A Puzzling World
Join us as we delve into the puzzling world to see what we can learn about how our favourite pastime is experienced across the globe.
There’s a big ol’ world of puzzling goodies out there!
Here at Treasure Trails, we have a few specialities – exploring the nooks and crannies around the UK and puzzling to our heart’s content.
But while many cool, popular puzzles were invented and developed here, a lot of our favourites come from over the water. In fact, our puzzling hobbies would be rather boring without the help of our international friends and their mindboggling brainteasers!
A simple sudoku to get your brain in gear.
When we think of international superstar puzzles, Sudoku is one of the first that springs to mind. How could it not be? It has truly been a rising star in the puzzling world since it was first introduced in the UK in 2004.
In fact, if you read through a newspaper or visit the magazine section of a newsagent, it’s almost impossible to avoid seeing a Sudoku puzzle or a variation of it; Killer Sudoku and Hyper Sudoku prove popular.
Examples of Hyper Sudoku (left) and Killer Sudoku (right); they’re about as easy as they look!
Image - Hyper Soduku: By No machine-readable author provided. Oceanh assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2489350
Now, you might think that Sudoku is a Japanese creation. It’s true that the name is, and it gained its phenomenal popularity from Japan; it was introduced by Nikoli – a Japanese publisher specialising in games and logic puzzles – as Sūji wa dokushin ni kagiru which translates to “the digits must be single” or “the digits are limited to one occurrence”. However, the original puzzle is much older and comes from Switzerland!
Okay, the first version of Sudoku is definitely different from what we see now. It stemmed from an 18th-century game called Latin Squares, created by a Swiss mathematician, and went on to be adapted and published in France in 1892.
The first French version required maths skills to solve rather than logic. It was refined again in 1895 to a closer version of the Sudoku we know and love – this version was popular and featured weekly in newspapers until WWI.
A magic square from an edition of La France newspaper, published 6th July 1895. This is possibly one of the earliest known Sudokus!
The modern Sudoku that is seen today was actually designed anonymously but is often contributed to puzzle-enthusiast Howard Gerns from Indiana, USA. It was published in 1979 under the name Number Place – a whole five years before Nikoli introduced it to Japan.
Talk about globetrotting! The idea of the Sudoku has truly spanned decades and continents to reach us.
Japanese Puzzling Gems
Even if it led the way, Sudoku isn’t the only puzzle to be popularised in Japan – particularly by Nikoli – that has then gone on to gain international renown.
For the most part, the puzzles that prove popular in Japan don’t include words. The Japanese language doesn’t really work for things like crosswords, so brainteasers involving numbers and shapes are seen often.
Summing it Up
Kakuro is a super popular number logic puzzle in Japan – second only to Sudoku – which takes some maths skills to solve! It’s almost like the mathematical version of a crossword; the English name is Cross Sums, as coined by a Canadian puzzler Jacob E. Funk in 1966.
You’re given a grid of white and blacked-out squares, with a number given at the start of each string of white squares. The goal is to fill each blank square with a number from 1-9, with the total of the numbers adding up to the first number given. It may not sound too complicated, but once you add all of the other entries into the mix, it can get a bit tricky!
A simple Kakuro and it’s solution.
Image - without solution: By Octahedron80 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2969612
Image - with solution: By Octahedron80 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2969660
Like the Sudoku, there are lots of variations and difficulty levels for the Kakuro. Although the easiest puzzles are solvable using brainpower alone, the more difficult versions require tried-and-tested tactics and techniques. Some keen Kakuro-solvers have even been known to use tracing paper to try various combinations before entering the real answers into the grid; now, that’s dedication!
Paint by Numbers?
Now, this Japanese puzzle goes by lots of different names: Nonogram, Hanjie, Picross, Paint by Numbers, Griddlers and many more! We’re going to call it by its original term – Nonogram – which was named after Non Ishida, one of two people who invented this puzzle.
With a Nonogram, you’re presented with a blank grid of many squares. At the edge of the grid are a series of numbers – each number represents how many of the squares in that row or column must be filled in one stretch. So, 1 2 3 means that one square must be filled, then a break, followed by two filled squares, another break, and finally three filled squares.
You’ve really got to tap into your logic skills to figure out which of these squares need to be filled in. The end goal of the Nonogram is to create a picture within the grid – it’s very clever! More often than not, Nonograms are intended to be black and white, but there are variations that involve colour to create an even more in-depth picture.
A Treasure Trails Nonogram and its solution!
The idea of the Nonogram was first sparked after Non Ishida won a competition in Tokyo in 1987; her entry was the creation of grid pictures on skyscrapers using just the lights inside the building. Curiously, another clever-clogs – professional puzzler Tetsuya Nishio – created the same puzzle at the exact same time, completely independently!
You may not think that Nonograms have much of a following in the UK, but they’ve actually been appearing in newspapers here since 1990! To get a full book of them, you often need to dig around in W H Smiths or specialist newsagents (often marketed as Hanjie). Still, there are lots of different apps and websites out there if you want to give it a go yourself.
A Few More Favourites
We’d be here for days if we were to go through every single puzzle popularised by Nikoli in Japan! So, here are a few more of our favourites in case you want to dig deeper into this corner of the puzzling world.
- Nurikabe; a number-and-grid logic puzzle that bears a striking resemblance to minesweeper – total throwback!
- Shikaku; another number-and-grid logic puzzle, with the goal of drawing squares and rectangles in the grid. Each shape must contain one number and include as many grid cells as stated in the number. Tatamibari is a similar puzzle, but features three symbols ( – | + ) in place of numbers – each symbol has a different set of rules
- Masyu; a grid logic puzzle (no numbers this time) which contains a number of white (empty) circles and black (filled) circles. The goal is to draw a continuous line that passes through each circle but depending on whether the circle is black or blank will determine how that line passes through.
Left to Right: Examples of the Nurikabe, Shikaku and Masyu puzzles with their solutions.
Image - Shikaku, start: By Levochik - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17304963
Image - Shikaku, solution: By Levochik - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17304876
Image - Maysu, start: By Original PNG graphic created by Adam R. Wood (Zotmeister) with HyperSnap-DX. Image and puzzle copyrighted © 2005 Adam R. Wood. SVG version by Life of Riley. - This image is based upon File:Masyu.png by Zotmeister on the English Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10942166
Image - Maysu, solution: By Original PNG graphic created by Adam R. Wood (Zotmeister) with HyperSnap-DX. Image and puzzle copyrighted © 2005 Adam R. Wood. SVG version by Life of Riley. - This image is based upon File:MasyuSolution.png by Zotmeister on the English Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10942184
On the Page
There’s a crazy amount of internationally-sourced paper (or mobile app) based puzzles out there – like Sudoku – and there are few more worth mentioning too.
Slithering into the Snakepit
Hidato is a number-and-grid logic puzzle, invented by Israeli mathematician Dr Gyora M. Benedek. For this puzzle, you’re presented with a grid – it can be any shape, as long as it is one grid. You need to enter a string of consecutive numbers, starting with 1, and each number must be positioned adjacently, either horizontally, vertically or diagonally.
A fairly simple Hidato and its solution. Can you see the resemblance to Snake?
Some publishers choose to name this puzzle Number Snake or Snakepit thanks to its resemblance to the video game Snake – we’re loving these little drops of nostalgia!
Str8ts is a cool Canadian creation, invented by mastermind puzzle-builder Jeff Widderich back in 2007. Similar to Sudoku and Kakuro, Str8ts – which gets its name from poker straight – involves tapping into your logic skills to place numbers into the right boxes in a grid.
A very tricky version of Str8ts – could you have cracked it?
Image - start: By AndrewCStuart - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8954713
Image - solution: By AndrewCStuart - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8954999
You’re presented with a 9×9 grid, with black squares to form compartments, and the remaining white cells must be filled with consecutive numbers (hence poker straight) in any order: 1234, 3412, 4231 etc. could all work.
The puzzle even featured in the Canadian Dragon’s Den back in 2010, where Widderich secured $150,000 for a 10% share to develop and popularise the puzzle. Now, you can find wooden board and pieces versions, dedicated Str8ts puzzle books and online apps!
Off the Page
With so many paper-based puzzles and brainteasers out there, sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are 3D games out there – whether aimed at single participation or several players – that rely on logical and strategical puzzling skills to solve.
A Chinese Tradition
Mahjong has been played in China since the late 1800s (although, it’s rumoured to have existed 2,500 years ago!) and has rapidly grown in popularity across the world over the last few decades. Usually designed for four players, Mahjong requires skill and strategy to beat your opponents and win the game.
A game of Mahjong in play.
The rules and styles of play vary across regions and countries, but for the most part, you play with 144 tiles, featuring designs of Chinese characters and symbols. Each player receives 13 tiles and must draw and discard tiles until they’re left with a ‘legal hand’ that wins the game – similar to lots of card games out there. Sounds simple? Well, you’re presented with lots of rules and tactics for playing the game, which is where the strategy comes in!
Although there is something very special about playing Mahjong in person with others, you can even play it by yourself nowadays using simplified, digital versions of the game.
Do you remember playing Tantrix? Created in 1988 by Mike McManaway from New Zealand, Tantrix became a fun (and a little frustrating) tile game for kids and adults alike!
A game of Tantrix in play. Can you feel the nostalgia?
Image: By K.Pardík - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3482066
If you never played, or need your mind refreshing, there are 56 tiles to play with, and each tile is unique, featuring three different coloured lines and a number.
If you’re playing with others, each player picks a colour and takes it in turns to place their tiles down, following a set of rules and restrictions. There’s one goal in mind – to create the longest line or loop in your colour.
A Colourful Conundrum
Of course, we can’t forget the king of 3D puzzles – the Rubik’s Cube! The colourful cube is phenomenally popular and is officially the world’s top-selling puzzle game with over £350 million sales by January 2009.
A 3×3 and a 5×5 Rubik’s Cube, just waiting to be solved!
Originally invented by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture, Ernő Rubik, the puzzle cube has dazzled (and stumped) generations since 1977. There are over three billion possible combinations, but only one solution. It takes some serious skill, tactical thinking and brainpower to crack.
There are even competitions and championships, where speedcubers battle it out to beat the world record – currently 3.47 seconds! Over the years, more complex records have been set, featuring larger cubes and curious circumstances. Recently, an 11-year-old from Canada beat a record by solving 30 cubes in one hour, using only one hand and while hula-hooping! That takes some serious skills and dedication – most of us can only manage the one cube in an hour (if we’re lucky).
Decades later, the cube craze is still in full swing. If you’ve got a Rubik’s cube hidden somewhere, why not dust it off and give it a go? You could even grab your hula-hoop while you’re at it…
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