Hello. I’m Gavin Edwards, the public speaker and the New York Times-bestselling author of The Tao of Bill Murray, the ’Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy series, and Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever. If you’re interested in hiring me, click here for more information.

2022 MIT Mystery Hunt

Three decades ago, my first job in publishing was as a proofreader at the (big, glossy, squarebound, massively profitable) PC Magazine. I shared a cubicle with Eric Berlin, a young playwright and theater critic, and we killed time when we were waiting for page proofs (exciting stuff like laboratory tests of hundreds of almost-identical printers) by trading stories and reading the slang dictionary.

We fell out of touch after I left the magazine, but reconnected via Facebook–these days, Eric is a professional puzzle constructor. Every year in late January, I would read his recap of the MIT Mystery Hunt, an event on the MIT campus where thousands of puzzle aficionados form hundreds of teams and then spend the MLK weekend tackling puzzles: some of them insanely difficult, some just insane.

After I said, “Hey, that sounds fun, I’d love to do it sometime,” Eric surprised me by inviting me to join his crew of solvers, Team Palindrome, and I surprised him by accepting.

That first Hunt was overwhelming for me: lots of puzzle-solving was happening, but it was all flying by incredibly quickly and Team Palindrome was filled with Jeopardy! champions and crossword-tournament champions and other incredibly smart people. But I contributed in unexpected ways–like making a connect-the-dots version of Guernica–and I loved the people of Palindrome and the crazy puzzles, like the one where a dozen doughnuts got delivered to our team and we had to correlate the flavors of the doughnuts with the information contained on a thumb drive embedded in each one.

So I kept coming back, I got my sea legs, and last year, after years of finishing in second place, Team Palindrome won! Which was a glorious moment (only slightly diminished by it taking place online, because pandemic), but which came with the huge responsibility of running the 2022 Mystery Hunt.

So for the past twelve months, the brilliant minds of Palindrome have been concocting hundreds of puzzles, not to mention all the hard work that goes into creating (to name two large tasks among many) a gorgeous website and a whole mess of entertaining videos that tell the story of puzzlers’ adventures in Bookspace.

(By the way, “Weird Al” Yankovic contributed a video to the Hunt this year. Really. Here it is.)

(Eric collaborated on a New York Times crossword puzzle with “Weird Al” back in 2018. It had lots of cheese references.)

Many brilliant people did lots of work, way more than I did, to make this Hunt a success, but I contributed four puzzles, and I’m really proud of them, so I’m going to share them here. (If clicking on any of them takes you to a login screen, just click on the big “public access” button and then try again.)

In case you’re not familiar with Hunt-style puzzles: as a general rule, they throw you into the deep end of the swimming pool. They don’t typically give you instructions: you have to figure out what’s going on and what the puzzle’s secret architecture is. Often, if you notice a pattern—maybe some consistently anomalous details—you can tease out an answer. But if you find this all wholly baffling, feel free to click through to the solution.

The first puzzle I smithed was The Mouse and the Motorcycle, inspired by a puzzle-related news story last year. It’s a short-and-sweet puzzle: I liked that it had two halves and that you could solve them in either order (and that whichever half you solved first should help you crack the other half). Kah Kien Ong was the editor (thanks!); the puzzle was part of our Star Rats prologue, released before the Hunt to whet everyone’s appetite. If you’re looking for an introduction to Hunt-style puzzles, it’s a great place to start.

I had planned to stop there, but then Eric asked me to collaborate on two puzzles with him: in each case, he had a cool idea for a puzzle but (mild spoiler alert) wanted to draw on my musical knowledge. If you are a music fan, I think you will find Swingin‘ to be worth your time: it’s great fun (and it features delightful art, most of it by Lea Berlin (Eric’s daughter). Thanks to editor Katie Hamill!

The other puzzle Eric and I did together was called Scream. We almost gave up on this puzzle several times, daunted by its technical requirements, but each time said “well, maybe we can make it work if we change this one thing.” As a result, I learned a lot more about audio editing software than I expected to! Thanks to Rob Sheffield, Tom Nawrocki, and Bill Tipper for helping me brainstorm on this puzzle, and to Ben Smith for editing it.

Dice. Not pictured: Turkey and Hash.

Late in the year, I discovered that Palindrome had only a few “swag puzzles” in the works (puzzles involving physical objects delivered to each team, like those doughnuts a few years back). Swag puzzles are one of my favorite things about Hunt, and when I learned we might have room for one more, I came up with an idea involving customized twenty-sided dice. It’s called Diced Turkey Hash (although in my heart I will always think of it as Large Icosahedron Collider). Ben Smith edited it with patience and skill (and did superhuman work making sure that 800 custom-printed d20s looked great and got out to 200 teams—thank you, Ben). Diced Turkey Hash has a whole bunch of different elements—I was definitely trying to squeeze ten pounds of puzzle into a five-pound bag—but if you’re up for a challenge, I think you’ll be glad you took the time. I learned a lot doing this puzzle, not least about how to make it a satisfying journey, so that solvers can confirm at various points that they are on the right track. (If you don’t want to go on that whole journey, you still might enjoy trying to figure out what’s going on with the first two dice (printed in black): can you suss out what each of those groups of 20 images have in common?)

Enjoy! Maybe I’ll see you at MIT next year, when the team called “teammate” (who won this year, congrats!) will be running the 2023 Mystery Hunt!

posted 18 January 2022 in Outside. no comments yet

Bad Motherfucker: Ask for It by Name!

Falling behind on your holiday shopping? There is a one-stop solution: copies of Bad Motherfucker for every man, woman, and child you know.

My biography of Samuel L. Jackson is available everywhere books are sold, including your local bookstore. Or if you’d like to buy it from my local bookstore, Park Road Books in Charlotte, they would be happy to ship you an autographed copy. Either way: get some Samuel L. Jackson goodness in your life this holiday season!

posted 9 December 2021 in Buy My Stuff. no comments yet

Bad Motherfucker: On Sale Now!

It’s the one that says Bad Motherfucker.

I am motherfucking delighted to let you know that my book about Samuel L. Jackson, Bad Motherfucker, is on sale now. It’s a deep dive into his fascinating life, into his filmography of 140-plus movies, and into the meaning of cool in the 21st century.

(It also has dozens of amazing artists reimagining the posters from some of Jackson’s greatest movies: a gallery show you can enjoy without leaving your home!)

Excerpts from a couple of advance reviews:

“A rollicking, expletive-filled look at the life and career of ‘The King of Cool’…. Edwards is especially adept in his handling of Jackson’s personal life, including his triumph over cocaine addiction and involvement in the civil rights movement. This highly entertaining consideration of the prolific actor is long overdue.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A revealing look at the unlikely career trajectory of Samuel L. Jackson…. ‘In a fair world, I’d probably have three or four Oscars,’ Jackson has said. This entertaining book proves the point.” — Kirkus Reviews

What’s that? You say you’d like to read a sample of the book before you buy a copy? Well, you are in luck, because you can choose from an excerpt in LitHub about his student activism and how that led to his getting thrown out of college, an excerpt in Vanity Fair about Jackson’s cocaine addiction and how that played into his breakthrough performance in Jungle Fever, and an excerpt on Letterboxd about some of the movies Jackson never made, and the strange saga of the animated movie Quantum Quest.

The book is on sale now everywhere (well, everywhere that sells books, anyway) and I hope you’ll check it out. Bad Motherfucker: ask for it by name.

posted 27 October 2021 in Buy My Stuff, Links. 1 comment

Top Five Songs About How Los Angeles Kicks the Ass of People Who Move There

  1. Gladys Knight & the Pips, “Midnight Train to Georgia”
  2. Albert Hammond, “It Never Rains in Southern California”
  3. Bob Seger, “Hollywood Nights”
  4. Guns N’ Roses, “Welcome to the Jungle”
  5. Dionne Warwick, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose”

By my count, that’s two songs where the singer got chewed up by L.A., one where it happened to her man, one where it’s a third-person omniscient narrator deal, and one where it’s the singer embodies the city itself and is singing in the second person to the hapless arrival.

Nominations? Leave ’em in the comments.

posted 16 September 2021 in Tasty Bits. no comments yet

R.I.P. Charlie Watts

Charlie Watts (right) and friend, circa February 1970.

The first obituary I ever wrote for The New York Times was back in 2017: the subject was Charlie Watts, the quietly indispensable drummer for the Rolling Stones. (To the best of my knowledge, he never missed a gig in over 50 years, although there are [bizarrely] a few Stones tracks he doesn’t drum on, most notably “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”)

Long-lead obituary writing puts you in a strange place, mentally. I find that I am often proud of my work—but I hope that people don’t read it for a long time, because every day that an obituary sits on the shelf is a day that the worthy person I wrote about stays on this planet with us. For Charlie Watts, that day came on August 24th, so four years after I wrote it, I hope that now you will read my effort to sum up his life and his music.

Another advantage of long-lead obituaries: having the time to consider and research the subject without massive deadline pressure. In the case of this obituary, that meant tracking down a copy of Max Weinberg’s fascinating but out-of-print book The Big Beat, where he interviews various drummers. The ever-modest Charlie didn’t say anything hugely quotable in his conversation–but that book is where I found a great line by Bruce Springsteen.

In his introduction, the Boss wrote: “As much as Mick’s voice and Keith’s guitar, Charlie Watts’s snare sound is the Rolling Stones. When Mick sings, ‘It’s only rock ’n’ roll but I like it,’ Charlie’s in back showing you why!”

Goodbye Charlie Watts and thanks for everything (but especially “Let’s Spend the Night Together”).

posted 13 September 2021 in Articles. no comments yet

Twentieth Anniversary

On September 11, 2001, I lived in lower Manhattan, one block away from the World Trade Center. I wrote a long letter to friends about what had happened to me that day: if you’re interested in my experiences very close to the center of the tragedy, you can read that letter here.

Twenty years later, my interest in wallowing in the worst day of my life is minimal. Moving on has meant finding context for it, both politically and personally.

One of my first attempts to do that came in the summer of 2004, when I tried to make sense of what it meant to live in the neighborhood that most of the world called Ground Zero. Carrying a coin and a camera, I took 48 random walks through the financial district, discovering where chance might take me and stumbling into some hidden beauty. Walk with me.

posted 11 September 2021 in Archives. no comments yet

In Memoriam

I recently wrote two obituaries in The New York Times on two amazing musicians with very different sensibilities: Johnny Ventura and Nanci Griffith.

Johnny Ventura was a mainstay of modern merengue, while Nanci Griffith was one of the great folk-music voices of recent decades. They were both grounded by their homes–the Dominican Republic and Texas, respectively–but they both made beautiful music that went outside those boundaries. Take a moment to think about them, to listen to them, and to celebrate their lives.

posted 16 August 2021 in Articles, Outside. no comments yet

Having Fun On Stage With Everybody

(Photo taken by me at a 2013 M.I.A. concert at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles.)

Back in 1995 (or thereabouts), I made something—a mixtape? an audio art project? an interstitial supercut? banter-o-rama? Well, I cut together an hour-long cassette tape that was sufficiently its own thing that a quarter-century later, I’m still not sure what to call it. It did have a name, which was Having Fun On Stage With Everybody. It answered the previously unasked question “What would a live concert album sound like with all the songs taken out?”

I dubbed two copies and sent them to my friends Rob Sheffield and Ted Friedman. And I figured that was about the natural size of its audience.

A quarter-century later, here in the year of our internet 2021, I realized that while this project wasn’t for everyone, it was possible that the interested listeners might number in the previously unthinkable double digits, or maybe even triple digits. So I am pleased to share it with you: check it out on Bandcamp, on SoundCloud, or at the Internet Archive. It’s absolutely free at all of those places (and I’ve given it a Creative Commons license: in keeping with its audio-scavenger aesthetic, you’re free to slice it up or use it for your own purposes, so long as it’s not for commercial gain).

The sound quality reflects the limitations of its sources (vinyl to cassette to digital files), just as the material reflects the limitations of my record collection back then. If I was making this today, I’d make different choices (but honestly, I’d probably just tweet about it as a thought experiment rather than spending the time required to make it a reality).

Oh: the title was drawn from the record that inspired me: Elvis Presley’s 1974 album Having Fun with Elvis on Stage.

I believe that this project is a textbook example of fair use, but it won’t shock me if it runs afoul of copyright bots, so if this is something you’re interested in, I suggest you listen to it and/or download it as soon as possible. Enjoy Having Fun On Stage With Everybody!

posted 23 July 2021 in Unpublished. 3 comments

Bad Motherfucker

I have a new book coming out, called Bad Motherfucker: The Life and Movies of Samuel L. Jackson, the Coolest Man in Hollywood. It’ll be published by Hachette Books on October 19, but until then, I invite you to judge the book by its cover.

You say you want to preorder now? Well, I can’t argue with that.

You can order the book at your local indie bookstore, or at other retailers including Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

Bad Motherfucker: ask for it by name.

posted 17 June 2021 in Buy My Stuff. no comments yet

The Enormous Head and the Disco Chicken

In the latest issue of Our State, I wrote about public art in Charlotte, specifically Metalmorphosis by by David Cerny and the Firebird by Niki de Saint Phalle. I also got to quote my awesome wife Dr. Jen Sudul Edwards and my awesome friend Beth Troutman (although the magazine removed the part where she called herself “a goober”). In the article I alluded to the similarities between the Firebird and a certain Flaming Lips album cover—judge for yourself.

posted 16 April 2021 in Articles. no comments yet