Thanks for posting this Lurker. I just started doing cryptograms about 4 months ago, and became quickly addicted
There is definitely a learning curve in the beginning, so I didn't play competitively for the first few weeks. Over the past few months, because I play A LOT, I've been able to improve tremendously, going from always being "very slow" (if not the slowest) to now, where I'm getting mostly "above average" if not "very fast"! In other words, I can do a puzzle now, on average, almost 8 - 10 times faster than I could when I started!
I can now recognize the common words (their patterns) quite quickly, i.e.: "the" "it is" "there" "always", etc., and while the pattern doesn't always pan out, it's a good starting point. And yes, it's more fun now.
I see how folks that are new to this site can be skeptical about the results that they see. I remember when I started, seeing those win times and thinking "how is that possible?" Who the hell is this BansaiSequoia? Ha ha (although I liked the name immediately - smallest tree, biggest tree.) But I figured the guy is just a mad crypter with a special knack for seeing patterns....
Aaaanyhow, I do use the AWESOME players as inspiration. My current rule of thumb for feeling like I did super well, is that if my win time is less than 4 times the speed of the posted win time, than I've done great! And, if I come in 3X or only twice the time, I've done fantastic!
So, new players, hang in there! Have fun with it, and (in my case at least) - don't spend the whole day here, your life is waiting for you!