by Dr. Shelagh Robinson Psychologist, OPQ
(Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

Fast, focused, head-to-head Sudoku action. Timed, of course – the pace is competitive. Bragging rights are up for the puzzler who finds their numbers first in this unique grid. It’s an ‘Easy’ puzzle – with a full 32 digits already showing. No problem? There’s a twist: This puzzle is backward. Seriously backward, as in reverse. Or more precisely, mirrored.

What is the Reason Behind Mirrored Sudoku?

Studies of Sudoku have taken it through the looking glass. What for? Investigations of mental rotation. What intrigues researchers are the spatial aptitudes involved and the transferability to real-life tasks.

Mirror Readoku plays in the usual way. You don’t even have to write the numbers backwards – though it may increase your speed if you do. The point is to accomplish a familiar task of numeric logic and engage regions of the brain specifically associated with mental rotation. Quickly.

Who Invented this Type of Sudoku?

Devised by Dr Shelagh Robinson, a psychologist and researcher in Montreal, this spin on the classic game emerged out of a pilot study on reading backward text. Robinson, whose first focus is mirror reading, investigates practice effects in relation to reverse decoding and measures of working memory, navigation, and mental transformation.

You’ve probably heard about brain plasticity in relation to ‘neurobics’ – the observation that mental exercises, especially those that stimulate the brain in unique ways, can activate the growth of new dendrites and even new neurons. Our cortices rewire themselves, becoming more efficient – finding shortcuts and increasing resilience, depending on the task.

To date, there is little evidence to show that learning a specific mental exercise can “spill over” to other untrained areas of function. Investigators conclude, however, that Sudoku performance does share a significant relationship with working memory and that “Sudoku has the potential to become a new focus in the study of mental exercise and cognitive aging” (Grabbe, 2011).

Please see Sudoku and Working Memory Performance for Older Adults by Jeremy W. Grabbe

What do we expect from Mirror Readoku?

What is required are more applied studies of Sudoku as well as explorations of practice interactions – for example, involving combinations of numeric logic and mental rotation activities. Enter Mirror Readoku – a game that challenges brains to organize ideas and complete tasks from an exciting perspective. The first moment of this game is the strangest and the most revealing. The brain screams WRONG. But hold on – look for the familiar patterns. Just begin. In fact, the numbers are easy to recognize – even when reversed. You may be surprised by how quickly your juggling skills develop – often in mere minutes.

Further studies about Mirror Readoku

How do images of brains after Mirror Readoku practice differ from those of regular players? And what are the applications of this information to our sidewalk lives? Studies in the area are ongoing. Sudoku is a game of left-brained reasoning and analytical skills, but the ability to efficiently mentally transform the mirrored numbers transcends logic. It becomes more intuitive – knowing without knowing how. This sort of holistic transformational thinking draws on right-brain abilities.

While mirror reading and writing have been noted since ancient times and explored for various ends – see Leonardo da Vinci – it’s only with recent neuro-imaging developments that studies in the area have caught the attention of mental rotation and memory specialists. FMRI investigations of mirror reading show that decoding reversed text excites the brain in ways that are very different from regular reading – which draws heavily on left-brain competencies.

Ilg’s (2008) neuroimaging studies conclude that mirror reading practice stimulates grey matter growth in right-brain regions associated with mental rotation and object recognition. While often associated with dyslexia, efficiently decoding reversed letters and numbers represents the difference, not a disability, and may signal profound aptitudes that can be developed.

What’s clear from initial observations is that mirroring the numbers complicates the game, both confounding and inspiring players. Some non-Sudoku-ers may be faster than Sudoku experts. 6s and 2s tend to get mixed up. Lefties could have advantages.

For individuals intrigued by the possibility of exploring hidden talents, there is a lot to be learned. There are plenty of right-brained skills that many of us would like to master. These include ordinary activities like pattern recognition and navigation and more complex tasks involving mental manipulation of imaginary objects. The ability to turn concepts over in our minds is a sought-after potential. Even incremental increases can be invaluable if they confer an edge.

Care to take on the latest Mirror Readoku?

Observe your own strategies of problem-solving, mentally juggling numbers while applying the rules of the Sudoku grid. Catch yourself in the act of learning. For sheer novelty value, it’s worth trying out. To this end, Shelagh has sent one of her latest puzzles. Send your best time and feedback: to

Research on neuronal and real-life benefits of playing Mirror Readoku, and Mirror Reading, are in progress. To get involved, please contact Dr Shelagh Robinson.

Here is the answer to the above Mirror Read puzzle.