NORTH TAMPA — Magic as the "science of illusion" is the theme of an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry.
Now through May 26, visitors can experience magic as audience members, then go behind the scenes to find how the illusion was created. By exploring how magicians create their illusions, guests learn about basic math, engineering, physical science, psychology principles and the art of performance.
They can also gain an appreciation of magicians as innovators who continually experiment with science and art to keep one step ahead of their audience.
Al Nye has practiced magic for 40 years. He has performed on weekends since the exhibit began in March.
"People are fascinated by magic because in our culture people know there's always a secret move and they like to be fooled," Nye said. "Also, they're going to try and figure out how it's done. But if they can't they're really going to be entertained at the same time."
The exhibit is designed around four main illusions: mentalism, levitation, transformation and the disembodied head.
Each illusion is performed on video by renowned professional magicians such as Penn and Teller and the late Doug Henning. There is also video and historical information about magicians like Houdini and Harry Blackstone Jr. and their feats.
The illusions were designed and selected so that no staging used in modern magic shows is revealed. As magician's apprentices, visitors learn the science behind each of these illusions. But before they leave the backstage area, they are baffled again when another video shows magicians performing other versions of the same illusion.
Perhaps the most intriguing exhibit, and one that constantly attracted a crowd, was the Amazing Living Head. Visitors see a human head kept alive in an unusual science lab. But this head talks and even winks at its surprised viewers, who explore the mystery backstage and have a chance to lose their own heads.
"When I was in elementary school I did a report on Houdini and that spurred my interest in magic," 57-year-old Robert Finnegan of Carrollwood said. "Illusion is very entertaining and it kind of spurs the mind to try to figure out how or why something is formed the way it is."
Another popular exhibit is the Magic of Mind. Mentalist Max Maven speaks to visitors from a prerecorded video. Then they discover backstage how he knows what people are thinking before they do.
Fourteen-year-old Kacie Thayer from Winter Haven was particularly interested in the mind-reading exhibit.
"It's interesting how you can read minds by eliminating things and by using science to do some of the other tricks like the rising chair," Thayer said.
The Rising Chair exhibit was popular with young and old. It was a bit easier to detect the illusion backstage of how the chair rises through thin air than some of the other tricks.
Anthony Kessel, 35, brought son Anthony, 7, and daughter Emma, 5, to see how professionals create their illusions.
"He has a magic set at home and he's always curious how the tricks work," Kessel, of Lutz, said about his son. "They liked the leverage tricks, working with the magnets and the mind reader exhibit."
The Light and Heavy Chest exhibit shows how a leather box is easy to carry until the magician says the magic words. Suddenly, the box seems to weigh a ton and no one can pick it up. Visitors backstage learn the secret of how the box changes weight.
Nye, who works for the speakers bureau of Pinellas County performing at schools, said he still remembers a magician that came to his elementary school in Pennsylvania.
"That's what got me interested in magic," Nye said. "I talk about character building when I go to the schools, but I use magic to keep kids interested."