Category Archives: Essays & Opinion

Review: Practical Mental Magic

practicalmentalNice to see a classic get a great modern-day review

From the basic principles most mentalists rely on to some fairly elaborate presentations, Anneman’s 1944 guide to mentalism is amazing. I had some idea how some of these tricks work, but this was a really fun book to find and read. Practicing Mental Magic has been described to me as The Royal Road to Card Magic for mind readers, now I know why. This book is packed the tricks, tips and secrets of the trade.

Why Magicians Are a Scientist’s Best Friend

James Randi wrote an excellent article in Wired about the intersection of magic and science:

For most of my life I’ve pecked away at a certain type of swindler: faith-healers, mystics, mind-readers. Those of a certain age may remember my appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson — a skilled amateur magician himself who introduced my exposure of flummery to a huge television audience.

Mine was a lonely voice back then, but I’m not alone anymore. The immensely talented and popular Penn & Teller long ago joined me as foes of harmful deception, along with other magicians; the president of my foundation, D.J. Grothe, has a background in magic, and many of our associates are professional magicians, as well. They all agree with me that the Society of American Magicians and the International Brotherhood of Magicians should re-establish their once very active investigations of the fakers who claim supernatural powers.

It’s not something that is generally done, or maybe at all – I’d love to see one funding grant that has a line item for the services of a magician, if somebody out there has one. But it is long overdue that my peers in the conjuring profession try to take a more active role in the elimination of nonsense science by joining forces with scientists, and that scientists be open to the proposition.


Is magic an art?

How to fool Houdini – and avoid fooling yourself

Does knowing the secret of a magic trick lessen the mystery? Alex Stone doesn’t think so.

Teller explains the connection between illusion and perception

Teller tells all at

In the last half decade, magic—normally deemed entertainment fit only for children and tourists in Las Vegas—has become shockingly respectable in the scientific world. Even I—not exactly renowned as a public speaker—have been invited to address conferences on neuroscience and perception. I asked a scientist friend (whose identity I must protect) why the sudden interest. He replied that those who fund science research find magicians “sexier than lab rats.”

I’m all for helping science. But after I share what I know, my neuroscientist friends thank me by showing me eye-tracking and MRI equipment, and promising that someday such machinery will help make me a better magician.

I have my doubts. Neuroscientists are novices at deception. Magicians have done controlled testing in human perception for thousands of years.

Read the full article.

The Internet vs. traditional magic shops

Frank Johnston brought a recent article in Salon to our attention: The Internet makes magic disappear:

Since the late 19th century, when two German brothers named Francis and Antonio Martinka opened a conjuring store in New York, brick-and-mortar magic shops have played a central role in America’s magical culture. For more than a hundred years, these often small, dark chambers have been a gathering place where traveling illusionists and celebrated performers like Houdini, Thurston and Kellar discussed their latest creations, shielded from the pestering presence of hobbyists and the general public. More important, up until a decade ago, they were the only places where magicians could teach eager teenagers like myself the right methods to produce ashen apparitions and the more complicated tricks that inevitably follow.

But then the Internet broke that monopoly. Today, any 10-year-old kid can type “magic tricks” into Google and gain access either via YouTube or other websites to the biggest trade secrets in a matter of minutes. He can watch a video or buy an expensive apparatus without leaving his house, seeing a live demonstration or talking to another human being.

As a result, magic stores are slowly vanishing across America. With their gradual disappearance, as Jamy Ian Swiss — a leading card-expert and magic historian recognized for his brilliant technique and for his outspoken column in Genii, a conjuring magazine — has argued, one of the foundations of this ancient art form is disappearing.

If the article tells us anything, it is that it is now more important than ever to support our local magic shops. Read the rest of the article at Salon.

Performing isn’t easy but…

The following essay was authored by Keith Fields, our lecturer tonight.

I had many comments and emails about my last essay entitled ‘Guts‘. One of them that got me thinking was from Jack C. Caranci.

‘…performing, for me, is akin to flying a plane (long periods of calm interspersed by moments of sheer terror) for me that is where the guts come in – those terror moments when I try something new or better, try an old trick on a new audience.’

Jack refers to himself as an ‘occasional’ magician, and though I am a professional who has performed all over the world, I can deeply relate to his comment.

I clearly remember trying to show fellow magicians a simple trick when I was new to magic. I remember looking down at a pair of hands that were no longer mine. They insisted on shaking and the more I tried to stop them the more unstoppable the tremors became. I knew the trick inside out, I had practiced all the moves until I could do them perfectly. In front of a mirror I was a magical god; in front of an audience I was a bag of nerves… and the real rub of it was that I was doing a self working trick!

I could do moves and sleights with the best of them (when I say the best of them I mean the guys at the local magic club) but I could not do a whole trick or a routine without an internal earthquake – I had a bad case of stage fright.

Back then I did not know what to do and I was too embarrassed to ask people for help. This has led me to the following question ‘knowing what I know now, what advice would I have given me?’

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