The personality of numbers as revealed in sudoku


Something’s just become clear to me: the reason why I like sudoku is because it’s a sociable, strategic game. Sure, I play alone, in theory. But equally, the numbers are playing me. Each one has a distinct personality and they use their unique strengths to the hilt.

Anyway I’ve just spent a happy pointless hour with my pals, numbers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 and 9. I’m still getting to know them, but so far, here’s how I read them. They’re all female except for 6, 7 and 9.

  1.  is the head prefect, calm and reliable but without charisma
  2.  is a cooperative type, often negotiating with best friend 3
  3. is placid, phlegmatic, floating along with no apparent interest in proceedings, easily underestimated
  4. is probably my favourite: bolshy and rude, sometimes sneaking in the shadows, sometimes elbowing her way into the action; does her dirty work with an umbrella
  5.  is kind and will help you when she can
  6.  is a dancer, musical, enthusiastic, but often clumsy
  7. is an entrepreneur, bold, sharp, super-energetic and a bit scary
  8. is large, hungry, a squatter
  9. is enigmatic and dignified. He has his mind on higher things. He has more natural authority than number 1 but never needs to exert it: the others just get out of his way.

I have no idea whether the personalities of numbers are due to genes, environment or star signs. And I have no idea whether they show different characteristics outside of the sudoku playground, or maintain their identity in all circumstances.

For answers, I’m looking to you. I’ve googled the psychology of numbers etc. to no avail but I cannot be the one person in the world to whom they have revealed their personalities. Please share your knowledge: knowledge is power, and you could earn the gratitude of sudoku players worldwide.

In fact there’s a business here for somebody, an industry even … you’re welcome!

Banish old-lady voice: a boot camp challenge


Depressa: Not because you’re vain or anything, oh dear me no. Not because you’ve got anything special to say. Not that anyone gives a toss about your opinions. (Ed: Depressa is being sarcastic, in case you wondered.)
Smugilla: You’re a vicar’s daughter and you owe it to society to speak out loud and clear.
Menerva: Maybe there’s nothing to be done, but you’ll never know unless you have a damn good try.

In truth, a voice problem is a problem of identity. I didn’t feel nearly as old as I sounded. That surely wasn’t me talking, it was a 95-year-old stranger. The mismatch was an aspect of the psychic confusion associated with aging.

On to it! First stop, visit an otolaryngologist (ENT specialist) then a speech therapist.

Image: I imagine many of the Japanese people in this photo are thinking, “This is not my voice!” They are practising Christmas carols in 1944. Photo by Tom Parker, War Relocation Authority, U.S.

Little home, lucky home, big home


“Have you ever paused to contemplate the idea of home?” asks Robyn Haynes in her blog, Big Dreams for a Tiny Garden. On a trip to Outback Queensland, she felt a deep connection with the land, and her sense of home expanded from house, garden and family to something much broader—Australia. (I’ve distorted her thought flow by summarising it — please read the original article for context.)

We all have at least two homes: a tiny home and a vast home. The lucky ones also have a roof over their heads, a location where they live, and a country.

Body. Roof. Neighbourhood. Country. Planet.

Our tiniest home is, you could argue, our body and we all have one of those. I am my body and I live in my body. When all is well, I feel at home in my body, and we take care of each other. (Mostly.) Difference is, I never leave this mini-home, even when I go to sleep.

My apartment, the roof over my head, brings me great delight. I step in the door and am instantly at home, meaning comfortable, relaxed, at peace—and grateful. But now, even New Zealand, the original model of a working welfare state, faces a crisis of homelessness. About one in 100 people here do not have a place to call their own. They are moving between temporary and insecure accommodation such as garages, garden sheds, cars and caravan parks, night shelters, emergency housing, and refuges. This is terrifying, mystifying, heartbreaking.

We have a neighbourhood if we have a permanent roof over our heads, no matter how humble. Then our home includes a town or a suburb or a province where we move around at will. But even a familiar neighbourhood is denied to the 40.8 million people worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes to another part of their country.

Most people belong a country, usually the country they were born in. At times we feel a bond that is profound, even spiritual. For voluntary travellers, a trip away triggers a surge of patriotism as we suddenly see what makes our odd little country unique. (I’m a Kiwi.) We leave, we return, we love our home regardless of its shortcomings.

I can return to my country, that’s the thing. But that is not an option for nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. Children!

The only home for these people is the one we all share, the glorious, the hospitable, the fragile planet Earth. Is that any consolation for a refugee?

So Robyn, thank you for your question — I have been contemplating the idea of home.


The idea of home: Robyn Haynes

UNHCR: Figures at a glance (image from UNHCR)


Zq = inquisitive Kiwi


Here I am at the mysterious Zq post, published by me, apparently. Some of you commented when this page was nothing but the headline: Zq.

You were puzzled. So was I. What did Zq mean?

To reveal that Zq was accidentally posted by a fat finger on my iPhone is too simple. Surely everything has a purpose? Or a meaning? Or a metaphorical significance in retrospect?

My initial thoughts seemed rather trivial so I waited for some more deep and meaningful deductions to emerge. And waited. And waited.

Nope. Here are my first thoughts, served cold.

Z & Q are both precious letters in my consciousness.

Hello Z!

I am a New Zealander who lives in New Zealand. We have a superpower: a unique way of scanning every page or screen: the letter Z leaps out and wiggles and woggles and tickles our eyeballs.  (By the way, we say Zed, not Zee.)  Zed is structural: every other word clusters around ultra-visible Zed. No Z can hide. No Z is safe from our nanosecond reconnoitre.

And when our eyes find the Z on a page, we sigh with relief, vindicated and authenticated. (We need that, coming from a country that’s just a few insignificant dots in the south Pacific ocean.) Never mind if the Zed is attached to zebra or fez or zebibyte or Alzheimers — we are home!

Zed wears a yellow safety vest.
Zed is precious. Zed is rare.
Zed is proud. Zed is ours.
Zed is me. Where Zed is lurking
so are we.

And hello Q!

Q is for questioning, questioner, questions frequently asked or not at all. I will cling to this faculty and never let go: the ability, the eagerness to ask questions.

To question is human. Children’s questions build a picture of the world — and also build their brains. To continue questioning into old age is to keep the brain alive and yes, even to keep it growing.

Specific types of brain activities are known to protect our brains from the ravages of Alzheimers. They include learning, choosing novel experiences, and meditation.

How can this be? Learning and complex thinking strengthen connections between nerve cells, building up “cognitive reserve” so that the brain can compensate for damage. (You knew that.) Meditation protects the brain in mysterious ways — and hey, meditation may be something you learn (big tick) and a novel experience (big tick).

Q: How come the brain instantly understood Zq and never wavered?
A. Fast thinking?

Zq is shorthand for inquisitive Kiwi

Maybe I should get a Zq identity tattoo. That would be a novelty.

How about you? What are your special letters and what do they mean?


Slow thinking on the ageing identity: good things take time.


Only four more days until my 76th birthday — which means only four more days to wrap up my boot camp for old age.

When hurriedly writing today’s post, I compressed several weeks of heavy cognitive lifting into 516 words. To my surprise I found that 11 months of procrastination has paid off: I’ve spent the last 11 months growing up. A bit.

Now I’ll take an antidote: I’ll go to the New Zealand Ballet’s fabulous show (appropriately named Speed of Light) and write another entry tomorrow. Otherwise my beautiful schedule is well and truly in the poo.

Read all about it: how to maintain our identity as we grow old.

But this is just me: how is it with you?


Home alone on Christmas Day


For the first time in years, possibly ever, I’m having Christmas Day alone. Stop — don’t feel sorry for me! No sympathy is required.

Until 6.30pm on Christmas Day, it’ll just be me at home alone, apart from a phone call or two. (Short interruption right now while I receive a text and a photo of daughter and grandson playing on a wild beach — see? I’m not abandoned.)

Maybe I’ll go for a walk or a swim or sing carols in church or go climb a tree. Then in the evening I’ll go to my friend’s bed and breakfast for a buffet meal. This may sound bleak, like a city mission meal for the homeless, but the B&B is a lovely place and dinner will be congenial and delicious.

Habits — love them, fear them

Christmas is a gorgeous time in our family. In recent years I’ve usually been with family in a beautiful spot near Nelson. But who knows — that particular pattern may never re-occur, and that’ll be fine.

I like habits, and I like habits to be disrupted. Otherwise when you’ve made the same choice three times, it’s tempting to see this as not a just a habit but a sacred tradition, a divine right! Then Christmas can become a burden and no fun any more.

The family reunion

By (breakable) tradition our larger family gets together once every seven or five years, so in early January we’ll have three days together at Bridge Valley Camp — about 70 or 80 from four generations having picnics and bike rides and generally hanging about together. There’ll be a concert and a Pechu Kuchu night and judging by previous events, we will love it.

So that’s one reason why I’m Christmassing at home. Why gather for Christmas when a mega-gathering will happen a week later?

Empty Wellington: not post-apocalyptic but a writer’s retreat 

In January, Wellington is a different city. The streets are almost empty, yet I have almost never seen a zombie here in January. On the contrary, strangers say hello (hey, another human being!) and start chatting, as if in a village.

Summer pretends to have arrived. It’s wind-free and sunny (as a rule) and so peaceful that January is the best time for writers in Wellington. I dig in and become a writer in residence in my own apartment or on a park bench or in any cafe that keeps its doors open over the holiday period.

Doris Lessing: The Summer Before the Dark

The moment I realised I’d be alone this Christmas, Doris Lessing’s novel popped into my mind. Through a series of coincidences, the protagonist Kate Brown also finds herself alone for the summer holidays for the first time in decades.

Nobel laureate Doris Lessing’s classic novel of the pivotal summer in one woman’s life is a brilliant excursion into the terrifying gulf between youth and old age.

The Summer Before the Dark  impressed me deeply when I first read it as a mere gal in my 40s. So I read it again to prepare myself for the educational value and the sheer weirdness of spending Christmas week alone.

The novel was no less impressive and provocative on second reading. Thinking about Kate Brown’s alarming summer is an ideal exercise for me as I near the end of my self-inflicted Boot Camp for Old Age. “Be who you are” is proving to be one of my most difficult challenges, more so when I remember that one’s perceived identity can be wiped out in a matter of days..

Happy holidays

So shall I have a Happy Christmas? Of course I shall. I know that good relationships keep us happy, healthy and alive. But there’s much to be said for a home-alone adventure, especially if you’re a writer.

Your holiday — how will it be?