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Frequently Asked Questions We Made Up About the NPL Convention

So you're new to the concept of a National Puzzlers' League convention, and you have questions. Let's pretend we know what they are.

Where and when is this year's National Puzzlers' League convention?

For 2014, we'll be gathering in Portland, Maine from July 17th through 20th.

What is a National Puzzlers' League convention?

The simple answer is that it's the best decision you will ever make in your puzzling life.

Okay, what is a National Puzzlers' League convention, in slightly more informative terms?

It's a four-day convention where many of the most puzzle-mad people in the world gather. Most of them are members of the National Puzzlers' League, the world's oldest puzzlers' organization. As members of this nonprofit organization, we've been solving puzzles nonstop since 1883. (Well, not the same people. But you get the idea.)

You'll see dozens of new puzzle types debuted at the convention. You'll play in a team-based puzzle-solving extravaganza and test your skill in a solving contest of wordplay puzzles. You'll play Jeopardy! and charades and many other games in ways you've never thought possible. You'll hear our program director WILLz and other famous puzzlers speak. You'll tour the city with your eyes wide open for clues. You'll constantly talk about puzzles. You might never sleep. As member Mosayc wrote in his post on Wired Magazine's Decode blog: "the annual conventions are lively and entertaining, deftly combining good conversation and puzzle-solving ... Sleep, you'll notice, is not on the agenda. There are 361 other days in the year for that sort of thing."

And you will meet the best friends you'll ever have. Going to an NPL convention was the first time many of us met people from all over the world who were just like us. As longtime member Eric put it, "This is where the people from your home planet are."

You don't have to be a member of the NPL to attend the convention. In fact, many people first learn about the NPL by showing up at the convention when we're in their home city and then decided to join. (We were in Austin, Texas last year and we'll be in Vancouver, British Columbia next year.) No, you don't have to join afterwards either, but you may find you can't help yourself.

Holy moley! That sounds awesome!

That wasn't a question.

Good point. What type of puzzles are we talking about?

The NPL has a strong slant toward word puzzles, but at the con you'll see a tremendous range, including word puzzles, logic puzzles, trivia puzzles, competitive puzzles, collaborative puzzles, and one-of-a-kind puzzles, games, and puzzle games you've never seen before.

Saturday's Flat Competition, the highlight of the convention for some longtime krewe members, is all about flats, puzzles in verse form that have proven over our 120-plus years to provide endless opportunities for creativity and continuous solving enjoyment. We'll admit flats can be difficult for newcomers, but we don't want that to scare you off — they're just a small part of the convention. For some examples of flats, check out our minisample (PDF). The flat competition itself is designed to be friendly to newcomers. People can compete individually, in pairs, or join one of several large groups that solve cooperatively.

What happens at Con? And When?

While the specifics vary from convention to convention, the official schedule usually looks something like this (This is not the real schedule — you'll find it right here when it gets close to con).

  • Wednesday, late afternoon/early evening: Social gathering with light food for early arrivals
  • Thursday evening, 8:00 - 11:00 pm: Introductions for first-time attendees, followed by interactive word games and puzzles
  • Friday evening, 8:00 - 11:00 pm: Interactive word games and puzzles
  • Saturday morning, 10:30 - Noon: Business meeting, at which the location of the NPL convention two years hence is decided, along with discussion of other matters that may come up
  • Saturday afternoon, 2:15 - 5:00 pm: Pencil-and-paper puzzles for competitive solving, including a flat-solving contest composed of puzzles created especially for the convention; followed by the convention photo at 5:30
  • Saturday evening: Presentation of the annual Golden Sphinx awards during dinner; followed by a Puzzle Extravaganza, which is a themed team-solving event, with multiple puzzles and at least one meta-challenge incorporating answers from other puzzles in the set; generally most teams finish by midnight or so
  • Sunday morning, 10:30 - 11:45: Prize ceremony and tearful good-byes

In addition, there are always unofficial games, walk-around puzzles outdoors, etc., during the day, and informal games and pencil-and-paper puzzles (all brought by attendees) well into the night. There are also two or three official cryptic crossword puzzles, released Thursday evening, which members pair up on and co-solve over the weekend. Also a hidden contest, which may be released — and solved — at any point during the convention.

Some catered meals are also included (see below).

OK, I'm sold! How do I get involved?

You decide to come and pay the registration fee. The way most people do that is to pre-register for the convention. For registration info, click here.

What do I get for my registration fee?

The bulk of the registration fee pays for the convention space at the hotel and for hotel catering fees for meals. This year, there are five catered meals included, from Friday dinner through Sunday breakfast.

The rest of it goes to providing you with the best puzzling experience the League can offer. Every event is included in your convention fee. The program includes three unique games on Thursday night, three more on Friday night, three more on Saturday including a massive wordplay contest, and a giant puzzle-solving extravaganza on Saturday night. There's a welcome dinner on Wednesday if you come early. Plus you get a convention photo, convention speakers, lots of cryptic crosswords, all the after-hours activities, puzzle tours of neighboring attractions, snacks in the hospitality suite, a hidden contest, and a fancy nametag.

Did you just list a nametag as a selling point?

We might just have (and, at con, we call them nomtags). Being in the League is like joining a secret society of puzzle wonks, and we take our names seriously.

See, if you look on the home page, you'll notice that the con host is Wesley. That's a nom. Wesley's real name is Jennifer, but you'll never hear anyone use that name, except maybe if you're having some formal interaction with them on con business. That's because each of the NPL members has a nom de puzzle, usually just referred to as a nom. You'll be playing on teams with people whose puzzles you've solved for your entire lives. But when you're sitting with WILLz (that's Will Shortz) and Manx (that's Mike Shenk), those are just your teammates, y'know? Everyone's brain is considered equal at an NPL con. If you don't have a nom yet, don't worry — you won't find a shortage of congoers who want to help you pick one.

I'm [ only coming to part of the con / not going to be at all the meals / won't be eating a whole lot / don't really like crosswords, so I'll only be doing a subset of the puzzle / etc etc ]; what's the discounted cost for me?

Much of the cost of the con covers common goods: The rooms where events are held, the hospitality suite, nomtags (see above), etc. In addition, we're a very small organization without much infrastructure, which means Mercury (our awesome treasurer) and the Con host deal with each con registration personally (if you have any questions not answered here, feel free to reach out to ). Therefore, there really aren't any discounts, with two exceptions:

  1. If you have local friends you want to introduce to the NPL, you can bring them to ONE session of con for free. Usually the Thursday & Friday evening pencil & paper games are best for this, as they don't require a lot of knowledge of NPL traditions (like the flat competition). Also, if they enjoy it, they may want to sign up for the rest of con, or join the Krewe.
  2. If you have very strict dietary issues, we can sometimes offer a con fee with no meals — contact the Con host ( about this.

Everyone else pays full price.

Speaking of food issues, I’m (vegetarian/vegan/kosher/allergic to onions), will I be able to eat?

There is a range of foods available at each meal, and we always attempt to satisfy vegetarians and vegans. If you have specific dietary needs, please fill out your member profile to let us know of any allergies and other foods you cannot eat, for any reason. The information you provide us is kept confidential and only provided to the con host and the hotel catering staff. If a dietary need or restriction that you have is not available in the form, please contact the webmaster.

What if I have an area where I need an accommodation?

Please contact con host or the hotel staff.

I want to bring my spouse/children/aunt/roomba/etc but they aren’t into puzzling. Is there anything planned for them?

There are no official activities planned for non-puzzlers, but Portland is an amazing city with lots to do. The Con Info provided by the Con host will provide some suggestions which will be useful both for NPL members arriving early and non-puzzlers looking to fill time while waiting for the puzzles to end. There are usually a fair number of people who bring children or spouses. Check the Attendance Notes page for information (and make sure to add your own information for others). The Con host may be able to help you connect with others who may want to do non-puzzling things together.

Dude, I'm so in. How do I get there?

If you're not convinced yet and you're local, just come by. If we have room, we'll usually accept walk-ins all the way through the convention. If you'd like to see what we're up to, poke your head in — we have a drop-in policy. The best time to drop in is Thursday night, which starts with a mixer at 8:00 PM; if you can't make Thursday night, Friday night is almost as good. For details on this year's drop-in policy, check the convention's home page. (Just be aware that if your head looks like it's going to stay for the convention, we will ask it for money.)

Do I have to stay in the hotel?

No, but we recommend it. If you have friends in the area, or you live nearby, feel free to commute to the convention. Just make sure to let your friends know you might be stumbling in late after crazy nights of puzzling.

Oh no! I missed the registration deadline. Can I still attend?

We may be able to accommodate some late registrants. Please send email to Wesley.

Did you answer all my strawman questions?

We sure hope so. But if not, send any more you have to Wesley.

And we'll see you at MaineCon!