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Sudoku as a Model for Finding Freedom, Peace and Happiness 
Mark A. Goldman                                                                Dated:  5/21/08

For a while my wife was hooked on Sudoku. Eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I took a look to see what she was doing. For a week or two, I tried my own hand at solving these puzzles until I found some that were so difficult that I concluded that to continue to agonize over them was just a waste of time.  Then it occurred to me that finding freedom, peace, and happiness is sort of like trying to solve a tough Sudoku puzzle. 

If you don’t know what a Sudoku puzzle is, let me take a moment to show you. Here’s a sample puzzle that was laid out for Wikipedia by a fellow named Larry Gilbert :

The object is to use your cognitive abilities to fill in the blank squares in such a way that each row of 9 little squares and each column of 9 little squares contains all the numbers 1 through 9 in no particular order... in addition, you have to make sure that each of the 9  regions (the internal blocks of 3x3 squares) also contains all the numbers 1 through 9. When you've done all that, you've solved the puzzle.  For each puzzle there is only one unique solution. In this case, the solution to the puzzle is as follows:

Well what does this have to do with freedom, peace or happiness? First of all let me remind you that I said that finding these things is sort of like solving a Sudoku puzzle.  Maybe not exactly.  Nevertheless, there are interesting parallels to consider. Let me explain:

For example, if you consider that the overall puzzle represents the total universe of human existence, let each of the 9 regions (the nine blocks of 3x3 squares) represent sub sets of the whole. Each of these regions might represent a different country, state, person, religion, language, ethnic or socioeconomic group, etc. Now the members of each of these regions have certain common goals or values that they hold dear and important. Let us postulate for a moment that our job as sentient and caring human beings is to figure out how to organize ourselves (our politics, our economics, and our attitudes) in such a way that each region is able to fulfill all the critical elements they need, sufficient for that group to obtain a respectable level of happiness and success. If we made it a point to solve world or national problems with this attitude about winning, (which is to say, winning is like satisfying all the terms of a Sudoku puzzle) perhaps eventually we’d have a world that works for everyone, with no one left out and no more need for war.

What I like about this model for solving problems is that it gives us an idea of what it really mean to be responsible: the fundamental rule of this game is, that this game isn’t over until everyone gets to win. You don’t win until everyone wins. Of course you might guess that winning isn’t necessarily going to be easy.  Maybe it's even more challenging than the toughest Sudoku puzzle.

Now in real life there might be more than one solution, but then again, maybe not. We won’t know until we get there. But each player needs to be willing to stick it out until every aspect of the game is satisfied. You can’t just go out and get say, a 5, 7,9, and 3 for yourself or your region, if that’s what you need, and then build a wall around your region and not care about all the other players just because you got all of your 9. That would be cheating. Intellectual integrity means you don’t get to cheat. You have to stay with the problem—i.e., stay in the game—until the game is finished, which is to say, until everyone gets to win.  So, if you discover that the way you arranged your numbers makes it impossible for everyone else to win (even though it works perfectly for you), well you have to rethink the arrangement… not because anyone will force you to, but because those are the rules of the game, and you’re a decent honest person who doesn’t want to win by cheating. I know it's hard to go to all that extra trouble of rearranging things just when you thought you'd won, but those are the rules.  In fact, after all this time, we should be able to conclude that probably, those really are the rules.

Anyway, I think it's possible for all of us to win. I think we’re all supposed to win. We all are entitled to our basic rights and freedoms and that includes whatever it takes for each of us to live with real dignity. To be a responsible human being means you will never be wholly free, happy, or at peace until everyone else also has a real opportunity to be free, happy, and at peace.  We're all — each of us — essential elements of what might be described as a very big Sudoku puzzle. I believe, until we reach this goal, the closest any of us will get to true happiness will be when we've arrived at being fully engaged at least in trying to solve this life game of Sudoku.

Sudoku is good practice and a good reminder of what it really means and what it really takes to win in this life. Try a few puzzles yourself.  Then, once you get the hang of it, you might want to try  your skill at playing in the big game.

Now in this regard, here’s a link to a strategy I’ve been thinking about for a long time that I believe could move us closer to the goal … I'm hoping one day to get enough players together to really try it out in earnest:

Here's another good example of how the game should be played:



For an interesting application that my friend Ken Simpson created using Microsoft Excel, click here.  It allows you to enter your own Sudoku puzzle into the program and then work on it on your own computer and it even offers hints when you get stuck.  




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