An amateur magician reveals tricks of the trade
- Last Updated: 10:55 PM, June 16, 2012
- Posted: 10:26 PM, June 16, 2012
Math Geeks, and the
Hidden Powers of the Mind
by Alex Stone
New Yorker Alex Stone, a self-described unsocialized dweeb, thought he had a cure for his awkwardness.
“That’s right, I thought magic would actually make me less nerdy,” he writes.
It didn’t (duh). But what it did do was allow him close and personal access to some of the greatest and strangest characters in a subculture still seen as geeky, even among geeks. Steampunks, Trekkies and Scrabble obsessives have all had their day in the sun (in the form of books or documentaries), but how much do we know about the guy pulling a rabbit out of a hat at a child’s birthday party? Not nearly enough, if this book is any indication.
The problem is that magicians are manically secretive. They rely on pacts and oaths; tricks and secrets are not to be shared under penalty of excommunication; most knowledge is passed down orally from generation to generation.
Being a magician is like “being in the CIA,” Stone writes. If he breathed a word about the goings-on at these backstairs meet-ups, he would be “ostracized, condemned as a traitor for breaking the magician’s code.”
At any given day in New York, meanwhile, there are “a dozen private gatherings — in the back of diners, at split-level veterans’ lodges, in spare rooms at medical centers and universities,” all of which us non-magical, normal folk are unaware.
Luckily, Stone is willing to break the code of silence. The result is a hilarious and illuminating memoir “Fooling Houdini,” which is less a how-to guide, and more about the bizarro-personalities, the infighting and the jaw-dropping dedication and dexterity required to be a truly great magician.
And with his day job as a former science journalist with a master’s degree in physics from Columbia University, the book also tackles the neurological and psychological underpinnings of how and why we are so fooled by illusions.
Stone’s love of magic started as a 5-year-old, when his father gifted him an FAO Schwarz magic kit.
“Most people outgrow it; I clearly didn’t,” he says.
This obsession led him to Stockholm in 2006 to compete in what is known as the Magic Olympics (yes, that really exists), a scene that opens the book.
It was the culmination of years of practice in back alleyways, at society meetings, at bar mitzvahs and birthday parties. Despite this, Stone was painfully unprepared. Just a few minutes into his routine, he was ushered off the stage, disqualified and shamed.
After the embarrassment, he embarked on an odyssey across the country, apprenticing with the best magicians in the world. Think of it as “The Karate Kid,” except the Mr. Miyagis are card sharks and hustlers.Follow @NYPostOpinion