The illusion of floating people on invisible bicycles

Floating Number 1

Chinese artist Zhao Huasen had a deceptively simple idea: what if I took photographs of people on bicycles and digitally removed the physical bike but left the bike's shadow, so the bike riders seemed to be an optical illusion floating strangely above the street?

Floating Number 4

Floating Number 7

- Zhao Huasen at Feizi Gallery>>
- Via My Modern Met>>

Neil Patrick Harris does a magic trick

He can read your mind.

Neil Patrick Harris performs magic on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, when he was 17 years old.

Neil Patrick Harris does a magic trick

The secret of a magic doll called the Bonus Genius

The Bonus Genius was naked in the 
magic book "Hocus Pocus Jr."
published in 1635.

In this excerpt from Paul Curry's book Magician's Magic, he explains the secret of an old trick where a doll is made to vanish. He called it the Bonus Genus, but actually the trick was called "Bonus Genius" or "Nuntius Invisibilis". The principles behind the trick explain some of the basic ways that magic works.

He also mentions how this trick is related to the author Charles Dickens.
One trick, popular ages ago, but no longer performed, involved a small wooden doll, a miniature cape, and an “invisible” coin. Judging from early writing, this ancient trick, known originally as “Bonus Genus” and later as “The Little Messenger," was a favorite with magicians and their audiences. It was a good trick and I touch on it here, not only because it illustrates the type of magic performed by the first magicians but also because it serves to introduce some of the basic principles of magic. To “see” the trick just as it was performed, suppose we roll back the years to an era long gone and join a knot of spectators watching an open-air magic show. The place may be a London street corner, a crowded fair, or a Parisian park.

The magician, with sleeves rolled back, displays a small wooden doll, about six inches in height. Watch closely. He's going to make the doll disappear right before your eyes, and the odds are that you won't have the faintest notion as to how he does it.

After introducing the doll as a magic messenger possessing the mystical ability to whisk itself, instantly and invisibly, to any designated spot on earth, the magician taps it sharply to prove that it is solid through- out. Next he shows a small cape which fits over the doll's head and hangs down below its feet leaving only the head in view, protruding from the neck of the cape.

"The Little Messenger." Above, a 
woodcut showing an ancient 
performance of the trick. 
Below, the workings of the 
trick as seen from the back.
(Click to enlarge)
The magician declares that the messenger's destination must be decided. In this bit of whimsy, the magician consults the children in the group. After some humorous byplay, it is decided that the messenger will be sent to a far-off mysterious land for the purpose of transmitting some nonsensical message.

Now, the magic moment has arrived. The magician taps the doll's head, and the children, as instructed, shout “Go!” Nothing happens! The embarrassed magician, after pretending to consult with the doll, apologizes to the onlookers and explains that he forgot to furnish the messenger with travel expenses.

 “He doesn't use ordinary money," the magician tells his audience. "He only uses special invisible money. Luckily," he adds, "l have some of these coins here in my pocket."
A Bonus Genius and his cape
After pretending to tuck one of these invisible coins into the messenger's cape, the magician announces that everything is ready. Again he taps the doll‘s head, and again the children shout "Go!" And this time the messenger does leave. There's no doubt about this point — the doll has actually disappeared! The magician flips the empty cape inside out and rolls it into a ball. The solid six-inch doll everyone was watching so closely has, apparently, dissolved into nothingness. The magician's hands are empty, the cape is empty. Where, then, did the messenger go?

To begin with, what fooled everyone was the apparent disappearance of a small wooden doll — in full view one second, gone the next. But is that what actually happened? Not exactly. The presence of the doll, the complete doll, was assumed by the watchers, but in reality only its head was in sight at the time of the "vanish." Suppose, for the moment, that the doll didn't have a body at that point; let's say the doll‘s body had been detached from its head early in the trick, and that the magician some- how had managed secretly to steal it away. This would present an entirely different problem, wouldn't it? The cape could have a small secret pocket on the inside and when the magician tapped the head he would merely have to make sure that it dropped into this secret pocket. The cape would look empty and could be turned inside out and rolled into a ball. No one would give it a second thought because, you see, everyone was thinking in terms of a six-inch doll—not just a small round head.

This, of course, is exactly what happened. The magician did make off with the doll's body without the audience's seeing it, and the doll’s head was dropped into a secret inside pocket. But how could the magician have spirited away the doll's body without anyone’s knowledge? Did it go up his sleeve? Was the hand quicker than the eye?
Two more examples of Bonus Geniuses
Use of the sleeves is ruled out since they were rolled back at the start of the trick. As to the hand's being quicker than the eye — it just isn't. The hands of the nimblest magician travel at snail's pace when measured against speeds the eye can readily detect. No, the little headless messenger was disposed of simply and openly. No one paid much attention because the magician's actions appeared natural.

The so-called invisible coin is the clue. The messenger's body was concealed ("palmed") in the magician's hand when he reached into his pocket to obtain the coin. When the magician withdrew his hand, supposedly holding an invisible coin, he had left the body of the doll behind — safely out of sight.

And why did this brazen action go unnoticed? First, the spectator didn't realize that the body was detachable. In short, there was advance preparation of which the viewers were unaware. For many a trick, preparation gives the magician a long head start over his audience. Secondly, by palming the doll's body, the magician made an unusual act appear innocent and natural. The hand that went to the pocket looked empty although, of course, the magician did not call attention to this point. Lastly, the move to the pocket, which might have been received with a high degree of suspicion despite the apparent emptiness of the hand, was cloaked in innocence when the magician announced that the pocket contained an invisible coin needed for the messenger's trip. With that declaration, the magician prepared the audience to accept the thrust of his hand into the pocket as sort of an incidental part of the fanciful story he was weaving. If he had neglected to prepare the way for what was to follow, and had simply plunged his hand into his pocket without first giving his viewers a reason for doing so, alarm bells would have clanged loudly in their minds and most, if not all, of the mystery surrounding the trick would, like the messenger himself, have vanished.

Simple? Obvious? Simple, perhaps — most tricks are —but certainly not obvious. For in this explanation, one important ingredient is missing: the ability of a skilled magician to misdirect the attention of his audience so that they see and remember only those things he wants them to see and remember. In the hands of a clever, glib performer, "The Little Messenger" was both baffling and entertaining. The English author Charles Dickens, an ardent amateur magician, never failed to include this trick in his elaborate and carefully rehearsed performances of magic. Years after the death of the novelist, his daughter Mamie, in My Father as I Recall Him singled out this trick with the doll and mentioned that “. . . it was a particular favorite and was eagerly awaited and welcomed.”

I have taken time to dust off and describe this antique museum piece mainly because it introduces some elemental principles of magic. My hope is that in describing the trick from the viewpoints of both the spectator and the magician, I have given the reader a glimpse, however faint and fleeting, of the fascination magic offers to those who perform it. The need—openly, but indetectably — to steal away the doll's body illustrates the type of problem continually confronting magicians. In a sort of visual battle of wits, there is a unique excitement in meting such challenges head on and successfully fully disposing of them— the excitement experienced by a poker player when his bluff works. And unlike losers in a card game, magicians’ audiences delight in being outsmarted.
- Magician's Magic, Google Books>>
- Martin's Magic Bonus Genius>>
- Bonus Genius from Hocus Pocus Jr, Gutenberg>>

Ha! I fooled you with my disguise!

A gender illusion in animated gif, from the Japanese anime Lupin 3, written by Monkey Punch (Kazuhiko Kato). It's the sideburns that make it work, yes?

3 optical illusions: owl monster, skull, rabbit

 Owl Monster Homunculus

Human Skull

Staring Rabbit

These inversion optical illusion 11" x 14" posters are printed on a letterpress printer (my favorite kind) by Jonathon Poliszuk and Ursula Minervini from Pellinore Press.

They took their inspiration for these designs from the upside-down image tricks found on vintage matchboxes and advertising ephemera.

And reversed, they yield:

Bug-eyed man with 
Big Brain and Horn

Man with Trepaning Hole
and Decorated Fez

Handlebar Mustache Man with
Long Hairy Eyebrows

As a bonus, here are two of their inversion fans:



- Inversion optical illusion posters, Pellinore Press, Etsy>>
- Pellinore Press>>

A rotating building illusion that's not an illusion

No, it's not a hole in the 
space-time-building continuum...

What looks like cut-out computer graphic trickery on a building is not trickery at all. It's sculptor Richard Wilson’s artwork called Turning the Place Over, which was installed on a building in Liverpool, England. From an interview:
Initially seeing the work start to move made me feel almost uneasy!  Was this effect intended?
It only makes one feel uneasy because one is so unfamiliar with seeing architecture move. All architecture vibrates because the planet vibrates but one doesn’t see that and it’s not visible to the human eye. So once you start putting glass and concrete on the move, there is an element of structural daring; this piece is on the first floor and you have to look up to it.

It was all worked out with the help of engineers so even though we weren’t doing anything silly or threatening, I think it just makes people look at it and think ‘my god, how does that work?’; architecture isn’t supposed to move around or leap out of buildings...
Turning the Place Over

- Richard Wilson>>
- Interview with Richard Wilson at Artweb>>

The hungry turtle and the unwanted barber chair

The Compleat Practical Joker

When I was a kid, I checked this book out of the library, attracted by the "practical joker" in the title as well as the Charles Addams cover. I dreamed that someday I would be rich and famous and would have both means and opportunity to carry out these two gags myself. Alas, that dream is still deferred.
I was told recently of a prominent New York attorney who had occasion to visit a warehouse in Brooklyn. In the warehouse he saw an antique barber chair which was for sale. He bought it. He remembered that once during a world tour he had spent a couple of days in Calcutta and he knew the name of one of the principal business streets there. He had the old barber chair crated and shipped to an address on that street—an address he simply pulled out of the air. And he spent many enjoyable moments thereafter speculating on the bewilderment of the people who received the chair.


Peirce, an artist and poet and fabulous character, was living in Paris and the concierge at his hotel became quite fond of him and went out of her way to do special things for him to make him happy and comfortable. He felt the need to repay her for these kindnesses. He knew the lady was fond of pets, so one day he brought home a present for her, a tiny turtle. She was overjoyed, and spent many happy hours coddling and nursing the creature, and worrying about its diet. Peirce, at the beginning, had no idea of carrying the transaction any further but, as so often happened, his imagination took over. Within a few days after the original gift, he substituted a turtle a size larger. The next day the turtle had grown another two inches in length. Madame was ecstatic. Her pet was flourishing wonderfully under her tender care. She talked about it constantly to everyone who would listen. Day by day the turtle grew bigger until Madame found herself in possession of an enormous and cumbersome creature, almost as big as a baby grand. She still loved the beast, and exclaimed over it and the way it had prospered under her care. But her American lodger could not let matters stand as they were. Now he began reducing the size of the huge turtle, day by day. The lady became frantic with worry: staying up nights, scarcely leaving her pet long enough to permit Peirce to substitute a smaller turtle. She was on the verge of losing her senses when the artist decided matters had gone far enough, and told her the truth.
You might be aware, however, of something I did not realize when I was younger. These tales of elaborate practical jokes are told by jokesters, and it costs nothing to tell a story. 

Excerpts are from The Compleat Practical Joker by H. Allen Smith (1953) Read more excerpts from this book and others at Deuce of Clubs>>

Why a rape victim wanted to friend her rapist

Brian Banks hears the verdict.

From a story in the Los Angeles Times:
Brian Banks logged onto Facebook last year, and a new friend request startled him.

It was the woman who, nearly a decade ago, accused him of rape when they were both students at Long Beach Poly High School.

Banks had served five years in prison for the alleged rape, and now he was unemployed and weary. So he replied to Wanetta Gibson with a question: Would she meet with him and a private investigator? She agreed.

At the meeting, which was secretly recorded, Gibson said she had lied. "No," she was quoted as saying, "he did not rape me."
Read the entire story: A 10-year nightmare over rape conviction is over, Los Angeles Times>>

They look and smell like potato chips, but...

They contain no fat, salt, 
cholesterol, or calories.

 So what's inside?

Chip-shaped note paper that 
looks and smells like potato chips.

 And just like a real bag of chips,
some chips are broken.

They also come in Christmas Cookies 
and Nacho Chips.

Why would you want them? For those who want them, no explanation is necessary. For those who ask why anyone would want them, no explanation is sufficient.

Available from Peco Mart in Korea>>
or MOMA in the U.S.>>

Devilish women - an optical illusion

Women are the devil of the night?
(Click to enlarge)

This postcard from the 1900s is linking prostitution to the devil.

Vintage Gal>>

Magician Ed Alonzo performs magic with his pets

Ed Alonzo

In this video, Ed Alonzo performs magic in 2010 on Craig Ferguson's late night TV talk show. Parts of Mr. Alonzo's duck illusion were invented over 100 years ago by a Belgian magician named Servais Le Roy.

Ed Alonzo's magic on the Late Late Show

Mr. Alonzo also seems to have taken inspiration from the past - from silent film star Harold Lloyd.

Harold Lloyd

Proves that sometimes new is actually nothing new, doesn't it?

Ed Alonzo>>

Two handy foot optical illusions

One is "real" and one is not.

Handy foot illusion source is unknown
Handy foot illusion by Rachel, Flickr>>

Dunninger reveals 3 secrets of spiritualist magic

Publicity material for Dunninger - 
"The Master Mind of Mental Mystery"

Joseph Dunninger was a mentalist and mindreader who began performing magic in the early 1900s, and achieved great success when he performed hypnosis and thought-reading on his radio show in the 1940s.

In this "RKO Pathe Parade" clip, he debunks spiritualists who claimed they could actually contact the dead. He reveals three secrets of fake mediums - how to read the name of a dead person written on a slate, how to apparently burn a client's money but actually keep the bill intact, and how to cause a table to mysteriously rise, in an exposé of "table tilting."

Dunninger's section on "Spirit Swindles" starts about :30 and lasts until 4:44. (After that is an unrelated segment on that genius of cartoon craft, some guy named Walt Disney.)

Dunninger got lots of free publicity when he exposed the tricks. Of course, none of the tricks he exposed are the ones he used in his act. And although mediums might have been scamming people, they didn't use these exact methods, either.

Joseph Dunninger exposes Spirit Swindles

A famous locked room mystery: The Tea-Leaf

Only two men had been in the steam room, 
and one man was now dead.

A locked room mystery is a puzzling mystery story where someone is murdered in an impossible way, such as inside a locked room where nobody can enter or exit.

The Tea-Leaf, written in 1925 by Edgar Jepson and Robert Eustace, is a famous example of this type of story. A man is murdered inside a Turkish bathhouse, obviously by his enemy who was with him at the time. But they can find no murder weapon. So how was he killed?

The story starts slow, with background details of the participants, and like many good mystery stories, progresses to and ends in a courtroom where a man is on trial for his life.

And then an intelligent female scientist, accused of immoral sexual behavior, solves the case.

It's 7,000 words, so you'll have to slow down to read it. If you do read it, once you get to the solution, you just might recognize the equally famous method of death.
After examining the room and the dead body the detective-inspector in charge of the case came to the conclusion that Kelstern had been stabbed as he was drinking his tea. The thermos flask lay on the floor in front of him and some of the tea had evidently been spilt, for some tea-leaves — the tea in the flask must have been carelessly strained of the leaves by the maid who filled it — lay on the floor about the mouth of the empty flask. It looked as if the murderer had taken advantage of Kelstern's drinking his tea to stab him while the flask rather blocked his vision and prevented him from seeing what he would be at.

The case would have been quite plain sailing but for the fact that they could not find the weapon...
READ: The Tea-Leaf by Edgar Jepson and Robert Eustace>>

Daleks invade Boulder, Colorado

Warning Daleks Ahead

Pranksters hacked into a warning sign to warn of an even bigger threat than road construction:


(For the uninitiated, Daleks are the salt-shaker-looking bad guys in Dr. Who, the science fiction TV show from the UK.)

But was it a prank, or a warning?

The next day, in Boulder...

'Doctor Who' fans hack Boulder road sign: 'WARNING DALEKS AHEAD' Boulder Daily Camera>>

A smuggler choose a place that dogs like to smell

Hello there.

Paulo Alfredo Macias was trying to walk across the border into the U. S. from Mexico when a certain dog wouldn't leave him alone. That's because the dog, named Malone, was a drug-sniffing dog.

Mr. Macias was detained. Eventually he had to admit he was caught, and he removed the 5 ounces of heroin he had hidden in an oval-shaped pellet inside his rectum.

Sniffer dog nabs smuggler hiding heroin in rectum, Reuters>>
Photo from me&mydobe>>

The elephant in two very strange poses

The elephant is suspended.

These elephant sculptures are by French artist Daniel Firman. 

 The elephant is balanced.

The elephant is life-sized, in a gallery with people.

The elephant is in a fancy place.

The elephant is realistic because Mr. Firman 
worked with taxidermist Jean-Pierre Gérard 
to make the elephant look as real as possible.

- Daniel Firman>>
-  Jean-Pierre Gérard>>
- My Modern Met>>

Like to torture, abuse or kidnap? We want you!

"Look, honey, here's a job opening."

“The government of a Middle Eastern state is recruiting a senior torturer to work in a well-equipped prison. Our ideal candidate would be prepared to inflict extreme pain and suffering. Familiarity with dental and medical equipment and knowledge of human anatomy is required.”
Company: Ambassadors of Diversity

These fake job ads appeared in both the Guardian and the Independent newspapers in the UK. The fake advertisements are a campaign for the UK charity Freedom from Torture. The organization works to heal and empower people who have been victims of torture. 

"A South Asian government agency is recruiting a kidnapper to manage civilian population challenges. Candidates should be experienced in terrorising small communities..."
Company: Efficient Industries Corp.

"Daily work will involve punching, kicking, slapping, whipping and prolonged constraint of movement..."
Company: Acorn Industries

- Freedom from Torture>>
Via: Career Prospects in the Pain Business, Design Observer>>

His mother was dead, but he couldn't let her die

It could have been anyone, but it wasn't.

After Irene Prusik died at age 73, her son Thomas Parkin pretended she was alive so he could cash her Social Security checks.

He did this for six years, collecting $44,000.

Then, when he couldn't continue making payments on the home she left him, the place went into foreclosure and was sold at action.

He sued the new owner of the home, saying the auction was invalid because no, you see, his mom was still alive.

Both the owner of the home and Mr. Parkin accused each other of fraud and met with the district attorney to sort it out.

By this time, however, investigators knew that Irene Prusik was dead, yet they went ahead with the meeting.

And Irene Prusik did show up, "wearing a red cardigan, lipstick, manicured nails and breathing through an oxygen tank."

But it was actually a disguised Mr. Parkin, who was unaware that investigators had proof that his mom was dead - a photo of her tombstone.

At his trial, when they showed jurors security footage of Mr. Parkin dressed as his mom, the defense argued that it could have been anyone.

Jurors disagreed and spent less than a day deciding.

He was sent to jail for 13 years.

Brooklyn Man Who Dressed as Dead Mom Sentenced for Fraud, NBC 4 New York>>

Workers build impossible optical illusion building

You need a big lunch when you're 
attaching beams like this.
(Click to enlarge)

This historical photograph has been run through M. C. Escher's Penrose Triangle filter.

From Deskarati - an eclectic mix of science, technology, history and the arts.

- Steelwork Illusion, Deskarati >>
- Via Mighty Optical Illusions, The Impossible Building>>

Is it okay to make up a story about a real tragedy?

This is the staircase where 173 people died.
Is it okay to write fiction about it?

Jessica Francis Kane wrote a fictional novel about a tragedy in the Bethnal Green Tube station in the UK on March 3 1943. In this disaster, 173 people were crushed to death in World War 2 inside an underground subway station that was being used as an air raid shelter. There was no air raid at the time - it was caused by panic, rumor, lack of safety features, and one person stumbling.

There are still people alive who survived it. What obligation does Ms. Kane have towards them? Is there a profound difference between nonfiction and historical fiction? Can something "fake" tell the truth better than something "real"?

Ms. Kane was in England promoting her book and said:
"...interviewers asked if I’d considered writing the story as nonfiction. I was asked if I’d interviewed survivors. It was suggested several times that it was a daring move to take a true event and mix it up with fiction. Oddly, I found myself in the position of defending the very premise of historical fiction, which turns out to be one thing when you’re talking to writers, editors and other literary folk (when the “fiction” is always stressed), and quite another when you’re facing a survivor. Suddenly, the “historical” is all-important. I met a woman, Sandra Scotting, who is the secretary of the Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust, an organization trying to raise money for a permanent memorial at the site. In 1943, Sandra’s mother held her baby nephew in the crush at Bethnal Green and didn’t know until the next day that he’d died in her arms. Sandra’s not particularly interested in the fictional parts of my novel, and who would blame her?"
Read the rest of her article: Caught Telling Fiction, The Morning News>>

- The hush-hush catastrophe. It was the worst civilian disaster of the second world war: the night 173 people died seeking shelter at Bethnal Green tube station during an air raid. It was followed by cover-up and rumour. Why? Jessica Lack asks the witnesses, The Guardian>>

7 oddly distorted sculptures of Robert Lazzarini

It's not just a stretched violin, it's a 
three-dimensional optical illusion of a violin.

It's difficult to actually "see" Robert 
Lazzarini's sculptures in a photograph.

Mr. Lazzarini makes his sculptures out of 
the material that the real object is made out of. 

For instance, his skulls are made out of cast bone.

His guns are made out of 
carbon steel and wood.

His payphone sculpture stands in a gallery.

His sculptures are distorted 
versions of real objects.

Even when one of his skull sculptures is mounted, 
it's hard to recognize that it's a real object.

The video below might help.

Approaching a distorted skull