The publication of a Sudoku puzzle in the Indianapolis Star on January 22, 2006 represented a sort of homecoming for the number-based puzzle. Although the addictive brain-teaser based on the 18th-century concept of the Latin square first gained renown in Japan, its long-concealed roots are in Indiana. Debuting without a byline in Dell Pencil Puzzles and Word Games in 1979 as “Number Place,” the puzzle showed up in a Japanese magazine in the mid-80s with an unwieldy title meaning “the digits must occur only once.” Nikoli Publishers abbreviated the name, and “Sudoku” was trademarked. The popularity of the nine-by-nine grid of squares exploded in Japan. In time, it was exported to England—appearing in the London Times in 2004—and eventually back to the States.
At the height of the Sudoku craze in 2005, New York Times crossword editor and Indiana University alumnus Will Shortz sought to identify the creator of the magic square that had started out as “Number Place”. By process of deduction, Shortz identified Howard Garns, a longtime employee of the Daggett architecture firm in Indianapolis. Garns’ colleagues recalled the architect working on the grids at a spare drafting table.
The Connersville native was the son of architect W.H. Garns. The junior Garns was graduated from Indianapolis Technical High School (later known as Arsenal) in 1922, received his B.S. in architectural engineering from the University of Illinois in 1926, and served as a captain in the US Army Corps of Engineers before joining the Daggett firm. Although he lived to see Sudoku gain adherents in Japan, he died in 1989 before the phenomenon took off in the States. Howard Garns is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.