February 1, 2018
When I teach Team Sudoku to elementary age children I encourage them to challenge their teammates every time one of them comes up with an answer.
When one of the four on the team proposes a solution, the others all demand, "Prove it!" This happens about 50 times every puzzle. Each of 50 decisions has one chance to be correct and eight chances to be wrong. Because every answer in Sudoku puzzles is absolute, either true or false, it's always easy, and totally necessary, to prove its correctness.
Every answer must be unimpeachable before it can be written on the puzzle. There are no "maybes" or "under these conditions" or subjective feelings to be considered. And you must be correct 100 percent of the time. One mistake produces other mistakes and it's almost impossible to identify the original mistake. Any errors and your boat has holes and will sink.
Sadly, in our convoluted world of endless information today, truth is now under serious assault far more than in the past. There are several reasons for this. But what does this have to do with Sudoku's appeal?
We are living in a complex, often confusing age, in which many people, some with great power, take advantage and employ exaggeration and deceit, to their profit. We are often dependent on experts, specialists who can fix a carburetor or TV cable or broken arm or income tax.
Most are honest, but some "authorities" in some professions, including medicine, nutrition, religion, politics, economics, sports, education, etc., use their positions to distort or reverse the truth. Some written documents and contracts conceal relevant information on page 93 in tiny print, hiding among acres of irrelevant vernacular and indecipherable computations. This is the downside of the First Amendment.
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Though deception has existed between humans for millions of years, it has increased greatly with the common availability of mass communication due to technological advancements. With a variety of cheap, available social media like email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., almost everybody has the ability to reach many people world-wide, cyberspace being ubiquitous.
And various large television cable stations and networks and newspapers can be bought by wealthy individuals and corporations and governments to distribute distortions to millions to gain power or financial gain. While these mass communication advancements can be beneficial to humanity, dispensing valuable information, they also produce disastrous results when some humans, morally depraved, use these "messengers" to promulgate lies.
Mendacity has become more common in the U.S. in the past few decades. Distrust has increased tremendously, particularly in the last election. Some of our leaders can no longer be trusted. And we accept it now as normal; "everybody does it" is used to justify lies. Fake news is common, as are false claims of "fake news."
This very unhealthy attack on truth has had, and will have, serious deleterious effects on our precious country. Morality, undermined, is no longer the guiding compass if we can't discern its validity. Who and what can we believe now? I can prove the Earth is flat if I'm allowed to lie. I can prove thousands of Muslims cheered on rooftops in New Jersey on 9/11 when the Twin Towers fell, climate change is a Chinese hoax, Obama was born in Kenya and the cow jumped over the moon, all by lying.
For about five years I've asked myself, and friends, what there is about Sudoku that is so attractive, with (I'm guessing here) about 10 percent of American adults doing one or more puzzles daily. It's habituating, though not addicting. Why do some of us do it? After all, it's all journey and no destination. When finished, you have nothing but a piece of paper with numbers in some uselessly organized fashion. Not worth placing on the refrigerator door.
But the journey is therapeutic, confidence building, providing a feeling of trust, certitude, independence and mastery. I believe Sudoku provides a relaxing escape from the distrust, the ambiguities, the suspicion and uncertainties, the lies that challenge our lives.
Sudoku is excellent training for a respect for accuracy, for truth. To succeed in Sudoku, all final decisions must be based on objective, provable truth. Outside lies are non-existent. Temporarily avoiding dishonesty is comforting.
Secondly, Sudoku is a relief from our dependence on many experts to fix problems previous generations never faced. In solo Sudoku, success or failure is always self-determined, there is no luck or outside influence. Either you master it or it masters you, a minor loss. Escaping our common dependence on others feels good. Sudoku is empowering, building self-esteem.
Sudoku is confirmation that we can still operate alone successfully without help or interference from untrustworthy external influences. It provides a simpler, truer, calmer world.
Jerry Martin lives in Grass Valley.