It's going to take quite some length to recount all the intricacies of PAX, so prepare for it over multiple days. Right now, I'm just going to give you the basics of how PAX works (it's pretty awesome!), and tomorrow I'll cover Day 1, then 2, then 3.
There are, to my mind, five main elements to PAX:
This is your standard expo-type area, where different vendors have booths set up and give out swag and want you to check out their products. You could go in there whenever and just see what was around. There was also a spot in front of the exhibit hall where the performing bands would sign things, and Wil Wheaton too, despite him not being a band.
There were a whole bunch of different panels, talks, and events scheduled at certain times, and you could go to those. You mostly didn't have to wait in line for these, you just show up a little bit before they start and have a seat. These ranged from technical talks about advertising and politics (as they apply to games), to fun stuff like watching people compete in Jenga.
The Big Events|
These are really the same as the panels, but they are monster events in the main theater, and you definitely do need to line up for them in advance. These include the Penny Arcade Q&As, and a couple other big things, like the Family Feud game which was quite entertaining.
There were game tournaments of many different popular things. We completely ignored this element, although one time we saw a massive line that stretched all the way through the building, probably 500 people, and were afraid it was for whatever panel we were going to. It turned out to be for the Smash Brothers Brawl tournament, which is just weird to me. These people were missing the entire day (or more?) of PAX just to play a little Brawl! I suppose there were probably prizes involved. But crazy.
On Friday and Saturday night, there were a series of concerts by geeky bands. You definitely needed to do serious lining up for these if you didn't have a wristband. I almost lumped them into The Big Events, but I couldn't do it. They are separate.
We had made up a chart of the things we wanted to attend (which always overlapped other things we wanted), and had it mapped out to where there was literally a half hour of free time on Friday, another half hour on Saturday, and one hour on Sunday. The rest was booked solid. As you will see, we were not remotely able to stick to this schedule, and in fact went to very few things at all. We just didn't count on needing to be at things half an hour early, and some things just having huge lines and all of that. Next year, we will be a lot less ambitious in our planning.
Whenever we did have to line up, it was pretty nice. The lines were about 10 feet wide, roped off, so there was lots of room to sit down, or sometimes lay down, and just hang out. And there were always interesting things to look at. One constant throughout the weekend is that about 80% of the attendees have Nintendo DSes, and so there is tons of Pictochat going (a built-in chatting/drawing program on the DS, which connects wirelessly to all nearby DSes). It couldn't handle the huge numbers of people, though, and it would lag and have all kinds of weird problems. But it was fun to see. And by the way - PAX is not remotely family-friendly. It's extremely friendly, I should point out, extremely, but about as vulgar as a drunken sailor who hammered his thumb on accident. Pictochat was the epitome of that vulgarity, and that's about all the details I'll give on that. I enjoy vulgarity, so it was fun. Anyway, I was talking about lines, and we'd often have to be in line for an hour or more for various things, but it was not bad. It still felt pretty fun even then.
And by the way, you all lose the betting pool. Except for important occasions like not blocking people behind us at panels (and sleeping), the hats stayed on the whole weekend!