Jerry Martin: Why teams in Sudoku? |

Jerry Martin: Why teams in Sudoku?

Other Voices
Jerry Martin

Until now, Sudoku has almost always been a solitary activity, a competition between one human and a puzzle. Almost all Sudoku puzzles in books, newspapers and magazines are designed for solo solving; small, about 4 inches by 4 inches.

But when done by teams, a very unusual event that only happens here in Nevada County, Sudoku is a competition between three or four collaborating humans working together against one enlarged (2 feet by 2 feet) puzzle.

Done alone, Sudoku is an excellent tool for teaching and training basic logic. But it does nothing for developing interpersonal social skills. Solving Sudokus on teams fills this gap.

Belonging is a basic psychological need of all humans. Children who don’t learn belonging with families or friends, on teams, in clubs or at church, usually develop a variety of psychological pathologies. Lack of belonging commonly results in isolating behaviors which limit many humans from developing complete, full, (and fulfilled), happy lives. Loneliness is much more common today than in our grandparents’ time, when three or four generations often lived under one roof, and large families were common and admired.

Elementary age children are learning to make friends outside their families, some more successful than others in developing this crucial skill. Team Sudoku is an ideal opportunity to develop belonging skills. A certain bonding happens when children work together towards a common goal. They often learn necessary skills for making friends while solving puzzles as a team. And they teach Sudoku tactics and strategies to other team members.

When confronting any non-human threat, be it fire, flood, hurricane, earthquake or pandemic, we humans excel by coming together in cooperation, temporarily ignoring the issues that divide us in less stressful times. Differences in race, religion, cultures and politics are irrelevant when humans fight a large natural threat. Combatting Sudoku, a practice enemy, provides a simulation of these heroic efforts, under safe conditions. Sudoku furnishes that learning opportunity to children without the danger. Boys and girls work well together and are of equal abilities with Team Sudoku. Teams are great preparation for more serious challenges, so is wonderful preparation for children to develop their common humanity and goodness. The best of our humanity rises to the surface.

Being on a team is thrilling to many 9 year olds, particularly those lacking athleticism. Working together on a team is always more attractive to children than working alone. Because of this, more children engaged in our team tournaments than would have participated if it was a solo competition.

Sudoku demands total, 100% accuracy. Every puzzle has only one correct final solution. Whenever a Sudoku cell (small box) is solved, and this happens about 50 times each puzzle, only one correct answer is possible; eight wrong answers are also possible. And one wrong answer will always result in failure. Sudoku is unforgiving, intolerant of casual, “almost” conclusions. There is no margin for error. Whenever a solution is proposed by a team member, it’s always provable, either right or wrong. There’s no in between. Feelings are irrelevant, subjective decisions don’t work, and it’s easy to determine if a solution is true or false. Disagreements can always be resolved. This eliminates arguments and differences of opinion. This makes teamwork simple and clear. Sure, mistakes can be made, but if they are, it’s the whole team’s fault, not any individual’s mistake alone.

To guard against mistakes, I train children’s teams to always ask, “Prove it. Show us the eliminators.” If they do this together before a number is committed to a cell, they will avoid making mistakes. This is one form of good communication developed by team Sudoku. To succeed, team members must work together, cooperating, always able to prove their solution, knowing that one mistake sinks everyone’s ship.

Team Sudoku trains communication, cooperation and leadership skills. Their faces, expressing serious concentration, and their body languages, around enlarged puzzles in recent tournaments, manifested a rare display of young children involved in a very mental group activity, sedentary, with extended focus and desire.

Our fourth annual tournament will be in late April 2020, and will have two divisions for the first time. The Junior Division will include second, third and fourth graders. The Senior Division will include fifth through eighth grades. Prizes will be awarded in each division. We provide free lessons for teams from schools, scouts, churches and any group of children 2nd through 8th grades.

For more information call 530-477-6282 or visit

Jerry Martin lives in Grass Valley.

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