SUMMIT COUNTY – “It’s the new Rubik’s cube,” said Angie Savage of Frisco, a bookseller at Borders Books in Silverthorne. Savage is talking about Sudoku (su DOE koo), the number game taking the American puzzle market by storm.”I like it because it’s fun and it’s addicting,” Savage said. “You want to keep going to see if you can get another puzzle.” Sudoku first arrived in American newspapers last spring. Today, it’s a daily feature in dozens of major papers, including the New York Post and Los Angeles Times. Two months ago, there were no Sudoku books on USA Today’s list of 150 top-selling books. This week there are eight.”All kinds of people buy these books,” Alex Kiburus, also of Frisco, said at Borders in Silverthorne. Borders has four Sudoku titles in its weekly national top 10 sellers. In Wisconsin, classes are being offered in Sudoku solving, and in Boston, an upscale Japanese restaurant has offered a $10 gift certificate to those patrons who can solve a puzzle by the end of their meal.What is Sudoku, and why is it suddenly so popular?”Sudoku” is short for the Japanese phrase meaning “only single numbers allowed.” It’s a logic puzzle consisting of a nine-by-nine grid of boxes divided into nine rows, nine columns and nine three-by-three grids. The object of the puzzle is to fill the small boxes with single digit numbers (from 1 to 9) without any repetition within any row, column or three-by-three grid.The puzzles are constructed with varying degrees of difficulty: From easy to “evil.” It doesn’t require any math skills or knowledge of trivia. Each puzzle has a unique solution, and they are all solvable.That “solvability” may account for much of its appeal.”You just have to do logic. You know what you have to accomplish,” Kiburus said. Puzzlers describe a feeling of satisfaction from getting all the squares filled. The simplicity of the rules and its use of numbers, instead of letters or words, are also attractive to potential solvers. And there’s no denying its addictive qualities. Puzzlers have reported seeing Sudoku grids in their sleep.Some analysts claim that Sudoku filled a vacuum in British newspapers left after the general election last spring. That may be a partial explanation of its popularity, but Sudoku also gives the solver a feeling of being in control in a chaotic world. There are no surprises in a Sudoku puzzle. “Sudoku appeals to a keenly logical mind,” Will Shortz, puzzle editor of the New York Times, wrote. It doesn’t provide any “Aha!” moments, but it doesn’t require any particular vocabulary or knowledge either.”I like it more than crossword puzzles, because it’s more straightforward,” Mark Dwyer of Frisco said.Some crossword aficionados stick up their noses at Sudoku, calling it “cold.” Others, like Shortz, have accepted it enthusiastically.Publishers are comparing the popularity of Sudoku to the crossword puzzle craze of the 1920s. Competition in British newspapers for Sudoku fans has been so intense that one newspaper, the Guardian in London, published one day’s edition with a Sudoku on every page.Free Sudoku puzzles are available on several websites. One such website, http://www.websudoku.com, offers over three billion different puzzles at each difficulty level. The computer gives hints when prompted. When a puzzle is completed correctly, it compares the solving time to 500,000 similar puzzles solved online. Dwyer particularly enjoys this feature.”I like the competition factor,” he said.Sudoku is just starting to penetrate the High Country. Most Summit County residents polled for this article had never heard of it, and there are no plans yet to publish Sudoku in the Summit Daily News.
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