fauxklore (fauxklore) wrote,


This year’s National Puzzlers’ League convention was in Salt Lake City. I flew in on Wednesday evening. The trip there was made slightly complicated by a metro snafu, but I avoided the delays by taking a pricy taxi to Dulles instead. I have often claimed that I am sure that my death will be at the hands of a third world taxi driver and I now believe that, for these purposes, northern Virginia qualifies as the third world. But, anyway, I got to the airport in plenty of time for my flights to DEN and on to SLC. On arrival, I got a shuttle to the hotel, along with a couple of other NPLers (and a couple of people who had come in for some other purpose, though I can’t imagine what).

The hotel was the Marriott City Center. As usual, Marriott ignored my profile (or, more likely, wiped out my preferences for the umpty-umpth time), which means I ended up in a room that was too close to the con hospitality suite. So I had another 45 minute delay while I switched rooms to one where I had some hope of sleeping. Seeing as how it was after 1 a.m. at that point, I didn’t try doing anything but sleeping.

There aren’t scheduled activities on Thursday, so I started out with breakfast at the Little America Coffee Shop (which was not quite as good as I remembered it being from my previous trip to Salt Lake City) and a longish walk over to Gilgal Sculpture Garden, which is as surreal as their website had led me to believe. Let’s just say that a Sphinx with the face of Joseph Smith is not something one sees every day. Look at the Tour section on their website for pictures of all the sculptures, with explanations. I’d say this is a must see for fans of visionary art and a must avoid for anybody with good taste. In other words, I loved it. (And it was a great excuse for a long walk on a day with extremely pleasant weather. I should probably note that I set a new record on the step counter on my iphone, though admittedly I don’t normally carry the phone around with me on weekends, which is when I tend to go out for real walks.)

From there, I walked back downtown and made my way to the Family History Library to do some research. I’ll write more about that in my next genealogy update, since there is no reason for puzzle folk to hear about my quest to find out about a mysterious cousin known as Sam Katz, the dwarf Communist printer.

The official program began Thursday night, with a game called Puzzlemasters All by Mr. E. This had everyone emceeing the sort of quizzes that Willz does on NPR on Sundays, moving from table to table while doing so. It was reasonably fun, though I’m not sure it was really effective as a mixer in that there wasn’t really time to get to know your fellow players. Next came Blankety Blanks by Murdoch. This had trivia questions, with the twist that each question had some words, each starting with the same letter, blanked out. The most fun part was that we were challenged to write more questions of the same sort. Finally came, Cryptic Mad Libs by Ucaoimhu and $8.90. This had three parts, with the first two involving answering questions and the final part using those to fill in the blanks in cryptic clues. It was clear we were being led down certain paths, but the result was very funny. Then, the over-the-weekend cryptics got handed out and the real event (i.e. the after-hours games) began. I know I played Noam’s Jeopardy, which was fun as always. At some point (but it might have actually been before the official program), I played Spelvin’s game "What?" which involved guessing answers to questions while having only a few words of the question. And late in the night, I ran my game, "Security – It’s Not Jeopardy." Which was, frankly, a fiasco. I will write about that separately, because there are some useful lessons out of that, and I did manage to do some editing and make it not quite so horrible for the second group of guinea pigs. I went to bed somewhere around 3 a.m.

Friday dawned a bit too early, as I had to be available for a work-related call. Fortunately, it didn’t happen, as I’m not sure I would have been coherent enough to answer technical questions. I was walking towards Temple Square figuring I’d get breakfast on the way, when I ran into a couple of other NPLers so ate with them. Then we did part of the Temple Square walk-around puzzle. They wanted to do more in depth sightseeing and I wanted to go back to the Family History Library, so we separated.

I resurfaced from my genealogical haze in time to go back to the hotel and work on pair solving one of the cryptics with Venn, who is fairly new to these puzzles. Then came dinner and the official program for the evening. That started with Dictionary Triathlon by T. McAy. This involved being given a word and a rule and trying to guess the next word in the dictionary that would follow the given rule. It was done in pairs and was reasonably entertaining. Then came Dilemma by Tinhorn in which one had to answer either/or trivia questions and characterize them by how likely you were to be correct. This was substantially harder than I would have expected. Or maybe I was just really tired, as evidenced by my misunderstanding the very first instruction in the next game, Shrediting by Rubrick. That didn’t really matter since the point of it was mangling a given set of poetry (well, song lyrics – in the case of my table, the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s "Subterranean Homesick Blues"). This is the sort of thing that is the most fun if you don’t overthink it.

As for Friday’s after-hours games, I know I played Navin’s Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games, a sort of pub quiz team game, the most amusing part of which was his take on figure skating which had one person per team (fortunately, not me) trying to draw answers to trivia questions with a "skate" consisting of a marker velcroed to his foot. I also know I played a Hamilton-inspired Jeopardy by Cazique and Saxifrage at some point, but can’t remember whether it was Friday night or Saturday night or maybe Saturday afternoon. I also played "Doubles Jeopardy" by Tortoise in one of those time slots, which was also quite amusing. My memory failings should not be considered a reflection on the quality of the games. And I know that I ran my game again on Friday night, with many of the questions rewritten, and somewhat more successful results than the first time around. Oh, there was also a trivia game by Vroo that he wrote partly in response to his feedback on my game, though the only thing it had in common was a randomization aspect. Somewhere along the way, it became some time after 3 a.m. As I have said many times before, there is something seriously wrong with the rotation of the earth.

I did make it out of bed on Saturday morning for breakfast and the business meeting. We already knew that next year’s con is in Boston, a city that I am always happy to have excuses to go to. There were two bids for the following year and the resulting vote ended up with us deciding on Milwaukee in 2018. I’m very happy about that because the other option was Southern California, which is a place I spend a lot of time in already. I’ve been to Milwaukee a couple of times and I like it (and, of course, I like the friends I have there.) In addition, I think moving around between regions is a good thing for national organizations to do and we haven’t had enough cons in the middle of the country. The other item that came up in the business meeting had to do with whether to spend money on hiring someone to scan in old issues of The Enigma and, given how much volunteer work so many people have done, I am pleased that idea got pretty much no support.

But I was here for the games and puzzles and there were more of those on Saturday afternoon. Time Test by Willz consisted of several short word puzzles, most of which I did fine at. But there were a couple I couldn’t complete, . Then came Urban Renewal by Manx. This involved combining words and changing letters to form the names of cities and is exactly the sort of clever puzzle I particularly like. I was, alas, rather slow at it and had to finish later, but it was still fun. Finally, there was the annual flat competition. There are way too many kinds of flats nowadays and I only really understand a few types of them. So I thought it was a good opportunity for a nap instead. Alas, sleep eluded me, but I did rest for a bit before the convention photo. We were gathered uncomfortably on a set of steps outside the hotel. The steps were narrowish and it was hot out and the whole thing took way too long, so I got kind of grumpy.

One of the highlights of con is always the extravaganza and this year was no exception. Colossus dressed in a bee costume (which she apparently already had from some previous event) and the puzzle descriptions were filled with bee-related puns, though the obvious "National Buzz-lers League" didn’t show up. There was a good mix of puzzles and I think each of the four members of the team I was on did pretty much an equal amount of work. We did finish, but not especially quickly.

As for after-hours games, I am always happy to play the latest version of "Makeshift Jeopardy" by Arcs, which has a high level of silliness. I was also eager to play b-side’s "Mormon Jeopardy," and enjoyed it very much, not least because I did well against some tough competition. Somehow, I had hit my second wind, which let me get in quickly on lots of the clues. Finally, I always enjoy Dart’s games and was happy to play another edition of "Only Connect," although I wasn’t really much of an asset to my team.

I had an early flight in the morning, so gave up around 2:30 in the morning and tried to get a few hours of sleep. I think I got more sleep on the flights home, however, and pretty much collapsed once I did get home. I figure I’ll be caught up on sleep somewhere around next June.
Tags: puzzles, travel

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