Saturday, April 30, 2005

More Psychokinesis: The Wooden Match Vibration Enigma

I have never seen this following, relatively easy, bit of "mind control" business published--which perhaps makes it more valuable. In fact, I learned it from an Alex Lob, the younger brother of a friend and classmate at Murray Road High School, the oldest alternative high school east of the Mississippi river. Lob worked in a gas station and wowed me, who was supposed to be the expert (between us), as follows: he held one match perpendicularly in his right hand, which was palm up, the wooden match's head to the left of the performer. Gripping tightly he then balanced another match lightly on his upturned left forefinger. This second match merely rested on his forefinger; the other end was supported by the match in his right hand. Affecting intense concentration (not exactly an affectation, as we shall see shortly), Alex then made the balanced match, without any direct contact, jump repeatedly. It vibrated, then stopped, like a Geiger counter or medical instrument detector. There were no wires or threads. I was mystified.

The secret to this simple trick, which can have an astounding effect if done correctly, is the fingernail of the middle right finger. Contact of the nail against the right hand's match--not the jumping match mind you, but the match on which it's balanced--transfers to the other match, making it slightly jump. The tightness of the right hand grip is important. You want to press the second fingernail out against the wood and then drag it--ever so slightly--down. Because of the texture of the nail in interaction with the soft wood, the nail will "skip" moving down not smoothly but in little jumps. These little jumps, which you can feel but which are invisible to the naked eye, cause the match to appear to jump in a startling fashion. The effect is indeed as if you are a creature out of Philip K. Dick--gifted, although only slightly, with superhuman powers. This simple trick is a lot of fun and, although it seems that it must have been published before, I am unaware of it ever having previously appeared in print.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Telekinesis for Dummies

As promised I here offer a trick that requires no sleight of hand--yet was the major miracle performed by a man once featured on the TV show "That's Incredible" and billed as "the world's top psychic" by the tabloid newspaper The Star. His trick? Making a pencil, balanced precariously on the edge of a table, mysteriously turn by seeming mental powers alone. No hidden threads or wires were used and Hydrick apparently appeared to use some weird martial arts technique to make the pencil move. He also could make telephone book pages mysteriously turn. The secret? He literally blew it. Not metaphorically--literally: he used gusts of breath, not directly at the object, but on the table top, to make the pencil move through seeming mental power. Stephen King would be proud, maybe. Magician James Randi foiled Hydrick, who practiced in jail, by arranging Styrofoam pellets around the pencil so that when Hydrick blew they would move too. On the TV show That's My Line with Bob Barker Hydrick failed to do this simple trick, claiming his mental powers had temporarily departed them. Too bad because there was a check waiting for him for $10,000 if he could make the pages turn. (Although a scientist and electrical engineer from Utah had already concluded that Hydrick's powers were real, Randi was prepared to offer the check because his crew had put a "shotgun" mike, which picks up sound from a very small angle area, in place during the rehearsals, so they knew in the control room what Hydrick was doing, having heard Hydrick's propulsive bursts of air come in loud and clear. But Hydrick detected the mike and wouldn't allow its use of course.) As Randi explains, "What of the pencil and page tricks? Well, my jaundiced eye recognized these as rather tired old tricks...Hydrick was simply blowing the page over, and he spun the pencil around by the same means. Not immediately evident are these facts, however: First, the blast of air from a half-open mouth takes time to get to the props, and Hydrick made sure he turned his head away from the pencil and the page after giving a sharp puff of air, so that he was facing away when the action occurred. Second, one blows not directly at the prop but at the table surface." When Randi did the pencil trick for me it was impressive. You have to keep your mouth from moving, like a ventriloquist or, well, dummy. (It also helps to have a beard, n'est ce pas?) Not exactly savory, Hydrick was an interesting character. "My whole idea behind this in the first place was to see how dumb America was. How dumb the world is....Air currents...from my mouth. But you can't tell it because it took so many years of practicing to get this down pat to where you can't see it. I'm not just puffing out the air because that can be seen. I am taking the air from my inside and making it come out in a way in which it doesn't show. I can direct the air in a way that it hits head on every time. I spent one year and six months in solitary confinement...I had spent hours and hours. I'd hold by breath. Different breathing controls. So many ways. I could make deputies think someone touched them on their neck because I could breath in a certain way on their neck. They would feel something and say 'That's a ghost!' They would piss on the floor and go running out of there! It was something that was fascinating to me and it got me recognition. I mean every deputy in that jail was so frightened of me. 'That guy is possessed!' I remember when I was in the Chaplin's office. He taught me how to read and write. And I would convert people from bad to good. He told me that you had to turn them onto Jesus, the Lord. And he gave me a Bible and I'd read it. Then I got an idea! Now, I've never told Brother Joe this, and I've never told anyone this, but I would convert twenty inmates a day. That was my limit. I would have to convert twenty inmates a day. I'd get up there and start telling them about Jesus and stuff. And when I'd see that they were beginning to get turned off--I'd stop and say 'You don't believe that it exists?--I'd take a Bible and open it up and say, 'If the Lord is here with me make these pages move!' or I'd open the Bible and say 'Hold the Bible. Father in the name of Jesus Christ make these pages move.' And the pages would move! And the guys are going 'Oh my God!!!' Everytime it worked. Then I would say 'It's in you.' Or I take a pencil and put it there and say I've got to call the Lord; but you are going to have the power to do this if you accept the Lord. The next thing you know you would see them with this big cross and handing Bibles out to people!" Hmmm--banking on dumb Americans and God's will--reminds us of a certain administration and their corporate backers!

Politics aside, the use of air currents to make things move at a distance has other applications. An easy trick is to lay a cigarette on the table. You can pretend to polarize your finger with static electricity by vigorously rubbing it on your sleeve. Then leaning down move it above a cigarette on the table--at a certain point you secretly blow and the cigarette rolls. The effect is of an impossible static electricity--not exactly telekinesis but is easier because of the misdirection. And more noble than trying to snooker people into a belief in God or trying to take over the world. (And yet, one wonders, did Jesus do any such tricks? Madame Blavatsky of the theosophists was known to use sleight of hand to apparently produce flowers from the Himalayas--really they came from her palm. Houdini went after spiritualism no less than Randi after Hydrick) Speaking of the invisible powers of air currents, with Columbia paleontologist Jessica H. Whiteside I wrote an article critical of complexity theory and showing that what some people think are ghosts can really be traced to natural gusts of trying to escape through openings in old houses. When such a gust slips by you, literally beneath a window or through a keyhole, it can give the impression of being a live being scurrying past you and into another room!

If you want to get a glimpse at the political wool over our eyes, check out:

and especially: The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions And Distortions

and The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11 two amazingly clear-headed books by a true patriot that will give you "backstage passes" to see how the American body politic is being tricked by the media in much the same way that a spectators are tricked at a magic show. This scam blows worse than Hydrick. But, like the man with the stovepipe hat said, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time: but you can't fool all the people all of the time."

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Card to Glass Routine

Here is my original routine for card to glass. Although a difficult routine that requires substantial knowledge of sleight of hand, I hope to offer some easier tricks in the future. This one makes use of Dai Vernon's thinking on the top change as well as the classic palm. The effect is that a card is selected (by riffling and asking the spectator to stop), and that that card then winds up under an object at the bar or the table--not once but three times. With deck in mechanic's grip in left hand (reverse if you're a leftie) riffle with left thumb then ask spectator to say stop. Separate cards and show him face of deck with right hand then, as you replace pack on offbeat, direct side steal card into right palm. The left hand with pack immediately turns palm down and spreads cards on bar counter or table, asking spectator if he sees his card; at the same time the right hand, in the act of lifting up an object in front of but slightly to the right of the performer (glass, but this can be another object), introduces palm card under it. Since all eyes are on the spread face up portion of pack, and body language suggests this object (the glass or whatever) is (so far) just "in the way," it is easy to make card go beneath it. This first phase I learned at the Magic Bar in Chicago. Now have the spectator look under glass. To his surprise there is his card. Pick it up in right hand, gather deck in left. Ask if he saw you put card beneath glass. Accompany question by physical placement of card under glass. You show the card in right hand then your left hand (with deck) moves toward glass to pick it up so card can be inserted beneath glass. As it does right hand turns and top change occurs as left hand picks up glass. Right hand immediately puts (now indifferent) card beneath glass. Don't actually leave it there but pick it up and insert into the middle of the pack--the whole thing is just a gesture to accompany the words, "Did you see me put it under the glass?" They say no and you put the card back in the pack, turning to the left and up (away from the tabled object). Leave the card protruding half way. Cut to the pack to show the card still sticking out. One-hand top palm the card in the right hand. Drop the right and cards on the left. Push flush the protruding supposedly chosen card with left forefinger. Loudly riffle cards with left thumb and then, in one motion, follow imaginary flight of playing card to glass, introduce card beneath glass, and lift glass to show card has arrived there. They just saw card sticking out of deck in left hand so there seems to be no moment in which it could have flown. Plus this is now the second time card has arrived there, increasing effect. I then make the card rise before it arrives the third time. This is done by showing card has arrived. When you put it back in the pack this time riffle with the left thumb but, as you introduce card into space created by pressure of left thumb after riffling midway through pack, riffle off one more card. Card-to-glass card is put back in pack not above, but beneath, this card. This time when you use your left forefinger to push card in, push it (and card above it which you riffled off) not just flush but a little further, so that it is injogged. Now you want to give the impression that the deck is squared although it really has a double injog. I do this by using a multiple shift square move that involves the fingers smoothing the cards along each side and end of the pack as the cards are apparently squared up. I believe this is from Marlo's The Cardician in one of the multiple shifts. Now, using the left hand pinky, with the left side of the performer facing audience, and back of his left hand facing audience, by slowly lifting lower outer corner of injogged card, the chosen card (actually two cards) will be seen to rise. A standard bit of byplay here is to pluck an imaginary hair and attach it to pack, then pull, as if that were causing card to rise. Slight motion of left pinky is obscured by back of hand and slight rise of whole hand as card rises. I have altered this standard impromptu card rise to make it a double rise, which doesn't add to the rise effect but sets up the climax for card to glass. Remove the doubled card and display as one on top of pack. Turn over double card and display on top of pack. Push off double card and let fall on face of pack. Grab double card as one and insert into middle of pack. Turn hand with cards over to show that (doubled) card "really is" in middle of pack (this reinforces idea that it was "really there" when you did it previously). Turn palm back up thus showing backs of cards and do the push-in change. This involves slightly separating top of doubled card with right thumb by pushing it in a tiny arc up and to the right, a motion which, in turn, allows left forefinger, operating secretly beneath cards, to pull actual card-to-glass card down beneath the upper card of the double and add to lower portion of the pack. Forerfinger doesn't stop but pushes off entire lower portion of the pack which takes cards by ends as per Hindu shuffle. With lower cards jutting inwards by about half an inch right hand cuts upper half of lower cards along with a few cards above the break (these will be outjogged relative to bottom cards) in Hindu shuffle position in right hand. Shuffle off top outjogged section per Hindu shuffle until you get to injogged portion that came from bottom of the pack (the top of this will be the card-to-glass card. Then throw the remaining cards onto pack. The situation now is this: the selected card, appparently still jutting out at end of pack, is in fact on top. As the previous moves are performed you want to say something like: "This time I'll really bury it in the pack." This part of the routine can be, if not really sloppy, a little casual-looking. The reason is that the cards should not end up to neatly in the left hand. As you (once again) apparently push the card that has travelled to the glass flush with the left cards you palm the top card. There is natural misdirection here due to the uneven pack that needs to be squared up before "anything can happen"--this is not something you say; it's just your body language: you're squaring up the cards after the card-to-glass card, which has already popped beneath glass twice, and risen once, can do whatever its going to do next. But of course by then its already done. All you have to do is riffle with left thumb and show that the card has (despite being thoroughly "buried" this time) once again gone to the glass. This you do using the same technique you used in part two of the routine--riffling deck, following imaginary flight with eyes, and introducing card beneath glass in the act of lifting it to reveal that very card.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Riddle of the Sphinx: Honing in on the Biggest Secret of All

In the mission statement for this blog I mention that it is not just about magic, but how magic relates to the real world. As stated in the Michael Powers section, magicians were involved in some of the earliest forays in movie making. Magicians tend to present themselves as entertainers (perhaps David Blaine, Kreskin, and Uri Geller are exceptions, in different ways and with different levels of propriety). But the theory of magic stretches far beyond making coins disappear or ladies in glitter costumes float in mid air. A winner of the Nobel Prize, physicist Sheldon Glashow, has argued that for scientists the entire universe is a magic show--and that the object is not just to take it all in and be entertained, but to figure it out. Look at this list and see if you can figure out what it is.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
The Great Pyramid of Giza
The Colossus of Rhodes
The Lighthouse of Alexandria

If you guessed "The Seven Wonders of the World," you are correct. But notice everthing on this list is a thing. And, although some try to argue that the Pyramids required the building skills of ancient astronauts, everything on this list can be explained as the result of architecture and hard work (with slave labor). But science investigates mysteries that are more difficult to explain. Perhaps none of these is greater than the secret of life: why does it behave as it does? Specifically, why does it become more complex while most things tend to (according to the second law of thermodynamics) become less organized over time. Life itself seems like a magic trick in a world of inanimate matter. It is so amazing, so statistically unlikely, that it suggests to many (not necessarily scientists or intellectual detectives) that life requires a miraculous explanation.

In fact there is a new answer to this ancient question of why life exists, or life's purpose. It has to do with energy and, while scientific, it does not take away the possibility for spirituality. While great architecture represented the wonders of the ancient world, then as now no mystery is greater than that of life. What is its purpose? I think you will find the answer, proferred here intriguing. In my mind it qualifies as a possible eighth wonder of the world--a wonder based on revealing the workings (which go beyond genetics) of life as a complex process, rather than, as in the case of the seven earlier wonders, based on the observation of a magnificent thing.

As Madame Curie, one of the first scientists to work with radioactivity said, "Nothing in life is to be feared, only understood."

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Silent Mora and the Double Sucker Coin Vanish

Ring 122 of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in Boston is known as the Silent Mora Ring after an old timer named, you guessed it, Silent Mora. Although I was not around to see that prestidigitator's performances, I heard that one of his most striking impromptu moves was at a restaurant where, apparently leaving a nice tip for the waiter or waitress, he would pull up a piece of table cloth and introduce a large coin, a half dollar or silver dollar, into the fold of cloth. Of course, before the the hapless waiter could collect, it vanished, like money found in a dream. All Mora did was a retention pass of some sort, using the tablecloth instead of the hand. Experimenting with these principles, I came up with a different angle. Standing with his right side toward the audience, the performer displays a half dollar in a production grip (pinched at the tips of the forefinger and thumb) in the right hand. Showing his left hand completely empty, he then puts the coin not so much in the hand as between the left thumb and forefinger, seeming to shove it home. The activity mimicked is to obviously place a coin in the a left reverse thumb palm. Because many amateurs know that you can hide coins by clipping them behind your fingers, the audience thinks it has "figured it out"--you are putting the coin behind, not in, your hand. I do this with two coins. After apparently inserting the first one, as stated, between in the back of the left thumb crotch--but secretly spinning it via the "whirl" vanish to the right fingertips--I pretend to crumble-vanish it. I open all my fingers but keep my thumb clipped so that it looks like I am hiding the coin. Of course you should act a little suspicious to enhance the illusion. Then what I do is open and close my left hand while moving my left thumb still more suspiciously back and forth in a hokey, rhythmic movement--the motions are based on the old transfer of backpalmed playing card to the front in the (closing and opening) and displaying of both sides of the hand. In other words, just make it look like you are somehow showing both sides of your hand without them glimpsing the back (and then front) thumb palmed coin. Meanwhile in the right hand....the coin goes not into a normal palm, but into an oblique Downs angle palm. The reason this is done is so that, when you repeat the procedure, pretending to (which would be extremely difficult) put a second coin behind the left thumb, you can slide this second coin, which as also been stolen in the act of pretending to put it behind the thumb, and smoothly add it to the underside of the first obliquely palmed coin. Any noise from the addition of the second coin sliding from the right fingertips to join its comrade will be attributed by spectators to the addition of the second coin to the back left thumb palm. Then you repeat the bit of business simulating a reversal of the thumb palm. For the trick's denoument, you look at the spectators, as if suddenly realizing they are suspicious, and slowly open both your left hand all the way, showing both sides. Then, eyes darting, you can pretend to locate the missing coins and produce them. I usually pluck one out of the cloth of my shirt, and produce the other from beneath a jacket or under a lapel.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Whirl: A Coin Retention Sleight and Flourish

Another sleight of handster I hung around that summer in Pittsburgh was card mechanic and trick inventor Gary Plants, who asks that I describe a coin flourish I did. In "the whirl" as I'll call it a half dollar, held parallel to the floor, spins slowly around the fulcrum of the ball of the thumb. The way it works is that the right forefinger, on top of the coin on its edge, pushes forward, sending the coin inward, then pulls backward, moving the coin outward; by continuing these motions the coing slowly spins, or "whirls," in a plane. The main procedural point is that the ball of the right thumb, on which the coin sits, is not exactly at the center of the coin, but slightly near the edge; this, combined with the forefinger, pushing slightly down and riding the edge, allows for the coin's eccentric, rather than perfect orbit. Remember, the coin whirls in a position parallel to the floor.

This move is really only secondarily adapted as a flourish. The idea to use it for a flourish came from none other than Ed Marlo whom I must have met in Chicago earlier, although this seems impossible, because I was showing him a reconstruction of a David Williamson coin production I had learned at the convention. Oh well, another time trick! In any case the move itself I invented as a way to refine the classic coin retentions pass, first published in a somewhat strange version by Dai Vernon. (In Vernon's original version the right hand moves forward, bent at the wrist, after apparently putting the coin in the left hand.) David Roth's retention pass is essentially the same move but with the right hand moving more laterally and naturally to the left. Another excellent version (attributed to Steve Freeman) include using the left thumb pad to help squeeze the coin into the right fingertips as the left hand closes. You can also use the "whirl" or, indeed, a combination of the above methods. With the whirl used in this way the coin does spin around and around but only part of one rotation, and it does so not parallel to the floor but more perpendicularly as the right hand places the coin in the outstretched left fingers. Remember, in all coin or small object retention passes, the illusion depends upon as little movement as possible to accomplish the goal: making the coin arrive gently on the right finger tips rather than in the left palm where it is "seen" to be through persistence of version.

With a little practice you will find that the whirl can be reversed to produce a coin. Finally, the whirl makes an excellent method for disappearing a coin in a piece of cloth such as a handkerchief or the performer's shirt (in which case the left hand takes the coin from beneath through the shirt).

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Card to Fly (Direct Side Steal)

Although not a family trick or appropriate for all occasions, this is a great quick trick and a perfect example of the direct side steal. I learned the direct side steal as a youth after "overseeing" it performed by David Roth, one of the only two card sleights I've seen him perform. At the time Roth boasted that he didn't even have a deck of cards in the house. In any case the direct card steal is just a thumb riffle and stop, at which point the magus cuts the cards to show the bottom of the right hand (upper) half; upon replacement of this half the left fingertips, jutting out from the mechanic's grip, guide the card into the right palm. The effect of card to the fly, while it seems impossible that it wasn't independently derived, was brought to my attention in summer camp by a young man I taught some sleight of hand, a Mitch Topol. Topol, who played the lead in Camp Kinderland's production of the Music Man (as Constable Locke I had one line), had a flair for the dramatic and came up with this in-retrospect-obvious, if outrageous, card trick. The direct side steal is a perfect sleight for it. After having the spectator say stop and showing him his card, you side steal card most of the way out on the off beat. What I do is move the left hand to the left and up, eyes following it, after making eye contact and saying, "Okay, you'll remember your card, right": when I get an affirmative, I move the deck up and to the left as stated: this allows the left of the selected card (now palmed in right hand) to clear the body of the pack silently as the left hand with cards now loudly thumb riffles the pack's upper left corner. (This is the would-be-magic gesture.) The left hand then immediately either tables the deck, or hands it to a spectator, after which it moves directly to the performer's fly to separate the fabric flap of the fly as the right hand locates the top of the zipper to open it. The right hand then immediately unzips the zipper, plunges into the fly, and, by bringing the card to the tips of the fingers in the process of removing the right hand, creates the illusion that the card has flown to the performer's zipper. What's nice about this steal and production is that the right hand with palmed card is never idle; during the short time the card is palmed there, its position and actions are completely natural, and the grabbing of the zipper top between thumb and forefinger lends subtle credence to the illusion that the hand (which just transfered the pack to the left hand) was empty. In the future I will show my use of the direct steal for an original card-to-glass routine.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Mike Powers' Magic Movies

Shortly after Pittsburgh was renovated, in 1979 or thereabouts, I accompanied modern Houdini (due to his combination, more so at that time, of escapism and psychic debunking) James Randi to a majore IBM (International Brotherhood of Magicians) meeting. There I met a number of notable magicians who would later make their mark on close-up magic: Michael Ammar (who was gathering crowds doing his cardless matrix), David Williamson (developer of the strike vanish and winner of the gold cups first prize in close up that year), Meir Yedid (who was doing a card location using computer patter at a time when computers seemed novel), and Johnny "Ace" Palmer (whose ring retention pass is still one of my favorite effects). Excited by the quality of those attending and the absolute surfeit of magic and things to learn I remember going in the wee hours of the morning across a bridge to a MacDonalds hamburger joint with none other than Mike Powers. There I showed him my handling of open travelers, one of the most novel effects in card magic (in which the four aces, placed one by one in an "invisible palm" are put on the table, where they materialize), invented by Larry Jennings. Never having found a book that described how to do travelers, but understanding the method in principle, I came up with my own handling. Tonight, 26 years later, I can pick up where that late-night McDonald's magic tete-a-tete left off. What is wonderful about Powers' website, apart from the lack of advertising, is the quality of the real player presentations. You can see bona fide close up magic which, much like my original reconstruction of the travelers, obviously is done by sleight of hand--but indetectibly, even on repeated viewings. It is an experience similar to reconstructing a trick from being told the effect and having a clue as to the method, only you can watch again and again as you try to work it out. I notice that two of Powers' tricks, "Impossible Travelers" and "The Invisible Aces" have travelers themes. My favorite trick on his website, however, is what he calls "the amBIGuous card"--the multiple changing of a miniature playing card into a bigger one. There is a similar effect but for coins in J.B. Bobo's classic Coin Magic: a dime (which has Eisenhower's image on it) changes several times into a dollar coin (also with an image of Eisenhower). But the Powers card effect seems easier and more impressive. (He actually has two routines with this effect, by completely different methods: in "The Defective Deck," however, the whole deck turns to miniature cards around the one big card; then they switch so that it is a small card in a big deck). I recommend you watch it and try to figure it out. Even when you know what is happening, and where it is happening, the execution is so flawless you can't see it. Your mind wants to believe that the card really does change size--in large part because of the singular (Powers uses a red seven) identity of the card. Human beings must have some mental algorithm that makes them assume continuity and identity even when they only glimpse a few instances of what appears to be the same object. Much magic depends on this. Indeed, it is the basis for the illusion of movement in the first silent films--whose development was pioneered by magicians. Powers' Real Player tricks refresh that magic-movie connection for the internet age.

April 2 Addendum: Powers reminds me that it was 1980 (25 years--that's quite a vanish!) and that we also went out to breakfast with Johnny Ace Palmer later, an event notable for Powers' impromptu performance of matrix with pancakes and sausage patties. Not only is the work on this unpublished, but the evidence was, I believe, eaten.