Friday, January 30, 2009

Sudoku and Alzheimer's disease

To keep my mind alert, I do two things daily in the morning while having my breakfast. One is solving Sudoku. There's a saying A Sudoku a day keeps Alzheimer away and there are several reports that say that solving Sudoku regularly do exercises the mind and helps to fight Alzheimer's disease. The Sudoku that I do is from the Star newspaper which is syndicated from the Daily Telegraph, UK. Generally, it is not to difficult nor too easy and usually I manage to complete it within 15 minutes or so. Once in a while there will be one that I get stuck which I just gave up. There are also occasions that I fill in some wrong numbers due to carelessness and that's the end of that day's Sudoku. Sometimes you'll find that going back to a Sudoku that you have given up for a while, you'll be able to solve it; maybe because you'll be looking at it with a new mind, so to speak.

I have a few books on solving Sudoku in my collection, some I bought on my own and some presented to me. Here are short reviews of these books.

There are two Teach Yourself books and two by Carol Vorderman.

First, Teach Yourself Sudoku by James Pitt

This book has only 16 pages of instruction on how to solve Sudoku and covers only the basic technique. So this is only good for very basic beginners. The rest of the books are just Sudoku puzzles (156 of them to be exact) of various levels of difficulty. Personally, I do not like the print of the numbers in the puzzles, they are too small for the cell size. (Is it because of this that I found myself struggling in the very first puzzle in the beginner's section??) My verdict would be to give this a miss and if you like Teach Yourself series, go for the one below, it gives better value for money, in my opinion.

Next, Teach Yourself Advanced Sudoku and Kakuro by Nick Afka Thomas

In this book the instructions are more detailed and in depth and covers right up to the tough nuts in the first 118 pages. These are interspersed with puzzles that uses the technique described earlier. There are only 60 puzzles of the normal Sudoku but you can always get books or magazines with just Sudoku puzzles if you need more.

Next there are 36 pages on Kakuro, another popular Japanese number puzzle that ranks just behind Sudoku. And finally there are 28 pages on Killer Sudoku, which is a combination of Sudoku and Kakuro. This uses the Sudoku grid but has no numbers given in the cells but just some arithmetic clues as in Kakuro.

To me this is definitely a better buy than the earlier Teach Yourself Sudoku book since you get more detail solving instructions and also something more that you can move on to once you are getting a bit tired of the normal Sudoku and want something for a change.

The next two books are by Carol Vorderman.

First, the simpler of the two. The UK version with the title - How to Do Sudoku.

This is the US version with the title - Master Sudoku.

As the blurb on the cover says "Step by step, I will show you how to be a Sudoku master" so Carol covers all the techniques, step by step. She even shows the steps from start to finish on doing 4 levels of Sudoku, easy, medium, difficult and super-difficult. But whether you'll be a Sudoku master is debatable. This book is good for the general Sudoku solver from beginner upwards. There are also 200 Sudoku puzzles.

Next is a bit more advanced. The UK version is titled "How to do Extreme Sudoku"

The US version is simply titled "Extreme Sudoku"

This book is more for the advanced Sudoku addicts as it summaries the techniques covered in the first book within the first 50 pages. This is then followed by 175 Sudoku puzzles of the more difficult variety. Next comes the chapter on Squiffy Sudoku (odd shaped grid) with 25 puzzles included. This is followed by 25 puzzles of Sudoku 16, which is Sudoku using 16 numbers on a 16 x 16 grid instead of the usual 9 numbers.

The last quarter of the book is devoted to Killer Sudoku with 48 pages on "How To" followed by 16 pages of a start to finish example. Finally there are 75 puzzles of Killer Sudoku for you to practice what is taught.

If you just want to do the normal Sudoku, go for the first book but if you want to try something different or prefer tougher Sudoku puzzles, then go for the second one.

And how does the Teach Yourself Advanced Sudoku compared with this by Ms. Carol? If you judge a book by its cover, I would go for Ms. Carol anytime. Who wants to look at a bald-headed man scratching his head when you can watch a long hair brunette? (With due apologies to all bald-headed men out there!) Well, her book uses simple language, is less technical and thus less complete when compared to the Teach Yourself book where you'll learn jargon such as X-wing, Swordfish, Jellyfish and so forth. For a beginner and intermediate solver, I would recommend Ms. Carol but if you are a purist and want to learn and apply all the advanced Sudoku jargon, go for the one by Nick.

There is one more Sudoku solving book in my collection. And this is one to own if you want to impress your friends or insult your enemies and the title is Mensa Guide to Solving Sudoku by Peter Gordon.

This has all the Sudoku jargon you want plus more including the exclusive Gordonian Logic; it's doesn't carry the Mensa name for nothing. It has 86 pages of solving techniques with 96 puzzles in between for practice. After these there are 704 (yes, 704) puzzles to keep you busy for some time. So if you are just after classic Sudoku, this is the book for you. You'll also get a reprint of the first Sudoku-type puzzles from Dell Puzzle Magazine called Number Place.

So in summary, get the Mensa book if are interested only in classic Sudoku. If you prefer something more such as Killer Sudoku, then go for the Teach Yourself Advanced Sudoku. For lighter reading, get one by Carol depending on your level of interest. You can forget about James.

As in any trade, you cannot become an expert by just reading books. You need to practice, practice and practice. So you need to solve, solve and solve. But don't forget also to enjoy solving your Sudoku.

Ronald Kwok

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, to me!

I had my 58th birthday (so fast??) on Sunday and we had a small dinner celebration, just one table for my immediate family members at a local restaurant, courtesy of my son. This was my son's first treat since he started working (temporarily) so it tasted doubly good though the dishes were just simple affair and nothing exotic. There was also the usual birthday cake and so with a huff and a puff...........

...........I did it in one blow.

Earlier in the day, my elder daughter has already treated me to a buffet lunch at Shangri-la Hotel and it was difficult to put all the food down as there was so much variety. While we were there, I was moved when a company (most probably a factory) was also giving a treat to all their staff including all their foreign workers. For many of them, it would have been an eye opener and a chance of a lifetime as they would never have dined in a plush hotel on their own since it could have cost them maybe a week's wages. It was indeed heartening to know that there are still such thoughtful companies around in this trying times. I really hope that the buffet lunch is not deducted from their salary!

My younger daughter (jointly with my son-in-law) had also given me my birthday presents, 2 singlets and with a great sense of humour, a vibrating condom! What???? She probably think I'm getting a bit old and needed some shaking up at the right places!

I think I'd better put it down here or my wife will get a little upset (or maybe a lot) if I don't give her a mention; just in case she stumble upon this Blog. You know ladies are very particular about such things and we men must be sensitive to their sensitivity. Yes, I also received birthday gifts from her. She gave me a shirt and T-shirt (both reddish so they'll double up as Chinese New Year wares or wears since CNY is just round the corner) with her mandatory birthday card.

I suppose when you reach this stage of your life, these are the little pleasures that you would enjoy from time to time. (I don't mean that condom!) But the gift that touched me most of all is this birthday card from my grand children, written and drawn in their own hands (on a commercial card).

It's great to know that you are still remembered, when you are still alive. So live everyday that you wake up to to the fullest and be thankful that you can still wake up to another day. Enjoy life (within you means) while you still can. Even though you have longed the EURUSD and it is sliding down the charts and your other PIPS is drawing blanks. Life is much more than that. Cheers.

Ronald Kwok

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Times Warehouse sale

So the year end Christmas shopping spree is over, the new year is now not so new and the kids are all back in schools. Thus I don't understand why Times is having their warehouse sale at this time of the year. I used to visit the Times warehouse sales quite regularly before but after a while, I stopped going since it was like the same stuff all over again. But since today I was near the area of the sale (it is held at Hartamas Shopping Centre or HSC at Plaza Damas near Sri Hartamas) and I was getting hungry - for food, not for books though - I thought I'll just drop over to have a bite and have a look. The ad says up to 90% discount so why not?

I was pleasantly surprised. First I thought the sale was on because the Times bookshop at HSC is closing down but no, it was a full scale warehouse sale and the selection was pretty big and varied. Secondly, most of the titles do not have that familiar feeling about them so maybe skipping the few previous warehouse sales helped. Thirdly, the prices were good, at least for many of the items - new titles, 30%, older ones, up to 90% (but mostly 50%), some paperbacks, RM10 flat and some titles, 3 for RM10. There are also VCD's and DVD's on sale.

If you are a fan of Complete Idiot's Guide, there are quite a number of titles going for RM22, though many are 2003 editions and earlier. (Looks like the Dummies are hammering the Idiots out of existence, I don't mean at the sale here but just look at any bookshops and you'll know what I mean. That is if you admit you are an Idiot or a Dummy or both.)

As usual, the problem is that the books are not arranged in any order so be prepared to spend a couple of hours to look for what you want. It is definitely worth a visit if you have any liking for books. The sale will be on until 18 January so you still have time to rush over there.

BTW, the Times bookshop is still surviving at HSC and all "for Dummies" titles there are going with a 20% discount so now is a good time to be a Dummy. Happy reading.

Ronald Kwok