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02 August 2019 @ 04:17 pm
RockOn! (the 2019 NPL con)  
I got home from French Polynesia on a Tuesday night. I did a little work on Wednesday (from home) while unpacking and doing laundry. On Thursday, I was off to Boulder, Colorado for the annual National Puzzlers’ League convention named RockOn! for its location. Con is always one of the highlights of my year and this year proved to be particularly enjoyable. One quick note for those who are unfamiliar with NPL: -people use noms, rather than their real names, so I will refer to them that way.

Things started with Thursday night dinner, for which I joined a group of people at Rincon Argentina. We ate empanadas, which were quite authentic and tasty. I particularly liked the hongos (mushrooms).

Puzzling officially began with The Puzzle Bank by Willz, in which the room was divided in half (River vs. Mountains) and competed at solving short word puzzles to get the opportunity to guess a letter, leading to a Wheel of Fortune type puzzle. That was followed by Two Out of Three by Qaqaq, a trivia game in which two of you had to have three answers that fit a trivia question, but only two of them had to conform to some other criterion. One I remember was along the line of men who had won the Best Actor Oscar, with the other criterion involving being named Sexiest Man Alive by People Magazine. This was tricky, but was a lot of fun. The final Thursday night event in the official program was The Silence of the Hams! By Hathor and Kryptogram. This was a sort of charades game, involving some of the members of a team acting out parts of a word or phrase and them being combined with some pictures for the rest of the team to guess the whole answers, along with what category they fit in. I thought I was going to hate this, but both acting and guessing turned out to be fun. I did, however, think it went on a bit longer than it should have.

But that was the official program. There’s always lots of unofficial program activities, which are an excellent opportunity to: a) admire the creativity of the puzzle community and b) feel dumb. I played three trivia games (Jeopardy games by Qaqaq and Noam and a quiz bowl style pop culture team trivia game by Ember in which the only answers I knew had to do with baseball parks). I blame my mediocre performance (including forgetting the author of a book I love and have read at least 30 times) on jet lag.

I know I spent part of the day Friday co-solving a couple of puzzles with other people. Somewhere in there I had lunch with a friend who was in town for other reasons. I am reasonably sure I did not spend any time napping. This may have been when I played an escape room by Sriracha, who is an excellent actor and good at keeping things moving, though that might have been some time on Saturday Anyway, the official program that evening started with Musical Clues by Music Man. I was recruited to one team on the grounds of age diversity, i.e. because I am old. It is harder to identify songs being played on a synthesizer and I am only any good at Beatles songs and Broadway show tunes to begin with, so I am not sure how useful I was. After that, I teamed with Capital R to play Wordplay Tactics by TMcAy, which involved filling in tic-tac-toe boards with words that met certain wordplay criteria. We did really well – up until the last clue, when we were stumped. The final game of the official program that night was Crisis in Publishing by Fraz and Joe the Loiterer. This had us all writing little books about a man named Oscar. Each page had some criterion to use and after you wrote a page, you passed the book to the person on your right. For example, the first page couldn’t use the letter "e." A later page required using at least three words in Spanish. The last page had to use a zeugma, i.e. a literary device which uses one word to refer to two different things, e.g. "She broke her nails and his heart." The last person added a title and read the book out loud to the whole table. It was all pretty silly and a lot of fun.

As for unofficial games, there were too many things I wanted to do happening at the same time. I started off playing a Murder game by Murdoch. This was really just a logic puzzle and some of it was fine, but it could have been done as a hand-out. And, frankly, the pay-off was disappointing.

After that, I played a Mini-extravaganza called Puzzle Your Way Across the USA by Whimsey. This had a puzzle for each state, which yielded a letter for that state, leading to a final answer. The puzzles were not very difficult for the most part. My knowledge of geography proved useful (why, yes, I do know where the geographic center of North America is and, in fact, have a picture of it). The funniest thing is that I got a puzzle which involved Carhenge. Not only do I have pictures of it, there are still some on my phone.

I spent part of Saturday morning co-solving Trick’s excellent cryptic with Bookwyrm. We finished just in time for the business meeting. The important thing from that is that the 2021 con site is going to be Washington, D.C. Yay! This may be a good excuse to finish my haiku guide to the metro for tourists.

Anyway, there were a couple of early afternoon games on the official program. Trigram Two-step by Bluff and Split Personalities by Manx were both pretty much wordplay games. I didn’t finish either one, but took them home to finish later. The flats competition followed that (flats are a particular type of cryptic puzzle, mostly in verse), but I skipped out for a few hours to get together with my Superior friends. That is, friends who live in Superior, just south of Boulder, who were having their big annual weekend party.

I got back in time for the extravaganza. My team was somewhat hampered by having one person who went to bed at about 930, leaving me and two first-time participants. (And, hence, no hope of finishing.) I must have mellowed out a lot when I was on vacation, because I didn’t get particularly annoyed at this. At some point, the puzzles are supposed to become available to download and I will magically have infinite time for them (ha ha) and all will be right with the world.

I did manage to play a couple of more after hours games, which was handy as I had an early flight on Sunday morning, meaning it wasn’t worth going to sleep. Both games I played were by Dart, who always has fun things to play. Overtime was a team game that involved, in part, guessing how long certain puzzles would take to solve. We thought we were terrible at it, but ended up with the best score to that point. (Others might have played and done better later on.) Then we played Secret Fortune, which had to do with ranking possible options, e.g. which country’s highest point has the lowest altitude. There was one big surprise in there, involving deadly animals, and no, I will not provide spoilers.

Bottom line is that all of con (or, I should say, all I was at) was fun. Oh, I should also mention that I wrote a little walk-around hunt to get people out to explore Pearl Street / downtown Boulder a bit. Given that I have spent more time in Boulder than anywhere else I have never actually lived (and probably more time than some places I have lived), it made sense to do.

And then I went home and collapsed. Next year in Toronto!

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DJ Jazzy Ddavesmusictank on August 2nd, 2019 08:32 pm (UTC)
These puzzles and quizzes sound fascinating.
Julie: FSN ★ fisher kingragnarok_08 on August 3rd, 2019 12:01 am (UTC)
That does sound neat :)