Moreover / Zen and the Art of Sudoku

For Nimrod Kamer, a.k.a. Captain Sudoku, Sudoku is not just a game, it is ontology.

Wednesday midday, Tel Aviv

Corinne Kitzis, 18, made a bet with her boyfriend, who solves Sudoku puzzles in five minutes, that within two weeks she would outdo him. To accomplish that feat, she went to "Captain Sudoku," who promised that after 10 lessons she would be an expert. "And if not?" she asked. "Then within 15," he replied. This is her second lesson and he cautions her, "Don't get tempted into doing the Sudoku puzzles in the paper and don't take calls from `General Sudoku,' because he is an impostor."

Nimrod Kamer, a.k.a. Captain Sudoku, is 23. He is wearing a button-down shirt inside Bermuda sweatpants made of non-natural fibers and a tie to which four laminated Sudoku puzzles have been attached. In the meantime, the curls of his receding hairline threaten the law of gravity, and thin glasses perched at the tip of his nose almost hide his eyes. With the height of seriousness, he says he received the title "Sudoku engineer" after taking an exhausting course at the Sudoku Institute in Basel, Switzerland and after solving 1,736 puzzles in a row for the final exam. It's a story that goes well with his comic-book look; one way or the other, though, the fact is that he solves Sudoku puzzles in about half a minute.

For him, Sudoku is not just a game, it is ontology. "The Sudoku person is closed in the puzzles, isolated. The solver is in a state of pure consciousness. It purifies one, suppresses rampaging summer hormones, mitigates the effects of Viagra and constitutes an alternative to disengagement. Decades in the future, when people ask what we did during the disengagement, we will say we did Sudoku puzzles."

Before becoming the Captain, Kamer was a juvenile star on "Exit," a television show for young people. His dismissal from "Exit" and his expulsion from the Sam Spiegel Film School left him with no direction. "One day in May I went to the seashore, to Frishman Beach, and there I met the artist who goes by the name of Honi the Circle-Maker. I told him I had no talent for anything, that all I could do was solve crosswords and win at tic-tac-toe. He prophesied that within a month the Sudoku craze would come to Israel and sent me to study Sudoku engineering in Switzerland, with Jorg Duko." Today he has more than 40 students, half of them female. A 90-minute lesson, given in the student's home, costs NIS 80.

In the first nine lessons no puzzles are solved. "We just develop consciousness with the aid of philosophical talks and training in graphics." Like the Karate Kid. In the tenth lesson a puzzle is done for the first time, "and it works, they are successful," he says. Very few drop out in the middle. "The father of one student punched me in the second lesson; he said I was wasting time and money and demanded that I leave. I said, `Sir, you are here, in my house,' but in the end I left."

Most of the girls who take the course do so because they want to outperform their boyfriends. "They complain all the time, but they achieve better ability and leave when they have achieved the goal." Suppression of the libido is apparently a totally male thing. "The guys are more persistent, but loss of sexual ability throws them into depression in the 15th lesson. Whoever becomes a Captain is released from that." The good students receive the rank of Private; some are certified as Teachers and have to wear a tie with two Sudoku puzzles on it. There is only one Captain.

Now he is planning a book, "Guide to Sudoku," and the establishment of a Sudoku institute in Israel, at the corner of Frishman and Dizengoff in Tel Aviv. "There will be cubbyholes there like a beehive and also a place to sleep, for the abstainers. Absolute quiet is needed to solve a Sudoku puzzle. The cafes are creating a lowlife sexual and flirting culture."

There is also a line of spin-off products, pencils and a Pnina Rosenblum deodorant on which a pink puzzle is pasted. "I approached Rosenblum to get a marketing agreement. I wrote her that more people prefer to buy the Sudoku deodorant. I didn't get an answer."