The Joy of Sudoku

During my recent bout of COVID, I spent a great deal of time laying in bed, feeling rather exhausted and uninterested in doing much of anything but sleep. As many of us do when bedridden, I looked through my social media accounts, random apps, and Spotify playlists – anything to help pass the time. In doing so, I came across a Sudoku app that I had installed on my phone at some point, which has largely sat unforgotten until now. For the curious, my go-to Sudoku app is currently Logic Wiz. It is available on both Google Play and the Apple App Store.

For those that don’t know, Sudoku is a deceptively simple logic puzzle. The goal is to fill a 9×9 grid so that each row, column, and 3×3 subgrid contains all digits from 1 – 9. In doing so, the numbers can’t repeat within each subgrid or across a row or column. To my unassuming mind, it seemed like an easy way to pass the time. The puzzles come in a variety of difficulty levels and don’t seem particularly complex. Man, was I wrong.

While browsing YouTube, I discovered Robin the Sudoku Guy‘s channel. At the time of writing this post, he had uploaded 98 Sudoku tutorials. It seems that he’s doing quite well, as Robin also is 28 lessons deep into a kid-friendly version of his tutorials that he says are great for students, teachers, etc. Naturally, I was curious to learn more from this Sudoku sage. If anything, I just wanted to know how many tutorials could it possibly take to learn how to play Sudoku?

It turns out that Sudoku can be an incredibly complex matter.

Robin’s tutorials begin with more intuitive things that many of us might have picked up from playing Sudoku over the years: eyeballing the grid to see what numbers could go where, eliminating certain options, etc. That, however, is barely scratching the surface of Sudoku strategy. The more complex end of Sudoku strategy introduces concepts like X-wings, swordfish, and it honestly gets more insane from there. I really like how the Sudoku wiki breaks each of the 39 techniques down by level of difficulty.

Complex games and puzzles aren’t new to me by any means. Most folks know that there are hundreds of strategies that one could employ during a chess match at any given stage of the game. Some folks know that a 3×3 Rubik’s cube has 43 quintillion possible combinations. There’s something delightful about the simplicity of the digits 1-9 and a partially-filled grid that makes Sudoku such an enticing experience. There’s a lesson to be learned about the broader beauty of logic and math that we try so hard to instill in our students.

For now, I’m happy to have a go at the puzzles that others create. I might try setting my own one day, but I suspect that puzzle crafting can become even more of a tempting rabbit hole as solving the puzzles themselves. LaTeX naturally has a package for just about everything, including a sudoku package that can convert plain text into a Sudoku grid. For those who prefer a WYSIWYG option, F-puzzles is a website that came highly recommended on the Sudoku subreddit.

To connect this all back to teaching, something that I often think about as a special education teacher in an algebra classroom is doing my best to meet the needs of my mixed-ability students. Differentiation, scaffolds, and entry points are important to keep in mind, but my students will all ultimately take the same algebra Regents exam in June. I do believe that teaching logic and reasoning in math is just as important as the algebraic concepts themselves, and I hope that I can incorporate more Sudoku into my classroom routine as an occasional enrichment activity for students. I’m currently flushing out an idea for an enrichment menu that I can post in my classroom, and I look forward to seeing how it’s received by students and my co-teacher.

On a whim, I logged into the Hunter College library catalog to see if a quick search would turn up any interesting hits about Sudoku or logic puzzles in general. I came across an essay that was published by a medical student in a 2021 issue of The International Journal of Psychiatry.

In this essay, Vigliotti described her experiences getting to know Gary, a patient that she was assigned to during her third year medical school rotations. While Gary initially came off as quite the curmudgeon, Vigliotti gradually fostered a positive relationship with Gary after realizing that he enjoyed completed Sudoku puzzles. She shared a Sudoku book with Gary that was purchased at the hospital gift shop, a small gesture that led to more substantial and deeper conversations.

Oncology is worlds apart from teaching, but there’s something about the dynamic between Vigliotti and Gary that I think many teachers can relate to. We all want to connect with and develop a positive relationship with our students. Sometimes the smallest of gestures, like sharing a book of Sudoku puzzles, can be the spark that gets a student to open up or feel more comfortable in our schools and classrooms.

While my run-in with COVID was fairly uneventful, it did lead to me re-discovering Sudoku. Like Vigliotti and Gary, I hope that I too can share the joy of Sudoku with a students at my school. Perhaps one of them will end up competing in the World Sudoku Championships one day.


Vigliotti, A. A. (2021). The gift of sudoku. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine56(3), 161–165.


On the Other Side

Never forget where you come from.

During the recent UFT Town Hall, Mulgrew shared several updates with members as we prepare to head back to school in just two short weeks (or a week for those of us attending New Teacher Week).

It was nice to hear that many of the policies negotiated from last year are being kept: extending Personnel Memorandum No. 1 to give members up to 10 days off for COVID-related illness, virtual parent-teacher conferences, and a generous per session compensation for setting up Google Classrooms. As a substitute teacher, I was woefully barred from receiving any benefit from the DOE’s COVID policies, despite doing very much the same work as the “real” teachers. I almost collapsed in a stairwell the day after receiving a COVID vaccine dose because substitute teachers didn’t get days off for vaccine side effects and I couldn’t have afforded to take the day off. I did get COVID later on, during a time when my only activities were working and commuting to/from work. As a long-term sub, I wasn’t entitled to any days for testing positive.

All of that to say that I deeply appreciate many of these policies, especially after having them flaunted in my face during a time when the union should have done more to advocate for substitute teachers in long-term positions.

The policy that tickled me the most was the extension of the MOA requiring classroom teachers to setup a Google Classroom. It’s not required that we use it on a regular basis, but the expectation is that we had the platform ready to go in the event of a partial classroom closure, inclement weather, etc. The DOE has all but completely gutted all COVID precautions in school, so that whittles down our required use cases to inclement weather.

The compensation for setting up Google Classroom was set to be $225. I’m not sure how it worked at other schools, but the school that I was subbing at during the start of the 2021-2022 school year created and prepopulated students into their respective Google Classrooms if I recall correctly. No work needed from teachers on that front. Sure it takes some time to upload handouts, assignments, get things organized, etc., but teachers weren’t even required to do that much with the platform. I would have been happy to be paid for something I’d have done regardless.

Whenever Google Classroom comes up, it’s a contentious point for some teachers. The usually retort is that it’s outside of the contract and that we shouldn’t expected to manage a digital platform.

I can’t imagine teaching without Google Classroom. It helps me stay organized and to keep everything together in one place. Sure it can take some additional time to fine-tune the way that everything is set up and organized, but it pays dividends in the long-run. The fact that teachers are getting paid to set one up is just icing on the cake.

I think back to easily my work as a substitute teacher was easily neglected as I worked on the same things and in the same working conditions as other educators. While I’m glad that will no longer be the case for me, I’m also sad that many long-term substitutes will continue to be neglected by these policies.

There is much work left to do.