|Photo by Phil Skinner/ AJC
Teamwork: Sandy Kutin of Chicago (from left),
Trip Payne of Atlanta and Kevin Wald of Chicago work on a puzzle near a
board of word cards at the annual National Puzzlers' League convention.
Send $18 check to National Puzzlers' League, Joseph J. Adamski,
2507 Almar St., Jenison, Mich. 49428. The $18 includes a one-year subscription
to the group's puzzle magazine, the Enigma.
By Jeffry Scott , The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The National Puzzlers' League met for its annual convention in Atlanta this weekend -- and not a bartender in town knows it.
"We don't really drink or go out much when we get together," explained Barbara Selfridge, 39, at the group's Team Puzzle Extravaganza Saturday night in a ballroom of the Terrace Garden Hotel in Buckhead.
"We sit around and solve more puzzles."
Some group. Some puzzles: Crosswords, acrostics, spoonergrams, heteronyms, transposals, enigmatic rebuses transdeletions, reversed linkades . . . .
If this is all about having fun with English, will somebody please speak it?
"It takes a while to get the hang of it," admits Will Shortz, program director of the convention and the man with perhaps the single most sadistic job in America: New York Times crossword puzzle editor.
"It also helps to have the right bent," he adds.
In recent years, the group -- which has met at least once annually since 1883 -- has tried to lure Average Joe into its league of word games so difficult even some of the 106 cognoscenti in attendance were resorting to pocket computers Saturday night.
"It's not cheating to use Franklin, is it?" asked Jinny Jones of Bethesda, Md., trying to crack clues to the most elaborate puzzle of the three-day convention, something called "Dissertation Dreaming."
"No," said Selfridge, pulling out her Franklin crossword calculator, which takes combinations of letters and, with the press of a button, spits outs words.
Stumping the group was a nine-letter combination that describes a prize you could win at a fair.
Hmm. Brass ring? Nope. Teddy bear? Nope.
An hour into the competition, Selfridge's group of word sleuths, working clues that included captions from Far Side cartoons, were still scratching their noggins.
Members of the NPL -- composed mostly of mathematicians, computer programmers, crossword puzzle makers and writers -- concede that they're an odd lot.
At the convention nobody uses his or her name. Instead, they wear badges bearing "noms" -- pseudonyms -- so you end up hearing the following snippets of conversation:
"Mehitabel, have you seen Lunch Boy?"
"Yeah. He's with Xeipon."
One member explains that the pseudonyms make everyone feel equal. Xeipon's real name is Ed Pegg. He's 34, a computer programmer from Colorado Springs, Colo., and the author of a puzzle that conventioneers wrestled during Saturday afternoon's "pencil and paper" competition.
The puzzle was a "transposal." Solvers had to find a word of 14 letters (answer: reconstructing), which, when rearranged into two 7-letter words, had a similar meaning (answer: cutting corners) and made sense of an incredibly cryptic story.
"I found the base word with a computer," Pegg enthusiastically explained later. "And it just popped in my mind. That's something to try!"
Marilyna Huret, 45, of Yardley, Penn., has attended the convention for nine years. She's a puzzle editor for an online publication. The gathering, she says, "gives me a chance to be with people of like mind, exercise my brain and humble me."
John McNeill, 54, joined NPL in 1984. He's one of the group's most honored members. He won the U.S. Open Crossword championship in 1983. It takes McNeill "15-20 minutes" to complete the New York Times Sunday crossword.
It takes a special kind of brain to do that, doesn't it, John?
"Special?" he says. "No, I don't think that's the right word. I'd say weird or twisted."