Sunday, January 31, 2010

So That's Where Sudoku Came From!

"So you thought Sudoku came from the Land of the Rising Sun ..."
"The puzzle gripping the nation actually began at a small New York magazine"
The Observer (May 15, 2005)

"If the first week of May 2005 will be remembered for a general election, the second will go down as the week of Sudoku.

"National newspapers scrambled to advertise the puzzle on their front pages, while websites devoted to it sprang up and TV and radio stations caught the new global bug.

"Numerous articles have attributed the puzzle, which has a Japanese name, to the mysteries of the Land of the Rising Sun. But its true modern origins lie with a team of puzzle constructors in 1970s' New York, from where it set off on a 25-year journey to Tokyo, London - and back to New York.

"Scientists have identified Sudoku as a classic meme - a mental virus which spreads from person to person and sweeps across national boundaries. Dr Susan Blackmore, author of The Meme Machine, said: 'This puzzle is a fantastic study in memetics. It is using our brains to propagate itself across the world like an infectious virus.'

"Sudoku - pronounced soo-doe-koo - does not require general knowledge, linguistic ability or even mathematical skill. Dubbed the Rubik's Cube of the 21st century, it consists of a grid of 81 squares, divided into nine blocks of nine squares each. Some of the squares contain a figure. The goal is to fill in the empty squares so that the figures 1 to 9 appear just once in every row, column and individual block. The requirement is logic or, for those willing to engage in a fiendish game of trial and error, sheer patience.

"The Sudoku story began in 1783 when Leonhard Euler, a Swiss mathematician, devised 'Latin Squares', which he described as 'a new kind of magic squares'...."

I have to admit, "Sudoku" sounds a whole lot cooler than "Latin Squares" - which reminds me of a classroom on the south side of the high school I went to, back when blackboards were black, and used chalk. (Yeah: I'm that old.)

The rest of The Observer article follows Leonhard Euler's Latin Squares to Manhattan, where a savvy publisher realized that people would pay to get these puzzles, and then on to - yes, Sudoku did go through Japan on its way to world-wide fame.

It's a fairly quick read, and a pretty good introduction to the history of this global phenomenon.

By the way: I got curious about Sudoku after reading the Garfield comics. Jon, Garfield's hapless owner, has been having trouble with Sudoku this week. Lots of trouble.

More:

1 comment:

Glenn Westmore said...

One of the oldest known Latin Squares is the Sator Square. This Square was supposedly found amongst the ruins of Pompeii in the volcanic ashes resulting Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, pressed in clay or carved in stone. Read more about it on my blog: http://www.glennwestmore.com.au/category/latin-squares/.

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