Magic and Technology

Discuss the latest news and rumors in the magic world.

Postby Guest » 04/25/02 05:08 PM

Hello all I have a favor to ask. I am writing a paper for school, I have elected to write about how technology has affected magic. One of the things I am interested in discussing is the publics perception of methodology. Specifically how many of them attribute magical effects to extremely advanced technology,( like when people say “oh that must have been a hologram”, or “ that levitation must have used electromagnets”). I don't really want to quote from personal experience because that would seem like I could say whatever I wanted to in order to prove my point. If people could supply me with a quote of when somebody said something like this after you performed a trick I would be grateful.

Noah Levine

P.S. I have most of the essay worked out but any general suggestions would be welcome
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Postby Bill Duncan » 04/25/02 05:44 PM

Well there is always:
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Clarke's Third Law.

Arthur C. Clarke

Not exactly what you're looking for I know but somewhat on point I think...
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Postby Guest » 04/25/02 06:43 PM

Thats cool, I might use that.

Noah Levine
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Postby Jon Racherbaumer » 04/25/02 09:13 PM

The aspect of modern magic (as currently staged) that has taken the biggest "hit" due to our "sufficiently advanced technologies" are the big tricks, the illusions, the so-called "box tricks." What is routinely done in films, virtual reality, and in ultra-modern museums surpasses most "box tricks."

Side-bar: What impressed me most about the S & R Show in Vegas was its stupendous scale and visually extravagant style. Furthermore, I don't think that they pretend to do more than use Barnum-style showmanship and wed it to beautiful, wild (?) animals and high-tech special effects. This is no mean effect and S & R do it masterfully. And because it is an all out assault on one's credulity, one surrenders to its amazing excesses. Their show is a Post-modern Spectacle.

At the other mundane end of the spectrum is close-up magic. It retains its extraordinary power in our high-tech world because the presentations are done with ORDINARY OBJECTS...a deck of cards, a coin, a length of dental floss. Even more impressive are superb PSYCHIC demonstrations.

Copperfield's "Flying" is wonderful, progressive and high-tech to most magicians; however, it does not impress lay people as much as David Blaine's stunt of apparently levitating a foot off the ground on a city street. (No pun.) That stunt SEEMED devoid of any technological chicanery. Even though it was, it did not look like a special effect. In short, it was "magical" in an abiding, aboriginal sense...

In the meantime, stay tuned for the high-tech effects of Spider Man...

Onward...
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Postby Jerry Harrell » 04/26/02 06:09 AM

Hello Noah,

I am a video producer for Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. One of the projects we are working on right now is a series of presentations about the MagLev train that is being installed on the campus. Magnetic levitation is very cutting edge technology, and in order for me to create effective video material I have had to do a fair amount of research on this subject. I am not an expert, but I at least understand how the thing works.

At a Christmas party for a friend, I performed Zombie. The same zombie routine I've been doing for forty years, a routine I learned from the late Jack Sutherland. Ball, cloth and gimmick, nothing out of the ordinary. After I finished, the son of one of the guests, a young man of about 14, approached me and explained to me in detail how he thought the trick was done, using the same magnetic levitation principals I've been presenting in my work. He wanted to know if I did the programming on a laptop computer hidden somewhere in the house.
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Postby CHRIS » 04/26/02 07:08 AM

Jerry is touching on an interesting question. We know that once a spectator comes up with a possible solution to achieve a magic effect the 'magic' is lost and one cannot reach the desired climax.

High tech gives spectators lots of possible explanations. Copperfield flies using magnets. Wrong explanation but in principle a possible solution. One could make Copperfield fly with magnets. The spectator has reached in his mind a plausible solution and the amazement is gone. Maybe he is still awed by the high tech involved but it is not a 'magical' experience anymore.

Mental effects can be achieved with little receivers and transmitters, from the type of a cellphone to a tiny spy camera. Lot's of explanations possible. Computers, holograms, video effects, ...

I see therefore our biggest chance in either intimate close-up performances were one has the best chance to convince the audience that there is no high-tech assistance involved, or in explicitely bringing in high tech equipment such as computers, cell phones, and developing effects which clearly go beyond the capability of even these advanced high-tech devices.

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Postby Tom Dobrowolski » 04/26/02 08:11 AM

In my mind it should never be a matter of how it's done (technology) but how we do it (presentation).
Hollywood and the t.v. world rely on technology much more than magicians do and people are still touched and moved by movies and t.v. shows. We're attending movies in record numbers. No one believes ET can fly or that there are talking animals and toys yet audiences are willing suspend their belief for these entertainments as they get caught up in the story and fun. Our goal as performers should be the same.
Isn't that what magic is all about?
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Postby David Nethery » 04/26/02 08:52 AM

Originally posted by Tom Dobrowolski:
In my mind it should never be a matter of how it's done (technology) but how we do it (presentation).
Hollywood and the t.v. world rely on technology much more than magicians do and people are still touched and moved by movies and t.v. shows. We're attending movies in record numbers. No one believes ET can fly or that there are talking animals and toys yet audiences are willing suspend their belief for these entertainments as they get caught up in the story and fun. Our goal as performers should be the same.
Isn't that what magic is all about?
Absolutely.

"A typical trick has no meaning beyond the fact that it presents a puzzle and challenges the audience to find the solution. When we supply meaning, we eliminate the challenge, and the puzzle becomes secondary".
Henning Nelms, "Magic & Showmanship".

Chris wrote:
High tech gives spectators lots of possible explanations. Copperfield flies using magnets. Wrong explanation but in principle a possible solution. One could make Copperfield fly with magnets. The spectator has reached in his mind a plausible solution and the amazement is gone. Maybe he is still awed by the high tech involved but it is not a 'magical' experience anymore.
Well, it could happen that the effect is not "a magical experience anymore" because the audience starts thinking it is accomplished by some high-tech method, but going back to the point made by Tom D. and in the quote from Mr. Nelms, the "magical experience" has to originate from the presentation ( the story ) rather than the effect . If we require the effect to carry the whole weight of creating a "magical Experience" then we are only presenting puzzles, which may be entertaining up to a point, but not interesting enough to sustain a truly magical Experience. I don't think we want the audience to dwell on method at all during the presentation of the effects . Maybe afterwards in the car driving home they will speculate on "how he made that ball float" , but frankly if I have kids making outlandish speculations that I made the ball float using MagLev technology programmed by concealed laptop computers then I'm a happy guy! Cool, let em' look for that concealed laptop computer to explain the floating ball. To me that would mean that I had done a superb performance of Zombie, since the presence of the gimmick was completely disguised. If this is what happens then I'm secure knowing that the audience got caught up in the presentation (the story, the meaning) of the effect.

Tom got it right:
"No one believes ET can fly or that there are talking animals and toys yet audiences are willing suspend their belief for these entertainments as
they get caught up in the story and fun
."
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Postby Lisa Cousins » 04/26/02 09:08 AM

These are great posts.

It's interesting to me that movie-makers don't have any particular interest in hiding the "how it's done" element, and many of them present "the making of" specials to bluntly explain it all. There's no "Masked Director" giving away the secrets of filmmaking to a chagrined fraternity. They are obviously counting on the entertainment value to lie somewhere other than audience ignorance.
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 04/26/02 09:41 AM

Originally posted by Lisa Cousins:
These are great posts.

It's interesting to me that movie-makers don't have any particular interest in hiding the "how it's done" element, and many of them present "the making of" specials to bluntly explain it all. There's no "Masked Director" giving away the secrets of filmmaking to a chagrined fraternity. They are obviously counting on the entertainment value to lie somewhere other than audience ignorance.
Interesting thought here: Carroll Spinney (Big Bird & Oscar the Grouch) was asked to be on "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood." Mr. Rogers wanted to show the workings behind the Big Bird costume (which is actually pretty nifty -- check out the book "Sesame Street Unpaved"). Carroll refused, saying something along the lines of not wanting to spoil the magic. He felt that taking off the Big Bird costume would ruin the illusion that they had created with Big Bird (that he was a real, living being). Mr. Rogers had no problem with that, but it meant that he'd be restricted to appear only in the Land of Make-Believe. So, Big Bird appeared on Mr. Rogers, but only in the Land of Make Believe.

-Jim
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Postby Guest » 04/26/02 09:54 AM

Back to Noah's request, a couple of years ago a counterman at Tannen's demonstrated the color-changing silks for a customer who was not a magician. This was a basic dye-tube version, where a small silk changes first to one color and then to a second.

"That's amazing!" the customer said. "Does the hankerchief have some sort of special dye that gets activated by the heat of your hand?"

Sometimes spectators invoke high-tech solutions for the little illusions as well as the big ones.

--Ralph
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Postby CHRIS » 04/26/02 09:57 AM

Tom, Dai, nothing wrong with what you are saying. But magic is not a movie. The 'secret' and 'unexplainability', 'mystery', whatever you want to call it, is a very important ingredience to a good magic performance.

Try giving your audience before the show the explanations to all of your tricks. The impact you will achieve will certainly be less. A good magic performance needs both: a good story and a good effect which is unexplainable.

If one of it is missing, either you have a bad story and delivery or an explanation of how it is done, it is not magic entertainment - in my opinion. It can still be good entertainment. For example Penn and Teller use explanations in some of their tricks. Nothing wrong with that, it still can be very entertaining. But they don't explain each and every trick. So they use it to provide variety and comedy in their performances.

If you perform a trick, let's say a simple card trick, the fact that the spectators have no clue how it is done contributes immeasurably to the entertainment value. An interesting story and good delivery adds to that, but if it would be only the story it would be a sack without contents.

One example to make my point. Take 'Sam the Bellhop' and tell the story without cards to a friend. He will be bored - I guarantee you. Maybe if you act it out and have a great voice you could hold his attention. Now add the cards WITHOUT shuffling. It is getting much better. The story goes with the cards. Nice. Interesting. Perhaps even entertaining. But not magical. Now add the shuffling. It becomes a mystery. It adds increadibly to the entertainment value.

In summary, a good story and performance is important and actually necessary, but so is the mystery and the "don't know how it's done". High-tech explanations take away the "don't know how it's done" and thus lessen or completely destroy the magic entertainment.

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Postby CHRIS » 04/26/02 10:00 AM

Ralph, good example. But in a close-up setting you could immediately hand the silk to the asking spectator and say "no heat sensitive dye - check yourself" and you are back to the 'mystery'. Perhaps he develops another solution - some never give up. But at least in a close-up setting one has more ways of addressing these situations.

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Postby David Nethery » 04/26/02 10:09 AM

Originally posted by Jim Maloney:
Originally posted by Lisa Cousins:
[b]These are great posts.

It's interesting to me that movie-makers don't have any particular interest in hiding the "how it's done" element, and many of them present "the making of" specials to bluntly explain it all. There's no "Masked Director" giving away the secrets of filmmaking to a chagrined fraternity. They are obviously counting on the entertainment value to lie somewhere other than audience ignorance.
Interesting thought here: Carroll Spinney (Big Bird & Oscar the Grouch) was asked to be on "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood." Mr. Rogers wanted to show the workings behind the Big Bird costume (which is actually pretty nifty -- check out the book "Sesame Street Unpaved"). Carroll refused, saying something along the lines of not wanting to spoil the magic. He felt that taking off the Big Bird costume would ruin the illusion that they had created with Big Bird (that he was a real, living being). Mr. Rogers had no problem with that, but it meant that he'd be restricted to appear only in the Land of Make-Believe. So, Big Bird appeared on Mr. Rogers, but only in the Land of Make Believe.

-Jim[/b]
I think Carroll Spinney was correct. The character of Big Bird is the real magic, but to blatantly reveal "the guy in the suit" takes away from the suspension of disbelief. That's why I think we should do everything in our power to preserve the secrets of magical effects, not because the secrets per se (the mechanical workings) are the heart of the thing, but because knowing the secrets takes away from the audience enjoyment of the presentation.

I work in motion pictures full time and I actually sort of regret the trend of these "making of" tell-alls in regards to special effects. It's very similar to magic ; if a person is truly interested in how this stuff works because they have a genuine interest in doing it as a vocation the information is out there to be found with a little diligent research (like searching out a magic shop to buy books or props, or looking for magician bulletin boards like this one) , but I believe it takes away from the overall effect on screen to "expose" the special effects to viewers who may just be flipping channels.

As an audience member, I don't want to see back stage footage of Frank Oz with his hand up the backside of the Yoda prop........I want to see the real Yoda, who is a alive.

On the other hand, Lisa makes a good point that filmakers don't sit around wringing their hands too much about audiences knowing the technology behind the special effects, because the real magic and entertainment value is not in the technology per se. It's a fine line..........

I think most of this stuff (magic and movie "magic") should be arcane knowledge on a need-to-know basis.
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Postby Guest » 04/26/02 10:34 AM

Originally posted by Chris Wasshuber:
Ralph, good example. But in a close-up setting you could immediately hand the silk to the asking spectator and say "no heat sensitive dye - check yourself" and you are back to the 'mystery'.
The spectator could still invoke "instant-drying, irreversible heat-sensitive dye." VERY high tech!

If the only explanation a spectator can come up with is a technology so amazing and implausible that it rivals magic, the wonder is preserved.
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Postby Lisa Cousins » 04/26/02 10:48 AM

Dai - "Arcane knowledge on a need-to-know basis." Nice. Probably the ideal.

Jim - I really like the Big Bird story as an illustration of imaginative consistency.

Ralph - I'm glad somebody remembered that we're supposed to be helping Noah.

I began attending my local magic club only one month after trying my first trick. This means that all of my magical growing and experimenting has taken place before the cognescenti. I have plotted every one of my magic scenes with the understanding that I will present it to people who know how it's done. My aim, then, has never been to elicit a "how did you do that?" but rather a "that was so entertaining!"

Then, when these things go before people who don't know the secret, the mystery element supplies the spice and savor. But it shouldn't be the meal.
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Postby CHRIS » 04/26/02 11:16 AM

Lisa, it is a popular believe because it sounds so nice and artsy 'performance is everything'. So what one should do is forget about effect and method and just develope a great performance. Sorry, but then it ain't magic entertainment anymore. It is not a magic trick if there is no 'secret' or 'mystery' behind it.

Often I think that people who put the performance so much in the foreground are just lousy with their methods and effects.

The truth is one needs both. What is more important, the engineer who develops a new thingy or the sales person who sells it? Neither is more important. Both are necessary for a successfull product. No engineer - no product. No sales person - no sales.

Somewhat similar is the method/performance situation. No method and effect means no magic routine. No performance means merely a puzzle or demonstration of skill. They have to support each other. A good performance and story adds meaning and context to a routine. A good method and effect provides the mystery behind it.

If I may share one advice. Don't take this personal since your situation and club might be very different from the 'typical' club I have wittnessed. Do not think that when your club members say 'very entertaining' that it indeed is so. The best is to test it on lay people - many lay people. Then you will know if it is good or bad. Other magicians are about the most lousy gauge of quality you can find.

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Postby Guest » 04/26/02 12:09 PM

I wouldn't go so far as to say that secrets are overrated, but I do think that some effects are more secret-intensive and others more presentation-intensive.

Chris, in the example you gave of a magic show where all the secrets were handed out prior to the event, I dare say that a lay audience would still nonetheless be largely fooled. They'd be blindsided by the timing, the misdirection, the power of narrative, the structured surprise. More so for the presentation-intensive and less so for the secret-intensive effects.

My wife, who knows all my magic secrets, often comments that she knows what I'm doing and still can't help but perceive the effects as magical. It's generally not the secrets that are doing that -- my secrets by and large are pretty paltry. It's the interpersonal and dramatic context I create that paves the way for those paltry secrets to generate perceived (and, God willing, entertaining) breaches of physical law.

--Ralph
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Postby CHRIS » 04/26/02 12:42 PM

Ralph, my argument, and maybe I wasn't clear enough, was not so much about the knowledge of secrets, that too, but more of the presence of a secret at all.

This is for me the definition of a magic routine. If there is no secret then it is a story a sketch a play a movie but not a magic trick. That means the secret is the defining and essential ingredient. If it is not there it ain't a trick.

Of course, once we have a secret we have to add presentation. Nobody right in his mind (and I have been at times accused of not being right in my mind) would argue against a good performance. But it is not the only important thing.

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Postby Tom Dobrowolski » 04/26/02 12:55 PM

[QUOTE]Originally posted by Chris Wasshuber:
[QB]In summary, a good story and performance is important and actually necessary, but so is the mystery and the "don't know how it's done". High-tech explanations take away the "don't know how it's done" and thus lessen or completely destroy the magic entertainment.

Wow what a negative point of view.If we were to take that comment at face value why perform magic at all? Every effect, as demonstrated by the dye tube example, could have a high tech explanation.

My assumption was that the performer has decent technical ability and can execute it well. (I realize in the real world many times that's not the case.)The process needs to be looked at the very least as equal parts of the whole and not two conflicting pieces. Too many magicians seem to be obsessed with technique and secrets and protecting them from outsiders. That gives the perception both within the magic world and to lay audiences that magic is all about secrets and not entertainment.

If we continue to focus on methods and techniques as anything other than a piece of the whole performance, magic will never be considered on the same level of entertainment as movies and t.v. To me that's very discouraging.

Interesting to note that in one of Penn and Tellers shows they actually explain how the cups and balls routine is performed while performing it with clear cups and people are still entertained and amazed by it.

The other thing I find amusing are the high tech explanations themselves. If only they knew how simple it all is.
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Postby CHRIS » 04/26/02 01:30 PM

Tom,

I think I stressed several times that BOTH are important - presentation and the secret. I just think it is wrong to ignore or belittle either one.

Comment to high-tech: The point I was trying to make, which was not meant to be a pessimistic view, is that the performance has to address and eliminate high-tech solutions. If you read Tamariz's "The Magic Way" you will understand what I mean.

Although I think high-tech pseudo explanations will become more of a problem which we will have to address, currently only a minority of the audience thinks in high-tech terms. Also depends who your audience is. If you try to show some engineers a trick you better know how to address such issues.

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Postby Guest » 04/26/02 02:05 PM

I don't think high-tech pseudo explanations are usually a problem; most of the time, the spectator knows s/he is just grasping at straws. Indeed, I sometimes like to encourage such imaginings. Performing an Okito routine, I may describe the coin box as a marvel of technology. Let 'em think it's the box!

Or when someone who's seen me perform Ben Harris's "Flight Case" asks whether there's something tricky about the card case, I may wink and respond, "Let's just say, I have to keep it at least five feet away from the nearest computer or it'll wipe the hard drive." Let 'em imagine it's a sophisticated electromagnet ... create some cognitive dissonance, since the spectator had picked up the box a minute earlier and felt how light it was.

The question is not whether they invoke technology or genuine magic or superhuman dexterity or involuntary hypnotic suggestion ... it's whether they really believe they've hit on the explanation or whether they're pretty sure their explanation is just a placeholder. Usually it's the latter, and wonder obtains.
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Postby Tom Dobrowolski » 04/26/02 02:11 PM

Chris:

I think we basically agree in theory maybe just differ in approach and thought process. As you state when I'm putting together a routine I view it as a whole, technique/method and the presenetation/entertainment value. I choose the best method to achieve the desired effect in an entertaining way. If both are well thought out and executed it is a solid routine.Obviously the method should be deceptive but I am never really concerned about the audiences explanation for the effect. They will always have an explanation wheteher it's technology based or not. Whether it's accurate or not. Nothing we can do about that.

It is best summed up for me by Dai:

[ I don't think we want the audience to dwell on method at all during the presentation of the effects . Maybe afterwards in the car driving home they will speculate on "how he made that ball float" , but frankly if I have kids making outlandish speculations that I made the ball float using MagLev technology programmed by concealed laptop computers then I'm a happy guy! Cool, let em' look for that concealed laptop computer to explain the floating ball. To me that would mean that I had done a superb performance of Zombie, since the presence of the gimmick was completely disguised. If this is what happens then I'm secure knowing that the audience got caught up in the presentation (the story, the meaning) of the effect.
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Postby David Nethery » 04/27/02 03:19 PM

Originally posted by Lisa Cousins:
Dai - "Arcane knowledge on a need-to-know basis." Nice. Probably the ideal.
Just to be clear , that clever phrase was coined by Mr. Ricky Jay. I recall that he uses it as the mission statement for his magic consulting on motion pictures -----
"Arcane knowledge on a need-to-know-basis".

But , yes, it is an ideal that we ought to return to.
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Postby Eric Rose » 04/27/02 03:56 PM

I've had the "high-tech color changing ink" solution thrown out a couple times after performing a blue backed selection to red backed selection card trick. If they're adamant, I usually respond with "Yeah, but it's almost $300 a card" and then let them keep the signed card.
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Postby Curtis Kam » 04/27/02 06:26 PM

Noah:

If you haven't done so already, read the essay by Ben Harris in the recent (last month's?) Genii. He traces his grappling with this question over--what was it--a ten year period. At first he thought that tech would soon make magic irrelevant. These days, he's happy to conclude that things are not so bad, and there will probably always be a place for magic.

Germain's lecture in the current Genii also touches on this.

I thought I'd get these plugs in for our host, and give Richard a break. Also, these are two fine examples of why you ought to be able to justify your subscription as an "educational expense".
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Postby Guest » 04/29/02 04:38 AM

My answer is: no, technology doesn`t affect the magic impression. First, there will allways be explanations, then they dont interfere with the magic.
As some of you stated, there`s a big difference between a trick beeing baffling or magical. Some spectators i want to talk about a little do suffer by having no explanation at all. Most magicians should understand their existencial need, because it might have been the majour motivation to learn magic for themselves. So it should be o.k. for those rationalists to have their explanations.
For my opinion the option to use high-tec plays only a minor role, because spectators needig an explanation will find an explanation, no matter what they know about your technical options or not. They don`t want to be baffled.
But as this has nothing to do with beeing enchanted, they can all the same enjoy a magic show. Actually, having an explanation to calm the hurting consciousness of having been fooled doesn't necesserily destroy all of their amazement. So, it`s possible to keep an amount of bafflement that they can stand. I control their explanations by offering implicit fake explanations that only work on first sight.
Why all this? I like to care for them rationalists because i feel with them (after all i`m one of them and most of you, i bet, too). And also to get them on my side to contribute to a positive and finally magical atmosphere.
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Postby Guest » 04/29/02 05:36 AM

Originally posted by Zauberfranz:
...having an explanation to calm the hurting consciousness of having been fooled doesn't necesserily destroy all of their amazement.
Wonderfully put!
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Postby Jerry Harrell » 04/29/02 06:04 AM

"There is one thing to always remember: magic is only magic when you completely deceive." -Nate Leipzig in The Sphinx (1930)
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Postby CHRIS » 04/29/02 11:48 AM

Originally posted by Jerry Harrell:
"There is one thing to always remember: magic is only magic when you completely deceive." -Nate Leipzig in The Sphinx (1930)
Exactly how I feel and what my experience tells me. Anything else is not magic. It can still be very entertaining, funny, interesting, puzzling...but it ain't magic.

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Postby Guest » 04/29/02 12:04 PM

I agree that the audience must be completely deceived. I think you've accomplished that even when you've led the spectators down the garden path to an explanation they know in their hearts is implausible but still can't get out of their heads.

--Ralph
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Postby Guest » 04/29/02 12:04 PM

Has this been of any help to you, Noah?
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Postby Guest » 04/29/02 12:34 PM

YES besides providing some interesting discussion I have been given what I requested would like to thank all of you. Ralph I would like to thank you because you have made a few posts displaying that you care that I get some help with my question. thanks everybody

Noah Levine
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Postby Elwood » 05/10/02 09:59 AM

Clarke's third law about technology was echoed by someone (Frank Zappa, I think) saying that a great musician is akin to a great conjuror.
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Postby Guest » 06/20/02 12:57 PM

Hello everybody,I just got my paper back and got an A- so once again thanks for all the help everybody.

Noah Levine
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Postby Guest » 06/20/02 01:06 PM

Sheesh! They took their sweet time grading the thing. Nice going!
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Postby Lisa Cousins » 06/20/02 01:34 PM

Noah - did you by any chance think to print out this thread, and attach it as an appendix to your report for extra credit? I think it would have given you at least an A+, if not an A+++

Congratulations,

Lisa
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Postby Guest » 06/20/02 02:02 PM

That would have been very cool however My only markdowns were for grammar so I don't think it would have helped. i don't no why my teacher thinked i didn't write grammar good.

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