Game Conventions Moving Online Soon!

san diego comic con

[Image courtesy of coolduder.]

Although some businesses and public spaces are beginning to open up, there’s no denying that the coronavirus is still having a devastating effect on large public gatherings.

For example, San Diego Comic Con, one of the premiere destination events for film, TV, and comic book fandom, is trying to figure out how to move the convention, or some significant aspect of it, online. But with so many participants and vendors to wrangle into some shared virtual space, things aren’t looking good for one of the biggest events on the entertainment calendar.

Maybe they can take a few pointers from the puzzle and game industry, because it seems like those fields are way ahead.

Not only did crossword fans get to enjoy Crossword Tournament From Your Couch back in March, but several gaming conventions are moving online in the hopes of bringing fans together and salvaging at least part of the year’s usual revelry and profit.

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Over Memorial Day weekend, the team at Paizo are hosting PaizoCon Online, a celebration of roleplaying games under the Paizo banner!

Six days of gaming — spanning May 26th through May 31st — allow for fans to stay safe at home as they play Pathfinder and Starfinder games.

If you’re looking to explore some D&D-style fun, either as an experienced player or a newcomer, click here to check out the full details on PaizoCon Online!

renegade con

And not long after that, the team at Renegade Game Studios is hosting Renegade Con: Virtual Edition.

Running from Friday, June 5th, to Sunday, June 7th, this free event (just sign up here!) brings together digital demos of new Renegade games, workshops, and panels featuring game designers and artists!

Everyone who signs up for a free ticket will have access to:

  • Shop the convention specials during the event
  • Get into free panels and workshops including The State of Renegade where we’ll talk about future projects on the horizon!
  • Demo upcoming and new games!

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A few weeks after Renegade Con, GAMA is hosting Origins Online. From June 19th to June 21st, you can virtually check out this annual gaming convention for board game, card game, LARP, and roleplaying fans.

You can check out the full details here!

Several of these events are also serving as fundraisers for various companies and event organizers that have suffered losses during the pandemic — including the Con of Champions fundraiser this weekend for Tabletop Events — so if you want to support the games industry, be sure to sign up and check out one of these events.

Maybe the folks at San Diego Comic Con will do so as well and pick up a trick or two along the way.


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Go Big, Then Go Home: The World’s Biggest Scavenger Hunt

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[Image courtesy of Cornell.edu.]

Have you ever done a scavenger hunt, fellow puzzler? They can be a lot of fun.

Some simply challenge you to find a bunch of random items, while others create a laundry list of activities to complete. Over the last decade or so, businesses have even sprung up to fulfill any party, group, or even city that might require a scavenger hunt for an event.

Yes, you can easily gather a group of friends, hit up any city at a certain point in the year, and find a scavenger hunt event waiting for you. They often involve puzzles, trivia, and other obstacles to success, rather than just a list of tasks to accomplish.

I’ve served as tech support for several, as well as an organizer for themed scavenger hunts at various sci-fi, fantasy, and writing conventions. I was supposed to be running one this weekend; that event, like so many others, was cancelled due to preventative measures to contain COVID-19.

So, as you might expect, I’ve got scavenger hunts on the brain. And with ample time to ponder, I couldn’t help but wonder… how big could you go?

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[Image courtesy of Guinness Book of World Records.]

I mean, if we’re talking a city-wide competition, you’d probably need to complete a half-dozen or a dozen objectives, based on previous city-themed hunts I’ve seen.

But what if it was the biggest scavenger hunt in the world? How many would it be then?

If you said as many as you could from a list of 150, then you have some impressive and specific guessing skills.

On September 10, 2017, the city of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, hosted a mass scavenger hunt to celebrate the city’s 150th anniversary. (For comparison’s sake, the one listed on the website for this year involved twenty obstacles.)

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[Image courtesy of Ottawa Citizen.]

So, how many people showed up to tackle 150 challenges for this world-record-setting scavenger hunt?

2,733.

Many of them wearing costumes.

Each of them pitched in on answering trivia, solving puzzles, exploring the city, and taking pictures of specific items or scenarios throughout the area.

It sounds like an absolute blast, one that Ottawa went all out for.

I wonder who will try to topple a record like that.

Well, if they do, I can’t wait to see it.


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Story Time: An Escape Room and a Record

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[Image courtesy of Yelp.]

Sometimes we discuss puzzly world records here on the blog, and today, I’d like to share the story of a once-in-a-lifetime puzzly accomplishment.

On Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017, two women set a record by walking out of Sidequests Adventures, an escape room company in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in only three minutes.

How did they do so? With police assistance.

Allow me to elaborate.

Our story begins the night before, as police search for two inmates who jumped the east fence of the Edmonton Institution for Women.

The next day, around 8:30 PM, two women walk into Sidequests Adventures, claiming to be from out of town. They start asking about the escape rooms, apparently never having heard of the puzzly business. One of the employees, Rebecca, takes them down the hall to view one of the rooms.

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[Image courtesy of Global News.]

Around the same time, police arrive in the area, tipped off by a citizen who recognized the women.

As Rebecca gives the inquisitive women the tour, a police officer walks into Sidequests Adventures and asks another employee, Jonathan, if two women without an appointment had come in.

Jonathan confirms that two women had, and the officer immediately calls for backup. Four more officers arrive immediately.

At this point, only about 30 seconds have elapsed, and that’s when Rebecca looks up and notices the numerous police officers inside the business. She quickly realizes they’re not there to inquire about the escape rooms.

Either that or they think “escape rooms” are something quite different.

escaped-prisoners

[Image courtesy of Global News.]

Kelsie and Samantha are quickly handcuffed and taken away.

By the time they’re led out the door, only three minutes have elapsed.

Oh, by the way, what was the motto on the wall of Sidequests Adventures?

sidequest2

[Image courtesy of Yelp.]

So, yes, two escaped felons managed to flee to an escape room and be recaptured there. The gods are puzzly and have a wicked sense of humor.


Thanks for indulging me, PuzzleNationers. I scrapped my original idea for today’s post and went with this one late last night.

At a time when we’re all self-isolating and keeping our distance from one another for the greater good, it felt weirdly appropriate to share a funny, puzzly story about an escape gone wrong that ends in such a curiously perfect way.

Be well, fellow puzzlers.


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Crossword Tournament From Your Couch Recap!

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This past weekend was supposed to be the 43rd year of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, but that event was postponed due to the ongoing public health crisis.

But something amazing arose from the ashes of those plans. A small, intrepid group of puzzlers worked night and day for more than a week, bringing an at-home crossword tournament to life: Crossword Tournament From Your Couch. (AKA #CouchWord on Twitter.)

And in doing so, they hosted the biggest crossword tournament in history. According to the Google scoresheet, more than 1,800 solvers took part in the event (with at least 1,300 tackling ALL of the puzzles).

Over the course of a few hours, and thanks to the Herculean efforts of a hard-working few, the puzzle community came together for an afternoon of fun, frivolity, and frantic puzzle-solving.

Oh, and in this recap, I will be discussing the tournament puzzles somewhat, so if you want to remain completely unspoiled, stop reading here. (Or better yet, click here to solve the puzzles for yourselves!)


Before I get into the event itself, I want to highlight the folks who made it all possible.

The initial idea belongs to Kevin Der, who put out the rallying cry to fellow puzzlers. He ran the tech side of the event alongside Finn Vigeland, coordinating each puzzle’s release, the overlapping livestreams, and the live-solving finals.

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Hosting duties were ably carried out by Ryan Hecht and Brian Cimmet, who kept the energy light, made sure the participants were well-informed, and even interviewed fellow constructors and event organizers in the downtime between tournament puzzles.

The tournament puzzles — 4 tournament puzzles, 1 championship playoff puzzle, and 2 warm-up puzzles — were constructed by Byron Walden, Rachel Fabi, Joel Fagliano, Robyn Weintraub, Patrick Blindauer, Finn Vigeland, Laura Braunstein, and Jesse Lansner.

Jeremy Horwitz, Natan Last, and Ellen Ripstein were credited as test-solvers, and Jeff Davidson, Stephanie Yeung, and Vincent Siao were credited as tech support/magic gurus.

The Inkubator was credited as tournament sponsor.

Assembling and running this event was a monumental, complex undertaking, and my sincerest appreciation and utmost respect (and AWE) goes out to everyone involved in making CTFYC possible.


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[Image courtesy of @ladywinifredcat.]

So, how did the tournament itself go?

Well, participants logged into the website and selected one of three divisions in which to compete:

  • The Chesterfield Division (for individuals who in the past few years have finished in the top 20% of a major crossword tournament)
  • The Futon Division (for all other individual participants)
  • The Love Seat Division (for two participants who want to solve together)

Upon logging in, a warm-up puzzle created by Robyn Weintraub awaited solvers. “Get the Pillows Ready” allowed solvers to get familiar with the online solving interface and start getting in a tournament mindset.

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The tournament itself was set to begin at approximately 1 PM with the livestream of Ryan and Brian, our amiable emcees who covered the rules, other tournament info, and so on.

The livestream was warm and welcoming, and the accompanying chat area was packed with new faces as well as familiar puzzlers. The usual suspects from ACPT were all there, alongside constructors, puzzle enthusiasts, and top-notch solvers. It was genuinely heartwarming to see so many names I recognized from the puzzle world participating.

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Soon, a second warm-up puzzle became available — Rachel Fabi’s “Put Your Feet Up” — a small, Saturday mini-sized puzzle that still managed to be tricky. (And I personally loved the Fleabag reference.) It was a great way for solvers to get their pre-tournament juices flowing AND served to ensure that all of the tech was working for the organizers.


From the livechat:

“Changed my system font to Papyrus so that I could win Worst Handwriting.” — Neville Fogarty


yellowfolder

[Image courtesy of @vickieastus.]

The first tournament puzzle was scheduled for 1:30ish, and to the credit of the organizers, we only started a few minutes late.

Puzzle #1, “Hollywood Ending” by Joel Fagliano, was a 15x puzzle with a 15-minute time limit.

In all, it was a really fun starter with a good hook — entries that end with items found on a Hollywood set, a la JAVASCRIPT. I got stuck in the upper right corner for about two minutes, because I didn’t want to make a mistake, but doing so slowed me down considerably.

With the online solving, results were tabulated much faster than you’d expect from past tournaments, so you could view the leaderboard and see who was on top quite quickly.

At the end of puzzle 1, many of the usual suspects were on top, along with rookie (and bewilderingly constructor) Will Nediger:

leaderboardafterpuzzle1

After solving, competitors were welcome to return to the livestream chat and treat the chatroom like the lobby at the ACPT, sharing thoughts and commiserating on their solves.

Puzzle #2, “Raise the Roof” by Laura Braunstein and Jesse Lansner, was a 17x puzzle with a 25-minute time limit.

This puzzle had a solid punny hook, phrases where the letter T became P, so you had PICKLE ME ELMO instead of TICKLE ME ELMO. This was accompanied by great fill, although some were tougher entries (like SEZ WHO and NEOPET). I made one dumb mistake, leading to my only error of the tournament, but otherwise, I enjoyed the puzzle.

(I also enjoyed the conversation about The Westing Game in the livestream chat kicked off by the entry RASKIN.)

leaderboardafterpuzzle2

Errors by Dan Feyer and Erik Agard opened up a few spots in the top 15, so at least I was in good company with my own error.

At this point, players were invited to take a break before the next two puzzles. The tentative time for that was around 3 PM.

As I surfed the livechat during the break, the feedback for the tournament was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone was enjoying the communal puzzling, and compliments for both the constructors and organizers were plentiful.


From the livechat:

“Yeah, the bad news for the organizers is that this is working so well we’re all going to come to expect it now. :)” — Steve Thurman


Before Puzzle #3, Brian and Ryan had video interviews with Joel, Laura, and Jesse about their puzzles. It was a very cool touch to hear the constructors talk about the origins of each puzzle and how they ended up in the tournament. More of this in the future, please!

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[Image courtesy of @tinmanic.]

Soon, we were back, and it was time for the second half of the tournament.

Puzzle #3, “Look Up” by Patrick Blindauer, was a 15x puzzle with a 30-minute time limit. So everyone was expecting some trickery afoot.

Blindauer didn’t disappoint, naturally, offering up a clever hook that took entries in a different direction, mixed with lots of long crossings which made getting into the puzzle difficult. All in all, it was a worthy tournament puzzle.

leaderboardafterpuzzle3

I managed to capture this screengrab of the top 15 after Puzzle 3 before the leaderboard went down. As you can see, the blistering speed of Erik Agard and Dan Feyer had them back in the top 15.

Yes, we managed to break the leaderboard on Google Sheets at this point. (This just made the design for the solving interface even MORE impressive, because it never broke down, even with more than a thousand solvers using it at the same time.)

I was ranked 292 after Puzzle 3, which I felt pretty good about.


From the livechat:

“Hmm, I can play the ‘where would I be if not for the silly error’ game.” — GP Ryan


After a short break, the final puzzle of regular tournament play was upon us.

Puzzle #4, “Naysayers Only” by Finn Vigeland, was a 19x puzzle with a 40-minute time limit.

This was a strong finisher for the tournament, combining clever cluing with a tough theme where the clues referred not to the answers you filled in, but to what the answers became if you followed the rule in the revealer GET OUT THE VOTE. (For instance, you filled in the answer VAMPIRE SLAYER, but the clue “Camera for a photo shoot with Dracula, in brief?” referred to VAMPIRE SLR, since you would remove “AYE” when you get out the vote.)

Yeah, I completed the grid first and had to go back and reread the grid and clues to actually understand the theme.

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Going into the live playoff final, the top 15 reshuffled a bit. (The board was constantly updating. At one point, I was ranked 283, then 312, then 314. I stopped checking there, because I’m a nerd for Pi.)


From the livechat:

“Shout out to the 11 Davids who are ahead of me in the rankings. Watch your backs.” — David Whyte


After Puzzle #4, Brian and Ryan attempted to interview Patrick, but that didn’t go so well, because the audience couldn’t hear Patrick. The interview with Finn went much better.

Then they announced the finalists for each division who would be participating in the live playoffs.

In the Chesterfield Division, it would be Paolo Pasco, David Plotkin, and Tyler Hinman.

In the Futon Division, it would be Will Nediger, Jason Juang, and Ricky Liu, the top three rookies.

As the top 3 competitors in each division were “sequestered” during the prep for the live playoffs, the playoff puzzle was released for non-finalists to enjoy.

The playoff puzzle, “Couch Your Words” by Byron Walden, was a themeless 15x puzzle with a 15-minute time limit. It also had two sets of clues: the difficult Chesterfield set, aka the A level clues, and the somewhat easier Futon set.

I looked at the Chesterfield clues, but I quickly bailed to try the Futon set. And honestly, even with the Futon Division clues, I found the puzzle pretty tough with ALL the long crossings. As you’d expect from Byron, it was a terrific, well-constructed grid, a very worthy choice to close out the day’s events.


From the livechat:

“Puzzle 5 in this tournament is so hard it doesn’t exist.” — Natan Last


The Futon Division solvers went first, and the three rookie solvers acquitted themselves well.

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[Image courtesy of @tinmanic.]

Each solver’s time was linked to when they clicked “Start” and when they clicked “I’m done”, so you couldn’t immediately tell who won based on who finished first, because with the livestream lag, it was hard to tell who started first.

In the end, Will completed the puzzle in 4 minutes flat, Jason wasn’t far behind with 4:48, and Ricky closed out the trio with 6:20. Impressive efforts all around!

There were a few more technical issues before the Chesterfield Division playoffs could begin but eventually the tech team got things sorted and the main event started.

During both the prep and the solving, Brian and Ryan interviewed Byron about the finale puzzle and about constructing and cluing in general. It was a terrific bonus mini-seminar on puzzling!

Finally, all was ready and the top three solvers took center stage.

chesterfieldlivestreamfinals

The final was over in less than six minutes.

Tyler, as you might expect from the five-time champ, blasted through the grid, completing it in 4:07. Paolo wasn’t far behind with 4:41, and David, a perennial top finisher, closed out the trio with 5:57.

Again, we had to wait for the official times due to lag, but it was worth the wait.


Here are your Crossword Tournament From Your Couch results:

  • Chesterfield Division: Tyler Hinman, Paolo Pasco, David Plotkin
  • Futon Division: Will Nediger, Jason Juang, Ricky Liu
  • Love Seat Division: Sam Ezersky and Madison Clague, Justin Werfel and Marta Herschkopf, Mike Berman and unnamed partner

After announcing the winners and finalists — and giving another well-deserved shout-out to all of the organizers and folks who made the marvelous event possible — the livestream chat was left running so that participants could talk and enjoy a virtual happy-hour mixer.


From the livechat:

“Anyone else never been to ACPT or Lollapuzzoola, but getting an itch to go after today??” — Josh Beu Forsythe


Even if it hadn’t been the biggest crossword tournament in history, Crossword Tournament From Your Couch would still have been a fantastic success.

More than just a tremendous stand-in for ACPT, CTFYC brought together established puzzlers and newbies for an afternoon of much-needed distraction. (According to the organizers, it was the first tournament for more than 1200 of the participants!)

Thank you once again to everyone involved in this brilliant endeavor. What a treat it was.

myresults


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Good News: Discounts, Reschedulings, and Puzzling from Your Couch!

littlegirlatgrandmas

This week’s blog posts have had something of a theme, since both concerned activities that can be conducted from home, whether it’s for personal enjoyment or to stick it to the man, politically-speaking.

Even in a blog dedicated to the oft-delightful world of puzzles and games, it’s hard to ignore the current worldwide crisis.

But, as always, puzzlers find a way to thrive, and so today, I am overjoyed to bring you a blog post full of optimism, creativity, and community.


Firstly, I want to give a shout-out to all the companies, creators, and puzzlers that are putting their products out there at a discount or on a Pay-What-You-Want basis (and sometimes for free!) to help distract home-bound bodies from the unpleasantness and uncertainty going on around us.

The awesome team at DriveThruRPG (and the many marvelous contributors who post there), the brilliant crew at Lone Shark Games, and hey, even your friendly neighborhood puzzle app makers at PuzzleNation are throwing the digital doors wide open.

So be sure to support them, or local businesses, or artists you love online, or any other small businesses or entrepreneurs during this trying time.

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Secondly, for a bit of hope on the horizon, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament has been rescheduled!

Yes, the Nerd Olympics have been pushed to the weekend of September 11th through the 13th, while all payments for the tournament on the original date are being refunded.

Of course, September is pretty far away, but worry not! If you’re looking for a bit of puzzly community from the comforts of your own home, intrepid puzzlers Brian Cimmet and Ryan Hecht are hosting an event this weekend.

It’s called Crossword Tournament From Your Couch, and it’s an online, live-streamed crossword solving event! Volunteer constructors have created puzzles for you to solve, and the top three finishers will compete in a virtual playoff puzzle for the enjoyment of all!

You can sign up or get more information here!

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for other acts of puzzly community, fellow PuzzleNationers, and let us know so we can help spread the word.


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Requiem for a Game Shop

A friendly local game shop (FLGS) can fill a lot of roles. A laboratory to try out unfamiliar games. A sample size to poll potential customers and test new products. A gathering place to share puzzly experiences. A social center to make new friends.

Sadly, there’s one fewer place to enjoy those simple pleasures now, as my friendly local game shop is closing this month.

I don’t know why, precisely. Maybe the 2019 financials weren’t as rosy as they’d hoped. Maybe the landlord raised the rent to unreasonable levels. Maybe the omnipresent threat of cheaper online purchases won out. (I certainly didn’t mind paying a little more for a game there, because I knew who the money was going to. But not everyone feels that way.)

I’m not entirely surprised. Last year, they cleaned out their comics section to focus more directly on games, RPGs, and miniatures. It opened up some space in the store and generally made for a cleaner, more accessible floorplan, which was a plus. But I guess it wasn’t enough.

It’s a bummer.

Sure, there are decent game selections at stores like Target and Barnes & Noble, but nothing as varied or extensive as the spread at the FLGS. I can’t tell you how many games I stumbled across there that I’d never even heard of, whether by wandering the stacks or seeing a play-through of a new acquisition demonstrated by the staff.

It was the perfect place to discover games, often serving to inspire gift ideas for friends. (Similarly, I miss Toys R Us, as simply browsing the selection there led to plenty of spot-on purchases for nieces and nephews.)

I usually stopped in a few times a month. I didn’t always buy something — my game library is pretty beefy already — but I liked to see what was new, what was moving a lot of copies, and what the locals were playing. I even got to meet local designers who were showing off their wares, which was always a treat.

I’ve been back twice since the announcement, and it’s nice to see how loved the place was, even if that couldn’t ensure its long-term success. Regulars have already snapped up tablecloths and other materials with the shop’s logo, and I know at least one person offered to buy the sign outside. I’ve heard several customers lament that they didn’t know where they’d go now for game tournaments, RPG events, and other game-centric fun.

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The back tables — usually reserved for trying out new games, hosting tournaments and launch events, or serving as gathering places (charged by the hour) for roleplaying groups to indulge in some social storytelling — are instead full of games, equipment, snacks, promotional materials, and everything else they can slap a tag on and price to move as they liquidate their stock.

But, for the most part, the energy there is good. Games are vanishing from stacks of in-store inventory, as are displays, signs, neon lights, and other trappings of the store. The staff is in decent spirits.

I’m not sure if I’ll go back again before it’s all said and done. But it was nice while it lasted.


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