It's an obsession for some and a pastime for others. Sudoku has all it takes to hold your attention

So you have fallen pen, pencil and eraser for this mind-bendingly addictive game. For the killer puzzle, that's now available online, as a download or as a printout. You could crack it on your mobile or on playstations. Cool. Log on to websites for solution strategies: learn three-distinct-ways-to-play, try four levels of difficulty; 40,000 grids (lifetime guarantee?) to fill without messy rubbing! Did you visit Wayne Gould's sudoku.com? Soon, there might be a solve-sudoku-under-two-minutes helpline, with a rallying cry: "It's logical! Everyone does it!"

Solved in a jiffy

And how! Engineer Rajalakshmi Subramaniam logs on at 11.30 p.m. for her sudoku session. Having beaten the three-minute barrier, she's moving on to Kakuro, a more difficult version. She confesses to an urge to grab the grid wherever she sees it "road, rail or air." Her sudoku high was a comment from an elderly couple, her co-passengers on a train. "Paarungonna," she heard the woman say, "we tried all day and she filled it in a few minutes!" Buy the puzzle books, she recommends. "Fill each box with numbers separated by commas. Helps you to try combos. It's a Da Vinci code game where a mesh of lines is your opponent." Six months on, she deciphered that one sure stratagem. "I start and stay cut off from the world." Sudoku has all the attributes to hook you. It comes cheap and is fairly easy to play. Most newspapers now print grids. I hear that a lot of crossword addicts have now crossed over to numbers! It's a kind of charm offensive that awards you with a feeling of achievement, affirmation of IQ. Gives you a thrill ride, a fulfilling sense of one-upmanship that you cracked someone else's cryptogram, that you added stuff to the newspaper. The beauty of a neatly finished grid, the delight of deduction, the challenge and the joy of doing it in less than your best time. There are more, say seasoned Sudoku players. It's mathematical, so it's a positive influence. You don't have to gnash your teeth, fling magazines or bark at the neighbour while waiting your turn. Just whip out the small book or that piece of newspaper, find a launch pad and take off to the number world. Nivedita, 12, does that every morning. "She'll grab the entire paper and won't move till she's done with it. Thankfully, she completes the grid in 10 minutes," said grandma Uma. "The family now calls her Sudoku Sundari," she says. "She's ecstatic that papers in Dubai where she lives, carry sudoku squares now."Or start the day like Meena Muthiah does. She got her carpenter to prepare a board with nine big, red squares each with none black boxes. "I have nine sets each of red and green wooden numbers," she saidexplained. "My bai uses green coins to fill the boxes as per the paper every morning. I fill in the rest with red numbers. Real fun!" Sudoku is life-style changing. Or how would you explain government school principal Narayanaswamy's prayer every morning? "I pray my wife should find it easy to solve," said the patient husband. "Or the coffee won't be good." So there! This square game is as dangerous as it is irresistible. The more you win, the more you want to attack. One quick solution leads to the next, and the next... GEETA PADMANABHAN

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