A Brief History of Sudoku

A brief history of Sudoku

Sudoku puzzles, since their inception, have been a mainstay in the brain teaser and puzzle game world for many decades now. With its simple rules, bare design and easy-to-understand but hard-to-master mechanics, Sudoku has captivated the hearts and minds of puzzle enthusiasts across the globe.

However, where did the game come from? Who created it? What inspired it? How did a game this simple become a phenomenon, complete with a dedicated community and ensured longevity?

Continue reading to learn more Sudoku tips and info!

Ancient Origins

While the daily Sudoku we know and play today dates back to the late 1970s, its roots can be traced much further back in time. This puzzle game’s basis and, to a certain degree, predecessor, is a mathematical concept called "Latin Squares," which existed in the 18th century. A Latin square is a square grid filled with symbols so that each symbol occurs once and only once in each row or column. The symbols could be a letter, number or anything else, as long as it was distinguishable from others and could be sequenced.

However, unlike its descendants, Latin Squares were created as theoretical tools meant to solve and aid mathematical research, not as new puzzles for recreational purposes.

Mathematics and Sudoku Puzzles

The groundwork for the modern Sudoku game was born in Switzerland during the late 18th century. It was the brainchild of the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler, known for his involvement with graph theories. Euler's creation was called, understandably, "Latin Squares".

Euler's Latin Squares puzzle retained the basic principles of its predecessor, with each number appearing exactly once in each row and column. But this time, Euler Latin Squares improved upon it and added a partial grid that was filled in with numbers, creating a puzzle requiring logic and reasoning to solve (or to someone who isn’t a mathematician, try to fill it with guess after guess until it clicks).

With this, Euler Latin Squares became another foundation for what would become Sudoku. Other iterations similar to it would pop up for people to solve, like the “magic squares” puzzles that were in the French newspaper (basically their daily Sudoku at this time), Le Siècle, and the “Carré magique diabolique”, published by their competitor newspaper, La France. On a side note, Carré magique diabolique was well-refined to the point it was very close to the fun Sudoku game we're playing today.

Becoming a Sudoku Puzzle

Even after these iterations, Sudoku wasn’t called “Sudoku” and the puzzle wasn’t perfected yet. This time, a retired American architect named Howard Garns created a puzzle called “Number Place” for Dell Magazines in 1979. It had very similar mechanics to those that came before it, but there isn't enough documentation to know if there were more missing numbers on the sheet, or if there were fewer numbers to work with. These magazines would play a vital role in what would become Sudoku.

A Japanese man named Maki Kaji would then see Number Place in a magazine, and then proceed to perfect the puzzle on his own. After refining his newfound puzzle, he would rush to attend his favorite pastime of watching horse racing and come up with a name for the game in under 25 seconds—”Suuji wa dokushin ni kagiru” meaning “numbers should be single”. Shortly after this, he and his friends created their publishing company called Nikoli, a name they got from a winning horse in the Irish 2000 Guineas horse races.

Under Nikoli, they would then start publishing their first puzzles in their magazines. Kaji’s coworkers, however, told him that the new game's name was too long, which he would then shorten to “Su Doku” and stick from then on as Sudoku. The first mass printable Sudoku puzzle was published in 1984, and it quickly gained popularity within the country. Kaji also stated that he created the puzzle for kids and for someone who wants to enjoy something at home without having to set up too many things and rack their brain too much. Daily Sudoku puzzles became an incredible hit with every age group.

However, it would take more than a decade for Sudoku to break out onto the international scene and achieve worldwide success.

Global Acclaim

Sudoku's international journey began in the early 2000s when British newspapers started publishing the puzzle. The Times, an old and very famous newspaper, played a significant role in popularizing Sudoku in the western part of the world as part of its publications. It introduced a grading system to denote the puzzle's difficulty, ranging from easy to fiendish, which helped Sudoku cater to a larger demographic.

Sudoku soon became a global phenomenon, appearing in newspapers, books and dedicated puzzle magazines (like Nikoli) worldwide. The advances in technology, especially the inception of the internet, further fueled its popularity. With countless websites offering Sudoku puzzles of varying difficulty levels, along with solving techniques and strategies, Sudoku became a worldwide hit.

The Sudoku Craze of the Sudoku Kingdom

Sudoku found its peak during the mid-2000s, with the puzzle appearing on television screens, in video games and even on electronic handheld devices like PDAs. Sudoku competitions and tournaments for hard Sudoku puzzles sprang up all around the world with the first official World Sudoku Championship being hosted by the World Puzzle Federation in 2006. The puzzle's appeal lay in its accessibility; anyone, regardless of age or skill level, could enjoy the challenge of Sudoku as long as they could count and read.

Today, many people enjoy playing Sudoku in different kinds of ways. Some prefer to do it the classic way and work on a printable puzzle, while others download an app on their preferred devices and play Sudoku there. From easy Sudoku puzzles filled with hints to downright diabolical ones, there's always a Sudoku puzzle for someone!