Jerry Martin: Journalism and Sudoku
Journalism students are taught to cover six questions when researching and writing a story. They are: who, what, when, where, why and how. I hope to answer these questions about Sudoku.
The answer to what is obvious — it’s Sudoku.
Who is more extensive. Sudoku appeals to and is done by every age group between about 6 and 96. I’ve been teaching it to second graders for six years and I heard of a 96 year old woman who does one or two puzzles daily. And many friends between these two age extremes, myself included, are fervent participants in this engaging competition between a human and a non-human opponent. It appeals to both genders, and boys and girls are equally skilled, as are men and women. Because Sudoku puzzles are so available and cheap, requiring no technology, (unless you think a pencil is technological), economics is never a barrier. And we can do puzzles alone or with a small group of solvers.
Sudoku is independent of languages. Theoretically, four people who speak four different languages could work together to solve a puzzle. All communication between them would be manageable, needing few words.
And puzzles range from very easy beginner’s challenges to mind-numbing monstrosities that test the most experienced Sudokuists. After 15 years, I’m happy with puzzles of medium difficulty, knowing I’ll never get bored because they’re too easy.
When is easily answered. A Sudoku puzzle could be done anytime, day or night, that you’re awake and have a few minutes to spare.
Where is also easy. Any place where there’s a flat place to write. A clipboard helps. On airplanes, waiting in a doctor’s office or in line are common locales, as is your favorite chair in your living room.
Why is more complicated to answer. For children, it trains their pliable minds in logical, information organizing, problem solving processes that all STEM subjects depend upon. Every decision we make throughout our lives depends on smart management of information that effects the result of that decision. Sudoku trains that process.
Through repetition, successful Sudoku requires developing the ability to discern relevant information when it’s surrounded by irrelevant information that distracts and interferes with smart solutions.
Sudoku also requires total accuracy; 99% accuracy produces failure. This develops respect for truth. Children need to learn that accurate information, facts, are the best way to arrive at successful solutions, and any deviation from truth usually produces failure and penalty.
Another reason Sudoku is educational training is it convinces children of the need to forestall all final decisions until all necessary information is available. Never guess and never answer with partial evidence; wait until you have enough facts before committing to an answer.
Sudoku puzzles are designed around certain patterns. Easy puzzles have recognizable patterns that enable the solver to find answers. But harder puzzles have more obscure patterns needing recognition in order to solve them. Experience develops this pattern recognition.
Solving Sudoku puzzles develops feelings of independence and competence, knowing you can do something most people can’t do. The satisfaction derived from completing a puzzle is pleasant and reassuring.
Adults enjoy these puzzles as an escape from boredom and a brief vacation from the pressures and worries of daily problems and considerations and responsibilities. This produces relaxation and delivers mental exercise that combats dementia and Alzheimer’s. Keeping the brain working is a healthy remedy; knowing you can still function mentally is reassuring, building self-esteem and feelings of power.
How cannot be answered here. That usually requires a few minutes with a teacher, someone who knows the basics. Many people try it on their own and quit, discouraged and defeated, concluding “my brain doesn’t work this way”. These same people can learn the basics and then teach themselves if given a 20 minute introduction by an experienced Sudokuist. I’m convinced that all human brains “work that way” if shown the basics.
I believe most human lives would benefit from solving Sudoku puzzles, for several reasons. But few people understand or appreciate the advantages of regular mental exercise. Just remember, our brains are what make us special, differentiating us from all other life on Earth. Our brains give us powers that all other species lack. God gave us superior brains for a reason. Now we must learn to use them to their maximal potential.
Would you want a car whose motor wasn’t tuned up? A boat with holes in the hull? A brain operating at 75%?
Jerry Martin lives in Grass Valley.
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