There is a century-old magic trick that Jim Steinmeyer finds particularly fascinating. It involves a burglar, a safe, and mind-reading, and it unfolds like this: A group of random audience members file on stage and each place a personal possession inside a sturdy, commercial-model safe, out of view of the magician, Charles Morritt. The safe is locked before anyone looks inside, and after a beat, a burglar appears. The lock-picking bandit looks at the closed safe with a pair of field glasses and disappears. Moments later, a telegram arrives for Morritt. It’s from the master thief. It says, in essence, “I’ve decided not to crack that safe and steal the contents—it’s not worth my time. But here’s a list of everything inside.”
When the safe is opened, the list matches up, item for item.
I’m sitting in Steinmeyer’s studio in Burbank, California. By almost any estimation, Steinmeyer is the greatest creator of illusions in the history of magic and theater, but describing Morritt’s idiosyncratic piece of stagecraft still animates and energizes him. He’s not even sure what to call the act. It’s a mind-reading trick, but instead of the magician playing the part of the clairvoyant, it’s the third-party burglar.
“Something bigger is happening,” Steinmeyer says. Morritt had come up with a new twist on a familiar routine: Magician presses his fingers to his temples, closes his eyes, and sees the un-seeable.
Steinmeyer uses the mind-reading trick as a launchpad into a disquisition on how magic tricks evolve, which is fascinating, but it temporarily walls me off from a question I’m eager to ask about the trick, or, really, any trick: How does it work? That’s the point of my visit—I’m here to understand what Steinmeyer does and how he
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