I had intended to stop at Sabbathday Lake on my way from Bar Harbor to Portland, but it was pouring rain so decided to skip that excursion. That let me sleep a little bit later before driving back to PWM and returning the rental car. I got to the Westin Harborview Hotel in plenty of time to check in and unpack before the Taste of Maine picnic, which opened the 175th convention of the National Puzzlers’ League.
The picnic was supposed to be outdoors, but the weather had moved things to a warehouse instead. There was a fun mixer game, in which one had to fill out a bingo card with people who met various criteria. I was moderately useful, having been to at least one National Park. (I have, in fact, been to 11.) There were also Maine foods to try. Moxie is the local soft drink and I thought it was pretty good. But I am also the only person in North America who likes chinotto. The whoopie pies and blueberries were more generally acceptable. After the picnic, I had dinner at Brian Boru’s pub with a few other NPL’ers. I know there were some unofficial games going on, but I was fairly exhausted and opted for an early night in a vain attempt to preload my sleep quotient.
After getting breakfast at Marcy’s Diner on Thursday morning (where the atmosphere was at least as appealing as the basic greasy spoon food), I joined a group to do a walk-around puzzle at the International Cryptozoology Museum. The puzzle had me reading more of the signage than I might have otherwise. To be frank, the museum was somewhat disappointing, with little that was new to me. And the gift shop was a huge let-down, primarily because there was nothing there which would have made a suitable retirement gift for my former boss. I spent the rest of the day browsing in a few bookstores and talking myself out of schlepping a few temptations home. I also made my first gelato stop, at Gorgeous Gelato. This is less popular on various lists than Gelato Fiasco across the street, but I started with it because it is owned by actual Italians. Their panna cotta flavor was excellent, but the chocolate orange had little orange flavor. (Somewhere in there, I ate some real food, but didn’t make a note of it, just in case anybody is worrying.)
But I should be writing about puzzles. The program started Thursday night with Meet Your Match by T McAy. This involved listing your favorite answer for various categories. You were trying to find the least popular answer for your own table’s question and the most popular for other tables’ questions. In all too many cases, I could barely guess any answer that fit the category. Next up was Ten Clued Very Much by Qaqaq, in which one had to guess 10 words based on a series of numbered clues, with the goal being to use the fewest clues possible. I got 7 of the 10 words before time ran out, which was respectable, but nowhere close to winning. The final official event was Par Fours by Tortoise, which involved filling in letters to complete words. I was teamed with Ember and somehow we managed to do extremely well at this. We got the best score on the first round and came close on the second. It figures that I’d be able to get a prize in a year that my flight home was too early for me to go to the awards.
I always look forward to the unofficial program and one of the highlights is always the Jeopardy game that Jeffurry puts on. His questions have more pop culture than really suits me, but they’re always amusing. Another person who always has good games is Dart and his new drawing game, Palimpsest, was fun to be a guinea pig for. By the way, I’d promised myself that I would not stay up past 2 a.m. and I made it to bed at 1:57.
I dragged myself out of bed on Friday to do a volksmarch through Portland. The walk had, alas, been rerouted since last year, so did not qualify for one of the baseball special events program, but did qualify for murals and family owned bakeries. The first part was along the Back Cove and Casco Bay, which was pleasant enough except for the part past the sewage treatment plant. The Old Port area was more pleasant, albeit more crowded. It also offered a chance to stop at Holy Donut (which I would probably appreciate more if I liked donuts better). I used the proximity as an excuse for a stop at Gelato Fiasco. They had more flavors than Gorgeous Gelato, with a decent blood orange and very tasty strawberry balsamic, but the texture was less smooth. Sorry, Portland, but Italy is not going to be losing any sleep.
I took a too short nap before dinner and the evening’s puzzles and games. That started with On Beyond Initials by Mr. E, which involved coming up with phrases that used given letters. Not only could the letters not be the initials, but the phrases had to be divided among various categories – people, places, titles, groups, and other. This was surprisingly difficult, but my team did manage to get a respectable score. Next up was Record Turnover by Witz and Fraz. This involved a trivia game in which you had to identify both what the current answer is and what the correct answer had been in 1980. In some cases, just the fact that it had changed was sufficient to figure out what the answers were. The final official event of the evening was Snake Oil by Squonk and Cecil. One player at each table took on some role (e.g. a fisherman, a reporter, or a TV anchorman) and other people had to put together two of the cards they had to come up with a product to sell to that person. This was a lot of fun and I could see playing it as a party game with some of my more creative friends. However, it was challenging moving around the crowded room to find the right person to try to pitch something to.
Then it was time for more after hours games. I played an Old Songs Jeopardy devised by Mr. E. Unfortunately, his idea of old songs is 1950’s rock, while mine is Gershwin, Porter and Berlin. So I didn’t do very well at it. After that I played a round of Dart’s Connect 4, at which I was moderately useless. I finished off the night (and stayed up until after 2) with a World Cup themed pub quiz by Navin. The questions were fun, but we had some teamwork issues that left me rather grumpy.
Saturday started with breakfast and the business meeting. We all knew to look forward to Vancouver next year, but where will con be in 2016? Alas, that remained undetermined. I do have to say that I really appreciate that there is some effort to get people to see something of the con locale, e.g. via walking around puzzles. Not that this has any influence whatsoever, but the largest U.S. cities I have never been to are El Paso, Memphis, Tucson and Omaha. (I am deliberately ignoring the existence of Fresno. In fact, I would refuse to believe in the existence of Fresno were it not for Frank Loesser and I may have just infected myself with an earworm.)
There was time after lunch for Noam to run his Jeopardy game. He always has a good mix of categories and I am proud to say that I won this one handily. I needed to not feel dumb at that point, so I am especially thankful. The afternoon program started with Camouflage by Willz, which involved identifying words hidden within longer words. I did well at this one, finishing it in just about 20 minutes, out of the 25 allotted. At least 6 of those minutes were for just one answer. Then came Opposable Sums by Manx. This was a clever puzzle involving pairs of anagrammed antonyms, with an extra letter for each pair. I got about 16 of the 25 answers before time ran out, and enjoyed finishing the puzzle when I got home. I was way too tired to really attempt the annual flat-solving competition, though I recognize the hard work that Saxifrage put in on Starting Lines.
The Saturday night extravaganza is always a highlight of the NPL con and this year was no exception. Rubrick, Sidhe, Trazon and Wombat put together an interesting assortment, with various additional constructors. The first group of puzzles was deceptively easy, but the rest (by the other constructors) were challenging without being impossible. I particularly enjoyed a puzzle that involved word play with names of Broadway musicals, but didn’t make a note of who wrote it. The key thing for me about the extravaganza is having a team in which everybody feels they are contributing and I think we succeeded in that.
I contemplated an earlyish night, but Arcs was running a game that I’d heard was entertaining, so played that instead. It started out as a Jeopardy game, but several clues were missing and you had to figure out what was going on. That was followed by a series of other classic game shows, with a different twist to each one. It’s nearly impossible to explain – and was very amusing. Since I had a morning flight home (which proved to be entirely routine and trauma free), that was the end of con for me. All in all, I had a great time and am looking forward to next year.