August 11, 2004

I, of a needle

This weekend I competed in one of the various geek types of thing I often participate in -- a running-around-Manhattan multi-puzzle extravaganza called the Haystack.

We fielded an all-National Puzzlers' League team with me and Rose, one Manhattanite (Jon, aka Coach in the NPL), and two friends (both onetime New Yorkers) who came down from Boston for the event, Jenny and Kevin (Hathor and Ucaoimhu). Our team, on Jenny's suggestion, was called the "Uncorrected Personality Traits"; the game organizers also asked all teams to write a verse or song explaining why their team was the one that was going to win win win, so she and I, naturally, wrote a full parody of the Robyn Hitchcock song from which the team name was taken. (Some lines will make more sense when you know that the prize for successfully searching the haystack that is Manhattan is the Golden Needle.)

Uncorrected personality traits
That seem dorkwaddish in a child
May prove to be useful in
A Haystack puzzle team

Lack of involvement with reality and
Overinvolvement with one?s brainstem
Can result in an eerie ability
To uncover needles in hay

And in enigmatic leanings,
Logic problems, cryptic crosswords --
Geeks from the neck up,
Geeks from the neck down --
Attempts to find your own gold needle

Reconcile your puzzles to you
By co-solving two at once

Even Marilyn vos Savant was a man
But this tends to get overlooked
By our Gardner-fixated
Literal left-brained media

So, uncorrected personality traits
That seem dorkwaddish in a child
May prove to be useful in
A Haystack puzzle team

If you give them puzzles
Every time they cry
They will become little loners
And they won?t remember why
Then when they are thwarted
By Will Shortz at a later date
They will become ingenious
And thus make an ideal Haystack teammate

The word search baby grows into
The Junior Jumble teenager who?s
The adult cruciverbalist who?s
The Golden Needle winner.

Oi! So,
Uncorrected personality traits
That seem dorkwaddish in a child
May prove to be useful in
A Haystack puzzle team

We apparently spent a bit more energy on our song than the rest of the teams. When Haystack HQ sent out their "Meet the Teams" e-mail, they wrote, "Looks like we've got 10 teams playing. What do their verses tell us about them? It would be specious to argue a correlation between the effort a team puts into versification and its likelihood of victory..." No, it wouldn't! Because we won!

Yes, in an exciting finish, we were the only team to solve all the puzzles in the Haystack, with approximately seven minutes left before the final deadline. (We finished the very last puzzle while walking to the restaurant where the wrap-up was being held.) And, to all our mutual pride, we did it without getting all hyper and competitive; if we all wanted to work on a puzzle, we all worked on a puzzle, rather than solving separately for speed.

The finish might not have been quite so tight if I hadn't completely forgot about one of the puzzles, a deck of cards that ended up being easy to lose track of in my bag. Fortunately, I realized my forgetfulness with enough time to spare to solve the (bitch of a) puzzle the deck of cards included -- reconstructing an entire game of hearts. When the game was correctly reconstructed, a letter written on each card, read in the order the game was played, spelled a message. That one took four of us about 40 minutes, using all our mutual brainpower. Whew.

Other highlights included a visit to the Tompkins Square Park dog run, where we had to read an important bit of information off the tag on one of the dog's collars; a walkaround in Greenwich Village that used an old, old map in which all the streets had different names (apparently Waverly used to be Factory, and W. 12th was Troy, for instance), thus making us (or at least Jon and Kevin) figure out which part of Greenwich Village the map actually depicted; and a puzzle in which the table of of people sitting next to us at lunch helpfully volunteered the name of the baseball player that our lacking-in-sports-savvy team didn't know (Trot Nixon), and then was also able to answer our question as to whether it was Metallica or Winger that had recorded a song called "One" (it was Metallica).

Oh, and I can't leave out the Triathlon, in which our team had to split up into three parts: our two "smartest" members, our two "most creative" members, and our one "most omnivorous" member. Rose was the least picky/least afflicted by food allergies person at the table, so she volunteered to be our omnivorous member. After the triathlon, she reported, "Oh, my god, it was horrible, they made us eat the most disgusting -- [laughter] -- I can't keep it up, it was fine, they made me eat a slice of cold pizza." Jon and Kevin were our two smartest members, and fielded a selection of New York trivia. Jenny and I got to be the creative delegation, and were given a big pack of gum, a pack of toothpicks, and told to construct a recognizable New York landmark. (That is, the Haystack official had to know what the landmark was without being told.) Jenny came up with a fine idea, which we executed thusly:


So then there was dinner at, ummm, Lili's Noodle Shop, I think it was called, which was great. I had honey BBQ pork with mango, a dish for which I would be willing to trek all the way to the Upper East Side from Windsor Terrace many times. I'm not sure my brain ever stopped making the Homer Simpson drooling sound once while I was eating it. And then came the awarding of the prize: the Golden Needle, which turned out to be two golden needles. Two golden knitting needles, in fact! Since Rose is on the verge of opening a yarn store, there was no argument about who got to keep the prize.



Anyway, tons of fun. I hope the organizers (two NPLers themselves) aren't too burned out to do it again next year. Further wrap-up will be posted here eventually, I gather, though the site is resting at the moment.

Posted by Francis at 11:08 AM

I now have "Uncorrected Personality Traits" running through my head, and this is all your fault. Though it still beats the heck out of that Chipmunks song.

Posted by: Debby at August 11, 2004 01:19 PM