Gilroyan’s Guide to Sudoku, a hit

Marvin Thomas

Marvin Thomas’s whole life has been spent putting together complex puzzles. He owned Thomas Appliance Service, where he fixed the most intricate, challenging and stubborn refrigerators, stoves, washers dryers, dishwashers and sub zero freezers—to name a few of the machines that are dread of even the most skilled home repairmen.
Then, in retirement, he came across Sudoku, a century-old number puzzle that was revived Japanese game company in 1986. Sudoku means “single number.” The objective is to fill a 9X9 grid with numbers so that each column and row contains all of the digits from 1-9. There is only one answer for each puzzle.
Thomas, 85, put his mechanical skills to solving the puzzles and quickly became addicted, and something of an expert over four years of doing them. It reached the point where no puzzle was too hard and he created a system to help others finish them quickly.
And—voila!—that led to his next business venture, a $20 book to help others learn his approach to the puzzles, called the Thomas Sudoku System. With help from a local designer, he’s listed the book on Amazon ( and a website, or
“I figured out how to do the difficult ones and I thought, this is really cool,” said Thomas, who says the puzzles help keep his “brain muscle” young. Biking 20 to 50 miles a day does the same for his body. “I also like teaching a lot.”
So, he invested some $3,500 into producing this teaching manual for Sudoku and gave it the flashy title, Stars in Sudokuland. One of the things his book does that is unique, is making the puzzles much bigger on the page than others do. That helps not only people who can’t see smaller type, but it allows them to do more puzzles on a page in the same squares.
So far, his business is in its infancy. He’s sold about two dozen in its first weeks, but he hopes it takes off and parallels his life. When he was 6, he got a jolt during his first repair but learned a big lesson.
He saw two ends of frayed wire in a cut lamp cord and using the skill that would later become his career, he knotted them together to try and fix the lamp. When he plugged it in, it exploded and knocked out the family’s electricity for three days. His parents weren’t mad because they knew he was trying to help. But the pattern was set for him solving problems and making things work.
One of his successes was teaching his three grade-school-aged daughters to use a fire extinguisher by having them set it off. That one paid off later when one of them was having a high school party and something caught fire on the stove. Without hesitation, she grabbed the extinguisher and saved the house.
Raised in Tule Lake to a farming family, he moved to Gilroy to become a garlic seed farm foreman after serving in the Air Force as a supply officer. His wife, Roxie, to whom he’s been married for 60 years, is a well known former administrative assistant for the Gilroy Unified School District.
He moved from fixing things on the ranch to fixing things as a job. His business expanded to three shops in the South Valley, which he sold, but still has a part of. He owned it from 1976 to 2002, selling to locals who are still running it.
The name Stars in Sudokuland was partly a tribute to his father, who lived in the horse and buggy age and told his children to hitch their wagons to a star.
Looking back on his life, Thomas said there’s nothing he would change or do differently. Now, that’s a puzzle well-solved.

Leave your comments