Robert Fuhrer, 56, of Westchester County, New York is a long-time toy and game industry executive but he is probably best known as the unofficial godfather of the brain training puzzle called KenKen®.
As president and founder of thirty-year-old Nextoy, LLC, Fuhrer often traveled abroad to spot new ideas and products ripe for export. During one of his frequent trips to Japan, he was intrigued by a popular puzzle called Kashikoku Naru (translated loosely as, the puzzle that makes you smarter) that was invented by a math teacher.
Fuhrer's efforts to spark interest in the puzzle from a wider audience outside Japan have been more successful than he could have ever imagined. He soon negotiated an agreement to have the puzzle appear in the Times UK and secured an endorsement from New York Times Crossword Editor Will Shortz. KenKen now appears in more than 100 newspapers, including the New York Times, Stern Magazine (Germany), Times of India, and Irish Times. Fuhrer owns the worldwide trademark for the puzzle, except in Japan.
Life Goes Strong spoke to Fuhrer about this fascinating and, apparently, highly addictive brain game:
In brief, what is KenKen®?
KenKen is a logic puzzle that uses basic math skills. 'Ken' is a Japanese word that means wisdom. KenKen can be playfully described as "wisdom squared." It was invented by Tetsuya Miyamoto, an innovative educator in Japan in 2004, who wanted to use the puzzle as an entertaining way to teach math to his students.
What type of person gets hooked on the game? Do you have to be good at math to play?
KenKen is as simple to learn as Tic-Tac-Toe so anyone can do it. Being good at math isn't required; as long as you know simple addition, you're able to play. We just held a tournament in which the youngest participant was five years old and the oldest was 75. Amusements that are able to provide the same enjoyment and satisfaction across generations are scarce. This is a puzzle that a grandparent and grandchild can do together – one that either one can teach the other, and one that can be enjoyed simultaneously.
How would you differentiate the game from Sudoku and Crossword Puzzles?
Many people think Sudoku is a math puzzle because it uses numbers, but it's pure logic— the numbers are just symbols and can be replaced by anything, such as fruits and vegetables. KenKen contains all the satisfying elements of Sudoku but with a lot more depth. At its easiest level, it is far easier than Sudoku and at it's most complex level, it can be far more challenging.
Crossword puzzles, while immensely popular in the USA, do not hold the same appeal internationally because they are limited by the English language.
Many people consider themselves either a "word person" or a "numbers person." KenKen seems to have crossover appeal: We are finding that many crossword puzzle players who initially rejected it come to embrace it. When Sudoku lovers discover it, they embrace KenKen with as much enthusiasm.
One more significant difference: KenKen is intellectual property; Sudoku and crossword puzzles are in the public domain and free for anyone to create or market, etc.
It sounds like the game might have an addictive quality. Is this true?
KenKen is highly addictive. We hear that from fans all the time. Even NY Times puzzle editor Will Shortz has said that he was "addicted from the start."
Is the game ever played interactively?
Yes, playing the game interactively is very popular; in less than three years, some 90 million puzzles have been played. People want to do their personal best, beating their own best times, and also want to beat others in competition.
This month, we will be launching the KenKen Premium Edition app for iPhone and iPad that will be linked to the Apple Game Center so players can keep track of their own achievements and see how they do against others. In spring 2012, will have full-fledged online contests with ranking, titles and more.
Aside from the fun and challenge, are there real benefits to playing KenKen?
KenKen has potential benefits for people of all ages — It has educational value for the young, and helps keep the brain active for midlifers and older persons.
Where can people find the game?
KenKen is still young and gaining momentum, with a terrific, loyal international fan base. Right now over 100,000 interactive puzzles are played daily on KenKen.com (Six puzzles daily are free). In a few weeks, puzzlers will be able to play a virtually unlimited number of puzzles.
KenKen appears in over 100 publications (including in print and online in the NY Times), is featured by Scholastic's math magazines (in print and online), and can also be found in the AARP Bulletin and many other prestigious publications. KenKen books are published by St. Martin's Press. There's a KenKen For Dummies by Wiley, and an award winning version on Kindle. KenKen is also available for iPhone and iPad. I think we are off to a great start.
More about KenKen:
- To read about the history of KenKen, Click here.
- Click here to watch a short tutorial by Will Shortz explaining the rules of the game.
- Here are some Tips on Playing KenKen.
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