Date: March 25, 2006
Byline: Alexandra Fenwick
STAMFORD — Sudoku can save your life.
"Well, that's a bit of a stretch," said Wayne Gould, who popularized the numbers puzzle that has swept newspapers across the country in the last year.
But Gould said Sudoku is one of the few games or activities that test human logic, giving it unusual power.
"You can in fact practice your logic and use it in a situation where you need to be logical — you could be in a life or death situation," Gould said.
Gould was in town yesterday to judge a $500 grand prize "Sudoku Smackdown" held at the Stamford Marriott last night as part of the 29th annual American Crossword Tournament.
Sudoku, which has become a global sensation, was originally published in 1979 in the United States as "Number Puzzle" in Dell magazine. Japanese publishers picked it up after Dell dropped the puzzle and called them "Sudoku," short for a phrase meaning "the digits must remain single."
In 1997, Gould, a New Zealand native and retired judge, discovered a book of Sudoku puzzles during a trip to Tokyo and spent six years perfecting a computer program to generate more puzzles.
"I was worried what would happen when I finished all the puzzles in the book," Gould said.
Gould now supplies Sudoku puzzles — free of charge — to 400 newspapers across the globe, with only five papers printing duplicate puzzles each day. He also runs the Web site sudoku.org and has published two best-selling Sudoku books.
The Daily Sun of Conway, N.H., in July became the first American newspaper to include his puzzles, though the trend initially caught fire in British newspapers, starting with the Times of London in 2004.
Other Sudoku creators joined the craze, and the New York Post became the first major metropolitan daily newspaper to publish Sudoku in the United States, followed by hundreds of other newspapers, including The Advocate in November 2005 (see page A2).
In an impromptu challenge in the hotel lobby last night, Gould finished what he called a moderately difficult puzzle in just over nine minutes.
Gould says Sudoku is here to stay, and Will Shortz, editor of the New York Times crossword and organizer of the weekend tournament, agrees.
After all, no other puzzle has had such a meteoric rise to fame — except the crossword.
"Crosswords in the 1920s exploded over the course of six months," Shortz said. "The craze for Sudoku will not last forever, but I do think Sudoku is going to be with us forever, like crossword."
Shortz has featured others kinds of puzzles at the tournament in the past, including trivia and word puzzles, but this is the first Sudoku appearance.
Ethan Friedman, an editor at St. Martin's Press, which publishes Will Shortz crossword and Sudoku puzzle books, said it has published 20 Sudoku books in less than a year and has 5 million copies in print.
Andy Silikovitz of West Orange, N.J., attended the crossword tournament for the 14th time yesterday.
Also a fan of Sudoku, Silikovitz, 37, wore a T-shirt proclaiming his love of the puzzle to last night's "Sudoku Smackdown."
The T-shirt read, "Compulsively addicted beyond all hope and reason" on the front and, "But proud of the addiction" on the back, written underneath a picture of an unsolved Sudoku puzzle.
Silikovitz also owns a crossword puzzle tie — but, he said, "I haven't practiced crossword puzzles since I started Sudoku."