About six months before, I had started puzzling, and one day I got stuck and took to the Internet for help. I found a bunch of smart and snarky people, and when I learned of the tournaments I thought, "I have to see this for myself."
There were about 700 people at that first one: academics, musicians, elite solvers who had been on Jeopardy!. I knew I could walk up to any of them and have a natural conversation—and that's what I did. A group of us riffed on and on about an obscure opera reference because we all at least knew the composer, the most famous aria, and the characters.
I'm not a recluse—I work as a legal secretary—but I never felt like I fit in with, say, my neighbors. But puzzling is so totally me, and for the people I meet at the few events I fly to each year, it's so totally them. The New York Times crossword comes out online at 10 the night before, and ardent solvers start doing it then. By the time I'm done, I'll have an e-mail, like, "What the hell was 41 across about?" Bliss. —As told to Margaret Rhodes