Three Days in Nerdvana
"Midrash" by Tom Williams (April 2014)

For many a nerd, the PENNY ARCADE EXPO (PAX) truly represents "Three Days in Nerdvana." PAX is America's largest gaming convention: every spring, 70,000 of us meet up in Bostonfor three days of geeking out, and every summer, 70,000 people journey to Seattle for another four days of geekery. PAX features concerts from many top nerd artists, halls full of people playing board and role playing gamespanel discussions on everything from video game music remixing to transgendered issues in video gamesgeek celebrities playing D&D live, and of course, lots and lots of video games: an entire exhibition hall full of video game companies showing off new games, and dozens of rooms full of people hanging out and playing games together. PAX is also the home of the North American regional finals for what is probably today's largest competitive game, League of Legends (ANNIE and ASHE are two characters in League of Legends). PAX is bookended by the POKECRAWL, a Pokemon-themed combination bar crawl and scavenger hunt thrown by diehard PAX fans the night before PAX opens, and the final round of the OMEGATHON, a tournament in which participants compete in a random selection of games; the victors win a trip to a major Asian or European gaming convention. PAX East 2013's Omegathon consisted of Bomberman Live, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, Jenga, and spaceteam.

Why such a big emphasis on video games? The Penny Arcade Expo revolves around Penny Arcade, a popular webcomic that often focuses on video games. Its creators, JERRY HOLKINS and MIKE KRAHULIK, were named in 2010's TIME 100, TIME's annual list of the 100 people who most affect the world. In addition to running one of the world's biggest comics and throwing PAX, Mike and Jerry (a.k.a. "Gabe and Tycho") also run Child's Play, a charity that has raised over $25 million over the last ten years.

In celebration of PAX, this puzzle contained references to many geeky topics.

Obviously, there many references to video games, from classics such as Excitebike and Castlevania on the NES to the top-selling hit of the 2000s, The SIMS, to the wildly popular MMORPG World of Warcraft with its Goblins, Elves and OGRES. You might crave an OREO if you're playing the browser-based Cookie Clicker, or a RADISH if one's thrown at you by Mario. A character from Nintendogs BARKS. In L.A. Noire you will see many a COP, and in "Pirates!" you'll see many SLOOPS. If you played games on a Playstation 2 you'll likely know the titular Jak and DAXTER, as well as CAIT Sith from the game that makes everyone cryFinal Fantasy VII. Finally, following gender stereotypes is the MACHO Duke Nukem, and breaking them is Samus Aran, famously revealed to be a GIRL in the plot-twist finale of the original Metroid.

Even less geeky solvers are likely to get NEO from the Matrix, and MEGAN Fox, who gets friendly with Bumblebee in Transformers. Also making an appearance is BIGGS from Star Wars, whose opening is quoted: "A long time AGO in a galaxy far, far away". Solvers are hopefully familiar with the cultural phenomenon which is Game of Thrones and its Season One protagonist EDDARD Stark, his allies the UMBERS, and his sword ICE.

ICE is also a defense against hackers in Netrunner, where, like in Dominion, one is obviously not supposed to PEEK at their library of cards. Other board games found in the puzzle are Acquire, a game revolving around STOCKS, and Battleship, a game of NAV. (navy) conflict, which while popular among non-gamers, doesn't hold a candle to the games you'll see at the annual board game festival in ESSEN, Germany. Finally, many gamers prefer games without BOARDS, such as Dungeons and Dragons, where adventurers may discover treasure (e.g. SARD) and or serve the will of a deity (e.g. TYR).

Other miscellaneously geeky entries include the tech news website ARS Technica, Clark KENT of comicbook fame, and JANE from Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead.

Finally, there are a few words even the geeks may have trouble with: civil rights lawyer Gloria ALLRED, former German Chancellor Willy BRANDT, Ottoman harem room ODA, and rock legends ELO.

Thanks for trying our puzzle, and have a wonderful time at PAX!

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