fauxklore (fauxklore) wrote,

2021 NPL Con (WashingCon)

The National Puzzlers’ League (NPL) annual convention was held in Washington, DC from July 1-4. This was my excuse for writing my DC Guide entries a few weeks ago. Now that things are opening up more, I plan to write an additional post sooner or later on cultural events, mostly theatre and concert venues. But first, let me write about the NPL con itself. At any rate, several people told me they found my information useful, which is what I had hoped for.

The conference hotel (the Westin on M Street NW between 14th and 15th) is less than a 10 minute walk from the McPherson Square metro station. Which is itself about a half-hour metro ride from where I live. Given the late hours I tend to keep at con (despite my best intentions), it made sense to stay at the hotel, rather than attempting to commute.

Because I fell into the "let me do just one more thing before leaving" trap at home. I got there with just enough time to get settled into my room before going down to the hospitality suite to pick up my nom tag (NPLers use a "nom" rather than their real names and I will refer to people by their noms here. My nom is the same as my DW/LJ name and actually predates all of these things, having come from a discussion re: some of the stories I tell. But I digress.) Thursday night is characterized by the foodie dinners, in which groups of people sign up in advance for the restaurant of their choice. I led about a dozen people over to Zaytinya, which is one of my favorites in the city. We ate a wide range of Mediterranean food, all of which was delicious. (My choices were baba ghanouge and adana kebab, though everyone was passing their plates around to other people, too. I also had a nice drink called a Turkish Storm, which is essentially a slightly spiced Dark and Stormy.) And the service was quite good.

We were back in plenty of time for the official program to start. One of my college suitemates, whose nom is WITSEC, and her husband, whose nom is 24NT, recently joined the NPL and were at their first con. I sat with them and we teamed up for some of the games. After announcements and an opportunity for new attendees to introduce themselves, there were three games. The first was True/False Wordplay by Willz, in which he made a statement along the lines of "X is the only English word with property Y" and you had to decide if it was true or false. The false ones were, in general, easier because one could come up with a counterexample. I did so-so at this. Next was Spelling Wasp by Cute Mage. This was like a spelling bee, but meaner. The idea was to choose a word that matched the category for each round and spell it correctly. But you only got points for the first word you spelled completely. So, say, we only got two points for Oklahoma, because OK was counted as a word. Then there were a bunch of other rules that could lead to bonus points. The category we had the hardest time was involved the lyrics of "We Didn’t Start the Fire," because none of us could remember them well enough. Overall, this was hard, but fun. Finally, there was Three on a Match by WXYZ, which involved writing a single word in a given category that used all three letters on the answer sheet and then scoring points based on whether or not it matched the words other people at your table came up with. There were also bonus points based on what the most popular answer in the room was. I think I was solidly in the middle of the pack on this, but I still found it enjoyable.

But much of the fun of con involves the unofficial program and I played two after hour games Thursday night. Both were versions of Jeopardy! Noam’s was first and he always has interesting categories and questions/answers. The other was Last Minute Jeopardy by Saxifrage and Cazique and was somewhat crazier. For example, there was a category called "You’re on Mute," which required people to mime a word for the other players to guess. Overall, these made for a very entertaining evening.

I started off Friday by getting a very tasty breakfast from Bub’s Breakfast Burritos, up on 14th Street, near the hotel. It was less satisfying to discover that the Wawa around the corner from the hotel does not sell cranberry juice. I had vague intentions of going to the National Gallery of Art, but a friend texted me and we got together instead. After that (and ice cream at Ice Cream Jubilee), I walked over to the DC Alley Museum, which is an odd little mural installation just off Blagden Alley. It made for a nice walk and is nice remembering about the next time I am over at the Convention Center.

Friday evening’s official program started with Central Bank by Murdoch. Unfortunately, I don’t remember enough about that to describe it. Next came Three-Way Switch by Pacho and T McAy, for which I teamed up with Shrdlu. Each round of this involved three crossword clues that were scrambled together, the answers to which were transposals (anagrams, for non-NPLers) of one another. You got points based on how quickly (i.e. on which clue) you solved each round. We worked pretty well together, each of us making the breakthrough on some of the rounds. The final game was M_T_H G_M_ by Kryptogram and Noam. There were "panelists" for each round of this, which somewhat resembled the old TV show, Match Game, with letter patterns constraining the answers. There were a few people who obviously never watched Match Game, as there was one question for which the obvious answer was "boobs" and surprisingly few people got that. Still, it was fun.

As for the unofficial activities of the night, I played Qaqaq’s Jeopardy! game. It was fun, but he tends towards more pop culture than I have any hope of getting. After that, I played Jeo-boardy by WXYZ. This was an interesting cross between Jeopardy and a board game and was one of my favorite activities of the con, for its mix of interesting trivia questions and twists on the game dynamics. I also played Snakesss (available commercially, but hosted by Squonk, who I assume wrote new questions for it), which involves some players who are snakes, who try to persuade the other players to guess the wrong answer. Other players are humans or the mongoose, who don’t know the correct answer. Everyone discusses answers and has to try to decide who to trust to choose among three correct answers. This would be fun to play at a party with the right people. Finally, I played two games by Murdoch - Wombats and Who Donut?, both of which were enjoyable and kept me up later than I’d intended. (Which is not exactly unusual for con. Also, those two games might have been Saturday night instead. My memory is imperfect.

I got up just early enough on Saturday morning to walk over to Dupont Circle to get breakfast, followed by a morning walk. The business meeting started at 11 and the most significant thing about that is that the 2023 con will be in Montreal! (Next year is in Nashville.) After lunch, there were some paper and pencil competitions - one by Bluff and one (well, really seven) by Willz, followed by the flat-solving competition with made for a good opportunity for a nap. (Flats are a particular type of puzzle in verse, with a lot of variants on how they work. I can do some types of them, but I am not quick at them and I was in dire need of some sleep.) After dinner and the Golden Sphinx Awards (which have to do with contributions to The Enigma, which is the NPL magazine), we walked over to Planet Word, a new museum in D.C. for the con photo and our evening activity. I was somewhat skeptical because I’d read a rather negative review of the museum in the Washington Post, which made it sound very child-oriented. I don’t recall who wrote that review but they were wrong. It was wonderful. I think it was Noam who described it as "like catnip for word nerds." We only had two hours there and I could probably have used six. (Fortunately, I am local and can go back easily. And it’s free!) One of my favorite parts was The Library, which had dioramas from various books, that lit up when you read an excerpt out loud, as well as having books you could place on a sensor device to have a section read out loud to you. Qoz had written a puzzle hunt for the museum, but, frankly, I found that too much of a distraction, given our limited time. We also got a preview of Lexicon Lane, a sort of escape room type puzzle game gallery that is still being developed. I think everyone felt that this made up very nicely for the traditional Saturday night extravaganza being cancelled.

Back at the hotel, I played a few after hours games. Ember ran a trivia game, which basically consisted of pop culture questions I had no clue on. (Okay, I did get one correct. And I knew maybe two other answers.) After that I played Makeshift Jeopardy! by Arcs, which is always crazy and fun. I also played Tenable by Arcs and Marmoset, based on the British game show. I did particularly miserably in a category about the Super Bowl and particularly well on one regarding National Parks, though I was annoyed to forget about two parks that I have been to.

I dragged myself to breakfast on Sunday morning, after which I went to the Nationals game (vs. the Dodgers), which started at 11 a.m. Yes, that is early, but they always do that on Independence Day so as to finish before the parade (which was cancelled this year). There are still several concessions closed and everything is cashless, so things were slow. Joe Ross pitched well, but the Nats blew it in relief. Another annoyance was an attempt to get a Lyft after the game - which resulted in two drivers cancelling on us. Oy. (I normally would have just taken the Metro, but two of the people I was with didn’t want to do that.) Anyway, back at the hotel, I retrieved my luggage and said goodbye to several people before walking to the Metro and heading home. Con may have been smaller than usual (about 100 people versus the usual 250 or so), but it was still one of the highlights of my year so far. And, as always, I am awed by the creativity of NPLers and their generosity in sharing that with us.

This entry was originally posted at https://fauxklore.dreamwidth.org/494067.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Tags: museums, puzzles

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