Extraterrestrial art show

The Kraken Wakes, pt. 5

Sudoku continues to trample the crossword

Last month I wrote a profile of Will Shortz, the crossword-puzzle maven, and used it as an opportunity to muse on the surging popularity of Sudoku — a puzzle that is the anti-crossword, since you can be both illiterate and innumerate and still have fun solving one. As I pointed out, Sudoku’s blitzkrieg assault on American puzzledom has enormously annoyed cruciverbalists — crossword-puzzle constructors — since Sudoku can be churned out instantly by a computer program, and require no human artistry.

Now Matt Gaffney, a cruciverbalist himself, has written a terrific essay for the American Prospect in which he discusses a new puzzle book he’s recently authored, in which the puzzles are a crossword-Sudoku hybrid. The puzzle format has apparently been around for a long time, and normally is called “Alphacodes” or “Coded Crosswords”. But Gaffney’s publisher is so enthralled by Sudoku that he insisted Gaffney figure out a Japanese name for it. As Gaffney writes:

It’s a language-specific puzzle that’s never been seen in Japan, I replied. It doesn’t have a Japanese name.

“Then come up with one,” he shot back. “Marketing wants a Japanese name. Can you have it to me by Tuesday?”

So I called my girlfriend, who’s the director of a school that teaches English to visiting foreign students.

“Put a Japanese student on the phone,” I told her. [snip]

She found a guy named Yuki, who’d been in the States six years and spoke lovely English.

“Codebreaking?” he replied. “In Japanese, that’s kaidoku.”

How perfect was that? It sounds so much like Sudoku that people just might start associating it with its better-known cousin. Marketing loved it.


(Thanks to Jeff MacIntyre for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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