Variant Sudoku: Where to Start

So you’re interested in variant sudoku but don’t know where to start? Well, here are my recommendations; take what you want and leave the rest. I’m assuming you know the rules of common variants (at least killer sudoku), if not, you should read them on my common variants page.

I generally recommend newbies start with killer sudokus, because the challenges they pose are not really with scanning or logic chains, which are hard for most people to spot. Killer sudokus are about bounding and sets. For an example of bounding, a 6-cell 23 cage must have a 1, 2, 3, and 4 because if it is missing any of of these digits, the total will be greater than 23.1 And for an example of sets, a 21 cage must have two digits in the range 7-9 and one digit in the range 4-6.2 The logic in killer cages is varied, approachable, and yet if you do enough of them, it will start to become familiar.3

So in order of ascending difficulty, here are a couple of Killer Cages puzzles I recommend (any puzzle without a specified author is by me, and can be found on my puzzle page):

After doing a couple of killer cage puzzles, you may want to try some other variants like Thermo, German Whispers, etc. In fact, you know what? Here’s a tier list of variants by approachability for beginners.5

Variant tier list, by approachability (not necessarily puzzle quality)





Anything in C is usually there just because it can be calculation intensive. I hope you know your triangular (and triangularish) numbers well…

D/F Tier

Nothing. That’s why all these variants are common; it’s because their logic is approachable enough that any solver (and setter) will be able to pick up these familiar tools and use them to solve (or set) a puzzle with unique new logic.

Once again, do not take this list too seriously, if you see a puzzle and it compels you to solve it, just solve it, because this list has a lot of generalizations.

  1. Which I use to great effect in Class of 23.↩︎

  2. Which ICHTUES highlights in his puzzle Nashville.↩︎

  3. For similar reasons, I think the easiest variant to use when constructing your first puzzle is also killer. But if you have a specific idea with a different constraint, obviously go for that instead.↩︎

  4. Okay, there’s one black dot in this puzzle, but it’s close enough to a pure killer.↩︎

  5. Please don’t take it too seriously, just do whatever puzzles look appealing to you. This is just reflective the order I think most people get introduced to constraints (an order which does have good reason). I’m actually mostly doing this for fun and not informational purposes, but shh.↩︎

  6. In a coloring puzzle, you just color squares with the same digit the same color, and only near the end do you actually figure out what digit each color corresponds to. It is less hard than it sounds.↩︎