While sudoku's popularity
may have dimmed, it would be foolish to dismiss it
as a short-lived fad. A 5-year-old boy with a snowflake
design on his shirt stares at a white sheet of paper,
his eyes parachuting down on a 9-by-9 grid.
Some squares inside that
grid contain numbers. Some don't.
Jason Gu, the son of two Chinese immigrants, studies
his sudoku board. He sits at the same table as a 91-year-old
woman from Emerson, a 16-year-old high school student
from Ringwood and his 10-year-old sister Janice.
Nine others are on the
same side of the table, up on a dais inside the Mahwah
Room at the Sheraton Crossroads. Quiet descends as
13 players race to squeeze the numbers 1 through 9
into rows, columns and boxes. No number can appear
more than once in an individual row, column or box.
"Time's up," says Reenaa Chawla, the tournament
director. "Please put your name on your sheets."
Two years after it began
flourishing in newsprint, throwing a scare into its
older sibling (the crossword puzzle), sudoku has fallen
back to earth. Some say its best days have passed.
"I don't expect it's going to return to its former
self in the near future," said Walter Boyer,
owner of Bookends, an independent bookstore in Ridgewood.
Others suggest while
its popularity may have dimmed, it would be foolish
to dismiss it as a fad that swept through the United
States one summer. This month, Dell is launching a
bimonthly puzzle magazine called Sum-Doku. The first
issue, due to hit newsstands this week, will include
176 puzzles that are hybrids of the conventional sudoku
"I think it will
be with us [for a while]," said Will Shortz,
the crossword editor at the New York Times and author
of dozens of puzzle books, including several sudoku
Chawla has 13 people gathered at a hotel on this Wednesday
night -- five young kids, one teenager and seven adults.
Chawla, the head of the Brain Studio in Mahwah, is
a proponent of something she calls "brain fitness."
She loves sudoku because it offers the intellectual
equivalent of taking the brain out for a jog.
"Twenty years back
it would be crazy to suggest, 'Take the steps instead
of the elevator, and it will do good for your heart,'
" Chawla said. "But now it's an accepted
And Chawla has an interesting assemblage here this
evening, including 91-year-old Astrid Sverdrup.
"She used to bowl
years ago, so she used to add [up] everybody's score,"
said Joanne Burns, Sverdrup's daughter. "She
has an affinity with numbers."
Sverdrup learned how
to play by watching her niece. Janice and Jason Gu
learned after their father, Eddie, happened upon the
game in a magazine.
Eddie Gu said. "[With] crossword puzzles, there's
a lot of words we just don't know. But this, you don't
really need to know a lot of the cultural stuff."
Yet already people are stepping back, buying fewer
sudoku books, filling out fewer sudoku grids.
Boyer said his Ridgewood
store sells a lot of sudoku books around the holidays,
but in general, sales are down.
"It's oversaturated, I would probably say at
this point," Boyer said. "We're waiting
for the next type of game."
But Shortz said sudoku is safely ensconced as the
next great pencil-and-paper puzzle. He likens sudoku's
rise two years ago to the explosion of crosswords
in the 1920s.
"The country just
went crazy," Shortz said. "A lot of people
thought crosswords would be like other fads of the
country. That was not the case. Crosswords had staying
Even as sudoku's popularity wanes, 13 men, women and
children are sitting inside a conference room in Mahwah,
scrambling for the numbers that will make their puzzles
and lives more complete.