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  • Puzzles

  • and magic.

  • I work in what most people think

  • are two distinct fields,

  • but I believe they are the same.

  • I am both a magician and

  • a New York Times crossword puzzle constructor,

  • which basically means I've taken

  • the world's two nerdiest hobbies

  • and combined them into one career.

  • And I believe that magic and puzzles are the same

  • because they both key into one of

  • the most important human drives:

  • the urge to solve.

  • Human beings are wired to solve,

  • to make order out of chaos.

  • It's certainly true for me.

  • I've been solving my whole life.

  • High school consisted of epic Scrabble matches in the cafeteria

  • and not really talking to girls,

  • and then at about that time

  • I started learning magic tricks

  • and definitely not talking to girls.

  • There's nothing like starting a conversation with,

  • "Hey, did you know that 'prestidigitation' is worth

  • 20 points in Scrabble?"

  • But back then, I noticed an intersection

  • between puzzles and illusion.

  • When you do the crossword puzzle

  • or when you watch a magic show,

  • you become a solver,

  • and your goal is to try to find the order in the chaos,

  • the chaos of, say, a black-and-white puzzle grid,

  • a mixed-up bag of Scrabble tiles,

  • or a shuffled pack of playing cards.

  • And today, as a cruciverbalist

  • 23 points

  • and an illusion designer, I create that chaos.

  • I test your ability to solve.

  • Now, it turns out research tells us

  • that solving is as primal as eating and sleeping.

  • From birth, we are wired to solve.

  • In one UCLA study, newborns still in the hospital

  • were shown patterns, patterns like this:

  • circle, cross, circle, cross.

  • And then the pattern was changed: triangle, square.

  • And by tracking an infant's gaze,

  • we know that newborns as young as a day old

  • can notice and respond to disruptions in order.

  • It's remarkable.

  • So from infancy through old age,

  • the urge to solve unites us all,

  • and I even found this photo on Instagram

  • of pop star Katy Perry solving a crossword puzzle

  • with her morning coffee.

  • Like.

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, solving exists across all cultures.

  • The American invention is the crossword puzzle,

  • and this year we are celebrating

  • the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle,

  • first published in The New York World.

  • But many other cultures have their signature puzzles as well.

  • China gives us tangrams,

  • which would test solvers' abilities

  • to form shapes from the jumbled pieces.

  • Chaos. Order.

  • Order.

  • And order.

  • That one's my favorite, let's hear it again.

  • Okay.

  • And how about this puzzle

  • invented in 18th-century England:

  • the jigsaw puzzle.

  • Is this not making order out of chaos?

  • So as you can see,

  • we are always solving.

  • We are always trying to decode our world.

  • It's an eternal quest.

  • It's just like the one Cervantes wrote about

  • in "Don Quixote,"

  • which by the way is the root of the word "quixotry,"

  • the highest-scoring Scrabble word of all time,

  • 365 points.

  • But anyway, "Don Quixote" is an important book.

  • You guys have read "Don Quixote," yes?

  • I'm seeing some heads nod.

  • Come on guys, really?

  • Who's read "Don Quixote?" Let's do this. Raise your hands if you've read "Don Quixote."

  • There we go. Smart audience.

  • Who's read "Don Quixote?" Get them up.

  • Okay, good, because I need somebody smart here

  • because now I'm going to demonstrate

  • with the help of one of you

  • just how deeply rooted your urge to solve is,

  • just how wired to solve all of you really are,

  • so I'm going to come into the audience

  • and find somebody to help me.

  • Let's see.

  • Everybody's looking away all of a sudden.

  • Can I? Would you? What is your name? Gwen.

  • I'm not a mind reader, I can see your name tag.

  • Come with me, Gwen. Everyone give her a round of applause, make her feel welcome.

  • Gwen, after you.

  • (Applause)

  • Are you so excited?

  • Did you know that your name is worth

  • eight points in Scrabble?

  • Okay, stand right here, Gwen, right here.

  • Now, Gwen, before we begin,

  • I'd like to point out a piece of the puzzle,

  • which is here in this envelope,

  • and I will not go near it. Okay?

  • And over here we have a drawing of some farm animals.

  • You can see we have an owl, we have a horse,

  • a donkey, a rooster, an ox, and a sheep,

  • and then here, Gwen, we have

  • some fancy art store markers,

  • colors like, can you see that word right there?

  • Gwen: Cobalt. David Kwong: Cobalt, yes. Cobalt.

  • But we have a silver, a red, an emerald,

  • and an amber marker,

  • and Gwen, you are going to color this drawing

  • just like you were five years old,

  • one marker at a time.

  • It's going to be a lot of fun.

  • But I'm going to go over here.

  • I don't want to see what you're doing.

  • Okay, so don't start yet.

  • Wait for me to get over here and close my eyes.

  • Now Gwen, are you ready?

  • Pick up just one marker, pick up just one marker,

  • and why don't you color in the horse for me?

  • Color in the horsebig, big, big scribbles,

  • broad strokes, don't worry about staying in the lines.

  • All right. Great.

  • And why don't you take that marker and recap it

  • and place it on the table for me.

  • Okay, and pick up another marker out of the cup

  • and take off the cap

  • and color in the donkey for me, color in the donkey.

  • Big scribbles.

  • Okay, cool, and re-cap that marker

  • and place it on the table.

  • And pick up another marker for me

  • and take off the cap. Isn't this fun?

  • And color in the owl for me.

  • Color in the owl.

  • Okay, and recap that marker

  • and pick up another marker out of the cup

  • and color in the rooster for me, color in the rooster.

  • Good, good, good, good, good.

  • Big, big, big strokes. Good, good.

  • Pick up another marker out of the cup

  • and color in the ox for me. Color in the ox.

  • Okay, good.

  • A lot of color on that, and recap, and place it on the table,

  • and pick up another marker out of the cup.

  • Oh, I'm out? Okay, I'm going to turn around.

  • Did I forget? Oh, I forgot my purple marker.

  • This is still going to work, though.

  • I think this is still going to work, mostly.

  • So Gwen, I'm going to hand you this envelope.

  • Don't open it yet. Do not open it yet,

  • but I am going to write down your choices

  • so that everybody can see

  • the choices that you made.

  • Okay, great. So we have a cobalt horse,

  • amber owl,

  • a silver ox,

  • yes, okay, a red donkey,

  • and what was the emerald color? A rooster.

  • An emerald rooster. Okay.

  • Now for the moment of truth, Gwen,

  • we're going to take a look in that envelope.

  • Why don't you open it up and remove

  • the one piece of paper from inside

  • and hand it to me,

  • and we will see if it matches your choices.

  • Yes, I think it does.

  • We have a cobalt horse, we have a red donkey,

  • we have an amber owl, we have an emerald rooster, a silver ox,

  • I forgot my purple marker so we have a blank sheep,

  • but that's a pretty amazing coincidence, don't you think?

  • Gwen, well done. That's beautiful. (Applause)

  • I'll take that back from you.

  • So ladies and gentlemen, how is this possible?

  • How is this possible? Well, could it be

  • that Gwen's brain is so wired to solve

  • that she decoded hidden messages?

  • Well this is the puzzle I present to you.

  • Could there be order

  • in the chaos that I created?

  • Let's take a closer look.

  • Do you recall when I showed you these puzzle pieces?

  • What image did it ultimately become? A cobalt horse.

  • The plot thickens.

  • And then we played a game of tangrams

  • with an emerald rooster.

  • That one's my favorite.

  • And then we had an experiment with a silver ox.

  • And Katy Perry drinks her morning coffee

  • out of an amber owl.

  • Thank you, Katy, for taking that photo for me.

  • Oh, and there's one more, there's one more.

  • I believe you colored a red donkey, Gwen.

  • Ladies and gentlemen, could you raise your hands

  • for me if you've read "Don Quixote?"

  • Who's read "Don Quixote?" (Laughter)

  • But wait, but wait, wait, wait, wait, there's more.

  • There's more.

  • Gwen, I was so confident

  • that you were going to make these choices

  • that I made another prediction,

  • and I put it in an even more indelible place,

  • and it's right here.

  • Ladies and gentlemen,

  • we have today's New York Times.

  • The date is March 18th, 2014.

  • Many of you in the first couple of rows

  • have it underneath your seats as well.

  • Really dig. We hid them under there.

  • See if you can fish out the newspaper

  • and open up to the arts section

  • and you will find the crossword puzzle,

  • and the crossword puzzle today

  • was written by yours truly.

  • You can see my name above the grid.

  • I'm going to give this to you, Gwen, to take a look.

  • And I will also put it up on the screen.

  • Now let's take a look

  • at another piece of the puzzle.

  • If you look at the first clue for 1-across,

  • it starts with the letter C, for corrupt,

  • and just below that we have an O, for outfielder,

  • and if you keep reading the first letters of the clues down,

  • you get cobalt horse,

  • amber owl, silver ox,

  • red donkey, and emerald rooster.

  • (Applause)

  • That's pretty cool, right?

  • It's The New York Times.

  • But wait, wait, wait, wait. Wait.

  • Oh, Gwen,

  • do you recall how I forgot my purple marker,

  • and you were unable to color the sheep?

  • Well, if you keep reading

  • starting with 25-down,

  • it says,

  • "Oh, by the way,

  • the sheep can be left blank."

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • But wait, wait, wait, there's one more thing,

  • there's one more thing,

  • there's one final piece of the puzzle.

  • Gwen, I am so grateful for your choices

  • because if we take a look

  • at the first letters of your combinations,

  • we get "C-H-A-O-S" for chaos

  • and "O-R-D-E-R" for order.

  • That's chaos and order.

  • We've all