The Majestic Return of Will & Grace

Ten years after the series ended, the cast of Will & Grace returned to the screen to offer up their brilliant take on the US election. Looking back on the series a decade later with all of the progress that has been made for civil rights in North America, it seems a bit cliche. But it’s important to remember that at the time it was light years ahead of the curve.

Grand Spirits Getting Grander

Grand Spirits, the organization secretly masterminding my new show, Magic and Martini, is making a little piece of history up north of the city.

While we take organizations like the LCBO and The Beer Store for granted, we don’t realize  that this is not how the sale of spirituous beverages works just about every place else in the world. But with changing regulations, this is the first legal distillery to open in this region in over a century.

Read the full story at CanadianRestaurantNews.com

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PG?

I’m often asked if my shows are appropriate for children. I know that some people are confused, expecting magic shows to be designed for children. I know that there are sometimes economic realities mean that a ticket to a show and dinner for a small person can be less expensive than a babysitter. And I also know that some kids just enjoy more grownup activities.

It’s a tough question to answer. My secret mantra, given to me by a friend years ago is that “I perform magic for grownups.” Which somewhat ironically means that my shows tend to be entirely G-rated.

That’s not to say they’re for kids. There will be words they won’t understand, and I can’t promise they’ll understand everything, but there’s nothing in the show that will leave them traumatized — certainly nothing as bad as Bambi.

Where we settled running Magic Tonight was the rather vaguely worded “family friendly but not intended for children under twelve.” Basically a polite way of saying that the show was G rated but that young kids wouldn’t find us all that interesting—no fluffy bunnies to see here. That never stopped children from turning up. I would always make it a point to ask how old they were. What I discovered, more than once, was that the children had been instructed to lie and say they were twelve. (How were they supposed to know that we didn’t actually care?)

I was struck by Doug Walker’s recent vlog essay about the standard movie rating system we all knew growing up. When I was younger, I paid attention to the ratings of movies because I know that they influenced whether or not my parents would let me watch them. In fact, to this day, there are films I’ve never seen, like Terminator, which were rated R, because at the time I wasn’t allowed and by the time I was allowed, the need to see it was no longer pressing. It was also that awkward era where video rentals were becoming obsolete but pure on demand services like Netflix and iTunes hadn’t come about yet.

Now I’m a grownup and can watch whatever I want, so I really haven’t paid attention to a movie rating in probably a decade or more. So I was shocked to discover that both Frozen and The Hunger Games both had the same PG rating. So take a look at our ****ed up rating system:

Of course now, Magic and Martini is strictly nineteen plus because of the spaces we’re using so we can get the most interesting cocktails to go with the show. I can’t claimed to have added any mature or adult content anywhere in the show. So who knows, maybe some industrious twelve year old with a very good fake ID will make an appearance at one of our shows.

On the taxonomy of Dragons

This is deeply nerdy but still oddly fascinating. AronRa gave this talk at DragonCon about how to fit the dragons of literature and film and fit them into modern cladistic taxonomy.

AronRa is a giant of a human who is physically intimidating and has this astonishing knack of churning out these 45-60 minute talks at an alarming rate. There are tricks that I’ve had in nearly every show I’ve ever done for over a decade and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him give the same talk more than once.

No (fair) Dice

Persi Diaconis is an ex-magician. He left the world of professional magic to become a professor of statistics at Stanford. But those influences are still reflected in his work as many of the simple tools used in the exploration of statistics — coins, cards, dice — are also favourite tools of the magician.

So nothing specifically to do with magic, but if you wanted to know how fair your super-complicated D&D dice were.

Watch to the end to get the link to the hidden part 2!

Magic and Martini at SpiritHouse

We’ve just had the first very well attended show at SpiritHouse in Toronto. Thank you to everyone who came out to enjoy an evening of magic (and fought their way through all of the traffic from the Toronto International Film Festival.)

Photos by David Fulde

Magic and Martini continues through November in Toronto and Oakville. Readers of this blog can use the code secrets for a discount on the prices of tickets when purchasing online.

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The Science of Gambling

When you’re a magician, the question comes up often, “Can I take you with me to the casino?” Never mind that there are no casinos in Toronto, my background in math means I’m fascinated by gambling but know enough about the odds to not want to do it in casinos.

The Royal Institute in London offers up its public talks for free online and I thought I’d share this really interesting talk about the intersection between science and gambling including using computers to cheat at the roulette and blackjack tables, the mathematics of shuffling applied to card tricks and strange ways to win at the lottery.

And the Q&A to follow up:

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I’m a strange enough person that when I was young I had a favourite physicist. This was in the days before YouTube when if you wanted to learn about someone you had to have a book, or happen upon something on TV live.

Since Richard Feynman passed away when I was three, there was not really any new material on him coming out. By the time I finished university, I had read all of the published books and listened to the audio lectures. Shortly after that, Bill Gates released Project Tuva [which now seems to be a deal link – the videos are now hosted by Cornell].

But now all the little snippets of interviews and documentaries have managed to make their way online so I was able to enjoy this wonderful collection of quotable and insightful Feynman:

Magic and Neuroscience

In recent years, researchers in psychology and neuroscience have taken an interest in magic, and for good reason. Science advances by exploring areas where predictions are experience don’t match (think of Einstein and the strange precession in the orbit of Mercury). Magic is exactly one of those circumstances.

When you experience a piece of magic, then later reflect back after learning the secret, it’s often difficult to understand how you could have been fooled by something so simple — and the secrets behind magic tricks are often unbelievably simple. That means by the light of science there should be something interesting at work.

However most often when researchers try to tackle these issues, they miss the mark. After a superficial interview with a magician or a mentalist, they offer up their best guest at a just-so story. The most blatant example is the 2010 book Sleights of Mind written by two perfectly competent neuroscientists but whose explanations of tricks is downright goofy.

This recent article by Steven Novella at NeuroLogica is refreshingly astute and well worth reading.

Magicians have learned to use various cues to enhance such illusions. They may verbally create an expectation. They also use social cues, like where they direct their vision. Their eyes will follow the non-existent ball, encouraging our brains to top-down perceive it. Further, the entire act can create a meta-expectation that something fantastic will occur. Everyone knows that magic is not real, but the magician creates the impression that they have fantastic skill, and are doing something very complex. The astonishment of those around us may also encourage us to be astonished.