One of my pet peeves about people and math is that most
people don’t really have a clue of what math is. I’ve been writing
this blog for something over three years, and by the standards of
a lot of people, I’ve almost never written about math.
Yesterday, my son’s kindergarten class had a picnic. On my way home,
I was listening to the local NPR station, which was interviewing some
crossword puzzle writer whose name I cannot remember; I will therefore refer
to him as “crossword-boy”. (It was not Will Shortz; Shortz is much smarter than the
guy they were interviewing.) At one point, they asked him something about
His response was a bit disjointed – he couldn’t decide whether to talk about
the history of Sudoku or about his opinion of it. His opinion is that it’s
incredibly dull and pointless, and that designing good Sudoku doesn’t require as
much creativity as designing good crosswords. (Just that much is annoying: I’m
a Sudoku addict, and I’ve definitely noticed dramatic differences in Sudokus
from different places. Will Shortz’s Sudoku books have great ones; most computerized
Sudoku games generate rather boring ones; the ones in most newspapers are
obviously computer generated.)
In the course of babbling about how uninteresting, non-creative, and
unsatisfying Sudoko puzzles are, he let loose with the real stupidity: “You know,
Sudoku doesn’t even have to use numbers, it can use any 9 symbols. It’s not a
mathematical puzzle at all.
Because it doesn’t rely on arithmetic, according to crossword-boy,
it’s not mathematical at all. He went on to say that it’s
just a logic puzzle, not a math puzzle at all.
Sorry pal, but logic is math.
Sudoku is an incredibly mathematical puzzle. It’s not an
arithmetic puzzle, but it’s a highly mathematical one.
In computer science terms, it’s a moderately
complex constraint-solving puzzle.
Math is more than arithmetic. It’s more than numbers. Math
is really the formal study of logic and structure. Numbers and arithmetic
are one kind of structured system described using logic which can be
studied and understood using math. But pretty much everything
with a precise, formal structure to it has at least an element of
mathematics. The structure of crossword-boy’s crossword puzzles
is fundamentally mathematical.