Home > Science > Three videos one theme

Three videos one theme

December 21, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

From what I know of magic (which is admittedly very little (which, in the blogosphere, makes me a veritable expert on the subject)) it’s generally considered bad form to reveal how a trick (sorry, illusion, a trick something a hooker does for money) is done. Penn and Teller make an act out of revealing their illusions. I had always assumed that if I knew how an illusion was done, it would take away all of the entertainment associated with that illusion. By revealing their secrets, Penn and Teller are able to show just how much preparation, timing, and dexterity go into even the simplest of tricks. In the case of the cigarette illusion, revealing the trick is actually more entertaining than the trick itself. This is because when the trick is done correctly, the audience is unaware that anything interesting is going on.

The cigarette illusion also showcases the difference between what we see and what is actually happening. We see Teller bring a lighter up to his mouth and light a flame. We see a lighter and a flame, and are shocked to find out it’s only a flashlight. I guess that’s the main definition of illusion and the basis for the cups and balls trick. We constantly see an empty cup being set down, only to have it revealed that a ball (or balls) has magically appeared under it. This brings us to the second reason I find these videos so entertaining and fascinating: even when I’m aware of the setup and know how the trick is being done, it’s still sometimes hard to keep track of what’s going on. There is a general misconception (based on a poll of one: me) that if you know how a trick is done, you’d be able to repeat it, no problem. The swiftness and the skill that Penn and Teller are able to pull off these illusions assures you that this is definitely not the case.

With the exception of the cigarette illusion, I’d imagine that everyone in the audience knew, or at least could venture a guess, as to how each of the tricks was done. Of course they’re using sleight of hand to fill the cups up with balls and of course there’s a false bottom underneath the stage allowing teller to move around and be in two places at the same time. It’s an act just for them to show how it’s done. By revealing the trick, they can impart the same sense of awe and wonder as they do when performing the trick the first time. Just awesome.

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Categories: Science Tags: , , , ,
  1. December 21, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    Nice post DJ! I highly recommend Jim Steinmeyer’s books on the history of magic – they have great information about how the techniques developed, and a bit about how some of the tricks work too. Hiding the Elephant is the first on that I read…

    • DJ
      December 21, 2009 at 4:19 pm

      Thanks, Tim. I’ll definitely look into those.

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