Probably my least-favorite of this week’s WSJ puzzles this week. But an answer in this puzzle gave me reason to write a lot, so hooray!
I pulled out 39D Entertainer born Erik Weisz: HOUDINI. I got this answer immediately because I knew that one, but why did he choose Houdini as a name? It was after the French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. We all know that Houdini wasn’t a magician but rather an escape artist. Robert-Houdin was a magician and a great one in the 19th century. But he did something unforgiveable that is part of his legacy and a good reminder as to the purposes of magic.
Some people think of magic as a trickery and things that are obvious if you just know how they’re done. As Penn & Teller’s Fool Us winner Seigfried Tieber said, “There are some people that when they know how something is done, the magic is lost. There are some people that when they know how something is done, the magic grows.” The idea here is that magic isn’t just mechanics but entertainment. Some people see the techniques as tools to create something new or entertain others.
Some people see a trick as a self-contained experience, and once you know that the magician found the card you picked because each card in every–and I mean every–standard deck of Bicycle cards actually has a little RFID chip in it and they sell the RFID readers only all the magic shops and the cheap ones cost $799 and the corresponding contact lenses that serve as the display only the magician can see are even more expensive, (go tear some cards up, and you’ll see the RFID chips I’m talking about) it’s no longer impressive.
The real thing is about the experience. How was the presentation? To many, knowing the secrets irreparably adds a disappointment to experiencing a trick. Magician Nick Dopuch related that magicians don’t keep secrets from the public but rather on behalf of the public. The key in it all that makes magic entertainment is the agreement the public has with the magician. In a magic show, the public dares the magician to deceive them. The audience is willing to be fooled. This is the same as watching anyone act.
Daniel Day-Lewis has won numerous awards for being the best at being people other than Daniel Day-Lewis. How many people are saying: “I know how he does it! He just pretends that he is from a place that he’s not from and uses an accent that isn’t the one he was born with or uses normally.”? We agree to watch someone pretend do something or have capabilities that we also know aren’t real or that they don’t possess. But Elizabeth Holmes told us that Theranos would be able to do all kinds of testing with very little blood drawn. A lot of people believed her. The results did not support her claims. She’s been indicted for many different types of fraud. Fraud is trickery but without the consent of the people who were tricked.
We rejoin the topic of Robert-Houdin in Algeria in the 1850s. Robert-Houdin had been sent there to stop a revolt against the French by the people in Algeria. A local tribe had been encouraging revolt and performed miracles to demonstrate the divine approval of their cause. Rather than deal with the revolt in a military effort, the French sent Robert-Houdin to out-miracle them. He did so by, among other things, demonstrating that he could make the strongest local there the weakest man there with an incantation. He instructed the local strongman to lift a small metal box. He did so without issue. After reciting something, Robert-Houdin asked the local strongman to lift the box again. No dice. As hard as the local strongman tried, the box could not be lifted. And when he tried again, he got an electric shock. This was because Robert-Houdin had built and buried an electromagnet that he activated on the second lift attempt. On the third attempt, he electrocuted the guy. Not to death, but still. With its leaders out-miractled, pushes for revolt lost steam.
The people of Algeria were not willing participants in this trickery. Robert-Houdin used magic in the wrong way.
This puzzle’s title is Got a Light?
1A Calcium Light Night” composer: IVES. Charles Ives (1874-1954) was an American composer who lived through WWI and WWII. He was also an insurance agent. A native of Danbury, CT, Charles Ives would have been eligible for a thrashing by John Oliver if Ives were alive(s?) today.
36A With 37-Across, fall of Rome aftermath, and a hit to the puzzle theme: DARK AGES. I’m actually not sure what else has to do with light in this one.
Finished this puzzle in 30:44.