Jerry Martin: A lesson from the ancients | TheUnion.com

Jerry Martin: A lesson from the ancients

Other Voices
Jerry Martin

Many millennia ago, before written language, before the wheel, there lived a small tribe of primitive humans somewhere in the Alps. This collection of four or five families, all fictional, lived together peacefully, with little friction and little food. They mostly ate pine cones and grub worms, but had time for amusements.

In a near forest lived a healthy roost of hundreds of chickens who laid many eggs daily. The people never thought to eat the eggs. And the chickens were too fast to catch. But the eggs were easily collected.

For generations they developed and played a game which, thousands of years later, evolved into modern day bocce ball. They rolled the eggs on the ground, sometimes for distance, sometimes for accuracy. The eggs were fun toys, their only distraction from their short lives of malnutrition, saber-toothed tigers and boredom. The old wise leader of the village said about the eggs, "Even though they don't bounce, they make perfect balls and we must save them to only be used for play and amusement."

Occasionally, while exercising their newly discovered opposable thumbs, someone dropped an egg and it broke. They thought it looked nasty and were surprised when wild dogs, just beginning to become domesticated, ate the broken eggs. Still, the people obeyed the old leader's advice and never ate the eggs. These naive people didn't recognize the eggs' true value.

Like the egg for the body, Sudoku is “food” for our minds.

Then one day, after many generations playing this sport, a very precocious young man decided to copy the dogs. Seeing what eggs did for dogs' diets, the gifted boy ate an egg and then requested his family begin eating them. Soon this became very popular and finally they overcame their traditional malnutrition and everyone gained weight and was happy. They finally realized their misuse of this valuable resource. The egg rolling sport was retired (however, generations later, the wheel was invented, inspired by the rolling talent of the round eggs, which was rare in nature).

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Here in California in the 21st century we have a parallel. We have a valuable "tool" that is not being used to its potential. It is misunderstood, like the cavemen's eggs, and so of limited value to us modern humans. This "tool" is Sudoku, excellent for teaching and training basic cognitive development, the rudiments of effective critical thinking, useful in every walk of life. Sudoku could teach (and train) a wide range of humanity how to think correctly, helping us solve modern life's problems.

Further, when done in small teams, Sudoku can train us to work together to solve problems and develop social skills that make our lives more peaceful, friendly and cooperative. It's a game of us humans against a non-human opponent, a puzzle. Simulating a major obstacle such as flood or fire or famine, this game trains children, while safe, to overcome their personal differences while objectively collaborating to defeat a common opponent, a puzzle. Team Sudoku develops belonging and friendships, providing opportunities for humans to learn how to work together in a safe context to defeat a mutual foe.

When we learned to eat the eggs rather than roll them, we derived their maximum usefulness. Like the egg for the body, Sudoku is "food" for our minds. Sudoku, in the same way, can teach us good thinking habits if we use it as a teaching "tool" rather than a frivolous, time-wasting pastime. Our educational institutions need to recognize this power, take Sudoku off the shelf of amusements and use it to train our collective brains with good thinking habits.

Jerry Martin lives in Grass Valley.

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