CATI: Christians And The Internet

Discussion of various matters of interest related to the Internet, particularly from the perspective of conservative, Reformed (or Presbyterian) Protestantism.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Joy of Puzzle-Solving: Sudoku and Others

Some of the following is adapted from an article, "The Word on Crosswords: The Joy of Making and Solving Puzzles," which I published in the newsletter "CATI," Vol. 3, No. 9, which appeared in March 2002.

Is there anyone who hasn't at some time enjoyed sitting down to do a puzzle, whether it be crossword, jigsaw, or - the latest craze - Sudoku? There is something attractive about an activity where you create order out of disorder or you make something out of nothing (that is, nothing except for the puzzle clues).

This is true of different kinds of puzzles, including jigsaw puzzles, sliding-tile puzzles, and that favorite American pastime of crossword puzzles. (I combine all three in a software program I wrote called the Traver Puzzlebox.) And the latest new favorite puzzle activity is Sudoku. In general, puzzle-solving is a wholesome way to have fun. (Puzzle-making is another.)

In her book The Crossword Obsession: The History and Lore of the World's Most Popular Pastime (Berkley Books, 2001), page 3, Coral Amende has this to say:

"Human beings have a passion for puzzles: we love giving our mental musculature vigorous workouts with perplexing posers and scintillating stumpers--particularly those with a goodly dose of wicked wit. From ancient ages to modern times, the solving of cranium-straining conundrums has been one of the ways in which we have created harmony out of chaos and brought some small semblance of order, however transitory or illusional, to our lives. This edifying exercise sharpens our cerebral acuity and develops critical logical-thinking skills, as well as being enormously entertaining, and there is great satisfaction--that gratifying "Aha!" feeling--to be had in parsing a pattern or getting a grip on a puzzlemaker's sly trick. Solving (and, to an even greater degree, constructing) puzzles also allows us to use the knowledge we've collected and enhances that knowledge in a fun way...."
--Coral Amende, The Crossword Obsession, p. 2.

For a Christian, such an activity is especially appropriate, for our "God is not a God of disorder but of peace" (1 Cor. 14:33). Whether it be a jigsaw puzzle put together to show a beautiful landscape or a crossword puzzle entirely filled in with the appropriate answers, we feel a satisfaction when we finish our creative or constructive work and - after we complete our work and look upon the result - declare that it was good (see Gen. 1).

What is Sudoku? It's a puzzle of 9 by 9 squares in which the object is to fill in the sqares so that each and all of the digits from 1 to 9 can be found in every row, column, and 3 by 3 block. Some of the squares are already filled in, and ordinaily there is one and only way to correctly fill in the remaining squares.

Note: No mathematical calculartions are involved: the 9 numerical digits are used for convenience, but the letter A through I would have worked out equally well for the purpose. The puzzle is based on logical reasoning, and not numerical computations, so you cn do well in Sudoku even if you aren't ordinarily skillful at "working with numbers."

The best Sudoku computer program that I've seen on the Internet is Robert Woodhead's Sudoku Susser, written in REALbasic. (Lovers of language will appreciate the name; it's too bad that we don't have more people around who know what it means "to suss," i.e., to investicate and figure out, analyze and solve, master though the giving of careful, thoughtful attention, etc.).

Here's a partial description to whet your interest from the TuCows shareware site (which gave Sudoku Susser its highest rating):

"This Sudoku assistant and master-level solver features a hints mode to show you what numbers are legal for the remaining squares. The deducer uses human-style reasoning to solve the puzzles and can take you step-by-step through their solution with detailed explanations of each step. The brute force recurse option solves all puzzles. Highlighting modes help you see the patterns in the puzzles. You can even drag puzzles right from Web pages of major UK newspapers into the application, then edit, save and print them offline."


Don't download it from TuCows, however, because they do not have the latest version (2.5.1). You'll find information on how to download the latest version here:


And here are the author's own comments from that page on the features of the program:

"The Sudoku Susser makes it easy to make your selections as you solve the puzzle; just click on one of [the cells] and select the new number from the popup menu that appears, or mouse over it and press the number on the keyboard. But it does far more than that!

"It can display the remaining possibilities for each square in several ways, making it easier for you to see the patterns that are the key to solving tough puzzles. You can add and remove possibilities as you make inferences about the puzzle.

"It can hi[gh]light 14 different simple and advanced Sudoku patterns. Everything from simple forces and pins up to mega-expert techniques like forcing loops and chains.

"It can give you hints on how to proceed, or solve the puzzle by human-style logic, with detailed explanations of the steps. No known puzzle can stump the Susser's heuristic deduction engine.

"Other features:

" * You can drag Sudoku graphics from just about any webpage and they'll be scanned and loaded into the application.

" * Instant download of new puzzles from the Sudoku archive [at] (and other popular puzzle sources)

" * Extensive help, hint and hi[gh]lighting features show you the logical structures in the puzzles.

" * You can manage, rename, reorder, and print out your Sudokus.

" * You can drag them out of the app as graphics or in a variety of text formats.

" * Undo and redo are fully supported.

" * Many sample puzzles to get you started.

" * Comprehensive manual gives detailed explanations of all the advanced solving methods the program can use." (who gave Sudoku Susser a rating of 4.8) had this to say:

"Sudoku Susser is a free program that helps solve Sudoku puzzles. In addition to being more convenient than pencil-and-paper, the Susser also can show hints, solve the problem step-by-step using human deductive reasoning, or brute-force solve it using recursion. You can drag Sudoku problems directly from web pages, save, edit, print and more. And if you like the program, you can tip the author to encourage him to improve it."


Caution: If you go into any major bookstore, you'll find scores of books containing Sudoku puzzles. What you will NOT find is much discussion of the principles involved in the solving process. The following introduction to Sudoku (written by Robert Woodhead for kids) is as good an introduction as I've seen in any bookstore Sudoku book (and better than most):


Adult beginners can learn much from this introduction as well, if they are willing for the moment to "become like little children" (recommended age: perhaps 10). Woodhead very clearly (as if he were speaking to a child?) explains five techniques that can be used in the solving of a Sudoku puzzle: looking for a "force," looking for a "pin," looking for a "simple locked pair," looking for a "hidden locked pair," and checking "intersections," fairly simple approaches (once Woodhead explains them) that go a long way.

So far as books go, here is information from about what is supposed to be one of the best (I've ordered a copy for myself):

"Master Sudoku : Step-by-Step Instructions for Players at All Levels (Paperback)
by Carol Vorderman

"Book Description
Master the Numbers Game That’s Taking the World by Storm

"Whether you’re one of the millions of people already obsessed with the number puzzles called Sudoku (a Japanese logic game that’s like a combination of a crossword puzzle and a Rubik’s Cube) or you’re just being introduced to this addicting game, Master Sudoku has a puzzle for you. Here, the UK’s leading Sudoku expert, Carol Vorderman, offers 200 puzzles for Sudokuists at every level, ranging from easy to super difficult, with clear instructions and crucial secrets that will help you finish puzzles in record time. The faster you are, the higher your score! Engrossing, challenging, and totally addictive, Master Sudoku is chock-full of fun.

"About the Author
Carol Vorderman is Britain’s leading female television host. For twenty-three years she has been known as the “Numbers Queen” on the hit quiz show Countdown, where she performs mental arithmetic at lightning speed. She has also presented science and technology shows for many years, including BBC TV’s Tomorrow’s World, as well as top-rated entertainment programs such as Stars and Their Lives. Carol hosted the world’s first live Sudoku television show in July 2005. She holds a degree from Cambridge and she is hooked on Sudoku."


There are many on-line resources for Sudoku. For example, one site claims to tell you the "top 50 Sudoku sites":


Wikipedia, the free on-line encyclopedia, has not only a good article on Sudoku, but also articles on related topics (such as Killer Sudoku):


You'll find an interesting article on "The History of Sudoku" here looked at in a broader context:


Well, that should get you started. As I said, to me, the puzzle-solving involved in jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, and Sudoku puzzles involves the bringing of order out of chaos, and our God is not a God of disorder, but of peace. And there is a special sense of satisfaction that comes from completing good work that has been done. Solving Sudoku puzzles can be a legitimate way of showing the image or likeness of God, our Creator and Redeemer. "It is finished" here too is a shout of triumph. Happy puzzle-solving!

Barry Traver


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