The country is going hog wild for Sudoku, the number-placement puzzle game that's done more to stimulate the sale of erasers than all of Florida's "F" schools put together. But as the popularity of the activity has skyrocketed, players have begun clamoring for helpful shortcuts that can help them crack Sudoku quicker – the same way Americans sought advantages in besting similar fads of the past, like Rubik's Cube and the Sherman Antitrust Act. We here at Dog Playing Poker are big fans of unfair competition, so we're happy to present this handbook of tips for Sudoku junkies at all skill levels.

Sudoku for beginners

Sudoku is a game based on a grid made up of 81 square spaces, some of which contain single-digit numbers. The trick is to fill in the remaining spaces with the numerals one to nine; each number is to appear only once in each vertical column or horizontal row. In addition, the main grid is segregated into nine subfields, each of which must also include all nine numerals in some configuration.

The beginner must ask him- or herself a variety of questions, including "Which spaces can I fill in right away?" "How do I use the process of elimination to fill in the others?" and "Would I have a better handle on any of this if I were Chinese?" Once those issues have been addressed, you can set about cracking the puzzle. In your mind's eye, draw imaginary lines through the numbers that are already on the "board," eliminating them from contention in each intersected row or column. With your mind's other eye, inventory the remaining numerals that cannot as yet be filled in; resolve to never use them again, neither to balance your checkbook nor in polite conversation. And with your mind's third eye, draw another line from the Sudoku to the Help Wanted ads, keeping a look out for the numbers 1-5-0-0-0-0, which is the annual income you're going to need if you keep ignoring your current job to work brainteasers.

If you get stuck at any point, either go for a short walk to clear your head or roll a mammoth spliff, which experts say stimulates the portion of the brain that governs novelty math. And remember: In a pinch, any run of four empty spaces, whether horizontal or vertical, may be filled in with the letters "o-l-e-o." It won't solve your Sudoku problems, but it will at least help you maintain squatter's rights to your newspaper's puzzle page. (While you were out: The Jumble still isn't funny.)

Sudoku for intermediate players

If you've been working Sudoku for more than a month, you've probably started to discern a discrete series of patterns and tendencies the seasoned player can work to his or her advantage. (If you've been working a specific Sudoku puzzle for more than a month, however, the universe is telling you to hang it up and focus on something that's more your speed, like macramé or overseeing NASA.) For instance, observant gamers know that a puzzle that begins with a six in the uppermost left corner can only end in the pattern 8-4-3, while one that begins with a nine anywhere in row five can only end in tears. In addition, frequent players will have learned to identify "difficult numbers" that are far harder to place on the grid than others. The reason for this phenomenon is simple: The numbers in question are evil and do not want to help you resolve your leisure-time challenges; they are instead compelling you to stab your landlord. Do their bidding and then get back to work.

Sudoku for quantum physicists

Your special training and education give you a considerable edge, understanding as you do that all numbers and essentially hypothetical and not bound by the petty strictures of time and space. So go ahead and fill in a row with the sequence 5-7-4-4-4-4-0-9-3-pi. Thanks to your superior, secular wisdom, you know that the answer is as valid as any other and will not incur the punishment of some wrathful, imaginary "God." (For an alternate perspective, see Section 12, "Sudoku for lapsed Catholics.")

Sudoku for Pete Rose

You weren't born yesterday, my friend, so you know that this game has been ruined by East Coast liberal intellectuals who don't want to see a regular Joe make a few bills for retirement. But let Ueberroth and his toadies try to keep you out of the Sudoku Hall of Fame. All you did was lay an innocent wager that the Reds bullpen would be a little slower in solving Saturday's puzzle than the Washington Capitals. Oh, and fifty bucks says that last space is a four.

Sudoku for complete pussies

Ask your mom for help.

Sudoku for optometrists

Look carefully at the puzzle in front of you. Notice how a two in the first row places a five in the eighth column, while a one in the third row forces a six in the fourth. Now, can you give me any of the fifth line? That's right. It's 5-7-2-3-9-4-1-8-6. Very good. Now let's try the sixth. No, that's not a seven; it's the chemical symbol for magnesium. Don't worry. A lot of people make the same mistake. And some of them aren't even Chinese. Here, let me switch out these lenses. Try it now. Better one? Or two?

Sudoku for experts

You've been addicted to Sudoku for two months or more, and it's high time you learned the proven, master-level techniques that will enable you to truly get the most out of the game. The 45-36 ratio of odd to even numbers, for instance, means that odds tend to be clustered closer together than evens – a factoid that will help you purge your cell phone of numbers that "just don't look right," thus eliminating non-Sudoku distractions and freeing up more time to play. Meanwhile, memorizing the miraculous, almost metaphysical properties of fours and sevens will help you reorder your social calendar, prolong meal-microwaving times and bring your alimony and child-support payments better into line with the current cost of No. 2 pencils. Also be aware that superimposing the sequence 1-4-5 onto your alarm clock's readout of 3:57 a.m. will afford a more complete and accurate picture of the amount of puzzle time remaining in your day. See, it's not so late after all. Wanna squeeze in one more game? [email protected]

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