There is one thing I never do, never ever do, when I complete a Sudoku puzzle.

I never guess.

Sherlock Holmes famously said in The Sign of Four that a guess is “destructive to the logical faculty,” and I am not inclined to disagree. When it comes to Sudoku I puzzle it out, I think it through logically. I never put down a number until I am absolutely sure, even though that may mean that a puzzle will go unsolved.

I never guess.

Today, today I guessed.

On the train in the morning and evening, I will do the Sudoku puzzle printed in b, a local free daily paper. Usually, I’ll finish the puzzle on the train in the morning between State Center and Timonium, a ride of roughly twenty minutes. Sometimes, I’ll work on an unfinished puzzle on the evening train back home.

(Morning, I use a red pen, evenings blue. If I have to go back to the puzzle a third time, say on the subway out of town, I use black.)

This morning’s puzzle, in its early going, was simply, easy, perhaps deceptively so. As General Chang said, I was “lulled into a false sense of security.” The low-hanging fruit picked quickly, leaving behind more challenging fruits. I stared at the puzzle for whole minutes, stymied in my logical deductions, not putting down a single digit. All the tricks I knew came up short. I had the puzzle half done, I knew where certain numbers had to go, but I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t prove anything.

In one square of nine, I had five digits filled in. For the rest — the 2 could only go here or here, the 6 could only go here (overlapping with the 2) or here, the 1 and 8 could only go in the corners (overlapping with the 2 in one corner, overlapping with the 6 in another). I kept looking at this, and I reasoned. “If 2 goes here, then 6 goes here, and the Schrödinger’s 1 & 8 go here and here. Or, if 2 goes there, then 6 must go there, and the Schrödinger’s 1 & 8 must therefore go here and here.” I could not prove one state or the other; based on the solved state of the puzzle at that moment, both solutions to this nonant of the puzzle were correct. And even if I could place the 2 and the 6, I couldn’t solve the 1 and the 8; like Schrödinger’s Cat, these numbers were simultaneously in two states.

I wrote down “maps” of both solutions in the paper’s margin. I stared at them. I thought about them.

But there was nothing to think. I couldn’t prove anything. Either the first solution was true or the second solution was true, and one was as likely as the other.

I went with the second solution. I wrote down the 2. I wrote down the 6.

I couldn’t even say I had had an intuitive leap. All I could say, truthfully, was that I had made a guess.

And I never guess at Sudoku.

If my guess were wrong, I would know very soon. Numbers would double up somewhere. I would scrawl a giant “X” across the busted puzzle.

Instead, numbers kept falling into place.

In very short order, I had the puzzle solved.

All because of a guess. A 50/50 guess, but still a guess nonetheless.

I got lucky. I could so easily have gone for the other solution, and I would have ruined the puzzle irrevocably. Like Schrödinger’s Cat, the puzzle existed in a state of indeterminacy. Until I made a decision on the nonant, until I placed the numbers, the puzzle could not be solved. And like Schrödinger’s Cat, my very act of determining the numbers produced a result — the puzzle could live (and be thus solved) or die (and be thus busted), but unless I acted, I would never know. The uncertainty had to be broken down.

I never guess.

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

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