Sudoku: Torture or Teacher?

Sudoku 1For those people who are not familiar with Sudoku, I will provide a very brief overview of the puzzle. The standard Sudoku puzzle (see example on right) is a 9 x 9 grid that consists of nine rows that are nine cells long, nine columns that are nine cells tall, and nine 3 x 3 boxes that contain nine cells. Many people believe that solving a standard 9 x 9 Sudoku puzzle requires super-human mathematical and spatial skills. The myth is simply not true. As I described in the post titled “Tangrams: Torture or Teacher?” I am clearly not a spatial genius.  Math and spatial skills are not required to solve a standard Sudoku puzzle. You can make the standard puzzles more complicated by rotating them and looking at the rotated puzzles in a mirror, but rotations, interpreting mirror images, and math are not required to solve the standard 9 x 9 Sudoku puzzle.

The object of the puzzle is to use the clues in cells with numbers to place numbers in empty cells without violating the rules of Sudoku.


The rules are very straightforward: the numbers 1 through 9 can appear only once in a row, column, and box. Some Sudoku puzzles also include the rule that the numbers 1 through 9 appear only once in a diagonal.

Torture or Teacher

I’ll admit that the puzzle looks impossible to solve. I’ll also admit that even though the solution does not require mathematic or special skills, there is something about the puzzle that is intimidating. However, you can solve the puzzle by using the following  strategy:

  1. Spend a few minutes looking for solutions then do something else for a while.
  2. Pay attention to what you are doing. Multitasking is not the answer.
  3. Read and reread the rules if you need to.
  4. Try to solve 1s, then 2s, then 3s . . . then 9s for each row, column, and box.
  5. When you finish the previous step, repeat the process until all cells contain numbers that do not violate the rules.

The initial goal is to simply exercise your brain rather than solve the entire puzzle. As your brain rebuilds itself, you will do more in less time — this is true for all aspects of your life not just puzzle solving. Eventually, you will be ready for puzzles that are more challenging.

I believe Sudoku is a Teacher even though it looks like Torture. By attempting to solve a puzzle you are practicing the following skills:

  1. Comprehension of instructions
  2. Attention to detail
  3. Visual memory
  4. Sequencing
  5. Time management

Caution: Sudoku is only for people who want cognitive therapy to be fun.


What perceived obstacles prevent you from trying to solve Sudoku puzzles? Could you benefit from attempting to solve Sudoku puzzles? How are puzzles similar to your everyday challenges? What tools do you prefer when you engage in cognitive exercises? What challenges are you trying to overcome?


Click here to read another Beyond Injury post in the Torture or Teacher series.

Thanks to Hans Boldt for sharing the puzzle.



  1. Scott,
    Thank you for your newsletters. I have (finally) come to grips with the reality of not being able to do what I used to do. I haven’t picked up a sudoku in years. I used to be able to do the complicated hard ones and progressively was unable to because of the ravages of my brain tumor. After surgery, I expected to recover much more quickly, but didn’t. At least not as fast as I wanted. I tried the lumosity games to help my brain and I do crosswords as well. Sudoku was too confusing for me so I never went back. I basically just forgot how much I enjoyed them until I read your newsletter this time and put myself to the test. My brain has a ways to go but I was pleased with my result on this puzzle. Thanks for the reminder as now I have another game I can play and it also helps that it is something I enjoyed pre- tumor! Anytime I can do something I used to do and do it reasonably well is cause for celebration for me! Thanks! Love your writing. It calms me.

    1. Sheila, there are many easy, free, printable Sudoku puzzles online. If you decide to challenge yourself with a variety of puzzles, you can find the puzzles in books, magazines, newspapers, and online. I am glad to hear that my post encouraged you to try, I am even more happy to hear you succeeded. Thank you for sharing the good news and great feedback. If you like my posts and newsletters, please tell your friends about them.

  2. Scott,

    It’s been several months!

    Prior to my brain injury, I did the “hard” puzzles on a regular basis (several times / day).

    Now I regularly do easy-medium puzzles well enough. I find them challenging without getting too hung-up on what I used to be able to do. I try to do at least one a day and find that sudoku is actually pretty easy when compared to the challenges of raising 2yr old and 6 yr old boys. I consider it something fun to do on my “down time”.

    I also find that the sudoku ap on my iPhone is easier to use than paper n pencil puzzles. This probably has more to do with my cognitive limitations than physical issues. Because of this, I do both regularly as it’s important to me to exercise my mind by “changing it up” often.
    The ap also keeps track of “solve times”, showing your progress, which can be encouraging (or not).

    Keep up the great work!


    1. Norm, I don’t have children and I don’t have an iPhone, but I’ve heard stories about both. Playing Sudoku is like any other exercise . . . the more you do it, the better you get. It does not matter if you used to complete harder puzzles and now you cannot. What matters is that you are challenging your brain on a regular basis. The fact that you are raising two young kids and finding time for Sudoku is certainly impressive. ~ Scott

  3. Checked out your website for the first time today. Read this post about Suduko because it’s a game I play on a regular basis. I love the format and ease of your writing. I feel it’s important to engage in games to keep your brain in shape-but as you point out it’s helpful to try to solve problems in different ways. ( never though to turn the puzzle sideways or to use a mirror) Enjoyed!

    1. Cheryl, you are always welcome to share your ideas and tips about recovery with other readers. If you are too busy to write, but you have a few spare minutes to share Sudoku tips, that would be great as well.

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