First Look: Puzzle, A Film About Finding the Right Pieces

[Image courtesy of Steven Teagarden.com.]

Satisfaction. Nothing encapsulates the feeling of completing a puzzle quite like the word “satisfaction.”

Whether we’re talking about crosswords, brain teasers, mechanical puzzles, or jigsaw puzzles, it’s a gratifying feeling to write that final letter, place that final piece, make the final twist/move/connection and unlock the solution.

“When you complete a puzzle, you know you have made all the right choices.” That idea is at the heart of a new movie coming out next month entitled Puzzle.

[Image courtesy of IMDb.]

From one of the press packets for the film:

Agnes, taken for granted as a suburban mother, discovers a passion for solving jigsaw puzzles, which unexpectedly draws her into a new world – where her life unfolds in ways she could never have imagined.

The film stars Kelly MacDonald (who you might know from Brave, Boardwalk Empire, Gosford Park, or Trainspotting), Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire, In Treatment, and Jurassic World), and David Denman (The Office, Angel, 13 Hours, and Logan Lucky), but even from the brief glimpses offered in the trailer, this is clearly Kelly MacDonald’s show.

Transitioning from a warm reception at Sundance to wider release in July and August, the film looks like a wonderful character piece, a nice bit of counterprogramming after the usual summer blockbuster fare.

I’m looking forward to seeing the film when it’s released — it opens July 27th in select theaters — and I’ll write a full review for the blog when I do.

But in the meantime, check out the trailer, and if you’re intrigued, spread the word.


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PuzzleNation Book Review: Kubrick’s Game

Welcome to another installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews!

All of the books discussed and/or reviewed in PNBR 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!

The subject of today’s book-review post is Derek Taylor Kent’s novel Kubrick’s Game.

Shawn Hagan is a film student at UCLA’s School of Film and Television, a gifted director of photography, cameraman, and lighting designer with aspirations toward directing. He’s probably like many cinephiles you know: obsessive, prone to losing himself in films, with a hard time relating to others.

He’s also a fan of puzzly scavenger hunts, tackling them with his friend Wilson, a former child star with his own directorial ambitions. They also recruit Shawn’s TA (and crush), Samira Singh, to join them. But when Shawn’s film professor asks for Shawn’s help deciphering the contents of a mysterious package, Wilson, Sami, and Shawn will find themselves on a puzzle hunt unlike anything they’ve ever seen.

The package is from visionary director Stanley Kubrick, a man who has been dead for fifteen years. Apparently, he left one last gift to his fans and fellow film lovers: an elaborate puzzle whose endgame could change history.

As Shawn, Wilson, and Sami unravel each clue, delving deep into Kubrick’s life and filmography, they discover they’re not the only ones in pursuit of the solution to Kubrick’s game; not only are students from other film schools also on the hunt, but shadowy forces are also working to solve the puzzle…forces that are willing to lie, cheat, steal, and worse to get what they want.

What could Kubrick have left behind to justify such means? Will Shawn, Sami, and Wilson solve the famous chessmaster’s last gambit?

Kubrick’s Game is a puzzly thriller/adventure piece very much in the vein of The Da Vinci Code, though a far more satisfying read, more akin to the Shakespeare-fueled mystery of Jennifer Lee Carrell’s Interred with Their Bones or Haunt Me Still than the smack-you-in-the-face-with-coincidence style of Mr. Brown. Kent is clearly a fan of Kubrick’s work, and that enthusiasm infuses every page of the story.

Part puzzle hunt, part tribute, and part whodunit, Kubrick’s Game revels in the minutiae of classic films, adding depth and meaning to cinematic quirks and questions that hardcore film geeks have been debating and theorizing about for years.

But Kent goes one step further by including relevant images and frames of film, allowing the reader to follow the narrative. You can’t quite solve the puzzles alongside the protagonists, especially in the later puzzles (unless you’re a serious Kubrick aficionado, that is), but you know enough to avoid any possible frustration.

On the puzzle side, there are really three puzzly narratives to unravel. The first is the puzzle hunt early in the game, which is very straightforward. The second is Kubrick’s game itself. The third is the whodunit of the story, pondering who Shawn and his team can trust and who they’re working against. It’s a multilayered narrative that never bogs down, despite the twists and turns and numerous characters in play.

[Image courtesy of Biography.com.]

Kubrick himself becomes a major player in the story, as his motivations, his choices, and his interests are crucial to the plot. His films as well become intriguing characters — particularly Eyes Wide Shut, often a maligned part of Kubrick’s legacy, though one I have more appreciation for after reading this book.

(And Kent is clearly having some fun with some of the conspiracy theories surrounding Kubrick’s life and works in this novel, but he does so without mocking.)

As for the human characters, Sami and Wilson are amiable support characters; they’re likable and capable, focused and flawed in their own ways, but Shawn is clearly the centerpiece of the novel, so most of Sami and Wilson’s more intriguing character aspects only emerge in reaction to Shawn.

As for Shawn, he’s a little polarizing, because you want to like him, but several of his choices make it hard to do so. Some of this can be attributed to Shawn’s social awkwardness and insensitivity; there are certain character moments that are selfish and border on the emotionally brutal.

(Some characters theorize that Shawn is on the spectrum, but I don’t feel comfortable commenting either way. It isn’t particularly germane to the plot, so long as you can accept that Shawn is fairly tone-deaf socially and has difficulty connecting with others.)

That being said, you cheer when Shawn succeeds and you root for him when he falters, which are signs of a solid protagonist.

Although the antagonists descend a bit into cartoonish villainy, that’s a minor quibble. For the most part, the stakes feel high and the mentality of Shawn, Wilson, and Sami’s team against the world is an easy one to buy into.

Kent has done an impressive job of constructing an elaborate mystery worthy of Kubrick’s labyrinthine storytelling, one that should satisfy thriller fans and puzzle fans alike.

Kubrick’s Game is available on Amazon in hardcover, softcover, audiobook, and ebook.

[Full disclosure: I received a free copy of today’s book in exchange for a review.]


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Cinematic Crossword Codecracking edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to revisit one of my favorite puzzle constructors, David Kwong!

[Check out David’s session of 5 Questions here.]

Not only is he a topnotch constructor, he’s also a magician who performs his own signature tricks while consulting for film projects and television shows. He’s worked on The Mindy Project, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and Now You See Me (as well as the upcoming sequel).

And his latest collaborative efforts just hit theaters yesterday in The Imitation Game, the Benedict Cumberbatch/Keira Knightley film detailing Alan Turing’s efforts at Bletchley Park to break the infamous German Enigma Code during World War II.

But it was David’s crossword skills on display this time around, as he constructed the crossword Alan Turing uses in the film to test potential cryptographers in the movie.

I don’t have that crossword for you to solve, unfortunately, but thanks to The New York Times and Deb Amlen’s Wordplay blog, I can offer you a link to an actual crossword Alan Turing created for The Telegraph.

Plus, the official website for The Imitation Game has a puzzle you can solve to unlock exclusive content. (Just click the link and then click “Crack the code” in the lower right-hand corner of the screen.)

The film is already being hailed as one of the best of the year. I can’t wait to see what David works on next.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

It’s Follow-Up Friday: Macho Vanquish Fizgig Jukebox edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I have another brief installment of Puzzles in Pop Culture.

Friend of the Blog Eric Berlin passed along this link about some puzzly fun lurking at the theaters last weekend.

Apparently, the top ten box office draws over the weekend formed a pangram!

For the uninitiated, a pangram is a sentence, paragraph, or other written item that contains all 26 letters in the alphabet. Not only do many puzzlesmiths endeavor to make their puzzles pangrams, but there’s a whole subset of puzzlers dedicated to writing short, hilarious, and immensely crafty sentences featuring all 26 letters.

The classic pangrammatic sentence — one many of us remember from typing class — is “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” But that’s got a lot of repeated letters, and true pangram devotees try to repeat as few letters as possible.

(My personal favorite pangram? “Mr. Jock, TV quiz PhD, bags few lynx.”)

But this weekend, thanks to films like The Equalizer, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, we’ve got a box office pangram!

This is the sort of puzzles-in-plain-sight fun that I love, seeing clever people spot patterns most others would miss.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!