It looks like everyone in the top ten, with the possible exception of braaapp, is a long time player.
Before the contest I would've guessed maybe a 50-50 split in the top 10 between seasoned vets and ingenious upstarts.
I don't know about everyone else but I would hardly consider myself a seasoned vet... I have known about FC for a year or so (looks like I started my account in august of '08). I beat the free levels but was too cheap to cough up the measly $10 (amazing deal by the way). A friend at work (who actually introduced me to FC) would show me some cool new design he made every now and then and that would re-kindle my FC enthusiasm and I'd play on my lunch breaks for a day or two. The day before I got the e-mail about this contest that same friend showed me that he got FC on is iPhone (me = jealous of the iPhone in general AND that he had FC on it!!) so I started messin' around again then I got the e-mail. Well pretty much every waking hour that wasn't tied up with my wife, daughter, dogs, band or job was poured into this contest.
I feel like I have learned more in the last few weeks working on these contest designs than I had in the year prior. And I've probably spent easily three times as much time in the last few weeks than the year prior.
I didn't know what badges or ticks were and I had never tried making a contraption "as efficient" or clean as possible... in fact sometimes I went for the over the top complicated just for fun. For instance here's a solution to one of the free levels (Junkyard) that I made a while ago: http://fantasticcontraption.com/?designId=440141
I think I was trying to do it without wheels of any sort but I was also experimenting with that sort of "lifting" idea to gain potential energy.
Here's a more recent solution to "four balls" were I was playing with the idea of powered wheels moving balls instead of powered wheels moving contraptions that move balls: http://fantasticcontraption.com/?designId=6281152
Anyway, all that is to say that it's not like I saw FC for the first time three weeks ago but I also would not consider myself a veteran of any sort.
I've had a ridiculously good time and am extremely honored to be in the "top 10". Thank you!