Regular readers of this blog have no doubt noticed our frequent references to the National Puzzlers’ League, or NPL. The NPL has been around since the 1880s, and we have been members since the 1980s. We were both cryptic crossword solvers well before joining the NPL, and in fact that interest was largely what drew us to that august organization. The NPL is a forum for every type of wordplay, includes in its ranks many of the top American crossword constructors, and convenes every July for an annual four-day word-puzzle binge (the 2015 convention is planned for Vancouver, BC). One unusual feature of the NPL is that our members address each other by their puzzle pseudonyms, or noms. So for example Will Shortz is known as Willz, Patrick Berry is Trick, Trip Payne is Qaqaq, Cox and Rathvon are Hex, and so on. We are Hot (Henri) and Trazom (Joshua).

NPL members stay in touch by way of a monthly mini-magazine, The Enigma, which is the venue for dozens of word puzzles in every issue. Most of these are so-called flats, short pieces of verse with missing words. The solver must identify the missing words, and just as with cryptic crosswords, there are two routes to the solution. One route is the wordplay, which is specified in the puzzle’s title, and the other is the clueing supplied by the verse. Here is an example from the Guide to the Enigma, featuring the letter bank, a puzzle type that was invented by Will Shortz in 1980.

A word or phrase (the bank) is chosen that has no repeated letters. One or more longer words or phrases are formed, each using all the letters in the bank at least once and as many more times as needed. At least one word must be three or more letters longer than the bank. Examples: ONE = lens, TWO = senselessness; or SHORT = law, LONG = Walla Walla. The bank can produce a number of longer words or phrases. For example: FIRST = larch pines, SECOND = pencil sharpener, THIRD = Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin; or ONE = manicures, TWO = Neiman Marcus, THREE = American sumac, FOUR = marine insurance.

LETTER BANK (8, 16)
Quasimodo rings his bells
Without regard for how he smells.
He heads each day from bed to tower,
Never stopping for a shower.
He never performs a single EIGHT
Before a sweaty day of GREAT.
=Mr. Tex

The solution: EIGHT = ablution, GREAT = tintinnabulation.

As regular solvers of the Nation puzzle know, we occasionally use letter banks in our clues, even though the technique is not yet a standard device in most cryptic constructors’ toolbox. This is but one of the ways that the NPL has deepened our involvement in wordplay. We can safely say that were it not for the NPL, we would not be the Nation puzzlers today.

Readers of this blog, and solvers of our puzzles, should consider joining the NPL, if only because The Enigma includes a couple of cryptic crosswords almost every month. Unlike the Nation puzzle, those adhere strictly to traditional US cryptic conventions, but they often exhibit remarkable creativity. If you seek difficult puzzles, you will find that Enigma cryptics are sometimes far more challenging than what is available in other venues. You can get a taste of Enigma cryptics in a collection edited by Hot and Trazom, which is available for free download on the NPL site.

This week’s cluing challenge is ENIGMA. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.