I am ready to admit the truth now. I am hooked on Sudoku. Just a few months ago, I did not know what it was. Then, I saw a book of Sudoku puzzles by Will Shortz, whose expertise of all things puzzley has long fascinated me. Shortz is crossword editor of The New York Times, where he has driven readers mad for several years now. He is the only person in the world to hold a degree in puzzles (formally called Enigmatology, you would want to know), earned from Indiana University. Of course, that is the university that was academic home to Alfred Kinsey and that is now how home to the sex study center that bears his name. A curriculum that ranges from perverts to puzzles redefines what it means to be a “comprehensive” university. But enough about that.
Sudoku puzzles are simple mathematical exercises, and the hard ones can drive you nuts. As Shortz admits, Sudoku “is one of the most addictive puzzles ever invented.” That is an understatement.
In a recent Newsweek interview, Shortz explains the reason we addicts get hooked: It’s the appeal of the empty squares to be filled in, which is a quality it shares with crosswords, and it has very simple rules. You can learn it in 10 seconds, and yet the logic needed to solve Sudoku is challenging. It’s a perfect amount of time to spend on a puzzle, anywhere from 5 minutes to half an hour. And there’s usually a rush at the very end, filling in the last squares, which gives you a great feeling. You immediately want to do another.
Oh yes! Just one more and I can stop. No, one more after that. And another. Oh, who can break this habit?
Does this at least qualify me as an athlete? C’mon, it’s a real workout. Shortz: That’s a tough call. To me, sport suggests athletic ability. And there’s no athleticism in Sudoku. But I can see it being definitely a competitive activity. You might call it a ‘mental sport.’” A “mental sport.” I like that. Maybe, I’m a mental athlete. Then again, maybe I’m just hooked on a math puzzle. Who cares? Just pass me another Sudoku book.
Shortz is certain that playing Sudoku will make people smarter. Put me down as a definite yes. It sharpens your brain, number one, and it improves your focus. You have to be focused to be a good Sudoku solver, because if you make a mistake and then base further logic on the mistake you made, you have no option but to erase everything and start over. So Sudoku really teaches you to be careful.
How about dealing with stress? Sudoku is really great for just refreshing your brain. You all have challenges everyday, and you’re worried about your work and your home and your family or whatever. Sudoku just lets you put everything else away for those minutes you spend on the puzzle, and then you feel renewed and refreshed and ready to tackle whatever challenge life throws at you.
Yes, refreshed and renewed, and ready to tackle whatever challenge life throws at me. That’s all thanks to Sudoku.
But Shortz also issues a warning: A geek is somebody who is intellectual and devotes way too much time to an intellectual . . . activity. Since Sudoku is brand new and people are just trying it out, I wouldn’t call it a geeky thing yet. Probably tens and tens of millions of people are doing Sudoku, so, unless you think 50 million Americans are geeks, I wouldn’t call it geeky. But, it could become that eventually, for people who, you know, devote five hours a day to it.
I liked him better when he was talking about mental athletes.