13 September 2006

Sudoku puzzler

It was seeing a book entitled Snakes on a Sudoku at the grocery store last week that got me thinking about this.

About a month ago, I finally started doing sudoku puzzles. My best friend had said she found them relaxing and thought they might help keep her brain sharp, my husband and in-laws do them, and I know I'm smart enough to tackle them even though I tended to be the person who would come up with the most convoluted path to the solutions in algebra class.

So I do a couple or three puzzles a week now, the easy ones (and I have botched several). True to form, I started doing them the hard way: by writing every possible number at the edge of every square and then going through and eliminating all of the wrong guesses. Eventually I realized that there were more clues than I saw at the beginning of my sudoku odyssey. Now I'm much faster at solving them and no longer have to write all the little numbers in the squares the way I once did. I have goofed up on a few but solved lots of them.

My friend is right when she says they are relaxing in a certain way. Like any math or logic problem, they all have a correct answer. She was also right when she said, "You never have to guess," meaning that the layout of the numbers always gives you the clues you need to solve the puzzle without any guesswork. I still don't know how that works with the really difficult ones, but when I've solved puzzles I have indeed not needed to guess.

Yet I remain puzzled about the sudoku craze because people are spending so much time doing them, yet they still don't take vacations. Just google "americans vacation time" and you'll find many, many stories about the fact that not only do people get less vacation time in the U.S. than in other countries but that people are not even using all of their allotted time.

Does that mean that sudoku puzzles have come to serve as our mini-vacations? I think web surfing serves that purpose for some folks, but perhaps because of the mind-sharpening qualities of working out a logic problem, we see sudoku puzzles as a more profitable activity.

I've always felt that the goal of my work is to bring me to the dinner table with the ones I love at the end of the day. I also believe in the power of art and music to restore and refresh the soul. As much as I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment after I've solved a puzzle, I believe that all our time spent on sudoku puzzles might be better invested in having dinner with our friends and family, going out to hear live music for an hour or two, or planning our next vacation. Sounds good, but first I'm going to finish that puzzle.

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