I scanned through most of the thread. Entries are up because the economy is down and people are turning to homebrewing. It's cyclic in nature and IME has been a slight up and down, but with the recent dip it's brought in all kinds of people. OTOH craft brewed beer is becoming more and more popular and when I started homebrewing if you mentioned hops to someone they didn't know what you were talking about and now a majority of beer drinkers have some idea it is used for bittering, flavor and aroma in beer.
As far as entries, our numbers have grown and we have increased fees for more than a certain number of entries. It's worked pretty well to achieve the goal, but has irritated some who feel we are gouging. To them I say, don't enter more than the number of low cost entries. Next year we are planning to put a cap on the number of entries. We don't know yet if that magic number will be 5 or 4...
Tom - hope your mead exam results are excellent. One day I'll worry about it, but no time soon
FWIW - another National judge and myself judged 21 entries in a "best beer no style" competition on Saturday using the AHA NHC 2nd Round ticksheet in about an hour and forty-five minutes...our push to BOS took second