Sudoku Lessons from World Champion Thomas Snyder

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1. Sudoku is like science. In his day job, Thomas Snyder works at Stanford University in a biomechanics research lab, with his research focused on sequencing DNA and “automating science” at the simplest level. Thomas Snyder says that in solving Sudoku puzzles, he uses the same thought process that he uses as a scientist – he says that in Sudoku as in science, “you start from the ground up.” You build momentum toward the ultimate goal, and you have to work with what you know and what you don’t know. You have to develop routines that you can follow so you can figure out, “how can I make progress?” Snyder says that in science, you might have a series of small experiments or chemical reactions that lead you to a certain point – in the same way, Sudoku puzzles require you to start from the ground up. And as you learn more, you get closer to being able to solve the entire problem.

2. When solving Sudoku puzzles, you have to be methodical. Snyder says that you have to look at a puzzle with a rigorous, methodical mindset. Instead of focusing on only one part of the grid, you need to constantly keep reviewing the grid and looking for opportunities of “what have I not looked at yet?” You have to explore the Sudoku grid to figure out, “where am I making progress, and where am I not making progress?”

3. Sudoku requires daily practice. Thomas Snyder practices solving Sudoku puzzles every day, starting first thing in the morning. Snyder says that doing puzzles everyday kind of serves the purpose as a morning cup of coffee, and it helps his brain “wake up.”

4. Stay calm. Snyder says that even when he’s at a Sudoku championship tournament, even when the pressure of competition is on, he tries to stay in a relaxed mindset and remind himself that Sudoku is fun and that he needs to stay in the zone of “this is a fun, recreational hobby, not a job.” If solving Sudoku puzzles gets frustrating or if you feel stuck, give yourself a break. Sit in a comfortable chair while solving puzzles. Take a few minutes to have a drink of water or have a snack or go for a walk. Come back to the puzzle with fresh eyes.

Thomas Snyder says he feels like there’s something unique about the way his mind works that puts him in position to succeed at a very high level as a Sudoku champion. However, even if you’re not a “natural” Sudoku puzzle solver, Snyder believes that anyone can improve their skills in Sudoku by practicing, by being methodical, and by adopting certain routines and thought processes when approaching a puzzle.