Just before the National Puzzlers’ League convention in 2008, I made a top-ten list of NPL Con puzzles and games featured at the ten conventions I had attended up to that point. The list was posted on LiveJournal and included the following:
#10: Going to Extremes (ConGA) |
#9: A Hard Day’s Flat (Concouver)
#8: Scroggle (BosCon)
#7: No Contest! (MichiCon)
#6: Telephone Pictionary (NYNJA)
#5: Texas Jeopardy! (TexSACon)
#4: Concerto for Orchestra (IndyCon)
#3: Small-Town News (IndyCon)
#2: Puzzle Treasure Hunt (Contana)
#1: Pyramid (Contana)
ETA: In an earlier version of this post I erroneously stated that the 2008 list was posted on Friendster. I regret the error.
I am traveling to Milwaukee next week for my 21st NPL Con and decided to make a new top-ten list of puzzles and games representing conventions 11 through 20.
My list includes puzzles and games that I solved or played at the convention. I excluded (with a few exceptions) activities I presented or spectated without actually playing. Subjective factors, such as my performance or who I played with, influenced an activity’s inclusion/placement on the list.
10. Dilemma (SiLiCon)
Tinhorn’s elegant game, like Wits & Wagers, presents itself as a straightforward trivia exercise but is really about strategy. The task of placing correct and incorrect answers on an answer sheet seems simple at first but soon becomes fraught. Tinhorn’s vocal delivery of “A” and “B” answers, reminiscent of an eye doctor asking which lens is clearer, adds to the tension in a delightful way. Delimma debuted at an LA minicon, has been presented at several Cons after hours, and was an official game in Salt Lake City.
9. What (SiLiCon)
In What, teams try to solve a ten-word clue (the first word is always “What”), but only get to see some of the words. This limited-information theme has been used before, but Spelvin simplified the mechanics such that What could be played as an after-hours pickup game.
8. Makeshift Jeopardy! (MaineCon)
This is one of the exceptions I alluded to in the introduction. I actually played this game at a Las Vegas minicon nearly a year before it was presented in the unofficial program of MaineCon. I played subsequent installments at later NPL conventions, but the original version left the most powerful impression. Arcs sheepishly asked the Vegas group if he could run some questions from his partially written Jeopardy! game. We agreed and sat around a crudely drawn Jeopardy! game board to pass the time with some trivia questions. We chuckled forgivingly every time we selected a square for which a clue hadn’t been written, but then strange things began happening and we suddenly realized that we were being played. Everything in the game, which started with Jeopardy! but soon ventured into other classic game shows, was a deliberate and elaborately constructed puzzle suite. This was a brilliant combination of top-notch content and presentation!
7. Bar Exam (Beacon)
The Willy Wonka-themed extravaganza created by Navin, Shaggy, Spelvin, and Zebraboy had a cute opening skit and excellent puzzles, but why bury the lede: The Oomphitheatre is what everyone will remember about this event. Every participant made at least one trip to the breakout room to see the looping video presentation of ingenious cryptic clues via song parody. A Bar Exam highlight for me was being on a stroller team with Story’s daughter and my nephew. Watching the young solvers delight in the handout puzzles and the glass elevator metapuzzle was a heartwarming experience.
5 (tie). Color Ado (Conorado) and Middle of the Road (Recouvery)
I gave two cryptic crosswords on the list, constructed by Wombat and Trick respectively, the same ranking. I wrote a piece several years ago that describes both of these puzzles.
4. Suffer for Your Art (Conorado)
The extravaganzas of Manx and Jo the Loiterer always feature great puzzles, but the production values tend to be simple when the extravaganza is prompted by last-minute request from the program committee. Suffer for Your Art was no last-minute request and the results were spectacular. Manx and Jo’s collection of art themed puzzles included an actual mobile suspended from the ceiling, a wall hanging of “Birth of Venus” made by combining paint-by-numbers grids of the full set of teams, a Warhol puzzle with pieces retrieved from a sealed Campbell’s soup can, and a puzzle that required a phone call to the Rembrandt Toothpaste customer service line.
3. Puzzling in the Dark (Recouvery)
WXYZ’s team communication challenge was a feast for the senses, except sight. A group of blindfolded solvers sat around a table filled with animal noisemakers, scented markers, pieces of sandpaper, and other objects. With minimal instructions, the group worked together to make sense of the objects and find a final answer. The game was full of satisfying discoveries. WXYZ shared positive postmortem observations and encouraged participants to watch subsequent sessions.
2. Exquisite Fruit
I introduced this trivia-by-committee game at a friend’s house eight years ago. It is played in many different settings but has a manifest association with NPL Con and remains an after-hours staple. I think the Krewe embraces Exquisite Fruit because it is a vehicle for silliness that has just enough mindful game-play to make it legitimate. It’s not as profound as the cryptic crosswords or extravaganzas that appear on this list but it reflects the character of Con in a significant way, which is why I rank it so high.
1. Doubles Jeopardy!/It Takes Two
Maso was a beloved game presenter. One reason I think he was so successful in that role is that he stayed on the sidelines and allowed the players to be the stars. When Doubles Jeopardy! debuted at BaltiCon, he introduced the exercise with a casual, unassuming manner. He didn’t talk a lot during the game as many of the rounds featured clues printed on index cards. He was almost a non-presence during parts of the game, and yet he devised challenges that had players singing, dancing, drawing, doing celebrity impersonations, and consuming jelly beans with flair. Maso made new versions of Doubles Jeopardy!, later renamed It Takes Two, very year until his tragic death in 2015. Krewe continue to create It Takes Two sets in appreciation of the format and its creator who showed that game presenters don’t have to be centers of attention. The game tops the list based on how at has inspired more Krewe to share content at conventions.
I look forward to being at convention next week where I will talk to other members of the League about their favorite activities from the last ten years, and experiencing puzzles and games that will make my next top-ten list.