Zach Gage was never really interested in sudoku. But that changed when he started watching the Cracking the Cryptic channel on YouTube, where seasoned pros tackle seemingly impossible puzzles, like the “Miracle Sudoku” video that recently went viral. Played at such a high level, he found the ubiquitous puzzle game “beautiful.” Problem was, when he set out to learn how to play, he couldn’t find any mobile apps that allowed for those high-level techniques. So Gage teamed up with designer Jack Schlesinger to make Good Sudoku, which is out today on iOS.
“This inspiration for this was really I just wanted to learn sudoku,” Gage says, “and it seemed very hard to do with what was out there.”
Over the last few years, Gage has made a habit of revisiting classic games and remixing them so that they feel at home on a smartphone. So far, that’s included a randomized version of chess, multiple takes on solitaire, and a streamlined version of pool. When he started looking into sudoku, he was shocked at the dire state of games available on mobile. Despite the popularity of the game, there were few high-quality touchscreen renditions and even fewer that allowed for the intricate note-taking necessary to pull off a “Miracle Sudoku.”
“How is it possible that there is this great game, that millions of people love, and they’re all playing a version that isn’t even the real game?” he says. “I just have to make this. It would be a disservice to not make and share this because this is like a black hole.”
Good Sudoku stands out for a few reasons. For one thing, it features a clean, simple design that’s both beautiful and functional. It also offers a huge range of puzzles, ranging from extremely easy to “ow my brain hurts” difficult. The most notable thing about the game, though, is how interested it is in teaching you to play at a higher level. Good Sudoku has a hint system powered by an AI that shows you the next most logical move and also gives brief lessons on high-level sudoku techniques in a way that’s easy to grasp.
Just as important, the game gives you the tools to utilize those techniques, with a robust note-taking system for keeping track of what numbers could go where. The challenge scales in a way that makes sense; when you choose to take on a new difficulty level, the game will tell you what skills you’ll need to complete the puzzles. Good Sudoku also eliminates some of the busywork inherent in the game — most notably, counting. When you have a row or grid that’s entirely complete except for one number, tapping on it will give you the only possible option, speeding things up quite a bit.
Building all of this was a lot of work. Gage says that there’s more code in the hint system than the rest of the game combined. And when it came to creating puzzles, the design duo built a generator from scratch and then spent about a month generating hundreds of thousands of puzzles powered by four computers. They then took those, curated them, and organized them into various difficulty levels. But the hope is that all of this work results in a structure that simultaneously eases new players in and challenges hardcore puzzle fanatics.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Good Sudoku is how faithful it is to the game. Given Gage’s propensity for twisting classic games into something new, releasing a relatively straightforward sudoku app almost seems out of character. But there are a few reasons it exists in this form. For one, he says that there are already plenty of excellent sudoku twists, making it a less-interesting design challenge. “There are so many good ones,” Gage says. More importantly, though, he felt compelled to fill a void. After he finished Apple Arcade launch title Card of Darkness (which Schlesinger also worked on), he received numerous requests to take on sudoku next. And since Good Sudoku was announced, fans have reached out about their struggles to find a good app.
“Who would’ve thought this was something people were waiting for?”