Sneak Peek #5: Inside a Barrel with Harry Houdini

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The new issue hits stands next Tuesday, and the cover story features the 50 Most Interesting Places in the Space-Time Continuum. We cover everything from Warren Buffet's Desk to Inside a Tornado to the Supreme Court's Doomsday Shelter, and yes, Inside a Barrel with Houdini:

Magic tricks may not require supernatural abilities, but they are difficult to pull off. Harry Houdini, for instance, used a unique combination of strength, stealth, and carpentry to perform his signature trick—escaping from a sealed barrel. In Houdini on Magic, the magician revealed that before he was locked inside a barrel, he would sneak in a tiny lamp and several small saws. Once the barrel was shut, his assistants would place it behind a curtain while Houdini gradually sawed his way to freedom. He'd then reseal the barrel from the outside. All the while, an orchestra played loudly to cover up the noise of his handiwork. If Houdini didn't feel like sawing, he'd just sneak a jack into the barrel and use his powerful muscles to pop off the lid. He'd then use a muffled hammer to rebuild the shattered barrel.

Houdini's other escape acts employed similar strategies. If he was being shackled and tied into a sealed box while wearing nothing but his skivvies, he would hide a small lock-pick in his armpit or under the sole of his foot. In other cases, he would rig safes with trick locks that he could pop open using magnets. These escapes weren't technically magical, but they weren't easy, either. As Houdini wrote of the barrel trick, "This gag takes a lot of work."

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But that just scratches the surface. To see the rest of the 50 Most Interesting Places in the Space-Time Continuum, be sure to look for the issue on newsstands. Or better yet, pair a subscription with mental_floss T-shirt and save yourself some money. Click here for details.

June 21, 2010 - 5:30am
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