Dear Straight Dope:
As you no doubt know, David Copperfield is a master illusionist. Magic tricks are just that--tricks. However, there is one I just don't understand. David apparently made several hundred people not see the Statue of Liberty. How the heck did he do that? He obviously did not make it disappear, it was, is, and always has been there--but why couldn't the crowd (and the TV) see it? Thanks, O Masterful Knowing One!!
Magicians are a snotty lot. Imagine, not wanting to reveal their secrets to their loyal fans! How dare they?
Of course, being one of Cecil’s loyal followers, I first tried the David Copperfield Website. After going through the introductory screens and being bombarded with far too many images of a “mysterious” David, I saw a few GIFs of this illusion. Did he spill any secrets? Nope!
I next tried “The Amazing Ralph”, who promised to reveal the secrets of this magical feat. His explanation? David palmed the Statue of Liberty. OK, Ralph. Thanks a lot.
Finally, racking my brain for the answer, it came to me … not in the night … not in an aural flash … but on my bookshelf! Summoning all the skills Cecil had taught me, I reached out and grabbed my copy of William Poundstone’s Bigger Secrets.
Way dustier and nowhere near as dogeared as my set of The Straight Dope books, I nevertheless looked through the crisp pages … and bingo! There was the answer.
Poundstone wrote six pages on this trick and included a nifty illustration, but I’ll just give you a basic summary: Copperfield had a setup of two towers on a stage, supporting an arch to hold the huge curtain that would be used to conceal the statue. The TV cameras and the live audience only saw the monument through the arch. When the curtains closed, David waxed poetic while the stage was … slowly … and imperceptibly … turned. When the curtains opened, the statue was hidden behind one of the towers, and the audience was looking out to sea. Voila! The Statue of Liberty has disappeared!
Even if the stage hadn’t completely hidden the statue, the towers were so brightly lit that the audience would be nightblinded. Copperfield had also set up two rings of lights–one around Liberty, and another set up somewhere else. When the trick “happened,” his assistants simply turned off the lights around the statue and turned on the other set for the helicopters to circle around.
Oh–the radar blip? It was simply video game animation.
Send questions to Cecil via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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