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Last Wednesday Derren Brown performed a trick in which he appeared to predict the results of the UK national lottery on live TV. This immediately led to much speculation about how he did it. Of course, he didn't disclose his "prediction" until after the lottery results had been announced, which makes it meaningless as a prediction. But it was still a clever publicity stunt.

On Friday Brown revealed the secret of the trick, or rather he pretended to. He didn't actually reveal anything at all. While coyly refusing to commit to an explanation, he implied that he predicted it by averaging out numbers generated by a group of 24 volunteers who used automatic writing to come up with results. Frankly, it would have been better if he had offered no explanation at all, rather than promoting some kind of mumbo-jumbo, pseudoscience explanation. offers a summary of theories about how the trick was done. The most compelling theory is that he used split-screen technology to allow an assistant to come onstage, unseen, and arrange the balls in the correct order.
Categories: Magic
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 14, 2009
Comments (11)
An African villager named Winston shows off his skills as a human water spout:

Apparently this isn't a magic trick, but rather an example of controlled regurgitation. The Human Marvels offers some background on the history of human water spout acts:

In the mid 17th century a Frenchman named Jean Royer was known for his regurgitating and spouting abilities. Another spouter, Blaise Manfre, was noted for his ability to drink water and regurgitate wine. Of course, his feat was accomplished by simply swallowing Brazil wood extract before the water which would then tint the liquid deep red. The regurgitation act was also common enough for Houdini to make mention of it, and his distaste for the act, in his book Miracle Mongers and Their Methods.

I've also previously posted about a similar act: Stevie Starr, the professional regurgitator.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Magic
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 08, 2009
Comments (2)
On the Raffaele De Ritis' Novelties and Wonders blog I found an old video of Kuda Bux, a performer who claimed to have x-ray eyes. He would cover his eyes with putty, cotton wool, and gauze bandages. Then he would challenge people to write any word, in any language, on a blackboard, and he would be able to magically reproduce what they had written.

Kuda Bux claimed it was psychic ability that allowed him to see while blindfolded, and according to Wikipedia his act inspired Roald Dahl to write the short story of Henry Sugar. Of course, it was really just a standard magic trick. The explanation I've heard for the trick is that it's done by means of the "nose peek." Even though the layers of gauze, cotton, and putty might seem like they would prevent Bux from seeing anything at all, he could actually use his facial muscles to adjust the putty upwards, thereby creating a small space at the side of his nose through which he could peek out. The outer layer of gauze would actually conceal this adjustment from the audience.
Categories: Magic, Paranormal
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 29, 2009
Comments (16)
Hudson Pace sent this interesting clipping. He writes:

Here's a hoax (see attached). Presumably done with double-exposures, but it would be nice to know how many people he fooled and why he did it.
It's from 'The Encyclopedia of Modern Wonders for Boys', published by Collins apparently in the 1930s. Googling 'Herbert Winck' gives one reference to the same pictures in 'The Wonder World Encyclopedia' from 1936, also published by Collins. As you'll see from the caption, the pictures fooled at least one person.

I assume the pictures were created via double exposure, in the same way spirit photographs are usually made. As for Herbert Winck, I can't find out anything more about him. But searching the google news archive for articles about invisibility machines, I did come across a March 3, 1937 article in the Chicago Tribune about an Italian inventor who supposedly created something that sounds very similar to Winck's machine. The article was syndicated. A similar version also ran in the Washington Post.

Expert in Physics Insists He's No Magician

Rome, March 2 -- (AP) -- Prof. Mario Mancini, who makes people disappear by "purely scientific principles," insisted today he was not a magician -- and "I do not use mirrors." Mancini, 33 years old and former professor of physics at Breda academy here, made his wife and sister disappear before the eyes of an Associated Press correspondent at his home in Milan. He would not explain beyond saying: "It is simply a scientific instrument which nullifies the rays reflected by opaque bodies."

Uses Wooden Box.
A huge wooden box, of practically cubical shape, the sides of which were about eight feet long, occupied nearly half the drawing room where the professor held his demonstration. The side toward the observer apparently was open but in reality was closed by a sheet of transparent glass. The professor's wife and sister entered the box through a side door and seated themselves in chairs. While Prof. Mancini dangled his legs over the side of a table on which the electrical controls were placed the two subjects inside the box talked to each other and those in the room.

Outlines of Women Vanish
The professor pressed a button illuminating the box inside. Simultaneously there was a distinct buzzing sound. After a few moments the outlines of the two women and the chairs became more and more indistinct until they disappeared completely. The voice of the two still could be heard, however. After another moment the controls were reversed and the two subjects and chairs came back into clear view.
Categories: Magic, Technology
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 04, 2008
Comments (7)
Here's an entertaining example of complete bs. An Arabic TV station interviews a man who claims to be the "Incredible Hulk" of Egypt. He says that he has the strength of 30,000 men! He never sleeps! He has sex 15 times a day with his four wives! And he's so strong that the government doesn't allow him to work, for fear that he might accidentally hurt someone.

But the only evidence of his strength that he offers is his ability to tear a coin in half. This, of course, is a well-known magic trick.

Categories: Body Manipulation, Magic, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 02, 2008
Comments (7)
Is it a magic trick, or a trick of the camera? I'm not sure.

Real or fake ? Réel ou faux ?
Uploaded by _006-serie-TS_
Categories: Magic, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 05, 2007
Comments (12)
Status: Magic Trick
image A lot of sites have been linking to this video of a pair of quick-change artists performing on NBC's America's Got Talent. The video is fun to watch if you haven't seen them performing before. The pair are magicians David & Dania, who were recently profiled in this article. Apparently the duo have become the most popular act during NBA half-time shows.

So how is the trick done? reports that:
the trick dates back to the 19th century, and the first English-language manual to describe the art was published in 1911. Back then, magicians connected the various layers via hook-and-eye fasteners; today, the literature describes no fewer than 15 different methods of pulling off the trick, using such devices as Velcro, magnets, and "fish bone pull fasteners."
In other words, it relies on special clothing and a lot of practice. If you watch the video closely, the moment when she has the hoop around her and changes from a green into a purple dress is the one time you can almost see the costume change occurring. I have no idea how she pulls off the trick at the end in which she changes clothes as glitter falls around her.
Categories: Magic, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sun Jul 16, 2006
Comments (51)
Status: Magic trick
image On YouTube there's a video of magician Criss Angel taking the old "sawing a woman in half" trick a step further. He actually pulls a woman in half, whereupon her upper half crawls away in horror while her legs remain behind wriggling. I, like many other people, have been trying to figure out how he does this trick. All I can conclude is that it's achieved by clever editing of the camera footage. (Which, if true, would make it less a magic trick than a special effect, but entertaining nonetheless.) My reasoning is that the (half of a) woman who crawls away at the end is probably not fake. She's likely a woman who, in real life, has no legs. But this cannot be the same woman who initially walks to the table and lies down on it. (No, I don't think she was using robotic legs, or anything like that.) They are two different women. Which means that at some point the camera must have been turned off, and the one woman replaced the other on the table. This also suggests that everyone in the crowd were actors. That's my theory. But I'm actually hoping it's wrong, because it would be cool if he could have done this without turning the camera off at some point. (Thanks to Captain DaFt for the link.) (And I could have sworn I once posted about another Criss Angel trick in which he crawled through a glass window pane, but for the life of me I can't find the post about this.)

Update: Archibold pointed out that Snopes has a page about this video in which they point out that Ricky Jay has written about a similar early version of this trick in Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women. Sure enough, he has. Participating in this early version of the trick was Johnny Eck, a legless & thighless man who starred in the movie Freaks. So I was right about the woman at the end of the video actually being a legless woman. But this leaves the question: was the woman standing in the crowd also the same legless woman? If so, that's amazing. If not, then I still have no idea how a switch could have been made without the camera being shut off. But I've now got to assume that it's a real trick and no camera tricks were employed.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Magic, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sat Jun 24, 2006
Comments (114)
Status: Magic trick
image Stevie Starr calls himself a professional regurgitator. He's been doing his act for a long time, and is quite famous. (He's appeared on shows such as Jay Leno and Ripley's Believe it or Not.) But I just became aware of him through a video of one of his performances on Google Video, and I'm at a complete loss to explain how he does what he does.

His performance includes some of the following tricks: He swallows sugar, followed by a glass of water, and then regurgitates the sugar, completely dry. He swallows a live goldfish and regurgitates that a minute later, still living. (As he does this, he mentions the urban legend about goldfish having 5-second memories.) Reportedly he's also able to swallow a (miniature) rubik's cube and bring it back up — solved. (Though the Rubik's cube trick isn't shown in the google video.)

I can't find anyone on the web who has a decent explanation for how Starr is able to do all this. Obviously he has a genuine talent with his stomach. An article about him in the Amherst Student reports that:

he was born in a children’s home in Scotland, where he lived for the first 19 years of his life. When little Stevie was four years old, he discovered this unique talent by swallowing his lunch money and realizing he could bring it right back up. Thus, a freak of nature was born.

But this doesn't explain how he can swallow sugar, followed by water, and bring the sugar up dry. Or the trick with the rubik's cube. Does he have a second stomach, or something like that? To do the rubik's cube trick I assume he must have swallowed a solved rubik's cube before the show. But like I said, I'm pretty much baffled.

Incidentally, history is full of famous vomiters, so Stevie Starr evidently isn't the only one who has ever had this talent. In 1621 there was the case of the nail-vomiting Boy of Bilston (who had been trained by a priest to simulate the symptoms of being bewitched). This was followed in 1642 by Catharina Geisslerin, "the toad-vomiting woman of Germany," who, as you might guess, had a talent for vomiting up toads. In 1694 there was Theodorus Döderlein, who vomited up twenty-one newts and four frogs. (I'm getting this info from Clifford Pickover's The Girl Who Gave Birth to Rabbits.) Pickover also reports that there have been cases of compulsive swallowers who don't later regurgitate what they swallow, including one guy in 1985 who had "53 toothbrushes, 2 razors, 2 telescopic aerials, and 150 handles of disposable razors" removed from his stomach.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Food, Magic
Posted by Alex on Tue Feb 14, 2006
Comments (193)
Status: magicSHELVES are a kind of simple magic trick, but they do work (they will hold up your books)
Greg Cason broke down and ordered one of those LinkyDinky magicSHELVES that I posted about last week (I was tempted to do the same), thereby learning the secret of how they work. It turns out it's not a photoshop trick, nor are the books glued to the wall. Actually, they work almost exactly as I theorized. [edited out... I can't give away the secret. That would be against the magician's creed: never give away the trick!]

Update: Uncle Url himself (of Linky Dinky) sent me an email in response to the Museum of Hoaxes's ongoing magicSHELF investigation. Here's how it begins:

Alex -- You spilled my beans!
Well, all I've got to say is that I'm glad you concluded the story by allowing that our MagicShelf is, in fact, a "real" product and that it does exactly what it says it does. However... don't think so fast that the parts can be had at any local hardware store for 3 or 4 dollars.

For the full email click here. (It was a bit too long to post in its entirety on the front page.) Well, I hope Uncle Url doesn't harbor any bad feelings towards me for revealing the secret of the magicSHELF. It would kind of suck to get on Linky Dinky's blacklist. (There are many people whose blacklist I would be proud to be on, but I actually like Linky Dinky. They did come up with the Lovenstein Institute, after all.) But what can I say? The mystery of the magicSHELF was too tempting a puzzle not to try and solve. Anyway, I'm sure there are many products that can be constructed by do-it-yourselfers for a fraction of the cost, but since most of us aren't do-it-yourselfers, I doubt the market for the magicSHELF will be threatened by people buying the parts at the hardware store and making their own. Actually, I'm still tempted to buy one, since it would be an interesting conversation piece to have in my office.
Categories: Magic, Technology
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 25, 2006
Comments (7)
Status: It's a kind of magic trick (though it really will hold up your books)
image is offering a product called the magicSHELF. Kathy Johnston emailed me to ask: "Is this for real? I can't tell how it works." Unfortunately, I don't yet have a definitive answer. The magicSHELF has stumped me.

Pictures of the magicSHELF show books floating against a wall as if by magic, with no visible means of support. As the site says, "magicSHELF floats your books in the air, docking to any wall you wish." When I first saw it I figured it had to be a joke. This is linkydinky, after all, the creators of the infamous Lovenstein Institute email. Plus, the pictures of the magicSHELF in action could easily have been photoshopped, and statements such as "How does magicSHELF work? It works like magic!" seem tongue-in-cheek. But then I noticed that they're taking money for these things, which put a dent in my skepticism. After all, if you send them $18, you better get something in return... and not just an empty box. I don't think linkydinky would invite people to send them money for a nonexistent product. So now I'm thinking that the magicSHELF must be real, although I have no explanation for how it works.

Update: Greg Cason ordered a magicSHELF and emailed me the flyer that explains how it works. So what's the secret? Well, now that I know, I think I need to invoke the magician's creed (don't spoil the trick) and stay mum. However, I will say that it is real, and it definitely does work.

Update 2: I received my very own magicshelf in the mail, sent by Uncle Url of linkydinky to help me verify that it is, indeed, real. Perhaps it was just a trick of the light, but I could swear that the package it arrived in was floating, ever so slightly, off the ground. wink

Anyway, it didn't take me long to get it installed. Maybe ten minutes total. You can see the results below.

image image image

When you get the magicSHELF your first thought might be, "This is so simple. Why didn't I think of this?" But, speaking for myself, I had never thought of it before, so I've got to give Uncle Url credit for the idea. And it definitely looks cool to have books magically floating on the wall. It's a surreal effect. You kind of have to blink twice to make sure your eyes aren't playing tricks on you. It really looks like there should be something supporting the books. Great conversation starter. I know I'm going to be showing it off to every guest that comes over.

So how sturdy is it? Well, I wouldn't stack a lot of books on it. Six or seven seems about right. Also, I wouldn't lean on it or let kids hang on it (unless you want a hole in your wall). But if it's by your bedside, it'll support some books and a glass of water, no problem.

If you're handy with making stuff on your own, you could probably jerry-rig something similar to the magicSHELF for less money. (But if you can't imagine how this might be done, then you're probably not handy enough to take on such a project.) However, the challenge would be to find the right parts. When I was at Home Depot this morning, I quickly checked to see how easy it would be to find similar parts. I found a few things that could work, if I had the tools to bend them into the right shape. But I don't have those kind of tools. However, I'm pretty sure that if one were to drive around to a few different hardware stores, you could eventually find something roughly equivalent. But how much effort are you willing to expend? It's a lot easier just to order it from Uncle Url. And it is his idea, after all.

Disclaimer: I don't have any kind of financial arrangement with linkydinky, but I have agreed to let Uncle Url quote me as saying that the magicSHELF is real. In return, whenever he uses my testimonial, he mentions that I have a book coming out soon, Hippo Eats Dwarf. So I do derive some benefit from that.
Categories: Literature/Language, Magic, Technology
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 19, 2006
Comments (38)