The fact of the matter is, I'm not quite sure that there is one single influence. I, too, had a copy of Crossword Crosstalk, which I know cannot find. But I had heard of the NPL frequently over that last several years, but never had the urgency to sign up. Then, when I first attended Stamford in 1995, and saw more people that I had something in common with in one room than I ever had before, I was interested. WILLz always asks at his tournaments who are members of the NPL. When 2/3 of the hands were raised, I was hooked.
I think that if I had to pick one member who influenced me the most into joining, it would have to be Minimus. With us both being from the Midwest, we immediately struck up a conversation about puzzles and everything else. From there, I think I got a hold of a minisample, and the next thing you know I was e-mailing Mercury asking him where to send the check! Of course, there were other people who were just as influential: Momus, Panther, Sunshine, etc., but if I HAD to nail my tree portion down, it would be thus:
Stamford tournament + Minimus –> Wolverine
I was torn when I first joined the NPL between two ossible noms: Ope and Wolverine. Ope was a nickname that I was called in high school, which started out pretty much as a joke. Don't ask the complete story of how THAT started! Wolverine was a logical choice because, having grown up in Michigan, I became a huge fan of the Wolverines, especially hanging around all of the obnoxious Notre Dame fans that live around me. I thought it would sound weird at first being called that, but it seems to have stuck. I have a pile of U of M clothes to wear at the Con to avoid confusion on how the name is derived. Although I doubt if there was much confusion last year, as I usually wore a Michigan hat!