Belfast Telegraph

Why are some moments in life so special? Do the maths!

By Nuala McKeever

Until recently I was sure the term Su Do Ku must be Japanese for “pointless, dull, number puzzle, favoured by cardigan-wearers”.

Having successfully completed one once, years ago, I couldn't see why anyone would ever want to do more than one.

For me it was right up there with salsa classes, sweet potatoes and visiting the Giant's Causeway — fine to try, but why would you rush back for more?

Then, cut to a wet Sunday afternoon in July this year (I know that doesn't exactly narrow it down). I'm in my friend's house and I've “done” the Sunday papers and now I'm at that annoying stage of wanting to disturb my friend who's still engrossed in the sort of article you only get in Sunday papers — some big long story about some old spy who wrote secret letters to some old actress who was married to some old business tycoon and it's only come to light now, just in time to fill five pages of some Sunday supplement magazine.

The sort of article which, like an episode of Columbo, is really only enjoyable if you're hungover, full of fried food and lying on the settee.

Having failed to distract my friend with a series of loud sighs and other demonstrations of restlessness, I idly picked up a sudoku and started looking at it.

My friend noticed and, being a whizz at the game (is it a game?) started to show me how to begin, what to look for and how to speed-read the grid for patterns. This was not the approach I had used when I'd tried it myself. This was far more understandable and less hair-pullingly random.

Like a codebreaker in Bletchley Park, I stared and thought and pondered and then bingo! (now that IS a game ) I found a number and filled it in and I was hooked!!!

Doing it with someone to help was a whole lot more fun. If I hit an “Oh I can't get this, I give up” moment, my friend would gently nudge me towards a solution. Sometimes so gently that I thought I'd found it all on my own. The essence of a great teacher.

When we'd worked out most of the numbers and it was a simple process of filling in the rest, my friend moved away like a surgeon who's just completed the difficult part of an operation and said: “You finish it up.” “Do you not want to finish it?!” I asked. “Isn't that the whole point?”

“No,” he said. “For me it's the little moments along the way when you know you've cracked it, they're the best bits. The little moments are far better than the completion.”

The little moments. I liked that. We talk a lot about the great life we want (not for ourselves, but for our children and our children's children — an expression I loathe, by the way, in case you're interested. Or your children are interested. Or your children's children).

But really, we already have this great life right here and now in these moments. We talk about “the big picture”, but really, the only way we experience “the big picture” is through the little moments.

Pride, victory and sheer wonder? Who would have thought those huge things would ever come out of cracking a grid of single numbers? Which, by the way is what it means — Su Do Ku — single number.

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