That Puzzle Guy's Blog If you got a puzzle, yo, I'll solve it


We have Convidence

It's here again! The dates that many members of the National Puzzlers' League circle on their calendars are just about upon us. On Wednesday, we will gather in Providence, Rhode Island for four days of puzzles, games, and socializing. It's our annual convention, which goes simply by Con or the punny name specific to that year and location; this year's groan-inducing edition appears in this post's title.

What makes this gathering so enjoyable for the couple hundred who will attend? Well, much like the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, it's one of the biggest gatherings of puzzle-loving people to be found. While there will be plenty of opportunities for attendees to match wits with each other, the event is free of the pulse-pounding high-pressure competition you'll find at the ACPT, creating a more relaxed atmosphere. We'll solve the slew of puzzles people will bring (including a Sunday-size crossword I co-constructed), take part in homemade rounds of Jeopardy! and other creative games, dine together, and chat. Retiring to one's hotel room at any time before the wee hours of the morning is too early for most.

And that's just what goes on in our unscheduled time! There's also an official program. We'll get packets with cryptic crosswords and our flats (puzzles in verse); this year the latter will be based on children's rhymes. We'll gather in our big room to play games involving trivia and wordplay. There will even be a "hidden contest", special instructions lurking somewhere within some other material at the convention. The culmination of the official solving is the traditional extravaganza, a series of interconnected puzzles culminating in a final answer. (It's bigger than what's in an issue of Puzzles & Answers Magazine, but much smaller than an MIT Mystery Hunt.) This year, the brilliant Mike Shenk is the designer, so we should be in for a treat.

Well, now I just want Wednesday afternoon to hurry up and get here. See you soon, puzzlers!

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  1. I think the appropriate choice of roommate really ties the experience up in a bow, glad to see you have perfected that skill. See you tomorrow!

  2. i would totally make the trip, because it sounds fun and providence isn’t far. but i’m super-turned off by two things: 1) flats, and 2) noms. the latter in particular … ugh. i like puzzle people as a demographic, but i really bristle at the kind of cliquiness/nerdy pretension institutionalized in the NPL “noms”.

    somebody convince me that i should go anyway.

    • I’ve heard the nom thing before, and I think their intent gets obscured. Their purpose is to allow an easy way to address members you’re just meeting without having to worry about whether it’s okay to use their first names or call them Dr. or Mrs. or Ms. or whatever. I certainly feel strange using noms with people I know even somewhat well. Regardless, though, I must say that I feel it’s a silly reason to stay away.

      As for the flats, yeah, they’re strange and I remember them being hugely intimidating at first. Even now, I take one pass through them when I receive the Enigma and don’t usually go back. They don’t really come up at Con except for the flat competition, and when that comes, a couple members usually a lead a co-solving session for those who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with them.

      • thanks for your replies (both tyler and scott).

        to be clear: i’m not trying to accuse anybody in particular of being pretentious or (intentionally) cliquy. but it was undoubtedly the most off-putting thing about the otherwise friendly people i met at the mystery hunt (all of whom, seemingly, were NPL members). everybody referring to each other by their “noms” instead of their names definitely gave off a vibe of “we already know each other, and you don’t.” i couldn’t even follow conversations involving people i actually knew, because i didn’t know their noms.

        i recognize that’s not their intent, but to be honest, i still have a hang-up about it. i doubt i can be convinced that the noms are a good thing (or even a non-thing), and i wouldn’t try to convince others to drop them. i’m sufficiently lured by the promise of fun puzzles and fun people that i’m on the fence about visiting the con even though i know the noms will discomfit me.

        • I’d like to add that the NPL (and its tradition of using noms) was founded in 1883, when social class meant more than it does now.

          Also, it really does help in terms of decreasing the intimidation factor. I have personally experienced the jaw-drop of reading the Wikipedia page of someone I’d known for years, and likely would never have been able to talk to without feeling self-conscious if I had known who they were. And there are a lot of people in the NPL with Wikipedia pages.

          With regards to the cliqueishness of it–I’m sorry you had that experience at Hunt, but if you go to con, you’ll find that people are much more welcoming and non-exclusive than most other social organizations I’ve encountered. And I’ve seen a LOT of new members and potential members make friends over the “what will your nom be?” conversation. To be honest, a lot of puzzle nerds are a little bit socially awkward, and it can be comforting to have a solid starting point, as Scott says.

          (Signing with Hooligan rather than Julia because I’ve been in the NPL since I was eleven, and most of our mutual friends recognize my nom more readily than my name.)

        • If you join the NPL, you should take “June Pock” as a protest nom.

    • I agree with Tyler. Historically noms are meant to level the playing field; you don’t have to worry about talking to puzzle demigod Will Shortz when you can just call him Willz. Also noms are an instant conversation starter – why did you pick that? It gives everyone a chance to add something personal to the mix, even if they aren’t a superstar constructor or solver.

      And as to flats, they are a really small part of the convention. Most puzzles you encounter are rhyme-free. Even flat-solving can be fun if you do it in a large group. Feel free to join ours!

      So come. You won’t be sorry.

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