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‘Godfather of Sudoku’ Maki Kaji passes away at 69

By Kara Santos Published Aug 17, 2021 5:38 pm

Maki Kaji, the Japanese creator of the popular numbers puzzle Sudoku, has died, his company announced on Tuesday (August 17).

The puzzle enthusiast and publisher credited with turning the grid-based numbers problem into a global phenomenon, passed away at his home in Mitaka, a city in the Tokyo metro area. He was 69 and had bile duct cancer.

“Known as the Godfather of Sudoku, he was adored by puzzle lovers around the world and we would like to express our gratitude to all of you,” his puzzle company, Nikoli, said on its website.

Sudoku, a sort of numerical crossword, was said to be invented by Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler in the 18th century, but Kaji is credited with having popularized the modern version which gained worldwide recognition in 2004.

Kaji is also said to have come up with the name Sudoku, which is made up of the Japanese characters for “number” and “single,” and players place the numbers 1 through 9 in rows, columns and blocks without repeating them.

As reported by the Associated Press (AP), Maki traveled to more than 30 countries spreading his enjoyment of puzzles. 

Sudoku championships have drawn some 200 million people in 100 countries over the years, according to the Tokyo-based Nikoli. 

Sudoku was also never trademarked except within Japan, driving its overseas craze, Nikoli said. In recent years, Sudoku, believed to be the world’s most popular pencil puzzle, has come out in digital versions. 

Born in the main northern island of Hokkaido, Maki started Japan’s first puzzle magazine after dropping out of Keio University in Tokyo. He founded Nikoli in 1983, and came up with Sudoku about the same time. 

Nikoli has provided original puzzles to more than 100 media companies, 10 of them foreign ones.

Japanese newspaper Mainichi in its obituary credited Kaji for starting the puzzle sections at bookstores, as well as introducing the word “Sudoku” into the Oxford English dictionary. 

"I don't want to just be the godfather of Sudoku. I'd like to spread the fun of puzzles until I'm known as the person who established the puzzle genre in Japan," Kaji said in a recent interview.

Kaji is survived by his wife Naomi and two daughters. Funeral services have been held among close family while a separate memorial service is being arranged by Nikoli.

(Image from NIKOLI via AP)