12:12:22 pm on
Sunday 26 May 2024

My Sudoko Addiction
David Simmonds

World Class Sudoku player, Minnie Driver, 107,
shown playing a mirrored version of game, as a challenge.

Sudoku, puzzles were all the rage, uh huh. I used to play that number puzzle all the time. I was addicted to Sudoku. The Diversions section, of The London Times, ran a special Sudoku each week. I could not miss it.

The life of a Sudoku addict has many pitfalls.

I was so addicted to Sudoku. I made a terrible mistake. I had arranged a personal audience with the Dalai Lama. I stood him up. I kept him waiting while I scanned my newest puzzle for just those few more minutes that would yield the flash of insight needed to find the solution.

Yes, I sought that brief shot of dopamine, adrenaline or whatever it is one gets from the completion of the task. It wears off too quickly, of course. Then I would need another Sudoku puzzle to solve.

I know the urge to complete Sudoku puzzles does not quite rank up there with alcohol, drugs, gambling or philandering as serious addictions. Still, working on your Sudoku is pretty much the antithesis of the “living in the moment” maxim that many philosophers, including the Dalai Lama agree on. Commit yourself fully to experience the people with whom and the circumstances in which you find yourself right now, they say. While they don’t come right out and say so, I assume they mean that it’s not a good idea to have your Sudoku puzzle on hand in case the conversation at the dinner table flags somewhat.

 Then, just as I was about to check in to the Betty Ford clinic to cope with my addiction, along came the “brain training” wave. It’s an intriguing proposition that your brain, is like any other part of your body, needs to be kept active. All of a sudden, by doing Sudoku, I was taking my brain to the gym, not indulging in addictive and inconsiderate behaviour.

I was off the hook. “I’m sorry, Your Holiness, for keeping you waiting, but I wouldn’t want to be a burden to anyone in my old age, now would l? Here, why don’t you work on this higher degree of difficulty Sudoku, while I finish mine?”

Working your brain, as if a muscle, helps your ability to think.

Indeed, a study just published in The Lancet supports the proposition that brain training can be important. Reuter’s news service reports how “Older people at risk of dementia who follow advice on healthy eating, exercise and brain-training can slow down cognitive decline, particularly in their ability to organize and regulate thought processes. The scientists found that two years of intensive guidance for people aged 60 to 77 led to some striking differences in the brain's capabilities in so-called executive function and processing.”

I should just do Sudoku all day long, right. Well, no. First, I have to concede they slipped healthy eating and exercise in there. Second, there is apparently a difference between brain training and brain gaming: gaming is just one sort of training and you must train appropriately to the function you are trying to strengthen.

According to an article in the Huffington Post, by Sandra Bond Chapman, a cognitive neuroscientist and director of the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas, there is not enough scientific evidence to confirm playing brain games, such as Sudoku, helps train the brain in its cognitive functioning. All it does, hopefully, is help you become a better Sudoku player. This, too, is good.

Chapman advises those that want to ward off the onset of decline in things that really matter, the cognitive process, thinking, generally, is executive functioning. It includes decision-making, planning and judgment. “If you like brain games, there is no harm in doing them, but chances are you are better off giving your brain some downtime and gearing up for deeper level thinking. I recommend taking practical steps. For example, eliminate multitasking. Temporarily cutting ties with technology, just for 30 minutes, can also better brain health.”

Taking an afternoon meditation break a “nap” as some used to call it, may actually preserve my cognitive functioning better than doing Sudoku or even checking my e-mail. I wish I’d known, years ago, how that worked.

I joined Sudoku anonymous.

Where does that leave me with my Sudoku? As an undischarged addict, I guess. “Hello, my name is David, and I am a Sudokuholic. I started out doing simple Sudoku in which basic deductive reasoning told me the number I proposed to place in a particular square was the only right solution. Then I began craving more difficulty and sought puzzles requiring me to use two-stage reasoning, negative inference, grouping, ambiguity and probability theory, which are also known as guessing. Finally, I had to go to the hardest puzzles in which reasoning alone wasn’t enough and I had to use the scientific method, which is also know as trial and error. I almost lost everything. Thanks to this support group, I will try to live Sudoku free. My name is David and I am a Sudokuholic.”

Would anyone else like to step up and confess? Has anyone else kept the Dalai Lama waiting on the completion of a Sudoku puzzle? How did you handle that experience?


Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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