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A brief interlude about my fruitless love affair with sudoku

Sudoku is a perfect game and I play it all the time. I like using the app with the cartoon pencil and the :) in the title. I also buy the books from the dollar store but those are not always great because the smaller books don’t stay open comfortably and the bigger books are filled with other bullshit puzzles. Also, I only want to do the level hard ones and the books come with all the levels. On the app I dabble in “expert” although I’m not an expert so it often ends in frustration. See, the thing with Sudoku is that at a certain point, you have to know these very specific tricks to solve it properly. Obviously, you can guess the answers though doing that feels existentially awful. I usually quit the puzzle if I get to a point where I need to guess because I’d rather quit than win by chance alone. I’d call winning by chance alone shameful and an example of bad sportsmanship, but that’s only because I don’t play real sports and my priorities are ridiculous.

I’ve tried many times to learn the tricks in order to never have to guess, however I can’t seem to understand how other people explain them. I think the only way I’ll get to know them is if I can experience it myself and put my own words to what happened. It has to be an internal discovery, you know? And until that happens, I’m more or less stuck chasing the high of discovering new strategies, holding onto hope that one day I might crack the code on the X-Wing or Swordfish formations (those are real names btw).

The last breakthrough I had with Sudoku was figuring out that you can get better results if you focus harder than you’ve ever focused before on anything in your life. No music, no podcasts, no snacks, no company, no nothing. Only you in a silent room with the puzzle. If you can remember patterns in the options you filled in every square, your results will be better. I know this seems obvious, but focusing that hard, especially on something that has almost zero real world consequences, doesn’t come naturally to me so it really does feel like I figured something out.

If you couldn’t tell, Sudoku takes up a lot of my time. I have this deep need to get so fucking good at Sudoku that it scares people a little bit. I don’t know why. It just seems like a neat thing to be very very good at even though there’s basically no scenario in which I’d be able to show off or use it for anything useful. Because I spend so much time on it, I’ve been trying to shoehorn Sudoku into my art practice for years now to no avail. I did some paintings and didn’t enjoy the process, made a convoluted zine and then spent last summer researching generative art in an attempt to prove that Sudoku could be a form of embodied/haptic generative art. I think that last thing still has legs, although I don’t know what the resulting art would look like. Is it a Sudoku AI that’s somehow different than the millions of Sudoku AIs that already exist? Is it a pile of semi-filled out Sudoku books on a plinth that says something about labour and liesure under capitalism? Does it even matter?

I think maybe that’s the problem. It doesn’t actually matter. It’s not even really Japanese. For some messed up reason, I’ve made Sudoku a huge part of my life and now I’m stuck searching for meaning in the fact that I do it all the time. The nearest I’ve been to conceptualizing anything remotely worthwhile was in a rushed mural proposal that I sent off a few weeks ago. The idea was that I’d paint giant Sudoku puzzles on a wall and try to solve them as a performance. The resulting mural would naturally be a mix of perfectly filled-in puzzles and puzzles that need to be abandoned because of the whole guessing-is-shameful thing. Here are my unedited notes about the mural:

  • unpredictable nature of success and failure, even with all possible preparation
  • rationality disrupted by randomness
  • art made from chance
  • art that is finished but simultaneously remains incomplete
  • art with a questionable finality
  • the idea of problems and puzzles at unusual scales and how both have had shifting definitions during the pandemic--> small "problems" made big when we had too much time to dwell, big problems minimized by irresponsible governments/people
  • There is a sense of intimacy, getting to see something that is usually only done alone, borders on diaristic

That is the closest I’ve come to imbuing Sudoku, or rather, me doing Sudoku, with any sort of legitimate meaning. I wish I could simply enjoy doing puzzles without needing it to be some kind of artistic gesture. My affliction is such that I unfortunately really and truly believe that if I could only find the perfect words to describe my love affair with Sudoku, it would turn it into a worthwhile art/life project. I feel that way about most things. If I could only find the perfect words, I’d be unstoppable, probably. That’s why I wrote this essay. I thought that by the end of it I’d have my flawless Sudoku statement and be ready to embark on my next big project. Instead I feel stuck and sort of deflated because I can’t seem to find those perfect words to convey to you why Sudoku is important to me. It just is.

As I write, I’m realizing a connection between my inability to conceptualize Sudoku and my inability to understand the internet’s explanations of the fancy solving tricks. In both cases, there is some sort of communication wall keeping me from accessing the truth. Perhaps once I break through one wall, the other will naturally crumble as well. Maybe if I reach my goal of getting so fucking good at Sudoku that it scares people a little bit, I’ll have an answer for why that was my goal in the first place.

If I’m being completely honest though, I think all I really want is for someone to fall madly in love with me for being very good at Sudoku. That would be so simple.