July 13th, 2009

storyteller doll

NPL Con

I've done various kinds of puzzles all my life, but only joined the National Puzzler's League fairly recently. The annual convention was in Baltimore this past weekend (for a rather loose definition of weekend), which meant it was a relatively low investment decision to go.

There was a pre-con ice cream social on Wednesday night, but Wednesday kind of got away from way and I decided that it wasn't worth the drive. I could, however, make it to part of the Thursday evening games. That started out with introductions in which people gave their nom, where they were from, and what languages they speak. This was a bit tricky as there were several people whose voices did not project the length of the room. I was amused by the person whose statement on languages was, "I speak LOUD." By the way, I did mention my two words of Mongolian. (The first two words I learn in any language are, in order, "beer" and "thank you." Mongolian beer is bad enough that I was afraid to get any further.)

Then there were games / puzzles. The first involved everybody getting a card with a word on it. People needed to link up to make the words into puzzle clues. I got "glamorous," which was not an easy word for this game. I tried to sell people who had things like "center" on joining up (thinking that "mor" had some potential as a partial word), but failed at that. The next game involved using letters drawn at random to form words of increasing length. This was, again, not something I was particularly good at. There were other things, but I needed to drive back home that night. Which involved another puzzle as, apparently, every street in downtown Baltimore is either: a) one-way in the wrong direction or b) a construction zone. It took me nearly as long to get back to 395 as it did to drive back to Northern Virginia.

I did have to work on Friday. Well, sort of work - we had an off-site (our annual strategic planning meeting) at a winery out in Delaplane. There is something slightly surreal about discussing space program acquisition and policy while sitting amongst grape vines. It was actually a productive session, but it meant a lot of driving for me. (Last year, we did our off-site at the National Cryptological Museum, which would have been more convenient.)

Anyway, I made a strategic error by stopping at home for a while on my way back to Baltimore, as that meant I ended up getting stuck in horrendous traffic on the Beltway. It took me nearly 2 hours just to get to I-95. After that, things were quick, but it still meant I was a bit stressed out when I got there. It did make me glad that I was staying over Friday and Saturday nights.

Fortunately, the Friday night games were enough fun that I got over the driving stress pretty quickly. First up was "Beat Poetry." Everyone at the table got an index card and had to write a single letter, then pass it on to the next person. We ended up with several nonsense sentences and then arranged those into hysterically funny poems. This would make a great parlor game among the right people. The next game, "Face Value," had us matching up pictures of people with puzzle clues. I was afraid that I'd be a drag on my team, but I do have reasonably good anagram skills and can recognize names of famous people even if I have little clue as to what they look like. In fact, I think I helped more on that than on the pub trivia which followed (and for which I was somewhat too confident of things I was wrong about.)

Saturday's games included one called "Vowel Play," which was, basically, a word completion puzzle. I got through a good part of it, but didn't quite finish. Then came "Splattergories," a category game with word play added, done in pairs or fours. This was where being a newbie hurt some, as I didn't quite grasp the terminology NPL uses for some types of wordplay. (For example, "transposition" = "anagram." Well, now I know that.) Then came a contest in solving cryptic clues in verse (what NPL calls "flats,") and I sensibly went to the newbie tutorial, instead of attempting these. That was valuable and reminded me of my enjoyment of the "aha" moment, when I grasp the answer to a clever clue.

The highlight of the weekend was the Saturday night treasure hunt, which had us solving various types of puzzles, leading us on a scavenger hunt through the hotel. There was a great mix of puzzle types and what I especially liked was that everybody on our team contributed something. We didn't finish particularly quickly, but we did finish and had a lot of fun in the process.

I stayed up for a while, including playing jeffurrynpl's Jeopardy game. That was fun, though there were too many pop culture questions for me to do well at it. (My trivia strengths are geography, literature, and science. Movies are probably my worst category and my music knowledge is very non-mainstream.) Fortunately, I don't have to be good at things to enjoy them.

After the award session on Sunday, I headed over to the Book Thing. (Along with eedarling, who had asked for a lift to her daughter's house in Fairfax.) I got rid of a box of books, restrained myself to acquiring fewer than I'd donated, and headed back to Northern Virginia. Fortunately, the only part that involved horrendous traffic was a short stretch of I-66. After dropping off eedarling, I ran a few errands, came home and collapsed. Overall, I had a great time and will certainly consider going to future cons.