Sudoku is sizzling. The logic puzzle, think crossword puzzle for numbers, is sweeping the globe. Once unknown, the puzzle now appears in more than 400 newspapers, in 58 countries, in 26 languages — the growth coming in less than one year. Not since the Rubik’s cube in 1980 has a puzzle been this big. In existence for nearly forty years, it took a retired New Zealand judge to put it in the spotlight.
“I found Sudoku in a Tokyo book shop in 1997. I was just browsing and I happened to find a book of what I thought was just crosswords, but it turned out to be Sudoku," said Wayne Gould.
Instantly hooked, Gould spent six years developing a computer program to generate an endless supply of games. He also developed a counterintuitive business model, giving the puzzles to newspapers for free.
“I wanted to sell my computer program that puts these puzzles out and I knew that people wouldn’t buy my program unless they knew what a Sudoku puzzle was," said Gould.
In 2004 Gould convinced the editor of The Times of London to publish the puzzle. Within months every paper in Britain had jumped on the Sudoku bandwagon.
“I knew that I'd have a nice hobby income as soon as The Times of London took it on and starting publishing it," said Gould. "But when the other national daily British newspapers stating producing Sudoku puzzles too, I knew that the 'Sudoku wars' had erupted and that this was big time."
Through sales of his books and software, Gould’s “hobby” income now earns him over $1 million each year. Ironically, no one in the U.S. is cashing in more than the man more associated with crosswords, Will Shortz. He is the editor of the popular New York Times crossword puzzle.
“I thought come on, how appealing can a numbers puzzle be? And, I did one and then I did another and I thought, yeah, this could be really addictive”, said Shortz.
In conjunction with St. Martins Press, Shortz has put out a 50-book series that has sold five million copies, and another million are on the way. The books have given Shortz the largest share in the booming Sudoku book market.
“It’s been very good," said Shortz. "I’m making a lot more money from Sudoku than I am from 'The New York Times.'"
Others are looking to get a piece of Sudoku action with books and items of their own, including Sudoku toilet paper. With the puzzle showing staying power, there’s no logic needed to recognize one very big ka-ching.