App updates

Sutherland Studios: Crosswords for KidsAfter a massive effort over months, especially by my code monkey (aka my husband) we’ve just submitted 6 apps to the App Store — 4 updates, and 2 new apps. The new apps are a second volume of our popular Crosswords for Kids app, and a first ever Puzzle Wizard app. The Puzzle Wizard crosswords are written by my friend and colleague, Greg Parker. You may recognise them from his well-known Puzzle Wizard crossword magazines, which are widely available in newsagencies.

Hopefully the apps will be approved and available for all within the next week or two. Stay tuned!


Judging the difficulty of a sudoku

You know how it goes … nice shiny new sudoku all alluring in front of you, pencil and eraser at the ready. You start off all happy together, with a great life ahead of you, like this …

Sutherland Studios: Judging the difficulty of sudoku

But all too soon the lies start. ‘But, but … you said a seven would go there! What do you mean, you’ve been seeing another five?’ With a horrible inevitability, you end up like this.

Sutherland Studios: Judging the difficulty of a sudoku
I want a divorce

What you need is a sudoku of the right difficulty level for you! A bit challenging — keep the relationship fresh and exciting — but without the deceit, long sullen silences, and angry outbursts.

How to tell how hard a sudoku really is

Assessing difficulty levels of sudoku is surprisingly complicated, and can often only be really determined by solving the puzzle, which kinda defeats the purpose. The rankings given in newspapers and book collections of these tricky puzzles are often misleading.

After tech editing a book of sudokus (never again!), I came up with these pointers for assessing how easy or otherwise any given sudoku is.

I hope this list will give you a better idea of whether a particular sudoku is easy, hard, or very hard — but keep in mind they aren’t hard and fast rules … just as in any relationship, there are no standard rules that apply to everyone (well, except the toilet seat rule. That rule applies to everyone.)

The pointers I’ve included here cover ‘standard’ 9×9 cell sudokus. It also doesn’t matter what the symbols used are – the digits from 1–9, letters, symbols, or whatever.

Counting the givens

Count the number of starting digits (known as givens or clues) in the entire sudoku, before you start to solve the puzzle. How many are there?

  • Easy sudoku generally have over 32 givens (out of the total of 81 numbers in the answer)
  • Medium sudoku have around 30–32 givens
  • Hard sudoku have around 28–30 givens
  • Very Hard sudoku have less than 28 givens

Distribution of givens

Look at the distribution of the starting digit, or givens, in the puzzle, within each box (group of 3×3 cells). How many of them have 1 or no givens?

  • Easy sudoku have more than one given in every box
  • Medium sudoku may have a couple of boxes with only one given
  • Hard sudoku may have a couple of boxes with only one given
  • Very Hard sudoku may have several boxes with no givens at all

How many of each?

Next, count how many of each of the digits from 1–9 appear as givens in the sudoku. Don’t be shy, these are things you need to talk about with your sudoku, even if it’s embarrassing. So shamelessly count how many times 1 appears as a given, then how many times 2 appears, and so on up to 9.

  • In Easy sudoku, each digit from 1–9 appears as a given at least 3 times
  • In Medium sudoku, some digits may only appear twice as a given, the rest will appear at least 3 times each
  • In Hard sudoku, three or four digits may only appear 2 times as givens, and one digit may only appear once
  • In Very Hard sudoku, most digits appear only 2 or 3 times, as well as several single occurrences

So, using the information you’ve gathered from the steps above, you can get a clearer idea of how bloody impossibly tricky that deceptive little puzzle in front of you really is. Ask yourself honestly: is this a relationship that will drive you mad?

The final definitive bits of information can only be gathered by actually doing the puzzle (during the post mortem).

Make a note of how long it takes you to solve the puzzle, and whether you needed to make any guesses, using trial and error, along the way.

  • Easy sudoku are very quick to solve, under 10 minutes on average, and no guesses are required.
  • Medium sudoku take a bit longer to solve, somewhere between 10–20 minutes. No guesses are required.
  • Hard sudoku may take up to 45 minutes to solve, and some trial and error may be needed (for example, one box may have two candidates, and no way of determining which digit to use apart from picking one, and seeing whether it works or not).
  • Very hard sudoku can take over an hour to solve, and require trial and error.

I hope these pointers help you to better understand the sudoku in your life, and have positive supportive relationships with them. Invite me to the wedding.

The Rude Clues

When my Cryptic Crosswords For Dummies book was being checked by the American editors at Wiley, they decided that my handful of risqué clues couldn’t stay in (despite these sorts of clues being pretty standard fare in cryptic crosswords). So I edited the offending 11 clues to tame them down.

But it’s a pity to see such naughtiness go to waste. So I thought you’d like to have a try of them here! You can scroll down to see full explanations of the clues, and the answers.

Sutherland Studios: The Rude CluesThe (Slightly) Rude Clues

1. Rampantly sexy, without a kiss? Absolutely! (3)

2. Mesmerist has weird phony tits (9)

3. Naughty escort’s laced undergarment (6)

4. 101 in advertisement for tart (4)

5. Mischievously eyed girl ravenously (8)

6. Make noises in bed, in pain around midday! (5)

7. Topless tenant gets to cross the threshold (5)

8. Jenny and I go, mischievously loving (8)

9. Five engaged in awkward caresses lead to rifts (9)

10. Call girls’ pastries (5)

11. Very well, tints without top on (3)

Explanations / Hints

1. Rampantly sexy, without a kiss? Absolutely! (3)
Absolutely is the definition in this clue. Rampantly is an anagram indicator, and sexy is the anagram fodder, but without a kiss (the letter X).

2. Mesmerist has weird phony tits (9)
Weird is an anagram indicator. Phony tits is the anagram fodder; jumbling them up will give you a synonym for mesmerist.

3. Naughty escort’s laced undergarment (6)
Another anagram … naughty is the anagram indicator, escort is the anagram fodder. The apostrophe s is not included in the anagram here, it is saying “A naughty version of escortIS another word for laced undergarment”.

4. 101 in advertisement for tart (4)
Remember your Roman numerals here! 101 = CI. An advertisement is an AD. So put CI inAD, for a word that means tart (as an adjective).

5. Mischievously eyed girl ravenously (8)
Another anagram, indicated by mischievouslyEyed girl is the anagram fodder. Ravenously is the definition.

6. Make noises in bed, in pain around midday! (5)
Make noises in bed is the definition here. In pain = SORE. Put these letters around an abbreviation for midday (noon = N).

7. Topless tenant gets to cross the threshold (5)
This is a deletion clue, indicated by topless. What is topless? A tenant, or RENTER. The definition is cross the threshold.

8. Jenny and I go, mischievously loving (8)
Mischievously indicates an anagram. The letters of Jenny plus (andI go are the fodder, and loving is the definition.

9. Five engaged in awkward caresses lead to rifts (9)
Five is another indication of a Roman numeral. So five = V. It is engaged in (or put in) an awkward version (anagram) of caressesRifts is a noun, and the definition.

10. Call girls’ pastries (5)
Double definition clue here. What are both call girls, and pastries?

11. Very well, tints without top on (3)
Very well is the definition. Another word for tints is DYES. Without top on, means to delete the first letter from DYES.


1. YES
11. YES (again!)

Did you get through them all without blushing?!

Originally posted on my Puzzling blog, 12 July 2012