Sudoku maker Maki Kaji, who saw life’s joy in puzzles, diesx-

TOKYO — Maki Kaji, the creator of the popular numbers puzzle Sudoku whose life’s work was spreading the joy of puzzles, has died, his Japanese company said Aug. 17. He was 69 and had bile duct cancer.

Known as the “Godfather of Sudoku,” Kaji created the puzzle to be easy for children and others who didn’t want to think too hard. Its name is made up of the Japanese characters for “number” and “single,” and players place the numbers 1 through 9 in rows, columns and blocks without repeating them.

Ironically, it wasn’t until 2004 when Sudoku became a global hit, after a fan from New Zealand pitched it and got it published in the British newspaper

The Times. Two years later, Japan rediscovered its own puzzle as a “gyakuyunyu,” or “reimport.”

Kaji was chief executive at his puzzle company, Nikoli Co., until July and died Aug. 10 at his home in Mitaka, a city in the Tokyo metro area. He traveled to more than 30 countries spreading his enjoyment of puzzles. Sudoku championships have drawn some 200 million people in 100 countries over the years, according to Tokyo-based Nikoli.

Sudoku was also never trademarked except within Japan, driving its overseas craze, Nikoli said.

“Kaji-san came up with the name Sudoku and was loved by puzzle fans from all over the world,” the company said in a statement.

Originally, Sudoku was called “Suji-wa-Dokushin-ni-Kagiru,” which translates to, “Numbers should be single, a bachelor.” In recent years, Sudoku, believed to be the world’s most popular pencil puzzle, has come out in digital versions.

Born in the main northern island of Hokkaido, Maki started Japan’s first puzzle magazine after dropping out of Keio University in Tokyo. He founded

Nikoli in 1983, and came up with Sudoku about the same time.

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