By Brad Cook
The biggest puzzle craze to hit newspapers since the invention of the crossword, Sudoku challenges you to fill an 81-square grid with the numbers one through nine, so that those digits appear only once in each row and column, as well as in each three-by-three subset of the main grid. Only logic can help you deduce the right numbers, although the game will fill in squares for you if youre stuck.
Just dont ask for assistance too often, though, because every time you ask for a hint, you reduce your final score. Each time you successfully solve a Sudoku puzzle, you earn Journey Points that go toward unlocking new background images and sounds, giving you fresh accompaniment for your brain-teasing travels. You can also unlock a new level of difficulty, Insane, that is sure to give all Sudoku fans their greatest challenge yet.
The Journey Begins With a Selection
Sudoku features two modes: Normal and Newspaper. In the former, you choose from four levels of difficulty Easy, Normal, Hard, and Very Hard and decide whether you want the game to check for errors as you fill in the puzzle. The higher the difficulty level, the more Journey Points you earn for completing the puzzle. You also have three types of hints available, all of which deduct from your score when you use them: Number Highlight, which shows you which cells contain a particular digit; Auto-Fill, which annotates each square with the numbers that it could possibly contain; and Cell Hint, which fills in the easiest square on the grid.
You can also annotate the cells yourself by holding the Select button until a pencil appears next to the currently-selected square. Press Select again and you can choose the number you want to place in that square for future reference; you can enter as many as you want. (Selecting a number already in that square deletes it.) Thats a handy way to eliminate possible numbers from each square and hone in on the logical solution. Hold Select again to return to the pen, which marks each square with a permanent number.
In Newspaper mode, you enter the starting numbers, known as givens, from a Sudoku puzzle found in a newspaper or other source and then play it or have the game solve it for you. A puzzle must start with 22 givens for the game to complete it.
Sudoku keeps track of your total playing time, your accumulated Journey Points, and the number of grids youve started and completed, as well as your best and average solving times, for each difficulty level. Dont worry too much over the number of Journey Points youve earned: As the famous author Ursula K. LeGuin once observed: It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end.
A Brief History of Sudoku:
Howard Garns is the person credited with creating Sudoku. He invented a puzzle called Number Place and published it in Dell Pencil Puzzles and Word Games in 1979. While his byline didnt appear on the puzzles, readers who paid attention to the list of contributors noticed Garns name was absent whenever Number Place wasnt in the magazine that month.
Unfortunately, Garns passed away in 1989, after his puzzle became popular in Japan, where it was renamed Sudoku (the digits must occur only once), but before it enjoyed worldwide success when The Times of London started printing it in 2004. While his creation was unique, it shared some characteristics with puzzles published in French newspapers during the late 1800s. Those earlier versions, however, were magic squares that required all the digits to add up to the same number in all rows, columns, and diagonals, a rule not present in Sudoku.
Sudokus current popularity is such that the first world championships were held in Italy in March 2006, with plans to hold the competition every year around the same dates, but in a different country. Digitized versions of the puzzle have appeared on personal computers and a variety of portable platforms.
Wikipedia hosts a fine article explaining the basics of Sudoku, along with pieces that examine the mathematics and algorithmics of the puzzle, with the goal of helping readers understand strategies for quick solutions. Explore the Sudoku page at Open Directory to find plenty of websites devoted to the phenomenon.
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