Apropos of nothing, today is Harry Houdini's 137th birthday. I did a fairly big favor for a friend of mine once, and to thank me he invited me to dinner at The Magic Castle. I am jaded and cynical and not easily impressed by anything, but this place is like walking into Hogwarts with Alcohol. It's a gigantic mansion that's been converted into a gigantic club for magicians. You can't go as a member of the public, you have to be a member or the guest of a member. There are something like 7 bars with different themes throughout the place. What's amazing is that there are all these twisty little passages throughout the place that look like they're off-limits, and then you go in and you find yourself in some crazy bar or some quiet little antechamber with a guy doing close-up magic. There's a big room for Vegas-style shows, a bunch of medium-sized rooms for more intimate, detailed work, and then a bunch of small rooms for "gather round and check this out" close-up magic. Some magicians are hired to play for the week, and a bunch of them are just hanging out working on their skills or new acts or whatever. I saw many incredible feats that night. Best one was in a medium-sized room, and a guy was doing a series of elaborate pick-a-card routines. The last one, he gets the card wrong twice, which happens sometimes as most of these guys are just practicing. He then tells a short story about how his mentor always told him to have an "out" when this happens. In fact, his mentor's portrait was on the wall along with many other famous magicians (there were indeed paintings of magicians on the wall). He points at his mentor's picture, and he's painted holding a card. It's the lady's card. Fucking epic. Later, at my friend's urging, we went exploring around to the back parts of the mansion which not too many people were finding. We go into a room and there's an older dude in there with a little case of magical apparatus, including cards and such. He was working up a close-up routine, as he'd gotten out of practice. Did a trick where two decks of cards - one red, one blue, were seemingly chaotically combined. Then, two shuffles later, out pops two completely separate decks of red and blue. I later learned that this (and several of the other tricks he did) were based on a magical and mathematical discovery called the Gilbreath principle. The magician's name? Norman Gilbreath. FOCUS: What's the best magic trick you've ever seen? Alternatively, who puts on the best magical performances? Did David Copperfield's vanishing Statue of Liberty (with Lee Iacocca's help, natch) wow you in the 80s? Or do you like something a little more modern?