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Sudoku, A Short History

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Sudoku’s history is a fascinating game for those who are devoted. Based on its name, the game originated in Japan, but it actually appeared first in the United States and in the UK. Sudoku was first published in the late 1970’s in North America in New York by the publisher “Dell Magazines”. Dell, a specialist in puzzles of logic and ability, published Sudoku as “Number Place” in its Math Puzzles and Logic Problems magazine.

The American Version of Sudoku

It has not been absolutely determined who designed the modern American version of the game. Some think it was Walter Mackey, who was one of Dell’s puzzle creators. Others believe it was Howard Garns, a 74-year-old retired architect and freelance puzzle constructor from Indiana. The reasoning for believing that it was Garns was because he was always on the list of contributors in issues of Dell Pencil Puzzles and Word Games that included “Number Place”, but his name was always missing from issues that did not.

Reaches Japan

Sudoku finally did reach Japan when the Japanese found a “Number Place’ in a Dell magazine and translated it as something quite different: su meaning number and doku meaning single unit. It was introduced to Japan by Nikoli in 1984. The puzzle appeared in the Monthly Nikolist in April.

This can be translated to “the numbers must be there in only on instance”. It immediately caught on in Japan, which is only natural, when you consider that Crosswords don’t work very well in the Japanese language, and so number puzzles are much more prevalent there than word puzzles.



In 1986, the popularity of the puzzle increased, and Nikoli introduced two different versions of the game. It is now published in many mainstream Japanese periodicals, including the Asahi Shimbun. The trademark name of Sudoku is still held by Nikoli while other publications in Japan use other names.

Game and the Computer

It was not long before Sudoku could be played by computer. “DigitHunt” was created for the Commodore 64 in 1984 by a company called Loadstar/Softdisk Publishing. This home computer version of Sudoku allowed people of all ages to enjoy the game in a convenient manner and on demand, right on their computer screens.

The Modern Sudoku Craze

The Sudoku puzzle continued to grow in popularity and reached craze status in Japan in 2004 and the craze spread to the United States and the UK through pages of national newspapers. With this increased popularity came more analysis and a deeper scrutiny of Sudoku. It was an accepted belief that practically speaking, there are virtually endless solution grids for the 9×9 Sudoku puzzle. In 2005, Bertram Felgenhauer calculated the number to be about 6,670,903,752,021,072,936,960.

He arrived at this number using logical computations. The analysis of the number of solution grids was further simplified by Frazer Jarvis and Ed Russell. It has not yet been calculated how many solution grids there are for the 16 x 16 Sudoku puzzle.

Sudoku is now published in a variety of places including the New York Post and USA Today. The puzzle is also reprinted by Kappa in GAMES magazine. The Daily Telegraph uses the name “Sudoku” and you may see the puzzle called “su doku” in other places. Many times you will find Sudoku included in puzzle anthologies which include The Giant 1001 Puzzle Book. In these books Sudoku is usually titled something like “Nine Numbers”. Its popularity is such that “Sudoku” is now a well-known word around the world, and is part of millions of Google searches every month.

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