The Road Not Taken


The picture above is one of my favorite optical illusions because it looks so simple. I don’t remember where I first encountered it, but the question it poses is not complicated: which of the two figures representing roads above are identical?

We’ll give you a bit of space here to consider before we continue




Most people say that the two figures on the left are identical, and the figure on the right is the odd one. But that is incorrect. The two end figures are alike and the middle picture is different. It’s difficult to believe, but I did a little experiment with Photoshop that will help to convince you.

Using Photoshop, I cut the figure on the right, leaving only its outline behind, and moved the figure over to the left, overlapping the leftmost figure. Here’s what it looks like:


You can see that the two figures are identical, and surprisingly even the road division lines line up, something not so apparent in the top picture.

Now let’s try the same thing, only this time we’ll cut the leftmost figure, and let it overlap the middle figure:


You can immediately see that the middle figure does not match the leftmost figure as it appeared to do so in the top picture.

Now that you know what’s going on, go back to the top picture. Does it change your perception? Not mine. It’s one of the most disheartening things to me about optical illusions—even though we know exactly what is going on,  our perceptual apparatus is still fooled.

Magicians like to summarize this kind of realization by the simple statement: “Misdirection works.”

Apply to advertising and propaganda at your leisure. It works even when you know what they are doing.

Magic Million Dollar Scheme

Another no-camera trick effect.

Coin magic has always been the most difficult branch of magic for me. It takes me forever to learn a coin effect properly: I’ve been working on this one for the last ten years, and I still haven’t gotten it to the point I want it, but I thought it would be fun to share.

Now, about where to send that start-up money…

Click on the video to watch, and if you click in the lower right-hand corner, you can get to view it full screen.

With thanks, of course, to Greg Wilson.

Bowing to the Mahatma

mahatmaThe first regularly published magic magazine in the United States was Mahatma, which started in 1895 and continued for the next decade. It was a delightful magazine full of history, profiles, advertisements, and wonderful platform/stage effects. I’m not going to do a run-through, as I did previously with The Sphinx, because I’m really only here to tell you the good news that for a very limited time, you can get the full run of Mahatma for free from the Conjuring Arts Research Center. It’s a download of ten pdfs, one volume per file, and also included is an index that allows searches across all the volumes.

Home 2015

Be quick—it was there early this morning, I don’t know if it will still be there tomorrow.

As a small guide, here are some of the effects I enjoyed reading about in the first three volumes:

Volume 1:

Knight’s Tour p. 25

The False finger p. 26

Coffee cup Balanced on the Point of  a Knife p. 35

The Mysterious Trunk p. 77

Hand Shadows of Famous People p. 92

Volume 2:

Spirit Cabinet p. 15

Light heavy chest p. 37

Magic Archery p. 111

The Electric Chair p. 122

The Modern William Tell p. 129

Volume 3

The Magic Water Bowl p. 11

The Spider Coin Catcher p. 14

Teaching a Dog Magic p.33

The Spelling Bee p.52, p.67

And of course, wonderful bios, ads, news, publicity shots and so on, a real treasure trove for the magic history buff. Thanks, CARC!

And Now A (Listener-Sponsored) Word From Our (Non-Commercial) Sponsor

The problem: WBAI-99.5 FM in NYC, the radio station I work for, is a listener-sponsored, non-commercial radio station. In order to raise operating funds, we, like many other non-profit media outlets, hold on-air fund raisers wherein we give the listeners “thank-you gifts” as a reward for their donations. Some of those gifts are  tickets to movies, plays, lectures, etc. The problem is that tickets are very perishable—if listeners don’t grab them by the event date, the tickets become worthless.

So how can we encourage more listeners to go to our website to buy tickets?  One solution the station was able to use was the promo above I made. It was really fun to put this together. It took me less than an hour using Audacity, an open-source computer editing tool. Click on the grey triangle to hear the results.

Happy All the Time


(Click to enlarge)

Montreal, Canada.

I’ve always been fascinated with the way images of live smiling animals are used to advertise the tastiness of the cooked product as if the animal itself were pleased as punch to be eaten. Here’s one example that caught my eye while traveling. Or is the sign referring to its customers…?