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Bar Code: A New Infatuation Poised for a Puzzle Craze

Ever since the sudoku craze of 2005 to 2006, people have been wondering and asking me what the next big puzzle will be.

I couldn’t begin to say. Crazes by their nature are unpredictable. But the new puzzle I’m currently infatuated with — which might not reach the level of mania but is still very engaging — is something called “Bar Code.” It started in yesterday’s Sunday Magazine section, on the variety puzzle page, and will run for 14 consecutive weeks.

Bar Code is a logic puzzle along the lines of sudoku or KenKen but completely different in solving method. It was invented by Thinh Van Duc Lai, a 28-year-old puzzle enthusiast in Nha Trang, Vietnam, on the coast about 250 miles northeast of Ho Chi Minh City.

Like sudoku and KenKen, Bar Code has simple instructions, is solved on a grid and can be worked step by step with no guessing. When you’re done you have an elegant little design.

I’ve never understood what causes a person to become a puzzle enthusiast. The puzzle bug crosses all nationalities and ethnicities. When he was young, Thinh discovered sudoku in a bookstore, was entranced and bought four books to solve at home.

Once, as a college student, he saw a newspaper offer of 100,000 Vietnamese dong (about $4.50) for solving a very hard sudoku. He got up at 4 a.m. to do it, and he won.

Thinh has been creating logic puzzles for several years. On Amazon, he has dozens of self-published books of them, which he now says are not up to his current quality. He is smitten with Japanese-style logic puzzles like sudoku, kakuro and futoshiki, and he has invented dozens of varieties of his own.

Publication of Bar Code in The Times could be a life-changing experience for Thinh. He lives at home with his parents, who are sugar cane farmers. Life is not easy. His earnings from 14 weeks of Bar Code will be more than his family’s usual income for an entire year.

Now Thinh is making plans to attend the World Puzzle Championship in Bangalore, India, this fall to meet other puzzle enthusiasts, which he has never had a chance to do. Beyond that, he dreams of having a career in puzzlemaking for both print and electronic media.

With Bar Code, his first publication in a newspaper or magazine, I’d say he’s off to an auspicious start.

The New York Times.

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