Review ~ Penn and Teller’s How to Play with Your Food

Penn and Teller’s How to Play with Your Food by Penn Jillette & Teller

Cover via Goodreads

Comic duo Penn & Teller share a wealth of characteristically twisted tricks involving edibles in this maliciously funny book. Anyone wishing to tie a cherry stem with one’s tongue or surreptitiously steal an appetizer from a dining companion’s plate would do well to study this invaluable text. (via Amazon & Publisher’s Weekly)

I was first exposed to Penn & Teller at a pretty young age. I don’t remember if it was a Letterman appearance that I caught on the sly, past my bedtime, or if I happened upon them on PBS on some random Sunday afternoon. I do remember that I was alone and that the trick involved some blood and gore and probably ended with a maimed/dead Teller. “What did I just see?” was my first thought. My second thought was that my suspicions were true: magicians just did tricks; none of it was “real.” Because if it were real, I’d have heard about this magician guy offing his assistants on a regular basis. It didn’t occur to me to check TV Guide for info (I must have been young indeed) and it wasn’t until years later that I encountered the duo again when I saw “Lift Off of Love” on TV.

I thought it was one of the best things ever. Then I promptly lost track of them until I became interested in skepticism and became curious about magic again. In fact, it was an article about Teller that led to Eric suggesting I write a historical fiction about David P. Abbott.

How to Play with Your Food is half magic trick instruction manual* and half collection of funny anecdotes with a dash of fiction, a pinch of science, and a good dollop of the skepticism that P&T have become noted for. The tricks generally involve foods and/or beverages in some manner, sometimes using food *in* the tricks or sometimes using trick to scam food off your friends. Interestingly, I’m also currently reading Joshua Jay’s Magic: The Complete Course which deals with some of the same tricks, but not in nearly as entertaining a manner. Jay also goes out of his way to be sort of politically correct about magic. For him, they’re not tricks, they’re effects. Penn (presumably most of the writing, especially the loud writing, is his) has few qualms about telling it like it is. These are tricks, jokes, and lies.

Another thing that struck me is how some techniques of magic can be applied in different ways. The same techniques that mediums used in Abbott’s day (and that are probably still used today) can “predict” your friends’ orders at a restaurant. And, if you’ve caught Penn and Teller on TV a few times in the past ten years, you’ve seen the three-of-clubs turn up in all sorts of places. You’d think, knowing what punchline is coming, that tricks might get old; that knowing the secrets would take away from the fun. But it doesn’t. There’s one sort of fun for the first time and another for the twentieth.

* For the second time this week, if you don’t want to know how magic tricks are done, this might not be the book for you. Even if it is filled with secrets that are fun to know.

Genre: Non-fiction.
Why did I choose to read this book? Writing a book, research, yada yada…
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yep, it was a short, quick read.
Format: Paperback. With all it’s footnotes and illustrations, I imagine it is not a Kindle slam-dunk.
Procurement: PaperbackSwap
Bookmark: Business card from Mercurial Musings

Abbott, David P. "Spiritualistic Materialization and Other Mediumistic Phenomena." The Open Court. May 1919, 33/5. 263Apparently, it’s Magic Week on my blog. Yesterday, I had a review of Jim Steinmeyer’s fantastic Hiding the Elephant. Today, Penn & Teller. On Friday, Eric and I plan on seeing Now You See Me, a magic laden thriller starring Jesse Eisenberg (which I’m hoping I will be excited to blog about). Saturday Cinema is to hit some other magic movies, especially Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

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