Jonathan Meck was at a crawfish boil for his cousin's birthday when he struck up a conversation with a fellow party guest. When talk turned to what they did for a living, that guest, Jesse Marth said that he worked for a book publisher.
"I have this great idea for you," said Mr. Meck.
Just over a year later, Mr. Meck, a 25-year-old UPMC employee by day, puzzle-tinkerer by night, was a published author.
His book, "Kansuko: A New Game Based on Classic Sudoku," came out in October and is now for sale at major retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.
Mr. Meck was a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh in 2005 when Sudoku puzzles became all the rage. He and his roommates literally wallpapered part of their Sutherland Hall dorm room with finished Suduko puzzles, regularly challenging each other to see who could finish puzzles the fastest. (In Suduko's 9x9 puzzle grid in 3x3 regions, each row, column and region must contain number 1 through 9 only once.)
Puzzles, he said, provide "a little escape from your day."
Over the years, he toyed with making his own puzzles of different varieties.
"I used to try them out on my friends," said Mr. Meck of Dormont. "Then they would say that they were terrible."
For the first number puzzle that he attempted, he took a third of a traditional Suduko puzzle and added an addition component. A Kansuko is three 3 x 3 grids stacked on top of each other, with each grid containing each digit 1 through 9 exactly once. The three numbers in each horizontal row are then added, and none of the digits in the ones digit place of those sums can repeat either. If the puzzle is filled out correctly, none of the sums will end in a zero.
The puzzle appealed to Mr. Marth as "a more challenging version of what he based the game on, which was Sudoku." The publishing company that he worked for, Schiffer Books, of Atglen, Chester County, had been looking to expand into puzzle books after a successful series of Tarot card books and sets.
"We saw this fitting into that," said Mr. Marth, "and we liked that he created it on his own, with his own creative spin."
After coming up with the idea, Mr. Meck wrote a program in Microsoft Excel to generate the puzzles on its own. He named the puzzle Kansuko, a made-up word that both sounded Japanese and had an available Web domain. Mr. Meck set up the www.kansuko.com website himself, something he had experience with through his job at UPMC managing its Community Care site.
He emailed local and college newspapers about running Kansuko, and it now appears daily in the Harvard Crimson student newspaper.
He received a book contract from Schiffer Books, signed it, and got to work on creating -- and checking, and double-checking -- the 100-plus puzzles in the book. His wife, Teresa, helped him with checking the "beginner" puzzles but Mr. Meck still pulled near-allnighters getting the book finished.
It was released in October -- at which point Mr. Meck "freaked out," he joked. Hearing that it was in stores, he drove immediately to the Barnes & Noble at South Hills Village to take a picture of it on shelves. He was also able to show his family the book when they gathered in New York City to watch his brother run the New York Marathon (which was then canceled because of Superstorm Sandy).
Mr. Meck doesn't expect to get rich off his puzzles. "It's just a hobby and it will always be just a hobby," he said. He won't even know how much money he'll make from the book until April, when he receives his first check.
But he does appreciate his entry into the puzzle-making world. He emailed legendary puzzle editor Will Shortz about Kansuko and got a pleasant response back. He also might enter a puzzle competition or attend a puzzle convention someday, though he doesn't expect to fit in completely.
"These people who make the other types of puzzles, they are all geniuses," he said. "I feel like I don't belong in the same conversation with them."lifestyle
Anya Sostek: email@example.com or 412-263-1308.