Mandrake the Magician

Penn & Teller’s Fool Us Television Show Starts Tonight!

Inside Magic Image of Penn & Teller's Fool UsPenn & Teller’s Fool Us appears in the United States starting tonight. We are excited. We usually hate Wednesdays which we call “hump day” because it was when we were usually forced to visit our hunchback great aunt. Now we have a reason to love Wednesdays.

Fool Us was a big hit in the UK last year and it is our understanding its US run will consist of 9 episodes from that series. If folks here enjoy it as much as they did over there, Penn & Teller say the network may launch the show for American audiences with more American magicians.

In an interview with The Chicago Sun-Times, Penn gives fans of the show hope of a US version:

We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves here, but if U.S. audiences like this, and the ratings justify it, the CW tells us we’ll do a second American season — with American magicians. Although there are wonderful, wonderful magicians in the U.K., there quite simply better ones — and more of them — in the U.S.A. It’s simply that America is a bigger country with more magicians out there. That’s all it is.

Penn, Teller and all real magicians enjoy being fooled. We echo Penn’s declaration except for the part about his mom:

Those that fooled us, fooled the pants off us! It was the exact feeling I had when my mom did the first magic trick for me when I was 6! I got that same feeling with this show. It’s a feeling of your whole world being discombobulated for a moment. It’s just glorious!

The show’s premise is simple. A magician comes on, performs a trick and if he or she fools Penn & Teller then he or she wins. If they can figure out how the trick was done, he or she loses.

We appreciated how Penn & Teller took great care to make sure they did not expose methods but provided just enough information to the contestant to confirm that they knew the secret.

Our favorite performers of the series were Piff the Magic Dragon and Shawn Farquhar. Piff makes us laugh no matter what he says. Shawn blows our mind no matter what he does. We were blown away by his card effect and hope it is in the series shown here in the US.

So now you know where we will be tonight. We have a flat screen television viewable from our kitchen in our apartment next to the bakery for dog treats here in West Hollywood. True, it is not our television but in the apartment across the alley but we bought a remote on eBay that works and know for a fact that the young couple who live there will be out tonight. We will be perched on our kitchen counter watching – and if our neighbors have left their windows open, listening.

Read a great interview with Penn about the show in The Sun-Times here.

Allan Ackerman and Audience Members Gone Wild

Inside Magic Image of Salvador DaliWe have learned so much from Allan Ackerman over the years. His 11 disk set on Erdnase is one of our favorite go-to DVD collections. We love card sleights, we’re from Chicago, we worshiped Ed Marlo and so Mr. Ackerman is a natural fit for us.

Mr. Ackerman was at the Magic Castle last week, performing in the wonderfully appointed Close-Up Gallery. The guy is good. He makes hard stuff look invisible. At the end of the week, he provided the Magician Member only lecture and we stumbled away from the event exhausted. We were tired but it was a good kind of tired. He had some amazing routines and patiently taught each to the nearly sold-out group of very appreciative students.

We mention Mr. Ackerman not only to praise his skills and encyclopedic knowledge of our favorite branch of magic but also to ponder on page what makes bad audience members behave the way they do.

Last week, we watched as Mr. Ackerman dealt with an audience member who was determined to make the show her own. She was an attractive and seemingly normal individual who had demonstrated fine manners before and after the show. But during the show, she turned from a pleasant member of society to someone who caused us concern.

Mr. Ackerman was about to perform what appeared to be a multiple card revelation. He had various spectators select a card from the deck as he riffled through the pack. All was going smoothly until he encountered the subject of our anthropological study.

Armed with apparently a little knowledge of how card tricks work, she sought to disrupt the proceedings by demanding that Mr. Ackerman re-do the selection process several times to make sure that she selected precisely the card she thought she wanted.

The show essentially came to a halt as the spectator insisted Mr. Ackerman conform to her requirements. Finally, in a genial manner, he spread the deck on the table and asked her to take a card according to her whim. The trick was a success despite her efforts to undermine but the rhythm was lost and the rest of the audience suffered as a result.

Why are some people like that? Why would someone want to disrupt a performance. We are not judging but sincerely asking.

The disrupting individual must receive some benefit by acting that way. Assuming that the person is rational, he or she would not do something that would bring discomfort or bad feelings. Or perhaps he or she does feel discomfort but the psychic benefit is greater than the discomfort.


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New Hope for Black Art Magic

The Opposite of Vanna White, Sort OfArthur C. Clark’s third law states “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Consequently, we search the scientific journals daily for advanced technology we can incorporate into magic tricks.

Dark Matter is a cool concept but until we can use it in a packet trick or our 75 minute-long Ambitious Card routine, it can remain in the realm of the scientists.

Magnetar’s have compressed magnetic fields as strong as 101 Tesla.

How strong is that? How about a cool billion times stronger than anything that can be found or created on this planet.

You could do some incredible coin magic with something like that. Some of our favorite vanishing gimmicks would be greatly enhanced if we could, say, have a steel-core coin get sucked through a wooden table. We checked with some physicists about it and they said it would be unwieldy for use in a close-up magic situation. Actually, they didn’t say that exactly, they just didn’t return our emails – kind of the same thing.

But scientists in the United Kingdom (or “UK” as the cool kids call it on the webs) have announced the innovation that could revolutionize magic forever.

Surrey NanoSystems has developed something called Vantablack® — which sounds like it should be the opposite of Vanna White but isn’t – and claims that it is the darkest black ever created.

According to their press materials, Vantablack is “revolutionary in its ability to be applied to light-weight, temperature-sensitive structures such as aluminium whilst absorbing 99.96% of incident radiation, believed to be the highest-ever recorded.”

By “aluminium” they mean “aluminum” and by “whilst” they mean “while.”  It’s metric we think.

By incident radiation, they mean “light.” We think.

So imagine the possibilities. You could do a black art act in broad daylight. Light would literally (as opposed to figuratively) be absorbed into the stuff and your audience would have no idea how the magic was happening.

Plus, because it is based on nanotube technology, it can provide a strong structure; stronger than a piece of felt taped to a tin can.

It is the well-established policy of Inside Magic to never reveal magic secrets – ever. So we cannot specify just how this product would be used in a black art act or even on some of the props we bought from magic shops in the last year but you likely know exactly what we mean.

Why haven’t more magicians used super black nanotube-based materials before now? Sure, there is the cost factor – a few hundred thousand for a custom made four-inch square of the stuff. But there was the manufacturing hassle as well. As readers know, “the manufacture of `super-black` carbon nanotube-based materials has traditionally required high temperatures, preventing their direct application to sensitive electronics or materials with relatively low melting points. This, along with poor adhesion, prevented their application to critical space and air-borne instrumentation.”

Duh!

But Surrey NanoSystems hacked its own low-temperature manufacturing process used in silicon fabrication to work on aluminum.

As a result, it is not only just super black it also has “the highest thermal conductivity and lowest mass-volume of any material that can be used in high-emissivity applications. It has virtually undetectable levels of outgassing and particle fallout, thus eliminating a key source of contamination in sensitive imaging systems.”

We have been saying for years there should be a way to have high thermal conductivity without detectable levels of “outgassing and particle fallout.” Finally, that day is here.

We wrote to Surrey NanoSystems and asked if it would be practical for most black art applications. We haven’t heard back yet but we will update this article the second we hear. In the meantime, we will be reconsidering all of the tricks we no longer use now that we do not have to worry about outgassing and particle fallout.

A Magician Seeks the Rough Way

Inside Magic Image of Harry Robson's Roughing StickThe magical principle of Rough and Smooth occupies a special place in the litany of things that matter to the world. Granted, it is very low on the list and even among magicians, it is still down there with the consistency of Magician’s Wax and the tensile strength of threads.

But, for some reason, likely attributable to the amount of time we have to think of such things, it has become of paramount importance to us.

In the old days, before Twitter, we would do our own roughing and smoothing using a fine liquid we purchased by mail from Tannen’s in New York. It came in a small bottle and had a very special aroma that likely led to our demonstrable brain damage in later life. We would use cotton balls to dab, never wipe the special liquid on to our decks. Wiping would lead to ink smearing and would ruin the deck forever. We had piles of otherwise perfect decks of cards throughout our room that had been marred by improper dabbing.

Sure, we could have bought decks already treated with the special liquid but that cost money – likely less than what we were paying for new decks and the special liquid – and we thought it inhibited our creativity. And what creativity we had!

We made several otherwise commercially available decks and thousands of unworthy packet tricks over the years. In fact, we are pretty sure we never used a deck we prepared in an actual performance, anywhere.

Perhaps, we thought, we were wasting our time. Perhaps we just liked mastering the artistic technique of dabbing. Perhaps we were addicted to the fumes. There is, a wise man once said, a fine line between aroma therapy and huffing.

Then came the revolution wrought by the aerosol spray technology. It worked for processed cheese and string so it made sense that roughing fluid would be the next application. We purchased special cans of roughing fluid and made our own decks and learned that the fumes could now fill a house, a porch (when we were forced out of the house because of the fumes) and finally a garage.

The spray worked wonderfully. We could do entire decks at a time and never worried about smearing the ink. Now we had perfectly produced decks that we still never used in real-world performances.

At a convention, we learned that one could buy commercial products for the lay consumer that did what the roughing spray did and at a tenth of the cost. We bought cans of the product from our hobby store and went to work. Same quality, less cost but we still never used a single deck or packet in real performance.

Recently, the magic world learned of a new substance from Card Shark called Science Friction. It was a roughing fluid applied by aerosol technology. It got rave reviews from critics and chemists weighed in on its likely composition and less expensive alternatives. We almost bought it but balked given our new living situation in a small apartment in West Hollywood next to a bakery for dog treats. We did not want to be evicted because of the odors – the dog treat bakery actually smells wonderful – and had no desire to buy a special, portable spraying booth just for roughing and smoothing.


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John Luka Leaks Line-up for Motor City Close-Up Magic Convention

John Luka's MagicArguably the finest close-up magic convention in the world hosts a great line-up this year.

John Luka was kind enough to give Inside Magic readers a sneak preview of this year’s the Motor City Close-Up Convention.

The Detroit magic shop, Wunderground and Mr. Luka will present the 17th annual iteration of Motor City Close-Up Convention the weekend of November 14-16, 2014 in Woodhaven, Michigan (just outside of Detroit).  Tony Cabral and David Gabbay have already signed on and there are two more performer to be announced.
All events take place at the Best Western Woodhaven Inn (http://www.bestwestern.com/woodhaveninn) located at 21700 West Road, Woodhaven, MI 48183. Phone (734) 676-8000.

Be sure to call the hotel for room reservations or hotel information. There is a special room rate of $73 plus tax per diem for the convention. To qualify, when you make your reservations request the Motor City Magic rate.

Those who have attended the convention in the past know that the line-up of performers has always been outstanding. Mr. Luka has brought in some amazing folks in the past, Pop Haydn, Greg Wilson, Max Maven, Gazzo, Jon Armstrong, Rick Merrill, Joshua Jay and so many others.  The format is perfect: three close-up magic shows, four magic lectures, optional workshops and great people and dealers.

For more information go to: www.johnlukamagic.com

This is a don’t miss type of event.