Author interviews Vol.8 Yuichi Saito

InterviewsAuthor round-table

Talking to Yuichi Saito

Yuichi Saito: male, twenty eight years old (in 2007), working in a company as an engineer - making things, a doctor of engineering. His hobbies other than puzzles are traveling abroad and skiing. Just now he is worried because he gained a lot of weight, suddenly.

The Japanese pen name of Yuichi Saito is "Yu-tan", the interview uses this pen name.

NobI heard that your Japanese pen name "Yu-tan" is not simply a nickname you had as a kid. Is there anything in that?

Yu-tanIt's true. When I was in second grade of elementary school, there was a TV quiz program I really liked. I was totally absorbed in it, and I and a friend made up problems for each other. We were the detectives solving them. And there we came up with the detective name "Yu-tan". "Yu" was from my name and "tan" from my friend's. But, of course, the dash wasn't in anybody's name. I added that on my own. (laughs)

NobI'll believe that. I know you've been contributing to Nikoli since you were in elementary school. When did you get to know about Nikoli?

Yu-tanIt was in the second grade of elementary school. I was with my mother at the beauty parlor. I had nothing to do, so I went down to the book store on a lower floor. I wanted to find a book about that TV quiz program. Here there was a strange book next to the one I was looking for. That was Nansuke and Kakuro of the Pencil puzzle series. I didn't buy Kakuro because its cover looked sickening, but I was sure I could follow the rules of Nansuke, so I bought that.

NobYou're surprising me. Just second grade and you were ready to go for a Pencil puzzle book. Did you solve all the puzzles?

Yu-tanI probably couldn't do them all, but I enjoyed myself. Then, I got "I'll do some puzzles" Vol. 3 (put out by Nikoli many years ago). I was looking for more of Nansuke. It also had Sudoku, Kanaore, and the sickening Kakuro. I tried to solve them all. After Nansuke I got hooked on Kanaore. Its rules were easy to follow, so my hand just flew along. But, I didn't seem to get my head around that sickening Kakuro. I didn't like it at the beginning. But it looked like the publisher was investing a good deal of effort into Kakuro, so I'd just have to get on with it, and yes, I managed to do Kakuro too. I was just a kid, but I thought that this puzzle would become more interesting when I became more skillful but it really isn't easy for beginners. After that, I bought "Puzzle Communication Nikoli" from Vol. 33 (issued in March, 1991).

NobWhy did you start to make puzzles?

Yu-tanAs I told you I had tried to make problems when I was lost in the TV quiz program. I knew and enjoyed making problems, so creating puzzles was not such a high hurdle for me. The puzzles I made I sent to Nikoli and I was in "Puzzle Communication Nikoli Vol. 38." My puzzles there were Slither link and Keisuke. I was in fifth grade of elementary school then. From then, till I became a college student, I kept contributing puzzles to every single issue of Nikoli, and I always got in.

NobI was the head editor of Nikoli then, and I remember that there were much fewer contributions than we get now. Your puzzles were picked a lot, I also remember.

Yu-tanYeah! The manuscript fees were welcome for a schoolboy like me. When I was in high school, I bought a stereo set with the fees I saved. Now I really have to say "thank you" for that.

NobReally? Did you get that many published? What motivated you then, the money?

Yu-tanSure. Money was important (laughs). But, I also knew there were so many people enjoying my puzzles all around the country. That pushed me on to make new puzzles. But, I think the most important motivation to create puzzles for me was to enjoy myself.

NobI heard you traveled abroad to so many different countries. Did you really?

Yu-tanYes, I've been to Thailand, Nepal, Korea, China, Turkey, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Belgium, Austria, Hungary, and Peru. I usually traveled alone as a poor backpacker. For me traveling alone is the best way to go. You have to do everything by yourself and I enjoy that. Mysterious happenings seem to keep cropping up when you are alone. Alone, I also met with much unexpected kindness and assistance.

NobDid you make puzzles during your journeys?

Yu-tan Sure, you always have to wait at bus stops and airports. Sometimes, I just looked around but mostly I spent that time to make puzzles. I didn't have anyone to talk with, so I could really concentrate. When I am making a large puzzle, I need not just me, but also a lot of time to concentrate on it. In Japan I don't have such precious time, there are always little trivial things that upset concentration. So the waiting time abroad was just perfect to make big puzzles. I made the big Nurikabe in the Botsu Bako of waiting for a bus in Sri Lanka.

NobOh, that one was made in Sri Lanka! Does traveling around the world change you ideas about how to make puzzles?

Yu-tanYes, there is a lot of effect there. When I went to Thailand, I found a puzzle magazine of the same size as Nikoli. I brought it to the Nikoli office with my work, and another puzzle author who happened to be present saw the magazine. He found one of the puzzles in that magazine from Puzzle Communication Nikoli Vol. X and he knew who the author was. I checked it and he was right. For Nikoli, it may be a serious matter when others use puzzles without permission, but for me it means that possibly my puzzles will be solved by people in other countries. After that, my target expanded from nationwide to worldwide. When I went to Pmukkale in Turkey, before the Sudoku worldwide boom, I saw a woman in the ticket office doing a Nansuke puzzle in a newspaper. I thought back on the time when I tried Nansuke for the first time in elementary school. It hit home that puzzles were something that work all over the world. Then, when Nikoli started, Nob said he wanted to send Nikoli puzzles to all of the world. I have great sympathy with that. Now, Sudoku has been accepted around the world and I know Nikoli puzzles have been put out in so many countries. When I think that my puzzles are solved throughout the world, I can get quite emotional.

NobHas it changed anything now when you are aware of the whole world?

Yu-tanYes, it feels great. I changed to focus my ideas towards what a beginner would like. I began to think about the first steps, of how people who aren't familiar with puzzles attack them. I want to make very easy puzzles that are enjoyable for people who are new to puzzles. Well, that aside, I have entirely turned against difficulty puzzles.

NobNow, what do you think makes a good puzzle?

Yu-tanA puzzle that everybody can solve is the best. As I said, I always hope my work to be accepted by people everywhere, and I really enjoy making such easy puzzles. For me personally though, I'm not against making or solving hard puzzles.

NobWhat's your hope for yourself in 40 years?

Yu-tanI wish to be in Finland. There I will put more wood on the fireplace and do nothing but solve puzzles.

NobOh, that sounds just marvelous! Now one last thing, what would you like to say to the people solving your puzzles?

Yu-tanI really hope many people will enjoy my work. Even if just for a moment, if my puzzles entertain people, I'll be so happy.

Interviewed Nov 2007 Published on May 21, 2009