The Charm and Wonder of Magic

How Mentalist Ryan Oakes Indulges Our Love of Disbelief

Consider this: scientists create ibuprofen to relieve headaches. Do we know how they created them? No. Do we know what’s in them? Maybe, sort of. Do we know how they work? Probably not. At least, we don’t know how they work any more than how Ryan Oakes, who Forbes claims is the “hottest magician working today,” makes a tiny X miraculously appear on the hand of the man in front him. A Sharpied X? Magic! Ibuprofen that eradicates headaches? Nah.

Why are we in awe of a trick? Because we want to believe in the delight and thrill of magic. We forget our gravitas while witnessing unexplained phenomena existing solely for our entertainment; a remnant of childhood wonder. According to Ryan, "It’s me creating a moment for you that you perceive as magic, which I do through shaping your perception.”

The famed mentalist/magician asked a party guest to select a card, look at it, then put it back in the deck without showing her. Then Ryan placed the stack of cards on the floor. We all watched as a single card wiggled out from deck, unaided by human force. When Ryan plucked it off the floor, it was the card the guest had selected.

Someone shrieked in disbelief. It may have been me.

I mean, that rudderless, brainless piece of stock moved all by itself.

How does he make a card crawl from its cohort? How does he know the name of our random friend or the song we sing in our head? It’s impossible, charming, and wonderful.

Ryan, winner of the Society of American Magician’s National Magic Competition (his industry’s highest honor), travels around the world performing for audiences online and in-person and developing marketing programs for companies as diverse as Siegfried & Roy and Hermès.

Which begs the question - what did he do for Hermès?? “They were introducing a new fragrance, Water of Marvels [Eau des Merveilles], and wanted to create magic with the bottle and box itself,” Ryan regales. “I developed tricks using the iconic ribbon, orange box, a scarf, and the bottle. For instance, a playing card would appear in a perfume bottle. I worked with local magicians to perform in stores and Hermès boutiques.”

Of his audiences, there are those who are rapt and those who try to figure out the secret. I’m of the enraptured ilk and followed him around like a puppy at the party for which he performed. At one point he folded a slip of paper into several halves and whipped out a small pair of scissors from his pocket. He asked a partygoer to think of a singer. Swiftly, he sliced at the folds, small bits falling like confetti.

As he unfolded the paper he asked for the name of the singer. The partygoer replied, “Rihanna” as Ryan unfolded a beautifully cut portrait of the rockstar.

Even though he insists it’s only a perception, I’m pretty sure it was actual wizardry.

Then there’s his “Digital Deception” which uses iPhones and technology to astound viewers. He took a guest’s iPhone and opened the calculator app. Then he passed it among the crowd, asking each person to add a number - a lucky number, their age, etc. - to the number on the calculator. The result was one billion nine hundred million forty million… or, said another way, the man’s phone number.

Of course, a small squad of participants searched the phone for clues afterward. They promptly announced they had figured out the trick based on some inane reason that made no sense. “There’s always one person who thinks ‘Oh, I figured it out’ maybe just to pacify their own curiosity,” Ryan states. “If they figure out even a piece [of the illusion] they’ll tell themselves they’ve broken down the whole facade. But there are multiple layers, not just one little secret.”

By the way, of those trying explain the iPhone trick, how many of them truly understand how an iPhone works? Texting and emails and touching images to multiply numbers - does that illicit the same cries of joy and disbelief as finding the card you selected in someone else’s pocket?


Something to think about.

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