Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!
We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, writers, filmmakers, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.
And I’m excited to have David Kwong as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!
Puzzlers by nature play with words, but none quite like David Kwong, a top-flight puzzle constructor and magician. Adept at sleight of hand and wielding a flair for puzzle constructing that makes me very jealous, David crafts illusions and puzzle grids with equal deftness, often doing so in front of a live audience!
In addition to his own creative endeavors, David serves as a magic consultant for film and television, and has contributed to The Mindy Project, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and most notably, the magic-infused heist thriller Now You See Me.
David was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!
5 Questions for David Kwong
1.) How did you get started with puzzles?
My mother and I always bonded over being word-nerds. When I was a child, we would play Scrabble and solve crosswords. After college, I began writing crosswords with my friend Kevan Choset (I suppose I was jealous of his James Bond themed puzzle). Our first puzzle was the April Fool’s Day puzzle in 2006. I think we waited three years for it to get published!
[Glenn’s note: The James Bond puzzle refers to one of Choset’s earliest, where “007” not only appeared in the grid, but crossed “SEAN CONNERY.” The April Fool’s Day puzzle refers to a Choset/Kwong collaboration that actually required the solvers to write the word “THINK” outside the box (grid) four times.]
2.) Magic and crosswords might seem like separate enterprises, but they both involve a whimsical sense of playing with your audience’s expectations (magic with misdirection, crosswords with clever cluing and wordplay). What about magic and puzzles so appeals to you?
You nailed it. Magic and crosswords both involve misdirection, surprises and toying with conventions. Take for example if I were to vanish a coin, I would place it in my hand three or four times plainly before secretly feigning its placement on the fifth time. Magicians allow their audiences to become familiar with what is “normal” so that the “abnormal” goes undetected (or rather looks the same).
A crossword that toys with the rules of the puzzle operates much in the same way. The constructor leads solvers down a path of what seemingly looks like a normal puzzle, and then suddenly hits them with a twist.
(Check out this short video, which highlights David’s whimsical fusion of magic and crosswords.)
3.) What types of puzzles and feats of magic are your favorites or have most inspired you?
I love puzzles in which the twist hinges on the everyday words and phrases that we’ve come to expect as solvers. Ashish Vengsarkar had a great puzzle in which “Start of Quote” and “Part 2 of Quote” were revealed to be BRITISH WAITING LINE and SECOND PERSON SINGULAR.
Also, I know it’s been referenced a million times, but the BOB DOLE / CLINTON puzzle is the ultimate example of misdirection in a crossword. There’s no better way to misdirect your audience before the final reveal than to have them think the trick is over!
[Glenn’s note: David is referencing the famous New York Times puzzle that appeared the day before the 1996 presidential election, a puzzle that famously offered either “BOB DOLE ELECTED” OR “CLINTON ELECTED” as an answer depending on how the solver filled in the grid.]
My favorite magic tricks are the ones in which the subterfuge is taking place right under the spectators’ noses. As performers, we call these “bold” moves and take a particular delight in executing them effectively. Often this means no intricate contraptions, no smoke and mirrors — just a strong ability to misdirect. There’s a routine called “card under the glass,” which illustrates this concept. The performer declares, “I will again and again place your card underneath this glass. See if you can catch me.”
And the audience never stands a chance.
4.) What’s next for David Kwong?
“Now You See Me” was such a big hit that we’re making a sequel. There are a number of Houdini projects in the works as well. I’ve also consulted recently on “The Imitation Game,” which is the story of Alan Turing and Bletchley Park cracking the German enigma cipher machine. There’s a great line in that script: “[Alan,] you just defeated Nazism with a crossword puzzle.”
5.) If you could give the readers, writers, puzzle fans, and magic lovers in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?
Magic and puzzles are both forms of storytelling. If you’re creating magic tricks or constructing puzzles, think about how you can take your audience on a journey, even if just for a few minutes. Play into their expectations and hit them with twists and turns.
Finally, look for fresh combinations of seemingly unrelated things. You might be surprised that their cross-pollination can yield something innovative and original. Who would have thought that magic and puzzles could be synthesized?!
Many thanks to David for his time. You can learn more about David and his ever-expanding filmography on his website, DavidKwongMagic.com, and be sure to follow him on Twitter (@davidkwong) and Facebook (facebook.com/dkwongmagic) to see more of his mystifying exploits.
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