Killer sudoku and repetition

February 21, 2015 [Saturday]

Today, I stay at home. It snows outside, the soft flurry of whiteness clouding the view from the kitchen window as I switch between working on my laptop and writing in my notebook. The snow builds up steadily, quarter inch after quarter inch, into what I know will tomorrow be ice and slush, and I see in this the repetitive meaninglessness of so much of what is around us. Why do we make our beds? Clean our boots? Shovel the snow off the sidewalks in front of our houses? Sleep, only to wake up again? Wake up, only to sleep again?

There are many things that fall throughout the year: snow, to become slush; leaves, to be raked away; and rain, to evaporate once more. We fall, sometimes, too. And the cycle, without fail, repeats itself.

Killer sudoku is not simply a more difficult version of regular sudoku. There is a method to solving this puzzle, and it involves calculations of a different kind. The Pocket Posh Killer Sudoku puzzle book I have with me provides the following introduction to the game:

Complete the grid so that every row, column, and 3 x 3 cube contains every digit from 1 to 9 inclusive with no repetition. The digits within each outlined cage (shown by the dashed line) add up to the sum in the upper left of the cage and each digit must be unique.

In the search for a way to fit numbers into the squares without repetition, you inevitably go through the same motions, repeating the same types of calculations hundreds of times. You must balance the different possible combinations of sums in your head simultaneously, over and over again, until you complete a puzzle that is entirely devoid of any repetition.

Perhaps there is beauty in uncovering the new even when you are repeating the old. The earth has been revolving for billions of years, and yet no two rotations have ever been the same. Does that bring meaning to the falling of snow, to the evaporation of rain, to the descent of red and brown and orange leaves? Does the presence of what is the same allow for the creation of what is different?

Today, I also eat farrouj, delicious grilled chicken made the Lebanese way. This too poses something of a problem to me. Is it worth it, that people spend so much time making food that will be devoured in minutes? Concocting the perfect recipe? Competing to serve the most appetizing menus? Is it worth it to write of current affairs that will mean nothing in a couple years’ time, or should we focus our energy on writing classics or history books that will last, and continue to have meaning, long after we are gone?

The question then becomes: is only the everlasting worthy of our time and attention?

But here we face a larger dilemma. What is everlasting but God?

Solving a killer sudoku puzzle is soothing, in a way, just as is shoveling the driveway, or making the bed, or raking the leaves in the yard. In going through the same motions over and over again, you train your brain to recognize new things: the patterns in numbers and their combinations, the efficiency of a certain type of shovel over another, the way sheets fold over one another and wrinkle in various places. It is from these moments that art, innovation, and invention are born.

So many events around us are monotonous, repeated day after day, year after year; so many of our achievements have an expiration date, or must be done over and over again. I find that there is meaning to the small matters in everyday life only when they are done in service of a greater purpose – in service of what is everlasting. Then, and only then, do the blurry things become well-defined, if only temporarily.

It is like the moment after a windshield wiper brings the view ahead of you, green trees and black road with yellow down the middle, into sharp focus. It is only a second before the view is blurry again, and the cycle repeats itself, soothing and endless. You must carve your path based on these intermittent moments of clarity, even as you realize that the rain has fallen long before you, and will continue to fall long after you.



Add yours →

  1. This is a skillfully written post that motivates reflection and contemplation. Thank you.

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