Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fooling Houdini/Finger Fitness


So, being a magic geek as a kid, and somebody who now and then still picks up a coin or a ring and twiddles it, when I came across Alex Stone's book Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, why, naturally I had to 
get it.


Fascinating book, told from the viewpoint of a long-time amateur, then professional magician, who was also a PhD. candidate in physics before magic won out.


Stone talks about his own experiences, bad and good, his teachers, the philosophy and psychology of magic, gets into some history, mathematics, and even into the classic small cons of three-card monte and the shell game; and also how to cheat at poker. I much enjoyed it; his writing style is breezy, light, but with enough factual material to keep me intrigued until I finished it.  


I found it really interesting that the best card mechanic in the world, the guy who can deal seconds, bottoms, or from the middle of the deck, and who can cut the deck exactly in half one-handed every time and do sleights that fool everybody including the best magicians in the biz happens also to be ...


... blind. 


The title comes from a challenge Houdini used to offer: There was no stage magician, he said, who could demonstrate a trick three times that he couldn't figure out. (In showing tricks to fellow magicians, the rule of thumb is, Once is a trick; twice is a lesson. The magician Dai Vernon showed a card trick no less than seven times and stumped the great Houdini cold. There are competitions all over the place every year for magicians to try and outdo each other, and fooling a room full of professional magicians is considered the acme of the biz.)


Give the book four stars, and if you are a magic geek, five. Nothing else like it out there.


Along the way, Stone gets into the physicality of sleights, and mentions in passing a book by a guy named Greg Irwin, who has developed a whole ballet of exercises he teaches to strengthen the hands and train independence in the fingers. 


Watch the old video from the Carson show. It looks easy. It is not easy:





I have fairly strong hands and thought because of my fooling around with coins and like that, my fingers were pretty supple, too.


Not so, compared to folks who train in this Finger Fitness, which doesn't need anything but your own hands, and which more than a few musicians and magicians and physical therapists doing hand rehab swear by.


So I picked the basic book to play with. Guy also offers vids, but I'll see how the book basics go. 


Always something you haven't seen floating around out there ...

5 comments:

Jim said...

Ricky Jay, one of the giants of sleight of hand card magic and magic historian, has a review of the Stone book that is very interesting. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303734204577464450347187644.html

Steve Perry said...

Ricky didn't like it. A lot.

I did like it.

Ah, well. That's what makes a horse race ...

Steve Perry said...

And probably I should mention that magicians are a lot like martial artists when it comes to what they do, who their teachers were, and which style is superior to all others.

If you've been around martial artists for more than a few minutes, you've seen this -- silat is more notorious than a lot of systems for wrangling, kicking each other out, and proclaiming the One True Lineage. Magicians are like this. They swear oaths of secrecy, toss out anybody who breaks it, and trace their lineages back to famous or infamous magicians -- So-and-so studied under this guy, who was student of whatshisname, whose teacher was the Great and Powerful Oz Himself ....

Jf you read Jay's review, it's interesting what he chooses to pan and the tone of it.

Doesn't mean that Stone is necessarily the guy to hold up as the best example, but it does make you think about motives when you hear one mage talking about another ...

tomdup said...

I also read Ricky Jay's review [I *worship* Ricky Jay, who personally made my personal wedding ring disappear during a live show, but that's another story], but I liked this one far more than he hated it.

I still worship Ricky Jay. I just don't count on him for book reviews on magic any more. For that, we must turn to Teller.

Steve Perry said...

Yep, I was a Ricky Jay fan before he got into movies and TV, his card-throwing was the bomb; however, that polarization among magicians is very real. He wasn't reviewing the book as much as he was reviewing the author. Shrug and move along ...