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Sudoku's Seven-Year Itch

Is the craze waxing or waning?


It's been just over seven years since The Times of London published their first Sudoku puzzle in November, 2004. Since then, the puzzle has spread like an incurable virus and today there are very few places on earth where they are not available. And, just like any virus, the puzzle has mutated and spawned a whole host of variants. How about some Alphadoku, Kakuro, Killer Sudoku, Hypersudoku, Wordoku or KenKen with your morning commute? Bored with plain old 9x9 Sudoku? Then latch onto Sudoku-zilla, a 100 x 100 behemoth that will devour your deductive powers faster than Superman at a pie-eating contest.

I read an interesting article by Matt Gaffney way back in 2006 which mentioned that the man responsible for bringing Sudoku back to North America had appeared as a guest at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and his reception was decidedly chilly. Most people held him responsible for dethroning the crossword puzzle as America's favorite puzzle. At the time I wrote a blurb about the premise that Sudoku and crosswords were duking it out for the title, "America's Favorite Puzzle".

So what has Wayne Gould unleashed on the world since he convinced The Times to run a harmless little logic puzzle that he had come across during a visit to Japan? Ironically, the modern sudoku puzzle, which was called Number Place, had originally appeared in the United States but it never caught on in a really big way. It seems it needed some incubating time overseas and some foreign branding. When it reappeared in North America with a Japanese moniker, it was an immediate sensation and newspaper editors were tripping over each other in the rush to to run it as a regular feature.

Not surprisingly, many crossword creators were a little jealous of Gould's success. He has made millions from his computer generated puzzles while they are lucky to earn a pittance for hours of difficult and demanding work. While his market is global, a North American crossword maker is limited pretty well to English-speaking North America. (Crosswords in the UK use a dfferent style.) The market is tiny and the number of would-be constructors has increased ten-fold in the past 10-15 years. The competition is fierce.

Needless to say, there was no joy in Cruciverbia where the makers of the venerable crossword puzzle collectively hung their heads and wept. Soon their grief gave way to anger and they resoundingly denounced the newcomer and were aghast that this foreign upstart had become so popular. Would people come to their senses and return to the quest of solving the four-letter word for sea eagle? They began to ask themselves, "Why is sudoku so popular?"

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that no special knowledge is required. You don't need to know the name of a Pulitzer prize winner or a Pomeranian potato salad and, since it uses numbers, it isn't even language specific. All you need is a little deductive reasoning and, as long as you choose a difficuty level within the limits of your capability, you can have the satisfaction of solving a puzzle.

Now, seven years later, has the bloom faded from the rose or is the Sudoku bonfire still burning just as bright, if not more so? Ironically, many crossword makers (former Sudoku spurners) have admitted getting hooked on Sudoku. It can be irresistable and even addictive. Well, definitely habit forming.

What do you think? Is it the venerable American crossword or the flashy has-been with the Japanese makeover that tickles your fancy? Or do you like both equally? Vote in the poll and let's see where things stand.

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