Great news for puzzle freaks, courtesy of The New York Times: The venerable newspaper, and its famed puzzle editor Will Shortz, just published a brand-new puzzle called KenKen. Roughly translated as “Cleverness Squared,” the puzzle was invented by a Japanese teacher to encourage flexible problem solving among his grade-school students, and the mental habit of testing through trial and error. (His classes are the rage, with parents hoping to foster high-performing, future scientists. He’s an adherent of tools like KenKen that “teach without teaching,” and encourage individual discovery and make problem-solving lessons painless.) The move by the NYT follows the Times of London—a pioneer of the Sudoku craze in Europe—which first introduced the puzzle to its readers last year.
The puzzle is simple enough to explain: The goal is to fill each of the bold-bordered boxes with a set of numbers; the corner of the box offers a key, giving you a number to produce by using a given arithmetic operation. Thus, if the bolded box says 7+, the numbers 4 and 3 would fit. A 4×4 grid uses only numbers 1-4; a 6×6 uses 1-6. Like Sudoku, you can’t repeat a number in any given row or column.
For Shortz and The New York Times, this could be a coup: The NYT crossword is a quintessential part of the paper and made Shortz famous, but Sudoku has made riches for he and his publishers. Who knows if the puzzle will catch on (though odds seem good). But you have to wonder: Why aren’t American teachers inventing things like this?