Sharing the Fun (Part 1)
The NPL is not a secret organization! True, most people don’t seem to understand our fascination with word, letter, and phonetic play. When shown The Enigma, they smile politely and secretly wonder about our sanity. But there are thousands who might love to join our ranks-if only they knew of our existence. Punsters, crossword solvers, doggerel writers, Games subscribers, Harper’s cryptic-crossword contest winners, and so on. Feel free to publicize the NPL among your friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. Moreover, if you have the opportunity to get a word about the NPL into a local paper, why not?
Enigma minisamples are available from the editor for a SASE, and they can be duplicated freely. They provide an excellent introduction to the joys of our brand of puzzling. Always keep a few handy, and don’t hesitate to show them to potential recruits!
To most of us, puzzle-solving is a combination of competition and cooperation. Competition, because we try to outdo ourselves and each other in a friendly spirit. Cooperation, because most of us enjoy discussing difficult puzzles, exchanging hints, or even solving jointly.
It is perfectly “legal” to get help when solving. When you ask for help from someone who has already solved a puzzle, make clear what sort of hint you want: a sledgehammer hint (“sledgie”), which will quickly give the whole thing away, or a “tackie,” which will just nudge you in the right direction. Who should you ask? Well, you have a whole directory full of phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and you can be sure most of the people there are willing to help. Ask around until you’ve found a few folks whose clue-giving style and strength matches what you want. However, keep in mind that the one person you should not be asking for hints is the composer, since that is the one person who never had to solve the puzzle!
When you give hints to other Krewe, be careful not to reveal more than they want. A good way to start is to describe what your own first steps were in solving the puzzle. What was the entry point? Other hints might be whether or not the solution is a common word or phrase; whether the solver is likely to know it; and, if not, whether the solver is likely to be able to build it up from parts. Or you might mention what references, if any, you found useful in solving the puzzle. However, remember that a hint should not be so big as to rob the solver of the pleasure of solving!
Help from friends outside the League is also perfectly acceptable. If you don’t know much about TV, or opera, or sports, or rock music, and a flat seems to require knowledge you don’t have, you probably know someone who can help you. Ask!
Some members enjoy working together on puzzles. Cooperative solving groups have become a regular feature of NPL conventions. “Minicons” (regional gatherings of Krewe members) sometimes feature team solving of puzzles in the current Enigma. The ABC River Cluists (a group of puzzlers in Berkeley) meet regularly to have breakfast and group-solve cryptic crosswords.
In group solving, the emphasis is on everyone’s participation. Speed and one-upmanship have to take a back seat. While each group must develop its own agreed-upon etiquette, the following guidelines may be helpful:
Another form of group solving involves two or more members teaming up to solve the puzzles in The Enigma and submitting a joint solution list. In a team arrangement, members often work on the puzzles separately, and then collaborate (via phone, mail, or electronic mail) on the toughest ones.
To get a local puzzlers’ group off the ground, the best approach may be to organize word-game parties. Berkeley area Krewe have hosted Equinox word-game parties for more than fifteen years. Different regions have different traditions, but Boston, New Jersey, New York, and Los Angeles all have regular get-togethers, which are often chronicled in The Enigma. NPL members from all over the Northeast participate in the epic MIT Treasure Hunt in the winter, and the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (held in Brooklyn) in the spring draws NPLers from all over. Of course, the summer NPL convention is the mother of all word-game parties!
The easiest party to organize involves a small group playing commercial word games, such as Scrabble®, Boggle®, or Anagrams, and their spinoffs. In a more ambitious, larger word-game party, two or three dozen people congregate to solve puzzles, play game-show-like games, and compete in team challenges. A good way to learn how to organize such a party is to attend an NPL convention and bring back the games for local use, or to borrow games and puzzles from members in other areas. Eventually, you will want to design your own games and puzzles especially for the occasion, and bring them to the next convention!