Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Joseph Smith and Sudoku

A relatively obscure but fascinating fact about Joseph Smith is that he allegedly often carried what is known as a Jupiter medallion in his pocket. This medallion was supposedly discovered on his person after he was assassinated in Carthage Jail. A Jupiter medallion or talisman contains several several interesting inscriptions, including the astrological symbol for Jupiter and various Latin and Hebrew phrases. It also contains a "Magic Square," a box where the digits add up to the same number (in this case 34) horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. The Magic Square on Joseph's purported medallion uses Hebrew characters to represent these numbers, which in total add up to 136, yet another symbol of Jupiter.

I can't help noticing that the Magic Square is simply another variation on the principle behind the newly popular Sudoku puzzles. For those (poor souls) who are unfamiliar with Sudoku, it is a number puzzle where you fill in a 9 by 9 grid so that each row, column, and 3x3 box have the digits 1-9 in them. There is no math involved, just logic, and it really is quite addictive. I have been enjoying Sudoku ever since the Washington Post introduced them earlier this year.

Now, admittedly Joseph did not use his Magic Square like I use the Sudoku puzzles, but I think both forms hint at the same transcendence of numbers. It is a satisfying feeling when all the pieces fall into perfect place against all odds, just as it is satisfying to see all the numbers in a magic square add up perfectly and improbably.

Though I may not be in church on Sunday morning, I will be filling out my Sudoku and occasionally thinking of Joseph.

[Edited to reflect that Joseph may or may not have actually owned a Jupiter talisman.]


Susan M said...

I just discovered Sudoku and I love it. I wish I could play it all day long at work. Probably won't fly, though.

Susan M said...

Oh, it looks like that site you linked might not let you play it online? Here's one where you can, just in case:

NFlanders said...

Thanks for the link to the free site, Susan. I linked to the other one just for the explanation of the rules of Sudoku.

Do you print out the puzzle? I don't think I could do it on the computer. I have to make my marks on the harder puzzles.

Ronan said...

I've always suspected that the JS Jupiter talisman was apocryphal. Are there any sources for this? (Pedantic historian alert.)

Pris said...

I'm also addicted. Another online site for free play is

I play mostly on the computer, but I formatted an excel spreadsheet that allows me to mark it as I want.

I could be wrong, but I think magic squares have been around longer than sudoku, so it'd be more correct to say that sudoku is the variant.

NFlanders said...

Ronan-- My bad. I didn't realize it was a controversial claim. Darn you historians with your "sources"! A little googling reveals that the only source for Joseph's medallion is Emma's step-son from a subsequent marriage. We should take it with a grain of salt.

At any rate, I don't think I will let it harm my testimony of Sudoku.

NFlanders said...

Also, I think it's pretty cool that the number one hit on Google for "Jupiter Medallion" is my previous post on Rough Stone Rolling.

KristinW said...

This site can show the marks ("pencilmarks") for you: Fiendish Sudoku

stuartbabble said...

great post. How long have you been blogging? I really love this blog and have added it to my favourites. I have just set up a website all about answer puzzle sudoku, perhaps you could take a look and let me know what you think.