Sudoku was actually not invented in Japan – the first number puzzles that were similar to modern Sudoku appeared in a French newspaper in 1895, where a 9×9 square broken into rows, columns and diagonals contained only the numbers 1-9 and each number could only be used once. Although these early French puzzles were not exactly the same as what we know Sudoku to be today, they still deserve credit for being the first Sudoku-like puzzles.
The first modern Sudoku puzzle with the rules and constraints that we recognize today was published in 1979 by Dell Magazines under the name of “Number Place” and was invented by Howard Garns, a retired architect and freelance puzzle maker. Garns died in 1989, before Sudoku became a worldwide success.
One reason why Sudoku is known by its Japanese name and not by its original “Number Place” name is because Sudoku became widely popular in Japan before it “took over” the rest of the world.
The first Sudoku puzzles in Japan were published in 1984, and the word “Sudoku” is a registered trademark in Japan. Sudoku was very popular in Japan because Japanese people love puzzles – many people in Japan love to do puzzles while riding on the train during their long commutes – and Sudoku was an easy puzzle to translate across language barriers or cultural boundaries; no matter what language you speak, everyone in the world can recognize the numbers 1-9, and the rules of Sudoku are very simple and do not require any particular cultural context to be able to understand.
Sudoku started to reach worldwide mainstream popularity in the early 2000s, such as 2004 when Sudoku puzzles started to be featured in the Times of London.
Many newspapers around the world started to publish Sudoku puzzles on a weekly or daily basis, Sudoku books started to appear, offering a wider range of challenging Sudoku puzzles, and now there are online sites for playing Sudoku and mobile apps for Sudoku on the go.
Sudoku has come a long way since the early days of 19th century French newspapers to become one of the most popular puzzle games in the world – and each stage in its international expansion and growing global popularity has helped make Sudoku more widely accepted and embraced by a wider array of people – kids, commuters, and seniors; people from all walks of life and all ages love to play Sudoku every day.