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What is Sudoku?

It's big in Japan, huge in Europe and sweeping America and now it appears in the Chicago Sun-Times.

As a testament to its growing popularity, Sudoku Web sites abound, and there are cyber clatches where enthusiasts swap secrets and frustrations. You, puzzle maven and comics page peruser, might be one of them. If not, you will be. You. Will. Be.

The game (available in the paper and online) operates thusly: Using numbers 1 through 9, players must attempt to fill in a nine-column, nine-row grid (including each 3-by-3 section) without repeating digits. The puzzles labeled "Hard" are especially brain-busting. Mused one expert, "How hard can they be? Put it this way: If you were on Death Row and due to be executed in the morning, and the guard told you if you solved the puzzle your life would be spared, you'd die."

Aside from stimulating the intellect, Sudoku also has proved quite addictive -- along the lines of Tetris, chocolate and some HBO original programming. British papers have carried ominous accounts of "Compulsive Sudoku Syndrome."

"Our experience is people can be immediately hooked," Spike Figgett, publishing director of Sudoku Selection magazine, told the Orlando Sentinel. "It is especially compelling to those of a compulsive nature and people who just won't give up or give in. It's caused many a commuter to miss their train stop."

"I never thought I had an addictive personality, but Sudoku is definitely bad for me," a man told BBC News last April. "If I don't complete a puzzle before noon I get suicidally depressed for the rest of the day and even lose sleep fretting on what I've missed."

Why the obsession? Retired Hong Kong judge and Sudoku puzzle creator Wayne Gould has a theory. "There's nothing quite like it out there," he said. "Most of the puzzles in newspapers are word games in disguise. This isn't. It isn't even a numbers game (though it looks as if it should be). It's a game of logic. So it's different and unusual. Also, it doesn't depend on language, so it can spread from one country to another. The 'rules' are very simple, so easy to understand, and yet the puzzle can be surprisingly 'deep.' "

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