Magic is Fun

facecardsMagic tricks are fun. It could be because it is fun to be deliberately fooled and there’s the bonus we get when we figure out how and why we get fooled. I have spent long hours watching videos of magic tricks. An outstanding show is Penn & Teller’s “Fool Us” series. The format is standardized: magicians do their act, and then Penn & Teller have a shot at figuring out how the trick was done. If they can’t guess — if they get fooled — then the successful magician gets a trophy and gets to appear on P&T’s Las Vegas show.

Some of the acts are truly baffling. I marvel at the range of human creativity, talent and skill. It’s not mere harmless entertainment but it makes you think and learn something about human psychology. The art and science of misdirection is on full display. From it we can learn a lot about how not to get fooled when politicians, faux gurus and other charlatans chuck bullshit at us.

Alright, enough of editorializing. Here’s a neat little trick that’s instructive. It’s truly a very simple trick but the way it was presented makes it look amazing. Try to guess how it was done. Below the video, I explain how it is done. But don’t peek at the answer without giving yourself a chance to figure it out.

Here’s my explanation. The space below appears blank because I have used invisible font. Highlight the space between the asterisks to read:

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Suppose the magician asks you to choose a picture card, your choice is restricted to one of the 12 picture cards (four suits of king, queen and jack.) Suppose you choose the queen of hearts. Then the magician takes a deck of cards out of a box and shows you that the deck has the queen of hearts card in it and all the other 51 cards in the deck are blank. Would that be amazing? No. Because you would guess that he had twelve decks in the box, and once he knew your choice, picked out the appropriate deck out of the box to show you.

This trick works because the magician restricted your choice to picture cards only. If he’d asked you to choose any card, then he’d have to prepare 52 decks of cards, and a box with that many decks would be evidently large, and it would be a bit hard to quickly select the correct deck.

How does he restrict your choice? That’s a neat but simple trick. He says, “Would you like to pull out the picture cards or the number cards?” That “pull out” phrase is ambiguous: it could mean that you retain the cards you pull out or it could mean you discard them. So regardless of your answer, “I pull out the number cards”/”I pull out the picture cards”, he would say, “OK, now that you have only the picture cards, which one of them would you choose.” In short, he forces you to choose only from the picture cards. That’s it. The rest of elaborate act is pure entertainment and distraction.

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Penn & Teller are masters of their craft. Teller’s trademark is that he does not speak. He’s the silent type of guy. Penn is the spokesman in the team. Teller is supposed to be the brains in the team, although Penn is no slouch in the brains department. Magic acts are not the only thing they do. Anyway, here’s Teller with one of his brilliant acts. I have a few guesses of how he does it part of it but not the whole bit.

Penn & Teller are good at detecting bullshit. Naturally therefore they dismiss the monotheistic religious nonsense. Penn happens to be a libertarian as well. Not surprisingly, I agree with him on many issues. For instance, I am a 2nd Amendment fundamentalist. The right to bear arms is an essential feature every free person must process. If a person lacks the freedom to bear arms, he is a defenseless slave to those who have arms. Here’s P&T on the 2A:

Penn claims that the founders of the United States were mistrustful of government. I couldn’t agree more. Here —

OK, that’s it for now. Have a wonderful weekend.

Author: Atanu Dey


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