right place. However, I’m really glad the name has changed because I just can’t imagine myself being the Number Place Professor.

And then we get into the eighties and what happens? Well, suddenly we have a new situation with the publisher, Nikolai picking up the puzzle and they start creating these puzzles and putting them out there and it starts to become popular.

Now this is where we get the name. So they called it “suji wa dokushin ni kagiru” at first and sort of literally translated, it kind of means “the digits must be single”. But thankfully we have the brilliance of the president of Nikolai, Maki Kagi, who decides to change that and reduce it down to Sudoku. You can see where it comes from within there.

And that’s where we get the name today. Also the other interesting thing that I found out was that they added rules. But the interesting thing is that they didn’t add rules to the player. I mean, most games that we ended up playing, when somebody adds rules, it’s on us as a player. Whether it’s in football or golf or whatever game, in other words, we have to do something different or we have to stay more within certain rules.

But this one, they put rules upon the puzzle maker. Basically they self-imposed the rules to make the game more interesting. One of the rules that they did was that they were going to produce puzzles with no more than 32 givens. Now, I think probably there’s a lot of publishers that violate that. And I bet if I looked hard enough, even Nikolai violates that on occasion, they might go to 34 or something like that.

But that was one rule that they did. The other rule that they imposed was for themselves was this rule of symmetry. Honestly, I think that for the symmetry rule, what it does is it makes the puzzles more attractive. And that right there is probably one of the biggest things that symmetry does, they actually can be almost beautiful puzzles and more inviting because of their symmetry.

So then, so that was the eighties. They start popularizing the game and then comes along in the nineties and we get to the Judge.

Now I don’t know much about this, but there was this man you may have heard of him. His name is Wayne Gould and he was born in New Zealand, but he’s known for one thing that he was known for is his career is being a judge in Hong Kong. I assume that he was a judge in a court of law that but I don’t have any evidence. They just said that he’s a judge. But one thing that he did outside of his normal practice of being a judge is that he actually wrote a computer program to generate Sudoku games. And one of the unique things that he did was to actually syndicate those games to the newspapers.

So he made them, but he didn’t sell them to the newspapers. What he did is he actually made them free to the newspapers and he was trying to drive traffic back to his website where he developed this game called Pappocom. And he would drive traffic back to the website where he wanted to sell people the game, they could download, pay the money, download the game and create their own puzzles.

So I believe that that one thing right there, the fact that he was giving it to newspapers, because newspapers pay for their content normally. For example, the people that draw the comics, they get paid by the newspapers for the newspapers to have the privilege of publishing their comic strips. They pay to have the crossword puzzles in there because people buy their newspapers for that, among other things, obviously.

But he gave the puzzles to them. And so then all of a sudden they have free content.

I think that made a huge difference now in how Sudoku was accepted, because suddenly it was all in all these newspapers, they had it for free and Wayne Gould was just getting traffic back to his website.

So then we move on to the 2000s. Now Sudoku was taking off, obviously all around the world. We even had a TV show on BBC. It ran for several years. It was kind of an interesting TV show that people would compete. I believe they would solve Sudoku puzzles in some way, shape or form, and I think usually they were four by four and six by six, but never more than that. So they weren’t full Sudoku solutions.

I never saw the show, never really knew exactly how it was played, but you would fill in the space or  you tell them what number was supposed to go there, but then you would also have to answer some sort of general knowledge question as well. Kind of an unusual thing, but it pretty cool, nonetheless. It ran for four seasons on the BBC and it was called Sudo-Q, I guess the Q is for the questions.

Anyway. So as we also know there’s been since 2006, there have been international competitions, obviously there’ve been regional, national, and now international competitions. The picture that you see here is from the 2015 international championship in Bulgaria. It’s been held every year since 2006, except for this year because people can’t get together and do this sort of thing. And the contest is primarily on who can solve whatever levels of puzzles that they’re giving you the fastest. Pretty cool, interesting thing.

And then of course we find out in 2009 you can actually get the best Sudoku education on the planet. And that’s where we are today with Sudoku and the best education on the planet. We’re really going strong.

And there is your history of Sudoku. So I hope that you learned something new about that. Isn’t that really cool?

Anyway, so our next topic that we’re going to get into in the next segment, we’re going to do a Myth-Busters. We’re going to talk about how Sudoku has no math involved, or “is math required for Sudoku?”. So we’re going to talk about that in the next one. Now you may know the answer to this but I’ve got some interesting background to this and actually how you can solve better Sudoku through this, and solve more Sudoku, and how your life can be better because of what you’re doing with the way Sudoku is set up and how you play Sudoku.

Anyway, I’ll get into that in the next segment. Thanks for joining us!


Chad Barker
Your Sudoku Professor

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Robert Barker