The whole idea of a puzzle convention may sound odd, since solving puzzles is usually thought of as a solitary pursuit. But there is actually quite a lot of value in collaboration and taking advantage of people's differences in background, knowledge, and solving style. That came out right away in the mixer puzzle at the Welcome Picnic, which involved finding the "odd man out" in a group of four items. (The mixer aspect was that you had only 2 of the items on your card, so had to find the person with the matching card.) While finding the matching person was a matter of luck and persistence, the collaboration made for a fun puzzle, with a clever answer.
A non-puzzle official event was the Underground Tour. I had done this previously, 20 some odd years ago. It seemed to be pretty much the same, but that could be my fuzzy memory. There's not really much of anything to see, but the banter of the guide makes it entertaining.
Thursday night started with introductions. Everyone had to tell the group who they are, where they're from and what their favorite book is. Answering the latter is, of course, impossible, so I went with the logic of naming the book I have given the most people copies of over the past several years. Namely, Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson by George Alec Effinger. (In case you wondered, other possibilities I contemplated naming include Margaret Atwood's Life Before Man, Vikram Seth's Beastly Tales or From Heaven Lake, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, or pretty much anything by Tim Severin.) Not surprisingly, there are a lot of science fiction and fantasy fans among NPL'ers. More surprisingly, there are actually people on the planet who like Charles Dickens.
The intros were followed by a mixer in which you got a tile and had to match it with other people's to come up with a two word phrase. The tile I had let me use "any time word," offering numerous possibilities. The most difficult ones for people to match were ones with a single specific word on them. That was followed by a true / false trivia contest. But that's just the official activities. I stayed up until about 2:15 a.m. playing various games (mostly trivia).
The combination of sleep deprivation and airplane travel had its usual effect on me and I had a bit of a cold, so I skipped the Friday afternoon mini-extravaganza in favor of taking a nap. I did drag myself down for the American Cryptic Crossword Tournament. There were 7 puzzles, of which I finished 3 completely, got all but one or two clues of another couple, and barely started on the rest. Which is fairly typical for me with cryptics - I either see answers right off or have to mull over them for a long time before reaching the "aha" moment. Friday night's games included a cute one involving writing down opposites for words which don't have obvious antonyms (e.g. "bicycle" or "scissors"), team hangman (in which your team had to earn the chance to guess a letter by first solving one of the sort of challenges that you'd hear on NPR), and a team anagram game based on the World Cup. My team made it to the semifinals of that one and I was slightly relieved that the team we lost to went on to win the whole sheband. (By the way, has anybody ever heard of a partial shebang?) Then there was more unofficial puzzling, with an emphasis on trivia again. I don't think I can remember the last time I was up until after 3 a.m.
By the way, the various trivia games somewhat blend together. The Jeopardy game by jeffurrynpl was notable for my actually getting two sports answers, as well as having a final Jeopardy I thought particularly clever. And my team for one of the pub trivia games was astonishingly well-balanced, with one person who knew a lot of pop music, one who was good on movies, and so on. (I am good on history and literature type questions, but pop culture is not my strong suit.) There was also a live Learned League game, which was well-organized and challenging.
Saturday's daytime competitions were more conventional puzzles, including the annual flats competition that I have no hope at. (I am doing well to solve a third of them. The other puzzles were easier, but still not ones I finished in the amount of time allotted. From that, you might gather that I don't race through puzzles and, hence, signed up to be a "stroller" vice a "runner" for the evening extravaganza. This was built around the auction of an estate and solving puzzles to obtain items from the manor. Unfortunately, my team did not have particularly good teamwork and, while I enjoyed several of the puzzles, I was frustrated by the solving styles of two of the people. I feel that if I have done 3/4 of a given puzzle, it is rude for somebody to respond to asking for help by more or less grabbing it from me and then pretty much refusing to let me work on it more. (This was particularly irritating as she got it wrong because she wasn't able to get that last little bit, which I think I would have deduced.) I heard similar issues about teamwork (or lack thereof) from a few other people, so it may have been that the style of this particular extravaganza was really just more geared towards the way runners might work. I was glad to stay up late again because trivia games make me feel somewhat smarter, except when I manage to answer something I know incorrectly.
There are any number other things I could mention, from the after dinner talk Saturday night by Ken Jennings to the various puzzles people set out for the weekend to the brilliant board game I created in a dream Friday night (which is, of course, completely lost to conscious memory except for the shape of one corner of the board and it involving the color "green") but I need to get myself back on Eastern grown-up work time. Next year in Providence.