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26th August 2005


Brian Grainger
Richard Fowell
Chuck Fresno

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When I wrote the article on Japanese Pencil Puzzles, back in April, I little realised how much aggravation it would cause. The first weekend it was online I had to make changes because I had misinterpreted who had ownership to the 'Nonogram' name.

A little while after the article was online I got the following e-mail from Chuck Fresno.


You said: "Now, think what it would be like to live in Japan! Japanese writing is made up of symbols more like pictures than our alphabet."

I've seen similar statement in other places in the UK press. No one seems to be doing even the most rudimentary research -- like maybe asking some one who is Japanese.

1) Word puzzles are more popular in Japan than any other form of puzzle, including Sudoku and Nonograms.

2) Crossword puzzles are the most popular form of word puzzle in Japan.

3) Japanese written language does include KANJI -- these are pictographs that stand for an entire word -- but unlike the Chinese language, which uses ONLY kanji, Japanese also use KANA which is an alphabetic writing system. (Kana actually includes TWO separate alphabets -- Hiragana and Katakana -- but they are simply a different way to write the same letters.)
Magazines with Kana crosswords are rampant. They ALSO do Kanji puzzles in large numbers, as well as English language word puzzles to some degree. (Japanese use a lot of English mixed in with Japanese.) A person could choose to never learn a single Kanji character and be able to write anything and everything using Kana only -- and no one would know that they didn't know Kanji.

Actually, Kana IS different than the English alphabet in that each symbol is a consonant combined with a vowel sound.

4) There are two large Japanese bookstores in my area (Los Angeles). They both carry several Japanese crossword magazines -- but no other puzzle magazines.

See, for example:

or check the web yourself. Or ask someone Japanese. Sheesh.

I mailed Chuck to say that I could not ask anyone Japanese as we are not as cosmopolitan here
in Stevenage as in LA. I do not know any Japanese people. Consequently, I reflect, to some extent, what other people say and further the myth, if that is what it is. I promised to investigate further and I did.

First, I checked the web link given by Chuck and this confirmed his comments on the Japanese writing languages.

I also asked a friend of mine here in Stevenage who, although English, takes an above average interest in Japanese culture. He also confirmed the statements about language but did not further anything on my query as to whether the Japanese do crossword puzzles.

I have tried searching the web some more, but I can find nothing on real Japanese crossword puzzles. Indeed, the most likely result of a search on these words is picking up pages about Nonograms.

Now, I appreciate that I cannot read or understand Japanese, so I am only going to see Japanese web sites written in English. This may restrict the knowledge I can gain, but among these pages there is no evidence to support Japanese crossword puzzles, as we know them. However, I am sure the bookshops in LA must be selling them.

If I have any Japanese readers, (from Japan), I would love to hear from you as to whether crossword puzzles are available in Japan and what are the most loved puzzles of the Japanese.

There is one error in the previous article that I can correct however. The Japanese web site I referenced, http://www.nikoli.co.jp/en/, pointed out that the Sudoku puzzle did not originate in Japan! Apparently, it came from the USA and was then taken up by the Japanese.

Wherever it came from, it has certainly become popular in the UK. When I wrote my original article there were regular puzzles in two newspapers. Now, virtually every newspaper from the broadsheets to the tabloids have a Sudoku puzzle, each having their own series of puzzle books as well.

Having a break from work this week I went into my local W.H. Smith bookstore and lost count of the number of DIFFERENT Sudoku books on the shelves. I gave up counting after about 13 and this doesn't count the various series, (e.g. Times Book Of Sudoku 1, 2, 3, ...), as separate books. There is Sudoku for Dummies - the 'Little Book of Sudoku' - the Sun book of Sudoku - Teach Yourself Sudoku. If that isn't enough, Carol Vorderman, (Google her if you don't know who she is), lends her name to a 'How to Solve' book and her Massive Book of Sudoku. By Christmas someone is bound to have written a parody book - in the same mould as 'Bored of the Rings'.

It is not just newspapers and books that are full of Sudoku either. There are Sudoku magazines. My TV listings magazine, which is aimed at the soap opera loving fraternity, proudly announces on the cover 'Su-Doku Puzzle Inside'. I have to say this wasn't as taxing as the Telegraph Sudoku. Last week, the local market stall had got some Sudoku puzzle books!

There has even been a TV programme, on Satellite TV. Hosted by Carol Vorderman, (her again), it was mildly entertaining. However, as Sudoku can be solved by computer the prize on offer to viewers was to a randomly selected viewer from all the correct entries texted in to the show. The best part of the show, for me, was when they introduced someone who was called Sue Doku.

Then you can download Sudoku puzzles to your mobile phone and you can play the Sudoku game from W.H. Smith. Aagh! - Where will it end.

The Sudoku puzzle itself is appearing in variants. Various sizes of grid have been used. Then there are added restrictions, such as making the diagonals consist of all the numbers from 1-9 as well. There are even 3-D Sudoku cubes. Think of the Rubik's cube with numbers, says the Telegraph.

Talking of the Rubik's cube, it is now 20 years since that puzzle swept the nation. The Sudoku puzzle is now doing the same although, because it can be graded and solved by more people, the penetration of the Sudoku is much greater.

To be more serious again, about Sudoku, Richard Fowell wrote to me as follows:

I saw your article at:
and wanted to let you know about these free Sudoku apps for Macintosh and Palm PDAs:

On my Palm I have Andrew Gregory's Sudoku v1.10 from

Sudoku v1.10 is free, runs on any PalmOS and uses 60 kB of RAM.

Sudoku v1.10 can be used at many levels:

(a) as a simple board, where you just see and enter the numbers
- with illegal moves by you silently accepted, or
- with illegal moves highlighted when you make them

(b) to make "pencil mark" notes of your own (tiny numbers in each square)
- with incorrect notes silently accepted, or
- with illegal notes refused, or
- have the program automatically fill in pencil marks for legal moves

(c) the suggestions the program makes to help you solve can be:
- none whatsoever - you are on your own, or
- ask it to show you a square that is clearly known ( but not the value)
- ask it to fill in the number for the clearly known square, or
- ask it to solve the puzzle (the solution log will show you how it did it)

As a solver, Sudoku v1.10 knows these strategies:
- basic rules (a number in a square rules it out in the row/column/box)
- Number sets (Naked Pairs, Hidden Pairs (also triples, quads, etc.))
- Box/Line Reduction
- Colouring ( superset of Remote Pairs, X-Wings, Swordfish)

Note: The terms X-Wing, Swordfish etc. are jargon terms that have cropped up in the solver community. Their meanings will become clear if you read the Sudoku forums.

Sudoku Susser is an excellent, free Macintosh program at:

Susser has neat features, thorough documentation, and an unbeatable price (the author does accept "tips" if you like). The fanciest feature is that you can drag graphic Sudoku puzzles on it and it will perform OCR and read them in! The web site has a good screenshot and features list.

Once you've loaded a puzzle, Susser gives you as little or as much help as you like: none; recording your "pencil marks"; making "pencil marks" for you, (from just the obvious to the truly obscure); providing hints; or just solving the puzzle.

Even purists that don't want any hints will find Susser useful

- it loads puzzles off the Web and prints them (bold, clear 6 inch board)
- it will print your solutions, or save them as text or graphics
- it can be used with no hints
- it explains and demonstrates ten Sudoku solving techniques

Susser lets you input Sudoku puzzles in many ways:

- manual entry
- pasting text boards from discussion forums or other programs
- downloading from the Menneske.no Sudoku archive
- drag and dropped graphics of Sudoku boards (!)

This last option is a really nifty feature: you can "drag and drop" (or paste) Sudoku web graphics puzzles onto the board, (use "File: Clear Puzzle", first), and Susser ponders a bit to puzzle out the numbers and fill out the board!

I successfully "dragged and dropped" Sudoku web graphic puzzles from The Times, Der Standard, Daily SuDoKu, and The Hindu. For others, (Sudoku Master and many that provide .pdf files), I used the Mac OS Grab utility to copy and paste the Sudoku graphic into Susser.

Output options include printing, text and graphics. The text and graphics can be "dragged and dropped" to other Macintosh applications.

The documentation includes a 15 page Adobe Acrobat .pdf file, with instructions on how to use the program, description of basic Sudoku solving strategies and web links for finding puzzles.

Solving techniques explained in the manual, (and used by the program, if you ask it for help), are:
- Pinned Squares
- Simple Locked Set
- Possibility Reduction
- Intersection Removal
- Remote Locked Pairs
- Comprehensive Locked Set
- Fishy Cycles
- Nishio
- Forcing Chains
- Bowman Bingo

More technical terms, but Richard says they are explained in the manual.

Well, it looks like the Mac community is well served!

Sudoku Susser is also available for the PC, although it has not been so well tested. The author, Robert Woodhead, only has Windows 98. I have had an initial look and it looks very comprehensive. I find the interface a bit daunting to get the operability I want. I have a feeling I can set things so it works as I would like, but I find it trickier to do so than with Simon Armstrong's program (see below).

From the user manual it is clear that Robert does not understand how purists such as myself like to work. By default, the Susser will automatically calculate options for all the empty squares. I kinda think this defeats the whole object of solving Sudoku. Anyway, due to others like me requesting it, a Masochismo mode has been added to allow the puzzle to be solved without any help. I certainly think a computer program should only do as much as I ask of it. It should not solve the puzzle unless I ask it to. I even think it should be optional that you are told if you have added a number incorrectly. In my eyes a computer is a tool which I direct. It does not go ahead and do things I do not want it to do. That is why the Masochismo mode in Susser is essential - and one of the reasons I will never like Windows XP!

Another bone of contention is whether it is acceptable to have puzzles which require 'trial and error' to solve. I HATE these puzzles. Robert finds it OK and includes some techniques in the Susser to deal with them.

I have another link to introduce. Simon Armstrong has written a Sudoku solver for Windows PCs. It can be found at:

I had linked to this in my original article but I removed it at a later stage. The following explains why.

Simon first wrote to tell me that the program I mentioned from http://www.sudokusolver.co.uk was not unique in its ability to explain how a Sudoku is solved. His program also did it! Well, it did when he wrote to me. It didn't when I first downloaded it! No matter.

In its new version I liked this program a lot. The e-mail sparked off a month of correspondence where I would comment on the latest version of the program, changes would be made and the cycle would be repeated. At the end of this period the program had taken over as my favourite for solving Sudoku on a Windows platform. I was then somewhat miffed when Simon decided to sell the program. It had been available free, which was why I was helping. At this point I removed the link.

Why am I mentioning it again now? Well, I have continued to follow the progress of this little program. The latest version is always downloadable. The encouragement to buy is that it times out after 30 days. However, if you think a little bit it is not too difficult to get round this restriction without having to fork out any dosh to get a registration key to remove it. Whether you want to use this program to solve Sudoku on your computer or have it solve the Sudoku for you and give an explanation of how it is done, it is a good little program.

Before I go, here are some links for Sudoku fans to find more programs and puzzles. These links come from the Sudoku Susser user manual.

Major Newspapers


Mennekse.no Sudoku Archive (of graded puzzles)


Japp Scherphuis' Java Graded Sudoku Generator


Minimum Length Sudokus (Only 17 digits given to start)


Web Sudokus




Phew! I'm done. Time to tackle this week's Diabolical Sudoku.


This just proves you are never done with Sudoku! A new distribution channel opened this week. A free CD-ROM of 300 Sudoku puzzles was distributed with the London Evening Standard. I paid my 40p, in the interests of research of course. Not a bad disk, with a clever Flash based interface. Not sure how you are to solve these on-screen puzzles without the aid of tracking possible options! The easy ones are OK.

Why I mentioned this CD-ROM was to repeat something that was mentioned in the history of Sudoku on the disk:

In 1989 came the first computerised version of Sudoku. It was called DigiHunt and was produced for the Commodore 64.

You cannot keep a good computer down! Anybody out there got a copy of DigiHunt?


Helen Stevens, who was looking for educational resources to stimulate the mind, sent me a link to a page that offers Sudoku guides, tips and games. It looks interesting. You can find it at: