I finally went for the first time 3 years ago with David LW, in order to introduce him to the puzzle people. This was fun for both him and me, and I ended up returning every year since (however, David stayed away from puzzle events until coming to Stamford for the first time this year, as a puzzle contributor and judge).
I'm not sure I would want to be a judge at Stamford, but at Pleasantville the scoring system makes judging easy. The person with the fastest correct puzzle in each round advances to the finals, so once you determine that, no more puzzles need to be graded (other than those in special categories like teams, age groups, and rookies).
I was able to get a ride up from Dean, and after a bit of traffic in Manhattan we made it north in good time with good conversation. It was interesting to note that the foliage was green in the city, yet the leaves had already turned and fallen by Pleasantville. The weather was crisp, but not bitingly cold; I wore a wool sweater (from the Nana collection) and warm jacket for the first time this season.
The official evening starts with dinner at the Magic Wok. Despite being a small suburban restaurant, this place has interesting dishes I haven't seen elsewhere. My favorite is almond-crusted chicken. We ended up passing around plates of appetizers and entrees among the group, and split the bill for a reasonable $15 each.
The tournament is in an old church. I ignored the table piled with baked goods, and shmoozed. I don't see these people that often, so it's nice to catch up. Sources confirmed that one publisher is cutting back on puzzle books to only do reprints, which is good news for the other publishers who are expected to take up the slack. Someone introduced himself as a reader of this blog (Hi) and near-contemporary; we played Jewish geography.
When the dust cleared after the preliminary puzzles, there were no surprises. It was an all-NPL final of cazique, elainetyger and Clio doing next Thursday's NYT puzzle. This ended up being one of the most exciting finals I'd ever seen. All three worked at a similar pace, finishing in different parts of the puzzle within seconds of each other. Cazique was first and accurate, for the win. When Will commented that he had been in the Pleasantville final once before without winning, I thought "Ha! Talk to me after he's done that 12 times." Just kidding, Zeke. :)
The awards were given out and then everyone could take a book. I have more than enough and resisted the temptation. Dean got 3rd rookie prize; he might have been first had puzzle 1 been the criterion instead of puzzle 3.
Then NPLers and assorted friends headed for Will's house a few blocks away. Someone had opened up the house ahead of time, and the party was going strong when Will walked in, leading to a feeling of "Uh-oh, Daddy's home!" Not that anything wild was going on. toonhead_npl attached his magic flash drive to my iBook (get your minds out of the gutter!) and fixed my DropStuff problem; I was nervous about him touching my still clean and white machine while drinking beer but his fingers didn't smell beery.
I listened to Will give a partial house tour (no attic or basement tonight), with anecdotes of some of the rare items in his puzzlabilia collection. The party went quickly and soon it was time to go. I found a ride back (Dean was heading up to MA), and that went quickly too.
Tomorrow is a full day of puzzles and family in Great Neck.