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Fooling Houdini Author Alex Stone Answers Your Questions

Alex Stone, author of the excellent new book Fooling Houdini, was kind enough to take questions from blog readers – and there were some tough ones! Here are his answers:

Q. If you are a highly skilled — but evil — magician, and wanted to use your skills for financial gain through criminal means (or at least highly unethical means), what do you think would be the most profitable routes to take? -Derek

A. Wall Street.

Q. Why is it that magicians are almost all men. Why are there so very few women magicians? -Eric M. Jones

A. I don’t really know, but I think it’s high time for that to change. Read More »





Bring Your Questions for Alex Stone, Author of Fooling Houdini

I get sent about 200 books a year by strangers who want me to provide blurbs.  About 199 out of those 200 will walk away empty-handed.   Most of the time I don’t even open the book – it would be a full-time job just to read everything sent my way.  Occasionally a subject will really interest me, and I will spend some time with a book, but certainly not read it from cover to cover.  And about once a year, I actually start reading one of these books and like it so much I can’t put it down. 

That book is Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind , by Alex Stone.  I happened to receive the book not long after I blogged about a book by two mathematicians on the mathematics of magic.  That mathematics book was excellent and taught me a lot, but wasn’t exactly a page turner.  In contrast, the first 30 pages of Fooling Houdini was some of the most engaging non-fiction I’ve read in a long time. Read More »





Think Like a Child: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “Think Like a Child.” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) Why would anyone want to think like a child? Aren’t kids just sloppy, inchoate versions of us, who can’t even say “I Don’t Know”?

Hardly. As Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt describe in their new book, Think Like a Freak, thinking like a child can be very fruitful.

 LEVITT: I think the beauty of thinking like a child … is that sometimes doing things differently and simply and with a kind of joy and triviality leads you to a really special place that as an adult you don’t get to go to very often.

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Think Like a Child: Full Transcript

This is a transcript of the Freakonomics Radio podcast “Think Like a Child.” [MUSIC: Das Vibenbass, “An Impulsive Behavior” (from Fodakis)] Stephen J. DUBNER: On today’s program, we begin with a magic show … DUBNER: Because if there’s ever a medium that’s made for magic, it’s radio, right? [APPLAUSE] Alex STONE: Hey guys how you doing? […] Read More »





Malcolm Gladwell Reviews Think Like a Freak on Amazon

It can be found here under “Editorial Reviews.” In case you don’t feel like clicking through:

In one of the many wonderful moments in Think Like a Freak, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner ask the question: Who is easier to fool—kids or adults? The obvious answer, of course, is kids. The cliché is about taking candy from a baby, not a grown man. But instead of accepting conventional wisdom as fact, the two sit down with the magician Alex Stone—someone in the business of fooling people—and ask him what he thinks. And his answer? Adults.

Stone gave the example of the staple of magic tricks, the “double lift,” where two cards are presented as one. It’s how a magician can seemingly bury a card that you have selected at random and then miraculously retrieve it. Stone has done the double lift countless times in his career, and he says it is kids—overwhelmingly—who see through it. Why? The magician’s job is to present a series of cues—to guide the attention of his audience—and adults are really good at following cues and paying attention. Kids aren’t. Their gaze wanders. Adults have a set of expectations and assumptions about the way the world works, which makes them vulnerable to a profession that tries to exploit those expectations and assumptions. Kids don’t know enough to be exploited. Kids are more curious. They don’t overthink problems; they’re more likely to understand that the basis of the trick is something really, really simple. And most of all—and this is my favorite—kids are shorter than adults, so they quite literally see the trick from a different and more revealing angle.

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What Do Skating Rinks, Ultimate Frisbee, and the World Have in Common? Full Transcript

This is a transcript of the Freakonomics Radio podcast “What Do Skating Rinks, Ultimate Frisbee, and the World Have in Common?”  [MUSIC: Glenn Crytzer and His Syncopators, “Century Stomps” (from Harlem Mad)]   Dan KLEIN: Hi, I’m Dan Klein. I’m a professor of economics at George Mason University. I got into economics very much from a […] Read More »





Matt Ridley, the Rational Optimist, Answers Your Questions

Trade, specialization and innovation. Read More »