The Huffington Post (US), February 26, 2016

Quantum Chess: Where No Entrepreneur Has Gone Before

by A.J. Steigman

So what does world renowned scientist Dr. Steven Hawking, Ant-Man actor Paul Rudd, Matrix actor Keanu Reeves, Hollywood actor, director, and screenwriter Alex Winter, Ultima Online creator Richard Garriott, USC Ph.D. student Chris Cantwell, and Caltech Scientist Spiros Michalakis all have in common? - They are all advocates of Quantum Chess.

(snipped for Keanu content; the full article can be read here.)

USC graduate student Chris Cantwell, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in Physics and a Master's in Computer Science, is attempting to take chess to the next dimension with his concept of Quantum Chess.

In today's competitive environment, entrepreneurs have to be resourceful with fundraising tactics. As a recently turned entrepreneur, Chris has done a phenomenal job of utilizing Kickstarter, the media, and numerous celebrities to draw attention to his concept that he has spent years working on. With the trending Youtube video "Anyone Can Quantum", Quantum Chess has been organically featured on such prominent publications as the: WSJ, CNET, Popular Science, as well as numerous other sites. With over 700 backers, Quantum Chess has already met its $30,000 Kickstarter goal with several days to spare. Clearly, Chris is tapping into something groundbreaking here.

One of the main drivers for your press is the trending "Anyone Can Quantum" video where Dr. Steven Hawking plays Ant-Man actor Paul Rudd in a game of Quantum Chess. The video is narrated by actor Keanu Reeves and is quite hilarious. How did you organize and convince so many celebrities to join forces for the benefit of Quantum Chess?

C: Spiros dealt with all of that, so I'll let him answer this one.

Spiros: I worked with Paul Rudd on Ant-Man as a scientific consultant on issues related to the quantum realm. When the time came to choose a worthy opponent for Dr. Stephen Hawking, I reached out to Brad Winderbaum (producer on Ant-Man) and he put me in touch with Paul's publicist. When Paul heard that he would be playing quantum chess against one of the greatest minds of our time, he got pretty excited and quickly replied that he would do it. At the time, I did not know how busy Paul was (this all happened in a span of 5 weeks - early December to mid January), so I worked with Chris and Gorjan Alagic (good friend and former Caltech quantum computing postdoc) to develop the story, which I thought Paul would then flesh out as a funnier version and in the form of an actual script. That didn't go as planned. Paul needed an actual script from me and time was running out.

It was a Saturday night and I needed to think of something less stressful, so at my girlfriend's behest I called up my volleyball buddy, Jose Gonzalez, to see if he would be down to play some videogames and chill. It never crossed my mind that Jose would be the answer to my prayers. At some point, the conversation turned to movies (Jose is a movie buff like no other), and I mentioned that I was working on a script that involved Paul Rudd playing quantum chess against Stephen Hawking, with a famous person narrating the action (I made that last part up, but it all worked out in the end). His eyes lit up and he asked to see the current draft.

I emailed him what I had and said goodnight. The next morning I received an email from Jose with an attachment. He had turned the draft Gorjan, Chris and I had developed into a full-fledged script that was hilarious, irreverent and smart, for free and in less than 12 hours. Jose had not slept that night. I made some edits to his version (poking more fun at Caltech and connecting the script to One Entangled Evening) and sent it to Paul's publicist. Paul loved it (he would only add a few jokes during the shoot in New York on January 12th.) In the meantime, I still needed to find a director and a famous narrator. So I reached out to my friend Ed Solomon, the brilliant mind behind Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Boy, did he come through. Within a day Ed had connected me with Alex Winter (a.k.a. Bill S. Preston, Esq.), who was willing to direct the short and bring Keanu Reeves on board as the narrator!

When the final pieces were in place, I reached out to Jose to rework the script with Mr. Reeves now as the narrator. We recorded Mr. Reeves early January and filmed Mr. Rudd next, while Dr. Hawking's assistant, Jonathan Wood, worked with the good doctor on his (now infamous) lines. The rest is history.

Any behind the scenes tidbits that the audience would find interesting on the shoot?

C: I'll defer to Spiros again.

S: Here is a bit more behind-the-scenes tidbits: When it was time to look for a location in NY to film Paul, I reached out to my friend (and Caltech graduate student) Shaun Maguire, in case he knew someone who knew someone. He texted me back within 10 minutes: "Quick call when you get a chance?" Shaun's friends, Richard and Laetitia Garriott de Cayeux were offering their place for the shoot. I was ecstatic! Then Shaun told me a bit more about the hosts: Richard, aka Lord British, is the creator of Ultima Online, the first private American citizen to go into space and a good friend of Stephen Hawking. His wife, Laetitia, is the co-founder of Escape Dynamics, the company Scientific American featured in its top ten "World Changing Ideas of 2015", and a close friend of Hillary Clinton. Then I found out that the filming location itself was so spectacular, that Polygon had sent a crew to do a story on it.

Paul cleared his busy schedule the day of the shoot so he could take a tour of the mansion after filming was done. During filming, it was Paul's idea to bring Harry Potter into the mix of books he was reading for the training sequence on Quantum Chess. And the scene were Alex Winter pops out to say "Shut up Ted!", was not in the original script. It was something that happened on the spot when Paul actually turned to me and asked "What is that line from Bill and Ted that would work so well right now?" Alex, behind the camera, answered immediately with "Shut up Ted!" I don't remember whether I actually got on my knees at that point, but I begged both of them to do it again, for real and while the camera was rolling, this time with Alex in front of the camera.

Sounds like quite an experience. What was your favorite moment from the shoot?

S: My favorite moment was when Keanu Reeves, while reading the full script for the first time, turned to Jose (the writer) and me and declared that "A checkmate with a Bishop and a King is impossible." Here was my childhood hero, whom I had just met minutes ago, pointing out a potentially fatal flaw in the script! This was my one chance to impress the coolest, most excellent dude of all time, so I looked him straight in the eyes and said: "Yes, you are right. But this is not regular chess. This is quantum chess!" (in my head it was more like: This is Spartaaaa!) Indeed, the (quantum) mechanics of Chris's modern take on Chess allowed Paul to beat Stephen Hawking with only a Bishop and a King.

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Anyone Can Quantum


Anyone Can Quantum , Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

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