Author interviews Vol.33 Asaokitan

InterviewsAuthor round-table

Talking to Asaokitan

Our guest this time is Asaokitan. He is a 30 year old bachelor, a student studying linguistics in Buffalo, New York State, the United States. He is a veteran author who has contributed to Nikoli for a long time.

NobWhat kind of child were you when you were small?

AsaokitanSince I can remember, there were a lot of puzzles like tangram or pentomino in my home. My parents didn't like puzzles in particular, but they wanted to make me a smart child. Both of my parents only solve crosswords and sudoku of the newspaper. I played with tangram and that sort of thing in kindergarten. There were very many kinds of puzzles. For example, many kinds of Kumiki and Rubik's Cubes. I loved to play with them. I made mazes when I was in primary school. Those were mazes with special rules, for example, you absolutely had to turn when you came to a place where you were able to turn. It seems to be like a pencil puzzle when I think about now. I had a special notebook for the exclusive use with mazes. I made many mazes with different rules.

NobWhen did you get to know about Nikoli?

AsaokitanI bought Puzzle Communication Nikoli from I was an eighth grader, that was Vol. 48. I saw it by chance in a bookstore. I don't remember why I bought it but perhaps, I thought it was interesting. I had the book of mazes which Nikoli had put out, but I didn't know that Nikoli published a magazine.

NobWhat was your first impression of Nikoli?

AsaokitanI was immediately fascinated by the pages with Omoro Puzzles. Puzzles become interesting or worthless if I change the combination of rules! I thought about it myself, why that seemed to be. I solved other puzzles than Omopa. At first I solved all puzzles. I solved word puzzles too. I got hold of back numbers.

NobYou got really absorbed. Why did you buy back numbers?

AsaokitanI wanted to know the history of Omopa.

NobWere your first contributions Omopa?

AsaokitanYes. The first time I sent something in was Put-area. And the puzzle which I sent the first time was accepted. I sent it in when I was in 8th grade, and it was published when I was in 9th grade. I loved Omopa, and that was how I began to make puzzles, it came sort of naturally.

NobIt's great that your first contribution was published. Did you continue contributing Omopa?

AsaokitanYes, next it was Cut-area that was published. That was remodeled from Put-area. However, it was a change for the worse not an improvement. Many such puzzles were published afterwards, Paint-area, White-link, and more. Most of my Omopa have been published. In the puzzles which I created, Akari is the most popular. I think the next will be Yajisan-kazusan.

NobYes yes, You are the Akari inventor.

AsaokitanAfter Akari, I haven't sent in a lot of Omopa, and none of them have been accepted. I don't know why.

NobWhere do you get your ideas for Omopa?

AsaokitanI start by thinking about just one rule. For Yajisan-kazusan, I thought of a rule I called ineffectiveness if painted. I thought in various ways. Tonarinotororo (another puzzle author) who was a classmate showed me an idea with an arrow. That completed Yajisan-kazusan. When I was making Akari, I hit on light bulbs first. I thought about how I could show them. For Akari, the rules were made up comparatively early since I hit on light bulbs. I discovered many advanced methods for solving them the day after I had sent it in. I thought that was good.

NobWhen did you start contribute other than Omopa?

AsaokitanI had Hashiwokakero published pretty early. I don't think Hashiwokakero is anything special really. I tried to make all kinds of puzzles in those days. But it was not something I did all the time, only when the feeling came over me.

NobYou won the first prize at a quiz show on television when you were a high school student. Do you like quizzes, too?

AsaokitanI participated as a helper, accidently, and we won. I don't like quizzes that much.

NobWas the championship prize an overseas trip?

AsaokitanYes, I ate hamburgers at McDonald's in Paris and at Luxor. If there were a collection of photographs with only the photographs of McDonald eateries in world famous places, I think that would be interesting.

NobDid you change departments at the university?

AsaokitanYes. I entered the department of science and studied there for four years without graduating, and changed to the department of literature. I wanted to study linguistics.

NobWhy did you want to learn linguistics?

AsaokitanIt's not sudden for myself. Originally I was interested in linguistics. I created an imaginary original language in old days. I liked languages from the past.

NobWhat did you want to learn in a linguistics laboratory of a literature department?

AsaokitanI was interested in writing meanings in logic at first. It's different from what I'm doing now. It's in the area of formal semantics. I express what this part of a natural language connotes logically. This has interfaces connected with Omopa.

NobHmmmm. You took a master degree afterwards, and then leave of absence from school in the middle of the doctor course and now you are studying in the U.S.A. What is your present research field?

AsaokitanIt's psycholinguistics. I'm interested in how the brain processes things. I study how the brain processes language.

NobThere was a time you didn't contribute puzzles for a while.

AsaokitanI don't make ordinary common puzzles, I'm an Omopa person. But no one asks for Omopa puzzles. It's regular puzzles that are in demand, and I didn't think I'm good enough for that. So, that is why I didn't contribute much.

NobWhy did you come back then?

AsaokitanThat was because Buffalo had nowhere to go and play. Making puzzles helps brighten up life. It's a change of pace. And then there is the money. (laughs)

NobWhat kind of puzzle do you like?

AsaokitanIt's the puzzles that no one has thought of yet.

NobDo you solve puzzles made by other authors?

AsaokitanI solve some. But I don't solve most of the problems on nikoli.com. I prefer to make puzzles rather than to solve them. And then of course also, I like making puzzles with new rules, different from puzzles with existing rules.

NobWhat is your ideal puzzle?

AsaokitanThat would be a puzzle where the rules are easy to understand. With puzzles like that clever rules for solving them pop up all the time. As for me, such a puzzle is an ideal. Akari is just like that. I like something like the game of go. Rules are minimal, strategy is everything and it evolves constantly.

NobWhen you make a puzzle with existing rules, what are you careful about?

AsaokitanI am particular about the appearance. I'm too particular really, and there are puzzles I don't complete because of that. I know the appearance is just one part but I think it needs to be asserted and be a part of the puzzle. I can make Akari and Nurikabe without thinking too much. But problems where I'm not looking for something are unacceptable. It's one way to make puzzles, but it becomes a pleasant problem when I repeat a situation which I liked, intentionally. If I think a puzzle is pleasant, then probably the solver thinks it is enjoyable too.

NobDo you intend to please the solvers?

AsaokitanHmm, I'm not thinking so much about that. If anything, I choose a way of thinking that seems good for me. For me, a puzzle is nearer to art than entertainment.

NobFinally, Is there a message for your solvers?

AsaokitanI'd be glad if you like the puzzles that I made. Then my intention will have been transmitted to you. If it is otherwise, it is because of my lack of enthusiasm. That wold be my defeat. (laughs)


Interviewed Jul 2011 Published on Jun 29, 2012