Stephen Sondheim died yesterday, ending a life largely spent in pursuit of the joys of the written word, and the music accompanying it. Sondheim’s contributions to the form of musical theater are, of course, legendary at this point, even as they chart a slow, often slippery climb to ultimate ascendancy and triumph. His contributions to the field of game show performance are a bit more obscure.
Hence the pleasures of watching the above clip from a 1966 episode of CBS’s Password, in which actress Lee Remick brings on her old pal “Steve”—a noted fan and master of the crossword puzzle, who actually had a few of his own published in New York magazine in the late 1960s—to serve as her resident guesser for the last act of the show. (If you’re watching along in the above video, Sondheim comes on at 19:45 or so.)
He then proceeds to absolutely dominate the game; although he can’t quite translate “snack” immediately into the proper word “nibble,” Sondheim does do a frankly amazing job of taking the clues “drawing” and “picture” and producing “etching,” scoring himself and Remick a trip to the show’s lightning round. Which he also totally crushes, despite having to work through Remick’s occasional obvious panic.
It’s a fun window into the games-focused side of the great lyricist, who was never shy about slipping clever wordplay into his work. As people planet-wide reconcile with his death, there’s also been a renewed interest in Sondheim’s love of video and computer games, up to and including an Entertainment Weekly piece from 1994 in which he talks openly about his desire to turn Into The Woods into a game. (See also his fan letter to independent game designer Cliff Johnson, whose elaborate puzzle hunts Sondheim gently boasts about completing without the assistance of a hint book. He also offers a few minor spelling and grammar notes.)