Sudoku and Other Diversions

My wife, having been told by friends in Europe that Sudoku, the Japanese [1] number—grid puzzle, was all the rage there, asked me to find some Sudokus and teach her how to solve them. A Google search disclosed a website with billions of Sudoku puzzles, a Wikipedia article with the puzzle's history and mathematics, and dozens of other sites which (as the little girl wrote in her book report) 'told me more than I wanted to know.'

I tried a few Sudokus and found that they could be solved by logical inference without any guesswork.  My wife caught on to the method quickly and is now happily puzzling away. 

But the wonder is that she—and the world—are interested in such logic puzzles at all. In trying to figure out why, I remembered a Caltech colleague who, at the height of the Cold War, developed a classic anxiety syndrome: high blood pressure, insomnia, and all the rest.  His doctor concluded that the source of his anxiety was his newspaper and restricted his reading to the classified ads and the crossword puzzle. He claimed that the classifieds were the most optimistic thing in the paper: all those beautiful homes and cars going for a song, all those interesting and lucrative job openings, and (on the very next page) a bevy of wonderfully qualified applicants ready to fill those jobs—in short, a happy world, very different from the one in the front pages.

And the crossword puzzle? It worked out—with every letter in its proper place. And if you didn't know how to make it come out properly, they told you the next day. It was a small island of order and symmetry in a chaotic world.

I suspect Sudoku serves the same purpose. It gives you the illusory feeling that you know how to solve the problems in your life. If you can make the numbers in the Sudoku grid come out even, then maybe you can do the same with your bank statement and tax return. Walter Kerr, in his profound Decline of Pleasure, attributed this healing quality to art. But since most of us have lost interest in art, or at least in the unsettling enigmas of contemporary art, we have to make do with puzzles. The austere symmetry of logic can provide a similar soothing pleasure, which is why Archbishop Fénelon warned his seminarians to 'be on guard against the enchantments and diabolical attractions of geometry.'

But Sudoku, and other logic puzzles like it, may have the far more important purpose of teaching logic to the masses. Our school system seems to have abandoned all attempts at that [2]. As George Will  recently pointed out, they are more concerned with teaching students to 'promote social justice' and 'perform their identities.' Fortunately, a certain percentage of young people manage to teach themselves basic logical skills. To this end, puzzles like Sudoku may succeed where our education system has failed.

I therefore propose Sudoku as Step One in a three—step program to prepare American Thinker readers for interpreting MSM articles and columns. After a few weeks of Sudoku have purified and organized you thinking, go on to Step Two, the cryptic crosswords that so delight the British, but are most masterfully exemplified by American compilers such as Cox and Rathvon. These are like ordinary crossword puzzles except that the definitions include puns or anagrams cunningly crafted to mislead the reader. Thus 'pretty girl in crimson and rose' defines 'rebelled'—'pretty girl' is 'belle,' 'crimson' is 'red,'  and 'rose' defines 'rebelled—thus, 'RE(BELLE)D.' It may well be that the popularity of cryptics in Britain has helped to make its politicians so adroitly evasive and its voters so cynical.

When Sudoku has trained you to spot logical contradictions and cryptics have taught you to see through evasions and deceptive phrasing, you are ready for Step Three.—the game of 'Spin.' The object of this game is to read a MSM article or column and separate the truth from what the writer is trying to make you believe. An easy example is two recent columns commenting on the Academy Awards. The writers had very little good to say about the proceedings, They accused the Academy voters of not having fairly watched all the films, invented farfetched explanations for the success of Crash, and shared a petulant dislike for almost every aspect of the ceremony.

I showed this to my wife and asked her to play 'Spin' with it. Her Sudoku training paid off; within five minutes she had correctly solved the puzzle: 'They're sore that Brokeback Mountain didn't win and are trying to get even.'

So take up a copy of New York Times or Time and play 'Spin.' Though we can no longer rely on MSM reporters and columnists to tell us the unbiased truth, we can at least make them a source of innocent merriment, as the Mikado would say.

Notes

[1]  Actually invented by American architect—puzzlemaster Howard Garns in 1979. Just like American artists and musicians a century ago, the game had to travel abroad and adopt a foreign name before it could return home in triumph.

[2] The school boards have their own equivalent of Sudoku therapy. Having failed miserably to teach students logic or language or mathematics or science, they have, as Sam Weller put it, '...took to building, which is a medical term for being incurable.' The school boards may fail to teach students to pass statewide exams but at least they can point with pride to the impressive buildings they've erected with our money.  

Paul Shlichta is a research scientist.

My wife, having been told by friends in Europe that Sudoku, the Japanese [1] number—grid puzzle, was all the rage there, asked me to find some Sudokus and teach her how to solve them. A Google search disclosed a website with billions of Sudoku puzzles, a Wikipedia article with the puzzle's history and mathematics, and dozens of other sites which (as the little girl wrote in her book report) 'told me more than I wanted to know.'

I tried a few Sudokus and found that they could be solved by logical inference without any guesswork.  My wife caught on to the method quickly and is now happily puzzling away. 

But the wonder is that she—and the world—are interested in such logic puzzles at all. In trying to figure out why, I remembered a Caltech colleague who, at the height of the Cold War, developed a classic anxiety syndrome: high blood pressure, insomnia, and all the rest.  His doctor concluded that the source of his anxiety was his newspaper and restricted his reading to the classified ads and the crossword puzzle. He claimed that the classifieds were the most optimistic thing in the paper: all those beautiful homes and cars going for a song, all those interesting and lucrative job openings, and (on the very next page) a bevy of wonderfully qualified applicants ready to fill those jobs—in short, a happy world, very different from the one in the front pages.

And the crossword puzzle? It worked out—with every letter in its proper place. And if you didn't know how to make it come out properly, they told you the next day. It was a small island of order and symmetry in a chaotic world.

I suspect Sudoku serves the same purpose. It gives you the illusory feeling that you know how to solve the problems in your life. If you can make the numbers in the Sudoku grid come out even, then maybe you can do the same with your bank statement and tax return. Walter Kerr, in his profound Decline of Pleasure, attributed this healing quality to art. But since most of us have lost interest in art, or at least in the unsettling enigmas of contemporary art, we have to make do with puzzles. The austere symmetry of logic can provide a similar soothing pleasure, which is why Archbishop Fénelon warned his seminarians to 'be on guard against the enchantments and diabolical attractions of geometry.'

But Sudoku, and other logic puzzles like it, may have the far more important purpose of teaching logic to the masses. Our school system seems to have abandoned all attempts at that [2]. As George Will  recently pointed out, they are more concerned with teaching students to 'promote social justice' and 'perform their identities.' Fortunately, a certain percentage of young people manage to teach themselves basic logical skills. To this end, puzzles like Sudoku may succeed where our education system has failed.

I therefore propose Sudoku as Step One in a three—step program to prepare American Thinker readers for interpreting MSM articles and columns. After a few weeks of Sudoku have purified and organized you thinking, go on to Step Two, the cryptic crosswords that so delight the British, but are most masterfully exemplified by American compilers such as Cox and Rathvon. These are like ordinary crossword puzzles except that the definitions include puns or anagrams cunningly crafted to mislead the reader. Thus 'pretty girl in crimson and rose' defines 'rebelled'—'pretty girl' is 'belle,' 'crimson' is 'red,'  and 'rose' defines 'rebelled—thus, 'RE(BELLE)D.' It may well be that the popularity of cryptics in Britain has helped to make its politicians so adroitly evasive and its voters so cynical.

When Sudoku has trained you to spot logical contradictions and cryptics have taught you to see through evasions and deceptive phrasing, you are ready for Step Three.—the game of 'Spin.' The object of this game is to read a MSM article or column and separate the truth from what the writer is trying to make you believe. An easy example is two recent columns commenting on the Academy Awards. The writers had very little good to say about the proceedings, They accused the Academy voters of not having fairly watched all the films, invented farfetched explanations for the success of Crash, and shared a petulant dislike for almost every aspect of the ceremony.

I showed this to my wife and asked her to play 'Spin' with it. Her Sudoku training paid off; within five minutes she had correctly solved the puzzle: 'They're sore that Brokeback Mountain didn't win and are trying to get even.'

So take up a copy of New York Times or Time and play 'Spin.' Though we can no longer rely on MSM reporters and columnists to tell us the unbiased truth, we can at least make them a source of innocent merriment, as the Mikado would say.

Notes

[1]  Actually invented by American architect—puzzlemaster Howard Garns in 1979. Just like American artists and musicians a century ago, the game had to travel abroad and adopt a foreign name before it could return home in triumph.

[2] The school boards have their own equivalent of Sudoku therapy. Having failed miserably to teach students logic or language or mathematics or science, they have, as Sam Weller put it, '...took to building, which is a medical term for being incurable.' The school boards may fail to teach students to pass statewide exams but at least they can point with pride to the impressive buildings they've erected with our money.  

Paul Shlichta is a research scientist.