Why Sudoku Is Not A Math Game (And Anyone Can Solve Sudoku With Confidence!)

People love playing Sudoku. Most people dislike (ok, hate!) math in their entertainment. And that dislike of math applies whether you play sudoku free online or go buy a book of puzzles from the magazine aisle.

Games of math boast long disdainful roots in America. Millennials weaned on TI-80 graphing calculators occasionally have PTSD flashbacks to pre-calculus and hitting the zoom button, while older generations have flashbacks to scratchy chalkboards and confusing equations involving someone asking to ‘Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.’

Working with the Sudoku Professor, students see that there is, in fact, a logical narrative to the game with zero use of math involved. The numbers 1-9 could just as easily be substituted with 9 different symbols to replace the numbers.

The common misconception is threaded with the idea of No. 2 pencils erasing numbers in the margins. For this reason, people have broad-based ideas around Sudoku being embedded with arithmetic equations.

“I still find it a nice way to relax now and then but to be honest I prefer doing the crossword,” Irish mathematician Gary McGuire told Nature magazine. McGuire is a leading proponent of the pure Sudoku maths.

So here’s a question worth asking: How do you play Sudoku puzzles?

According to McGuire, there’s definitely math involved in formulating a Sudoku puzzle. He used complicated logarithms and a supercomputer. McGuire came up with conclusion that most Sudoku puzzles needed a bare minimum of 17 clues to complete the puzzle. (The typical newspaper puzzle features around 25 clues, with the easy Sudoku puzzles featuring even more given numbers.)

“Any puzzle with a single solution will have 17 squares already filled” goes the typical Sudoku puzzle answers mantra. After the creation of the puzzle, however, is where the math involvement ends.

So how does Sudoku involve logic?

First off, you should start things simply. Understand that Sudoku puzzles are based off patterns. (Enter the earlier concept of interchanging numbers with emojis and/or symbols to serve as the nine place holders.) The place where the numbers in Sudoku go are called spaces. The spaces are then sectioned off into larger square-shaped boxes featuring 9 spaces. Then a larger square box contains the nine boxes. Standard adult Sudoku puzzles have 81 space and nine boxes, which creates the typical three box by three box grid effect. Dark lines usually cordon off the boxes for easy reference.

In the next step, ‘math’ starts to come in, as long as you define math as counting from 1-9. Each row must contain the numbers one through nine. Look at the vertical columns. Those columns need to contain the numbers one through nine, too. And the nine boxes with the nine contained spaces? They need to contain numbers one through nine as well. You cannot repeat any number in any row, column, or box.

This is where the logic-based crossword aspect of Sudoku comes in. Those clue spaces where numbers have already been filled in? Start using logic concepts (not math concepts) such as the process of elimination to deduce which numbers fit into the empty spaces. Sudoku puzzles of every difficulty can be solved strictly using these logic concepts and thinking methods.

Of course, there’s a wide variety of techniques and “solving secrets” available, and absolutely none of them involve any kind of math whatsoever. In fact, almost all of the techniques and concepts involve reducing mistakes and recognizing certain patterns that arise naturally due to the way that Sudoku puzzles are created. These techniques and methods eliminate the need to guess randomly or peek at solutions for answers to the most challenging Sudoku puzzles.

Like anything else, once you’ve learned exactly what to look for and how to see it properly, you’re more likely to find patterns that fell under the radar without understanding these “solving secrets.”

Again, once your Sudoku puzzle is complete, here’s where ‘slight math’ comes into play. A counting method will assist you in making sure that you didn’t miss any numbers or put any duplicate numbers in the columns, rows and boxes with the counting technique.

That’s the basic gist of Sudoku and the logic involved in successfully solving puzzles with ease. If you’d like to ask your own questions about Sudoku, be sure to like the Sudoku Professor on Facebook for our Live Q&A Sessions.

If you’d like to go ahead and get a sneak peak at some of the “solving secrets” and methods taught by the Sudoku Professor, you can get your first five lessons for free by entering your name and email below so you can start solving more puzzles and harder puzzles faster and with fewer mistakes!

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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.