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Robert-Houdin (2000)

SYMMETRY. 180° rotation.

INSPIRATION. Commissioned by Daniel Rhod for his magic magazine Imagik.

STORY. In February 2000 I attended the fourth Gathering for Gardner, an event for mathematicians, magicians, puzzle people and other kindred spirits of renowned science writer Martin Gardner. Magician Mark Setteducati introduced me to Daniel Rhod, founder and editor of the French magazine Imagik. Daniel's interview with me appears in the July 2000 issue. Daniel also asked me to create three new inversions to accompany the article: French magicians Robert-Houdin and De Kolta, and the name of the magazine, Imagik.

Robert-Houdin (1805-71) transformed magic in the mid 1800s from a circus side show act to an elegant evening stage performance, complete with coat and tails. Among other accomplishments, he was the first to use electricity as part of a stage show. His performances so mesmerized audiences that American magician Eric Weiss took his stage name from Robert-Houdin, calling himself Houdini.

Robert-Houdin was originally a clockmaker, and some of his acts involved ingenious lifelike automatons. I had the great pleasure of seeing two of his original mechanisms presented at the International Puzzle Party in Los Angeles last August by one of the leading manufacturers of stage magic equipment for other magicians.

In one illusion an orange bush blossoms before your eyes and oranges grow. The performer tosses the oranges into the audience...they're real! Inside are borrowed objects from the audience. The climax: the top orange springs open, and butterflies fly out of it carrying a borrowed hankerchief. Truly magical.

The other mechanism was a mechanical trapeze artist who did an elaborate act on a swinging trapeze. Through most of the act the human figure held on to be the bar with his hands — that was clearly how motion was communicated between the bar and the figure — but then at the climax the figure let go of the hands and held on only by his knees. Mechanical work of this precision is simply beyond present-day artisans.

I used the same lettering style as in my recent Scott Kim inversion, because it deals well with the problem of turning the second half of an O into an I. I was pleased that the capital H lands in the right place to act as a pivot.

Buatier de Kolta (1847-1903) was an ingenious inventor of stage illusions. Many of his illusions, like the Multiplying Billiard Balls and Vanishing Bird Cage, are still performed today. Some of his illusions we still don't understand. Daniel Rhod described the amazing Expanding Die, in which De Kolta places a an 8" cubical die on the stage. The die suddenly expands 20 times its original size. Lifing the enlarged die, he uncovers a seated woman. De Kolta's work is chronicled in the book Buatier de Kolta: genius of illusion, by Peter Warlock, currently out of print.

Finally I created an invertible version of the Imagik logo for the cover.

I tried to preserve the original lettering style as closely as possible. I dislike mixing upper and lowercase letters, but here it was unavoidable. Of course this design is not exactly the same upside down, because of the overall curve of the lettering.

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