Maki Kaji, ‘Godfather of Sudoku’, passes away at 69

Maki Kaji, creator of the puzzle game Sudoku, has passed away at 69, his publishing company, Nikoli, announced on Tuesday.

The details: Kaji died in his home in Tokyo at 10:54 p.m. on Aug. 10. He suffered from bile duct cancer, a rare form of cancer that affects the ducts connecting the liver, gallbladder and small intestine.

  • Kaji first created Nikoli as a puzzle magazine in 1980 and founded the company three years later, according to The MainichiHe served as chief executive until July.
  • Nikoli will hold a memorial gathering for Kaji at a later date. Details will be announced on the company’s official website.

 

Creating Sudoku: Kaji is known as the “Godfather of Sudoku.” While he did not invent the puzzle, he is credited for the name Sudoku — a contraction of the Japanese phrase “each number must be single” — and popularizing it, according to AFP-JIJI.

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  • Sudoku’s origins are disputed. Some attribute the puzzle’s invention to 18th-century Swiss mathematician Euler, while some say it came from China to the Arab world in the 8th or 9th century, according to The New York Times.
  • Kaji first came across the puzzle in 1984 in an American magazine called “Number Place.” This modern version of the game was created by U.S. architect Howard Garns.
  • Kaji wanted to create a Japanese name for the puzzle and reportedly came up with “Sudoku” in just 25 seconds while on his way to a horse race. He has since revised the game’s design, and by 2004, it started receiving worldwide recognition.

 

A global craze: Sudoku was only trademarked in Japan, so Kaji had no hand in its overseas popularity. The fact that Nikoli staff had been creating Sudoku puzzles by hand meant slower production rates, so foreign makers helped satisfy the global craze.

  • For Kaji, it only mattered that more people can enjoy the game. “I did not become a millionaire, but I’m glad Sudoku is now loved by billions of people,” he said at a 2008 championship. “I enjoy my staff saying they are proud of their job, I enjoy a glass of wine with my wife every night, and I enjoy horse racing every weekend. I am very much satisfied with the way I am.”
  • Kaji traveled to more than 30 countries to spread the puzzle. Meanwhile, Sudoku championships have drawn around 200 million people from 100 countries, according to the Associated Press via NPR.
  • The late creator, however, did not want to be just the “Godfather of Sudoku.” “I’d like to spread the fun of puzzles until I’m known as the person who established the puzzle genre in Japan,” he said in a recent interview, as per The Mainichi.

Kaji is survived by his wife Naomi and two daughters.

Featured Images via Paul Downey (left), S C (right)

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