Maki Kaji, “Sudoku Godfather” and Lifelong Puzzle Fan, Dies of Cancer at 69

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Japanese puzzle maker Maki Kaji poses for a photo during the first national Sudoku competition in Sao Paulo, Brazil, September 29, 2012.

YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP via Getty

Maki Kaji, the puzzle publisher who helped make Sudoku one of the most popular games in the world, has died of bile duct cancer, his company said. He was 69 years old.

“Maki Kaji, who spread the love of puzzles around the world as the ‘godfather of sudoku’, passed away at 10:54 p.m. on August 10, 2021 at his home in Tokyo,” Nikoli Co. wrote in a statement.

“Kaji-san came up with the name Sudoku and was loved by puzzle fans around the world,” they added in a separate statement, as reported by The Associated Press. “We are grateful from the bottom of our hearts for the patronage you have shown throughout his life.”

According to the BBC, Kaji – a lifelong puzzle fan – dropped out of school in the early 1980s and started Japan’s first puzzle magazine, Nikoli. A few years after the magazine’s debut, Kaji spotted a unique number-based puzzle game called “Number Place”, created by American architect Howards Garns. The puzzle was likely influenced by previous games seen in French newspapers in the late 1800s, the outlet said.

Kaji wanted it published in his magazine, but he had a problem.

“The name, Number Place, didn’t strike me,” he said in 2008. “I wanted to come up with a Japanese name.”

Instead, Kaji named his version of the game “Suji-wa-Dokushin-ni-Kagiru,” which translates to “The numbers should be single, a single,” the Associated Press reported.

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Sudoku sponsor Maki Kaji has been invited to attend the National Cherry Blossom Festival

Sudoku sponsor Maki Kaji has been invited to attend the National Cherry Blossom Festival

Marvin Joseph / The Washington Post via Getty

But the name was not a hit among his colleagues, and Kaji – before rushing to a horse race on time – proposed “Sudoku” as a new name, the BBC reported.

Although the game had followers, it only became a worldwide sensation many years later, in 2004, when a fan asked The temperature to present it in a future edition of the British newspaper. Sudoku has since been one of the most popular games in the world.

Kaji had remained CEO of his company, Nikoli Co., until July 31, 2021, when he handed over the post to his former editor, Yoshinao Anpuku.

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According to New York Times, the true origins of the game on which Sudoku is based are not known. Some historians believe it was invented by a Swiss mathematician in the 18th century, while others believe it came from China or Arab countries centuries earlier.

Kaji did not receive any financial gain from Sudoku and did not trademark the game outside of Japan, the AP said. But wealth was not the goal he had in mind when he launched his puzzle magazine so many years ago.

“I am really moved when I see a new idea for a puzzle that has a lot of potential,” he once told the BBC.

“I’m really excited about this,” he added. “It’s like finding treasure.”

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