Bending Cutlery for Fun and Profit, The Tut Tale, Twiddling, and Drilling Spheres!

How do you bend a spoon? Well, any ninny can do that, as well as he can break a wine-glass or tear a page from a book. Takes no intellect whatsoever. But the magicians do such a thing as if itís being done by the power of their minds, by some sort of mental gift theyíre exhibiting. Only a rather slow person would accept this claim, but there seem to be a fair percentage of slow folks out there.

Magicians often ask me how to bend a spoon to make it look like a miracle. I tell them they wonít be happy with the answer, because they expect a complex "move" or some sort of secret device or chemical ó but itís all expressed in these seven words: Bend it when no one is looking. Yep, thatís the secret, complete, unvarnished, and direct. The obvious next question is, "How do you make sure theyíre not looking?" Hereís how.

You have lots of opportunity to move around. Excuses like, "Letís go over here," or "I need to be near the window," will enable you to put a 30-degree bend into any spoon, since everyoneís involved in moving to the new location, and a quick move simply bends the utensil. You may not think that people will excuse your holding the spoon in both hands ó as shown in the illustration ó but they actually will. Iíve often wondered why some spoon-benders need to carry a single spoon in both hands, when I, at the advanced age of 72, can carry as many as a dozen spoons in one hand! Really!

Of course, as soon as youíve accomplished the bend, as yet unrevealed, you have to conceal that fact. Get bossy. Tell people where to stand, and keep on talking. Cover the spoon with your hands so that they canít see the bend, and finally ask one of the victims to hold one end of the spoon ó as if that gave him/her any control over it! ó while you stroke away and gradually reveal the bend that you insist is psychically appearing. And always attribute the success of the miracle to the subjectís presence and involvement, of course! In recounting it afterward, you specify that the spoon was being held by another person while it bent. And yes, that will be believed, because itís almost true.

But the best is yet to come. Before you rush on to another demonstration of (as I always say) "a semi-religious nature," give the spoon a quick further bend, and discard it. As soon as itís out of sight, casually remark that often the utensil youíve affected will continue to bend by itself. When the spoon is retrieved later, lo! itís bent even more, in compliance with your prediction!

There is currently available on the market a fork that can be freely shown in an unbent condition, then placed down in full sight while it literally arches up into a 45-degree bend all by itself, and can be thoroughly inspected immediately afterward. This is a pricey "prop," and well beyond the amateur budget.

As with all these tricks, we know ó donít we? ó that "psychics" do the same effects, but do them by real supernatural powers. The fact that both the tricky way and the "real" way are absolutely identical, is unfortunate, because it means we canít tell the difference unless weíre told by the performer, and we have to decide whether or not we should believe him/her.

Drat!

We get one question often asked at the JREF, in reference to a favorite bit of mythology that pops up every so often in the press. In 1923, the world was fascinated with news of the discovery of the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen. This minor boy-king had ruled for only a few years, thirty-three centuries ago, and made little impact on the history of Egypt. That all changed when the important discovery was announced, for the tomb was essentially intact ó an exciting exception to the usual looted and destroyed remains that archaeologists were accustomed to finding. Immediately, the inevitable myths and sensationalistic stories began to appear in the press. The dreaded "Curse of the Pharaoh," an invention of the popular media that was said to bring ill fortune to anyone associated with the discovery, was invoked, and ever since that time journalists and hack feature writers have been periodically resurrecting (excuse the pun!) the hoax.

Now we find that Dr. Dominic Montserrat, an Egyptologist at London's Open University, says he has traced the origins of the curse story, not back to ancient Egypt but to 19th-century England! The tomb of the pharaoh who was to become known as King Tut was discovered by British archeologist Howard Carter in November, 1922, working under the patronage of the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, a devoted collector of antiquities. It yielded thousands of objects, from gold-covered chariots and masks to beautiful jewelry, furnishings and statues, as well as Tut's mummy itself, nested in three golden coffins. The discovery, reported to the press in early 1923, stunned the world and spurred popular belief in the "mummy's curse."

Dr. Montserrat, author of a book about pharaonic civilization titled, "History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt," says, "My research has not only confirmed that there is no ancient Egyptian origin of the mummy's-curse concept, but more importantly, it also reveals that it didn't originate in the 1923 press publicity about the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb, either. My work shows quite clearly that the mummy's-curse concept predates Lord Carnarvon's Tutankhamen discovery ó and his death ó by 100 years." He traces the origins of the curse story to a stage show that took place near London's Piccadilly Circus in 1821, in which Egyptian mummies were unwrapped for the paying public, and to an 1822 science-fiction novel called "The Mummy" that tells of a nasty cadaver that comes back to life and threatens the young hero, and to an 1828 anonymous English children's book, "The Fruits of Enterprize," in which mummies were set alight and used by explorers as torches to illuminate the interior of an Egyptian pyramid. Forty years later, Louisa May Alcott, author of "Little Women," wrote a short story called "Lost in a Pyramid; or, The Mummy's Curse." Dr. Montserrat rediscovered this long-lost work in the periodicals collection of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

The curse idea was copied and expanded upon by other British and U.S. novelists for the next half-century. By the time Carter and Carnarvon entered Tutankhamen's burial chamber, the idea of a mummy's "curse" was well-established. Scottish author Minnie MacKay promptly published a dramatic warning that "the most dire punishment follows any rash intruder into a sealed tomb." When Lord Carnarvon died suddenly of pneumonia just two weeks after entering the tomb, the Curse of King Tut was propelled onto the front pages of the world's newspapers. An "ancient Egyptian" inscription ó "Death shall come on swift wings to him that toucheth the tomb of Pharaoh" ó was invented, and any death or misfortune associated with the expedition, however remote, was attributed to the curse.

Montserrat says that six of the 26 people present at the opening of Tutankhamen's tomb died in the decade following its discovery. However, I can only find three. Carter, the one person who should have been struck down by any curse, uncovered and handled the mummy itself, but he did not die until 1939, aged 64.

Lists of those persons apparently felled in mysterious ways by the Curse have been developed, and are still being expanded upon to prove the truth of the claim. Not only those who actually were involved in the discovery and excavation of the mummy, but almost anyone even remotely connected with the event, have been dragged into consideration. The child of a secretary who was once employed by a scientist who "had an opinion" on Tut, died suddenly and she was trumpeted as the "latest victim" of the Curse. A workman at the Cairo Museum who had expressed doubt about the Curse, was involved in a fatal auto accident and was said to have died muttering in ancient Egyptian, a language totally unknown today. The press had a field day with these items, and the party still goes on.

There simply are no known genuine ancient curses relating to opening tombs or removing objects from them, but there is a stark reality rather than a myth that had to be faced by invaders. Tomb-robbers faced the wrath of the local Egyptian courts rather than that of the mummy's eternal spirit, and when caught, most were executed. However, according to ancient Egyptian beliefs, oneís eternal soul would be kept alive only if his name were periodically repeated, so the mythical mummy's curse may have ensured that Tutankhamen's name will live on for many generations to come.

A similar invention connected with mummies is not so well known, but Iím asked about it periodically by reporters who canít seem to be able to do basic research. An exotic locale tends to generate fantasies, and Egypt has provided more than its share of nonsense. In 1968, yet another startling story began to be circulated in the popular press. It involved a dead Egyptian princess this time, the usual ancient curse and lots of disaster, all the ingredients needed to attract attention. U.K. author John Macklin wrote:

The Princess of Amen-Ra lived some 1,500 years before the birth of Christ. When she died, she was lain in an ornate wooden coffin and buried deep in a vault at Luxor, Egypt, on the banks of the Nile.

Macklin went on to describe how in the early 1900s "four rich young Englishmen" (unidentified) bought the mummy of the princess in Egypt, whereupon one of them promptly walked out into the desert and vanished. Another of the buyers had his arm shot off, yet another had his bank fail, and the last one went broke and "was reduced to selling matches in the street." Wow!

But, according to this author, the curse was only getting started at that point. The next owner had three of his family injured in an accident, and his house caught fire. He wisely gave the princess-in-a-box to the British Museum . As we might expect, things went wrong from the very first minute that the museum took possession of the lady. First, the vehicle delivering the mummy backed up and pinned a pedestrian. Then one of the two porters carrying the sarcophagus fell down the stairs and broke a leg; the other died mysteriously two days later of "unknown causes." There's more. Exhibits in the room where Princess Amen-Ra was displayed ó once they got her and her box through the door ó were thrown about at night. A spirit from the coffin tried to throw a night watchman down a delivery chute. The child of a worker who showed disrespect to the princess died of measles.

We're hardly finished. Macklin breathlessly related that one worker who had delivered the princess to the museum fell seriously ill and another was found dead at his desk. A photographer sent to record the artifact found that the face painted on the sarcophagus registered on his film as a "human ó and horrific ó face." Apparently overcome by this repulsive result, he promptly locked himself up in his darkroom and blew his brains out, whatever there was of them.

It was 1912. Macklin declared that the British Museum, in it's Anglican wisdom, now offered to sell this increasingly awkward object to anyone who dared to buy it. As anyone might expect, the brash, loud, over-wealthy Enterprising American character now came upon the scene, heedlessly offered to buy the boxed princess, snapped her up for a good price, and decided to ship her to New York

aboard a sparkling new White Star liner about to make its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to New York. On the night of April 14, amid scenes of unprecedented horror, the Princess Amen-Ra accompanied 1,500 passengers to their deaths at the bottom of the Atlantic. The name of the ship was the Titanic.

Though this corny story has been circulated and re-circulated, rewritten and enthusiastically enhanced, it is still just a story. The mummy never existed and the entire tale is a journalistic exercise in bad writing and witless sensationalism, a story that the British Museum is often called upon to deny. The museum even publishes an official denial which is sent to those who inquire. But the story will show up again, count on it. And it will be believed and re-cycled.

But back to the Tut tale. Since this is the daddy of all the Curse myths, I concentrated on it. I made a list of the twenty-two persons who could be expected to fall under the dreaded Curse. Included are those who unwrapped Tut, (untaped Tut?), dissected the mummy, X-rayed it and in general messed about with the kids body. A study of these persons produces some very interesting data. First, the Curse would seem to be a beneficial one. The average life span of those involved was 73+ years. This beats the life span expectation in actuarial tables for persons of that period, profession, and social class, by just one year.

The average duration of life for these persons after the opening of the tomb, was 23+ years. Those who actually opened the burial chamber and removed and handled the remains, lived an average of more than 26 years after their very intimate involvement with the mummy. Particularly interesting is the fact that Adamson, Carter, Burton, Derry, and Lucas ó those who physically opened the burial chamber and removed and handled Tut, and were the literal violators of his repose ó were members of this elite group!

Also note that those sensationalists who have promoted the Curse have chosen to ignore the hundreds of Egyptian laborers who over a ten-year period, were involved in the tomb operation, as if these persons were unimportant. After all, appears to be the reasoning, they're only Egyptians! According to a tiny newspaper notice I found, one common laborer from the area died in 1995, 70 years after he helped open the tomb, but his death was not reported by the curse-watchers as significant in the overall picture. You don't want to spoil a good bit of claptrap, after all. Here's a rundown on the folks who were most involved in the violation of Tut's final rest.

Sergeant Richard Adamson, who guarded the burial chamber day and night for seven years, was certainly the closest person to Tutankhamen's remains. He died more than 57 years after his involvement, in his 80's. Georges Bénédite, the Louvre representative, died of heat stroke at age 69, three years after he worked at the site. Archaeologists J. H. Breasted, University of Chicago, and Bernard Bruyère, aged 70 and 80 respectively, died 12 and 42 years later. Howard Carter, Chief of Operations, the most totally involved of all persons, and one of the three present at the opening of the actual burial chamber, and his assistant A. R. Callender, both died 16 years after the tomb was opened; Carter was age 66. Walter Hauser and Lindsey Hall, project draftsmen who were present at all tomb operations, Charles Kuentz, Dr. Douglas Derry, Cairo University anatomist who dissected and examined the mummy, the official expedition photographer, and Harry Burton, who was involved in all tomb operations, all died 16 years afterwards. Derry was in his 80's. Jean Capart, Belgian archaeologist, died at age 70, 24 years after the event. Cairo Museum representative Reginald Engelbach lived 24 years after the opening, dying at age 70. Sir Alan Gardiner, the philologist who handled all the written material obtained from the tomb, died in his late 80's, 42 years after his attendance at the site. Lord Carnavon, the patron of the excavation, one of three persons present at the opening of the inner burial chamber, died before the mummy was uncovered, four months after the discovery, and much has been made of this. But he was fully expected to die, since he was in very precarious health. The only woman we have in this list is Lady Evelyn Herbert, Carnavon's daughter, who died at age 78, 57 years after she was present at opening of actual burial chamber. I have five others who lived well after the event, but the big winner is Pierre Lacau, Egyptologist from the Louvre Museum, intimately involved in all tomb operations, who lived 42 years more and died at age 92.

To live a long life, it appears that it might help to dig up a mummy. So much for curses.


The approaching-retreating-bolts puzzle of last week brought a variety of answers, and a number of interesting observations as well. Reader Jeffrey Abramsohn was first with a correct answer. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, it makes no difference in which direction you twiddle the bolts, they stay just where they are, the heads neither approaching or retreating relative to one another. Martin Gardner, in yet another of his wonderful books, explaining this situation, gives the analogy of walking up an escalator at the same rate that itís descending. You go nowhere. If you havenít done so already, try it on an escalator, or better, with a couple of bolts. See?

Youíll need the illustration again as you follow the discussion.....

One reader responded:

The screw heads will not move at all with respect to each other, assuming that both screws are being rotated at the same angular velocity. That last bit was an important item that you should have mentioned, but most will probably not notice.

Nope. "The same angular velocity" has nothing to do with it. Holding one bolt ó thatís the more correct word, not "screw" ó in a "stationary" position while rotating the other around it, produces the same effect as "twiddling" both.

But Harald Hanche-Olsen came up with a dandy way of treating the question. He wrote:

Assume that the bolts move towards each other. Then, if you reverse the movement, the bolt heads will move apart. But an observer standing on his head does observe the reversed movement, so the assumption is clearly absurd: The answer cannot depend on whether the observer is standing on his head or not.

Superb! My own system was this: Twiddle your thumbs. Go ahead, twiddle! Most of us will move the right thumb clockwise, looking at it from the right. Now, as stated above, this is one of those "relativity" situations; You can assign one bolt to a "stationary" position, while the other one turns around it, the same as you can twiddle your thumbs by moving only one thumb. Do that. Turn the right thumb around the left, clockwise as viewed from the right looking from the base of the right thumb toward the tip, holding the left thumb still. Now assume ó incorrectly! ó for a moment that if your thumbs were threaded like the bolts, the bases of your thumbs would be approaching one another. Now, as you twiddle, shift your point of view to the left side. The left thumb is now seen to be moving counter-clockwise relative to the right one. We now see that our assumption about the thumbs moving toward one another cannot be correct, since the direction of turning depends entirely on our point of view. Nor, for the same reason, can they be moving away from one another. By default, they maintain the same relative positions, as far as the distance between thumb-bases is concerned.

This method for reduction of a problem (reductio ad absurdum) will be reflected in the puzzle for this week, up ahead. Thatís a strong hint on how to solve it! And concerning my discussion of, and perhaps preoccupation with, the methods of solving that you folks employ, a reader expressed his opinion about the "shape" problem of last week:

It is good that you publish the various methods of reasoning that you receive, even the less conventional ones that you reject. I never thought of attacking the shape that way.

He is referring to one readerís method of looking at the 2X2 square, isolating it, and trying to find it in whatís left. Thatís an example of a "reduction" solution.

Okay, this next one is a doozie. Yes, it seems that there is just not sufficient information here to solve the problem. But there is, and itís a unique solution, and an absolutely beautiful one. I got really excited over this one, and I hope that you will, too. Send your answer ó an actual number! ó to randi@randi.org and a brief (please!) account of how you decided on it. Hereís the problem:

A straight cylindrical hole six inches long has been drilled straight through the center of a solid sphere. What is the volume that remains of the sphere?

WHAT???!!!

In the illustration, which is a 2-dimensional plan because Iím not good at 3-dimensional ones, the pink areas are sphere segments, parts of whatís drilled out, which weíll call "caps." The white area is the drilled-out cylinder. The green part is whatís left of the sphere after the hole is drilled ó the "remains." The rest is indicated clearly. Just so you wonít have to look up the formulae, Iíll give them to you:

Lots of luck! And, hey, the very first correct solution received will get an autographed copy of my book, "An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural."


A note: after showing a new page-format to several associates, Iíve decided to try it out. We got rid of one factor, the nuisance of having to scroll down through already-seen material after youíve clicked on the "read more" to take you to the full commentary. I hope this makes the page more convenient for you. Let us know what you think!