Tuesday, October 12, 2010


What is Sudoku: rules, history and terminology


The puzzle is most frequently a 9×9 grid made up of 3×3 subgrids (called "regions"). Some cells already contain numbers, known as "givens". The goal is to fill in the empty cells, one number in each, so that each column, row, and region contains the numbers 1 through 9 exactly once. Each number in the solution therefore occurs only once in each of three "directions", hence the "single numbers" implied by the puzzle's title.
The attraction of the puzzle is that the completion rules are simple, yet the line of reasoning required to reach the completion may be difficult. Published puzzles often are ranked in terms of difficulty. This also may be expressed by giving an estimated solution time. While, generally speaking, the greater the number of givens, the easier the solution, the opposite is not necessarily true. The true difficulty of the puzzle depends upon how easy it is to logically determine subsequent numbers.


The puzzle was first published in New York in the late 1970s by the specialist puzzle publisher Dell Magazines in its magazine Math Puzzles and Logic Problems, under the title Number Place. The person who designed the puzzle and composed the first of its kind is not recorded, but it was probably Walter Mackey, one of Dell's puzzle constructors. The puzzle was introduced in Japan by Nikoli in the paper Monthly Nikolist in April 1984 as "Süji wa dokushin ni kagiru ", which can be translated as "the numbers must be single" or "the numbers must occur only once" . The puzzle was named by Kaji Maki, the president of Nikoli. At a later date, the name was abbreviated to Sudoku (pronounced sue-do-koo; sü = number, doku = single); it is a common practice in Japanese to take only the first kanji of compound words to form a shorter version. In 1986, Nikoli introduced two innovations which guaranteed the popularity of the puzzle: the number of givens was restricted to no more than 30 and puzzles became "symmetrical" (meaning the givens were distributed in rotationally symmetric cells). It is now published in mainstream Japanese periodicals, such as the Asahi Shimbun. Nikoli still holds the trademark for the name Sudoku; other publications (at least in Japan) use other names.
In 1989 Loadstar/Softdisk Publishing published DigitHunt on the Commodore 64, which was apparently the first home computer version of Sudoku. At least one publisher still uses that title. Bringing the process full-circle, Kappa reprints Nikoli Sudoku in GAMES Magazine under the name Squared Away; the New York Post and USA Today now also publish the puzzle. It is also often included in puzzle anthologies, such as The Giant 1001 Puzzle Book (under the title Nine Numbers).


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