Author interviews Vol.18 kushimaru

InterviewsAuthor round-table

Talking to kushimaru

Kushimaru is a man in his 40s. He is a Nikoli staff member from way back and he is responsible for nikoli.com and mobile-nikoli.com. This time I was going to forget he is one of the staff, and just listen to a puzzle author talking, but . . .

NyanBazLet's start the story from when you were little. When did you do puzzles first?

kushimaruI have a memory of playing fit-the-picture in kindergarten. Therefore, that was the beginning perhaps. It was very simple. As an elementary school kid I was solving the mazes that were serialized in weekly magazines for us elementary school kids. I was painting out all the blind alleys.

NyanBazThat's one method to make sure you can solve mazes. Did you think it up yourself?

kushimaruYes. How to follow the path, needs the eraser. I was tired of using the eraser. So I solved it in a more time-consuming way. It was a real time killer. Then also, I tried the crossword puzzles in the newspaper but It was not possible to solve them with my elementary school vocabulary.

NyanBazDid you get good school grades?

kushimaruWhen I was in elementary school I got good results, in junior high school I became avarage, and in high school I was a dunce. (laughs) Arithmetics in elementary school was interesting, like puzzles I thought. When I moved up, math was boring.

NyanBazWhen you became a university student, you did it like a piece of cake. You encountered Nikoli.

kushimaruSure. Friends showed me "Puzzle Communication Nikoli" Vol. 5, and we did it together. I went to the bookstore to purchase my own soon afterwards. I kept buying it up to Vol. 9.

NyanBazAnd then you joined Nikoli?

kushimaruRight. At that time Nikoli's office was on a street in Machida. A humble building with a large "nikoli" written in the window, so I knew that this was the office. One day, passing there I remembered a book I had not yet bought, and I dropped in and bought the book. Then Maki Kaji and I went for a drink. I do not know why. I told him that I was in the fifth grade at university, and had found no employment yet. He said, come and work for us. And I'm still in this very company. (laughs)

NyanBazDid you work with the editing right after you joined?

kushimaruNo no. I joined in sales. Even though at that time every staff member were making the books and selling them too. We went to the bookstores to deliver the new publications ourselves. Only Maki and I were able to drive. Oh? I didn't speak as a puzzle author here did I? (laughs)

NyanBazSorry. But what you say is interesting. (laughs) Then, let's return to the story with puzzles. Was it after you joined that you got into making puzzles?

kushimaruYes. I made my first puzzle in a train on a sales trip. Perhaps, my first work was a Keisuke.

NyanBazKeisuke that is a Nikoli puzzle that puts numbers and black cells in the white cells on the board. Was Keisuke already around then?

kushimaruNo. I was making up the rules as I was doing it.

NyanBazEh! Did you design Keisuke from scratch?

kushimaruRather than designing something new, I just combined Nansuke and Keidakecross. (Keidakecross is another puzzle name)

NyanBazJust combined you say, but it is great to make an original puzzle like that. Then came the boom in Kakuro?

kushimaruYes. It's more like only a boom at the Nikoli offices. Maki started that fire. Maki and I made Kakuro problems and we solved each other's problems. We went over them time and again.

NyanBazWhat was interesting about Kakuro?

kushimaruIt is solved by logic and people who don't know about puzzles can enjoy it. I think these are the two points that make it attractive. There were puzzle fan groups too at that time. They were looking for difficult problems. But we didn't think the problems that these puzzle maniacs liked were interesting because we were just ordinary people not particularly hooked on puzzles. After that, we thought what if we offered problems for ordinary people, not particularly for the people who were crazy about puzzles? Then well-made Kakuro could be solved by anyone. That's why we liked Kakuro.

NyanBazIs Kakuro your favorite puzzle now today?

kushimaruAt this time, I like Slitherlink best. Kakuro is a little hard to solve on the PC and mobile phones. Nurikabe is pleasant to solve on these electronic devices, so I like Nurikabe. But for perfection as a puzzle, Slitherlink is at a higher level than Nurikabe.

NyanBazPerfection you say. What do you mean by perfection for a puzzle?

kushimaruStraightforward rules, unending complexity, ease of control in making it. I think the last point is particularly important. In Slitherlink you can precisely control how each line is to be drawn. For instance, a lot of the puzzle in Heyawake is set when you decide on a number or room. Slitherlink is easier to control so that one number does not affect it so strongly. That means it is easy to show the personality of the author, and as a result there are a number of types of Slitherlink problems. That's why it is interesting.

NyanBazThat puts it well. Are there puzzles you don't really like?

kushimaruThere aren't really any kind of puzzle I don't like. But puzzles that are hard to solve I don't like so much. More precisely, I don't like puzzles that don't consider how they are to be solved. I think that a puzzle that doesn't care or think about how it is to be solved is not a good problem.

NyanBazNow it is your job to make all sorts of puzzles of all sorts of difficulty. Is there anything you are particular about when you make your puzzles?

kushimaruI make puzzles like the spirit moves me. I try not to make solvers feel stress, whether the problems are easy or hard. In hard problems, I try to provide clues for beginners so they don't feel left out. I try to make sure that when the beginner thinks hard the clues will pop out, and finally get everybody to the correct solution. That's why I don't make unusual problems. A solver who doesn't notice a trick can't solve those. Put differently, such problems target only the persons who notice the tricks. I know that of course we also need such problems. I only say that I don't personally make them.

NyanBazWhat does it mean for you to make puzzles?

kushimaruIt's the job. (laughs) Making puzzles is a service not a self-expression for me. I don't think that I want the solvers to understand me. I want to please the solvers. I want the solvers to know the pleasure of doing puzzles. When someone has solved a puzzle and thinks it was all trivial and by chance then this person could come to hate puzzles. For me that would be the worst thing that could happen. Therefore, I always want to make puzzles that all people can enjoy. I think the same goes in the editing.

NyanBazLet's forget about puzzles for a moment. What are your hobbies?

kushimaruIt's touring on my motorcycle. Driving off somewhere alone and then meeting up with my friends at the goal, camping with friends and drinking. I will keep looking after my motorcycle when I get old and I cannot go touring, tightening bolts for ever. (laughs) Reading is another hobby, I read stuffy and difficult books and light enjoyable ones too.

NyanBazYou got all absorbed in swimming recently?

kushimaruWell. I think it is fun, getting to be able to swim long distances gradually. However, my speed is slow because I'm swimming my own way. Maybe you could give me a hand and teach me how to swim.

NyanBazSure, leave it to me. But we are getting to the end. Finally, a word to the people who are solving your puzzles.

kushimaruIf you are able to enjoy a puzzle, that is all that counts. If there is a problem you don't enjoy solving, that is sure to be because of the editor though, please don't blame the author.


Interviewed Oct 2008 Published on Aug 9, 2010