Why I Start Each Day With Sudoku

A love letter to my morning routine.

Laura Todd Carns

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The best mornings are when the cat helps

Every morning, the first task I give my struggling-from-sleep brain is to solve a Sudoku. My body may have stumbled through some simple things like waking the children, mumbling good morning to my husband, and pouring coffee. But my brain isn’t capable yet of truly reading the news or replying to an email. I settle at the kitchen table with my sharpened pencil, adjust my reading glasses, and gaze at a grid of numbers and spaces.

I have been solving Sudoku puzzles daily for years now, though when I tried to teach my son how to do it, I found myself bereft of language. The truth is, I don’t really know how I solve them. I have strategies, sure. “What do we know about 4’s?” my family will hear me mumble, or “This can’t be a 7, this can’t be a 2, so…” But my eyes scan for patterns without my conscious brain being fully engaged. I find myself filling in numbers without being able to articulate the logic behind my decisions. It’s a little bit like magic.

Directly above where I sit with my coffee is the desk where, later, I will try to write. I will coax and cajole the words to do my bidding, I will wrestle with unwieldy shapes, trying to approximate the vision in my mind. But it is an asymptotic process; I will only ever get close to the essence of what I am trying to express. Even when I type “THE END,” I will never know when it is finished. I will never get the satisfaction of sitting back to see the grid neatly completed.

Thus the satisfaction of the Sudoku: always solvable. There is one right answer. With enough mental muscle, I can arrive there. I will not then critique the method of my solving. I will not grumble that my solution should have been more elegant.

The puzzles get harder through the week, and my days take on a different cast. Monday is the easiest, Saturday nearly unsolvable. Sunday is a Samurai Sudoku, an enormous grid of five interlocking Sudoku puzzles with overlapping sections. They look impressive, but they’re not any more difficult really. My favorite days are Thursdays and Fridays.

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Laura Todd Carns

Freelancer & fictioneer. Contributor to Medium pubs Human Parts, GEN, Curious; bylines elsewhere in WaPo, Quartz, EL, The Lily & more. www.lauratoddcarns.com