If you’ve spent much time pecking away at Sudoku puzzles square by logical square, you know how satisfying it can feel to finally get the whole grid ship shape. Perhaps few knew that we have one man in particular, Maki Kaji, to thank for making us think through all those rows, columns, and 9x9s. Kaji, who passed away last month at age 69, more than any other person was credited with popularizing Sudoku worldwide.
After coming across a modern version of the puzzle, originally conceived by mathematician Leonhard Euler in the 18th century, in a US magazine in the 1980s, Kaji introduced it to his home country of Japan, choosing a name that referred to each number’s “single” appearance. In the process, the college dropout started the country’s first puzzle magazine and saw the creation of puzzle sections in bookstores nationwide. After taking off in US and British newspapers, Sudoku was reimported to Japan.
Thanks, Maki, for making us think
Kaji saw creating puzzles as “finding treasure,” and felt a mission to spread their joy. He valued Sudoku for being easy for people who “didn’t want to think too hard.” Certainly the rules could hardly be simpler. The three conditions we have to satisfy for each placed number are good training for the general life principle that there’s often more than one thing to keep in mind at a time. If we may pull out a soapbox for a moment, in raising children, neither avoiding being too strict nor avoiding spoiling kids should be realized to the exclusion of the other. The trick is to appreciate both at the same time. To bring up one more example, it helps to remember in a discussion that often no one has a monopoly on the truth.
So here’s saluting Maki Kaji’s zest for puzzling the world and pushing our pencils. “It’s not about whether it will make money. It is purely the excitement of trying to solve it,” he said. Solve on.