I grew up on a steady diet of GAMES and, while it existed, The Four-Star Puzzler; since the latter ran some flat-like puzzles, and the former mentioned something about the NPL at some point, I was dimly aware of the existence of the organization all along. However, such memories lay dormant in my mind until July of 1996. Btnirn (who I knew from Harvard as well as via the general young math-nerd network to which a number of NPLers belong) and I were sharing a house over the summer in Princeton, but the night I arrived, he was at the Chicago convention, as I was informed by our housemates. The next morning, I was awakened at about 5 AM by a commotion downstairs –they had returned! “They” being–I think, though I was pretty groggy at the time–Btnirn, Al de Suda and Lunch Boy, who had just driven back from Chicago. (If anyone who knows is reading this, feel free to correct me!) I didn't give it too much thought at the time except to conclude (correctly) that NPL was a forum for collective insanity.
Aside from Btnirn's prodigious long-distance bills for the rest of the summer, this incident didn't have much of an effect on my life until I decided to go to the Stamford crossword tournament the following spring. I asked Btnirn about it, but it was going to be his first time too, so he couldn't answer many of my questions. He did warn me that I would be swamped by NPLers, as indeed I was. I guess I succumbed to the peer pressure, and joined shortly thereafter.
First Issue: Feb 1997
No, it's not a homonym on the supercomputer company, and it's not (intentionally) four letters appearing in order in my full name. The K represents either of my initials, and “ray” is the meaning of my first name in Sanskrit.