Taking Sudoku Seriously

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In 2008, a three-month, million-dollar trial in Australia was nullified when it was revealed that five jurors had been playing Sudoku instead of listening to evidence. This is shocking, unless you’ve ever tried to tear yourself away from a puzzle-in-progress.

In other words, people are obsessed with this puzzle. But in an effort to not scare away potential Sudokists, the math aspect of the game is often minimized. “Sudoku requires no math!” chirps learn-sudoku.com. “In fact, Sudoku doesn’t really involve numbers at all. The boxes in the puzzle could just as easily be filled with nine letters of the alphabet, nine different pictures, or even nine colors! Numbers are only used because they are well-recognized symbols. I’d be willing to guess that Sudoku’s popularity has suffered because of the numbers. I’m sure it gives many folks the wrong first impression & scares them off.”

That’s a misleading claim, according to Sudoku expert, Jason Rosenhouse, an associate professor of mathematics at James Madison University in Virginia, who speaks at Johns Hopkins tomorrow evening. “Sudoku has nothing to do with arithmetic, certainly, but it nonetheless has everything to do with mathematics,” Rosenhouse says — and he should know; he recently published a book called Taking Sudoku Seriously:  The Math Behind the World’s Most Popular Pencil Puzzle. Think logic, combinatorics, number theory, and algebra.

That said, Rosenhouse’s lecture promises to be “largely non-technical,” and the general public is invited. The event takes place in Room 110 of Hodson Hall on the Homewood campus at 7 p.m. tomorrow; more info/maps can be found here.

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