Forget sudoku – Japan has produced hundreds of other fiendish logic problems that are unknown in the UK. Alex Bellos explains how to tackle Shakashaka, Marupeke and Skyscrapers
The pencil-and-paper logic puzzle is arguably Japan’s most successful cultural export of recent years. Look inside almost any daily newspaper and you will find at least one number puzzle with a Japanese name; sudoku most commonly, but there are many others, such as kakuro and futoshiki, to mention only the ones that appear regularly in the Guardian. Shelves stuffed full of these exotic-sounding, square-gridded, numerical brain-teasers fill every newsagent and bookstore.
I visited Tokyo to try to understand why Japan dominates the puzzle world. I discovered a country with a unique puzzle culture. Japanese inventors have created hundreds of other brilliant types of logic puzzle, most unknown in the west, and the country sustains a cottage industry of several hundred puzzle “artisans” who design these puzzles by hand rather than by computer, as is usually done elsewhere.