Maki Kaji, the creator of popular numbers puzzle Sudoku whose life's work was spreading the joy of puzzles, has died, his Japanese company said Tuesday. He was 69 and had bile duct cancer.
Known as the “Godfather of Sudoku,” Maki Kaji created the puzzle to be easy for children and others, who didn't want to think too hard. Its name is made up of the Japanese characters for “number” and “single,” and players place the numbers 1 through 9 in rows, columns and blocks without repeating them.
Ironically, it wasn't until 2004 when Sudoku became a global hit after a fan from New Zealand pitched it and got it published in British newspaper 'The Times'. Japan rediscovered its own puzzle two years later as a “gyakuyunyu,” or “reimport.” Until July, Kaji was the chief executive at his puzzle company, Nikoli Co, and died August 10 at his home in Mitaka, a city in the Tokyo metro area.
Maki travelled to more than 30 countries spreading his enjoyment of puzzles. According to Tokyo-based Nikoli, Sudoku championships have drawn some 200 million people in 100 countries over the years.
Sudoku was also never trademarked except within Japan, driving its overseas craze, Nikoli said. “Kaji-san came up with the name Sudoku and was loved by puzzle fans from all over the world. We are grateful from the bottom of our hearts for the patronage you have shown throughout his life,” the company said in a statement.