Original image

Sneak Peek #5: Inside a Barrel with Harry Houdini

Original image

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."

* * * * *

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.

Original image
Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images
Can’t See the Eclipse in Person? Watch NASA’s 360° Live Stream
Original image
Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Depending on where you live, the historic eclipse on August 21 might not look all that impressive from your vantage point. You may be far away from the path of totality, or stuck with heartbreakingly cloudy weather. Maybe you forgot to get your eclipse glasses before they sold out, or can't get away from your desk in the middle of the day.

But fear not. NASA has you covered. The space agency is live streaming a spectacular 4K-resolution 360° live video of the celestial phenomenon on Facebook. The livestream started at 12 p.m. Eastern Time and includes commentary from NASA experts based in South Carolina. It will run until about 4:15 ET.

You can watch it below, on NASA's Facebook page, or on the Facebook video app.

Cephalopod Fossil Sketch in Australia Can Be Seen From Space

Australia is home to some of the most singular creatures alive today, but a new piece of outdoor art pays homage to an organism that last inhabited the continent 65 million years ago. As the Townsville Bulletin reports, an etching of a prehistoric ammonite has appeared in a barren field in Queensland.

Ammonites are the ancestors of the cephalopods that currently populate the world’s oceans. They had sharp beaks, dexterous tentacles, and spiraling shells that could grow more than 3 feet in diameter. The inland sea where the ammonites once thrived has since dried up, leaving only fossils as evidence of their existence. The newly plowed dirt mural acts as a larger-than-life reminder of the ancient animals.

To make a drawing big enough to be seen from space, mathematician David Kennedy plotted the image into a path consisting of more than 600 “way points.” Then, using a former War World II airfield as his canvas, the property’s owner Rob Ievers plowed the massive 1230-foot-by-820-foot artwork into the ground with his tractor.

The project was funded by Soil Science Australia, an organization that uses soil art to raise awareness of the importance of farming. The sketch doubles as a paleotourist attraction for the local area, which is home to Australia's "dinosaur trail" of museums and other fossil-related attractions. But to see the craftsmanship in all its glory, visitors will need to find a way to view it from above.

[h/t Townsville Bulletin]


More from mental floss studios