It’s important for screenwriters and filmmakers to look like they know what they’re talking about, and so many movies and TV shows hire consultants — medical consultants for the hospital drama, police consultants for the crime show, and so on.
And every so often, a movie or a TV show needs a puzzle. For that, the creative types are likely to turn to Dave Shukan and David Kwong. In real life, Shukan is a copyright and trademark attorney, and Kwong is a professional magician. Both are puzzle experts. David Kwong even infuses his magic with puzzles — his show “The Enigmatist” has had long runs in New York City and Los Angeles (with a pre-show in the lobby featuring puzzles by Dave Shukan).
Before throwing himself into magic full time, Kwong worked for a number of Hollywood studios, including Dreamworks Animation, where he helped look for properties that might make good movies. “But I was sneaking out of the office all the time,” he says, “to work with writers on every magic-related project out there.” There were many of these, and one finally escaped the morass of development and became a movie: 2013’s Now You See Me, for which he is credited as head magic consultant.
A year or so later a new call came in, from a television producer named Martin Gero. He was developing a show called Blindspot, which would feature a protagonist who has no memory but a wide assortment of mysterious tattoos. Gero wanted these tattoos to be puzzling in nature. Kwong at that point had gone full-time with his puzzle/magic hybrid act and seemed like just the guy to help out. By season 2, Kwong brought Shukan on board as well, and together they helped infuse puzzles not only in the show’s tattoos, but also in the episode titles.
The episode titles? Yep. Take this list of Blindspot titles from season 3. There is a very tricky message hidden within them. Can you find it?
BACK TO THE GRIND
ENEMY BAG OF TRICKS
UPSIDE DOWN CRAFT
THIS PROFOUND LEGACY
FIX MY PRESENT HAVOC
CITY FOLKS UNDER WRAPS
HOT BURNING FLAMES
BALANCE OF NIGHT
TWO LEGENDARY CHUMS
MUM’S THE WORD
GALAXY OF MINDS
LET IT GO
Answer at the bottom of this blog post, but here’s a hint: Look for a letter pattern common through all the titles.
Kwong and Shukan have since gone on to lend assistance to other well-known projects, including a sliding-block puzzle that was featured in Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Their most recent project has also been their most puzzle-intensive: Apple TV’s The Afterparty, a murder-mystery series from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the latter of whom encountered Shukan and Kwong at a puzzle party, and knew they were the right team to help infuse the show he was working on with devilish clues for the home audience to decipher.
This Shukan and Kwong most certainly did. Every episode contains a puzzle — often only shown on screen for a flash of time — that, when solved, eliminates one of the suspects. A Reddit forum was quickly established to take on the challenges, and puzzles that the creative team thought might pass everyone by were in fact solved in an hour or so. Here’s one such puzzle, in the form of a briefly seen T-shirt:
Can you figure out the secret message? Once again, the solution will be at the end of this post.
Hopefully more TV and movie folks will realize that puzzles are a great way to bring fan communities together — Shukan and Kwong stand ready to assist. The pair recently finished creating the puzzles for the second season of The Afterparty. You can help crack the case in 2023.
BLINDSPOT PUZZLE SOLUTION:
Each episode title contains exactly one three-letter string in the form of XYX. For example, in the final title, the word MEMORY starts with the letters MEM. (Sometimes this three-letter string breaks across words — in the first episode, the three letters are TOT, as seen in the words …TO THE…)
If you take the center letter of this trigram, you will spell out the message ONE OF US WILL GIVE OUR LIFE.
THE AFTERPARTY SOLUTION:
You might notice that all of the cities and arenas share their names with US presidents — the first nine US presidents, in fact. Put these presidents in order, keeping the May date next to each one:
4 QUINCY ADAMS
15 VAN BUREN
Then simply take the letter of alphabet represented by that number — so, 1=A, 2=B, and so on. This spells out the answer to the puzzle, NOT MAD DOG, eliminating from suspicion the character with that nickname.