The History of the National Puzzlers’ League
By Merlin et.al.
On July 4, 1883, a small group of word puzzlers met at Pythagoras Hall in New York City and founded the Eastern Puzzlers’ League (EPL). It was renamed the National Puzzlers’ League (NPL) in 1920; however, the organization has been in continuous existence ever since that first meeting. The aims of the NPL are to provide a pastime of mental relaxation for lovers of word puzzles, to raise the standard of puzzling to a higher intellectual level, and to establish and foster friendships among its widely scattered members. The membership consists of men and women of all ages and in all walks of life. None of the officers receives a salary, and the yearly dues paid by the members are used for the publication of a monthly puzzle magazine called The Enigma (originally The Eastern Enigma).
At first The Eastern Enigma contained few, if any, puzzles. Instead it reported on business transacted at puzzlers’ conventions, printed verses and skits composed by League members, and presented debates on the controversial topics of the day. These topics included the use of obsolete words in puzzles, the use of certain esoteric reference books as authorities, and the advisability of admitting new types of puzzles to the pages of The Eastern Enigma.
Editors rarely served more than one year at a time, and the publication schedule was often irregular. In the January, 1900, issue a puzzle department called “Penetralia” was started, and this appeared regularly until 1903. “Penetralia” was started again in the February, 1910, issue and has been a feature of all Eastern Enigmas and Enigmas published since then.
An important part of the history of the NPL is the story of a few dedicated men and women who have served as editors of The Enigma. Before 1920, Remardo (a nom de plume; see the Guide section on Noms for more information) served in this capacity for twelve years and showed the way for his successors by publishing The Eastern Enigma every month beginning in February, 1910. From 1923 to 1954 the League was fortunate to have Arty Ess at the helm. Not only did he serve as editor for more than thirty years, but also he was renowned as a composer of all types of puzzles and he demonstrated his considerable skill as a solver after he retired from the editorship.
From 1954 to 1970, tireless B. Natural edited The Enigma and during much of that time he also managed to edit The Cryptogram, the bimonthly organ of the American Cryptogram Association. When B. Natural retired, Pamapama - a husband-wife team - stepped forward and took over the demanding task from August, 1970, until October, 1971. The editorship of Pamapama saw the beginning of the “modern era” of the National Puzzlers’ League. Interest and membership grew significantly during the editorships of Nightowl (from November, 1971, through October, 1977) and Mangie (from November, 1977, through November, 1986).
Faro (another husband-wife team) served as editors from December, 1986, through December, 1988, while at the same time editing the quarterly journal Word Ways; and Sibyl took over in January, 1989. Lunch Boy succeeded her for the years 1997 through 1999; Xemu took over with the January, 2000, issue; and our current editor, Saxifrage, took over in January, 2003.
In 1970, editor B. Natural felt that the League was about to die out. It’s true that membership in 1970 had declined alarmingly and the editor often did not have enough new material to fill the pages of The Enigma. Yet, since that time, the NPL has reversed that trend remarkably. The League has grown and prospered, the number of puzzles published in The Enigma every month has increased considerably, and the ingenuity of our puzzle constructors and solvers seems to know no bounds. It’s safe to say that the future of the NPL looks very bright.
Until 1958 the League held annual or semiannual conventions, usually meeting in the eastern part of the country. From 1958 into the early 1970s the small membership and lack of interest precluded any meetings, but in August 1976, a very successful convention was held in Princeton, New Jersey. Every summer since then the League has held a three- or four-day convention, and each has been a rousing success. Meetings have been in California, New York, Indiana, Colorado, and many other places. WILLz, who is also the crossword editor of The New York Times, has chaired each of the modern conventions. The conventions and the attendant publicity in local newspapers have played an important role in bringing in new members.
In the early days of the EPL and NPL, conventions consisted mostly of business discussions on League matters and votes on the admission of new members. Modern conventions are better experienced than described, but it is fair to say they include only the bare minimum of business discussion, leaving time for dozens of structured and unstructured word-puzzle competitions, game playing into the wee hours, and lots of puzzle talk with good friends.
It should be noted that, as members of the Krewe (a collective name for League members), we are in no sense puzzlers for profit. The verses, articles, and puzzles printed in The Enigma are contributed gratis by members of the League. We indulge in puzzling for the entertainment, recreation, and educational advantages that it provides. Anyone interested in words is cordially invited to join us and share in our hobby.