Franklin SDU-320 Sudoku by Nikoli

One for the brain fitness and puzzle fanatics among you

Numbers and me don’t mix. I can just count to ten without using my fingers and a simple-to-use calculator is never very far from my grasp if I have to count to 11. So, the new SDU-320 Sudoku by Nikoli was, as you can probably imagine, going to turn my mind into the mental equivalent of macramé.

After a fiddle and run through of the set up, operation seems straightforward once you’ve got used to the double duty buttons for some functions - for instance, the Solve and the 'X' buttons, which, when pressed for three seconds, will solve the puzzle for you or reset the game and generate a new puzzle respectively.

The buttons are all built into the active, touch sensitive screen and the game is controlled using the supplied stylus or 'pick'. Anyone with a PDA or smart phone will know how to use one of those; you just press the soft rubber tip against the relevant button or number choice on the matrix of 9 x 9 zones. Incidentally, the pick slots into a special recess on the back of the game when not in use.

The SDU-320’s puzzles have apparently been 'hand-crafted' by Nikoli, the Japanese company that – so it claims – popularised Sudoku back in the 'beginning', whenever that was. Apparently, computer generated puzzles lack the required psychological element that makes a good Sudoku game, erm, good! I can feel that macramé coming on again.

Okay, so the puzzles are hard, good or whatever the adjective is for that. But the pearlescent livery the device sports might not be to many men’s tastes. It’s a bit plasticy too and, as there’s no case, it can easily be activated by mistake. Two G13 button cells power the device, and all of you will be pleased to hear the annoyingly bright sound effects can be turned off.

The screen has no anti-reflection coating or backlight, making it hard to see in bright daylight or very low light respectively. As for playing the thing, my wife is a maths guru not quite of Einstein proportions… but still good.

She was able to complete the first and second of three levels of difficulty without breaking into a mathematical sweat, but level three was “bloody hard; I can only get one number!” she declared. Macramé anyone?

Also, she reported that the flashing LCD icon that shows where to go next on the matrix of numbers “is distracting” but otherwise… she was completely hooked.

Addictive and (apparently) fun electronic Sudoku game that is not without flaws in terms of design. Looking at the price, and that triumphant look on my wife’s face when she defeats the thing (still not mastered level three though), it is a great little gadget. Meanwhile, I'm sticking to my knitting!