5 Questions for Author Derek Taylor Kent (Plus a Puzzly Announcement!)

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to continue this series with Kubrick’s Game author Derek Taylor Kent as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Derek is a screenwriter, musician, and author, and his works have spanned print, TV, virtual reality, and soon, film. Although he’s better known for his middle grade efforts like Simon and the Solar System and the Scary School series, he has recently ventured into books for adults with his cinematic puzzle-fueled thriller Kubrick’s Game (which I recently reviewed here).

He has an exciting announcement connected to Kubrick’s Game to share with you, but before we get to that, let’s spend a little time getting to know this ambitious and amiable author, shall we?

Derek 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 Derek Taylor Kent

1. Was Kubrick’s Game your first foray into combining puzzles and writing? If so, what inspired the union of the two? If not, which came first for you, puzzles or writing?

In terms of puzzles being the crux of a plot, yes. I had incorporated some riddles and simple puzzles into some of my children’s fiction before, but only as a small element.

My primary inspiration for combining the two came from reading Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One back in 2011. In that book, the characters have to solve three intricate puzzles based on ’80s pop culture. The author was obsessed with 80s movies, music, and video games, so I began ruminating about what my subject would be if I were to write such a story. The obvious choice was Stanley Kubrick. He had been my favorite director since I was in high school and I was obsessed with his movies and all of the mystery that surrounded them.

As I delved further into it, the choice became more and more clear. Kubrick himself was an avid gamesman who loved puzzles, symbolism, and subliminal messages. The more I studied, the more I realized that it was not only believable, but almost likely, that he might have created a complex puzzle connecting each of his films. From there, it was just a matter of playing it out using markers that were already present.

[Image courtesy of Cinema Research Institute.]

2. How did the puzzles in the book come together? What did Kubrick’s game look like in its earliest iteration?

I had specific ideas for several of the puzzles and a general idea for others that I wanted to incorporate. Early in the process, I recruited two of the premiere puzzle-creators alive — Bob Glouberman and Larry Toffler of Fantastic Race. They create city-wide scavenger hunts, escape rooms, and puzzles for TV and movies. Luckily, they happened to be just as obsessed with Kubrick as I was and were very excited to come on board to help me create them.

If I were to write a book based on diabolical puzzles, I knew the book could only be as good as the puzzles themselves. While I could have probably created okay puzzles myself, I knew that theirs would be incredible and indeed they blew my mind.

I also knew that I wanted the puzzles to be Kubrickian, or cinematic in nature. That is, the clues would incorporate imagery, music, editing, and symbols, as opposed to wordplay or mathematical riddles. Also, they could only be solved by those familiar with the filmmaking process and masterful in its techniques, such as editing, lighting, projection, and sound design.

The final puzzle, which I dare not give away here, was present from the very beginning and had me most excited to write the book. I knew it had to end in that very special place, and was a type of puzzle that had never been created before, but it also made total sense considering the themes and hidden meanings of Kubrick’s final films.

3. If you’d been presented with a mystery like the one in your book, would you have taken the UCLA approach, the USC approach, or the antagonist’s approach?

Since the UCLA teammates are our protagonists, they were enacting my personal approach…most likely. They were most concerned with playing the game how Kubrick would have wanted it to be played, as opposed to other groups who, shall we say, put ethics aside for the sake of victory.

4. What’s next for Derek Taylor Kent?

Depending on how well Kubrick’s Game is received, I have plans for a continuation of cinema-themed puzzle adventure novels. I am also still writing middle-grade fiction and picture books and hope to have more of those released in the near future. I also wrote a horror feature film that is currently in pre-production, which will hopefully be coming out winter of 2018.

If your readers are interested in checking out any of my other work, everything is at DerekTaylorKent.com. Oh, and if you go to the Fun and Games section of ScarySchool.com, there’s a memory game you can play, and beating it will earn you the weirdest trophy you’ve ever seen.

5. If you could give the readers, writers, film enthusiasts, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

Well, since that is a very wide range of people, I think I will share my favorite piece of advice I ever received, which happened to come from the great actor Robert Forster. He told my class: “99% of everything you ever hear in your life will be somebody trying to convince you of something that’s not true in order to get into your pockets.”

What I like best about it, besides the encouragement of skepticism, is that as a novelist, I love being able to make a living selling something that isn’t BS. I can honestly tell kids, parents, or now my grown-up readers, that for a very reasonable price, my books will give you many hours of entertainment, and perhaps some enlightenment.


And speaking of hours of entertainment, it’s time for Derek’s big announcement!

As a marvelous real-world tie-in to Kubrick’s Game, Derek has launched The Game, an interactive solving experience guaranteed to challenge solvers and delight puzzlers worldwide!

This is a game for all readers to play.
If you’re reading this, play has already begun.
Six different puzzles each month to the day
Need to be solved for the game to be won.

That’s just a snippet of the introduction to set the scene. You can click here for full details — the first clue was revealed yesterday! — and sign up for his newsletter (bottom of the page here) to keep up on all things Derek Taylor Kent and Kubrick’s Game! (And, of course, you need to read the book to give yourself a fighting chance at solving The Game and finding the treasure!)

I think it’s an awesome way to expand on the world of the novel and to give solvers a puzzly conundrum to look forward to cracking! Good luck, my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

Thank you, Derek, for taking the time out for 5 Questions! I can’t wait to see how The Game unfolds!


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PuzzleNation Book Review: Ready Player One

Welcome to the first installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews!

All of the books discussed and/or reviewed in PNBR (PBR?) articles are either directly or indirectly related to the world of puzzling, and hopefully you’ll find something to tickle your literary fancy in this entry or the entries to come.

Let’s get started!

Our inaugural book review blog post features Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One.

Set in a world not too far in the future, Ready Player One introduces the OASIS, the next generation of videogaming and virtual interactivity. The OASIS allows you to go to school, escape from reality, and go on gaming quests, all from the comfort of home. The impoverished and generally frustrated Wade is just one of the OASIS’s many users, but his lack of funds keeps him from indulging in many of the more lavish adventures and activities available to others in the OASIS.

But things change when James Halliday, the co-creator of the OASIS, dies, leaving a challenge in his will for his fans and followers: find three keys hidden within the OASIS. Whomever finds these Easter Eggs will be granted total control of Halliday’s fortune AND company.

Wade and many of his fellow gamers know that finding the three keys might be the only way to avert a corporate attempt to monetize and economically subjugate the OASIS. Can Wade or one of his fellow gamers find the keys and save the OASIS?

Ready Player One is an outstanding debut novel, capturing the excitement and spirit of both RPGs and videogames, as well as the curious nature of Internet-bred friendships, all wrapped up in a terrifically fun adventure tale.

Both utopian and dystopian in spirit, Ready Player One is confident enough to invest time in the backstory of both Halliday and the world at large, giving the reader plenty of time to acclimate and become invested in Wade’s quest. I was quickly hooked by the intriguing world-building both inside and outside the OASIS.

But amidst the videogame trappings and ’80s pop culture references — cleverly employed as an obsession of the players, allowing them to feel vintage, rather than dated — there is an undeniable puzzly spirit at the heart of the novel: solving riddles.

Halliday leaves a riddle as the clue to unravel in order to locate the first key. Riddles continue to pop up, daring both the characters and the readers to find the solution. (Not only that, but the book itself offered a challenge for sharp-eyed readers, and one skilled puzzler won a DeLorean after solving the embedded puzzle.)

With plenty to keep puzzle fans, gamers, and pop culture aficionados engaged, Ready Player One is a terrific read. One of my favorites from the past year.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the first installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews, and I look forward to more book discussions in the future. In the meantime, keep calm, puzzle on, and I’ll catch you later.