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Gaining New Perspectives & Building Skills

Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Max with Will Shortz of The New York Times.

Last spring, one of our current SFFS 8th-Graders, Max M. '20 first learned about the KenKen International Championship, which takes place outside of New York City and is sponsored by The New York Times and hosted by renowned Times puzzle master Will Shortz. His math teacher at the time, Kelsey Barbella, briefly mentioned it during class, Max remembers: "Since I really loved KenKens and am always up for a challenge, I got the details and entered."

KenKens, for those new to them, are math puzzles that are solved in a grid—puzzlers use basic math, critical thinking, and logic skills to resolve the KenKen grid. More than being a math exercise, many say that KenKens help puzzlers to build useful problem-solving tools and determination. 

Fast-forward a few months from that 7th Grade math class, and Max was in Pleasantville, New York, this past December for the big competition. "The tournament has a very upbeat ambiance when everyone is not competing," He says. "Between rounds, people get food from the food truck outside, and before the last round, Will Shortz has a word puzzle that we try to solve like the ones that he has on Sundays. When I was at the tournament, the puzzle was to find a four-letter word hidden inside of a given word. For example, if the word was 'ASTRONAUT,' the answer could be STAT, which can be spelled by removing the ARONU. I remember trying to solve the puzzles quickly enough, but there were only a few easy enough for me to get." Max ultimately came in 4th Place in the entire competition, and was the first finisher from the U.S. 

Max explains his love of puzzles and problem-solving: "I like puzzles because they make me look at things in different ways. Math puzzles in particular make me look on the logic side and also the common sense. I know that if I have only 1 more number in a row or column, I am able to figure that out, but if that number doesn't fit an equation I have to use my common sense to make the equation work. I like that it makes me use different parts of my brain to solve things all at the same time.

Want to try your hand at a KenKen puzzle? Click here, and good luck!