Archive for the ‘magic’ tag

Seeking The Explanation Of Reese’s “Mind Reading”

From November 20, 1910

SEEKING THE EXPLANATION OF REESES MIND READING

SEEKING THE EXPLANATION OF REESE’S “MIND READING”: Committee of Scientists Will Make Special Tests of His Powers — How Somewhat Similar Performances Are Done. (PDF)

Last week, the Sunday Magazine ran an article on W. Bert Reese, the amazing wizard whose powers astound scientists. There was debate even among those who should know better (*ahem* Thomas Edison) over whether Reese actually could do what he seemed to do. Harry Houdini said later that he detected Reese’s psychic tricks at a séance, and caught him “cold blooded.”

This week, the Magazine takes a stab at explaining how Reese does his mind reading trick. At the very least, they reveal how similar tricks are done, so give it a read and learn to amaze your friends.

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Written by David

November 19th, 2010 at 10:30 am

Posted in Entertainment

Wizard With Amazing Powers Astounds Scientists

From November 13, 1910

WIZARD WITH AMAZING POWERS ASTOUNDS SCIENTISTS

WIZARD WITH AMAZING POWERS ASTOUNDS SCIENTISTS: Thomas A. Edison, Dr. William H. Thomson and Others Admit They Are Unable to Explain the Feats of W. Bert Reese — Reads Questions Written in Another Room and Answers Them. (PDF)

For most of the past several weeks, the Magazine published articles about how amazing someone’s magic or telepathic powers are and how they mystify science. But they also published articles explaining the secrets of magic tricks and special effects. You’d think someone would have figured that perhaps they are one and the same.

This week, the subject is W. Bert Reese, a mentalist who did indeed confound Thomas Edison and other scientists with his magic tricks, as the article explains. But one man not mentioned in the article was in fact clever enough to see through Reese’s tricks: Harry Houdini.

The recently departed Martin Gardner wrote about Reese in his book Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? Debunking Pseudoscience and quotes from a letter Houdini wrote to Arthur Conan Doyle about Reese in 1920:

You may have heard a lot of stories about Dr. Bert Reese, but I spoke to Judge Rosalsky [in front of whom Reese had performed a mind-reading trick to get out of a disorderly conduct charge] and he personally informed me that, although he did not detect Reese, he certainly did not think it was telepathy. I am positive that Reese resorts to legerdemain, makes use of a wonderful memory, and is a great character reader. He is incidentally a wonderful judge of human beings.

That he fooled Edison does not surprise me. He would have surprised me if he did not fool Edison. Edison is certainly not a criterion, when it comes to judging a shrewd adept in the art of pellet-reading.

The greatest thing Reese did, and which he openly acknowledged to me, was his test-case in Germany when he admitted they could not solve him.

I have no hesitancy in telling you that I set a snare at the séance I had with Reese, and caught him cold-blooded. He was startled when it was over, as he knew that I had bowled him over. So much so that he claimed I was the only one that had ever detected him, and in our conversation after that we spoke about other workers of what we call the pellet test — Foster, Worthington, Baldwin, et al. After my séance with him, I went home and wrote down all the details.

While I highly recommend reading all of Gardner’s book, you can find some of the relevant excerpts on Google Books.

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Written by David

November 12th, 2010 at 9:45 am

Magicians Tell The Secret Of Famous Tricks

From October 23, 1910

MAGICIANS TELL THE SECRET OF FAMOUS TRICKS

MAGICIANS TELL THE SECRET OF FAMOUS TRICKS: Henry Hatton and Adrian Plate Give Some of Their Methods and Experiences in the Art of Mystifying the Public. (PDF)

In the 1980s and ’90s, magic duo Penn & Teller earned a reputation for giving away the secrets of magic tricks, becoming known as the Bad Boys of Magic. They would even perform some tricks using clear props that revealed how they were done. But the truth is that Penn & Teller’s reveals were fairly tame, and to this day they still impress with tricks that they keep secret, like their famous take on the magic bullet catch.

But nearly 100 years before Penn & Teller were revealing the secrets of magic, Henry Hatton and Adrian Plate revealed magic secrets in the pages of the New York Times Sunday Magazine. And wouldn’t you know that one trick they revealed is the secret of the bullet catch! Penn & Teller may not do it this way, but here’s what Hatton had to say about his version of the trick, and one night when things didn’t go exactly as planned:

“One night I had announced on my programme, ‘A Modern William Tell,’ the fanciful name for a startling pistol trick. In this the performer allows one of the audience to load a duelling pistol with powder and ball and then to fire at the performer, who is supposed to catch the marked ball in his teeth. In doing the trick the performer slips into the muzzle of the pistol a sort of thimble, and it is into it that the unsuspecting voluntary assistant drops the bullet. By a deft movement this thimble is afterward removed, thereby giving the performer possession of the ball. Not many attempt the trick, for more than once it has led to fatal results when the man who loads the pistol either through ignorance or malice manages to get the bullet into the pistol barrel. The result is that he who exhibits the trick must watch every move made. On the night in question my attention was called away for a second, and when I attempted to remove the thimble I discovered that it was not in the pistol. Whether or not the bullet was in the barrel I did not know. What was I to do? I had only one life, and as for that I had an undying love I was averse to risking it. There was no time for hesitation, so walking to the footlights with the effrontery that is a factor in ‘the profession,’ I addressed the audience: ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ I said. ‘I cannot go on with this part of my programme. Something wrong has happened, and should I continue you undoubtedly would see in to-morrow’s papers: “Bullet-in Hatton Killed While Attempting a Trick.” Would you believe it the generous audience received this statement with as much applause as if I had performed the trick successfully?”

When I read that, I thought it was a lame and anticlimactic way to end the trick. Isn’t there an old saying that the show must go on? Shouldn’t he have figured something out? I’ll bet Penn and Teller would have figured out a way to do the trick. But then I remembered an episode of Penn Jillette’s short-lived 2006 radio show where he says:

The show must go on. Stupidest rule ever made, the show must go on. If there’s one thing that doesn’t need to go on, it’s a show. Last night, 800 people, a thousand people, had come to see the Penn and Teller show. If there had been an announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, Penn Jilette is sick. Why don’t you all go home?” the worst thing that happens, the horrible nightmare that happens is that these people go out and probably have dinner together, maybe go back to the hotel a little earlier and screw. I mean, that is the nightmare. The nightmare is they don’t get to see Penn and Teller catch a bullet in their teeth and do the show. It’s a really good show. I’m proud of it. I love it. But compared to spending time with someone you love, no big deal, ya know?

Yeah, I guess aborting the trick was better than getting shot in the face. Okay, Hatton. You’re off the hook.

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Written by David

October 22nd, 2010 at 10:00 am