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Sudoku and CSO

By Wendy Gustafson

Sudoku is a paper puzzle consisting of a grid of 9 boxes of 9 squares each forming 9 rows and 9 columns. The object is to complete the grid so every row, column, and 3x3 box contains every digit from 1-9 inclusive. Happily, there is no math involved. I discovered Sudoku a decade or so ago and have become thoroughly addicted. Now there are puzzles stashed in both cars, in every purse I carry, and in each of the numerous bags I use to organize my life. Sudoku goes with me to the dentist’s office, the hair salon, and any place I think I might have to sit and wait. I hate to be without a puzzle.

Sudoku is challenging and “carryable,” All I need is a pencil with an eraser to test my resolve and skill without actually having to add anything. Every time I finish a Sudoku, I feel like I have struck a blow against creeping senility. I’m still smart!

I always start a puzzle the same way. I find the first number to place and note it in the upper left-hand corner of the paper. I first did this thinking it would help me backtrack if things went wrong. I quickly discovered it did not help, but I still do it. With a great beginning, I start trying to find where the next numbers go.

Each puzzle has a difficulty rating from 1 to 5 stars. These are not to be trusted. The 3 star puzzles are always harder than the 5 star puzzles, and when the 3 star puzzles stump you, you feel like a dolt. But then again, when you finish a 5 star in record time, you feel like Einstein. So you get in a rhythm and start clicking along. When each box has a certain number, I mark it down to the side—everybody’s got a 4. This list shows progress and keeps your spirits up.

Now and then, I’m on a roll, filling in boxes, feeling heroic, when I become suddenly aware one of the lines has two 8’s in it. Hmmmm. Not good. I always take a quick look to see if I can

find the problem, but I know I can never remember what went where when. I am facing CSO.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra comes immediately to mind, but here, in Sudoku, CSO stands for “Cheerfully Start Over.” With a quiet sigh of resolve, I pick up the big pink eraser and erase the entire puzzle. All of it. Even the parts I know are right. With a clean slate, I Cheerfully Start Over.

The cheerfully is the hardest, but really, the most important part. I have to recognize I made a mistake and own it. I can’t try to wiggle out of it. That just makes it worse. I can’t try to force it to work somehow. I just have to depend on the big pink eraser to produce a clean slate, a new opportunity for success, a new start. Cheerfully Start Over. CSO.

The idea is to begin again as if you had never seen it before, to look at the puzzle as if it were new. You can’t rely on anything you did before. You really must CSO.

Working on it again, and seeing the imprint in the paper where all the wrong numbers had been, I am always amazed at how really, really wrong it was. It was never going to work out no matter how hard I tried. I am always glad for CSO.

CSO has a tinge of possibility built in. There’s a bit of faith I can make the puzzle work. There’s an inkling I am capable of taking a fresh, new look at the situation, of making a different choice, and of following the choice to its successful end.

The Lord of New Starts, Jesus is a Big Pink Eraser in my life. So many times, with perfectly good intentions, I have made pretty remarkable mistakes. The best outcomes were times I employed CSO and left the mess in the hands of Jesus.

Sometimes I don’t know where or what the mistake was. I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know how to find it. I don’t know if I’d be able to change anything if I could find it. I have to give up some of myself to employ CSO, like my personal “rightness,” my pride, my being in control. I have to admit I did it wrong. I have to want to do it right.

When you face times like these, CSO. Cheerfully Start Over. Don’t look back. Have your eyes on new possibilities.

Work at it. Listen to the Lord. Try something new. Work at it some more…And then, success! All your boxes are filled with all the right numbers in the right places.

Give yourself a big ★ to mark your successful effort in partnership with the Big Pink Eraser.

And reach for the next puzzle.


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