The Un-Puzzle

I’ve heard this said a thousand different ways:  a task does not need to apply to the real world in order to be engaging.  Dan Meyer’s version seems to be thrown around most often:  The “real world” isn’t a guarantee of student engagement. Place your bet, instead, on cultivating a student’s capacity to puzzle and unpuzzle herself.

Today is Homecoming Friday.  It’s tough to get students engaged today, as their minds are on the game and the glitter (oh, the glitter).

Here’s a very short video clip of the noise level in my Algebra class.  Crickets.

No, I’m not giving a test.  I gave them a puzzle called Quadruple Sudoku:


In short, besides regular Sudoku rules applying, the four small numbers are clues as to what goes into the boxes touching them.

And both classes, all period, the brain sweat was palpable.  Why, on such a wild, exciting school day would these kids be so focused and so engaged?  The answer I come up with every time is puzzling and unpuzzling.  unnamed (7) unnamed (6) - Copy unnamed (1) - Copy unnamed (2) - Copy unnamed (3) - Copy unnamed (4) - Copy unnamed (5) - Copy

By the way, Nrich has tons of these fun, puzzling, engaging variations on Sudoku.  Check them out.


  1. This is so fun, and this type of puzzle is so valuable for thinking about how numbers work. It’s great that they were so engaged with it.

    What I wonder is: How would/did you respond if a student took one look at it and said something like:

    1) “Why do we have to do this? What does this have to do with anything? I don’t want to do it,” or
    2) “I hate Sudoku. I can’t do these,” or
    3) the intractable, impenetrable, repeated “I don’t understand what we’re supposed to do.”

    Sometimes I don’t bring things like this out for a whole class because I feel like I don’t have a satisfactory approach for one or all of these things happening.

    PS I skimmed the post too fast at first and assumed we were guessing the rules, and that perhaps the small numbers were the product of the four numbers around them. Trying to find factors of 1489 had me going back to reread more carefully… d’oh.

  2. PPS I started typing my comment, then did the puzzle & got more clued in, then went back & added to my comment. For “thinking about how numbers work” above, please sub in “logic and problem solving,” or something along those lines.

    Off to get more caffeine…

  3. Pingback: Math Teachers at Play #79 | Let's Play Math!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s