— by Oak (with commentary by Engineer, formerly known as Splinter)
I’ve been to 4 Cons in my 30 years of NPL life (Boulder (1985), Charlottesville (1987), Montreal (1994), and San Antone.) All were wonderful. All were fun. But this one was just right. Within 5 minutes of checking in, I had reconnected with Sluggo, Helene, and a few others lounging in the lobby. Inside of a minute after the Hospitality suite opened, Panther had pulled my son (and newest NPL member Engineer, by the way) into a new card game he’d never played before. This seemed to be a trend for the weekend. I guess puzzlers love to show new people new things. He was always traipsing off to learn a new card game, or play in a trivia game (he didn’t do too well on the Pop Culture Jeopardy! game [Ed: by Spelvin], but he had a great time playing).
The highlight of his weekend, as for many of us, was the Extravaganza. His team included Uncanny, who showed remarkable aplomb in dealing with a newbie, giving him tasks that he could complete and that made him feel like a real member of the team. He says he was terrible, but the team didn’t seem to care. I promise that in Ann Arbor he’ll be better at everything. We’re going to co-solve for the next year.
I think my jaw-dropping moment was the Five-Minute Flat competition [Ed: organized by Atlantic]. I was lucky enough to get thrown together with Saxifrage, Rubrick, Sue++, and a couple of others I have forgotten. It was absolutely amazing to me how rhyme and verse seemed to just FLOW from Sax and Sue++, and how quickly Rubrick drew up the picture rebus! And flow was the correct word, too. It looked effortless. These people seemingly LIVE in the verse world. They are marvelous to watch and be around. [Editor’s comment: I think it must be recorded that Oak was the one who came up with the idea for our flat!]
I think there will be a special place in heaven for all of the people who host cons, by the way. There they will be served cool drinks by a large number of wait staff, and will never have to restock a hospitality suite or find a new sound system again. These people are truly amazing. I swear I never saw Rebel without a smile. She was gracious beyond gracious, and organized to the hilt. Nothing fazed her. She had a contingency for everything. Fourth floor, first floor, meeting hall . . . all great. The food was good, too. I really enjoyed the buffet style for all the meals. I am not a picky eater, but I do enjoy choices, and we had plenty. The made-to-order omelets on Sunday morning were great. And the feat of magic, having the Con photos ready to go on Sunday morning, just put it over the top for me. Cheers, Rebel. And thanks to W.Y. [Ed: the photographer] too!
I guess I’ll never be a winner when it comes to finding the hidden contest. My powers of observation were best displayed when, by Saturday evening’s dinner, I finally realized V and Roy had more of a connection than just being two loud, funny, smart, and creative guys from the Seattle area! When the powers that be decided that twins were a good idea, I think these two were what they had in mind. By the way, guys, after driving out to Leon Springs for Rudy’s BBQ, my son and I counted no fewer than three more Rudy’s on the drive up I-35 to OKC, including one that was only about 5 miles north of the hotel! But that trip to Rudy’s was one of the epicurean highlights of the trip. (The other was the guacamole made at your table at Boudro’s Texas Bistro on the Riverwalk. Engineer and I still salivate over that.)
And as always, it’s the people I’ll remember. While several commented on Engineer’s green hair, not one of you made him feel bad about it. You are the most accepting and universally nice people I’ve ever been around. Other images that spring to mind: V’s Old Dog card game in the Magnolia room; Jangler sound asleep on the couch in the lobby Sunday morning; Nubianamy and 4 ever present; Groucho’s outrageous puns; the video flats with Sirhound (KUDOS to all involved in that project: Sue++, Sirplus, Uc, Hathor — actress extraordinaire — and several I’ve lost in my memory); Dart’s spectacular video explanations of the various flat types (brilliant!); introducing everyone Thursday and Friday night, including the people who walked in after reading about our group in the paper. All of these stick out in my mind. And I know that as soon as I send this off, several more will resurface.
Engineer has already declared that he’s ready to make reservations in Ann Arbor for next year, and I’m with him. He wants to actually contribute next year, and has said that he’d be willing to help host a Con in the Heart of the Heartland (OKC) sometime in the future. So if any of the previous con hosts have a Do’s, Don’ts, and Gotcha!s list lying around, I’d like to look at it. I don’t want to compete with Seattle or Annapolis (I want to attend both of those), so I’m looking at 2011 at the soonest. OKC has a lot going for it though, including a marvelous restaurant area called Bricktown, the National Western Heritage Museum (once known as and still called by the locals The Cowboy Hall of Fame) with a vast collection of western art and artifacts, several old bookstores, downtown walking tours, and a Riverwalk that might not be as expansive as San Antone, but is growing rapidly. And of course there is the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial, always impressive and humbling. If anyone has an interest, I’ll pursue it further.
So, in closing, I want to thank Rebel again, and thank everyone who attended as well. It’s you folks who make our group what it is. Kudos to all of you.
— by Wrybosh
I ran a game called 50/50 Trivia at the San Antonio convention. First, teams of 4–5 wrote trivia questions, with the objective that half of the people could answer them and half couldn’t (we disallowed true/false, multiple choice, and other questions for which people could guess among a small set of easily inferred answers). Then, working individually, people answered the questions. They also predicted which questions would be hard (half or fewer will answer correctly) and which would be easy (half or more will answer correctly).
Players’ scores consisted of three equally weighted components. Everybody scores one point for each correct answer and one point for each correct prediction. In addition, everybody on a team got the same number of points for their question, which was maximized if exactly half of the people answered correctly and was 0 if either everybody answered correctly or nobody did. There were 30 questions and 122 people answering, so if there had been a question that exactly 61 people answered correctly, the people who wrote that question would have scored 30 points for their question, in addition to their individual answer and prediction scores. In fact, the best questions were two that 65 people answered and one that 57 people knew, so the people who wrote those questions scored (57/61) × 30 = 28.03 points apiece.
For the benefit of people who couldn’t join us in San Antonio but want to play along, here are the questions that people wrote:
Feel free to see how many you can answer, and to guess which questions more than half of the people in San Antonio knew the answers to and which ones fewer people could answer. (Correct answers and the numbers of people answering each question correctly appear on page 35 of the Sept, 2006 Enigma .) There wasn’t time to give a full rundown of results, so in addition to the numbers of correct answers to each question, here are histograms showing distributions of people’s answer and prediction scores, and a table showing the component scores for the people with the top ten total scores.
50/50 Trivia was originally designed for smaller groups, about 15–25 people, and it can be played with as few as 10 people. The game is the same for smaller groups except that individuals write questions instead of teams. Each person’s question earns 2 points for each correct answer or 2 points for each incorrect answer, whichever is less. This has the serendipitous effect of avoiding all those unsightly fractions.