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Sudoku number puzzles have been insanely popular since last year. The allure of jogging your noggin to find the right combination of numbers to successfully complete the nine Sudoku grids is undeniable.

I’m probably not the only one who finds that the daily Sudoku puzzle is the one thing tethering me to my local newspaper subscription, now that I consume most of my news online the day it happens.

Sudoku is big business. There was a week in September when Nielsen BookScan reported that the five top Sudoku books had collectively outsold the new Harry Potter book. A few months later, Books-A-Million (Nasdaq: BAMM) singled out Sudoku as a major reason for its robust holiday sales.

If you haven’t given it a shot, I suggest you sharpen that No. 2 pencil and give it a try. If you’re one of the many Sudoku addicts out there, does the logic process involved in solving these numeric puzzlers feel similar to the one you use when investing? It should. To me, many of the same skills involved in completing a Sudoku challenge are the same ones you hone as an investor.

No, really. Let’s dive right in, and I trust you’ll let me know if I’m off-base here.

The no-brainers

Even the most diabolical Sudoku stumper starts off with an easy entry or two. You know the type I’m talking about. Two of the three rows — and two of the three columns — in one nine-box grid happen to feature the same number. That leaves just one open box where that number can go.

Believe it or not, as complicated as investing can get sometimes, everyone has those easy starters. It’s usually just as easy as absorbing your local business news or buying into the makers of the products and services that you consume.Learn about Ravensburger Puzzles here

Living in Miami, I knew that real estate developer Lennar (NYSE: LEN) and cruise ship specialist Carnival (NYSE: CCL) were poised for greatness before the rest of the country caught on. Unfortunately for me in both of those cases, I never filled in those empty boxes. I let Carnival sail on by without me, and I let Lennar build some great things without my financial input.

I didn’t let them all slide, though. When my wife and I got married, we opened our first joint banking account at a tiny thrift called American Savings & Loan of Florida. The branch by our townhouse was friendly, convenient, and booming. It was an obscure, publicly traded entity, but I bought in. I figured that if the shares went kaput, I’d have bigger problems than just a loss in my brokerage statement. Well, it didn’t turn out that way. A few years later, I walked away with a five-bagger when the company got acquired by a business that was eventually gobbled up by Wachovia (NYSE: WB).

When a pair beats a full house

Nothing beats that point in filling out a Sudoku stumper when the easy entries are done. When you have to crack your knuckles and get methodical. When things get challenging — and rewarding.

One trick for solving more moderate Sudoku queries is finding two numbers in a three-by-three grid that can only go in the same two empty squares. Even if you don’t have enough information to know which one goes where, knowing that eliminates those two numbers as possibilities in the other blank squares in that grid, as well as possibly facilitating the logic-crunching in adjacent grids.

Finding twins on Wall Street can be just as sweet. It’s the equivalent of buying into a duopoly. A great example of that is satellite radio. I’m a fan of both XM Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: XMSR) and Sirius (Nasdaq: SIRI). I’ve been a Sirius subscriber since 2004, and I recommended shares of XM to Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter subscribers last year.

My vocal support for both XM and Sirius has been perplexing to some. How can I be a fan of two rivals? How can I subscribe to one, recommend the other, and wax bullishly — for the most part — on both companies?

Despite differentiation efforts, XM and Sirius are joined at the hip. I don’t think one company will run away with the market. XM is larger. Sirius is growing faster. In the end, they’re both dynamic growth-stock opportunities. Satellite radio started out the year with just over 9 million subscribers, and it’s looking to tack on 6 million more net new users by the end of the year.

Is this a perfect situation? No. The income statements could be kinder, and the balance sheet could be greener. But just as pay-TV services like cable and satellite became must-have entertainment appliances, I see satellite radio growing the same way. Some argue that iPods and Internet radio will eat into that market, but I don’t see that as any different from the proliferation of DVDs and VCRs in the televised realm. They’re great media-enhancing tools, but they haven’t forced the public to go cold turkey on premium programming.

Out on a limb

Harder Sudoku brainbusters may eventually force you to go further out on a limb, leaving mental breadcrumbs in your wake to find your way back in case you hit a dead end. Investors do that, too. No one buys a stock based on what is known. The market already knows that for the most part, and it has priced the stock accordingly.

The best investments are the ones where investors go beyond the obvious to visualize scenarios that ultimately materialize. I remember when David Gardner recommended Intuitive Surgical (Nasdaq: ISRG) to Rule Breakers subscribers last year. Even though just a few hospitals had taken to Intuitive’s revolutionary da Vinci robotic arm at the time, the potential was there for so much more.

Four market-thumping quarters later, the stock is trading 138% higher. More operating rooms have taken to the revolutionary time-saving automatons, and those who already have them are using them more often.

So what do you think? Isn’t Sudoku a lot like investing? As potential shareowners, aren’t we just filling in boxes, fleshing out potential scenarios, and smiling wide when we’re right?

I think so. If you do, too, maybe you’d like to join me and my fellow Sudoku-lovin’ players in the active Rule Breakers community. If you’re not the type to fill in an empty box blindly, sign up for a free 30-day trial subscription to the newsletter service to see whether it’s right for you.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz finds that eating, sleeping, and breathing growth stocks works wonders for his financial health. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow’s ultimate growth stocks a day early.\

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