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'Godfather of Sudoku' Maki Kaji passes away at 69

Written by: Adrian Andulan

Published on: August 18, 2021 at 11:16 AM PHT (GMT+8)

According to a recent statement by his company, the man who popularized the popular numbers game, Sudoku, has died at the age of 69 years old.

Maki Kaji, founder of Sudoku | PHOTO COURTESY: New York Post

The cause of death is reported to be bile duct cancer. He was reported to have died in his own residence in Mitaka, Tokyo. A private funeral service was held for Kaji, visited by close relatives and by his wife Naomi.

Maki Kaji born in 1951, in Sapporo Hokkaido. He first devised the famous game at when he was inspired by the U.S. puzzle game called 'Number Place'. Previously working at a printing company, he would found his own magazine company called 'Puzzle Tsushin Nikoli' with his friends in 1980. Kaji would then found the company Nikoli in 1983. His magazine is also where he would publish the first ever iteration of his famous game on print and publication in April of 1984 in their magazine 'Monthly Nikolist'.

Originally entitled 'Numbers (digits) must remain single' or 'suji wa dokushin ni kagiru', the name 'Sudoku' would arise from the abbreviation of its Japanese name. After its publication, Sudoku gained popularity in Japan, becoming a staple of Japan. Many cite the simplistic nature of the puzzle for its success, with Kaji wanting his game to be accessible to all ages.

It wouldn't be until 2004, when the puzzle game was published in a U.K. newspaper, thanks to a fan from New Zealand who was staying in London, that Sudoku would gain international recognition. And even in the 90s to 2000s, the game had slowly been gaining recognition in assorted Western newspapers. It even inspired championship games, starting in 2006, called the Sudoku World Championships.

Kaji had retired from the position of president for Nikoli back in July, after 40 years of service, though assured many fans of the publication that the priority would still be fun and engagement. There are reports that a separate ceremony would be held for Maki Kaji's funeral, though no official word on the matter has been confirmed.

While the name 'Sudoku' is trademarked in Japan, it is not the same in the rest of the world. This has lead to many copies of Sudoku that Kaji was not involved in. Kaji was reported to not have minded this.

In his speech during the 2008 Sudoku World Championships, Kaji had this to say:

"I would be happier to see everyone in the world enjoy Sudoku more easily."
"I did not become a millionaire, but I'm glad Sudoku is now loved by billions of people"



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