Date: March 12, 2009
Byline: M.J. Stephey
KenKen: The Next Sudoku?
Will Shortz is to puzzles what Oprah is to books — an endorsement by the New York Times crossword editor is as good as gold. He helped popularize Sudoku in the U.S. and has sold more than 5 million volumes of the number-sequencing game. Now he's moved on to another numerical brainteaser, KenKen, which boasts something Sudoku does not: actual math. The game was invented by a teacher in Tokyo to help kids learn arithmetic; kenken means "cleverness squared" in Japanese.
"I'm a pretty busy guy, and I don't solve many puzzle books anymore, certainly not from start to finish," Shortz says of his becoming addicted to KenKen a year and a half ago. "I just loved it." He persuaded his newspaper to start publishing the game last month and just held KenKen's first U.S. competition at the annual American Crossword Puzzle tournament, in New York City, which drew more than 900 people from around the world — including KenKen's creator, Tetsuya Miyamoto.
So far, the reception has been good, though not Sudoku-mania good. (Then again, Sudoku wasn't an instant hit either; an Indiana architect devised the game in the 1970s, but it languished for decades under the unfortunate name Number Place.) Only five years old, KenKen already appears in the Times of London and Le Figaro in Paris, and it's coming soon to an iPhone near you.
If nothing else, the name KenKen has been well received. It even inspired NYU professor Amanda Yesnowitz to pen a parody of Cole Porter's "Can-Can," which she debuted at the tournament: "If a lad called Jennings, Ken, can ... If John Glenn, in his den, now and then can ... Can Obama? Yes, he KenKen!" Afterward, the president of Nextoy, which owns the puzzle's rights outside Japan, approached her about posting the song on his company's website, but she was too distracted by a nearby conversation, gasping, "Did Will just say my name?"