Escape room players hate Sudoku.
In a community that can debate the merits of anything, there seems to consensus around the idea that Sudoku and escape rooms don’t generally mix.
The Problems with Sudoku
That’s the problem that most seem to have with Sudoku: it almost never works narratively. Even if you squint, accept it as a metaphor, and really believe that it belongs… it just doesn’t.
Setting story aside, I think that problem of Sudoku in escape rooms is deeper than narrative nuance. I can enjoy puzzle-focused, no-narrative escape rooms. I think that they can be done well, although I suspect that in most places their market is going to be more niche.
Even in a puzzle-focused, story-free escape room, I think that Sudoku is generally lame for 3 reasons:
- Sudoku is best solved by one person. It’s a solo, quiet, sit-down-at-the-desk-and-shut-out-your-team type of puzzle. This does not work well in an escape room.
- This puzzle type requires outside knowledge to solve, even if it’s commonly known.
- The world is filled with free or inexpensive Sudoku that are far more interesting than anything that will show up in an escape room.
I know that last point because… and please don’t tell anyone this… I like solving Sudoku.
In Defense of Sudoku
Sudoku has tons more depth than most are aware. There are countless additional rules that can be applied to transform this basic concept into something far more compelling.
Probably the best-known illustration of this is “The Miracle Sudoku” video that has been circulating the internet for a few weeks. Brace yourself because you’re about to spend 25 minutes joyously watching an expert solver go from thinking that he’s being trolled to solving a puzzle so elegant that it defies logic:
In a similar vein, The Legend of Zelda Sudoku Hunt assembled 6 different puzzles into one interlocking experience inspired by The Ocarina of Time. Each of the grids represented a temple, and the mechanics were especially cool (specifically the Shadow Temple):
I have solved 1,127 Sudoku on my phone app alone since getting this device in the spring of 2016 (such an innocent time). I’m by no means an expert, but I can hold my own… at least on a computer. My skill abilities drop when I have to solve on paper.
I did most of that Sudoku solving on the subway or when I couldn’t sleep. I love that there’s always a puzzle to solve and I can feel my skill, knowledge, and awareness grow with practice. It has reached a point where I literally use Sudoku to gauge how alert I am. For detail-driven work, if my Sudoku solving isn’t on point, nothing else that I do will be either.
This puzzle type gets a lot of negativity thrown at it within the escape room community and in the context of escape rooms. While that is generally well earned, I wouldn’t discount the whole puzzle type. It has a surprising amount of depth.
If I ever have a dog – which my allergies won’t allow – I would name that hypothetical doggo “Sudoku.”