I never heard of Sudoku till the game was urged on me by my bunk mate in the Palm Beach County jail. Bob Heartsong was arrested for the murder of his wife. Somebody in the dorm had a deck of cards where images and names of famous murderers decorated the individuals cards. One of the cards said (like) “jack,” “six,” “Robert Heartsong.” Bob was respected as a wise man in the old man’s dorm. I too came to be. I’d been arrested for a satire I’d written, misread by the culture as “extortion.” The goons with the guns (and no conscience) can read whatever they want however they want.
Bob said he was innocent, and I believe him. Anyway, Bob took good care of me. As yet I had no account with the commissary, no credit. Cash wasn’t allowed. Bob supplied me with coffee to drink, novels to read, good novels, Bernard Cornwell, for example. Bob played pinochle every evening, the rest of the day he spent doing Sudoku puzzles. He had a stack of Sudoku books only a few puzzles had been marked on: they were too easy for him: he had his current wife, Jupiter Island!, send him “Black Belt Sudoku” book; I inherited the normal, easy ones. Bob even insisted on showing me how to solve them, ignoring my requests to be allowed to figure it out myself. I also tried to repress my resentment that Bob said that the logic of Sudoku would improve my chess playing: I don’t see Sudoku logic to have much to do with chess pattern recogniztion. I started playing chess within days of arriving at the old man’s dorm, not having played a living human in decades. Immediately I was beating everybody in sight. It wasn’t till I got to the Miami fed center that I encountered more than one player who could beat me, then, at Jesup, I encountered a couple of players I would have had to work to win a single game from.
Anyway, Sudoku: Bob introduced me to Sudoku. I tried to ignore his suggestions. I soon figured out an algorithm or two, then three or four, then dozens. That was October 2006. Now it’s October 2011. For five years I’ve done a couple of Sudoku puzzles most days, some days I’ve done dozens. Sometimes I solve the Hard to Challenger puzzles in five minutes or so, sometimes I don’t solve a hard one for a day or two. Some of my solutions prove wrong, so wrong that I abandon the puzzle, all marked up and illegible, but most often I’m right when I first think I am, or I find my error and fix it.
OK: so what brings me to the subject today? I’m losing it. My Sudoku skills, honed for five years, are sliding rapidly into incompetence. Half the Hard puzzles I try become illegible with erasures, write overs, torn paper … It’s happening fast. It’s happening at the same time that I can no longer read: despite the VA sending me new glasses, having just freshly examined my eyes. This new month-old prescription is way out of date. My vision deteriorated, dropped off the table. 2012 05 13 update: the VA eye guy found that I had water in my cornea, prescribed some “drying” drops. Still, macular degeneration is irreversible.
So: I no longer catch the numbers I need to notice out of the corner of my eye. If I had a current chess opponent I might find myself suddenly losing more and more games: not seeing the bishop off in left field, forgetting about the pawn on H3. My keyboard playing is unaffected, my hands have been learning to see over the past couple of decades. They can now “play” by themselves to some extent, I don’t have to see anything.