The following is an example of "Miniature 4x4 Sudoku puzzle" in which the goal is to fill each empty square with a number (1, 2, 3 or 4) so that there are no duplicated numbers in any row, column or 2x2 block.

Miniature 4x4 Sudoku puzzle

The solution (as a 4x4 matrix) to the above puzzle is:

[ 2 1 3 4 ]
[ 4 3 1 2 ]
[ 3 4 2 1 ]
[ 1 2 4 3 ]

Does there exist a standard 9x9 Sudoku puzzle (with standard rules) such that its solution has the property that some 4x4 submatrix of the solution (taken from four consecutive rows and four consecutive columns) is equal to the 4x4 solution matrix of some "Miniature 4x4 Sudoku puzzle"?


2 Answers 2


The answer is


Let's try it out:

Obviously we'll need to align the boxes of the mini-sudoku with the maxi-sudoku - if we didn't, we'd end up with at least six numbers from the 4x4 in the same box, and with only four distinct digits, that won't work. WLOG, let's fill in the solution to the 4x4 that you've provided in the top-left boxes:

a 9x9 sudoku grid, with the 4x4 solution provided in the answer filled in from r2c2 to r5c5

Now, we need to fit the numbers 5 through 9 in the remainder of those boxes. Since there are none of them in the grid, it doesn't matter where we put which number, so WLOG, we'll start in the top left box and put 5, 6, and 7 along the top and 5, 8, and 9 along the left side:

the same grid, with the numbers filled in as just described

And we've immediately run into a problem. Look at the top center box: based on what's already filled in, the 5, 6, and 7 cannot be in the top row of that box, so are constrained to the two cells in the bottom right. (The same is of course true of the center left box and the 5, 8, and 9.) Therefore, we cannot build a 9x9 sudoku with a 4x4 sub-sudoku.

  • $\begingroup$ Your answer looks good! Can you please edit your answer a bit to elaborate a little on, "Obviously we'll need to align the boxes of the mini-sudoku with the maxi-sudoku. " $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ Another way to think about it is that you have the same 4 numbers in two columns in two boxes. All 4 of them would have to fit in the other box in the same row or column. In the example, the bottom left box would have to have 1,2,3, and 4 all in the far left column, and the top-right box would have to have 1,2,3, and 4 all in the top row. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ Looking at this I would guess that it is possible to put a 4x4-sudoku inside a giant 16x16 sudoku. The check would work the same way but it seems like you have enough degrees of freedom to fill everything. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 10:52
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    $\begingroup$ @quarague I asked a new question based on your comment. The new question can be found at: puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/121669/… $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 7:09

To propose an alternate perspective on things using the pigeonhole principle:

  • There are two ways to align the mini-sudoku with the big sudoku. I say this because all the alternate alignments directly overlap a 3x3 corner of the mini-sudoku with a nonet. First, let's tackle this way:

enter image description here

In this case our board is aligned with four nonets, like this. The remaining numbers in each nonet (or, the cells right next to the mini-sudoku) have to be 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 - that is 5 numbers. But the red row shown above has six cells. Using the pigeonhole principle, there has to be a repeating number, which contradicts the sudoku.

  • Similarly let us tackle the other problem:

enter image description here Once again, in the red 2x3 grid, we have only $4$ numbers to put in the grid, and 6 grid cells. Therefore there have to be repeats, which contradicts the sudoku again.


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