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What’s the Oldest Trick in the Book?

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Magicians have been practicing their craft for ages, but what’s the first magic trick that was recorded for posterity?

According to some historians, the oldest trick in the book is more like the oldest trick on the wall. A painting on the interior walls of an Egyptian burial chamber, created as early as 2500 BCE, appears to show two men performing what’s known as “the cups and balls” and may be the earliest record of a magic performance. 

The cups and balls usually involves making three balls pass through the sides and bottoms of three cups and having them jump from cup to cup, disappear and reappear. The routine involves some of magic’s most fundamental effects and skills—like vanishes and transpositions, and misdirection and dexterity—and mastering it is often considered a good education in magic or a rite of passage for a performer. 

It is indeed a very old trick, says magic historian Bill Palmer, but he doesn’t think that’s what the tomb paintings depict. 

For one thing, Palmer says, the image shows cups, but no balls. It also depicts a pair of people handling the cups, but the trick has almost always been done by a solo performer, even in its very early history. Cups and balls doesn’t make sense in the context of the other nearby drawings from the tomb, either. The rest of the images in the series show people preparing food—a butcher with his knife, animals being led to slaughter, etc. The men in the painting, the evidence suggests to Palmer, aren’t magicians and they’re not handling cups; they’re bakers making bread for a feast. 

The next recorded reference to the cups and balls comes from the writings of a Roman author around 45 CE, which still probably makes it the oldest sleight of hand trick. The lota bowl trick—which involves a vessel that can seemingly refill itself after being emptied—is the oldest known prop trick, and dates to around 3000 BCE, according to magician/historian Bill Spooner.

(The GEICO folks have another theory.)

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What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?
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Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

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What Do Morticians Do With the Blood They Take Out of Dead Bodies?
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Zoe-Anne Barcellos:

The blood goes down the sink drain, into the sewer system.

I am not a mortician, but I work for a medical examiner/coroner. During an autopsy, most blood is drained from the decedent. This is not on purpose, but a result of gravity. Later a mortician may or may not embalm, depending on the wishes of the family.

Autopsies are done on a table that has a drain at one end; this drain is placed over a sink—a regular sink, with a garbage disposal in it. The blood and bodily fluids just drain down the table, into the sink, and down the drain. This goes into the sewer, like every other sink and toilet, and (usually) goes to a water treatment plant.

You may be thinking that this is biohazardous waste and needs to be treated differently. [If] we can’t put oil, or chemicals (like formalin) down the drains due to regulations, why is blood not treated similarly? I would assume because it is effectively handled by the water treatment plants. If it wasn’t, I am sure the regulations would be changed.

Now any items that are soiled with blood—those cannot be thrown away in the regular trash. Most clothing worn by the decedent is either retained for evidence or released with the decedent to the funeral home—even if they were bloody.

But any gauze, medical tubing, papers, etc. that have blood or bodily fluids on them must be thrown away into a biohazardous trash. These are lined with bright red trash liners, and these are placed in a specially marked box and taped closed. These boxes are stacked up in the garage until they are picked up by a specialty garbage company. I am not sure, but I am pretty sure they are incinerated.

Additionally anything sharp or pointy—like needles, scalpels, etc.—must go into a rigid “sharps” container. When they are 2/3 full we just toss these into one of the biotrash containers.

The biotrash is treated differently, as, if it went to a landfill, then the blood (and therefore the bloodborne pathogens like Hepatitis and HIV) could be exposed to people or animals. Rain could wash it into untreated water systems.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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