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BWW Interview: Puzzle Master/Magician David Kwong Puzzlingly Mystifies INSIDE THE BOX

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In Geffen Stayhouse's second full-length virtual production INSIDE THE BOX, puzzle master and magician David Kwong will interact with his audience INSIDE THE Zoomed BOXes

BWW Interview: Puzzle Master/Magician David Kwong Puzzlingly Mystifies INSIDE THE BOX

Geffen Stayhouse's second full-length virtual production INSIDE THE BOX sold out its six-week run in minutes. Now extended through January 3, 2021, puzzle master and magician David Kwong will interact with his audience INSIDE THE Zoomed BOXes, weaving a tale of past puzzle-makers with puzzle-solving, wordplay and multi-layered games. A frequent consultant on films and television (Now You See Me, Blindspot), David also constructs the crosswords for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, David! What activities have you been including in your daily stay-at-home routine to stay healthy and creative?

I solve The New York Times crossword puzzle every morning. That's nothing new for me, but it remains something to look forward to. At times, things can feel monotonous or unchanged, so it's a welcomed sight to see an inventive puzzle each day.

What elements originally inspired you to create what is now a Zoom production of INSIDE THE BOX?

BWW Interview: Puzzle Master/Magician David Kwong Puzzlingly Mystifies INSIDE THE BOXI created a little gameshow on Instagram Live with my puzzle cohort Dave Shukan. Dave is Puzzle Designer for INSIDE THE BOX. It was called Puzzle Corner, and I would hold up my iPad and ask celebrities to answer questions. But what was most surprising was how alive the chat was. The people at home watching were answering the clues incredibly fast. And I realized there was an appetite for live puzzle solving!

Who were your idols when you first started puzzle-solving and magic?

When I was 16, my mother took me to hear Will Shortz speak about The New York Times crossword puzzle. It was life changing. He signed my puzzle book: "To a Puzzle Champ!" He's become a wonderful mentor and friend over the years. For magic, it doesn't get any better than Penn & Teller. We have a similar philosophical approach to magic: none of it is real, and here is how we are fooling your brain!

BWW Interview: Puzzle Master/Magician David Kwong Puzzlingly Mystifies INSIDE THE BOXWhat was the most surprising or unexpected audience reaction you received during your sold-out run of your THE ENIGMATIST at The High Line Hotel in New York last year?

I couldn't believe how many brilliant 9-year-old kids were showing up for THE ENIGMATIST and solving the puzzles before the adults. A couple of them figured out the final puzzle on stage before everyone else.

On your production team, you have a not common contributor - a puzzle designer Dave Shukan. What is his function - to act as an unobjective third eye to your puzzle-solving?

I think I'm a pretty good performer of puzzles, but the real work happens behind the scenes. So much of this show is Dave's brainchild. Dave and I collaborated on designing the meta structure of the show and all the pieces that fit together. There's one piece in particular, the group puzzle at the end, which is pure Dave Shukan genius.

BWW Interview: Puzzle Master/Magician David Kwong Puzzlingly Mystifies INSIDE THE BOXWhat first got you interested in magic? In crosswords?

When I was seven years old, I saw a magician performing at a pumpkin patch in upstate New York. The magician not only fooled me, but he fooled my biochemist dad. That's when I knew I wanted to be a magician! And then the wordplay comes from my mother. I have fond memories of playing Scrabble with her throughout my childhood. In my 20s, I began designing crosswords for The New York Times and the rest is history!

You studied the history of magic at Harvard. What is the one enlightening lightbulb moment of your studies there?

I wish that were on my diploma! I was a history major and focused all my energies on the great magicians from the Golden Age. I wrote my senior thesis on the use of Orientalism in magic. The most fascinating characters are the Caucasian men who costumed themselves as Asian. You still see vestiges of it today!

You've been magic consultant on a number of films and TV series. How challenging is it to teach actors your tricks without giving away all your secrets?

I teach magic and sleight of hand on a need-to-know basis. For Now You See Me, some of the actors were really into it. Jesse Eisenberg and Dave Franco went everywhere for months with a deck of cards. For others, they just wanted me to pull the strings and tape the magnets. But that's what a consultant does - you make the magic easy for the actor.

BWW Interview: Puzzle Master/Magician David Kwong Puzzlingly Mystifies INSIDE THE BOXAs a veteran "cruciverbalist" (crossword puzzle constructor) for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, what other outlets' crosswords do you find most challenging?

I really prefer crosswords that have another level to them. Cryptics are the best. This is the standard style in the UK and they get them every morning. For us, they appear once a month in The New York Times. The Wall Street Journal has them now too. And then Matt Gaffney has an independent meta-crossword that he puts out every week. (xwordcontest.com/) The idea here is that you solve the crossword and then there's a hidden answer embedded somewhere in the puzzle.

What the best advice you would give to a crossword puzzle aficionado?

For people who are new to solving crosswords, I would say start with Monday. It's the easiest day of the week and everyone can do it.

BWW Interview: Puzzle Master/Magician David Kwong Puzzlingly Mystifies INSIDE THE BOXAnd then for more seasoned solvers, here's a new challenge: try solving the Monday or Tuesday puzzle with "Downs clues only." You'll have to infer the across answers from the grid. No peeking at the across clues! A very fun challenge.

Thank you again, David! I look forward to experiencing your prestidigitation.

Although sold-out through January 3, 2021, sign up at www.geffenplayhouse.org to be notified when additional INSIDE THE BOX tickets become available.



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From This Author Gil Kaan