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HISTORY of the Sudoku

The puzzle seems to have first been published in New York in the late 1970s by the specialist puzzle publisher Dell in its magazine Math Puzzles and Logic Problems, under the title Number Place. The person who designed the puzzle and composed the first of its kind is not recorded, but it was probably Walter Mackey, one of Dell's puzzle constructors.

The puzzle was introduced in Japan by Nikoli in the paper Monthly Nikolist in April 1984 as "Suji wa dokushin ni kagir which can be translated as "the numbers must be single" or "the numbers must occur only once" (literally means "single; celibate; unmarried"). The puzzle was named by Kaji Maki, the president of Nikoli. At a later date, the name was abbreviated to Sudoku (pronounced sue-do-koo; su = number, doku = single); it is a common practice in Japanese to take only the first kanji of compound words to form a shorter version. In 1986, Nikoli introduced two innovations which guaranteed the popularity of the puzzle: the number of givens was restricted to no more than 30 and puzzles became "symmetrical" (meaning the givens were distributed in rotationally symmetric cells). It is now published in mainstream Japanese periodicals, such as the Asahi Shimbun. Nikoli still holds the trademark for the name Sudoku; other publications (at least in Japan) use other names.

In 1997, retired Hong Kong judge Wayne Gould, 59, a New Zealander, was enticed by seeing a partly completed puzzle in a Japanese bookshop. He went on to develop a computer program that spontaneously produces puzzles; this took over six years. He promoted the puzzle to The Times in Britain, which launched it on 12 November 2004. Three days later The Daily Mail began to publish the puzzle under the name "Codenumber". Nationwide News Pty Ltd began publishing the puzzle in The Daily Telegraph on 20th May 2005; five puzzles with solutions were printed that day. The puzzles by Pappocom, Wayne Gould's software house, have been printed daily ever since. The immense popularity of Sudoku in British newspapers and internationally has led to it being dubbed in the world media in 2005 variously as "the Rubik's cube of the 21st century" or the "fastest growing puzzle in the world".

Bringing the process full-circle, Kappa reprints Nikoli Sudoku in GAMES Magazine under the name Squared Away; the New York Post is now also publishing the puzzle. It is also often included in puzzle anthologies, such as The Giant 1001 Puzzle Book (under the title Nine Numbers).

Curiously, Dell, the apparent inventors of the puzzle, have made no attempts to cash in on this phenomenon, or even release a public statement about it.

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Today, you can solve soduko puzzles at quite a few websites, and some online casinos are even trying to incorporate the game in their casino portfolios. But the question is: “If Wayne Gould could produce a program that spontaneously produces soduko puzzles, someone could as easily create a program that beats the game.

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