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When Science Meets Magic

When Science Meets Magic

When I was younger (and still to a lesser extent now) I used to be a magician – I’d do shows at kids parties, retirement homes, that kind of thing. It was pretty good fun, though stressful at times, and it was always very cool to be able to do all these different effects (my family, particularly my grandfather loved it!) I’ve actually just started getting back into it, particularly with card work – I really enjoy card magic and working with cards. Very satisfying, and not so gimicky as all the stage magic, though I like that too.

But it’s funny how much cross-over there can be – I was just reading about Newton’s Nightmare, a magic “trick” that basically just uses Lenz’s law, which says that when a magnet falls down a tube, it generates currents in the tube which in turn generate magnetic fields which act back on the magnet – all of which says, a magnet falls slowly down a metal tube. Knowing this basic physics, can you work out what the magician is up to?

Another neat one is the Rice Jar, where the magician is able to lift up an entire jar of rice using a chopstick. As I read it, I thought I’d seen something like that before…a little googling came up with
Planet Science, and a fascinating discussion about how rice grains when shaken down will become dense enough that pushing a knife (or other object…) in will compress the grains so that they compress right back on a knife that is thrust into them – effectively holding it in place! Although I would never normally reveal a trick, here I’m simply giving you a reference to some interesting science. If you can work it out from there, good on you! Who said science isn’t useful?!

Finally, some great little on-line, self working card tricks. The first one is the first card trick I ever learned, I think, although when I knew it it was called “Sim Sala Bim” (Notice there are 10 letters in that magic word…That’s relevant for any intrepid magician who wants to uncover the workings of this trick!) Try it a few times, and see if you can work out what’s going on – you can do it with real cards too! The second trick on that page is very clever – stumped me the first couple of times!

Of course, at the end of the day, although science can probably solve some magic tricks for you, in many ways it probably makes it harder to understand what’s happening. Magic relies a lot on you expecting things to work a certain way – shuffling cards, coins clinking, etc. It’s sometimes harder to do magic for little kids because they don’t have this firm knowledge of what should happen, and are sometimes more likely to see what really does happen instead. But if when watching a magician your only thought is to work out how he/she did it, then the magician has indeed failed at their task – which is to entertain.

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