Lessons learned from playing sudoku
If you master the rules, you can solve any problem
If you’re not familiar with the puzzle game sudoku, you’re missing out. Not only is the game a nice mental workout, it is a treasure trove of life lessons. Here are the snippets of thoughts I’ve gathered from playing sudoku for over 12 years.
1. There is always a solution
No matter the difficulty level, any sudoku puzzle is solvable. You just have to keep working at it.
2. Being skilled is a superpower, but not
After a couple of years of solving puzzles every day, I began to develop a sort of intuitive sense for the game. I would look at a puzzle, and the numbers in the right cells would just jump out to me.
I would often fill out 5 or 6 cells in as many seconds on seeing the puzzle, much to the amazement of my friends. I’m not guessing the numbers. I’m doing all the logical checks: checking for a number by row, column and square. It is simply that my brain has become efficient at it.
Neuroscientists would explain that the brain creates new synaptic connections for frequently performed activities. In plain English, it means you get good at what you practice.
3. When everything fails, do an exhaustive search
When I do the really hard puzzles, there is usually a point where I get stuck. Random search fails. My ‘intuitive sense for numbers’ fails.
At this point, I resort to an exhaustive search of all possibilities. This means that I check all numbers, 1–9, in all rows, all columns and all squares. It is a lot of dry work. But the lesson is that it never ever fails.
In life, when you face a problem and you cannot find a solution, do the following:
- Establish the constraints and rules of the problem. In sudoku, it is that each row, column and square will contain numbers 1–9. And no row, column, or square will repeat a number. In life, it is not so clear as that, but breaking any situation down into the fundamental facts of the problem will lead you to finding the solution.
- Use the knowledge established above to make an exhaustive search method. In sudoku, checking each row, column and square for all numbers 1–9 will give you an answer that fits the logic. In a real life problem, if you break it down into the root facts and analyze all scenarios, from all angles, you will definitely find an answer. It is a question of patience, time and thoroughness.
4. Often, finding one answer leads to another
Very often when solving a puzzle, filling in one cell satisfies some condition that leads to filling some other cell, which leads to filling another.
Often in life, completing one activity will lead to completing another, and another. Sometimes doing a good job opens an unexpected door. The key to life is to keep playing.
5. When it gets tough, don’t guess
Now, I know players who opt to make a guess when there are two possibilities to fill a cell. They keep track of all the guesses they made. If at some point there is a repetition and the game breaks, they backtrack to the cell and undo the guess.
In my opinion, it is not a great strategy and not worth all the wasted effort. It pays more to be patient and keep looking for the right solution that makes full sense.
Making a guess (even an educated one) is only for situations when there is not enough information available to make the best choice.
If you’re not a sudoku enthusiast yet, I suggest you to give it a try. If you are one, then play on!