Mandrake the Magician

Penn & Teller’s Fool Us Soars in Ratings

Inside Magic Image of Penn & Teller's Fool UsPenn & Teller’s Fool Us hit a series high with last night’s episode – according to the industry trade publication Variety.

The show seems to be catching on with American audiences and we have our fingers crossed that the CW network will develop a second season, set in the United States. Penn has been discussing the possibility on his weekly podcast, Penn’s Sunday School, but has been very sketchy about whether the CW will pick up the series for a new round.

We hope the ratings boost proves to the folks at the CW to develop the show here with American magicians. We will keep you up-to-date on any developments.

What If There Was No Magic Castle?

The Magic CastleSome famous person spoke about the dark night of the soul. We think it was a religious text about doubt – the kind of doubt that comes in the darkest hours when one realizes their whole understanding of everything could be wrong. It seems like a neat literary device but one that would make a horrible Broadway musical; unless it involved puppets or something.

But we had our dark night of the soul last night thinking about what Los Angeles would be without The Magic Castle. Our reading of some of the latest science journals (found at our pet’s orthodontist office here in West Hollywood) confirms that there can be infinite parallel universes and that the one in which we are now confined is just one. In the other universes, we were never born, we were born into royalty, and we never signed up for the Columbia Record Club at the age of 18 and were thus free from the years of forced purchases of second-rate vinyl albums to make up for our impulse buy of 20 records for one penny in 1988. The last one alone would have saved us about $55,000.00.

So, it is entirely possible that The Magic Castle could not exist. What would that mean? What else would Los Angeles or even California have to offer? What? Water – there is some on the East Coast of the U.S. and plenty in the Great Lakes Region from whence we come. Sunshine – okay, there is more of it here than in Michigan but is that enough? Jack-in-the-Box and In-and-Out Burger restaurants – big draw before our second angioplasty / stenting (if that is a verb) but we do not care about them so much any longer.

Basically, without The Magic Castle, Los Angeles is just a big city with nearby water, sunshine and incredibly tasty but unhealthy hamburgers. Others may know of things that we have missed – we heard there are mountains and non-magic cultural events and apparently some film studios have offices nearby but we haven’t really explored beyond The Magic Castle.

Without The Magic Castle, we would never get to see incredible shows like John Carney, Dana Daniels, Lindsey Benner and Jon Armstrong – and that was just in the last week.

We would never hear great interviews on topics of interest to us by Fitzgerald in his Who’s Hoo series. This week he interviewed world-famous ventriloquist team Willie Tyler & Lester and Castle Librarian Lisa Cousins.

We would never have discovered the great joy of performing in The Gallery and Hat & Hare for audiences that came to see magic.

Fortunately, in this universe and at this time, there is The Magic Castle. We cannot imagine what life or the western United States would be like without it. We tried to ease our mind and fall back to sleep but remembered we were actually driving at the time – but fortunately, we were in a traffic jam so our car wasn’t moving.

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.


Continue reading Allan Ackerman and Audience Members Gone Wild

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.