Everyone loves a little bit of Sudoku!
As much as I hate to admit it, I have always been a lover of Sudoku. Despite never thinking highly of my math skills, I always managed to complete puzzle after puzzle – I have even been gifted a 365 puzzle book, one Sudoku puzzle for every day of the year! (Needless to say I still have the majority of them to work through). When I was introduced to the idea that maths is involved in these puzzles I struggled to identify the principles behind it, except the obvious of being able to count from one to nine. Nonetheless, after a bit of conferring and questioning, I realised that there were math skills involved in this particular puzzle. Without being aware of it, I had been problem solving, using the process of elimination, differentiating between the numbers, using sequences and strategies while attempting these puzzles. Newspapers say there is no maths involved in Sudoku, however what they really mean is there is no arithmetic because evidently there is many mathematical concepts involved. To clarify, there is no arithmetic involved in this particular puzzle because the numbers in the puzzle can be removed and replaced by symbols, ultimately removing the arithmetic.
According to Maki Kaji, over 100 million people now regularly indulge in Sudoku puzzles, meaning these people all use these mathematical skills, usually without even realizing it.
“Mathematical riddles, rhymes and games are now collectively known as recreational maths. It s a wide-ranging and vibrant field, an essential feature of which is that the topics are accessible to the dedicated layperson” (Bellos, A. 2010). There are underlying mathematical concepts in nearly every game and puzzle available. For example, the game ‘Battleships’ which I’m sure most are familiar with, involves strategic reasoning and estimations. To play this game you must be confident with locating coordinates on a grid and working out the next point to hit. Also, ‘Connect 4’ is a childhood classic that supports mathematical concepts including geometric thinking, planning and pattern recognition without even realising your doing these things.
Recreational mathematics remains in very good shape today. It is an exciting and diverse field that continues to give pleasure to people of all ages around the world, as well as inspiring serious research. Next time you find yourself playing a game or attempting a puzzle, try work out the underlying mathematical principles involved in playing the game and being successful.
In my future career as a teacher, I know for certain I will be reaching for a board game or puzzle to reinforce mathematical skills in my class. Games are so much fun for everyone and you don’t even realise you are practicing maths!
Bellos, A. (2010) Alex’s Adventures in Wonderland. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.