Sudoku Seizures: Puzzle-solving Causes Seizures

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A usual skiing trip turned into this young man’s nightmare

A 25-year-old German man got caught in an avalanche while he was skiing, and as a result became a victim of hypoxia, a condition where the brain is deprived of oxygen, for 15 minutes.

Owing to this, he experienced muscular jerking of the mouth while talking and in the leg, while walking; the rest of the body, however, was spared. A few weeks later, while he was bored in a rehabilitation clinic, he began to solve a Sudoku puzzle, which involves arranging numbers 1 to 9 in a grid. This led to clonic seizures in the arm, which interestingly ceased once he stopped playing the game.

The doctors at the University of Munich, Germany who were working on the case found it really interesting as none of them had seen anything like it in their years of practice.

“When he solves Sudoku, one of his strategies is to arrange the numbers in some 3D manner. That’s very interesting because when I do Sudoku, I just make trial and error.”

DR. BEREND FEDDERSON, NEUROLOGIST AND CO-AUTHOR ON THE CASE.
Closeup of brain MRI scan result

Brain damage caused by hypoxia

On functional Magnetic Resonant Imaging (fMRI), the right parietal cortex which controls visuospatial tasks was found damaged due to the oxygen deprivation the man experienced weeks before, causing increased activity levels in that area.

Moreover, Diffuse Tensor Imaging (DTI) revealed loss of inhibitory neurons in the same part of the brain. Thus causing signals in the brain to spill into adjacent areas, which in this case was the part of the brain that controls arm movement.

Reflex epilepsy: a new discovery?

This is a unique case of reflex epilepsy that can be triggered by any stimulus, the trigger being Sudoku here. Additionally, arranging numbers in ascending order produced the same result. Surprisingly enough, any other form of activity such as reading or writing or even calculations did not precipitate any seizure.

No more Sudoku!

Despite the unique nature of seizures, the puzzle- enthusiast has now been symptom-free for almost 10 years, corresponding to the cessation of solving Sudoku.

References:
  1. https://www.theguardian.com/science/neurophilosophy/2015/oct/19/sudoku-induced-epileptic-seizures
  2. https://time.com/4078049/seizure-sudoku-puzzles/
  3. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/10/man-gets-seizures-sudoku

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