Jerry Martin: Special characteristics of solo Sudoku |

Jerry Martin: Special characteristics of solo Sudoku

Other Voices
Jerry Martin

Superior thinking separates us humans from all other life forms. Thinking gives humans power to create language, music, morality, reading, medicine, cars, football and trips to the moon. But just as humans differ in heights, weights, speed, interests and talents, we also differ in thinking abilities. Some people think better than others.

Sudoku can improve anyone’s thinking ability, training systematic deductive reasoning habits, particularly applicable with children.

Sudoku requires no math, no common manipulation (addition, subtraction, etc.) of numbers. It could be done with letters of the alphabet or any nine symbols.

Most human competitions, whether athletic, board or card games, are between two or more people, or humans on small or large teams. With those contests, every move is successful or a loser depending on the opponent’s response. In checkers, every move I make is successful or not, depending on your reaction. Sudoku is different. It’s a competition between a human and a puzzle. The puzzle has already made all its moves, and never reacts to my efforts. If I make no mistakes and complete the puzzle, I win. If I make one mistake, the puzzle wins. But it’s entirely my responsibility. This changes the dynamics and removes all emotion from the result. The puzzle never gloats if it wins.

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Its greatest appeal is its ability to teach critical thinking abilities and train logical thinking habits.

Luck plays a major role in some competitions involving cards and dice and crazy bounces of a ball. But there is no luck in Sudoku. It’s 100% mental skill. The outcome is determined by the human; no excuses.

Most human activities produce a product, whether a baked pie, mowed lawn, sculpture or novel. Sudoku is different, producing nothing useful. A correctly completed puzzle is useless, a bunch of meaningless numbers in squares, to be thrown away. It’s all journey, no destination. But that journey, intrinsically motivated, provides repeated successes, which is why people love doing it. It doesn’t require an extrinsic motivator, something to hang on your wall, pay the mortgage, receive public acclaim. Doing Sudoku puzzles is a relaxing escape from the concerns and problems of everyone’s everyday lives.

Sudoku’s appeal is universal, done by anyone who can count to nine, regardless of age, gender, religion, politics, culture, race or language. It can be done indoors or outdoors, day or night, in bed or on a sailboat. It’s cheap and available, can be done alone or with others, travels well and done in one sitting or over many weeks. There are many levels of difficulty, some puzzles for beginners, some challenging seasoned veterans. All you need is a pencil and a flat place to write.

Its greatest appeal is its ability to teach critical thinking abilities and train logical thinking habits. Sudoku teaches how to think, not what to think, which most academic subjects teach.

Sudoku requires 100% accuracy — 99% is failure. This ingrains the possibility of absolute truth. These days, truth is being challenged and stretched. Sudoku defends truth against untruth, against lies. Sudoku is purely objective and unambiguous. Feelings are inappropriate and counterproductive. Proof is always available. It’s comforting to know there are definite right answers.

Sudoku also trains us to demand relevance when solving problems or making decisions. About 50 times each puzzle it is necessary to find the few pieces of relevant information which enable us to solve one small cell. There is always much irrelevant information which must be ignored, since it offers nothing useful and is just distracting.

Often there are several answers to a cell, only one of which is correct. We must wait until we know which is correct before committing to a definite answer. This trains children to collect enough information so they can eliminate all but the correct answer. It teaches patience and deliberation.

Solving Sudoku requires learning and recognizing a variety of patterns. Some patterns appear in beginning puzzles; harder puzzles require finding more obscure patterns. We are surrounded by patterns outside of Sudoku, so learning to recognize patterns is often helpful in solving problems and understanding the way our world is built and humans behave.

Sudoku is a wonderful tool; it should be in our schools.

We are recruiting and training teams of children, second through eighth grades, mostly in schools. We also welcome scouts or 4-H or FFA or families or any group with three or four on a team. Everything is free.

Tournament will be from 4 to 6 p.m. on May 13, 4:00 to at Nevada Union High School. Registration deadline is May 1. For information call 530-477-6282.

Jerry Martin lives in Grass Valley.

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