Friday, 6 August 2010

A Beautiful Mind

I am a comparatively new addict to sudoku. Some years ago, when people began to fall victim by the dozens, I observed them -- hunched over, nervously scribbling, howling at the occasional blunder they made, necessitating minutes of revision -- and I felt absolutely no desire to join them. I have a household to run, manuscripts to write, a garden to weed! I've managed to cut out time-wasting activities like ironing and T.V. What could be stupider than wasting my precious time on puzzles? Besides, I'm math challenged and for all the assurances that sudoku had nothing to do with math, it still looked like math to me. From time to time, I might attempt the odd crossword puzzle, but fiddling with numbers hardly sounded like quality recreation.

And, of course, the inevitable occurred: one day last year I was stuck in a parking lot on a rainy day. Tired of people-watching, I picked up the only thing of interest in the car: my husband's sudoku book. And another addict joined the club.

Most of the time, I manage to keep my habit under control. I set myself a strict regimen: one puzzle after the breakfast dishes, another puzzle after I hang the laundry out. Vacuum the floor, rewrite a chapter of whatever manuscript I'm tussling with, then another puzzle -- and so on. But lately I've been slipping. I've come to an impasse in the manuscript I'm working on and as I mull over the issue of whether to get rid of a few characters who do little to advance the plot, I've taken to going over my sudoku limit. In no time at all I managed to fill up the book I got as a stocking stuffer last Christmas.

I've developed all sorts of ways to rationalize my habit: logic doesn't come easily to me, so this stretches and exercises my ageing brain. Plus, I'm not really to blame for this: my youngest daughter has unwittingly enabled me by leaving her book lying around despite constant nagging. Is it my fault if she tempts me like this at such a weak moment? Besides, she seemed to have abandoned the book after only doing a few puzzles.

So over the past few weeks, very gradually, I've been filling up her book. And because sudoku, like writing, is largely a singular pastime, I almost never talk about it. The other day, she caught me at it: "Hey, that's MY book!" she squealed, pointing.

"Sorry!" I said smugly. "I told you to put it away, though." I glanced down at my work proudly: I've gotten up to puzzle 31 and only had to check the key half a dozen times!

My daughter leaned forward, frowning, then her face relaxed. "Oh, that's okay. I thought you'd done the hard ones."

Now it was my turn to frown. "What do you mean, 'the hard ones?'" I'd sweated blood over those puzzles!

She took the book from me and flipped through it. It goes up to Puzzle Number 250, and except for a few of the first ones, there are dozens of blank pages up until puzzle 80 or so. After that, I suddenly noticed, almost all the puzzles have been done. Slowly, horribly, the truth dawned.

"They get harder," she said simply.

How could I not have noticed? I've been doing the baby puzzles. The ones she got bored with.

"Some of these were pretty hard," I blustered, pointing. "The 4s in this one were devilish -- it took me ages to work them out!"

She nodded a little too quickly.

Almost sixteen years ago, she was a squalling, red-faced lump with a fierce air and buggy eyes, a cross between a lizard and a bulldog. Back then, I was her life support system. I fed, bathed, cuddled, nursed, and entertained her. She had a temper too: I put up with tantrums so sweatily violent, so head-bangingly wild and prolonged, that I can't even bear to describe them. I look at her now: generally sweet-tempered, willowy, and beautiful, and I'm amazed at her transformation -- and as head over heels in love with her as I was back then. None of which makes it any easier to accept the sad truth: My baby is smarter than I am.

Happy Birthday, Youngest Daughter. I love you infinitely -- more than all the china soup spoons you break or the cell phones and passports you lose. More than all the clothes and shoes you borrow from me without a by-your-leave. More than my own fat ego. More than you'll ever know.

Now go put your damn book away.


K. Erickson said...

There's a Sudoku app for the iPhone. It's usually how I wake my brain up after a sleeping all night.

Bish Denham said...

I limit myself to one Sudoku a day. I must my confess my true addiction is for cyphers or cryptograms. I love decoding all those quotes! Them I could do by the hour (I think.)

Bradmouth said...

When my students would outdo me, I'd just challenge them to a literal footrace race to make myself feel better.

And the one day I lost...

It's amazing how fast kids grow up and mature.

But they can have their precious Sudoku and Wii, I'll always be the king of and Tetris and ill-advised bike ramp construction.

Kudos on raising a great kid!

theBrad(verla tag)

Carole said...

John does the hard ones in our house. I do the easy and the occasional medium ones.

Happy Birthday to your daughter.

Charles Gramlich said...

Happy bday to your daughter. I've never played Sudoku. Not even completely sure what it is.

Mary Witzl said...

K. Erickson -- Thank you for commenting!

Fortunately, I'm still technologically challenged. If I weren't, in my weakened state, I'd be tempted to find iPhone's sudoku and lose myself. With the easy ones, of course.

Bish -- I can limit myself to just so much chocolate per day, a fact which I'm very proud of. Until recently, I could do that with sudoku too. Now, that ship has sailed. We'll see how long it takes me to kick the habit.

Bradmouth -- You're a teacher too? It's always great to hear from other teachers.

The jury's out on how great a kid I've raised. Especially if she doesn't start vacuuming the stairs pretty soon.

I used to make myself feel better by out-swimming my kids. They can swim faster than me now, but fortunately they don't usually choose to. Ill-advised bike ramp construction sounds like fun -- and like something I'd be good at.

Carole -- Until my big awakening, I thought the ones I was doing WERE hard. I've just found the hard ones and they're nowhere near as satisfying to do. Though maybe I'll change my mind when I finally manage to complete one.

Charles -- Keep it that way. Really: keep it that way.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Kids now are pretty smart, but we notice that occasionally they do come to us for advice. That tells us something important.

Vonna said...

Wonderful post about your daughter! We used to call our son Baby Taz because his ears turned so violently red during his tantrums. Fun memories!

Stella said...

I haven't looked at Sudoku yet. I'm addicted to the NY Times crossword puzzle. Husband got interested in them, too, a few years ago. We had to buy a copying machine because there were arguments about him doing "my puzzle".

Happy birthday to your daughter. It's my youngest son'b birthday today, too.

Vijaya said...

And it's a good thing they are smarter than us ... we want the slope to be positive, not negative. Happy Birthday, Sudoku Girl.

Pat said...

Terrific post and thank you for convincing me I am right to cold- shoulder Sodoku.
Even D.T. crossword is getting a but much.
I assume your daughter's fingers fly over the keyboard with lightening speed?

Anonymous said...

I'm in tears now... Looking forward to the day I hug you again - Pelin

AnneB said...

But Mary...isn't Sudoku like, um, math? {shudders}

Mary Witzl said...

Robert -- Our kids come to us for advice too. And money. Also, until they learn how to make pizza, blueberry muffins and chocolate chip cookies, I will play a vital role in their lives.

Vonna -- Thanks for visiting and commenting!

Our daughters' ears turned bright red when they cried too -- it was so cute! Also, when they were fiercely angry, their chins wobbled. We really loved that.

Stella -- I once managed to finish a NYT crossword puzzle and I was VERY proud. As a general rule, I just don't have the patience. Plus, I'm just rotten at puzzles.

Happy birthday to your youngest son too! (Crazy time of year to have a baby, though, isn't it?)

Vijaya -- It's good that my kids are smarter than I am in some respects, but I do wish they could remember things like where they put their passports, money, and mobile phones.

Pat -- Actually, I'm a faster typist! I learned the old-fashioned way, on a manual. Thank God for small favors: you would not believe how fast my kids can text.

Sudoku tests a completely different part of your brain than word puzzles. It is logic-, not maths-based. I tell myself it's brain exercise -- that helps me see it as more than yet another way to waste time.

Pelin -- Can't wait to see you too! We went to the supermarket today and felt like crying when we saw the tiny selection of olives, dolmas, and other so-called Turkish foodstuffs. And the melons here are puny and pitiful.

AnneB -- Really, those numbers fool you: sudoku has nothing to do with math! It scared me too at first. (Are you really another math-o-phobe? I'm so ashamed...I come from a family of women who are all good at math.)

Charlie said...

I wonder why people freak out at the sight of numbers, even when you tell them there is no math involved. I have a feeling there are a lot of unbalanced checkbooks running around out there.

Happy Birthday to the sudoku master and mistress of losing stuff.

Falak said...

It might sound bizzare but I'm addicted to embroidery just like you are to sudoku. I could lose myself in it completely and not notice the hours pass by. This is coming from a person who used to laught at women knitting away obsessively during in the train.A very Happy Birthday to your daughter :)

Murr Brewster said...

You could probably have done them at her age, too. They say with age comes wisdom, but it's a sorry substitute for losing your mind, I say.

Dale said...

(Now the question in my mind, is did I find Resident Alien by way of Murr or Murr by way of Resident Alien? I don't think this can be coincidence. I guess another explanation would be that one of you found the other by me, but I think I've only been a lurker here till now, so that seems unlikely.)

Anyway, outing myself as a longtime admirer.

My daughter, too, was capable of epic tantrums that I still wince to think of, and has improbably grown up, in the odd few weeks since 1985, to be a reasonable, patient, equable adult, much smarter than me, who does only the end of the sudoku book because the earlier puzzles are tediously easy. The world just gets odder and odder, as time goes by.

Mary Witzl said...

Charlie -- Thank you for the birthday wishes!

My checkbook is balanced, but only just. You obviously don't have my humiliating math deficiencies and experiences. I wish they did sudoku with letters instead -- then I'd have gotten hooked a whole lot sooner.

Falak -- I know what you mean! I get pretty absorbed by embroidery myself. I've got dozens of skeins of embroidery thread, several embroidery hoops, and many embroidery needles. What I don't have anymore is time or excessively good eyesight, so the embroidery loses out to the writing every time. Plus, I don't stab myself with needles so much now.

Murr -- I like to tell myself that sometimes -- and sometimes I tell my daughter too. She'll never know the real truth if I don't let on.

Let's hope for the best. I really want to hang on to my wits for as lon as possible. I figure you can't have everything: if I didn't get the smarts, at least maybe I'll get to keep my wits.

Dale -- Thank you so much for that compliment: my ego really needs this sort of thing after the recent sudoku blow.

Congratulations on producing a decent daughter. Isn't it a heart-breakingly bittersweet experience to watch your kids grow up? Whenever I see parents dealing with toddlers in full tantrum mode, I feel like warning them.

(Maybe you found Murr and me through Robert, whose blog is definitely worth checking out.)

Kim Ayres said...

Belated Happy Birthday to the wee lass :)

The Extreme Sudoku series I've been working through has 120 puzzles in each book, and on average takes me about 9 months to complete each book. Mind-bendingly difficult, but extremely satisfying :)

Miss Footloose said...

I love sudokus too, but mostly do them on airplanes and in airports. I pick up books in airports and have them in Italian, German, Albanian, Dutch, English .. because the language doesn't matter ;)

My kids are way smarter than I am, especially when it comes to technology, sob.

Robin said...

Oh, how sweet! Happy B Day to youngest daughter! She may be smarter than us, but she's not wiser. Right? Right? Please say I'm right!

Marcia said...

Love this post. You might not want to hear this, but have you tried Killer Sudoku? The grid is BLANK, the cells are grouped together (lightly outlined) into sums, and the sums are the only clues you get. There's a Sudoku site that has such horribly hard ones (labeled "mind-bending")that I have never completely solved one at that level. Those DO call for algebra, in my opinion. I have to stick to puzzles, though -- I'll never outswim or out-bike-ramp-construct anybody. :)

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Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- I suspect the level of sudoku you're working on exceeds mine like calculus exceeds 1 + 2 = 3. Still, when I've managed a sudoku that's harder than the one before it WITHOUT making mistakes, I too feel supremely satisfied. And I will continue to do so if I just forget what level you are working at.

Miss Footloose -- Sudokus are great for filling in time. I've got one in the glove compartment of the car and it's saved me from many long, boring stretches when I'm tired of day-dreaming and there aren't enough people for me to engage in people-watching.

My mother was in awe of me for knowing how to operate the t.v. and stereo system. I remember groaning at her lack of technical ability and I blush.

Robin -- We are wiser than our kids, but somehow that's a hollow victory, isn't it? It's like being proud of a prize they give everybody to discourage hard feeling -- the one where all you have to do is take part in the competition in order to win. My only consolation is imagining how they'll feel when they get to our age.

Marcia -- Eek -- you are a mathematician! Just reading that description you gave makes me weak in the knees. You have no idea how much of a mathematician I am not, in spite of the fact that all the women in my family were very good at math. (I take after my father. Imagine how much I like hearing how my math cluelessness is down to my gender.)

I'll bet I could out-swim you, though. I'll have to console myself with that thought! But I'm with you on the bike ramp thing.