You feeling a little smart today? Tired of solving number patterns and want to try out a real puzzle? Tetsuyo Miyamoto is the man with the answer to your problem. Back in 2004 this teacher from Japan invented the numbers puzzle Ken Ken, and our own North American “Puzzle Master” Will Shortz described it as “The most addicting puzzle since Sudoku.” Ken Ken shares some of the same rules as Sudoku, but I would argue that Ken Ken challenges your critical thinking skills more than Sudoku as Ken Ken requires you to use basic arithmetic.
What you will first notice when you look at these puzzles is their structural differences. In Ken Ken, the quartered off areas marked by darkened lines are called cages, and each cage has its own math problem. To solve the puzzle you need to fill the rows and columns with a specific set of numbers and not repeat them, but you must also place numbers in the cages that solve the math problem for that individual cage. You are allowed to repeat numbers in cages as long as they are not in the same row or column.
Sudoku does flex the left side of your brain by having you figure out number sequences, but in comparison to Ken Ken Sudoku is just a warm-up stretch. Ken Ken is the obstacle course with hurdles, rock walls, moats, barbed wire and rings of fire. Different problems that have their own solutions to come out of the race unscathed and stronger.
Of the students who have attended Miyamoto’s weekly classes 80% of them have gone on to Japan’s top schools. His students are also the top competitors at Japan’s “Math Olympics,” and the students competing at this contest are between the ages of 11-15. Miyamoto is a highly sought after teacher and he is not selective about who he teaches. Even if you are one of the best students in math if you do not sign up in time you are not going to take his class. Miyamoto’s personal philosophy is “The Art of Teaching Without Teaching.”
“If you give children good educational materials, they will think, learn, and grow on their own. They work in the same way as babies who naturally learn to stand up and start walking without actually being taught.”
You can think of Ken Ken as a metaphor for life. Cages can have multiple answers that will affect what you think about the rest of the rows, columns and cages. The answers you choose may not unite the whole puzzle the first time, but after learning from your mistakes you have a better chance of solving it next time. Miyamoto is teaching his students more than just math, he is teaching them perseverance.
If you are up to the challenge then follow this link to a Ken Ken puzzle generator and stretch out that left brain. If you need more instructions on how to crack these puzzles then watch this video by Will Shortz. Persevere and you too will be able to solve a Ken Ken puzzle.