I wrote some memories of the 2018 National Puzzler’s League Convention in “badge” format, I may add more later on.
Con Queso Badge
I didn’t sample much of the local cuisine while I was in Milwaukee, yet I still found opportunities to enjoy Wisconsin cheese. On Monday night I joined a group at a restaurant about a block from the hotel called the SafeHouse. The restaurant has a spy theme and requires a password for entry. If you don’t know the password you can earn it by completing a stunt in the lobby. Our group danced a simple can-can and we were soon escorted through a false bookcase to a table underneath a Cold War-themed Sam Loyd wall puzzle that shifted between displaying 12 and 13 agents with the touch of a button. The food was okay, the drinks were not as okay, and the decor was full of 1960s kitsch whose political incorrectness left me a little queasy. A printed card that appeared to be a walkaround puzzle turned out to be a scavenger hunt encouraging patrons to find the gift shop and post photos to social media. I appreciated Trip Payne’s assessment of SafeHouse: TGI Spy Days. On Tuesday I took a day trip to Wisconsin Dells, a town constructed entirely of cheese. Every block of the town boasted a water park or rope course or go-kart track or funnel cake stand or some similar carnivalesque tourist trap. Our group playe miniature golf, had a meal at a Sprecher’s restaurant, and visited some “$5 Today Only” walk-through tours of an Aztec temple and rat maze. The SafeHouse and Wisconsin Dells satisfied my hunger for cheese, and I did not need to pick up any squeaky curds on the road trip back to Milwaukee.
Escape the Expectations Badge
I played three escape rooms during the vacation. One was Wizard Quest in Wisconsin Dells, which featured high-concept fabricated sets and playground amusements (including a ball pit that one of my teammates was temporarily stuck in). The other two were traditional escape rooms in corporate suites. None had remarkable puzzle content, but the two traditional rooms had interesting approaches used by the game masters. Sherrick at Escape MKE had an elaborate comedy routine for the briefing followed by a very detailed debriefing report that included calling out individual players by name for their contributions. I was impressed by the diligent note-taking but the report went on a but long for my taste and I noted that a player whose name did not get mentioned in the report might feel slighted. Shlomo Levin at Save MKE was the most committed game master I have ever encountered. His briefing for the “Device” escape room was the first I’d encountered with jump scares, caused by his intense narration punctuated by bursts of anxiety-ridden emphasis. Our mission was a success and after our celebratory photo I shop-talked about business and room design and so forth. He adamants stayed in character claiming no knowledge of an escape room “business” or any artifice of the world-saving experience. We shrugged and departed, with teammate Todd Etter whispering to me, “Maybe there’s such a thing as TOO immersive.” In escape rooms good staffing is more important than good puzzles so I was glad to get some field data to bring back to Puzzah!
Be Lucky or Be Around Badge
I had the good fortune to play most of the hot-ticket after-hours games this year. Darren Rigby’s What’s the Big Idea is a very creative reimagining of the board game Concept. My teammate Gary Levin and I took a while to break in but made some successful insights toward the end of the game. Dave Shukan’s Dilemma (featured my most recent top ten games list) was a delight as always, and I managed a respectable second place to Ken Stern’s perfect score. Adam Cohen’s Jeopardy! was solid though it didn’t feature a category I could get a firm toehold in. Katherine Bryant and Ken Stern’s Last Minute Jeopardy! was explained early on as a “Celebrity” version, though I didn’t understand what that meant, or how amazingly inventive the theme was, until after the final clue. Sandor Weisz presented his tabletop escape room Galleries in Denver on the Wednesday before Con. I thought I was going to miss it, since I was already going to be Milwaukee, but Sandor flew from Colorado to Wisconsin with puzzle sets in tow and presented his artistically rendered and beautifully constructed game for the NPLers! Todd Etter and Evan Davis, with bartending support from Jonathan McCue and delightful lounge singing from Summer Herick, offered sample rounds from a DCPHR puzzle hunt. The puzzles all had top-notch production values and answer extractions. Jen McTeague has presented suitcase escape rooms at previous con that I have missed, so I was immensely excited to secure a spot in Escape the Jeopardy!, which combined a trivia round with escape room puzzles that required information from the trivia to be solved. I spent most of my time at the escape room table but was able to hear the trivia questions when I spectated a subsequent round. I didn’t get to play all of the after-hours games that I wanted but was delighted to find seatings for so many of them.
Code of Conduct Badge (pending)
Mike Selinker and Gaby Weidling drafted a Code of Conduct statement and presented it at the business meeting on Saturday. The statement represents a standard amenity of conventions in the modern era (and I extend my appreciation to Mike and Gabby for their work on the document) but in the case of the NPL it is also a reaction to specific and awful incidents in which the safety of attendees has been violated. I saw a draft of the statement several months before the convention and appreciated the diligence but dismissed it as unimportant reading for a supposedly enlightened and inclusive individual like myself. Wow, I sure became aware during the Con how easy it is for me to initiate a handshake or embrace that makes another feel uncomfortable or use an improper pronoun. My suggestion is that we all need to review the Code of Conduct and realize that we may not have the opportunities in our daily routines to practice the sensitivity required for occasions such as NPL Con. I will do better.