Museum Explains Secrets of Magic

 

Jade Stars in Museum Show

Do you recall a while back when we were all a buzz about a Midwestern Museum because they were fixing to expose Houdini’s Metamorphosis? We recall the buzz well — in fact, we still don’t have feeling in our little fingers.

Well another museum is going to teach kids about the science behind magic’s greatest illusions. But this time the major domos of our business aren’t protesting; they’re helping. So what’s up? Should we be buzzing?

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is presenting “Magic: The Science of Illusion” through September 5th. Families can learn the science behind mind reading, levitation and disembodied heads in the Magician’s Training Academy.

“‘Magic’ explores basic science concepts used in illusions. In the exhibit, visitors will learn how magicians use physics, math, engineering and psychology to create visual effects. Famous names in magic, such as Penn & Teller, Jade and Max Maven helped create parts of the OMSI exhibit.”

The Oregon Statesman lists the exhibits:

“The Amazing Living Head”: Introduced by Penn & Teller, you will see a human head kept alive in an unusual science lab. This head does it all — talk, wink and giggle.

“The Light and Heavy Chest”: A leather box is easy to carry until Jade says the magic words and the box is extremely heavy. Visitors learn the secret of this transformation.

“The Magic of the Mind”: Mind reader Max Maven speaks to visitors through a pre-recorded video, and strangely, he still can guess what they are thinking.

“The Rising Chair”: Visitors will be able to sit in a chair that rises through the air magically.

Should we start buzzing? We’re able to get to a good buzz-state within seconds so just give us the high-sign and we’ll look like a giant back massager with a bad haircut and attitude.

So we looked to the museum to see if there was real exposure. (We apologize if your firewall’s filtered out this article because of the proximity of “massager” and “exposure.” Oops, we just did it again).

First thing we figured out, the exhibit is a creation not of Oregon’s Museum of Science and Industry, but the California Science Center. (It’s in the small print and on the free magic tricks PDF). But there is no discussion of Magic’s most important rule – a magician never reveals his or her secrets.

So we kept searching — we were ready to buzz. In the last page of the magic trick hand-out you can read the following:

For students to perform this trick for other friends and family, they should practice until they can put the puzzle back together quickly. But remember ? a magician is not supposed to reveal the secrets of his or her trick!

Big deal. The warning isn’t even in a different type-face. Chances…

 

Jade Stars in Museum Show

Do you recall a while back when we were all a buzz about a Midwestern Museum because they were fixing to expose Houdini’s Metamorphosis? We recall the buzz well — in fact, we still don’t have feeling in our little fingers.

Well another museum is going to teach kids about the science behind magic’s greatest illusions. But this time the major domos of our business aren’t protesting; they’re helping. So what’s up? Should we be buzzing?

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is presenting “Magic: The Science of Illusion” through September 5th. Families can learn the science behind mind reading, levitation and disembodied heads in the Magician’s Training Academy.

“‘Magic’ explores basic science concepts used in illusions. In the exhibit, visitors will learn how magicians use physics, math, engineering and psychology to create visual effects. Famous names in magic, such as Penn & Teller, Jade and Max Maven helped create parts of the OMSI exhibit.”

The Oregon Statesman lists the exhibits:

“The Amazing Living Head”: Introduced by Penn & Teller, you will see a human head kept alive in an unusual science lab. This head does it all — talk, wink and giggle.

“The Light and Heavy Chest”: A leather box is easy to carry until Jade says the magic words and the box is extremely heavy. Visitors learn the secret of this transformation.

“The Magic of the Mind”: Mind reader Max Maven speaks to visitors through a pre-recorded video, and strangely, he still can guess what they are thinking.

“The Rising Chair”: Visitors will be able to sit in a chair that rises through the air magically.

Should we start buzzing? We’re able to get to a good buzz-state within seconds so just give us the high-sign and we’ll look like a giant back massager with a bad haircut and attitude.

So we looked to the museum to see if there was real exposure. (We apologize if your firewall’s filtered out this article because of the proximity of “massager” and “exposure.” Oops, we just did it again).

First thing we figured out, the exhibit is a creation not of Oregon’s Museum of Science and Industry, but the California Science Center. (It’s in the small print and on the free magic tricks PDF). But there is no discussion of Magic’s most important rule – a magician never reveals his or her secrets.

So we kept searching — we were ready to buzz. In the last page of the magic trick hand-out you can read the following:

For students to perform this trick for other friends and family, they should practice until they can put the puzzle back together quickly. But remember ? a magician is not supposed to reveal the secrets of his or her trick!

Big deal. The warning isn’t even in a different type-face. Chances are if you didn’t read through all nine pages, you’d never come across the caution.

We’re ready to get petulant and buzz-able.

So we kept researching. We traced the exhibit’s roots back to 1996 where it was developed by award winning curator Diane Perlov — the current Deputy Director for Exhibits at the California Science Center. But she didn’t do it on her own. No, she consulted magic type folks. Hmmm. Uh, we mean, Bzzzzz).

Surely Ms. Perlov is just another magic-bashing curator we can love to hate. We read further into her project notes to dig up some great dirt. Our lips were vibrating with high frequency splashes of drool.

(Don’t you just know some freak is going to stumble across this article in a search engine based on the weird combination of words we’re using? If you are someone who found this article by using a search string, we’re not calling you a “freak,” we meant the other guy so don’t spam us).

Anyway, Ms. Perlov turns out to be deserving of her national awards. She knows the rules of our art:

What we’ve developed is a balancing act. The exhibit features the art and science of historical illusions or of illusions custom-made for us and not used by working magicians. We present the science backstage as simply one way to create the illusion. Just when visitors think they have it all figured out, they see video of comparable illusions done by other methods and left unexplained. We nurture the wonder and awe of magic while stimulating enthusiasm for science.

We still wanted to bash her. After all, we don’t know her so why not? If you read the “backstage notes” for Penn and Teller’s contribution “The Floating Head” you certainly learn a method to perform the effect. But as in all of the effects, the participating magician shows videos of other performers affecting the same trick but with an unexplained and different method.

Tough call, eh?

There are more redeeming elements to make this exhibit more acceptable than the Appleton one-shot wonder.

Ms. Perlov includes an incredible amount of biographical, historical, and scientific information about magic for visitors infected by the Magic Bug. Read a neat (and well written) history of our art. Then stroll through biographies of well-known magicians including Doug Henning, Tina Lenert, Houdini, and Adelaide Herrmann. But the exhibit also includes bios of magicians we never knew. Benjamin Rucker was known as Black Herman during his magic career in the early 1900’s. The US magician created his own buzz by performing buried alive stunts. Passersby were able to view him in his coffin buried beneath the city’s streets, witness his return to the world of the living in each town, and follow him to a near-by theater for opening night.

Mr. Rucker passed away while performing. He collapsed on stage from ?acute indigestion.” The audience did not believe Black Herman was dead — they just saw him return from the dead — so they followed his body to the funeral home. And then . . .

Finally, Black Herman’s assistant, Washington Reeves, decided ‘Let’s charge admission. That’s what he would have done.’ And they did, to thousands of people. Some people even brought pins to stick in the corpse to prove he was dead. When he was buried, ‘his death made front page news in black newspapers all over the country.’

Okey doke.

But the icing on the Ritz Cracker for us came in notes about the four magic tricks you can learn from the exhibit’s hand-out. All four were written by our hero Harry Blackstone, Jr. If it was good enough for Mr. Blackstone, it’s good enough for us.

Our buzzing stops, feeling returns to our lips, saliva stays put, and we have the munchies. Do you think you could scratch our back as we fall asleep? Thanks. Oh yeah, and don’t poke us with pins.

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is located at 1945 SW Water Ave., Portland, and is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is $8.50, $6.50 for ages 3 to 13 and ages 63 and older, and free for OMSI members. Call (503) 797-4000 or go to www.omsi.edu.

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