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Sudoku and me

01:11 AM July 20, 2015

SUDOKU IS the logic-based, mind-challenging game that is now creating a storm among millions of puzzle enthusiasts all over the world.

There are conflicting versions regarding its origin. But at least everyone agrees that the Japanese have the trademark rights to the name Sudoku which means “a number in a single place.”

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There are several versions of the puzzle. The most common that I am also familiar with is the 9X9 grid of 81 small squares called cells. These 81 cells are contained among nine bigger squares within the grid called blocks, with a block having nine cells each. One can also look at it as a grid of nine horizontal rows and nine vertical columns with nine cells in each row and in each column to make up the 81 cells within the grid.

For those still unfamiliar with the game, the goal that also serves as the basic rule of the game is to fill every cell in each block, each row, and each column, with one numeral from 1 to 9 without ever duplicating a numeral in each block, row, or column.

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As a start, some of the cells are already filled with numerals called “givens.” The number of cells already filled varies in every puzzle. Thus, the more givens there are, the easier it is to figure out which of the remaining numerals logically should occupy which empty cell. And obviously, the less givens there are to start with, the more difficult it is to solve the puzzle.

Experts say that the closest puzzle comparable to Sudoku is the more popular jigsaw. The two puzzles have similarities both in the way they are done and in the pleasure that is gained in solving them.

In a jigsaw, there is only one solution where each piece can only go in only one place. Similarly, Sudoku has only one solution where the correct numeral must go in its proper place.

And the joy of successfully completing a jigsaw is akin to that of solving a Sudoku. When the final cell in the grid has been filled in a Sudoku, the satisfaction approximates what one feels when the final piece has been placed in a jigsaw and the total picture appears.

But why choose Sudoku over jigsaw?

Unlike a jigsaw, Sudoku is very handy and one can bring it anywhere he wants to go. It is light on the budget, and easily available, too. Almost every newspaper today carries syndicated Sudoku puzzles side by side with crossword puzzles. One can also buy a book or magazine of Sudoku puzzles in bookstores or convenience stores. Those who are tech-savvy can play a downloaded Sudoku app anywhere on their mobile phone, tablet, or laptop. One can also play it a bit at a time, if there is a need to be interrupted.

Furthermore, for an aging senior citizen like me, experts say, it also helps slow down the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s since it engages the brain. It is challenging since it tests one’s logical reasoning and memory.

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For a lot of people on the move, they like Sudoku because it makes short work of what should be a long haul. And so, for a traveler, it can kill the boredom of sitting in a literally long-haul flight. For the short-tempered, it can ease the tedium and unpleasantness of a long queue while waiting for his turn at the bank, the cashier’s line, or the doctor’s clinic. For the sick or their loved ones in a hospital room, it can help ease the pain of expectation for the unknown while waiting for the doctor’s diagnosis or the test results.

In fact, it was in a hospital setting where a chaplain-colleague of mine introduced me to Sudoku during our CPE residency in Honolulu, some years ago. At first, we were using it to relax during break from work. And then, we thought of using it as a conversation piece with patients during our visits with them. Soon the patients and even their visiting families started doing the puzzles themselves. Sudoku helped them ease their pain and anxiety, they told us. I realized then that Sudoku can be an effective therapy, too!

And true enough, I used Sudoku as therapy during my rehabilitation and recovery period after my multiple coronary artery bypass in 2007. It helped me to forget the pain while doing what I thought was something worthwhile.

Today, I still play Sudoku. And yes, I often ask myself whether it is not just a waste of my time. But come to think about it, Sudoku has even taught me some lessons in life.

First, in Sudoku, I need to have given numbers already in their right places to start with. I need them as a sort of foundation so that I can start solving the puzzle. And it is so in life. I need basic moral foundations to start living righteously. I need the pillar of values I hold dear to be there to hold me up when trials and hardships come.

Second, for me, Sudoku as a whole somehow reflects the order in nature and the universe around me. In Sudoku, I can solve the puzzle not by guessing, but only by following the rules. One mistake and the puzzle becomes insolvable. And so it is with nature. If I mess up with it by not following the rules it sets, my life gets into trouble!

Third and finally, in Sudoku I must be patient in exploring, scanning and logically analyzing all the blocks, the rows and the columns in order to find the answers to all the blank cells in the puzzle. Similarly, I have to explore and analyze patiently the circumstances where I find myself in, in order to find the solutions to the unanswered questions in my life.

At the end of the day, I feel that my playing Sudoku has served me well!

Danilo G. Mendiola, a retired HR and admin practitioner, does volunteer work in his Quezon City parish as a pastoral counselor. He has four children and four grandchildren.

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