'Godfather of Sudoku' Maki Kaji, creator of the puzzle, dies aged 69

‘Godfather of Sudoku’ Maki Kaji, creator of the popular numbers puzzle, dies aged 69

  • Kaji was suffering with bile duct cancer and stepped down as chief executive of his puzzle company in July
  • He is credited with the creation of the game as we know it in the 80s, but it was not popularised until the 2000s
  • An estimated 100 million people now play Sudoku on a regular basis
  • Sudoku is seen as a way to sharpen mental acuity, and Sudoku world championships have been held annually since 2006 

Maki Kaji, the man widely credited with the creation of the popular numbers puzzle Sudoku, has died aged 69 his Japanese company said Tuesday. 

Known as the ‘Godfather of Sudoku,’ Kaji created the puzzle to be easy for children and others ‘who didn’t want to think too hard’ in the mid 80s by adapting older numbers games.

Kaji was chief executive at his puzzle company, Nikoli, until July before stepping down due to ill health as a result of bile duct cancer. He died August 10 at his home in Mitaka, Tokyo, according to the company.

Sudoku is one of the world’s most popular numbers puzzles, with an estimated 100 million people playing them on a regular basis. 

Maki Kaji, chief executive of the Nikoli puzzle company, created the game in the 80s but it was not popularised beyond Japan until the 2000s 

Sudoku is now one of the world’s most popular numbers puzzles, and world championships have been held annually since 2006 (Pictured: a national Sudoku tournament in Philadelphia, USA, in October 2007)

The name ‘Sudoku’ is a contraction of the Japanese for ‘every number must be single’, and sees players place the numbers 1 through 9 in rows, columns and blocks without repeating them.

Sudoku was popular in Japan in the late 20th century, but wasn’t until 2004 that it became a truly global hit, after a fan from New Zealand pitched it and got it published in the The Times newspaper. 

Other papers quickly began printing Sudoku puzzles, advertising them as a way to sharpen mental acuity, and in 2006 the first World Sudoku Championships were launched and have been held annually ever since. 

According to his Tokyo-based company, Kaji was a true lover of puzzles and traveled to more than 30 countries spreading his enjoyment and teaching the games. 

Sudoku championships have drawn some 200 million people in 100 countries over the years, and was never trademarked outside Japan which helped to spread the overseas craze.

‘Kaji-san came up with the name Sudoku and was loved by puzzle fans from all over the world. We are grateful from the bottom of our hearts for the patronage you have shown throughout his life,’ the company said in a statement.

Sudoku was never trademarked outside Japan which helped to spread the overseas craze

Born on the main northern island of Hokkaido, Kaji started Japan´s first puzzle magazine after dropping out of Keio University in Tokyo. He founded Nikoli in 1983, and came up with Sudoku about the same time.

Yoshinao Anpuku, who succeeded Kaji as Nikoli’s chief executive, said Kaji made friends easily and had a ‘unique and playful approach toward life.’

‘Our mission is to pursue Maki´s vision and possibilities,’ Anpuku said.

Nikoli has provided original puzzles to more than 100 media companies, 10 of them foreign ones.

Major Japanese newspaper Mainichi in its obituary credited Kaji for starting the puzzle sections at bookstores, as well as introducing the word ‘Sudoku’ into the Oxford English dictionary.

Kaji is survived by his wife Naomi and two daughters. Funeral services have been held among close family. A separate memorial service is being arranged by Nikoli, but details were still undecided.

What is Sudoku and when was it created?

  • Sudoku is a numbers puzzle played on a grid of 9 x 9 spaces
  • Within the rows and columns are 9 ‘squares’ (made up of 3 x 3 spaces)
  • Each row, column and square (9 spaces each) needs to be filled out with the numbers 1-9, without repeating any numbers within the row, column or square
  • The origins of the game are not known, with some crediting 18th century Swiss mathematician Euler while others say it came from 8th or 9th century China or India
  • A similar numbers puzzle was also published in French newspapers in the early 20th century
  • US architect Howard Garns is seen by some as the original creator of the modern game under the name Number Place, but Kaji is widely credited as the man who standardised and popularised the game as it is known today 

Kaji printed Sudoku in Japan for years before it became popular worldwide

 Source: Sudoku.com, New York Times, Associated Press

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