Author interviews Vol.20 Guten

InterviewsAuthor round-table

Talking to Guten

Guten is an office worker. He is a regular contributor to Puzzle Communication Nikoli, but he is a newcomer in nikoli.com, from December 2008.

NyanBazWhat kind of kid were you when you were small?

GutenI don't really remember what went on long ago. But I remember that I made mazes and games like snakes and ladders. I liked to think about new ways to play. I thought about a new sport using a ball. Even though it was new, it's only a variant of dodgeball.

NyanBazWhen did you begin puzzles with numbers?

GutenThat was when I was in junior high, I found Puzzle Communication Nikoli in a bookstore and bought it. The issue number of the magazine was a single digit and the publication schedule irregular.

NyanBazThat was over 20 years ago. Puzzle Communication Nikoli is a quarterly now, but it had an irregular publication schedule in the old days. What kind of impression did you have?

GutenI was in shock, it upset everything I knew. I thought that it was way out cool. (laughs) I bought it for years, because I loved it.

NyanBazPuzzle Communication Nikoli was doing whatever came to mind then. You stopped it for a while, when did you return to Nikoli?

GutenThat was January 2003. I was browsing in a bookstore and picked up Nikoli for the first time in years. I found the pages with Omoro puzzles. (It's pages for everyone to think about the rules for new pencil puzzles. It's abbreviated as "Omopa". ) I wanted to create a new puzzle too. The address is necessary to be able to contribute, so I bought it.

NyanBazThat's unusual, to buy Nikoli just to know the address. Did you make it into Omopa immediately?

GutenYes. My first published work was Uzushio. It looks like Ripple Effect. I kept making only Omopa for about a year, and I contributed it in large quantities. When I think about it now, among my work, there were things that were not really good. I was overconfident then. I thought that anything will be published if I contribute. It was a misunderstanding.

NyanBazYes, you got that right. Then why did you begin to make puzzles other than Omopa?

GutenI contributed to Omopa for a year, and only one of them was used. I thought that my great labor was not rewarded, and I started to make Masyu which I liked in those days. I thought that I could easily make that, and it would be published if I sent it in. My work was use in 2 consecutive issues. I got completely puffed up, and began to make other standard puzzles.

NyanBazThen, your work is being published regularly now.

GutenMy work was in every issue. But not as much of it as I expected. I wanted to know the reasons, and I began to solve puzzles by others, seriously. So far I had not solved puzzles seriously, except Omopa. I developed a taste for what makes a puzzle tick, and I noticed that it's not just that it has to be difficult. I noticed that all problems were well made, even when it may look like there was no effort behind it. Then it became enjoyable to make the standard puzzles.

NyanBazAll right. A good problem, easy or hard, is made by thinking it through. Do you keep making Omopa?

GutenYes. I send in a new Omopa for each issue. But, I don't yet have an idea for this month. I'll have to get going on that.

NyanBazLet's return to the story of nikoli.com puzzles. When you make a puzzle, do you decide on a difficulty level and a scenario early in the process?

GutenI begin after I have decided on the difficulty level. But I often change my mind along the way. About the scenario, I usually don't decide on that first but sometimes I do set it previously. I think that I'm still new at this, and I don't really have enough experience. So I'm trying out various ways to make puzzles. Sometimes I make them from the finish, and sometimes I just move ahead and see. I'm looking for a method that fits me.

NyanBazYou work hard at it. I think it takes time when you make things in unfamiliar ways?

GutenActually, I make my puzzles fast. Like, it takes me an hour or two to make a giant size Masyu. But I spend a lot of time on polishing how it twists and turns. I can't look far ahead when I make a puzzle, there are so many things I forget about when I'm making puzzles. So I correct that after solving them. But after solving them I'm often not happy about the result myself, and I drop a lot. Actually I have only contributed about two-thirds of the problems I have made.

NyanBazDo you have any favorite puzzles, are there any puzzles you dislike?

GutenI like all kinds of puzzles. For each kind of puzzle, there are some I like and some I hate. With Akari, if you find a light bulb you can not put across from a number (cater-cornered), and there is another number that is decided by that. I don't like the Akari where it uses this method.

NyanBazLet me turn it into an example. There is a "2" at the left side of the board, and you can't put a light bulb to the right above the "2". Then if there is a "3" in that cell, the light bulbs for the "3" is decided by the "2". I think it is a commonly used method. Why do you dislike it?

GutenThat the 3 is fixed is like it is short-circuited. But that is just my personal pet peeve here.

(Now the talk descended into the fine points of Slitherlink and Masyu, really too deep, so I have omitted that part.)

NyanBazYou have great faith in methods. About ideal puzzles, are there any, for you?

GutenMy ultimate goal is a puzzle that makes you weep. A puzzle where the emotion at the moment it is solved makes you shed tears. I have seen interesting problems and problems that makes you laugh or you get angry at, but I have not yet encountered a problem where you ended up crying. I want to make that kind of puzzle sometime. I have no clue for how to do it at the moment though. A slightly more realistic aim for me is to create an unpredictable quality and still solve it without feeling much resistance. There are not many problems that can be solved smoothly though they are hard. I believe it can be achieved if it has good balance. But I have not been able to achieve that yet. It is a long-range plan.

NyanBazThis time our talk got very deeply into puzzles. Let's change to a lighter topic. Please tell me how you spend your holidays.

GutenI go out with my wife and children. We go shopping, and to hot springs. I have two children. The older is a boy, he has already solved puzzles. He makes mazes by himself.

NyanBazBlood will tell. I have great hopes for his future. For you, what is a puzzle?

GutenA passable answer is that it is entertainment. For another answer, it is wasted brain work and time. I think that life is essentially wasting time. Human desires move in useless directions to the "higher levels" we want to take it. That is not what Maslow's hierarchy of needs tells. Whether I make or solve puzzles are meaningless for the order of things. So I think that the desire for me to make or solve puzzles is a very high level desire. I think that it's very luxurious that a useless thing becomes a part of life.

NyanBazI didn't expect to hear Maslow's name come in an interview about puzzles. (laughs) Now the last question, anything that you want to tell people solving your puzzles?

GutenPlease taste not only the hard problems but also the easy problems. There is a taste to it when you solve puzzles slowly and carefully. I don't really mind how just my problems seem to be, because I lack experience. Please enjoy the whole nikoli.com, that would make me happy. Please enjoy puzzles above all else.


Interviewed Dec 2008 Published on Oct 27, 2010