William Paterson University Math Professor Publishes Book of Puzzles

Photo credit: Tim Miller/William Paterson University.


By Steve Sears

David Nacin, Associate Professor of Mathematics at William Paterson University, recently had a first book published. Titled Math-Infused Sudoku: Puzzle Variants at All Levels of Difficulty, the book was published by the American Mathematical Society in July.

For Nacin, it’s all about making math fun. “Absolutely it can be scary,” says Nacin regarding math. “There are certain polls where people put their phobias down, and math – if it’s included in the list – it’s always near the top.”

For Nacin, who has contributed chapters to others’ books but never had one of his own, this is Cloud Nine stuff for him, and it’s evident in his voice. “The publishing company did contact me. It was at a conference that was being put on by the Museum of Mathematics in New York. The editor for the American Mathematical Society – the Chief Editor – just sat down at a table, and we were at the same table, and she asked, ‘Does anyone have any ideas for books?’ And I was like, ‘Man, do I have ideas for books!’”

Nacin, who had been writing puzzles for years (his first created was August 23, 2012, and his initial Sudoku was October 16, 2014), was the only one who responded, and he for the conference had prepared a packet of puzzles for attendees to do for fun. The editor loved it. “That’s what made her want to do the book, it’s that little packet. I probably had like 20 or 30 puzzles in the packet.”

Nacin, 45, a lifelong New Jersey resident and graduate of Rutgers University who has taught at William Paterson for 15 years, often starts off his classes with puzzles. When asked if his teaching method is unorthodox, he says yes…and no. “Math in a way has got its own puzzles. It’s got its own, ‘Can you solve it?’ type of things. It’s not entirely different than other types of puzzles. Maybe it’s just another form, or maybe not,” he says with a laugh. “Maybe it’s just a whole new thing.”

He had his challenges creating the book, which is nine chapters long because there are nine rows on a Sudoku board. “I had never made a book before, so there were definitely challenges. I do think figuring out which puzzle variants to include and which to leave out was one of the big ones.  Also, I think dealing with the amount of graphics was another big hurdle. I made all the graphics for the puzzles on my own computer by myself. There are 81 puzzles with 81 squares each, so there are 6,561 different squares to put clues around. One slip-up in the graphics would make a puzzle impossible to solve!  After everything was done, I checked each puzzle both by hand and by computer to make sure there were no errors in the graphics. That was a lot of work!”

Nacin’s puzzle blog website is www.quadratablog.blogspot.com. “It’s a good way to see the variety of puzzles that I make, since I put word puzzles, chess puzzles, sudoku puzzles, and all different types there.  You can even see the new Knightmare/Nightrider puzzle I put there. Also, everything there is free, so it doesn’t take much of a commitment for people to start doing puzzles!”

Nacin is at work on a second book. “The new book is going to teach a different type of math that most people never see – unless you’re a math major. And it’s going to do so through puzzles, and it’s going to motivate the entire subject through puzzles. It’s called Group Theory. It’s a branch of mathematics that’s very important in chemistry, physics, and a few other areas. So, a lot of people never learn a lot about Group Theory, so that’s why I wanted to make the book: to secretly get people into Group Theory but provide a nice road of puzzles to get them there.”

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