Sudoku may be taking over the world

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DAVID VOGEL
Every once in a while, I think to myself, “Walter, why don’t you stop poking fun at NASA or the metric system and actually write about something serious. Something that could make a difference in the world. Something that is grasping the very heart of America.”

But then I come to my senses and realize my name isn’t Walter and that I don’t want to be serious, because that causes me to run the risk of making some sincerely serious people angry.

And goodness knows I’ve done enough of that already. (I really didn’t think people would be sensitive over cafeteria poultry.)

Instead, I thought I’d write about a new trend-and by saying “trend,” I mean “cult”-that is now becoming a filler for people’s free time.

Specifically, it’s a Japanese number game called “Sudoku” (pronounced “sa-mu-rai”).

Here’s how one Internet site explains it: “A logic-based placement puzzle. The aim of the puzzle is to enter a numerical digit from 1 through 9 in each cell of a nine-by-nine grid made up of three-by-three subgrids (called ‘regions’), starting with various digits given in some cells (the ‘givens’); each row, column, and region must contain only one instance of each numeral.”

So now that you’re horribly confused, let me just get on with my point, which is: IT’S TAKING OVER THE WORLD!

During the past year, if someone had free time but nothing to do, they would either (1) pull out their own copy of “The Ultimate Collection of 10,000 Sudoku Puzzles” or (2) find someone who had a copy of “The Ultimate Collection of 10,000 Sudoku Puzzles” and have them rip a page out for them.

This got particularly bad during that last few weeks of school.

Anywhere I went, I saw people hunched over sheets of paper with 89 little boxes printed on them (the paper, not the people), while they (the people, not the paper) frantically scribbled in numbers.

It was almost eerie the way this puzzle could cast a spell over teenagers. And we’re talking about the kind of teenagers not even the cruelest teacher could get the attention of.

If I had known better, I would have thought staring at a symmetrical puzzle like this could put a person into a dangerous trance. (Possible newspaper headline: “Teen charged with massive bank robbery after staring at hexagonal figure during study hall.”)

While most puzzles have some sort of method or pattern that can be used to solve it, I couldn’t find any such thing for Sudoku. Basically, it’s a game of luck, pure chance. If you solved the puzzle, it was only because of sheer destiny.

This basically means that if all you had for a writing utensil was an ink pen, you had better be pretty sure the number you were about to write was correct. Otherwise-and there have been a few documented cases with chilling video clips that will soon be aired on the Discovery Channel’s mini series “Sudoku: the Puzzle That Stole America”-you would ruin the entire puzzle, causing you to go completely insane.

Naturally, I was becoming alarmed at the massive progress of this puzzle. The popularity of the game was spreading faster than the bird flu! And without a possible vaccine in sight came the motherload of Sudoku. The crucial puzzle that could push Sudoku from a cult into a full-fledged international pandemic: 256-box puzzles.

These sinister puzzles were 16-by-16 grids, as opposed to the standard nine-by-nine puzzles.

Once these began appearing in Sudoku books, I really began to worry about the sanity of our country. I knew only a few select people were immune to Sudoku’s powerful grip. And I was one of them.

In order to even start a Sudoku puzzle, one must have the mental strength to know he or she can do it. People like me, however, know from the start that trying to begin one will only be a waste of time.

This is because I have the attention span of a Dachshund, whose main brain activity goes something like this: “Gotta find something to bark at. Gotta find something to bark at… Wait a minute. Is that FOOD? Gotta eat. Gotta eat… Wait a minute. Is that a couch to relieve myself under? Gotta…”

You get the idea.

Thankfully, at the time Sudoku puzzles were becoming popular, I knew I would never have the patience or the know-how to finish one. Therefore, I’ve been able to steer clear of the Sudoku monster, thus keeping the world one step farther from falling into its trap.

In defense of this international menace, I’ve decided to start an organization for Sudoku-resisting individuals such as myself. To join this alliance, all you have to do is send me a letter proclaiming your freedom from Sudoku, as well as a $20 check.

Make the check payable to Walter.

* * *

UFO: The world has been at complete peace for only 8 percent of the time over the past 3,500 years.

Don’t ask why.

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