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Have fun and do basic math with KenKen puzzles
Tetsuya Miyamoto, 55, created KenKen in 2003. - photo by Taylor Hintz
KenKen can stump even the most dedicated of problem solvers yet requires nothing more than basic arithmetic and the ability to count to 10.

Japanese creator Tetsuya Miyamoto, 55, has seen his math puzzle achieve worldwide success since he invented KenKen a decade ago. KenKen is syndicated in the United States by Universal UClick and debuted in the Deseret News daily comics pages on March 30.

"I take pride in KenKen being so popular everywhere I go now," Miyamoto said in an email exchange via an interpreter. "I never imagined I would have my own Wikipedia page."

KenKen roughly means "cleverness squared." The math-based puzzle is a symmetrical grid, such as a 3-by-3 or 5-by-5, wherein each row and column must contain consecutive and non-repeating numbers. For example, each row and column in a 4-by-4 grid would contain the numbers 1-4.

The grid also features bold lines to create cells, and the corner of each cell contains an arithmetic function and a target number. For example, a cell of two blocks with the sign 3+ means that the numbers in the cell must add together to equal 3 in this case, the numbers must be 1 and 2.

"I knew about sudoku, which is simply a logic puzzle. It doesn't require any math skills or deeper thinking or creativity," Miyamoto said. "I wanted to create a puzzle that required perseverance, used all four arithmetic functions and could teach kids math skills and how to think."

Miyamoto created his first puzzle in 2003 and started publishing KenKen puzzles in Japan in 2004. Gaming company Nextoy acquired the rights to the puzzle in 2007 and began offering it to The Times in London and The New York Times for publication.

Today, KenKen is featured daily in over 150 publications worldwide, and its iOS and Android app versions have been downloaded 400,000 times in the past two years, according to a Nextoy representative. Whereas Miyamoto once created all the puzzles himself by hand, he now has a software program known as the "Kenerator" to keep up with the growing demand for new puzzles.

"KenKen has been very good to me, but my main goal is education," Miyamoto said. "I truly believe that puzzles in general, and KenKen in particular, are the best teaching tools. Children and adults can use them to teach themselves something I call 'teaching without teaching.

Miyamoto recently moved from Japan to Manhattan, where he will be teaching math privately to elementary-age students, using KenKen as one of his methods. Miyamoto is still learning English and hopes to be able to teach students in English within a few years. Currently, he tutors only in Japanese.

Miyamoto said families can teach KenKen to children while learning to play themselves.

"KenKen is one of the few activities that grandparents can play with their grandchildren, or parents can play with their children, and have everyone enjoy themselves and benefit," Miyamoto said. "I know many people who bring KenKen puzzles to their aging parents and play alongside them. I always love seeing that."