I was doing a Sudoku puzzle (in my morning newspaper on the train to work) and got stuck at this point:

_ _ _   _ 4 _   7 2 1 
4 _ 2   6 _ 7   _ 8 9
7 _ _   8 _ 2   _ _ _

2 9 5   4 6 8   _ _ 7
3 4 6   5 7 1   8 9 2
8 _ _   _ _ 9   6 4 5

_ 2 _   7 _ 4   _ _ 3
5 _ _   1 _ 6   2 7 _
1 _ _   _ _ _   _ _ _

Having made no further progress by the time I got home, I plugged the numbers into HoDoKu for help, and got told that there was an X-Wing. I looked at the hints but couldn't find it, so eventually gave up and got it to tell me which number.

It's 9:

enter image description here

Now I've had it pointed out to me I can see it, but what strategies are there for "seeing" it? Bear in mind I want to be able to do this on the train using paper & pen, without the aid of a computer.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I see the X-Wing here. Which squares is it between? $\endgroup$
    – user20
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 6:42
  • $\begingroup$ Now you ask, I thought it was in columns 3 and 5, on rows 3 and 8 (and that's what HoDoKu highlights) but that fails the two blocks rule that I asked about the other day! Should I retitle this question something about a "false X-Wing" and ask "what next?" instead? $\endgroup$
    – ClickRick
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 7:15
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, now that I see it, this makes a lot of sense. This case actually doesn't violate unique rectangles, too. Explaining it is tricky; I'll take a stab at it tomorrow. $\endgroup$
    – user20
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 7:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ OK, ignore the two blocks rule bit - I think I've managed to confuse myself between two completely different things. This is definitely about "how do I spot an X-Wing, such as this one". $\endgroup$
    – ClickRick
    Commented Jul 8, 2014 at 0:13

3 Answers 3


I've highlighted the X-Wing and the 9's involved in this X-Wing:

enter image description here

See how's there's two 9's in row 3 and also two 9's in row 8? (highlighted in blue)

Since every row must contain exactly one 9, either A and D must both be 9 OR B and C must both be 9.

In either case, these 4 squares will provide the 9's for rows 3 and 8, and because of that, they will also provide the 9's for their columns (3 and 5).

This means that any other squares in the same column as these squares can NOT be 9. So any 9's in these squares can be deleted. (highlighted in red)

Try making any of the red ones a 9, for instance row 1, column 3. If this were a 9, then A and C cannot be 9. But then, for rows 3 and 8 to both contain a 9, Both B and D would have to be 9 and this is not possible, because then column 5 would have two 9's.

Imo, X-Wings are not easy to spot without highlighting all occurrences of a number. I usually don't look for them when solving with pen & paper.

You'd have to look for 2 numbers occurring in 2 rows or columns. It is even more difficult to find 3 numbers in 3 rows/columns, or 4, etc.

There can also be an X-Wing involving a row and a 3x3 box, but they are even more difficult to see. Computers have no problem spotting them, of course.

  • $\begingroup$ why can't the X-wing be row 3 and 9 tho? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ oh got it: > To be able to apply this technique, the player must find 2 rows or 2 columns where a single digit is a candidate in only two cells of each. These cells must be aligned by column and row, forming a square or rectangle when connected. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ @NicolasElPapu Exactly. The 9's in row 3 and row 8 are the ONLY 9's in those rows. Row 9 has more 9's so it's not part of an X-Wing. $\endgroup$
    – Dennis_E
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 11:07

I am rehashing this question because I was going through some historical puzzling.se and it was poorly answered and understood before. The issue is not only in the 'x-wing' shown before, but also in the three lowest boxes (7-9) in the shown columns 3 and 5.

The trick is that two different numbers are possible in each box involved in the x-wing (not just one, as the previous answer supposed - then, it may still become the only possible number, which is a crucial solving technique in sudoku). So in either of the cases where the combos are 3&9 or 8&9 in the boxes, the x-wing forms (think about it - an x is made up of two lines) and the puzzles become unsolvable.

I have circled some of the other numbers involved in the x-wing predicament in the following image.

enter image description here

I recognize that this post is more complicated than the previous answer, but it is important to note that when identifying x-wings more than one number must be involved in order for it to actually be a standstill/unsolvable situation

Notice also that each of the locations highlighted in the original answer are in separate 3x3 boxes and may be solvable within those boxes.

Quite simply, I have yet to find an easy way of spotting an x-wing without simply identifying four squares in a rectangular pattern and at most two 3x3 boxes that each have the same 2 possible numbers.

If this post needs further clarification please let me know.

  • $\begingroup$ The other answer seemed pretty clear (especially given the image), but I don't understand what you're saying at all. You seem to be implying that it's wrong(?). $\endgroup$
    – Alconja
    Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 0:19
  • $\begingroup$ I am saying that one repeated number in the x is not enough, because the alternatives can still be whittled down. Two repeated numbers must be present. I'll add images soon. The old answer is correct, but the 3s in the boxes also need to be pointed out, not just the 9s $\endgroup$
    – kanoo
    Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 3:48

An X-wing is where a forced number in two rows/columns form a rectangle, which then forces out the digit in the respective column/row.

In your example, the 9's are forced in row 3 and row 8, and this forces them out of column 3 and column 5.

The best way to spot one is to look for rows/columns where a digit can only appear twice, and then see if the same can be said about that digit in any other (respective) row/column, bearing in mind that you only need to look for a rectangle.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.