David Kwong: The ‘Mission Impossible’ Magician Teaching Tricks to Codebreakers


When Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation needed a magic consultant, they turned to David Kwong, the Harvard grad who blends magic and cryptology.

Kwong has been the secret-code consultant for the FBI mystery series Blindspot and during his one-man magic show, The Enigmatist, he tests his audience’s ability to discern patterns. Never before have America’s magic shows been more crammed with expert code breakers.

“I wasn’t always sure what he was asking us to do, but there were members of the audience who understood immediately,” Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty said. “As quickly as a puzzle was put before them, they were standing up to announce that they had the answer.”

Kwong designed The Enigmatist show as one giant puzzle - the type of show you might expect from a magician who, in his spare time, sets The New York Times’ crossword puzzles. 

David Kwong: The Mission Impossible Magician Teaching Codebreakers


David Kwong: The ‘Mission Impossible’ Magician Teaching Tricks to Codebreakers

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When Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation needed a magic consultant, they turned to David Kwong, the Harvard grad who blends magic and cryptology.

Kwong has been the secret-code consultant for the FBI mystery series Blindspot and during his one-man magic show, The Enigmatist, he tests his audience’s ability to discern patterns. Never before have America’s magic shows been more crammed with expert code breakers.

“I wasn’t always sure what he was asking us to do, but there were members of the audience who understood immediately,” Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty said. “As quickly as a puzzle was put before them, they were standing up to announce that they had the answer.”

Kwong designed The Enigmatist show as one giant puzzle - the type of show you might expect from a magician who, in his spare time, sets The New York Times’ crossword puzzles. 

David Kwong: The Mission Impossible Magician Teaching Codebreakers


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David Kwong’s magic roots

David Kwong turned his childhood hobbies into a money-making enterprise, positioning himself as the go-to consultant for Hollywood's biggest illusion-based projects including the heist-magic movie Now You See Me. 

Born in 1980 in New York state, Kwong’s parents were both professors at the University of Rochester. David grew up playing Scrabble and solving crosswords with his mother, noting that his proudest childhood achievement came during a talk by The New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz at a library in Cape Cod.

“He asked for an anagram of Special K + T and I got SKEPTICAL,” David Kwong said. “Proudest moment of my childhood. Then I missed PEACE TIME switching to TIME PIECE and I have never forgiven myself.”

Kwong was fascinated by Chung Ling Soo, the New York-born performer who pretended to be Chinese and died onstage performing his signature trick: catching a bullet. While at Harvard, David studied journalism and media in the history department and wrote his Honors thesis on the history of Oriental magicians and their impersonators.

From Harvard to Hollywood and Mission Impossible

David Kwong moved to Hollywood to work on story development for DreamWorks Animation, among other film industry jobs. The movie Now You See Me soon needed a magician who could design a heist - and who better than David Kwong? 

From there, Kwong consulted on Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Benedict Cumberbatch’s The Imitation Game (yes, math magic really is a thing), and moved into the superhero genre consulting on Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man.


David Kwong: Seeing is believing - sometimes

So how do magical illusions work? Kwong has a gift for making it all seem obvious.

“Well first you need to understand that your brain is a liar. There's so much information in the world, your brain cannot handle it all. So in order to function, it takes shortcuts,” he said in a YouTube video viewed almost 3m times. 

Kwong bends a spoon to illustrate his point, explaining that our brains take a shortcut and assume Kwong is holding a single spoon. In reality, he is holding two pieces of a spoon so the ‘bend’ is simply an illusion. Neuroscientists call this ‘amodal completion’ - the gap between what you see and what you believe - and magicians like Kwong play around in the gap.


David Kwong’s Harvard studies focused on the history of magicians
Kwong was the secret code consultant on NBC’s FBI mystery series Blindspot


David Kwon on the magical art of illusion

Kwong breaks down the principles of illusions into seven parts in his book Spellbound. His goal isn’t to reveal the profession’s long-held magic tricks and secrets, it’s to explain the illusions and deceptions that surround us in everyday life, including the ‘misdirection’ used by politicians to divert our attention away from their mistakes to focus elsewhere.“

And in this day and age, any politician with a Twitter account can be a master of misdirection,” Kwong adds.

David Kwong’s mind magic

Essentially, Kwong believes that all magic tricks are designed to fool your mind: “Magicians want you to believe that we can defy the laws of physics. What we’re really doing is misdirecting you into the frame of illusion.”

His magic show, The Enigmatist, is constructed to explain and entertain audiences who thrive on solving puzzles. Kwong has also been known to demonstrate - while standing in front of a crowd and using a grid - how he can set a New York Times crossword puzzle while taking suggestions from the audience.

Even David Kwong’s childhood idol is impressed.

“For someone to stand in front of a group and create a crossword in just a few minutes is, by itself, amazing,” said Will Shortz, The Times crossword editor since 1993.

So what is David Kwong’s favorite crossword clue/answer pair? “Emphatically, the key to making bozos boss?” he tells journalists. (Spoiler Alert! The possible answer is: S; F; O; R; Z; A; N; D; O.)

And what’s next for David Kwong?

“Maybe I’ll construct a crossword where you can smell the answer.”

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