Home » Memories » LA Minicon, May 2014

LA Minicon, May 2014

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When I arrived at Marc Spraragen’s home last Saturday, I was put to work immediately carrying stacks of books from the bedroom to the dining room. Marc had been cleaning out his bookshelves and chose what amounted to several bagfuls as candidates for donation. He was also hosting the miniconvention in the party room of his condo complex so he decided to put the books out for the minicon guests, initially as a prize table and then as a take-what-you-want table. The set of books contained many puzzle collections and paperback novels, but the item that caught my eye was a copy of the Don Freeman children’s book Dandelion.

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This was a favorite from my childhood library and I was tickled to see it among the other prize table offerings. After we arranged the stacks of books just so around Marc’s dining room table we went downstairs to the party room where the puzzlers had begun to arrive.

This was my first LA minicon of 2014. I’ve been conservative with travel this year due to some vacation cutbacks at my company, but I managed this trip without missing any work days by flying in on Saturday morning. I mingled and got to hear about Kiran’s Guggenheim fellowship and David’s Pre-Shortzian crossword project and Todd’s acting work and Elissa’s business school curriculum development and Myles’s consulting work and so on. Our host Marc has just been hooded for his doctoral work in artificial intelligence and was celebrating his birthday on the day of the minicon. There was a goodly amount of celebration and accomplishment in the room, and my inner “Dandelion” started getting a little self-conscious.

The minicon began with introductions and the invocation poem, and then we jumped into the first activity: a solo-solve handout “Puzzle in the Round” constructed by Chaos.  The puzzle is a classic type seen in magazines, but the disparity in crossword skill among the solo solvers led to a significant gap in finishing times. Whimsy’s “Boxcars” was next; another handout puzzle but one that I co-solved with Myles Nye. The puzzle featured a chain of compound words/phrases and Myles and I divided the task of solving clues and then worked together to assemble the chain. After finishing the puzzle we noted that Chaos’s puzzle included the answer word TRAFFIC at the bottom of a clockwise path, making the letters FART prominent, and Whimsy’s puzzle included the clue {Fart} for the answer PASS GAS. We wondered if there were a meta theme running through the afternoon’s offerings. Later someone suggested that this meta theme could be adapted to a hidden contest for convention: “Remember that one one time when the hidden contest involved going up to Will Shortz and giving him a bagel? Well…..”

Marc presented the third puzzle of the party, a multipart handout called “Reverse Polarity,” I tackled it with David Steinberg. David doesn’t have a raft of experience with hunt-style puzzles but he held his own with contributions and insights. Despite our best efforts we needed some nudges from Marc to make progress, but the revelation of the final stage, which explained the meaning of the puzzle’s title, was very satisfying.

I presented the final activity, a team game called “Sporcurling.” This was a variation on the game “Sporculation,” which uses trivia quiz statistics from the Sporcle website. My original design had some added elements analogous to the sport of curling but I eliminated the curling elements to simplify the game. My revision instincts turned out to be sound and the simplified version went well. Players pointed out that I misspelled the word “booklet” (“booket”) on the cover of the game handout, and that caused some redux laughter when I reached the part of the rules mentioning that “spelling doesn’t count.”

The minicon ended with a clean-up session and a dinner trip to Jerry’s Deli. Several puzzlers returned to Marc’s place for the after-party, which included a trivia optimization game from Dave Shukan and a 1965 proto-Scattergories board game from Todd Rew’s collection. We played a few rounds and joked about the dated categories and cumbersome scoring system. When the after-party broke up, I bid my Southern California puzzle friends farewell and set up my sleeping arrangements in Marc’s living room. I thought a bit about how I tend to obsess over my absent-mindedness: making typos or struggling to remember a name. Mental lapses can be embarrassing, but I decided that I need to work on not worrying so much about it. Better to own it and make it work than stress myself out trying to be something I’m not.

Then I grabbed that copy of Dandelion, put it in my backpack, and went to bed.

 

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