From the National Museum of Mathematics
Join Fields Medalist and Princeton University Professor Manjul Bhargava and professional magician Mark Mitton on Saturday, March 2, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, for an engaging exploration of magic tricks and the beautiful mathematical ideas that drive them. Back by popular demand, this daylong workshop will explore some of the striking relations between mathematics and magic and will cover a number of highlights from the minicourse given last fall. Some of the very best magic tricks invented over the years have involved serious mathematics, including concepts from number theory, group theory, recursion theory, topology, coding theory, and cryptography. Conversely, and somewhat more surprisingly, a great deal of nontrivial and important mathematics has been discovered in these areas in recent years due to corresponding developments in magic. In fact, these mathematical ideas have also had important applications in areas beyond magic.
If you want an idea of the amazing afternoon in store for you, grab four cards from a regular deck of cards and get ready to be amazed by the power of math: manjul4.momath.org.
Learn more and register at marchmagic.momath.org.
ebook and paperback are LIVE. What better way to celebrate than give away some free books? Here is your chance to win. Good luck!
Free book giveaway! Please click links below to win a chance at getting a free copy of my book. Of course, you can always order your own copies. If you do, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. And do check out the audiobook sample as well.
In an interesting development, Cirque du Soleil announced that they are acquiring the company behind the Illusionists for $40million. It makes good sense, given that the Illusionists are a touring ensemble. Cirque will be taking a hands-off attitude to the acquisition as per reports, but over time, Cirque viewers should expect to see a good dose of magic at future performances.
Reactions are mixed to the post-Superbowl debut of the globally oriented talent show by CBS, ‘The World’s Best’. Reviews quickly pointed to the Star Wars galactic senate-like design of the set, and the idea of going for the emotional hook. However, not everyone was happy with the insipid presentation, lackluster judges and the 50% weightage of the votes reserved for the American Judges. As this reviewer pointed out, the production felt like a cheap knock-off of AGT that won’t be confused with the original. One will have to wait for further episodes to see if the premise of the show is redeemed and the talent delivers something truly extraordinary.
Excerpt from MAGICAL:
The field of magic is a fertile ground for people who are extraordinarily persistent and are able to overcome adversities. There are famous examples like the Argentinian magician René Lavand, who became one of the leading exponents in Europe despite losing one hand in a childhood accident; Matthias Buchinger, born without hands or feet, but went on to become the ‘Greatest German Living’, to, in our own time, Richard Turner, who can “see” all the cards he is dealing despite being legally blind.
Turner, a self-described card mechanic, is barred from all casinos as he would literally break the house. Watch one of his performances to contemplate the deep mysteries of human talent and abilities. Turner’s fingers are so sensitive that they can detect moisture levels in cards that computers routinely miss. He is on retainer with The United States Playing Card Company, who sends him samples of their playing card decks for testing; in exchange for his services, they send him all the cards he wants. In a classic motivational talk combined with card magic show, he recently took on an auditorium full of smart MIT students and left most of them slack jawed. In addition, Turner is a sought after motivational speaker and a fifth degree black belt despite his handicap.
Chicago, once the capital of magic, is seeing signs of a renaissance, both in the number of new shows as well as established favorites. The magician Dennis Watkins just celebrated the 1000th edition of his show ‘Magic Parlour’. A historical side note: Howard Thurston, one of the most famous magicians Chicago has ever produced, met his peer and rival Harry Houdini, at the 1893 at the World's Columbian Exposition.
From magic in social media to changes in the culture of magic, and revealing more than secrets, Magical is a deep dive into the business of magic old and new.
- Rich Ferguson, Award Winning Entertainer, YouTube Sensation, Motivational Speaker
Thank you Rich Ferguson for your kind endorsement. Rich is featured in the book for his insights into how the new breed of magicians and entertainers are breaking all the old rules when it comes to generating buzz, momentum, and fans on social media, and using it to monetize creative content. With over 2.6 million fans, Rich is a master of prankster magic, both of the impromptu as well as the carefully planned varieties. He is an ingenious creator of new effects, very often using common household tools and objects, and a relentless teacher and promoter. His YouTube videos are legend, and some of them have individually generated more commentary volume than some people’s entire traffic. Two classic examples: The Earth is Flat! - 100% Proof video has over 7.5 million views, while my favorite, the Head Drops Off Magic Prank has garnered over 13.2 million views.
After a few days on pre-order, getting some traction on Amazon.
Excerpt from Magical:
“One of the most popular illusions ever conceived was first used in a stage production of the Charles Dickens story, The Haunted Man. This clever optical illusion, developed at the Polytechnic in London in the 1860s (now called the Royal Polytechnic Institution), was named “Pepper’s Ghost”. A three-dimensional, ghost like figure would appear on stage, with an ability to move and glide through solid objects. Unknown to the audience, there existed another room adjacent to the stage, and the actions taking place in it were then projected onto the stage using the right placement of a clean sheet of glass. In the case of Pepper’s ghost, this room happened to be below the stage, but it can also work with the room on the same level situated at the correct angle. This effect observed is similar to our experience when we see the contents of the room we are in reflected in the window glass, while at the same time seeing the scene outside the window itself. This is because glass can both reflect and transmit light under some conditions. The underlying technique is used to this day and can be seen at the Haunted Mansion exhibit as well as in an appearance of the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio's Daring Journey at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. When Pepper’s Ghost was at its prime at the Polytechnic, it was a sensation and attracted a steady stream of visitors.”
Buried under six feet of earth and having to claw your way out - unless, of course, you can punch your way out like Uma Thurman. That is the predicament Houdini created for himself and nearly didn’t make it out alive. Steve Wolf, who stars in the new Science Channel show Houdini’s Last Secrets, has explored how Houdini pulled off this trick. Hint: It may have something to do with Houdini’s expertise with compressed air. The episode premieres on Jan 27th. You can read a more detailed description of the effect here.
In the article, Wolf points out how many of the effects he created are still very mysterious. "I believe that most of Houdini's illusions are still a mystery…there are probably only a handful of ways most of them could be done, and through simple diagnostics and experimenting, you could figure out which were safest and most repeatable ways to do each of them. But we don't really know for sure how he did them."
Interesting find from early 1900s.. The author states in his preface:
MAGIC, white and black, was originally written at a time when I imagined that it was possible by means of intellectual efforts to bore a hole through the veil that cover the mystery of the spirit, and the favor with which the first three editions have been received I attribute to the generally prevailing curiosity of obtaining a knowledge of spiritual things without having to pass through the slow process of becoming spiritual oneself. As it has been decided to bring out a new edition, I have attempted to remedy its most conspicuous faults, and to make such improvements as were suggested by a more extended experience. In this new shape I can conscientiously recommend it to my American compatriots, and to all who are interested in the study of occultism.
Many of you have gotten back with feedback and suggestions. Thanks! One popular suggestion was to publish brief excerpts from my book on this blog leading up to the release date. If you agree, hit the Like button below and I will definitely consider it.
Ben Zimmer had a nice piece in WSJ over the weekend about the origins of the word ‘debunk’. In my book, I devote a section to this topic titled The Debunkers and the Debunked, and describe the motivations of well known debunkers from the field of magic like Harry Houdini, James Randi, Penn & Teller, and Derren Brown. Outside of magic, there have been some famous debunkers including Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins. Zimmer points out that while the popular source of the word was the book ‘Bunk’, published in 1923 (which incidentally just went out of copyright on Jan 1, 2019), it was in use as early as 1915.
Opus 217 by Paul Signac at MoMA. A Portrait of Félix Fénéon in 1890. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David Rockefeller, 1951.
Photo by Bharat Rao 2019.
Félix Fénéon (1861-1944) was a Parisian anarchist and art critic during the late 19th century. He coined the term “Neo-Impressionism” in 1886. (Source: Wikipedia)
Another year, another show for entertainment talent. The appetite for TV shows that showcase entertainment talent of all stripes continues unabated. In a strategic move, CBS is about to create a splash by launching their new reality series, The World's Best, to premiere right after Super Bowl LIII. For avid viewers and marketing aficionados, you will recall that Super Bowl XLIX was the most watched U.S. television broadcast with 114.4 million viewers, and a talent show is bound to keep a good portion of these viewers tuned in after the spectacle. The show will be hosted by James Corden, and will include judges like RuPaul Charles, Drew Barrymore and Faith Hill. Of special interest to me is all the magicians who are slated to appear on the show. Another platform for a new star to emerge in the world of magic! As a backup plan, the show has around 50 judges on call in case special expertise is needed.
Imagine being a hardened skeptic, or even better, a neuroscientist, and you decide on a whim to check out the happenings on the shadier side. Well, that is what happened to not one, but a pair of neuroscientists when they attended the Sedona Psychic Fair in Arizona. Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik, authors of the successful book, Sleights of Mind, and card-carrying neuroscientists recognized for their pioneering efforts in the area of neuromagic, are no strangers to hucksters and con-men, having studied both during their book research. They belong to a long line of skeptics stretching from famous magicians like Houdini, Penn and Teller, Derren Brown and James Randi, to the more obvious suspects from the past and present like Richard Dawkins, Isaac Asimov, and Richard Feynman.
It turns out that selling miracle cures is still a thriving industry, and as long as there are customers ready to buy hope and salvation, there will be sellers to meet their demand. Read more about Scientific American’s conversation with Martinez-Conde and Macknick here.
A must read for all humans.
It could happen again.
Behind the glitz and the glamor lie dirty secrets.
Understand that which is measured (see next recommendation).
Goal setting secrets by the VC who has seen it all.
Space out with this book.
922 page biography of an important man whose autobiographical writings were three times longer.
Unique memoir, destined to be a classic.
Turn on, tune in, drop out