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Random Thoughts

It’s puzzling

Hudson Cooper
Posted 5/19/23

Like many of us, I am connected to the internet either on my cell phone or computer. My day usually starts by firing up my laptop to peruse Facebook. It quickly gives me a recap of late-breaking …

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Random Thoughts

It’s puzzling


Like many of us, I am connected to the internet either on my cell phone or computer. My day usually starts by firing up my laptop to peruse Facebook. It quickly gives me a recap of late-breaking news, an opportunity to wish a happy birthday to my friends and see pictures of what many of them ate for dinner. 

Then it is time for exercise of the mental not physical kind. I begin attacking the daily puzzles both online and in the newspaper. There are assorted types of puzzles to choose from. Many of them deal with numbers or letters. 

Naturally, I often start off with the crossword puzzle. But since one of my earlier columns dealt with the history of that, I will limit this puzzle conversation topic to the one that has captivated my morning routine.

My favorite number puzzle is Sudoku. I have always been a math guy. As a senior in high school, I was a member of the Mathletes. As a team, we traveled around the state competing against other high schools in high level mathematic competitions. I also tutored underclassmen in calculus. I have found out the hard way that retaining knowledge of mathematics is akin to remembering a foreign language. If you do not keep at it, the brain eliminates the ability to use it. I recently found a calculus paper that I wrote in high school. Having forgotten everything about calculus, it looked like ancient hieroglyphics in the pyramids in Egypt.

Sudoku is a number placement puzzle that has become very popular recently. In fact, it has been around since the late 19th century, when French puzzle makers began publishing a version of the game in a Paris daily newspaper. That version, which used double digit numbers, required arithmetic knowledge rather than today’s puzzle which relies on logic to solve. 

Sudoku is a 9x9 puzzle comprised of 3x3 subgrids. The object is to fill in the grids so the numbers 1 through 9 do not repeat in each of the subgrids nor in the rows and columns. The more often you attempt it, the easier it gets.

The puzzle comes with some numbers already filled in. I am sure that is accomplished by some computer program. Years ago, I was in a coffee shop working on a Sudoku puzzle. A friend of mine came over and announced that he had just finished writing a book on how to solve the puzzle. I took out a blank sheet of paper and began writing meaningless numbers and algebraic formulas all over the page. He asked what I was doing. I replied, “You know what I’m doing. You wrote a book about it.  I’m breaking the binary 19 code that they use to place the numbers on the grids.” Of course, I was making it all up. He got upset and mumbled that he had to call his publisher. Before he ran off, I told him I was just kidding. That was fifteen years ago and every time I have seen him since, we laugh about the fictitious binary 19 code.

Sudoku puzzles appear in newspapers and online all over the world. The modern version was introduced to America in 1979 when Howard Garns, a freelance puzzle maker first published it in Dell Magazines. It began to emerge in Japan in 1984 in a monthly paper. That is where the name “Sudoku” was generated. They called it “suji wa dokushin ni kagiru” which roughly translates as “the digits are limited to one placement per square.” The name was eventually shortened to Sudoku.

The Japanese word “dokushin” refers to an “unmarried person.” It seems appropriate since it is easy to become obsessed with solving the numbered puzzle. Go to any Starbucks or coffee shop and you will see many single people sitting alone as they try to solve the daily Sudoku puzzle. A few of them might be quietly muttering something about that darn binary 19 code.

Hudson Cooper is a resident of Sullivan County, a writer, comedian and actor.


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