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KenKen? Can! January 25, 2009

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Odds and Ends.

Sudoku’s been all the rage for a couple of years now. I’d say it’s appeal is twofold: first, it’s an appealing puzzle because it’s based entirely on logic; second, it’s thoroughly engrossing because every such puzzle has a discernible solution (if one tries hard enough). More, as if plain vanilla Sudoku weren’t addictive already addictive, it so happens that there are any number of Sudoku variants for the thoroughly numbers-obsessed — and occasionally the word-obsessed, too.

Because it’s numbers-based, Sudoku gives some people the illusion that they’re good at math (particularly those not particularly adept at the subject). Little did I realize that there’s actually a Sudoku-like puzzle that’s arguably just as addictive but specifically math-based: KenKen.

KenKen takes some of the principles of Sudoku but throws some math into the equation (pun intended). The size of the grid can vary, but the fundamental principle remains the same: any horizontal row or vertical column must contain every number they can fit (one through six for a six by six grid, for example) with no repetitions. But unlike Sudoku where the placement of some initial numbers gives clues as to how the remaining ones must be situated, in KenKen the entire grid is blank. Instead, there are mathematical rules that apply to certain groupings of adjacent cells that help one solve the overall puzzle. For instance, a “10+” found in a group of three cells mean that the numbers in those three cells must add up to ten; a “4/” in a group of two cells mean that the quotient of the two numbers must be 4. And so forth.

It’s not nearly quite complex as it sounds and is rather easy to get the hang of after a few tries at it. Personally, learning about it through an article on Cnet already got me hooked, mainly because I can see the potential. Clearly, the mathematical component adds as much as it takes away, providing some more information that should be useful but at the same time complicating matters as there are many combinations by which a mathematical operation can yield the same sum, product, difference or quotient — in short, the makings of a great puzzle challenge.

[My Latest Puzzle Love: KenKen (Cnet)]
[New York Times KenKen Puzzles (NY Times)]



1. Brian - May 17, 2009

I feel the same way about Kenken being sort of mathematically superior to Sudoku. But there is math in Sudoku, just not much arithmetic. Combinations, game theory, etc., even if some of the people using it don’t realize it. Think of what it took for someone to figure out swordfish, for example. It’s just not as formal as in Kenken.

But, as you say, there is much more math in the Kenken equation.

I’ve made some free videos about how to start solving a basic 4×4 Kenken, as well as an advanced 9×9 KenKen in which the operation signs are not given.

You can check them out at:

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