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Passion For Puzzles

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The story of Scrabulous was born in Kolkata when two brothers, Rajat (26) and Jayant Agarwalla (21), realised they couldn't live without playing scrabble on the computer. The reason: their favourite site had started charging. So, they got down to reviving the game and created their own 'addictive' online version. Facebook, the social networking site, chose to incorporate it and Scrabulous became a huge success. Sales of the real-life game have almost certainly gone up with people admitting to buying it as a result of their Facebook experience.
But this has made the companies -- Hasbro, which sells it in North America, and Mattel, which markets it everywhere else -- that own the rights to Scrabble sit up and threaten legal action against the brothers on grounds of piracy.
Recently, The New York Times quoting Silicon Alley Insider reported that a peaceful resolution was being held up by the amount of cash the Agarwallas were allegedly demanding for their brainchild. Tens of thousands of obsessive fans have become so alarmed at the prospect of losing their favourite game that they are threatening to boycott Hasbro and Mattel products. The publication citing an anonymous source said, "The brothers want a 'multiple of several times that' $10 million, and the four corporations they are negotiating with think that's ridiculous."
But Jayant, in his interaction with the media, has repeatedly said that he and his brother did not create Scrabulous to make money. It's a passion that has paid off. The brothers now rake in around $25,000 a month from online advertising. Going by these numbers with a 10- to 20-times-revenue multiple, industry sources say that would make Scrabulous worth $3 million to $6 million now. At Rs 40 a dollar, that's a whopping Rs 12 crore-24 crore.

Of Squares And Cubes
Way back in the 1970s, Erno Rubik, a professor of architecture in Budapest in Hungary perhaps faced a similar situation when he created what would become a rage.

Rubik was not the first one to experiment with cubes. Decades before Rubik hit upon his invention, Larry Nichols, a Massachusetts chemist, in the 1950s, had designed a 2×2×2 cubes and had filed a patent application for it. These cubes were held together with magnets. Nichols was granted US patent in 1972, two years before Rubik invented his 'Magic Cube'.






Erno Rubik: Maker of the 'Magic Cube'

Rubik developed the first working prototype to be used as a teaching aid to help his students recognise three-dimensional spatial relationships. When he showed the working prototype to his students, it was an immediate hit. Ideal Toys, which had earlier rejected Nichol's invention, gladly marketed 'Magic Cube' after renaming Rubik's Cube.
Over the next few years, Rubik worked with a manufacturer to allow production of the cube on a mass scale. The Rubik's Cube became a worldwide sensation and over one hundred million Rubik's Cubes were sold between 1980 and 1982. In 1996, Rubik's Cube went online.

In January this year, eGames Inc. announced the finalisation of an international distribution agreement with Mindscape SAS for Rubik's Cube Challenge, a casual PC game based on the world's best-selling puzzle game. The agreement grants Mindscape distribution rights in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, while eGames oversees distribution of the game in North America. Scheduled to launch internationally this spring, Rubik's Cube Challenge features a fast-paced puzzle game focusing on the spinning and colour-matching play that made the original Rubik's Cube the world's top-selling puzzle game.






Will Smith solves the Cube in a few
seconds in this 2006 movie The Pursuit
Of Happyness

The cube, apart from being a part of design in Chanel's spring-summer collection in 2003, was even featured in Will Smith-starrer The Pursuit Of Happyness. In the 2006 movie, Smith's deft fingers solve the puzzle in a matter of a few seconds and even land him a job he badly wants. Instead of opting for a 'finger double', Smith is said to have sat through a 10-hour training session with a Cubik's Rube (a cube aficionado) -- a 22-year-old World Cube Association co-founder Tyson Mao. The timing was right too, since the movie took place in the early 1980s, a period when Rubik's Cube was at its peak of popularity.
When it comes to solving the puzzle, it is just a matter of seconds for the ever dissatisfied champions who try and improvise their speed. And that doesn't stop there. There are Cubers who compete blindfolded (and get it right; first they memorise the current state of the cube, then solve it in their head and go on to get blindfolded and solve it), who solve it under water, while parasailing, using one hand, etc.
More numbers…
The name Kaji Maki may not ring a bell to many. Sudoku will. The nine-by-nine grid numbers game - created by Maki, a 55-year-old college dropout - now appears in more than 600 newspapers, on thousands of websites and in dozens of books in about 70 countries. Last year, 20 nations took part in the first Sudoku world championship in Italy. In Britain, some fear that its runaway popularity may even kill off the musty newspaper crossword.

However, Maki has seen very little of the loot it has generated worldwide, The Independent reports. He did not patent his discovery, but remains largely unfazed, "More than the money, it is gratifying to see the explosive worldwide growth of our puzzles. That makes me very happy."
The absence of copyright helped the game to sweep unhindered across the world, allowing Kaji to ride along in its jet stream and sell Nikoli puzzle books, calendars and other merchandise. But Nikoli still has an annual turnover of just $4 million and employs 22 people, six more than before the Sudoku behemoth slipped its leash in 2005, the paper said.

The company has never used a distributor or advertised in its 27-year history, and still relies heavily on its quarterly publication and books to spread the word. The puzzle operation is, in Kaji's words, still stubbornly analogue. "We make up the puzzles by hand, not on computers, because then the character and individuality of the writer are allowed to come out." His team's priority when creating or accessing a game, he explains, is simply this: will it be interesting and fun? "We're not trying to make something educational. It is better to think of what we do as entertainment." The aim, he says, is to make the mind go blank; to change the mood of the average exhausted commuter riding home from a day's grind at the office.
The huge success of Sudoku has inevitably made Kaji a wanted man. On his dozen regular annual trips to Europe and America, he is harangued by publishers demanding a lucrative follow-up.
Yet Sudoko is also not far from controversies. "According to urban legends, Sudoku was created by a team of puzzle creators from New York. Another version of the story credits a certain Howard Gerns, a retired architect and puzzle enthusiast, as the true father of the modern Sudoku," writes Andy Hope of SudokuPuzz.com. "Although the legends conflict and give credit to different inventors, they coincide on two important details: Sudoku was first published in 1979 by Dell Puzzle Magazines under the title The Number Place; and Gerns and the team of puzzle creators were both inspired by the Latin Square of Leonhard Euler.
"The appeal of modern Sudoku appears to be infinite and without boundaries… Publications numbering in hundreds of thousands from magazines to newspapers and digests, solely devoted to the game, are testaments to the puzzle's popularity and profitability," says Hope. The numerous websites that offer digital versions of the game -- for free or for a fee -- guarantee the game's continuous development and improvement. Sudoku has even gone mobile as companies race to create Sudoku games specifically for mobile phone users.

Passion is also clearly the mother of invention. And in the sphere of the World Wide Web, it could be anybody's game.


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