The puzzle was designed by Howard Garns, a retired architect and freelance puzzle constructor, and first published in 1979. Although likely inspired by the Latin square invention of Leonhard Euler, Garns added a third dimension (the regional restriction) to the mathematical construct and (unlike Euler) presented the creation as a puzzle, providing a partially-completed grid and requiring the solver to fill in the rest. The puzzle was first published in New York by the specialist puzzle publisher Dell Magazines in its magazine Dell Pencil Puzzles and Word Games, under the title Number Place (which we can only assume Garns named it).
The puzzle was introduced in Japan by Nikoli in the paper Monthly Nikolist in April 1984 as Suuji wa dokushin ni kagiru , which can be translated as "the numbers must be single" or "the numbers must occur only once" (literally means "single; celibate; unmarried"). The puzzle was named by Kaji Maki, the president of Nikoli. At a later date, the name was abbreviated to Sudoku (pronounced SUE-dough-coo; su = number, doku = single); it is a common practice in Japanese to take only the first kanji of compound words to form a shorter version. In 1986, Nikoli introduced two innovations which guaranteed the popularity of the puzzle: the number of givens was restricted to no more than 32 and puzzles became "symmetrical" (meaning the givens were distributed in rotationally symmetric cells). It is now published in mainstream Japanese periodicals, such as the Asahi Shimbun. Within Japan, Nikoli still holds the trademark for the name Sudoku; other publications in Japan use alternative names.
In 1989, Loadstar/Softdisk Publishing published DigitHunt on the Commodore 64, which was apparently the first home computer version of Sudoku. At least one publisher still uses that title.
Yoshimitsu Kanai published his computerized puzzle generator under the name Single Number for the Apple Macintosh  in 1995 in Japanese and English, and in 1996 for the Palm (PDA).
Bringing the process full-circle, Dell Magazines, which publishes the original Number Place puzzle, now also publishes two Sudoku magazines: Original Sudoku and Extreme Sudoku. Additionally, Kappa reprints Nikoli Sudoku in GAMES Magazine under the name Squared Away; the New York Post, USA Today, The Boston Globe, Washington Post, and San Francisco Chronicle now also publish the puzzle. It is also often included in puzzle anthologies, such as The Giant 1001 Puzzle Book (under the title Nine Numbers).
Within the context of puzzle history, parallels are often cited to Rubik's Cube, another logic puzzle popular in the 1980s. Sudoku has been called the "Rubik's cube of the 21st century".
Popularity in the media
In 1997, retired Hong Kong judge Wayne Gould, 59, a New Zealander, saw a partly completed puzzle in a Japanese bookshop. Over 6 years he developed a computer program to produce puzzles quickly. Knowing that British newspapers have a long history of publishing crosswords and other puzzles, he promoted Sudoku to The Times in Britain, which launched it on 12 November 2004 (calling it Su Doku). The puzzles by Pappocom, Gould's software house, have been printed daily in the Times ever since.
Three days later The Daily Mail began to publish the puzzle under the name "Codenumber". The Daily Telegraph introduced its first Sudoku by its puzzle compiler Michael Mepham on 19 January 2005 and other Telegraph Group newspapers took it up very quickly. Nationwide News Pty Ltd began publishing the puzzle in The Daily Telegraph of Sydney on 20 May 2005; five puzzles with solutions were printed that day. The immense surge in popularity of Sudoku in British newspapers and internationally has led to it being dubbed in the world media in 2005 the "fastest growing puzzle in the world".
There is no doubt that it was not until The Daily Telegraph introduced the puzzle on a daily basis on 23 February 2005 with the full front-page treatment advertising the fact, that the other UK national newspapers began to take real interest. The Telegraph continued to splash the puzzle on its front page, realizing that it was gaining sales simply by its presence. Until then the Times had kept very quiet about the huge daily interest that its daily Sudoku competition had aroused. That newspaper already had plans for taking advantage of their market lead, and a first Sudoku book was already on the stocks before any of the other national papers had realised just how popular Sudoku might be.
By April and May 2005 the puzzle had become popular in these publications and it was rapidly introduced to several other national British newspapers including The Independent, The Guardian, The Sun (where it was labelled Sun Doku), and The Daily Mirror. As the name Sudoku became well-known in Britain, the Daily Mail adopted it in place of its earlier name "Codenumber". Newspapers competed to promote their Sudoku puzzles, with The Times and the Daily Mail each claiming to have been the first to feature Sudoku.
The rapid rise of Sudoku from relative obscurity in Britain to a front-page feature in national newspapers attracted commentary in the media (see References below) and parody (such as when The Guardian's G2 section advertised itself as the first newspaper supplement with a Sudoku grid on every page ). Sudoku became particularly prominent in newspapers soon after the 2005 general election leading some commentators to suggest that it was filling the gaps previously occupied by election coverage. A simpler explanation is that the puzzle attracts and retains readers—Sudoku players report an increasing sense of satisfaction as a puzzle approaches completion. Recognizing the different psychological appeals of easy and difficult puzzles The Times introduced both side by side on 20 June 2005. From July 2005 Channel 4 included a daily Sudoku game in their Teletext service (at page 391). On 2 August 2005 the BBC's programme guide Radio Times started to feature a weekly Super Sudoku.
CBS has run several stories concerning Sudoku, including on the Early Show in Summer 2005, and on the CBS Evening News that autumn, on October 26.
Most recently, Dr. House was clearly seen working on a Sudoku puzzle on his office computer in one scene of the December 13, 2005 episode of House, M. D..