Category: Inside Magic Library

What We Did on Our Summer Vacation

Magic Student on Magic BooksWhat did we do over our summer vacation at Inside Magic?

We didn’t perform except for our poor family members who watched and noted each time our second deal was obvious.  We also had them watch the Twisting the Aces over and over.  They feigned interest for a couple of weeks and then found reasons to not be in the same room with us and any four cards – aces or not.

We read wonderful books on magic and our favorite topics, late 1800 through early 1900s spiritualism and magicians of the same era.

The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost by Peter Manseau is one heck of a good book if you are into spirit photography; and we certainly are.  He takes his time and provides background on the man that brought spirit photography into its own at the very start of Spiritualism and photography.

Lisa Morton’s Calling the Spirits: A History of Seances is similarly captivating.  It asks, “Why do we need Seances” especially in light of the reality that they are very often (if not always) fraud.  Sometimes the fraud is practiced by those who genuinely believe they are reaching through this mortal veil; and sometimes by those who are looking to take from the believing.  She is thoughtful in her exposition of the phenomenon, its followers, its victims, the hope and devastation felt by those for whom the experiment has failed.

Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man is not so much about Spiritualism as it is about the victims of confidence men (or a single man – no spoiler here) who plied their / his craft on a riverboat.  The writing is so wonderful and the scenes are so real.  There is no magic or swindle mechanisms explained but the notion of a person who can have a victim put confidence in a perfect stranger is explored completely.

Christine Garwood’s Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea provides a riveting history of individuals who believe against all science to the contrary that the earth, a globe, is flat.  Their belief is true to them although not true.  We don’t want to spoil the ending, but the earth is, in fact, round.

Finally, Ching Ling Foo: America’s First Chinese Superstar by Samuel Porteous is a different kind of book.  It takes the reader through the history of Ching Ling Foo’s well-deserved ascension to superstar status in US theaters.  He and his troupe made more money in a week than entire villages did in a year.  But the book takes you through every stop along the way.  Literally.  The reader is treated to virtually every theater engagement, the songs sung by his young phenomenon, Chee Tai.  She could mimic fellow vaudeville acts with perfection and soon became a star separate from the troupe.  There are great posters, images, letters and headlines included in the book.  It is at time longish but worth the read if you are a fan of this incredibly inventive magician.

We love reading and so while our performance opportunities were limited to non-existent, we filled our mind with the magic of wonderfully written books.

That’s what we did on our summer vacation here at Inside Magic.

Beyond Snake Oil – Magicians and Physicians

Image of Magician Performing a TrickClose-up Magician and Lecturer in Medical Ethics and Law, Daniel Sokol’s article “Medicine as Performance: What Can Magicians Teach Doctors?” got us thinking — a rare experience for us during these quarantine days.

We normally read the prestigious Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine for the pictures but the title of this article from 2008 stood out.

Our brain is hardwired to immediately focus on certain key words, such a “Magic,” “Magician(s),” “Card Tricks,” and “Magic Magicians doing Card Tricks.”  We know there are surgeries and/or medical therapies that would release us from this focus anomaly but we have found it a pleasant enough brain defect and so we choose to live with it.  We are very thankful that those are the words to which we are immediately attracted and not something more untoward or socially unacceptable.

We have a friend who focuses like a laser on the word “______,” and the phrase “_____ on ______, _____.”  Our friend’s life is not relaxing and pleasant like ours and reading just about anything posted on the worldwide web becomes a struggle for attention.  We haven’t identified the actual words or phrase here in an effort to retain our family-friendly certification.  But a good cryptographer — good meaning “talented in his or her field of cryptology” and not in a moral sense — could decipher the blank lines above to figure it out.

But back to the Royal Society of Medicine’s article’s point, magicians can and do intentionally distract their audience to accomplish what appears to be magic.

The article references Darwin Ortiz advice on the best practices for magicians, “Always say the same thing at the same point in each trick you do.”  So when advising patients on diagnosis and treatment, there would likely be different non-verbal signs given by the physician.

The article is fascinating and well worth your review.

You can read Mr. Sokol’s article here: Sokol D. K. (2008). Medicine as performance: what can magicians teach doctors? Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 101(9), 443–446. https://doi.org/10.1258/jrsm.2008.080133

Houdini Searches on Google

Inside Magic Image of Harry HoudiniWe love the world’s best known magician, Houdini.

We also take great pride in our programming abilities and yet we were stumped yesterday trying to load an active graph from Google documenting the past and present searches for Houdini since 2010. We couldn’t go back further; like to 1920 and figured out that we were limited by the reality that Google did not exist in the Roaring Twenties.

So while we don’t have the live data stream for Houdini searches on InsideMagic.com yet, we can report that the term Houdini continues to be searched daily with peaks in the number of searches on special days and weeks around Halloween and the date of his death in 1926.

Why were we trying to construct this real-time search presentation?

First because we thought it was a cool tool to put on our website. We’re always looking to spice up our space.

Second, because we search for news or articles about Houdini daily. Sometimes the searches come back related to a rapper that used Houdini in his name. Sometimes it comes back with a wine bottle opener. Sometimes it comes back with the great Houdini Magic Shop from Disneyland or Las Vegas. But usually there is at least one hit for Houdini, the world-famous magician and escape artist par excellence.

It is amazing that his name, story and images still register on the Google Search metrics.

What a testament to his self-promotion, his place in modern history and his ability to entrance modern audiences even without being present (assuming you disregard claims of connections during seances).

Magicians today still make reference to Houdini in their acts; often comparing themselves to the master performer. The modern audiences have never seen Houdini (other than the Tony Curtis film, perhaps) but the reference still resonates with them.

We tried to think of other performers that have that kind of staying power. In the 1920s the American and European theaters were jammed full of performers and on a typical evening’s bill, there would be a star or top act. Yet, we are at a loss to name any of them unless they later had a career in a more permanent medium like film or radio.

Houdini is what got us heavily into magic and we assume his popularity is having the same effect on a new generation of magicians and escape artists.

What a wonderful art we have.

By the way, if we are ever in doubt about Houdini’s work or history, we refer to the source that knows all, Wild About Houdini, run by John Cox. If you are a Houdini fan, it needs to be your first stop daily for the latest findings and exploration about this incredible legend.

We will continue to work with our crack programming team to get real time search stats on InsideMagic.com but until then, we’ll just report the highlights we find through our searching or from Mr. Cox’ website.

Winter Magic Festival in Full Fete Mode

Steve DalyWith Magician Stars (and Inside Magic Faves) Murray SawChuck, Gazzo, Steve Daly, Michael Kent and Kevin Burke performing, this week’s Winter Magic Festival promises to be your best bang for your magic dollar.  Shows begin tonight at 7:00 pm (Thursday) at the Indy Fringe event in, coincidentally, Indianapolis, Indiana.

The performers bring their fantastic comedy and magic to the heartland for four days only.  There is no excuse if you live within the seven states and regions surrounding Indy and fail to attend.

Mr. SawChuck is more than a television and YouTube star, he is a great magician who pushes the limits with his boundless energy and able engagement of the audience.  We have seen him in Vegas and The Magic Castle and been astounded – that’s tough for us.  We don’t astound all that easily.  His credits include a Hollywood F.A.M.E. award for Career Achievement in The Magical Arts, the Best Comedy Variety Show of the Year from the Los Angeles Comedy Festival, and Comedy Show of the Year by the Fans Entertainment Hall of Fame.

Mr. Gazzo (we’re not sure if we should say “Mr. Gazzo” or “Gazzo” and so opt for the more formal over the casual term) does one of the very best Cups and Balls ever.  That is not an overstatement to encourage you to see him at the festival.  It is verifiably true and has been evaluated by NASA scientists.  When someone brings up the topic of Cups and Balls, we immediately think of Mr. Gazzo.  He is funny, disarming and works a crowd evidencing his years as a busker in the UK.  Teller said of him, “When you are watching Gazzo you feel like you are watching a show biz Legend.”  We cannot disagree and wouldn’t even if we could.  We’ve seen Mr. Gazzo many, many times and always walk away feeling inadequate with our cups and balls routine (note small caps to underscore our inadequacy) performed in the very same way we did when we were a 12-year-old demonstrating the $1.25 version of the effect in a mall that no longer exists.

Steve Daly (link to his YouTube Sizzle Reel) has been featured on Inside Magic many times and has more than 10,000 appearances in Las Vegas (Nevada).  His act is hilarious and Mr. Daly is one of our favorite people in our art.  He began on the streets of  San Francisco and moved to being one of the leads of Amusement Park Entertainment Companies where he helped design and performing in theme parks across the our big country (USA).   From there he moved to Vegas and was, in our opinion, the true star of the Magic Revue Show called “Showgirls of Magic.”

Continue reading “Winter Magic Festival in Full Fete Mode”

Errors in Magic – As Taught by NASA

Apollo - Soyuz Test Crew We don’t know about you and what you love.  From some of the emails we receive daily at InsideMagic (editor@insidemagic.com) we do know that there is a wide variety of love in the Inside Magic community.  Some of the love is even magic related, so that’s kind of nice.

We received a link to a NASA document that has nothing to do with magic at all.  But in a special way, it is instructive to us magicians who on occasion (or always, in our case) make mistakes in the presentation of our tricks.  You can find the document here.  We posted a picture of the Apollo – Soyuz Command Test Team for reference.  It was a close call for these folks but we learned a lot about how to keep later astronauts and cosmonauts safer.

The document could be seen as overly scientific and technical — because it is.  It has charts, pictures of people and places and rockets and molecules — but it also has a great message.  It is the study of errors and accidents involving several unintentional hypergolic fluid related spills, fires, and explosions from the Apollo Program, the Space Shuttle Program, and the Titan Program.  The Titan Program deals with America’s ICBMs and so they could be sensitive to unintended spills, fires and explosions.  We’re no rocket scientist, we’re just sayin’.

Hypergolic fluids are fluids that can immediately catch fire, explode or poison if they come in contact with certain materials.   That is great for rockets but terrible for hand-lotion or shampoo.

(Speaking of technical papers, we did write a 12-page technical document for the cosmetic industry titled “Bad Things to Put in Your Hair.”  (Quinlan, Tim. 1979. Bad Things to Put in Your Hair,  Nat ShampooSci. 5 Suppl:127–129.) No one asked us to write the document but we thought it important and were trying out a new electric typewriter at Sears on a Saturday and no one said we couldn’t.  We had to pay for the paper we used and the ribbon and the eraser tape).

The NASA document is 100 pages long (including a list of acronyms) but concludes thusly:

Some type of human error can be traced to nearly every studied incident as a root cause, whether it be an error in the design phase or an error prior to or during operational use of hardware containing hypergols. Humans are most definitely not perfect and even when the most knowledgeable personnel are intimately involved in the design phase or during an operation, mistakes can be made and critical items can be overlooked. One can deduce, however, that most incidents happen during some sort of dynamic operation.

Given the pages of errors and very serious injuries and death related to the use of Hypergols, the authors ask if NASA should continue to use the compounds.  The answer is yes, but we should learn from our mistakes.

So much for the NASA and their rather serious, downer study on how we need to be careful when launching people into space.

Now we turn to the magic part.  Setting aside flash paper — a substance that can cause injury (and according to an article by Joshua Jay, death) — we don’t deal with much in the way of explosive materials.  Our tricks are based on coins and cards.  That’s pretty much it.  We can get a paper cut or maybe have a coin stuck in our nostril but that is about it.  Our mistakes do not result in injury or death but embarrassment and shame.

And yet, we learn from those mistakes.

We were performing a Classic Force with an antiquated and sticky deck of cards yesterday and missed it entirely.  (We’re speaking in code so only magicians know what we mean).  We had to do a quick corrective maneuver like a palm to the side (more code) to get a satisfactory ending to the trick.  Some how the selected card appeared in our pocket.  A miracle.  A mistake and failure but saved by a risky move distracted by intense, almost creepy eye-contact.

What did we learn?

We learned how to do a side palm almost one-handed (more code but if you think about it, and you are a magician you’ll be impressed but you shouldn’t be, we got lucky), and we learned how not to perform a Classic Force.  These were real lessons for us.  We wanted to perform one of our beloved tricks but didn’t have a deck that would work.  We should have performed a different trick — after all, that’s what happened at the end.  Our pride led us astray.  We figured we could do a Classic Force with a deck that had been used for years and could not be properly fanned.

Oddly, that was not our only mistake in our bazillion year career of magic.  But we have learned from each.  Don’t look down the muzzle of a flash wand, ever.  Don’t toss balls of flaming flash paper towards the audience.  Get a good grip before you riffle cards for a force or selection.  Double check your stack – always.  Never let your animals wait too long.  Don’t pull coins from a child’s ear that may be infected and thus sensitive.  Have a key nearby if you’re going to do a handcuff escape – just in case.  Don’t try fire-eating unless you are trained by someone who knows what they are doing and even then don’t.  Juggling broken glass bottles looks fun but there is a risk of quick and deep cuts to the essential veins and arteries around your wrists.

We’re guessing you have lessons you’ve learned as well.  Share them with your fellow performers — don’t expose secrets, but tell us what you learned.  We all benefit.

Thank you to the Inside Magic reader who sent the Hypergols paper.  It was fascinating reading and inspiring.

Free Magic Summer Reading from Conjuring Arts Center!

Inside Magic Library Cover Page for Happy Hollisters and the Perfect FarosWe love to read magic books and love to read free magic books even more.

There are two types of  free magic books: 1) those in the public domain; and, 2) those that are not in the public domain but are being illegally copied and distributed by some evil person or persons.

We shy away from illegal anything and especially illegally copied books.  Perhaps it is our day job as an Intellectual Property attorney that has biased us against counterfeit and knock-offs.

Maybe if we were not so aware of how authors and inventors dedicate so much of their lives to creating the property others hope to steal, we would be all for the theft.  Maybe not, though.  It still seems wrong.

But what are you going to do, the cynics ask.  Everyone steals and books cost too much and they are only stealing a single, virtual copy and they pay for almost every book other than this one and they were raised by Honey Badgers so they don’t really care.

We know readers of Inside Magic are not like Honey Badgers.

Our readers do care about doing right and avoiding doing wrong.  Our readers are good people.

That’s why the news from The Conjuring Arts Research Center is so exciting to us.

The Conjuring Arts  folks are launching their perfectly timed summer reading program today.

At Conjuring Arts we believe that some of the greatest secrets of magic can only be discovered by reading great books. Every week until the end of the summer we will be giving away a FREE! PDF download of a great magic book. The book will be available for download for absolutely free from the beginning until the end of the week at which time a different free book will be given in its place. Please enjoy reading these classics of magic and spread the word about our FREE Summer Reading Program with your friends!

We promise that if you download each book each week you will have the beginnings of a Great magic library.

We just downloaded their fully bookmarked edition of The Expert at the Card Table.  It looks great and even has line and chapter numbers like you would find in a bible for those who treat the book like the bible of card magic that it is. Continue reading “Free Magic Summer Reading from Conjuring Arts Center!”

Magic Patents Don’t Help: Learn from Horace Goldin

Inside Magic Image of Saturday Evening Post Advertisement from Camel CigarettesWe uploaded into the Inside Magic Library, the 1938 decision by the federal district trial court in the Southern District of New York dismissing Horace Goldin’s lawsuit against R.J. Reynold’s Tobacco for an injunction blocking their alleged exposure of Goldin’s trade secret for Sawing a Woman in Half.  You can see the decision here.

The Court’s decision was correct — Goldin was wrong and apparently didn’t even appear for the hearing.

The Court buys R.J. Reynold’s defense that it did not take Goldin’s secret.  The tobacco folks claimed they got their version of the secret by reading a book written by Inside Magic Favorite Author Walter B. Gibson.

We are publishing the decision to demonstrate an unfortunately frequent mistake of magicians.   A patent only keeps others from making the exact same illusion — it cannot protect the secret or even the idea behind the secret.

Mr. Goldin also failed to understand what is meant by “Trade Secret.”  This is still a common mistake made by magicians.   True, one can protect trade secrets under US intellectual property law but a trade secret must be secret first and foremost.

The method of performing a magic trick is not a trade secret if it is known by others — even if it is known only by magicians.  It may be a secret of the trade but that does not make it a trade secret.

A magician can protect a trade secret only if it is truly secret, he or she has taken the steps to protect the secret, and the person being sued had some agreement or contract with the magician to keep the secret.  Unless there was an agreement between the parties or there was some sort of special relationship between the parties where a court could conclude all agreed the secret was to be kept, there is no basis for a lawsuit.

T. Nelson Downs’ Modern Coin Manipulation – Magic Work in Progress

Inside Magic Image of First Illustration from T. Nelson Downs' Modern Coin Manipulation - Now Available at Inside MagicSeveral months ago, we published an article about T. Nelson Downs' adopted hometown celebrating his part in their history. Researching the story got us thinking and researching and reading.

That's a lot for a bear with little brains, as AA Milne noted. So it took us a lot longer than we expected to get where we are now. And where exactly are we?

We have read, re-read and corrected our distillation of the several copies of Mr. Downs' Modern Coin Manipulation floating about the public domain realm of the interwebs. None of the publicly available and public domain versions of the book were ready for publication. There were pages missing, headings applied incorrectly and very poor scanning performed. Our various attempts to run optical character recognition scans met with failure due to one or more of these flaws.

Our solution was to purchase some pretty sophisticated OCR, image and books assembly software. We were able to stitch together images from different scanned versions into one document ready for OCR and assembly. Still, we wanted to do more. Mr. Downs' book has historical references throughout that need to be chased. For instance, he begins the book with a defense of his position that he was the true inventor of the Back Palm.

He provides the place and time for his first public use of this essential sleight and suggests that those who claim to have invented the move are wrong or disingenuous. His use of the sleight was to hide and produce coins as part of his Miser's Dream routine. But he notes that other magicians use the same move for card effects.

Speaking of The Miser's Dream, Mr. Downs dedicates substantial portion of the book to teaching this classic act. His instruction is outstanding and the images are very helpful but if one hopes to duplicate his success with the act based on a quick reading and memorization of the script, that one will be frustrated and sad.

The moves taught are knuckle-busters plus. Perhaps part of his motive in writing this book was to dissuade would-be imitators from starting. If you are just starting in Magic or have worked as a professional for decades, this book will have something for you. You may not yet have the skills to perform everything but you will find something to fit your routine with a little practice.

Robert Browning was clearly speaking of magicians when he wrote, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp / Or what's a heaven for?"

We will put T. Nelson Downs' Modern Coin Manipulation in the Inside Magic Library for those who would like a copy. The version will be revised periodically to include annotations and cross-references. Let us know if you find any problems with this or later editions. Enjoy!