An amateur magician reveals tricks of the trade
- Last Updated: 10:55 PM, June 16, 2012
- Posted: 10:26 PM, June 16, 2012
Stone spent every Saturday with Wesley James, one of the best sleight-of-hand magicians in the world, who hangs out at the Herald Square pizzeria Café Rustico II. James teaches Stone how to “think and act like a cheat” by showing him the art of false cuts, crooked deals and how to get a secret glimpse at the deck of cards. James’ own mentor was the fascinating Dai Vernon, best known in magic circles as the man “who fooled Houdini” by creating the “ambitious card routine,” where playing cards seem to rise to the top of the deck.
In general, magic is about misdirection and fooling the mind. The best tricks are the ones that exploit our own innate neurological shortcomings. For example, tricks often rely on false memories (we remember a different card than was actually shown) and blind spots (magicians are skilled at drawing the attention of their mark away from the action, which is what happens during disappearing-coin tricks).
It’s the mind’s limitations that allow magicians to baffle us, Stone says. Neurologically speaking, there is a gap, a small one, between perception and awareness. During this lag, what we see, hear and feel can be compromised. This is the basis of illusion.
Finding new ways to exploit this lag became an obsession for Stone. He attended clown college and enrolled in a weekend-long seminar at a magic school in Vegas that looked conspicuously like Hogwarts.
He tracked down the “greatest card handler of all time,” who also happens to be legally blind, and learn the value of tactile sensations in tricks. He also commissioned the help of a professional grifter, who once made a living scamming tourists on Canal Street with classic hustler games like three-card Monte.
The need to hone his skills as a magician became so overpowering that his relationships suffer. He finds himself performing to strangers on subways, getting kicked out of the bars for doing too many tricks, and annoying his physics professors. Poof! One by one, his girlfriends disappeared.
He spent an “embarrassing” amount of money (tens of thousands, he admits) on tricks. Decks of cards became a pack-a-day habit.
During this time, he also wrote a tell-all article for Harper’s magazine about magicians, which alienated him from his group of “misfits.” His local chapter of the Society of American Magicians even rescinded his membership after the article ran.
Just imagine what they’ll do now that the book is out.
“Some people still won’t look at me or shake my hand,” he says.
Though Stone suffered from the fallout at the time, he now disagrees with those who feel he has revealed too much about this secret world.
“My personal belief is that magic is not quite as vulnerable to exposure or as reliant on secrecy as typically or as traditionally is believed. I don’t necessarily believe that knowing a few secrets here and there makes you less interested in magic; in fact I think it makes you more interested in magic,” he says.
Even after his journey, Stone still regularly practices and performs and loves it just as deeply as when he was a 5-year-old.
“Magic is so full of innovation, especially sleight-of-hand and close-up magic. Expert magicians are still fooling each other with new material. I don’t think there’s any danger of running out of tricks or of me losing interest.”Follow @NYPostOpinion