On your mark, get set, puzzle

Alex, Mark, Jennifer and Dave Holmstrom attempt to complete a

Had the Holmstrom family’s unwavering enthusiasm for Sudoku
puzzles not inspired the author to spend more hours than he should
disclose on his first couple of attempts as a number quiz neophyte,
this story about the upcoming Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest in Morgan
Hill would have been longer.
Had the Holmstrom family’s unwavering enthusiasm for Sudoku puzzles not inspired the author to spend more hours than he should disclose on his first couple of attempts as a number quiz neophyte, this story about the upcoming Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest in Morgan Hill would have been longer.

During those hours, the Holmstroms collectively could have completed a book of Sudoku puzzles, and probably would have started a game of Boggle or Scrabble in search of more excitement.

The Holmstrom family participates avidly at home and with the community in a wide variety of board games, card games and puzzles, in both competitive and non-competitive forums. The family’s love of puzzles started when sons Mark, 16, and Alex, 12, became enamored with word searches and crossword puzzles when they were little, like many children, and would climb on one of their parents’ lap and ask for help when they became stuck.

Now, they work on puzzles – Sudokus are their favorite – daily, often in a collaborative effort, as a way to relax together after work and school. Dave Holmstrom, 46, coordinates the monthly Morgan Hill Game Night at the Community and Cultural Center. His wife Jennifer, 46, keeps a puzzle book on her night stand; and their two sons allow “killer” Sudoku puzzles to absorb them as a fun and stress-free outlet for their precocious math skills, when they’re not competing at statewide Math Counts events, participating in Boy Scouts or practicing their karate skills.

“It gives you an opportunity to sit down as a family for the day, with no distractions,” said Dave Holmstrom, who works as a math teacher for the American Institute of Mathematics. “Puzzles allow you to disconnect from the day – you’re not thinking about work or school.”

Friday night, the family’s coffee table was covered with a stack of Sudoku and crossword puzzle books, a Rubik’s cube that Mark demonstrated how to solve in less than two minutes, a game of Boggle in progress, a cup containing pens and pencils, a Slinky and other amusing trinkets that appeared to require some sort of dedicated effort to assemble or solve. Jennifer Holmstrom said she often has to hide new Sudoku books from the kids, because they now solve them faster than she can.

“When you walk (into the living room) from the garage, the first place you go is the coffee table,” Jennifer Holmstrom said. “You never know who’s going to pick up the pencil next.”

The foursome has attended the Silicon Valley Puzzle Day at the Morgan Hill Library every year since its inception, and they look forward to the fifth annual event – redubbed the Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest – Jan. 29 and Jan. 30.

The two-day event features two popular varieties of puzzles – crossword and Sudoku – with a number of workshops conducted by puzzle experts Saturday, and a full schedule of competition Sunday. Dave Holmstrom, whose strongest showing at Puzzle Day was second place in the adult Sudoku category, will conduct a Sudoku workshop for kids Saturday.

Also, this month’s Game Night, 7 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Community and Cultural Center, will feature Sudoku puzzles as a way to psych people up for Sunday’s contest.

Game Night, Holmstrom explained, typically focuses on a single type of game such as Scrabble, Pictionary, Apples to Apples – just about any kind of board game or puzzle that can be enacted by any-sized group of people of all ages. The games are “totally non-competitive,” and the point is to promote the idea of using games and puzzles as a way to have fun with one’s neighbors and meet new people.

“It’s very family-oriented,” Holmstrom said. “We want to keep people engaged (in puzzles) throughout the year.”

The family doesn’t become consumed by the competitive aspect of puzzling events when it’s there, and prefer to just have fun. At the same time, Mark and Alex acknowledge that the skills utilized by word and number games sometimes complement their school work.

“Puzzles are different. They make you think about the next step in how to solve a problem,” Mark Holmstrom said.

The Holmstroms, who moved to Morgan Hill 16 years ago, are tireless advocates for community involvement. Mark – who takes Calculus as a sophomore and is the class vice president at Live Oak High School – is now a coach for the local Math Counts team. He wants to be a math teacher or professor when he grows up. Alex “dragged his buddies” to the San Jose Tech Museum’s Tech Challenge a couple years ago, and their team placed second. Both sons have taught others how to solve the Rubik’s cube.

Organized and sponsored by local people and organizations, The Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest will raise money, through voluntary entry fees, for the Morgan Hill Library Foundation. The event has grown every year as a major West Coast puzzle event.

“It’s all about the community,” Dave Holmstrom said. “The community benefits a lot. We bring people in from all over the place. More locals should support it.”

Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest

– 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 29 and Jan. 30. at the Morgan Hill Library, 660 West Main Ave.

– Workshops on Saturday are free. A $25 donation ($10 for competitors 16 and younger) is requested for entrants in Sunday’s Sudoku and crossword puzzle tournaments.

– For details and to register for Sunday’s Puzzle Fest, visit www.svpuzzle.org. For more about the Morgan Hill Library Foundation, visit www.mhlf.org.


– Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest is a fundraiser for the Morgan Hill Library Foundation. The foundation raises money for long-term needs for the city’s library – including a new library or future expansion of the existing facility – as those needs arise.

– Last year, SV Puzzle Fest raised more than $2,000 through tournament entry fees and raffles, according to foundation board member Emily Shem-Tov.

– “It’s a little bit of money, but it’s part of our whole plan to raise money and awareness in the community,” Shem-Tov said.

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