Maki Kaji, 'Godfather of Sudoku", Dies at 69 - here's what his most famous "invention" can teach us

Published: August 17, 2021
Author: Steven Thomas

Maki Kaji was a university dropout who, together with two friends, created Japan's first Puzzle publishing company, Nokoli.

Their biggest export though was not an invention of their own. Mr. Kaji was in fact a fan of a game called Number Place back in 1984. At that time he felt that we wanted to give it more of a Japanese-sounding name and so Sudoku was born ("sudoku" roughly translates to "single numbers.").

Looking at Nikoli's success through the lens of product development or innovation there are three vital insights:

  1. They took an existing product and re-framed it just enough to be more intriguing and accessable to a bigger consumer base.
  2. They didn't re-invent new puzzles but largely tested and perfected existing ones.
  3. In the late 1990s after unsuccessfully pitching Sudoku to publishers in New York and London, they found an alternative way of distributing through hundreds of newspapers globally.

According to Nikoli, an estimated 200 million people have enjoyed solving the logic puzzle.

In an interview with the BBC back in 2007, Mr. Kaji said:

"I get really moved when I see a new idea for a puzzle which has lots of potential," he said.

"I get really excited about it. It is like finding treasure. It's not about whether it will make money. It is purely the excitement of trying to solve it."

It's fair to say that this is the embodiment of people-first-problem-solving.

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