Category Archives: Magic

The Mysterious Death of Jayne Mansfield

In June 1967, Hollywood icon Jayne Mansfield died in a tragic car crash. But the mysterious events surrounding it suggest that it was no ordinary accident…

3 Times Psychics Fooled Scientists

How psychics tricked scientists on three separate occasions. Uri Geller, Steve Shaw & Michael Edwards, and Ronny Marcus managed to dupe scientists at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), The McDonnell Laboratory at Washington University, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory respectively. Here’s how, as well as how skeptics James Randi (magician), Dr. Ray Hyman (psychologist), & Martin Gardner (science communicator) responded to the psychic trickery.

Uri Geller

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

“If Uri Geller bends spoons with divine powers, then he’s doing it the hard way.”James Randi

“Because a good magician can do something shouldn’t make you right away jump to the conclusion that it’s a real phenomenon.” —Richard Feynman

“Geller is at his ingenious best in laboratories where he is being observed by scientists who believe he has extraordinary ESP ability and think—without justification—that they have ruled out every possibility of fraud.” —Milbourne Christopher

geller

Click Image To Purchase

Uri Geller is most famous for his claim to be able to bend spoons and keys with his mind. An international star in the psychic circuit, Geller is a Hungarian/Austrian who was born in Israel and lives in England. He claims he’s had visions for many years and may get his powers from extraterrestrials. He calls himself a psychic and has sued several people for millions of dollars for saying otherwise. His psychic powers were not sufficient to reveal to him, however, that he would lose all the lawsuits against his critics. His arch critic has been James “The Amazing” Randi, who has written a book and numerous articles aimed at demonstrating that Geller is a fraud, that he has no psychic powers, and that what Geller does amounts to no more than the parlor tricks of a conjurer.

Geller has been performing for many years. The first time I saw him was in 1973 when he appeared on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show. He was supposed to demonstrate his ability to bend spoons with his thoughts and identify hidden objects, but he failed to even try. He squirmed around and said something about how his power can’t be turned on and off, and that he didn’t feel strong right then. Randi had worked with Carson’s producer to change the spoons and metal items Geller planned to use, as there was a suspicion that Geller likes to work (i.e., soften) his metals before his demonstrations, as would any careful conjurer.

View Geller’s Tonight Show lack of performance (courtesy of James Randi):


(video source)

I have always been fascinated and puzzled by the attraction of Uri Geller. I suppose this is because nearly every one of our household spoons is bent and what I would like to see is someone who can straighten them, with his mind or with anything for that matter. Likewise with stopped watches. I have several of those and I would love for someone to use his powers, psychic or otherwise, to make them start running again. Of course, even I can get my stopped watches to run again for a short while by shaking or tapping them, but a permanent fix would be appreciated. There is something mysterious, however, about a person who has built a career out of breaking things.

Continue reading @ The Skeptic’s Dictionary . . .

The Card (Great Trick)

Can you figure out how it’s done? (Watch it a few times) Have fun 🙂

The Card – YouTube.

Sleight Of Hand Coin Trick

I’m a big fan of illusions and well performed magic.

Amazing close up sleight of hand. Apparently the iPhone stopwatch was included in the shot to dispel the idea of editing tricks. I quite liked this one.

Psychic Methods Exposed – Cold Reading Tricks (Part 1)


Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dH0zTYTY7K8

Detecting psychic scams & debunking mediums is easier when you know how psychic methods like cold reading work. Don’t be fooled by psychic misdirection. Cold reading tricks are used by psychics to convince an audience that they know things that they don’t – using high probability guesses, generalized statements, and linguistic techniques. Stay skeptical, dare to be curious, but don’t fall for this bullshit, and don’t drink the koolaid.

Related: Psychic Methods Revealed: Hot Reading

Myles Reviews: Geller’s Mind-Power Kit

Uri Geller is an Israeli illusionist, magician, television personality, and self-proclaimed psychic. He is known for his trademark television performances of spoon bending and other illusions. In his Mind-Power Kit he claims to to share with the reader the secrets of his extraordinary powers. The kit also contains a crystal that Uri was personally empowered and a tape with instructions.

Principles of Curiosity

Personally, I would give this video 3.5 out of 5 stars. It felt too lengthy (40 minutes) for the amount of information presented, but still very enjoyable.

Quick D: The Magic of Will Tsai

This may be the best CaptainDisillusion video yet.

Captain Disillusion ponders the very concept of magic by taking a close look at the work of one particular illusionist.

Here Be Dragons (Brian Dunning)

Here Be Dragons is a 40 minute video introduction to critical thinking. This video is on my “must watch” list for skeptics and critical thinkers 🙂

Most people fully accept paranormal and pseudoscientific claims without critique as they are promoted by the mass media. Here Be Dragons offers a toolbox for recognizing and understanding the dangers of pseudoscience, and appreciation for the reality-based benefits offered by real science.

Here Be Dragons is written and presented by Brian Dunning, host and producer of the Skeptoid podcast and author of the Skeptoid book series.

Source: Here Be Dragons – YouTube.

10 Magic Tricks That Went Horribly Wrong

By Alltime10s via YouTube

The Vanishing

By Quirkology via YouTube

Superbrain Yoga is BS

steven_novellaby via NeuroLogica Blog

Here is the latest fad to make you smarter with one easy trick – Superbrain Yoga. The technique is simple (and worthless, but we’ll get to that).

All you have to do is touch your left hand to your right earlobe, your right hand to your left earlobe, take a deep breath, and do a squat. Who knew it could be so easy to improve your brain function. There are a few more details, helpfully shared by Parenting Special Needs magazine:

– Connect your tongue to your palate.
– Face East
– The left arm must be inside and the right arm must be outside (over the left arm).
– Inhale while squatting down and exhale while standing up.
– You thumbs should be touching the front part of your earlobes, index fingers behind the earlobes.
– Perform the exercise 14-21 times, once or twice a day.

Facing East is very important, because magic.

superbrain-yoga_0450px

When I first heard of Superbrain Yoga I thought it was going to be a neuroscience-based pseudoscience, with some hand-waving explanations about blood flow or something. This one is actually blatantly spiritual magical nonsense.

This practice is based on the principles of subtle energy and ear acupuncture. Basically, SuperBrain Yoga allows energy from your lower chakras–or energy centers–to move up to the forehead and crown chakras. When this happens, this energy is transformed into subtle energy, which is utilized by the brain to enhance its proper functioning.

It’s Eastern mysticism, however, which is a far-off exotic culture, so that makes it OK.

Continue Reading at NeuroLogica Blog – – –

The Impossible Pink Cards

By Quirkology via YouTube

Cancer quackery going the distance

by Orac via Respectful Insolence

Don't you wish you could shoot lightning bolds out of your hand, too? Does Emperor Palpatine know about this guy?

Don’t you wish you could shoot lightning bolds out of your hand, too?
Does Emperor Palpatine know about this guy?

You’d think that after all these years combatting quackery and blogging about science in medicine (and, unfortunately, pseudoscience in medicine) it would take a lot to shock me. You’d be right. On the other hand, Even now, 15 years after I discovered quackery in a big way on Usenet and ten years after the inception of this blog, I still have enough hope in humanity that even when I come across men like Jerry Sargeant, a.k.a. The Facilitator I am still capable of utter wonder that someone would advertise something as reprehensible and/or deluded as this. I half wondered if it were performance art, but in reality I don’t think it is. I wanted to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all (and in fact I did), but look at the screenshot from his blog above and the photos on Sargeant’s website. PalpatineWithLightningIt’s as if the dude thinks he’s Doctor Strange, or maybe Harry Potter, or perhaps Gandalf the Grey. I mean, seriously! Emperor Palpatine called, and he wants his lightning bolts back! The guy portrays himself manipulating bolts of electricity, as he makes claims that he can “radically transform your life.”
Of that, I have no doubt, but not in the way Sargeant means. I’m sure patients’ lives are “radically transformed” by wasting huge sums of money on the fantasy magic medicine that is portrayed on that page. Naturally, as is frequently the case for various dubious healers, Sargeant has a “St. Paul on the way to Damascus” moment to relate:
When Jerry Sargeant woke to a loud crash and flying glass in the passenger seat of a taxi cab in Romania, on his way to the airport, he had no idea it would be the birthing process that led him to discover an amazing healing ability.
‘My families safety were all I was thinking about. The taxi was swaying backwards and forwards all over the road. It was crazy. It turned out we had hit two ladies crossing the road and the first lady came through the windscreen, hit me in the head as I was asleep, got sucked back out of the car and landed in the road. I don’t know whether it was the bang in the head or me seeing her soul hovering over her body once I got out of the car that kick started these abilities – maybe it was both’.
This story, of course, tells us very little, other than that Sargeant, assuming he’s telling the truth, was in a cab in Romania when it hit two women. I presume that at least one of them died, given the story about seeing her soul “hovering over her body.” Funny how he doesn’t mention explicitly what happened to them. Did they die? Did they live? Apparently it doesn’t matter; to him they were just a means to his wonderful “powers”! These powers, according to Sargeant, began to manifest  .  .  .

Continue Reading . . .

DEBUNKED: Amazing Water Trick

I love illusions and i love the secrets behind the illusions. Enjoy 🙂

(To skip some fluff: At 1:15 in the video you can skip forward to 4:20 in the video.)

Help make more videos like this and see behind-the-scenes extras: patreon.com/CaptainDisillusion

As Captain Disillusion attempts to deconstruct a classic viral video by Dan DeEntremont, he is visited by… an old flame.

10 Amazing bets you will always win

By Quirkology via YouTube

The Chess-Playing Mechanical Turk

The Turk 745_600px
An overview of the amazing chess playing robot of the 1700s.

Brian Dunningby Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

Today we’re headed back in time, all the way back to the Vienna court of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria-Hungary, in the year 1770. There the scientific polymath Werner von Kempelen, then thirty six years old, brought forth a mechanical automaton: the figure of a man seated at a large wooden chess table, the cabinet below filled with clockwork. A volunteer from the audience stepped forward. Kempelen wound up the machine, and it reached out and made the first move, the clockwork whirring and ticking. The astonished volunteer was quickly defeated. Delighted with the mechanical marvel, Maria Theresa ordered many more performances. In fact, the Turk, as it was nicknamed for its Turkish clothing, toured the world for the next 80 years, defeating the world’s top chess players plus luminaries such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin, without anyone ever discovering its secrets. Although many skeptics published fine articles purporting that the Turk actually contained a child, dwarf, or legless adult chess player, or that it must have been secretly controlled by its exhibitor, the workings of the Turk remained one of history’s best kept secrets.

But all secrets are fleeting, and shortly before the Turk’s destruction in an 1854 fire, its last owner’s son, Silas Mitchell, published the revelation, proving that no skeptic had ever correctly guessed how it worked. In fact, no one had even come close. Over the years, three authors in particular had put forth the best known hypotheses, and Kempelen had fooled them all.

But the most intriguing mystery about the Turk would not turn out to be how it worked, but rather why a man like Kempelen would have built it. Kempelen was no Barnum. He was neither a showman nor a magician; he was an inventor and engineer of the highest caliber and held a series of important public works appointments in Maria Theresa’s government. The last thing he’d do would be to construct some sort of sideshow trick. The first of the three most notable proposed explanations came in 1789, by Joseph Friedrich, Freiherr zu Racknitz. He wrote a book based on his many viewings of the Turk and his friendship with Kempelen. Racknitz noted that the Turk’s exhibitor would always first open and close the cabinet’s various doors for the audience’s inspection. He concluded that a very small human operator was inside the cabinet, lying flat during the opening of the doors; and then, during game play, sat up, played the game on a small secondary chessboard, and watched magnetized needles on the bottom of the tabletop to learn what move the opponent had made. By Racknitz’s measurements, the hidden human would have had to be less than five feet tall, and less than seven inches high when lying flat. Kempelen refused to offer any assessment of Racknitz’s proposed solution.

The Turk 800_600px
In 1821, Robert Willis, an engineer of musical instruments, published a pamphlet with his own explanation of the Turk. Willis noted in particular that the order in which the doors were opened for inspection never varied. This, he proposed, was to allow a hidden human operator to move from one part of the cabinet to another, allowing the various cabinets to be shown empty in sequence. Then, to play, the operator would sit up, place his own hand inside the Turk’s arm, and watch the board through the thin fabric shirt covering the Turk’s chest.

The best known analysis was that of Edgar Allan Poe, published in 1835, which ultimately found in favor of Willis’ explanation but differed in that it offered far deeper reasoned analysis of why it must be so. For example, Poe noted  .  .  .

Continue Reading – – –

Are We Seeing the End of Homeopathy?

steven_novellaBy via NeuroLogica Blog

Several years ago, during a lecture on Science-Based Medicine, I noted that if there were one medical pseudoscience that was vulnerable to extinction it was homeopathy. Homeopathy is perhaps the most obviously absurd medical pseudoscience. It is also widely studied, and has been clearly shown to not work. Further, there is a huge gap in the public understanding of what homeopathy is; it therefore seems plausible that the popularity of homeopathy can take a huge hit just by telling the public what it actually is.

homeopathy-in-the-NHS-number-of-prescription-items
Further, homeopathy is in a precarious regulatory position. Homeopathic products are presented and regulated as drugs, but clearly they are not, and they are also not supplements, herbal drugs, nutrition-based, or natural products. They are simply fraudulent drugs riding a wave of ignorance.

In the last few years homeopathy has had a rough time. While the industry is still growing, there are signs of clear trouble on the horizon. Let’s review:

Some Background

homeopathy 803_250pxHomeopathy is a 200 year old pre-scientific system of medicine based upon magical thinking. It is mostly based on two notions, the first of which is that like cures like. In other words, a substance that causes a symptom can cure that symptom in extremely low doses. There is no scientific basis for this, despite the desperate attempts by homeopaths to invoke vaccine-like analogies, or their new favorite, hormesis.

The second notion is that you make a remedy more powerful by diluting it to extreme degrees. People have fun making comparisons, such as the need to drink a solar-system’s worth of water to have a 50% chance of getting a single molecule of active ingredient. No problem, say the homeopaths, homeopathic potions contain the magical “essence” of what was previously diluted in them. It’s turtles all the way down.

MORE – – –

The Incredible Candles

Richard Wiseman comes through with another great illusion. 🙂

By Quirkology via YouTube

Secrets of the pyramids

Gordon Bonnetby Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia

head_pyramid2_250pxWhat is it with people thinking that pyramids are magical?

I knew a woman a long time ago who was so convinced that there was something special about a square and four equilateral triangles that she built one by hot-gluing together some dowels.  Then she’d store her apples and bananas under it, and told everyone how much longer they stayed unspoiled than if the fruit was just sitting on her counter.

And lo, over at the Self Empowerment and Development Centre, we find out why this is:

Pyramids don’t kill bacteria. However the bacteria feed by absorbing nutrients as entropy breaks the tissues down. In a pyramid there is so little entropy that the bacteria barely survive and don’t multiply prolifically. Food therefore stays fresher longer and has a chance to dehydrate before it goes bad.

So these people not only don’t understand physics, they don’t understand microbiology.  Epic fails in two completely disparate fields.  Quite an accomplishment.

Other claims include the idea that pyramids act as a giant “cosmic battery,” that sleeping underneath a pyramid can cure illness (or at least alleviate insomnia), and that placing a dull razor blade under a pyramid will re-sharpen it.

pyramid animation 730

source: wikimedia

The whole thing has gotten so much traction that it actually made Mythbusters.  They tested a bunch of these claims, with a certified pyramid made to the exact proportions of the Great Pyramid of Giza, and to no one’s particular surprise, none of the claims turned out to be true.

Which makes you wonder why sites like The Secret Power of the Pyramidal Shape still pop up.  This one was sent to me by three different loyal readers of Skeptophilia, and it’s quite a read.  The thing I found the most amusing about it was that it had in-source citations, so it looks a little like an academic paper, but when you check the “Sources Cited” you find out that three of them come from the aforementioned Self Empowerment and Development Centre; one comes from a man named David Wilcock, who claims to be the reincarnation of Edgar Cayce; and one of them comes from Above Top Secret.

Not exactly a bibliography that would inspire confidence.

The site itself is worth reading, though, because it has some fairly surreal passages.  Take, for example, this:

The best passive torsion generators are formed by cones or pyramidal shapes built according to the “phi” ratio of 1 to 0.618 and it can, therefore, be said the pyramid shape has the power to harness torsional energy because torsion waves are phi-spirals and for this reason a pyramid will hold positive energy and deflects negative energy wavelengths and therefore inhibit natural decay.

Okay!  Right!  What?

MORE – – –

21st century exorcisms: Examining the psychology of possession

james-randi-69Via James Randi Education Foundation – JREF

A video has surfaced of a reported exorcism as it was taking place last February behind the closed doors of a Roman Catholic church in Vranov nad Dyji, Czech Republic.  A 26 year old visitor heard screams and filmed through the keyhole of the door. Not much is visible; there is plenty of screaming and obscenity (in another language) but nothing supernatural happens from this perspective. The drama that unfolded is what we would expect an exorcism to look like from our familiarity with sensational news reports. Pope FrancisOnly in the movies, in fiction, are there visions of horror that break the bounds of physics or human capabilities. In reality, exorcisms at their most basic, are an interaction between the victim in some disturbed state and the people who are enacting the ritual. Some might say the ritual enables the victim, encouraging the expression of possession. For some afflicted people, they may benefit psychologically from the process.

The Czech priest confronted over the released video says they were asking for God’s help to protect the anonymous person in the church. He is quoted as remarking, “Of course it helps.” Does it really help, or is this reinforcement of an antiquated belief system harmful? Therein lies a tricky question for religious officials, psychologists, and the skeptically-minded about the value of exorcism. Most rationalists would not condone an exorcism, likely feeling that the potential for harm that could occur is unethical or the endorsement of belief in demons is nonsense.  What once was a given fact – evil spirits can possess people, and had been usurped by modern medicinal practice, has recently been re-embraced by the Catholic Church and endorsed through rejuvenation of the exorcism ritual.

On November 11, 2014, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved an English translation of the Rite of Exorcism that was published by the Vatican in 1999.  The vote was 179 “yes” to 5 “no.” Pope Francis recognized 250 priests across 30 countries who are members of the International Association of Exorcists which many observers saw as a surprising step backwards in time for the church. exorcism_225pxThe church sees exorcism as something of a last resort and repeatedly notes that the cases are carefully evaluated by medical professionals to address medical or psychological problems. Who does these evaluations? Are the psychiatric evaluators Christian? What are their criteria for concluding that, yes, this person can not be helped by Western medicine and must be treated spiritually?

Curiously, as noted in this Catholic news agency piece, exorcism is “not magic.  It is the Church imploring God to come to the aid of the person afflicted.” This can be interpreted in a secular way –  if the troubled person believes that they can be helped with this ritual, then perhaps they really are helped. It is plausible that many cases of deliverance or exorcism have been successful because people have “named” their troubles and outwardly cast them away, like the devil, to be gone and leave them free. Professor Christopher French, Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit of the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London has studied the psychology of possession. He also thinks that, under certain circumstances, people can benefit from exorcism.

“As I believe that “possession” is a purely psychological phenomenon, any psychosomatic symptoms might be cured by any form of treatment that the victim believes in. Also, adoption of the “possessed” role sometimes allows people to let off steam without being held responsible for their actions.”

Dr. French is clear that exorcism will not directly help anyone who has an underlying neurological condition, although, he says, “If the condition was aggravated by stress and the ritual reduced the stress, it might produce temporary relief.” This is not to make light of the several downsides to exorcism. There have been several cases of families who subjected “possessed’ elders, women, the handicapped, and children to abuse. In some cases, this has resulted in death.

Yet, the popular belief in exorcism is growing.

MORE – – –

James Randi: Debunking The Paranormal

By Studio 10 (Australia) via YouTube

Skeptic James Randi joins us on Studio 10, ahead of his tour around Australia in December: http://thinkinc.org.au/jamesrandi

James Randi An Honest Liar

10 Secrets Behind Harry Houdini’s Greatest Illusions

By Steve Wynalda via Listverse

houdini 1140There is an unwritten rule among magicians never to reveal how a trick is done. So when a 2004 exhibition explained Harry Houdini’s illusions, magicians around the world were apoplectic. David Copperfield called it a breach of magic protocol, and performers declared that they would boycott the exhibition. Many claimed to still use Houdini’s tricks themselves.

But Harry has been dead nearly 90 years. Despite their claims, few modern illusionists use his dated techniques. And the great magician’s secrets had been revealed decades earlier. He had been in his grave just three years when his team began spilling the beans.

This list is for those who want to know Houdini’s secrets. Those who don’t want to know should stop reading now.

10 • The Radio Of 1950

Houdini developed the “Radio of 1950” illusion for his evening shows from 1925 until his death the following year. The radio was a novelty at the time, and the act featured what Houdini said the radio would be like in 1950.

According to Dorothy Young, Houdini’s assistant, the great magician began by introducing a large table with a tablecloth that fell halfway down the table’s legs. Houdini walked around the table, lifting the tablecloth to show that there were no mirrors or anything else under the table.

Then assistants placed on the table a giant radio approximately 2 meters (6 ft) long and 1 meter (3 ft) high and wide. The front of the radio had huge dials and double doors. Houdini opened the doors to show that there was nothing inside except coils, transformers, and vacuum tubes. He closed the doors.

Houdini adjusted one of the dials until a radio station tuned in. The radio announcer said, “And now, Dorothy Young, doing the Charleston.” The top of the radio flew off, and out popped a young assistant, who jumped down and danced the Charleston.

“Tune in to any station and get the girl you want,” Houdini said. “No, gentlemen, it is not for sale.”

The Secret:

The key to the illusion was the table. Called a “bellows” table, it had two table tops. The upper top had a trap door that opened upward. The lower top hung from the upper by springs that dropped under Ms. Young’s weight without going below the skirt of the tablecloth.

Young was inside the radio when it was set on the table. She then opened the trap and slid into the bellowed area between two table tops and waited there as Houdini showed the radio’s empty interior. While the master magician dialed the radio station, she simply climbed back into the radio.

The image above is of Houdini’s younger brother, Theodore “Dash” Hardeen, demonstrating Houdini’s radio with assistant Gladys Hardeen. Hardeen purchased the radio from his brother’s estate. Dorothy Young lived to be 103 and died in 2011.

9 • Metamorphosis

Houdini performed the “Radio of 1950” illusion at the end of his career (and life), but he performed the “Metamorphosis” illusion at the beginning of his career, when he and his wife Bessie took their act on the road in 1894. Houdini didn’t invent the illusion, but earlier versions of the acts had featured two men changing places. Houdini exchanged places with his wife. His version became a sensation, catching the attention of the Welsh Brothers Circus. In 1895, the circus took the Houdinis on tour.

The illusion was fairly complicated. Houdini’s hands were bound behind him, and he was placed in a sack that was knotted closed. The sack was placed inside a box, locked, and strapped closed. The box was placed in a cabinet with a curtain.

Bessie stepped into the cabinet and drew the curtain closed. She then clapped three times. On the third clap, Houdini drew back the curtain, and Bessie was gone. She was found in the sack in the box, with all the locks and straps still in place and her hands bound behind her.

The Secret:

The secret of the illusion is surprisingly simple: practice. First, Houdini was an expert on ropes and knots, and his hands were tied by a knot easily slipped. By the time the sack was pulled over his head, his hands were free. The sack had eyelets around the top edge that allowed the rope to feed inside and outside the bag. Houdini simply pulled on the rope from the inside to loosen it.

After Houdini was placed in the box, he wiggled out of the sack while Bessie locked and strapped the box lid. Once Bessie drew the curtain closed, Houdini slipped out through a rear panel in the box. Contrary to the audience’s assumptions, Houdini clapped, not Bessie. He clapped once then helped Bessie climb into the box through the rear panel (without disturbing the locks or straps).

On the third clap, Houdini opened the curtain. While he unlocked and unstrapped the box, Bessie, inside, wiggled into the sack and slipped the ropes around her wrists. Harry and Bessie practiced so thoroughly that Houdini was out and Bessie in his place in just three seconds.

8 • The Hanging Straitjacket Escape

This act was born out of sibling rivalry. Houdini’s younger brother Hardeen had his own show, and both brothers were performing escapes from straitjackets behind screens. When one audience demanded that Hardeen escape in front of them, he obliged and received a standing ovation. When Hardeen told his older brother, Houdini decided he had to outdo his brother and developed the Hanging Straitjacket Escape. He frequently performed the act a few hours before his evening shows to draw a bigger audience.

Houdini usually performed this out on the street above a large crowd. He was strapped into a straitjacket in front of the crowd, his ankles bound. A crane lifted him up so that the audience could see what he did, enforcing the impression that there was no trick to the feat.

The Secret:

Houdini himself revealed how he escaped from straitjackets in his 1910 book Handcuff Escapes. The key was acquiring slack inside the jacket as it was strapped on.

As the jacket slid onto his arms, Houdini made sure his arms were crossed—not folded—across his chest, his stronger right arm on top. As the jacket was brought around the back, Houdini pinched and pulled outward to loosen material around his chest. As the jacket was cinched and tightened, Houdini held on to this slacked material. As the jacket was buckled in the back, Houdini took a huge breath to expand his chest. Once the jacket was in place, Houdini had a fair amount of wiggle room in front.

Once in the air, upside down, Houdini used his strong arm to violently force his weak (left) elbow to the left and away from the body. This forced the slack around the right shoulder, allowing Houdini to pull the right arm over his head. Being upside down actually helped: He used gravity to pull that arm over his head.

“Once having freed your arms to such an extent as to get them in front of your body,” Houdini wrote, “you can now undo the buckles and the straps of the cuffs with your teeth.” Once the cuffs were freed, Houdini unbuckled the neck, top, and bottom buckles. Once they were undone, Houdini slipped his arms free and wiggled out of the jacket. Despite popular belief, dislocating the shoulder was not usually necessary, and Houdini only did it as a last resort.

Houdini became so adept at this trick that he reduced his escape time from half an hour down to three minutes. For those occasions when a specialized straitjacket was strapped on, Houdini was not above palming a tool to cut the straps and buckles.

MORE – – –

%d bloggers like this: