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Remembering Maki Kaji, the ‘Father of Sudoku’

Sep 13, 2021

Maki Kaji, a Japanese man who was known as the “Father of Sudoku,” has passed away from cancer at the age of 69.

Mr. Kaji was a puzzle lover who helped turn Sudoku from a simple number challenge into a game played around the world.

Mr. Kaji was born in 1951 in Sapporo, Japan. Though he finished high school, he dropped out of college. After Mr. Kaji left college, he started Japan’s first puzzle magazine in 1980 with help from two of his friends. They named their magazine company Nikoli. Over the years, Mr. Kaji’s company has become very popular. It publishes puzzles and books for people all over the world. But Sudoku is probably the puzzle that most people think of when they remember Mr. Kaji.

Sudoku is a number puzzle with nine rows and nine columns. Each row and column must have all of the digits 1 through 9. The same rule goes for each of the smaller 9-square boxes that make up the larger puzzle.

While it’s not clear where the original number puzzle came from, Mr. Kaji is the one who gave it the name “Sudoku” and made it popular. Mr. Kaji found the game in 1984, but then it was called “Number Place.” Mr. Kaji loved the puzzle, but he didn’t love its name. He wanted to create a Japanese name for it.

Mr. Kaji ended up renaming it “Sudoku”, which roughly means, “single numbers.” He came up with the name in “about 25 seconds” while hurrying to get to a horse race.

After he began printing Sudoku in his magazine Nikoli, Mr. Kaji decided to see if other publishers were interested. He asked publishers in New York and London if they wanted to run Sudoku puzzles in their magazines, too. At the time, they all said no. It took around ten years for Sudoku to start showing up in other magazines. But once other publishers started printing Sudoku, the puzzle began spreading quickly from country to country.

Sudoku became incredibly popular. By 2004, it was one of the most-played puzzles in the world. Now millions of people play Sudoku every day. Nikoli says that roughly 200 million people from about 100 countries have played the puzzle. People even compete in a Sudoku world championship every year. Sudoku isn’t just popular – it’s also a huge money-maker, bringing in millions and millions of dollars. But Mr. Kaji never made much from the puzzle, since he didn’t protect Sudoku legally. He said that didn’t bother him, since he promoted the puzzle for fun, not money.

Mr. Kaji believed the secret to making a great puzzle was to keep the rules simple so that anyone could play. He said discovering a new puzzle was “like finding treasure.” It’s that kind of spirit that has left many people in the puzzle world so sad to hear that Mr. Kaji has passed away. Puzzle experts and fans around the world have thanked Mr. Kaji for his work, and honored him as a true lover of puzzles.

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