The first known calculation of the number of classic 9×9 Sudoku solution grids was posted on the USENET newsgroup rec.puzzles in September 2003 and is 6,670,903,752,021,072,936,960 (sequence A107739 in OEIS). This is roughly 1.2×10−6 times the number of 9×9 Latin squares. A detailed calculation of this figure was provided by Bertram Felgenhauer and Frazer Jarvis in 2005. Various other grid sizes have also been enumerated—see the main article for details. The number of essentially different solutions, when symmetries such as rotation, reflection, permutation and relabelling are taken into account, was shown by Ed Russell and Frazer Jarvis to be just 5,472,730,538 (sequence A109741 in OEIS).
The maximum number of givens provided while still not rendering a unique solution is four short of a full grid; if two instances of two numbers each are missing and the cells they are to occupy form the corners of an orthogonal rectangle, and exactly two of these cells are within one region, there are two ways the numbers can be assigned. Since this applies to Latin squares in general, most variants of Sudoku have the same maximum. The inverse problem—the fewest givens that render a solution unique—is unsolved, although the lowest number yet found for the standard variation without a symmetry constraint is 17, a number of which have been found by Japanese puzzle enthusiasts, and 18 with the givens in rotationally symmetric cells. Over 48,000 examples of Sudokus with 17 givens resulting in a unique solution are known. 
In 1997, retired Hong Kong judge Wayne Gould, 59, a New Zealander, saw a partly completed puzzle in a Japanese bookshop. Over six years he developed a computer program to produce puzzles quickly. Knowing that British newspapers have a long history of publishing crosswords and other puzzles, he promoted Sudoku to The Times in Britain, which launched it on 12 November 2004 (calling it Su Doku). The first letter to The Times regarding Su Doku was published the following day on 13 November from Ian Payn of Brentford, complaining that the puzzle had caused him to miss his stop on the tube.
The rapid rise of Sudoku in Britain from relative obscurity to a front-page feature in national newspapers attracted commentary in the media and parody (such as when The Guardian's G2 section advertised itself as the first newspaper supplement with a Sudoku grid on every page). Recognizing the different psychological appeals of easy and difficult puzzles, The Times introduced both side by side on 20 June 2005. From July 2005, Channel 4 included a daily Sudoku game in their Teletext service. On 2 August, the BBC's programme guide Radio Times featured a weekly Super Sudoku which features a 16×16 grid.