Sudoku: Japanese for ‘failure’ |

Sudoku: Japanese for ‘failure’

Janet Urquhart

What ever happened to dozing on the bus?Wrinkled brows contort the once-peaceful faces of sleep-deprived passengers who’ve been gripped by a new, far less satisfying obsession than catching 40 winks. Instead of sinking back for a quick snooze, they’re grimly hunched over the newspaper, scribbling furiously.Blame the Sudoku craze. The way addicts are grabbing papers out of the box, you’d think the front-page headline screamed: “Giant beaver to blame for Hopkins tree-topping” – or something equally riveting.My own brief flirtation with this unfulfilling pastime began after I opened an eye between Basalt and Old Snowmass one day and discovered my seatmate on the bus filling in the squares of the Sudoku puzzle like a pro. She was going left to right, line by line. About halfway through, she started scratching out numbers she’d already filled in. She scribbled in new numbers and scratched them out, too, until the whole thing looked like a giant squid had an accident on the newspaper. Then she gave up.A couple of days later, a guy sitting next to me was engrossed in Sudoku. He tackled each little cell within the puzzle and then moved to the next one. The strategy seemed to be working. He cruised through at least half of the cells before he froze, his pen poised above the paper. And that was it. He put the pen away and commenced scanning the headlines.I’ve seen it countless times. Some players unsuccessfully attempt to right their wrongs, but most just give it up entirely the moment they realize they’re hosed. The next day, they’re back at it.It’s like playing Lotto – the odds of winning are infinitesimal, but people keep trying.After observing numerous failed attempts at Sudoku, I broke down this week and grabbed a paper for the ride home, intent on giving it a try, even though anything that smacks of fun with math is a contradiction in terms, as far as I’m concerned.As it turns out, Sudoku has about as much to do with math as remembering one’s phone number. If you can count from one to nine, you can play. You just can’t win.In case you were born under the proverbial geologic detritus, the Sudoku square resembles a crossword puzzle, but some spaces are blank and others have been filled in with a number from one to nine. The puzzle is divided into nine smaller cells, each containing nine spaces. The goal is to fill in the blanks so that no number is repeated in any vertical or horizontal row, or within any of the individual cells.I filled in the upper-left-hand cell first. No sweat. Then I moved down to the cell below it and knocked it off as well. Then I moved to the bottom cell in the first row of cells, where four of the spaces had already been filled in, as they are in each cell, leaving me five blank spaces. There was no place for me to fill in either a four or a seven without repeating a number that already appeared elsewhere in either the vertical or horizontal row. Then I did what everyone else does: stared at the damn thing, stupefied. I couldn’t fix that cell without going back for a major reworking of the two I’d just finished. Now I understand why no one ever finishes.Maybe Sudoku is Japanese for “failure.”Stupid puzzle.Having already squandered precious moments of sleep, I turned my attention to a real puzzle at the top of the page – the classic New York Times crossword. Since it was only Tuesday, I figured the puzzle hadn’t advanced beyond my limited vocabulary. You know, it gets more difficult as the week progresses. By Sunday, it’s nerds only.One across: Ray under water. Five letters. Hmmm. “Sting”! Now we’re cooking. Yeah, I was scribbling in words left and right, or at least, down and across. This is my milieu.Only, nothing seemed to feed off my first entry, “sting,” unless an indicator of RPMs is a “nach.” No, it has to be “tach,” which means the underwater ray is of the manta, not sting, variety.Faced with the prospect of scratching out and scribbling anew, I did what any Sudoku veteran would do. I gave up.Janet Urquhart would rather sleep than Sudokate. Her e-mail address is

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