Sir Su Doku

Photo: Phillip Hollis

In a newspaper war, any weapon could prove decisive. Some, of course, explode in the bunker: Ask the Daily News about its Scratch n’ Match snafu. And now Rupert Murdoch’s Post is wielding ordnance that he’s battle-tested abroad: Su Doku, a game that has overtaken the British dailies, spawned a best-selling book, and made one obsessive man an international puzzle star.

Wayne Gould, 59, a retired judge from New Zealand, first encountered the puzzle in a Japanese bookstore in 1997. It’s a logic test: When you’re done filling in a nine-by-nine grid of boxes, every row, column, and three-by-three subgrid should contain the digits one to nine—but only once. (The difficulty varies by how many are already filled in for you.) Gould, an amateur programmer and cryptographer, decided to try to program a computer to create the puzzles.

“I recall being so frustrated, I was actually crying,” he says. “I just couldn’t make the breakthrough.” It took six years. Then last October, solution in hand, he flew to London and planted himself in the lobby of Murdoch’s Times. “I asked a member of my staff to shoo him away,” says features editor Michael Harvey, who ended up being sold on the spot. They introduced it on Friday, November 12. By Monday, the Daily Mail had its own. Now almost all the dailies do. A Times-branded Su Doku book has sold 130,000 copies; Gould is churning out three more.

But are New Yorkers susceptible? The Post, desperate to continue its circulation catch-up with the News, added Su Doku in April, but a spokesperson refused to comment on its popularity. The News says it has no plans to add the puzzle right now. But two major U.S. papers are in talks with Gould (as is, reportedly, The New York Times Magazine), and he expects to make high five-figures off it this year. Nor does he see the well drying up. He says he doesn’t even know the total number of possible correct solutions: “My math is not that good.”

Sir Su Doku