Dark Art: spectacular illusions from the golden age of magic

Ben Marks of Collectors Weekly says: "We just published an interview with Zack Coutroulis, who has an amazing collection of vintage magic posters. Zack explains how many of the most popular magicians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries got their starts in vaudeville, sandwiched between song-and-dance acts and comedians. If the magicians got big enough to go out on their own, they'd produce lithographed posters to publicize their shows. While some of these posters were portraits of magicians such as Dante, Carter the Great, Kellar, and Thurston, often surrounded by devils and imps whispering dark-art secrets into their ears, other posters showcased particular illusions, such as the one of Harry Houdini performing the water-torture trick."

Dark Art: Spectacular Illusions from the Golden Age of Magic

Incredibly Interesting Authors 005: Alex Stone, author of Fooling Houdini

In his book Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind (reviewed here), Alex Stone starts by recounting his tragically humiliating disqualification at an international magic competition. So ashamed was he by the unceremonious ejection from the stage that he gave up magic and pursued a post-grad degree in physics. Eventually the lure of the conjuring arts called him back, but this time around, Stone got serious. He sought mentors, practiced incessantly, researched magic history, and read up on the psychology of deception and the limits of human perception.

Buy a copy of Fooling Houdini on Amazon.

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Dynamic tangible display renders 3D data in physical form

inFORM is a "Dynamic Shape Display" that lowers and raises pegs in a matrix to display digital 3D information in a physical way. The effect is quite magical. It's a prototype from MIT's Tangible Media Group that embodies their concept of "Radical Atoms," materials that can dynamically shift form to generate a kind of blended reality that merges the virtual and physical. (Thanks, Syd Garon!)

A pioneering magician's retina watercolor

Eyeball

Robert houdin decapitationIn the history of magic, Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin (1805-1871) is considered the father of contemporary conjuring. (Indeed, Ehrich Weiss was so influenced by the master magician that he took the stage name of Houdini in his honor.) A lifelong maker, Robert-Houdin is credited in the late 1860s with inventing an optical device called an "iridoscope" to see details within the eye. In a description of the device from the time reprinted in the journal Archives of Ophthalmology, Houdin said that "its principle is something like that upon which a water carafe is held up to the light to detect whether the contents are pure." Above is an 1866 watercolor Robert-Houdin used the device to paint of the cataracts in his own eye. It was shown as part of a recent Robert-Houdin exhibit titled "Fascination optique" at the Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin in Blois France. (via Cabinet)

Levitating, dancing and shapeshifting droplet

Absolutely beautiful dance of a liquid droplet. In scientific terms, an ultrasonic field is used to levitate a drop of liquid. Increasing and decreasing the strength of the field alters the droplet's shape. Here is the scientific paper: "Shape oscillation of a levitated drop in an acoustic field," by W. Ran & S. Fredericks (Clemson University, Department of Mechanical Engineering)" (Thanks, Ariel Waldman!)

Ukulele Ike sings while lit cigarettes are plucked from his orifices

Here's a great clip of Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards (the voice of Jiminy Cricket!) singing; as Dooley sez, "Ike does what he does best, singing and wailing on the ukulele, while lady magician pulls lit cigarettes out of him. Can someone please tell me her name?"

Cliff Edwards HIGH QUALITY Ukelele Ike "It's magic" (Thanks, Dooley!)

Houdini could fly!

Hunt for Houdini 2 715

In 1910, Harry Houdini magically flew over a field near Melbourne, Australia. OK, he was in an airplane. But I hadn't known that the great magician was an aviation enthusiast. Houdini's demonstration was the first heavier-than-air flight in Australia. Apparently, it was a real nail-biter that ended in success. Now, Smithsonian Air & Space reports on the effort to find Houdini's plane, if it still exists.

He flew a Voisin biplane that he’d bought in Germany the year before. Powered by a British ENV engine capable of 60 to 80 horsepower, it sailed over trees, rocks, and fences, reported the Melbourne Argus, then wavered slightly. “Ah! Cabre, cabre!” shouted Antonio Brassac, Houdini’s French mechanic. “The word signifies the action of a rearing horse,” continued the Argus, “and it indicates that the plane, like the horse, will almost inevitably come to grief.”

"The Hunt for Houdini’s Airplane"

Video: How to make chocolate out of nothing

In this video, Mariano Tomatis shows how to create chocolate out of nothing. Here is his explanation of this wonderful phenomenon, known as a missing square or vanishing area puzzle. (Thanks, Ferdinando Buscema!)

Harry Harwood Garrison, player piano restorer, magician, smoke ring-blower, RIP

Harry Harwood Garrison of Cincinnati, Ohio died last week at age 77. Sounds like an amazing guy; wish I'd know him! From his obituary:

CEN048178 1 20130921Sole proprietor of the Player Piano Shop, enthusiast & restorer of all variety of automated musical instruments, life-time entertainer performing magic acts & smoke-ring blowing, including an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson…

Raconteur, gourmand, fine-arts supporter & lover of music, particularly traditional & Dixieland jazz, boogie-woogie piano, blues, bluegrass, & opera. Historian of Hamilton County, Cincinnati, Westwood, & Colerain Township; craftsman, traveler, latter-day renaissance man, noted by many friends & colleagues for having a remarkable memory & his ability to recall detail.

Harry Harwood Garrison obituary (Cincinnati.com, thanks Gil Kaufman!)

Master pickpocket Apollo Robbins on the art of misdirection

EDW Lynch of Laughing Squid says: "Sleight-of-hand artist and master pickpocket Apollo Robbins demonstrates the art of misdirection on an unlucky volunteer in this entertaining TED talk from TEDGlobal 2013."

Ferdinando Buscema: magic, wonder, and ingenuity

Ferdinando Buscema is a magic experience designer whose work draws from mechanical engineering, sleight-of-hand, and his explorations of hermetic traditions. We couldn't have asked for a more astonishing opening presentation at Boing Boing: Ingenuity, our theatrical experience that took place at a former Masonic Lodge in San Francisco on August 18. During his performance, video above, Buscema revealed the final secret of the Illuminati, and guessed my password, which I have since changed. We look forward to future collaborations with Ferdinando whose wizardry and warmth is an inspiration to Happy Mutants everywhere! Get illuminated.

Boing Boing: Ingenuity in partnership with Ford C-Max.

Video from London Varieties 5

Mat Ricardo sez, "Here's the Web TV version of show 5 of the London Varieties. Want to see a man play classical music while juggling ping pong balls with his mouth? OF COURSE YOU DO! Enjoy the show, and then come to the last ever live show, this coming Wednesday at 9.30pm, at the Leicester Square Theatre, featuring DAVE GORMAN, PAUL ZENON, MAT RICARDO and a packed show of circus, variety, comedy, music, and - as it's the last show - lots of secret special guests! Get your tickets here.

Mat Ricardo's London Varieties: Show Five

Magic of acoustic levitation

Researching are using sound waves to levitate and move hovering cells, DNA, toothpicks, water droplets, and other small bits of material in different directions. Eventually, the technique could be used for a "lab on a chip" or to transport hazardous or sensitive chemicals or biological materials in the laboratory. Watch the explosion above when sodium and a water droplet collide! ETH Zurich mechanical engineer Dimos Poulikakos and his colleagues reported their results in the new Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. From Science News:

To achieve levitation, Poulikakos and colleagues vibrate aluminum blocks about the size of postage stamps up and down, like tiny jackhammers. The rapid buzz kicks up sound waves that sail upward until they hit a Plexiglas reflector and then bounce back down to the blocks.

When these falling waves run into the climbing ones, they can cancel out, creating a low-pressure pocket that can support an object’s weight.

By adjusting vibration rates to control the position of the pocket, the researchers could float particles across a chessboard of the aluminum blocks.

"Sound waves put levitation on the move"

Last ever London Varieties show, July 24

http://vimeo.com/70029913

Mat Ricardo's about to host the last ever London Varieties show, and he's issued a challenge with potentially humiliating consequences. Turn up on July 24 to see what happens!

On the difficulty of patenting (or otherwise protecting) magic tricks

"In the field of magic, theft is rampant. Close-up magic wholesalers steal from close-up magic wholesalers. Parlor manipulators steal from parlor manipulators. Large-scale illusionists steal from large-scale illusionists. Why do they do it? Because they can." —Rick Lax at Wired.com.