Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Du Yu Sudoku?

by Brian Haycock

A few years ago the local paper started running a Sudoku puzzle four times a week next to the comic strips. I studied the first puzzle carefully. It seemed pretty harmless. It was just a grid with some numbers. How bad could that be? I should have known better.
Everyone knows about Sudoku by now. It's a craze. It's taking the country by storm. There's one in TV Guide, an easy one with letters for people who hate math so much they can't even stand to look at numbers. The ones in the paper are harder than the TV Guide version. There's a two-star version in the Tuesday edition. It takes ten or fifteen minutes and when I finish I feel a little smarter than I did when I started. The four-star Thursday puzzle is harder. When I finish it I feel like I've accomplished something pretty impressive. Okay, I've killed a half hour on something about as pointless as solitaire bingo, but still, I'm impressed.
Then it's the weekend and the five-star puzzles hit, one on Saturday, another on Sunday. Sometimes I can finish them, sometimes not. But I don't give up easily. I keep the unfinished puzzles around, usually on the living room floor, until I either finish them or explode into an uncontrollable rage and tear them to shreds.
I should have seen this coming. I'm a little obsessive. When I started running I just wanted to put in a mile or so now and then to keep the weight down and the cardio turning over. In months I was putting in twelve-mile training runs and sucking down Gatorade by the gallon. Now I have a six-year record of my running times on my computer, and I'm still adding to it. I also have Achilles tendinitis, two bad knees and a chronic case of chafing from my running shorts. Like I said, I can be a little obsessive.
So I should have known better than to let myself get sucked into the Sudoku craze.
A month after I started, I figured out that I was spending six hours a week working on Sudoku puzzles. I told myself I'd get better with practice, and I'd spend less time on them, but even I could recognize that as total nonsense. I know a lame excuse when I use one.
But, I told myself, there were only four puzzles a week. That wasn't so bad. I could handle that.
Then I discovered Speed Sudoku.
I was sitting at the computer one day. I was supposedly working on my novel but I wasn't making much progress. I Googled "Sudoku" and wound up on a site advertising billions of Sudoku puzzles. I should have gotten out when I saw the word "billions." There were skill levels ranging from "Easy" to "Evil." I punched "Evil" and battled my way through a really tough puzzle in 22:35. I tried another and did it in 25:17. The screen cheerfully told me that my average time was 23:56. And that I was slower than 83% of the Sudoku addicts playing on the site. I thought I could bring my average down if I just did one more puzzle.
Just one more. That's what they all say. I was hooked.
One of the great things about Web Sudoku is that it keeps track of how many games of Sudoku the user—and that's what I am now, a user—has played. I've played 347 games of Sudoku on the site in the past two months. Given my average of 21:43 per puzzle (See, I knew I could bring it down!), I've put in 125 hours, 59 minutes and 28 seconds on Sudoku puzzles. Now I'm even obsessed with the amount of time I'm spending on Sudoku.
I haven't finished my novel. I'm working on it, sort of. Between games.
There's a new puzzle in town. It's called KenKen. That's Japanese for DumDum. It's an even more devious puzzle
Now I'm going to Google "Sudoku" and "Rehab" to find out what treatment options are available for a helpless Sudoku addict. I just know I'm going to end up in a circle of Sudoku freaks, listening to them talk about how the puzzles ruined their lives. And throwing in my own stories.
Maybe they can help me.

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