Delving into the Lollapuzzoola 13 puzzles!

lolla logo

The thirteenth edition of Lollapuzzoola, as is tradition, arrived on a Saturday in August, but for the first time ever, it was hosted online to allow tournament solving from home. As one of the highlights of the puzzly calendar, I was glad to see it make the virtual jump, as Boswords did before it.

I was not in virtual attendance, but I did sign up for the Next Day Division puzzle packet. Last weekend, I finally had a chance to sit down and try my hands at this year’s tournament puzzles, and I was not disappointed. Lollapuzzoola continues to push the envelope with inventive themes and unique spins on how to bring crosswords to life.

This year’s theme was “Don’t Touch That Dial!” so every puzzle had something to do with television or TV channels, and the constructors were clearly inspired in all sorts of ways. Let’s take a look at what they came up with.


Instead of Brian Cimmet’s usual Twinlets puzzle as a warm-up, this year featured two practice puzzles. The first, constructed by Patrick Blindauer and entitled “I Want My MTV,” allowed solvers to hit the ground running.

The accessible theme — adding the letter M to established TV shows, a la SCOOBYDOOM or AMERICAN MIDOL — is the sort of fun and frivolous idea to spark solver imaginations and ready them for a proper day of puzzling.

Interesting grid entries included DATUM and I’LL BE BACK (as well as some nice misdirection with YEE-haw instead of HEE haw), and my favorite clue was “Traffic cop?” for NARC.

The second practice puzzle, a themeless mini constructed by Brian Cimmet, offered a slight uptick in difficulty and a nice preview of the sort of solving tournament attendees would see in the final.

Interesting grid entries included BOBA TEA, ORCHESTRATE, and ROLLED R (as well as tournament constructor STELLA Zawistowski getting referenced!), and my favorite clue was “One of three in ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day'” for COMMA.

soap opera

Puzzle 1: Soap Operas by Brooke Husic

The competition puzzles kicked off with this terrific opener, a 17×13 grid that showed off the flexibility and creativity of construction and grid design that keeps Lollapuzzoola fresh. (Also, I’m a sucker for a punny start to a tournament, so the theme was a plus for me.)

The themed entries featured commercial soap brands as part of common phrases (like IVORY TOWER and DOVE TAILED), which were then clued as “soap operas” for viewers.

It was a nicely constructed grid that flowed well, and it’s exactly the sort of puzzle to introduce new solvers to tournament puzzles while entertaining the established vets.

Interesting grid entries included DIWALI, ACADIA, and HOPE SO, and my favorite clue was “Card game that can go on and on and on and on and on and on and on, like this clue” for WAR.

Puzzle 2: The Final Countdown by Sid Sivakumar

This tall, thin 12×25 grid (coupled with THAT title) virtually guaranteed that Europe’s faux-epic anthem would be stuck in your head for a good chunk of the tournament, but I’ll forgive Sid, because I really enjoyed this puzzle’s hook.

The theme entries all began with a number (like 4 LETTER WORDS or 3-D TELEVISION), and as you expect, they counted down until reaching the climactic pronouncement AND WE’RE LIVE at the bottom part of the grid. It’s a fun idea that was complimented nicely by the unusual grid, and the puzzle flowed nicely from top to bottom as the entries counted down.

Interesting grid entries included PEARLED, RETURN KEY, MR SULU (which, before I looked at the clue, I kinda hoped would be MR. SHOW), and BUNGALOW. My favorite clues were “[Feed me! Pet me! Feed me! Play with me!] … or actually sometimes [Leave me alone!]” for MEOW and “‘Do not feed the ____’ (advice for bridge travelers and internet users)” for TROLL.

At this point, I noticed that both Puzzle 1 and 2 had an all-caps clue where the answer was a TV network. This feature continued throughout the tournament as a nice little through line, though its ultimate purpose wouldn’t reveal itself until after Puzzle 5. Stay tuned.

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[Image courtesy of Pixar.]

Puzzle 3: Flipping Channels by Rachel Fabi

A swapping-themed puzzle is practically a tradition at Lollapuzzoola at this point, so I wasn’t at all surprised to see that idea adapted for TV with Puzzle 3’s hook. Each pair of theme entries not only included the names of channel, but swapped the second halves of phrases including those channels. For instance FOXGLOVES and OXYGENMOLECULES became OXYGENGLOVES and FOXMOLECULES.

As I solved, I wasn’t sure if these would be random pairs swapped, mirrored pairs swapped, or a continuous chain of swaps throughout the puzzle, so it took me a little longer to complete the grid. This was a definite step-up in difficulty from Puzzle 1 and 2, but not excessively so. (Some of the vocabulary also slowed me down, since I didn’t know NITTANY or INFODEMIC.) Still, it was a solid puzzle and an appropriate challenge for the midway point of the tournament.

Interesting grid entries included NOGOODNIK, CHEETO, HOT POCKET, GO GREEN, and the aforementioned INFODEMIC, and my favorite clues were “Nanjiani’s ‘The Lovebirds’ costar” for RAE and “Bisexual Greta of Old Hollywood” for GARBO, two clues that felt very fresh and topical, particularly for entries that solvers have seen plenty of times before.

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[Image courtesy of Game Show Network.]

Puzzle 4: Deal or No Deal by joon pahk

A big jump in difficulty and complexity, Puzzle 4 was an immensely clever and well-executed grid that took a familiar crossword concept — removing or adding letters from entries — and mined it for unexpected depth. On the left-hand side of the grid, a letter was added to both the clue AND the entry. For example, “Entranced cover” clued DAWNING. [Bolding is my own to highlight the added letter.]

On the right-hand side of the grid (but in the same row, one black square away), that entry was complemented by the same letter subtracted from both clue AND entry. The example above, for instance, was matched by “Go _own a spout” cluing _RAIN OUT. [Again, spacing added is my own to highlight the missing letter.]

These letter trades — the deal or no deal of the title — were tightly executed and made total sense to the solver without any explanation needed. Not only that, but the added/missing letter was always taken from the same part of the word on the other side! (Third letter E in FREIGHT was the missing third letter in SH_ARING next door.)

It’s incredibly impressive construction that is nicely balanced by solid fill and strong cluing. This is easily my favorite joon pahk puzzle I’ve ever solved, and will no doubt make my list of top puzzles of the year.

Interesting grid entries included GONZAGA, MEERKAT, NIP/TUCK, TWYLA, and SCHLEP, and my favorite clues were “Slightly subpar, ironically” for ONE OVER, “Wednesday the third?” for SILENT D, and “Snow or paint, in certain arenas” for AMMO.

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Puzzle 5: Schedule Swaps by Stella Zawistowski

This 21x marked the end of the regular tournament puzzles, and it felt like a suitable final boss for most solvers in the competition. The grid was dense, well-constructed, and challenging, featuring another smartly-executed swapping gimmick. This time around, the theme was common phrases where one of the words was also a TV show, but that show was replaced with another TV show to make a new phrase.

For example, the phrase BIRTHING COACH became BIRTHING SCRUBS as COACH was relocated elsewhere in the grid. Fitting in all these themed entries — six of them! — plus their accompanying TV shows was no doubt a hefty challenge for the constructor, but Zawistowski made it feel effortless in this demanding but well-made puzzle.

Interesting grid entries included GALILEO, SAN PEDRO, DISCIPLE, PETSIT, AIRPOPS, and SO SUE ME (as well as the thoroughly baffling ONE O’ CAT, which I had to look up after), and my favorite clue was “‘Silver Springs,’ to ‘Go Your Own Way'” for B-SIDE.

As for the all-caps TV network clues we spotted earlier? They also appeared in Puzzles 3, 4, and 5, and it turns out, they were part of a clever little metapuzzle hidden in the tournament grids.

The five TV networks, one in each puzzle, turned out to be TBS, VH1, SyFy, ESPN, and TNT. And if you take the first letter of each, you get the hidden answer TV SET.

Very nicely done, constructors!

berternie

Puzzle 6: Finals by Robyn Weintraub

As always, there were two sets of clues for the Finals puzzle, the Local and the more difficult Express clues. No matter which clues you were working with, you were in for a terrific tournament finale.

With a pair of 12-letter entries from classic children’s television as anchors for the puzzle — MISTER ROGERS and BERT AND ERNIE — Weintraub delivered a tight grid with some strong fill and plenty of long, crossing entries in the corners to keep solvers guessing.

For me, this was a nice tournament landmark, as I powered through the Express clues and completed the grid without having to reference the easier Local clues once. I know this is commonplace for the top solvers, but it was a nice confidence boost for me as an enthusiastic solver, but hardly the fastest or the most competent.

It was a perfect final puzzle to wrap up one of the most consistent and enjoyable puzzle sets they’ve ever assembled for the tournament. With over 1,000 solvers participating through the online format, I can’t think of a better way to introduce them to the spirit and style of Lollapuzzoola than this year’s puzzles. Nicely done, team!

Interesting grid entries included WENT TO BED, SQUARE PEG, FALSE ALARM, PECOS, and NSFW. Both the Local and Express sets of clues had some gems, so I’ll list them separately below:

Local clues:

  • “Big cheese with the bacon” for CFO
  • “Escape room finds” for KEYS
  • “Month in which National ‘Twilight Zone’ Day is observed” for MAY
  • “‘____ Pressure’ (‘Baywatch’ episode with a punny title)” for PIER

Express clues:

  • “Place after place” for SHOW
  • “Canal zone?” for EAR
  • “‘Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ‘Aina i ka Pono’ or ‘Excelsior'” for STATE MOTTO
  • “PBS ‘Viewers Like You'” for DONORS
  • “‘Panic at Malibu ____’ (‘Baywatch’ pilot episode) for PIER

bay-5-1024x576

[Top(less) puzzlers.]

There was also a tiebreaker themeless mini by Amanda Rafkin (who we recently interviewed!). The mini was a quick and satisfying solve, loaded with great vocabulary, offering a nice cooldown after a strong tournament and several really engaging puzzles.

Interesting grid entries included MACARONI ART and SO EXTRA, and my favorite clue from the mini was “One paying dollars for quarters” for TENANT.


The puzzles at Lollapuzzoola always impress, and this year was no exception. The grids were tight, there was little crosswordese, and the creative themes, grid designs, and puzzle mechanics ensured that not only would fun be had by all, but that the puzzles would linger in your memory.

Mission accomplished, and congratulations on the competitors and the organizers who made it all happen, especially in a virtual format with so many additional solvers. Lollapuzzoola is only getting more creative, more groundbreaking, and more clever with each passing year, and it’s just awesome to watch it grow and evolve.

I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year!


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NBC: Novel Board-game Content

book rock

By the late 2000s and early 2010s, NBC’s Must See TV Thursday lineup was a thing of the past, but they were still putting out quality comedy content. My Name Is Earl, The Office, Community, Scrubs, Parks and Recreation, and 30 Rock all had loyal followings.

And you’d be surprised how much puzzle and game content ended up on those shows.

The Office featured in-house Olympics and betting games, as well as a Da Vinci Code-esque prank. Community had two Dungeons & Dragons-inspired episodes (which I should really cover at some point).

But those last two shows — Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock — both featured made-up games that either spoofed or were inspired by modern board games.

(Yes, we’ve previously covered the Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt from Parks and Rec, but there were two other scavenger hunt moments, as well as the many game references made by the character Ben Wyatt.)

Parks and Recreation had The Cones of Dunshire, and 30 Rock had Colonizers of Malaar. Both of these games are much more elaborate takes on Settlers of Catan, a board game about resource management that is considered one of the top titles in modern board games.

In one episode of 30 Rock, executive Jack Donaghy is struggling with his position, given that NBC is under new ownership with Kabletown, and he finds refuge in a game of Colonizers of Malaar with the writers for comedy show TGS.

Jack believes his business acumen will make the game an easy victory, only to find the play experience strangely similar to his current problems at work. He flees the game for some fresh air.

Later, Jack returns to the game, inspired. He makes a seemingly ill-advised move — playing a fire card in a desert wasteland — that turns the game on its head. The fire turns all the sand into glass, a much-needed resource, and suddenly he’s back in control.

His success in the game inspires him to do the same with his new employers, and Jack leaves, reinvigorated.

The game itself allowed for a few silly throwaway lines, but Jack’s gaming experience was a clever way to allow him to reach rock bottom and rebound. Like many newcomers to a game, he struggled, found his way, and later triumphed, his day improved by playing the game.

Plenty of board game fans have had similarly joyful experiences.

Colonizers of Malaar, as far as we can tell, is a marketed game in the 30 Rock universe. The Cones of Dunshire from Parks and Recreation, on the other hand, is created by character Ben Wyatt and initially treated as a mistake, a nonsensical result of his boredom and frustrations.

The game becomes a running gag in the show. Ben leaves it as a gift at an accounting firm that he has been hired by (and walked away from) several times.

Later, we find out the game has been produced, and Ben stumbles across it when dealing with a dotcom company. He mentions that he invented it, but is shrugged off. He then proves not only his gaming skill but his authorship of the game when he beats the dotcom bosses in a tense playthrough.

It’s mentioned once that a gaming magazine called Cones of Dunshire “punishingly intricate,” a point that makes Ben proud.

Part of the fun of Cones of Dunshire is that the viewer never really understands what’s going on, so supposedly dramatic moments can be played for laughs. (I also appreciate that the name of the game is basically a fancy way of saying “dunce hat.”)

And, in the sort of cyclical storytelling that could only happen in a nerdly pursuit like board games, the company that made Settlers of Catan — Mayfair Games — produced a giant version of the game as part of a charity event at GenCon.

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A Kickstarter campaign for a limited run of the game was launched twice, with copies costing $500 due to the insane complexity and number of pieces for the game, but it ultimately failed to reach its goal.

Nonetheless, these two fictional games made an impact on both the characters of the show and the fans as well. What more could you ask for?


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The Best Puzzle Solvers on Television

[Image courtesy of Spoiler TV.]

A few weeks ago, we celebrated Halloween by compiling a list of the best puzzlers in horror movies. The goal was to highlight characters who stood out, the ones you’d want on your side, because they’re clever, decisive, and immensely capable.

But it’s not just horror movies that feature characters with these rare qualities. Television dramas and comedies both have their fair share of top-notch puzzlers, and today, we turn the spotlight on them.

True, I certainly could have listed more detectives/investigators/crime scene techs, but honestly, they’re often part of a big team of solvers. (The casts of CSI and Bones, for instance, are effective teams, but rarely does one particular puzzler shine brighter than the rest.)

These individuals (and the occasional duo), however, most definitely perform puzzly feats under pressure.


bestpuzbatman

Batman, Batman: The Animated Series

[Image courtesy of Polygon.]

Yeah, we’re getting an obvious one out of the way first. He’s not called the World’s Greatest Detective for nothing, after all. Although the ’60s Batman leapt wildly to conclusions that turned out to be right, we’d rather lean on the cunning cartoon version of the character from the ’90s FOX show.

This Batman outwitted the Riddler, foiled the Joker, and defeated Ra’s al Ghul, all while remaining age-appropriate for the kiddies. His comic-book counterpart might get to show off his puzzly detective skills more frequently, but when it comes to TV, it’s hard to ignore the Caped Crusader.

bestpuzsherlock

Sherlock Holmes / Mycroft Holmes / Jim Moriarty, Sherlock

[Image courtesy of Tumblr.]

Again, this trio is too obvious to ignore. It’s hard to pick the sharpest knife out of this particular drawer. Moriarty proves himself to be Holmes’s equal throughout the show, though Sherlock does defeat him in the end. Similarly, Mycroft is often regarded as Sherlock’s equal (or perhaps superior) when it comes to sussing out evidence.

But we always return to the often imitated but never duplicated Great Detective when we think of someone who can put together tiny details and suddenly realize the stunning whole of the case. Call it deduction or just great jigsaw skills, Sherlock has it in spades.

(Oh, and an honorable mention here goes out to Dr. Gregory House, who was based on Holmes.)

bestpuzgyver

Angus MacGyver, MacGyver

[Image courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter.]

When you think of this iconic character, it’s likely that one of two things comes to mind: either his trusty Swiss army knife or his incredible knack for getting out of jams with jury-rigged, home-built, improvised equipment.

The man cobbled together a cannon from cigarette butts and built a functioning glider out of bamboo and trash bags. Any brain teaser, no matter how specious or obtuse, would fall before the mighty outside-the-box thinking of Mr. MacGyver.

Leslie Knope / Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation

My first instinct was to mention Ron Swanson here, given his love of riddles and his impressive efforts to solve the Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt created for Ben in a famous episode. But one cannot honor a master puzzle solver and not give a fair shake to the woman who designed the devious scavenger hunt being solved.

Leslie Knope’s 25-clue puzzle hunt involved riddles, anagrams, a cryptex, and more, and not only did she amaze viewers, but she got Ron to admit his love of riddles to the world. They both merit mentioning in today’s list.

bestpuzdoctor

The Doctor, Doctor Who

[Image courtesy of Vocal.]

When your life is spent traveling through time and space, experiencing events out of order, you’d have to be a pretty decent puzzler just to keep cause and effect straight, let alone to battle threats that endanger the whole of creation. And this alien with two hearts and a police box that travels through time is one heck of a puzzle solver.

He has outwitted Daleks, demigods, and the devil himself. He has defeated aliens that move every time you blink or look away, or that you forget about as soon as you lose sight of them. I assure you, no riddle or brain teaser stands a chance against someone who thinks in four dimensions.

bestpuzlisa

Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons

[Image courtesy of SketchOK.]

No, I haven’t mentioned too many actual puzzle solvers in this list — but just because people like puzzles, that doesn’t mean they’re the best solvers. Lisa, however, fits both sides of the equation.

We’ve seen her skills as a crossword whiz and her ability to crack a Da Vinci Code-esque mystery, all while navigating the perils of elementary school and a father whose choices often defy belief. Lisa is thoughtful, diligent, observant, and clever. She not only loves puzzles, but applies her puzzly mind to making the world around her a better place.

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Walter White / Gus Fring, Breaking Bad

[Image courtesy of Breaking Bad Wiki.]

From schoolgirls to drug kingpins we go. It’s hard to pick who is the better strategist between the devious Walter White and the tactical Gustavo Fring. Granted, White does defeat Fring in the end, but not before Gus outmaneuvers old rivals and new, drives a wedge between Walt and Jesse, and builds an entire empire under the noses of the local authorities.

Walt, like a sinister MacGyver, often rigs up surprising solutions to problems, but Gus is probably the superior puzzler, someone who can plan his game three moves ahead and make the best use of his resources.

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Penny and Brain, Inspector Gadget

[Image courtesy of Sassy Mama in LA.]

With the bumbling, insufferable bionic detective by your side, you almost have to be twice as good a puzzler to get anything done. And yet, the insightful Penny and her loyal canine companion Brain usually manage to foil the plans of Dr. Klaw despite the doltish antics of the show’s title character.

Penny is an able researcher, able to assess a situation and find the missing pieces with ease. Brain, on the other hand, is the one who puts Penny’s plans into action and adapting on the fly when things (inevitably) go awry. As puzzling duos go, they’re among the best around.

bestpuzmonk

[Image courtesy of Monk Wiki.]

Adrian Monk, Monk

A knack for observation will always serve a puzzler well. Maybe you notice a pattern, or something missing from a room that everyone else missed. Maybe you can draw connections faster than others. All of these qualities apply to Adrian Monk, the fearful obsessive investigator from USA’s Monk.

Monk is the ultimate logic problem solver, drawing out the tables in his head and neatly placing information in each box, then finally drawing his conclusion once he has enough detail. And he’s never wrong. A master of observation and deduction, Monk is a world-class puzzler (even if he probably doesn’t solve the daily crossword often for fear that the newspaper will smear ink on his hands).


Did I miss any world-class puzzlers from television? Let me know in the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you!

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Alex Trebek Wraps Up His 35th Season of Jeopardy! with a Surprise!

It’s hard to believe that less than two months ago, Jeopardy! was on everyone’s mind as James Holzhauer embarked on his thrilling streak of money-making trivia performances, shattering records and raking in an impressive amount of dough.

Things are a bit quieter now. The show recently wrapped up its 35th season, a landmark few television shows ever reach. And integral to the show’s success is Alex Trebek, who has served as the show’s host since 1984.

Trebek is a certifiable pop culture icon these days. Not only is he a member of that elite pantheon of game show hosts that are instantly recognizable to virtually everyone, but he actually holds the Guinness World Record for hosting the most episodes of a game show. He was awarded with the honor on June 13, 2014, having hosted 6,829 episodes (up to that point).

alextrebekxfiles

[Image courtesy of IMDb.]

My personal favorite Trebek moment is when he showed up unexpectedly in an episode of The X-Files, playing one of the mysterious Men in Black. It’s unclear if he was playing himself, though. As Agent Scully states, “Mulder didn’t say it was Alex Trebek, it was just someone who looked incredibly like him.”

Although he received devastating medical news earlier this year — a diagnosis of stage IV pancreatic cancer — he has said in recent interviews that he’s responding exceptionally well to treatment, giving his many fans and well-wishers hope that he will not only see out the end of his contract (currently set to end in 2022), but many more years of health and happiness.

It’s in that spirit that we write today’s blog post, as Season 35 concluded with one last surprise for Mr. Trebek, courtesy of the Jeopardy! All-Stars (Ken Jennings, Austin Rogers, Brad Rutter, and others):

It’s a wonderful gift to a television icon that millions have been welcoming into their homes for decades now. When it comes to figures in the world of puzzles and games, there are few as iconic as Alex Trebek.


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TV Trivia for Tipplers!

[Geeks Who Drink, hosted by Zachary Levi from Disney’s Tangled and NBC’s Chuck.]

Back in July, I discussed The Chase, 500 Questions, and BOOM!, three game shows that represent a resurgence in TV trivia over the last year or so.

Naturally, a week or so after I posted, another trivia-based game show debuted, this time on SyFy: Geeks Who Drink.

Now, bar trivia fans may recognize that name, as Geeks Who Drink is a trivia company that licenses trivia questions for bars all over America to use on Trivia Nights to bring in customers. (My first Geeks Who Drink experience was in Alaska while visiting my sister, and I was pretty impressed by the wide variety of clever questions and themes.)

Like its namesake, punny team names are encouraged on the show. A few of my favorite team names include “Hot Pub Time Machine” and “Beer Me Up, Scotty.”

Unlike its namesake, the TV show version focuses pretty heavily on science fiction and fantasy movies, TV shows, and books. (Understandable, given its host network.)

Whether you’re putting horror movies in order based on the year they debuted, naming as many Stephen King novels as possible, or solving a math problem by adding the number of horcruxes in Harry Potter to the number of wheels on the DeLorean from Back to the Future, you’ll definitely find your knowledge of pop culture put to the test.

[Eric Christian Olsen from NCIS: Los Angeles leads the team “Han Solo Cups.”]

The show also incorporates celebrity guests as team captains and bar-game-style physical challenges — imagine a boozy version of Double Dare — to spice up the show. Now, we have to be a little liberal with the definition of “celebrity guest” here, in the same vein as the “Stars” on Dancing with the Stars, but they do add a lot of humor to each show.

Although it may be a bit too niche for most viewers, I think genre fans in the puzzle community will find plenty to enjoy here. And with each episode only running 30 minutes, it’s an easy time investment.

Geeks Who Drink airs on SyFy at 11 PM Eastern on Thursdays.


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5 Questions for Director and Editor David Rogers

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 overjoyed to have David Rogers as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

An Emmy-award-winning editor, producer, and director, David has worked on NewsRadio, Seinfeld, Entourage, and The Office (as well as the sadly short-lived but very funny shows Andy Richter Controls the Universe and The Comeback).

During his time on The Office, he edited 60 episodes and directed 9, including the funniest episode of the show’s final season, “A.A.R.M.” He’s currently contributing to The Mindy Project, which is in its second season on Fox.

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 Rogers

1.) You’re both a director and an editor for The Mindy Project, which means you play a significant role in taking disparate scenes and shots and assembling them into a cohesive, entertaining whole. Sounds like just about the ultimate in real-life jigsaw-style puzzle solving. What goes into the production of a given episode, and what are your thoughts as you prepare it for air?

I think the process of putting together any episode of any television show is more like solving a puzzle than anybody watching at home actually realizes, and The Mindy Project is a perfect example of this. From the moment the writers start on a script, they have to be conscious of who is currently doing what and what has happened before, and what’s going to happen down the road. Once the script gets into the hands of a director and the production staff, then more puzzle solving begins.

You break it down and start scouting locations and casting guest stars and then the first ADs (Assistant Directors) put together a shooting schedule. But they have to build it in a way where they can accommodate actors’ availabilities, place locations on a day where we can get the most done, and they also have to be aware of “turnaround issues” for cast and crew, that is whenever we wrap on one day, the cast and crew get a certain amount of time off before the next day’s call time.

An example I’ll give is when I directed “Bro Club For Dudes,” we shot two days, Thursday and Friday, of a Mixed Martial Arts Arena fight down at Hollywood Park. But we had a cameo from Dana White, the president and owner of the UFC, but he was only available Tuesday morning and we didn’t have the location for that day.

So we shot at another location that looked like a dingy hallway that looked like it was a part of our arena, and we also shot a street fight in the loading dock there between Morgan and Ray Ron, and since they were near our stages at the Universal lot, we finished a little after lunch and then came back to our stages and shot more there.

Another example was Adam Pally, who really kicked ass in his fighting scenes, wasn’t available to shoot on the following Monday and we had a hospital room scene of he and Mindy bonding as she stitches him up. Our solution was to build a small three-wall set at our Hollywood Park location and shoot the scene at the end of Friday night.

As an editor, you’re getting multiple takes and different jokes and plenty of alternate lines and performances, and you really have to sift through everything to figure out what’s the funniest, what’s the best, and how do they all connect together to make a cohesive story. It just takes time and building different versions until you see what truly works the best.

And in the process of cutting out time and sharpening the story, you move scenes around, add and change lines with additional dialog recorded later, and there are lots of other elements that come into play including music, sound FX, and what we call “invisible” visual FX that all help make the show we want to make.

[David with his Emmy Award for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series (one of two he’s won for The Office!)]

2.) You’re a big fan of comic books. What influence does that sort of long-form serialized storytelling have on your approach to TV production?

I am a huge fan of comic books and have been ever since I was 5 years old and got my first “The Brave and the Bold.” It’s interesting that when I was younger I was all about the art, and as I got older it was all about the writing and the art didn’t have to be from John Byrne or George Pérez or Neal Adams. But when you read a comic book, you’re really watching a TV show or movie in your head. You’re “casting” voices for the different heroes, you’re imagining what the action scenes and explosions are like, and you’re giving life to still images on a page much like a director uses a set of storyboards.

And that’s the part of a comic book where even if the artist isn’t a favorite like the ones I mentioned above, their work is still essential to what makes the comic book a living, breathing thing. There are these great examples given in How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way, where John Buscema and Stan Lee demonstrate two different pages of art work for the same material. One is fine and gets the story across, but the other is so much more exciting and dramatic and really puts you into the action — and that’s what good directors are constantly aware of when they’re shooting a scene.

What is visually better for the material? What adds to the humor or the drama or the action? And in TV where the schedule is so tight and the budget is always being looked at, what can you do with the tools and time that you have?

I came from The Office, where we were limited with how to shoot scenes because of the hand-held documentary style of the show, but we would still focus on things like shooting it spy or in the room, cross-covering with two cameras, or whipping around with just one, and really blocking positions and making the most of what our shots looked like without them looking like they were set up.

In the penultimate episode “A.A.R.M.,” I directed a scene where Dwight runs Angela off the road and then proposes to her with a bullhorn as traffic goes by in the background. The shots included a go-pro camera set up in Angela’s car where we would see Dwight pull alongside of her as they both “free-drove” — that’s when the actors are really driving the cars.

Meanwhile we get a “boat to boat” shot, where a free-driving process trailer — a truck made for rigging cameras and lights — leads in front of them with two cameras shooting straight back to cover the action. The shot from inside Angela’s car shows their faces very clearly as the scene plays and really brings out the comedy of the situation. Then from the outside, our Stunt Driver Dwight cuts off and runs Stunt Driver Angela off the road and this shot really highlights the action and danger of the stunt.

When we get to the next part of the scene and the cars are on the side of the road, we blocked the actors and cameras in a way so that when Dwight is tender and heartfelt (and yet proposing with a bullhorn), we can see the noisy cars going by on the street behind them, which adds to what should be a very intimate and yet very comedic marriage proposal.

Choosing how to shoot and compose a scene like that, and then executing it is absolutely like putting together a gigantic, complicated, wonderful puzzle!

3.) I understand you’re also a classic television automobile enthusiast. What can you tell us about that?

I don’t know if I’m so much a classic television automobile enthusiast as I am a Super Car enthusiast. I love the Mach 5 from Speed Racer, the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future, the 1966 Batman television show Batmobile, Herbie the Love Bug, and of course K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider. I just bought a full sized Trans-Am Firebird replica of K.I.T.T and I’m in the process of adding a Season 4 1-TV dash and really making the interior look like the car did on the show. It’s a fun side project and it’s something I’ve wanted since even before I could actually drive!

4.) What’s next for David Rogers?

I hope to continue editing. directing, and producing on The Mindy Project, which I really think is an exceptionally funny, very high quality, well-made show. I am also starting to develop some of my own ideas for TV shows as I look to direct more things down the road, including hour-longs and maybe even an independent film.

5.) If you could give the readers, puzzle fans, and aspiring TV and filmmakers in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

Persistence. Never give up and always work on your skills. So often getting the first job is really all about being in the right place at the right time. And you have to be ready to deliver when the pieces all come together and the time comes for you to step up and show everyone what you can do!

Many thanks to David for his time. You can see his work on The Mindy Project, which airs on Tuesdays at 9:30 P.M. Eastern on Fox, and be sure to check out his full filmography on his IMDb page. I can’t wait to see what he crafts for us next.

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