Am I Sudoku Challenged?

By Sharon Struth

Am I Sudoku Challenged?

A cartoon on my refrigerator shows a middle-aged man standing on a step ladder wallpapering the bathroom with Sudoku puzzles lying in piles all around him. His wife and her friend look on while he wallpapers and the caption reads, “We finally found a use for those completed Sudoku puzzles.”

Every day when I pick up around the house, I find a Sudoku puzzle from the newspaper neatly folded into quarters. I’m never quite sure what to do with it. My husband puts a great deal of time and effort into filling in the boxes with the correct numbers. Yet when I come across his finished puzzle, there seems to be no destination for this document but the garbage pail.

For those unfamiliar with Sudoku (pronounced Sue-Doe-koo) it’s a number game. The word Sudoku is an abbreviation of a Japanese phrase which, once translated, means “the digits remain single.” This game requires no mathematical ability. It’s simply a game of logic. Those who enjoy mastering it are known as Sudoku junkies.

My husband is one of them. Nightly he fervently tackles these puzzles. One evening my curiosity got the best of me.

“Show me how to do those,” I said.

“OK,” he replied. “The puzzle is one large box divided into nine smaller ones. Some of the cells have numbers in them and others are empty. The goal of the game is to fill in the missing numbers…” He pointed to various columns and boxes.

My mind wandered while he continued to talk. I felt my eyes glaze over. “Just show me how,” I said.

He stopped talking and looked at me over the top of his reading glasses. Sensing my impatience, he proceeded with an example.

“It’s clear that the number one is missing from this box and probably belongs in either this square or this square. See?”

I didn’t see, but I didn’t let him know that. My eyes scanned the rows and columns. One number blurred into the next. The task my husband described seemed insane and impossible. My head began to spin, and I put the puzzle down. Every night that week I’d pick up the puzzle and try again. Still, success eluded me.

The next day at work, my co-worker and I had a discussion about Sudoku. “I tried doing those once. I decided it would have been easier to slit my wrists,” he said.

I could relate. My inability to participate in this fad makes me feel like the last person to own a pair of bell-bottoms in the 1960s. How could this game elude me? I love numbers and logic. The fact that I couldn’t understand it defied all logic.

As I stood in the check out line at the grocery story one afternoon, I spotted a pocket size book entitled Sudoku for Dummies. That’s the book for me. I threw it on the conveyer belt.

Later that evening, pencil in hand, I opened it. I read and re-read the first few instructions. The first suggestion was to handle the puzzle in sections rather than as a whole. I looked at a few examples and headed for an “easy” puzzle. I identified a place for a missing number based on their clues. Then I guessed a second missing number! For the next hour I tackled the puzzle. As I went upstairs to go to bed, I carried my book and pencil along. I crawled under the covers and continued to soldier on. With the grace of God, I completed it.

The next night, I couldn’t wait to attempt puzzle number two and quickly finished the dinner dishes to get to it. I completed it faster than the first puzzle. Giddy with excitement, I went to the kitchen and chatted with my husband at great length about the strategies I’d been able to use in my Sudoku journey.

“I hate when I complete a section, and then one number is wrong. It really throws me off, so I check the answers when I finish a section just to keep my momentum going,” I said.

My husband had been reading as I spoke. He slowly turned his head toward me. His face registered a look of shock. “That’s cheating,” he said.

I defended my position, but he stood his ground. “If you’re looking at the answers, then you’re not really doing the puzzle. You’re cheating.” Evidently, no self-respecting Sudoku aficionado would cheat.

However, I can see that this form of “cheating” has been a self-esteem builder for my Sudoku ego and has encouraged me to proceed with more confidence. I just don’t tell him when I peek anymore!

His comment will be ignored, at least until I become more proficient. Someday I hope to be able to complete puzzles with the same ease that he seems to do them. But if I do, there will be two puzzles to toss in the garbage at the end of the day. Hmm…perhaps our bathroom needs wallpapering.

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One Response to “Am I Sudoku Challenged?”

  1. Barbara Devaney says:

    I loved this article! I remember experiencing that same “glazed over” expression the first time that I seriously examined this strange new puzzle that appeared in the Sunday paper. I ignored the allure of it for quite some time as I continued to fall back into my comfortable relationship with the crossword puzzle instead. Some months later however, my two teenage sons were kind enough to show me the ropes. Of course, they had figured it out in about 5 minutes sans help. Once I got past my first puzzle…I was hooked. Unlike the writer of this article though….I never cheat! :-)

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