The question, “Can All Magic Tricks Be Explained?” implies that teaching a magic trick is purely a matter of writing down a series of instructions that will explain how a trick works.
It supposes that any member of the public armed with this list of instructions could successfully perform the trick.
THIS IS NOT TRUE!
I believe that there are three levels of being a magician:
- At its highest level, Magic is understanding and manipulating how viewers process sensory data.
- Understanding Performance is at the middle level.
- Remembering a list of instructions for a trick is the basic level
When you start at level 3 you carry out the trick, but everyone can see that you have just memorized a list of instructions. You may receive polite applause from the audience.
At level 2 you have built a performance around the instructions and made people laugh, and perhaps wonder. Nobody is going to remember that trick for more than a few moments.
At level 3 you have learned true magic and can manipulate the audience to see what you want them to see, and make choices that you want them to choose. People will be astounded by your skills because they do not understand how they have been manipulated.
Can All Magic Tricks Be Explained? Most of the magic tricks that you can see performed by magicians can be explained, but there are still a few tricks that were never sufficiently explained to this date.
Magic is not easy to pick apart manually. In more complex tricks it is not about the mechanics of the trick.
What makes the trick worthy of an “ooh” or an “ahh” is the ability of the magician to manipulate how you see things and to manipulate your thought processes.
Teller (of Penn and Teller) gives a list of principles that Magicians may employ to manipulate perceptions:
- Exploit Patter recognition traits in the audience
- Make the secret of a trick so complex that the audience would not invest the time to understand it.
- If an audience is laughing, they have no time for critical thought.
- The real trickery takes place outside of the audience’s frame and is done in insignificant moments. For example, when a jacket is removed and thrown on a chair.
- To really fool the audience, combine two tricks at once.
- Nothing confuses you more than lies that you tell yourself.
- Give someone a choice and they will be convinced they acted freely
These principles are all connected with the manipulation of the audience members.
Unless you understand these principles, you will never fully understand why a trick works and how to reverse engineer and reveal the principle behind magic tricks.
But still… even if you do understand all these principles, there are still some cases when magic trick explanation is missing, as you will see on examples below.
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Magic Tricks That Have Never Been Explained
Let’s take a closer look at some of the magic tricks that have never been explained.
Indian Rope Trick
In particular, one trick has caused debate for many years, and that trick is the Indian Rope trick.
The trick was supposedly witnessed by Marco Polo and is said to be over 700 years old.
It turns out that it was a hoax invented by a reporter from the Chicago tribune. Several months later the newspaper printed a retraction.
In 1934 the UK Magic Circle offered a reward of 500 guineas to anyone who could actually demonstrate it. The American Magic Circle also added a reward, such was the interest.
Around this time several Indian magicians were performing this trick on stage (it is believed that hanging wires were used), nobody had performed the trick in the more challenging outdoor environment.
Spurred on by the reward, this trick was first performed outdoors by Ishamuddin Khan in 1995 and has since been emulated by various Indian Magicians including Magician Muthukad who was videoed performing this trick and the video is available on YouTube.
Many explanations have been given but never proved.
The most favored theory is that he had dug a chamber underneath the basket and someone shoved a hard rod up through the basket from below.
It seems strange that nobody locally would have noticed a lot of digging prior to the performance.
So you can compare this performance with the original.
I have included the video in black and white of the original performance by Ishamuddin Khan below.
You can see that he lifts the basket at one stage early in the trick.
The trick is performed on what seems to be a stage that allows a view of the underside.
Despite performing this trick Ishamuddin has never received any of the promised rewards and today he supplements his income as a magician in McDonald’s.
When interviews in 2009 he refused to tell the secret of the trick but allowed the reporter to inspect the rope.
He offered to repeat the performance for 50,000 Indian Rupees (about $700) and four days’ notice.
Even today I find nobody has a definitive explanation of how the various variations on the Indian Rope Trick are done.
This is perhaps the most obvious answer to “Can All Magic Tricks Be Explained?” and tells us that “NO, not all magic can be explained.”
Of course, nowadays you can walk into any magic shop and purchase an Indian Rope magic trick – this has however nothing to do with the original versions we have seen above.
Kuda Bux’s blindfold act
One other trick that has never been revealed is Kuda Bux’s blindfold act.
In this act, Bux had his eyes securely blindfolded by numerous methods and yet was still able to drive, shoot, imitate signatures, and see various objects.
This magician and trick were featured in Richard Osterlind’s book More Diverse Deceptions.
Nobody has ever come forward and explained how the trick was done and it is not known if any magician actually knows.
If they do, they certainly have never come forward.
We have at least this very old performance video that you can watch to see how impossible this trick is.
One Magician takes a different look at this question and puts forward the idea that it matters very little if the method for carrying out an illusion is known or not.
Magic is a performance and it is not what is being performed that counts but how the magician performs.
“The majority of tricks have been around for centuries, what is exciting and new is the method that is used to perform them.”
I tend to agree with this magician.
For example, I know how The Trick that made the Statue of Liberty disappear was carried out.
However, I still enjoy watching the video of the performance and appreciate the skill and planning required to make this trick work.