fauxklore (fauxklore) wrote,


Convidence was this year's National Puzzlers' League convention. As the pun suggests, it was held in Providence, Rhode Island. For a number of reasons, I flew up on Thursday afternoon, instead of Wednesday evening. I had a unique and bizarre experience with the flight up. United uses the same gate at Dulles for multiple express flights. They announced that the Providence flight would be delayed due to a mechanical problem and boarded a Syracuse flight. Then they took everybody off the Syracuse flight because they had actually loaded them onto the wrong plane and theirs was the one with the mechanical problem.

Still, I got to Providence safely enough. My next fiasco was my own fault as I made the dubious decision to try taking the train from the airport to Kennedy Plaza. What I didn't know was that the train doesn't run in the middle of the day. There are three trains in the morning and three in the evening, but nothing from 7:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. I ended up taking a bus which was cheap but slow. At that point, I was grumpy enough to just take a taxi the last mile or so to the hotel.

Thursday evening started off with introductions, in which people told their nom, where they are from, and how they heard about the NPL. That was rather lengthier than desirable, but so be it. Then came a couple of games. The first, a mixer, involved switching off with various people to form words with the best Scrabble scores. You had three letters, your partner had three, and one was given that you could use. There was also one already placed on the card that you had to use, which limited the possibilities quite a bit. It was reasonably entertaining. That was followed by a team game which involved choosing words to fit given categories, with the constraint that no word in a set could use letters used in another word in that set. That's the sort of thing that I think often makes a better solo puzzle than a group activitiy.

The best part of con for me is the after hours unofficial games. I played Only Connect, a very difficult but entertaining trivia game. The two teams were pretty much neck and neck until the end, though mine ended up losing. After that came a few Jeopardy games. jeffurrynpl always puts on an excellent game and this was no exception. His "Children's Literature Before and After" category was especially amusing, though it is harder to buzz in when you can't stop laughing. I followed that with two of Noam's Jeopardy games which were also fun, though not as twisted.

Friday had free time for sightseeing. I had more faith in the weather than I should have and decided that, while rain was a good reason not to go to Newport, it would still be okay to do the Providence Volksmarch. The walk consisted of two 5K loops, which I did in the opposite order of how the directions were written for reasons that will not make sense to anyone other than me. It started out fine and I still think Benefit Street has to be one of the nicest urban walks in the country, but the drizzle turned to torrential downpour just about as I got to Wickendam Street. Fortunately, it was a good time to stop for lunch and I had a delicious falafel wrap at a cafe there. The rain had let up as I left and I confidently strolled along, heading up towards the Brown University campus. The checkpoint for that leg of the walk was a market where I chatted a bit with the owner. Not long after leaving, the next downpour came. There wasn't any particularly handy shelter until I got up to the Brown University Bookstore, which really ought to have umbrella bags so people don't have to feel quite so guilty about dripping all over the floor. At any rate, I had time for a nice browse before the rain let up enough for me to continue the walk. The other loop was basically along the river walk and around the State House. All in all, it was a nice route, but I'd suggest doing it in better weather. It did serve its purpose though as I not only got some much needed exercise, but was able to finish the Artistic Heritage special program.

Friday night's puzzles started with one called "Polar Coordinates" which involved guessing which of two fill-in-the-blank answers would be more popular. I suspect some generational bias in the results. Apparently nobody goes out on a date any more, though they still go out on limbs. That was followed by a team trivia game in which each member of a team of three had to supply one of the answers in a category. The catch was that no verbal communication was allowed. Most teams went for people holding up fingers to indicate how many of the answers they knew. My favorite question of the bunch had to do with naming the three European languages, other than Spanish and Portuguese, which are official languages on the South American mainland. (By the way, I don't think that specifying the mainland was strictly necessary, but specifying European languages obviously was.) The final official event was an elaborate video, with amazing production values, that included five flats. (Flats are basically word puzzles in verse. There are a lot of types of them. Fortunately this was limited to a few types of flats, all of which were explained well, and (more significantly) are types I can actually do.) This was very cute and a good end to the evening.

The unofficial events on Friday night started with a trivia game called Million Point Score Drop. This was a team game and involved judging how confident one was of the answers, so had some team dynamic issues to resolve. It was fun, but not something I would necessarily go out of my way for. After that came an opportunity to play Learned League Live. I'd been introduced to this last year in Seattle and liked the range of trivia subjects and the game dynamics which have a strong element of defense. It proved to be my triumphant moment of con, as I actually went completely undefeated. Most of that was because other people did not do super well at guessing what I would and wouldn't know, while I managed to play defense well. (The play would feel quite different were one playing people one knows well.) While I'd like to play Learned League on-line, it requires you to have internet access every weekday and I can't be sure of that. (For example, I have no idea what connectivity is like in Torshaven, Faroe Islands. I do, alas, know what it is like - or, more precisely, isn't - in Belo Sur Tsiribinha, Madgascar.) I should also mention that a lot of the odder things I know, I know because of song lyrics. Were it not for the Stan Rogers song, "Northwest Passage," I'd never have known the Beaufort Sea, for example.

I finished out the evening with Doubles Jeopardy, a partnered version that I did considerably less well at. (Not terribly, but not brilliantly.) At that point, it had somehow become 4 a.m. and I figured it was wise to go to bed some time before the hour I normally get up at.

After sleeping well but too quickly, it was time for breakfast, followed by the business meeting. The most important things to note are that next year's con is in Portland, Oregon and 2013 will be in Austin, Texas. I will probably make a week or so of real vacation out of the former, since there are other things I'd like to do in that area.

The afternoon puzzles included one that involved filling in consonants in response to clues for answers which used each vowel exactly one and one that involved crossword answers divided into two parts which had to be matched to find where to enter the answer in the grid. (I am sure I am not explaining that well.) These are the sort of thing that can just as well be done as a handout, but were still fun. The main Saturday afternoon event was the flat competition. I ended up with a group of about 5 people. I was sure I'd be completely useless, but that proved not to be the case, as there were a few I was able to see right off.

After a brief break for the group photo, I went off to play Rhode Island Jeopardy. This was extremely weird and entertaining. For example, one round involved a spelling bee with the names of H. P. Lovecraft's elder gods. I didn't do particularly well, but I had a lot of fun.

After dinner came the Saturday night extravaganza. This is a series of interlocked puzzles. Fortunately, my team worked well together, with everybody contributing. There are two types of teams - runners, who are really racing, and strollers, who want to take a more casual approach and work all the puzzles. I go for the latter and we managed to be the fourth of the stroller teams to finish. The main thing I want to say is how much I admire the ingenuity of Mike Shenck, who wrote the puzzles. I can't imagine how much work went into something that is just a labor of love.

I didn't actually play any after hours games on Saturday night, though I did watch some of another game of Rhode Island Jeopardy. That meant I got an almost respectable amount of sleep. So I didn't doze through breakfast or the Sunday awards ceremony. After that, it was off to the airport and the flight delay of the day. (Though, in this case, not for any particular reason I could discern, or at least not for a bizarre one).

I am, alas, not caught up at home yet. In fact, I have not even touched last week's Sunday crosswords yet, never mind this week's. So there are things I must do. But next July, I shall return to the field of trivia. Be very afraid. (And maybe by next year, I will have actually learned what that's a quote from.)
Tags: music, puzzles, travel, trivia, volksmarch

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