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Genre: Puzzle & Trivia
Min OS X: 10.4

Sudoku - Latin Squares
April 7, 2008 | Michael Yanovich

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So, do I have to go into an explanation of what sudoku is? After all, this is a review about a sudoku game, and sudoku is a relatively new Japanese logic puzzle thatís recently been making a very visible splash of late on American shores. Or is explaining what sudoku is the equivalent of having to describe a crossword puzzle before reviewing a particular piece of crossword software?

Iím going to go with the latter approach and assume that readers have a familiarity with the basic sudoku game. If not, a quick Google search or trek to Wikipedia will be more than enough to bring the neophytes up to speed.

And with that awkward first kiss behind us, letís jump right into the review du jour, Sudoku Latin Squares.

Oh, boy. I guess I forgot to explain what Latin Squares are. To be more specific, I had no idea they were anything to begin with and I was very curious why the developers of this title chose such a bizarre phrasing to describe their sudoku variant. Until I followed my own advice and went down the wiki road. If I may take a moment to plagiarize Ė er, that is, directly quote Ė the wiki entry, let me befuddle the mathematically challenged by defining a latin square as:

an n ◊ n table filled with n different symbols in such a way that each symbol occurs exactly once in each row and exactly once in each column.

Which is a roundabout way of describing a sudoku puzzle, and which brings us back to the game.

First off, Sudoko Latin Squares is technically not one game but two. Thereís the traditional sudoku game and then a unique variant that adds an interesting twist. In reviewing the title, Iíll focus on the standard game first.

Here, Iíd normally launch into some gameplay description, but that doesnít really work for this title. The gameplay is just a sudoku game. Itís no different than any other sudoku game you can buy in book form at your airport newsstand. You have a grid, you have number clues, and you have to fill in all the blanks.

For me, sudoku has always been a pencil and paper game. Iíve yet to find a software version that works with my style of playing because itís all about possibilities. You need a way to jot down all possible solutions for any given square, and with a pencil and the margins of the book itís easy to do. As you start filling in the puzzle, you simultaneously narrow down the remaining possibilities and solve the puzzle one square at a time.

Iíve yet to find a program that has an elegant solution to this, a simple and useful way to list what possibilities remain for any given square in a user-friendly interface. Sudoku Latin Squares comes closer than any other sudoku game Iíve played, but it stops just short of brilliant.

The time-consuming ďmanual laborĒ approach involves right clicking the mouse over any square youíd like and highlighting the number youíd like to list as a possibility or final answer. Itís simple, and effective but can take a long time on a full 9x9 board. (Not to knock it, itís the purist way to play the game, and the implementation is better than any other one Iíve personally seen.)

The short cut is simply clicking on the ďauto hintsĒ button at the left of the screen. This will automatically fill in all the possible numbers for every unsolved square. And hereís where they didnít quite think this through all the way. Auto hints can be on, or off. Thatís it. Iíd love to see a version where I can turn it on at the beginning of a game, have it quickly fill in the open clues, and then allow me to turn off auto-updating. Once the time-intensive first step is done, Iíd prefer to turn the rest of the numbers off on my own, to give me a LITTLE challenge to the puzzle. But turning the hints off at this point clears the entire board of any hints that were automatically listed in the first place. This lack of an ďin betweenĒ feature severely impairs what could have been a great approach to computer sudoku games, and is my biggest disappointment in this title.

That said, everything else I have to say about the standard sudoku mode is nitpicking. For instance, I canít stand that the always-visible ďHow To PlayĒ button on the left side of the screen has a continuously traveling highlight moving across the surface. Itís distracting and annoying, like animated ads on a web page where youíre trying to read an article. And just like those ads, thereís no way to turn the animation off. The music is also annoying, but at least itís easy to turn off and thereís nothing stopping you from having iTunes play whatever you want in the background.


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