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Thursday, June 12, 2008

How to Play Sudoku

I wish I had a nickel for every time someone asked me, "Bruck, how do you play Sudoku?" I would be five, perhaps ten cents richer! In case you're too intimidated to ask, I'm happy to share my hard-bought expertise with you and the rest of my faithful readers.

First, the rules of Sudoku: you must fill in the blank cells of a 9x9 grid so that every row, column, and 3x3 box has the numerals 1 thru 9 appearing once and only once.

My strategy is quite simple: fill in the numbers, one at a time, until the puzzle is solved. For example, say you started with the puzzle at left, the "Conceptis Sudoku" by Dave Green, which I gleaned from the 5 June 2008 Honolulu Advertiser.

There are 81 total cells in the grid, and this puzzle comes with 25 clues, leaving 56 for you to provide. Try to remember the last time you thought gas prices were reasonable as you knock off the following easy ones:

First, enter the 4, then the 6, then 7, then at this point the 3 should be obvious. For me it was 1998.

Next, fill in these cells: the 3 in the upper left box, the 7 in the bottom middle box, and the 3 in the middle box. They say that no math is required to solve a Sudoku puzzle but that's not quite true. To get the next clue, you have to subtract the number of presidential candidates that you actually want to vote for from the total remaining after Hitlery's concession. Place the number 2 in the middle box.

Filling out the middle box, enter the 1 and the 4 as shown. This should clear the way for the 2 and 4 in the upper middle box, then the 4 and 8 in the bottom middle box. I recently downloaded a Don Rich video from YouTube, named, "I'll Go Out of My Mind." It's primary refrain is, "If you make me much bluer, I'll go out of my mind," which he sings with his characteristic perpetual broad smile--you've got to love someone who can see the brighter side of depression and insanity! Don Rich was Buck Owens' sidekick, lead guitar player, and backup vocalist in the 60's and early 70's, and an accomplished musician in his own right. He died at age 32 of injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident in California in 1974.

So are we in a recession? Here's the definition: a recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose your job. Time to fill in the 8 and 5 in the upper middle box, which clears the way for the upper left 8, and the 4 and 7 in the middle left box. The middle right 8 should be obvious to any red-blooded American, at which point only a fool would miss the 1 in the middle left box.

See, Sudoku's not that hard; things are really starting to take shape, are they not? I recently returned to VA from Hawaii, where I was teaching a class on applied statistics and problem solving to our employees stationed here. Like most people who visit a place for the first time, I did some research on the local gun laws. Verdict: pretty restrictive! HI is a "may-issue" state, which means that local law enforcement agencies issue concealed weapon carry permits at their own discretion without regard to qualification or fitness of the applicants. In addition, all firearms must be "registered," i.e., rendered subject to confiscation, and a permit must be obtained to purchase any firearm, with a 14-day waiting period. And the Honolulu Walmart does not carry ammunition.

Therefore, we now know where the 3 and 1 go in the middle right box, which tell us where the 5, 7, and 6 go, completing the whole box. Bang, bang, bang, we now know where to put three ones: the one in the lower right box, the one in the upper right box, and the one in the lower left box, and then three eights: the one in the lower left box, the one in the lower right box, and the one in the middle left box, in that order.

One thing I did discover on "the strip" in Waikiki is that someone already thought of my idea of firearm tourism. As you know, most developed countries restrict their citizens' right to self defense and all other benefits of firearm ownership by complete or virtual bans of same. You may also be aware that most pop culture in the world originates in the US, including TV shows and movies, a great many of which glorify the irresponsible use of firearms and ascribe unrealistic satisfaction and power to their use. So my idea was to give the oppressed foreigners an opportunity to actually play with real guns in a controlled setting when visiting the United States of Smith and Wesson. While walking on the strip one evening last week, I was offered several leaflets advertising the opportunity to do just that. For a price range of $20 (45 shots from various 22s) to $115 (50 shots from various tactical carbines), a tourist can satisfy his or her itchy trigger finger while harmlessly perforating paper targets.

Let's knock the rest of this puzzle out, shall we? The 6 in the upper left box, followed by the 6 in the lower left then lower middle boxes should be obvious at this point, then the 9 in the 3rd row and the 1 in the top row, at which point the 7, 5, 9, and 2, completing the lower left box, should jump right out at you. You can comlete the lower line with the 7 and 3, then complete the lower middle box with the 2. I bet you wish you had invested in gold when it was trading in the 700s last year!

Time to comlete the lower right box with 5, 2, 3, and 9 in that order, at which point we can complete the top row and upper right box with 2, 5, and 9. When I was previously employed at the company known as "F" on the NYSE, we had a saying, "you don't have to justify going with the lowest bidder." I've learned over the years, however, that there are situations where the lowest bidder isn't the best choice: roofers, for example. Haircuts. Employees. Food. The old saying, "you get what you pay for" is not always true, however, "you don't get what you don't pay for" is a dependable axiom. Another thing we discovered in HI that you don't want to cheap out on is a luau. If you go to HI, you definitely need to round out the experience with a luau. But don't go with the lowest bidder. We did, and spent 5 hours squirming in embarrassed discomfort over its low quality and general lameness.

All right, back to work: 2, 5, and 9 in the upper left box completes it along with the 2nd row. Home stretch! The 9 and 2 complete row 6, the middle left box, and the entire puzzle!

Epilogue: I would like take a few minutes to honor a young woman of great accomplishment, one Ashley Layfield, Miss Hawaii 2007.

Ms. Layfield is, or at least was, an arts student at the University of Hawaii, is active in dance and other performing arts, and volunteers at the Kapiolani Hospital teaching these arts to children.

While riding the tour bus out to the luau, a few of us on the starboard side of the bus noticed that we were driving next to "Miss Hawaii 2007," according to lettering on the side of her car, and sure enough, the driver we saw is the young woman pictured at right. At the time we were not aware of her significant contributions to society, but we did get to watch her pick her nose while driving. It wasn't just a one time thing, either; it actually went on for a mile or so. That was far more entertaining than the stupid Hawaiianized campfire songs the luau tour guide was trying to lead us in!

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