Boing Boing 

Extreme card flourishes

MagicPeaceLove sez, "The Virts, a trio of skilled cardistes from Singapore, up the ante of ECM (Extreme Card Manipulation) with a beautifully shot & edited short promo showing off their Extreme Card Prowess. The closing set, an unbroken, 25-second take, is a dazzling display of technical virtuosity with a deck of cards."

What's the best deck for card flourishing? (Thanks, @magicpeacelove!)

Houdini on pickpockets

HuffPo posts "Pickpockets at Work," an essay from Melville House's reprint of Harry Houdini's wonderful collection, The Right Way to Do Wrong: A Unique Selection of Writings by History's Greatest Escape Artist , which includes an introduction by Teller.

In the outskirts of London, among the small shops, a rather unusual trick has been played frequently upon unsuspecting shopkeepers. Two men in earnest argument over some matter enter a small grocery store and approach the proprietor who is behind his till. One man says to the proprietor, “My friend and I have gotten into an argument over a peculiar matter which we believe you can settle for us. I have bet him that my hat,” taking off an old-fashioned stove-pipe hat, “will hold more than four quarts of molasses, while he contends that it will hold hardly three quarts. We are willing to buy the molasses of you will fill this hat and prove the question to decide the bet.” The shopkeeper good-humoredly agrees, and brings the hat brimful with sticky molasses, at which one of the thieves slaps it over the shopkeeper’s head, and before he can extricate himself and call for help they have robbed the till and disappeared.

The Right Way to Do Wrong: A Unique Selection of Writings by History's Greatest Escape Artist (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

The Magical Professor

Todd Landman is a professor of government at the University of Essex. He's also a talented stage magician and mentalist. Now, Landman has combined his love of teaching with his passion for illusion to become the world's first official Visiting Professor of Performance Magic, an appointment at England's University of Huddersfield's new Magic Research Group. Oh, if only I could audit. From the University:


Landman… delves deeply into the history and heritage of magic and believes that it enables the world to be viewed with a fresh sense of wonder.

“We are trying to rescue magic from its worst faults – which is cheesy guys in cheesy ties with rabbits in hats!” he says. “We are interested in the deeper side of things.”

He has a special fascination for renaissance men such as Dr John Dee and Sir Isaac Newton – scientists, astronomers and mathematicians who also practised astrology and alchemy. And today, the study of magic allows for “different ways of knowing the world”, according to Dr Landman.

"Magical mysteries of visiting prof"

Sleight of hand, without hands

Here's a video of a Mahdi Gilbert card magic show at Magic-Con 2012. Madhi's a 20 year old magician from Toronto, whose arms and hands are affected by a congenital condition. His sleights and routines are rather novel, adapted for his anatomical quirks, and his mastery is indisputable. PeaceLove, the magician who sent in this video, notes that the second half is better than the first. There are plenty of other videos of his work on YouTube, including this interview.

Mahdi Gilbert performs miracle at Magic-Con 2012 (Thanks, PeaceLove)

Dolphins befriend an underwater camera

So a bunch of guys go fishing, and they take a long an underwater camera, encased in a mobile, waterproof housing. Basically, their camera can move around underwater, like a little RC car.

Then this happens ...

I have a sneaky suspicion that this video might be an advertisement for camera equipment. But whatever. It's beautiful. You win this time, viral marketers.

Watch the movie on Vimeo

Via Robert Krulwich and Ed Yong.

The Coldest War: Ian Tregillis continues the Milkweed Triptych

Ian Tregillis's The Coldest War is the long-awaited sequel to his 2010 novel alternate WWII novel Bitter Seeds, a secret history that pitted a mad Nazi scientist who'd made a cadree of twisted, dieselpunk X-Men against the hidden warlocks of the British Isles, men who conferred with ancient, vast forces and traded the blood of innocents for the power to warp time and space.

Read the rest

Magic, lies, and deception

iPod Magic - Deceptions from Marco Tempest on Vimeo.

Marco Tempest is an illusionist who works with technology, as well as traditional magician's skills like sleight of hand. Although its easier to imagine how you program three iPods to do the things he has them doing in this video, it's still a neat display of skill. After all, most of us don't believe that magicians actually make things vanish, anyway. The fun is that most of us don't know how to do the trick, and we're impressed when the magician makes it work so smoothly. Same thing is true here, just in a slightly different way.

Clever sucker-bets

Here are ten clever sucker bets from Richard Wiseman. They're a good mix of physics, logic, low trickery, concept-shifting, misdirection, topology, and breathtaking chutzpah. Seriously, I can't believe that he ever tried #10, because he is still breathing.

10 Bets You Will Never Lose

The neuroscience of magic

Writing in Smithsonian magazine, magician Teller describes the neuroscience that underpins magical illusions, using admirably clear language to describe some of the weirdest ways that our brains can be made to fool us.

1. Exploit pattern recognition. I magically produce four silver dollars, one at a time, with the back of my hand toward you. Then I allow you to see the palm of my hand empty before a fifth coin appears. As Homo sapiens, you grasp the pattern, and take away the impression that I produced all five coins from a hand whose palm was empty.

2. Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth. You will be fooled by a trick if it involves more time, money and practice than you (or any other sane onlooker) would be willing to invest. My partner, Penn, and I once produced 500 live cockroaches from a top hat on the desk of talk-show host David Letterman. To prepare this took weeks. We hired an entomologist who provided slow-moving, camera-friendly cockroaches (the kind from under your stove don’t hang around for close-ups) and taught us to pick the bugs up without screaming like preadolescent girls. Then we built a secret compartment out of foam-core (one of the few materials cockroaches can’t cling to) and worked out a devious routine for sneaking the compartment into the hat. More trouble than the trick was worth? To you, probably. But not to magicians.

3. It’s hard to think critically if you’re laughing. We often follow a secret move immediately with a joke. A viewer has only so much attention to give, and if he’s laughing, his mind is too busy with the joke to backtrack rationally.

4. Keep the trickery outside the frame. I take off my jacket and toss it aside. Then I reach into your pocket and pull out a tarantula. Getting rid of the jacket was just for my comfort, right? Not exactly. As I doffed the jacket, I copped the spider.

Teller Reveals His Secrets

Return of Mat Ricardo's east London variety night

Indie juggler, conjurer and impresario Mat Ricardo sez,

Earlier this month we launched the first in this season of Mat Ricardo's London Varieties - the combined comedy variety and interview show that comes live from the Bethnal Green Working Mens Club in London. We had a ball. You should have been there!

But it's ok, because next month's show is even better - cabaret superstars Frisky & Mannish, amazing dance troupe The Twilight Players, and the astonishing juggler and yo-yo-ist Arron Sparks will make up the variety part of the show, and then I'll be sitting down and chatting live on stage to legendary UK comedy writer and twitter guru Graham Linehan. Also, I'll be attempting the new trick that I promised to try to learn last month (newsflash - it's not going well...), we'll be showing some rare archive variety footage, I'll be telling you what happened when I was a guest on the Jonathan Ross Show last week, plus lots more actual fun surprises!

It's going to happen at the Bethnal Green Working Mens Club, East London, on March 8th. Doors 7pm, show 8pm sharp. It's a small venue, and tickets are limited.

Mat Ricardo's London Varieties March 8th!


A man and his machines

For years the Turk, a chess-playing automaton, toured Europe and America, delighting audiences and besting Catherine the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. But the Turk was a trick: Somewhere inside the cabinet was a human, playing the pieces on the board. No one knew how it worked at the time. Then, in 1854, it was destroyed in a fire and the illusion was lost. The Turk reappeared 130 years later, in Atwater, California, re-created from fragments by John Gaughan, a master magic builder who spent $120,000 of his own money on the duplicitous automaton.Read the rest

Magic, juggling and variety: Mat Ricardo's East London spectacular

I've featured the work of net-savvy, happily mutated juggler and magician Mat Ricardo here before. Now he's planning quite an astounding show in east London. He sez,

Further to the tale of how I soul-searched, and crowd-sourced to revitalise my career - I'm launching a unique new monthly variety show in London.

The best performers from the glory days of light entertainment and the dangerous years of alternative comedy, plus the current stars of cabaret will - for the first time - share the same bill and create a series of unique, one-night-only line-ups. In addition to this, every month we'll invite an old hand - a star of their world - a master of their craft - or just someone I particularly love - to perform and then sit down with me for a live on stage interview about their life, career and influences. And in association with SoundsWilde and the British Comedy Guide, we'll be recording the whole thing for release as a podcast.

It's a love letter to the people who inspired me, and who have kept variety alive in the workingmens clubs, comedy venues, festival stages and streets around the world, and I couldn't be more excited about some of the guests I'll be having the pleasure of introducing. In the coming months we'll have some of the most thrilling, astonishing and spectacular acts you've ever seen, not to mention some household names giving you a glimpse into the life of a performer, and a few of the up and coming talents who are helping to spearhead the resurgence of variety. You can expect everyone from Royal Variety show veterans, to street performers, to TV stars. Each night is truly going to be something special.

Full details of the opening night line-up

Trailer podcast

(Thanks, Mat!)

Steampunk playing cards

Theory11's $6 Steampunk Playing Cards are manufactured in concert with the American Playing Card company on custom bronze-effect paper stock. The cards feature machinelike illustrations and are really rather well done.

Steampunk Playing Cards - (via The Dieline)

HOWTO make a penny disappear by changing the speed of light

A physics teacher created this video showing how to make a penny "disappear" by placing a Pyrex beaker over it and filling it up with water, asking why and how this illusion worked. On IO9, Esther Inglis-Arkell explains how the effect is achieved -- it's all down to the strange motion of light in water.

So when the penny is at the bottom of the beaker, there's only one sharp turn that the light from the penny has to make, from the pyrex dish to the air. The water-to-pyrex transition is comparatively mild, with little bending. The penny is distorted, but it's visible. When the wet penny is beneath the dish, but under another layer of water, the light also only has one sharp turn — back into the air at the end of its journey. Before that it only travels through water and pyrex, which have similar indices of refraction, and so it isn't bent much.

When the penny 'disappears,' though, it is taking two sharp turns, the massive turns between the pyrex and the air both at the bottom of the beaker and at the side. And, because of the way light bends, both turns are in the same direction, away from the eye of the viewer. Imagine the beaker full of water like an immense piece of rectangular carpeting on the concrete floor, and the light like a person on roller skates. (No, seriously, this will help.) The viewer is on the right side of this carpet. In order for them to see the penny, just under the bottom of the carpet, the light has to get from the penny to them.

Make a penny disappear with water

Science tricks to impress/distract your family

This morning, NPR brought on Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, of the depressingly small House Civility Caucus, to offer advice on how to defuse the now-traditional Thanksgiving political spat. As you might suspect, given the Civility Caucus' record of success, this was not the world's most helpful interview.

Probably the best bit of advice Congresswoman Capito had was to offer up a distraction when things get too tense. "It may be the perfect time to bring in dessert, she says, or to announce that someone should take the family dog out for a walk."

I've got a better suggestion. Every year, Richard Wiseman releases a set of easy-to-do and highly impressive science stunts that you can perform using things you probably already have around the house.

My suggestion: Combine Capito's awkward segue with Wiseman's awesome tricks. Not only will you actually get your family focused on a new topic, they might even be delighted enough that they decide to ignore the fact that you just passive-aggressived them out of a heated debate. Happy holidays!

Teller working on stage production of The Exorcist

Teller (of Penn & Teller fame) is working on a stage adaptation of William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist. Teller's got an eclectic, less-well-known scholarly/serious bent, having contributed to peer-reviewed work on the neuroscience of magic as well as directing an acclaimed performance of Macbeth. From the early notes, it sounds like this adaptation will play off Teller's advocacy for atheism.

Unlike William Friedkin’s film of The Exorcist (which isn’t anywhere near the best film of all time, just for the record), this play will “focus on the psychological aspects and questions of faith.” At least, that’s according to Ken Novice, the MD of New York’s Geffen Playhouse, where the play will premiere in July 2012. I can see that the film is at least supposed to focus on those same things, and when it works, it’s because it does...

Re the above quotation, Chelsea writes, "I'm the communications coordinator at the Geffen Playhouse, and while I appreciate your recent post on our upcoming production of The Exorcist, there are a few factual errors. First, the Geffen Playhouse is in Los Angeles. Second, Teller is helping out with some of the special effects for the play, but he is not one of the producers nor is he 'bringing the play to the stage.' The Geffen Playhouse is producing the show, John Doyle is directing the show and John Pielmeier is writing the show."

(via The Mary Sue)

Inquisitor's Apprentice: tenement sorcerers versus the robber barons in an alternate Gilded Age New York

Chris Moriarty's The Inquisitor's Apprentice is the first volume in a fantastic new historical young adult series that takes place in a turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York where magic is the key to power and the infamous robber-barons of the age have cornered the market on enchantment and use their power to deprive hardworking poor immigrants of their self-reliance.

Read the rest

Penn & Teller's Magic and Mystery Tour: exploring magic's roots in China, India and Egypt

We just watched Penn & Teller's Magic and Mystery Tour, their 2003 documentary on traditional magic in China, India and Egypt, and really enjoyed it. Penn and Teller resolve to track down performers who are still doing the street magic that inspired western magicians in years gone by -- the Indian Rope Trick, the Egyptian Gali Gali men with their cups and balls, and Chinese classics like the mask trick and the glass bowls trick.

Each segment is very self-contained, and full of the brash Penn humor and Harpo Marx Teller mischief that they're known for. There's a bit of general history and cultural overview in each nation, but the emphasis is always on magic and its odd history in each nation -- Mao's purge of street magicians, the hieroglyphs that (may) depict an ancient cup-and-balls routine, the colonial soldier who faked evidence of the Indian rope trick.

But where the video shines is in the intimate views of the lives of the magicians and their families in the countries that P&T visit -- a village filled with traditional magicians in China, a slum known for magicians in Calcutta, the descendant of Luxor Gali-Gali, an Egyptian magician who played the Ed Sullivan show and attained fame in Vegas.

The documentary left me with a sense of the overall oddity of devoting your life to magic, and the strange ways that magicians all over the world, and all through time, are bound together by this craft of trickery and illusion. Teller has a moment where he addresses the camera at some length on the nature of the linking rings and the cultural differences in the way that it's transformed that is one of the most interesting bits of video I've ever seen.

Oh, and the Crosby and Hope-style title animation and themesong are a hoot.

Mat Ricardo at Edinburgh Fringe

Funny juggler/conjuror Mat Ricardo sez, "Remember last year when I staged a one-man show at the Edinburgh festival, asking if - after 25 years of touring, performing and slowly going mad - I should continue doing my job as a juggler and comedian? Remember how I discussed it with the audience and got their advice during each show? Well - the results are in - the show was a massive success and I got the best reviews of my career (Graham Linehan came, and called it 'Charming, funny and startling;). the feedback was literally unanimous that I should keep doing it. Hooray! The show transferred to a short London run earlier this year, which sold out, and I've been booked to perform it at a larger venue for the duration of the Edinburgh fringe, starting next Wednesday. The lesson here is simple - if you make something, then make it personal and meaningful. When you do a job that you love for a long time, as I have, it's easy to forget why you loved it in the first place. It's easy for it to become just a job, and that's what had happened to me - but writing and performing 'Three Balls and a New Suit' helped me remember, and now I love doing it as much as I ever have. Win!"

Teller explains the psychology of illusions

HappySmurfday sez, "Without the assistance of Penn Jillette, Teller explains some of the psychology behind illusions."

Teller Speaks! (Thanks, HappySmurfday!)

Great aunt Kathleen was an automaton

How to Be a Retronaut reader Jimmy Anderson sent in photos and an account of his great aunt Kathleen, who toured the world hidden in the belly of an "automaton" exhibited by a showman called Professor Popjie. In the guise of the automaton, Jimmy's great aunt performed all manner of stunts (shaving a volunteer with a straight razor, flying a twin-prop plane), and eventually turned down a marriage proposal from the good professor.

Radiana, 1925 « HOW TO BE A RETRONAUT

Card flourishes and mystical poetry

Here's YouTube user Scottmfreda doing delightful card-flourishes while reciting mystical poetry. He's a talented card mechanic and a pretty good poet! According to PeaceLove, he's also a fine painter and guitar and sitar player.

doing flourishes and magic to my its all in the mind poem (Thanks, PeaceLove!)

Derren Brown's Confessions of a Conjuror: funny memoir is also a meditation on attention, theatrics and psychology

Mentalist/magician Derren Brown's new memoir, Confessions of a Conjuror, is a very odd sort of book. Technically, it's a kind of autobiography, but what it really is is a kind of meandering shaggy dog story that presents narrative in the same way that a great conjuror presents a trick.Read the rest

Simon Drake's House of Magic: great magic cabaret in London

Last weekend, my lovely wife surprised me with a birthday trip to Simon Drake's House of Magic in south London -- a fantastic night out of magic cabaret in a house chock full of funny, spooky tchotchkes and whatnot. There's slightly rude haunted cellar tours with a vampy vampiress, cold readings, magic pinball, truly outstanding close-up card/coin magic during dinner, and a fantastic stage magic show (I got to be the audience volunteer and got my hand sawed off). Between the pre-show warmups, the opening act (a surprise performance by the screamingly funny Dr Adam "London Underground" Kay) and the main event, we didn't get out until 1230 in the morning, and were delighted by the entire evening.

Simon Drake's House of Magic

Penn Jillette on artistic satisfaction and magic

Here's a fun and revealing interview with Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller), talking about the artistic satisfaction he gets from doing the kind of magic he does, and the working relationship he has with his longtime business and performance partner, Teller. Penn and Teller are in London for their first show here in more than a decade (I've got tickets to see them tonight -- an early birthday pressie from my wife!).
He couldn't care less what they think. "I have always hated magic," he says. "I have always hated the basic undercurrent of magic which Jerry Seinfeld put best when he said: 'All magic is "Here's a quarter, now it's gone. You're a jerk. Now it's back. You're an idiot. Show's over".' I never wanted to grow up to be a magician. It was never my goal." He would rather have been a rock star, he says, but the business seemed already saturated with extraordinarily talented people. "So my thinking was, and I will say this outright, music is full of people I absolutely love. I don't have a chance. They are all better than me. Magic has, ooh, nobody in it that I like." He rocks back in his chair, cackling. "This is the field for me!"

Everything about Penn and Teller seems to defy conventional wisdom. Here are two men who value the world of ideas: Penn counts Bob Dylan, Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins among his friends; when in New York, Teller has tea with Sondheim. And yet they have taken up residence in perhaps the most mindless town in the United States. They are creatively restless: in addition to their show, their current projects include producing a film about "the secret technology that was probably behind Vermeer's work", directing an off-Broadway play (Teller), and writing a book about atheism (Penn). But they have signed up to a deal that compels them to perform a show in the same hotel, at the same time, night after night.

Penn and Teller interview (via Kottke)

BigThink videos: Penn Jillette and Dan Ariely

A couple of great videos from BigThink. First, Penn Jillette on how reading the great religious texts will make you into an atheist, the future of magic, and how he and Teller work together.

Next, behavioral economist Dan Ariely covers a lot of material from his new book, The Upside of Irrationality, including the irrational math of online dating sites; the Ikea Effect (overvaluing things we make); and the irrationality of many businesses.

(Thanks, Colin!)

Mat Ricardo one-man show in London and Edinburgh

Mat Ricardo sez, "For the last 23 years I've been touring the world as a comedy variety performer, but the industry I love is all but dead in my native UK, so I'm at a bit of a career crossroads. So - I'm doing my first (and perhaps last) one man show at this years Edinburgh Festival, to try to determine what I do with the rest of my life. Do I continue as a performer, or do I find a job that will satisfy me artistically while letting me see my wife and friends more than once a month? I'll let my audience help me decide. MAT RICARDO: THREE BALLS AND A GOOD SUIT is the show. I'm doing two nights of previews at the Deptford Albany London, and then I'm at the Edinburgh festival."

The Boneshaker: magic, latter-day Bradburian novel for young adults

Kate Milford's debut YA novel The Boneshaker (not to be confused with Cherie Priest's excellent, award-nominated novel of the same name) is a fine, darkly magical story set in turn-of-the-20th-century Missouri, in a small and haunted town called Arcane. It's the story of thirteen year old Natalie Minks, the daughter of a gifted mechanic, and what happens when a mysterious carnival comes to town. Doctor Jake Limberleg's Nostrum Fair and Technological Magic Show isn't right. There's something spooky about how the snake-oil peddlar can make the automata in Natalie's Pa's shop work, and the pitchmen who perform phrenology and amber therapy are sinister in the extreme (and then there's the acrobatic jester in motley who scampers over the carny on the guy-wires, wearing a darkly hilarious clay mask from which malevolent eyes peer).

Boneshaker is filled the the rich Bradbury stuff, that haunting and deliciously spooky stuff that lives in the shadows and ride through the land on creaking wagons with dusty brocade curtains. The mystery of the carny quickly turns grim and urgent, as Natalie realizes that the whole town is in danger, including her ailing mother, and discovers that only she can save the town. But first, she has to solve the riddle of the carny, of the abandoned nearby ghost-town at the crossroads, of the ancient Civil War vet who beat the devil with his guitar there before she was born, of the mysterious town benefactor who seems to know everything but only talks in circles.

Oh, and she has to learn to ride the bizarre boneshaker bike she talked her father into rescuing off a scrapheap and rebuilding with her.

Filled with heart-racing suspense and delicious mystery, Boneshaker is a book a kid (or a grownup) could fall in love with, the kind of thing that might fill a summer's worth of bedtime stories, or a stolen afternoon reading in the park.

The Boneshaker

Magic trick reverso: putting the tablecloth back on the table!

Magician Mat Ricardo writes in regarding this morning's post showing a motorcycle (seemingly) pulling the tablecloth out from beneath a very long table's-worth of place settings: "Here's what I do - for 20 years-ish I've been finishing nmy cabaret act by putting the tablecloth back on the table, underneath all the stuff. Took me years to invent, and I'm the only person in the world performing this trick. Maybe I need to get out more, but what can I say - it's a living!"

You can see the gag around 2:15 in the video, but it's well worth watching the whole thing. I was gutted to learn that I missed Mat last weekend when I took the kid down to Covent Garden in London to see the performers, but I'm looking forward to catching his act next time we head down.

Mat Ricardo showreel (Thanks, Mat!)

Pulling the tablecloth out from under the place-settings with a performance motorcycle

This is a very clever way to promote your performance motorcycle: BMW chains a very, very long tablecloth with a very, very elaborate cluster of place-settings to a S 1000 RR "superbike" and has a driver roar off, taking the cloth away and leaving the dinner setup intact. Impressive acceleration!

Video: BMW S 1000 RR pulls off the old tablecloth trick (Thanks, Alan!)