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Presto!

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Magic man Mark Setteducati appeared in our office the other day, bearing a magic book.

“This is the first book that actually performs magic,” he whispered, leaning close. “This book does not teach you to do tricks; the book actually does them,” he said, sounding ever more intense. Perhaps he sensed skepticism in our snort.

“Prove it,” we cracked, giving him one chance.

He opened “The Magic Show” (Workman Press, $18.95) to a page with four playing cards set into pockets.

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“Pick a card, any card,” the book read. We picked the Queen of Hearts, turned the page and opened an envelope that said, “Your card is the Queen of Hearts.”

“How did you do that?” we squealed.

“I didn’t,” he muttered, “the book did it.”

We went through more pages, watched people disappear, cards transmogrify, illustrated men escape from illustrated trunks. We were amazed and mystified. The magician didn’t have to say a word. The book works all by itself, tells you what to do, and does everything but smile when it fools you.

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Setteducati watched our reaction, then offered a business card--a small rectangular piece of black slate with nothing written on it. As we turned it over and over, trying to figure it out . . . something magical happened. We can’t tell you what, because he said he wants to surprise you when he meets you. Honest.

Setteducati, 44, is a magician’s magician, a guy who prefers to invent magic, rather than perform it.

“I’m not a furniture mover, like David Copperfield. Most people don’t realize magic has to be invented. They think we do the same old tricks forever. Most people also believe that the hand is quicker than the eye and that most magic is based on hand quickness. That’s untrue. The eye is quicker than the hand.”

The truth, he said, is that great magic is always conceptual in nature and always based on great design. There is a scientific principle involved in each scheme of deception, and some of his favorite schemes are based on “what fools us in nature. We walk into a window without realizing it’s there. Or we call out to somebody, who turns around and isn’t the right person.” Those are illusions in nature on which a conceptual magician can build illusions of magic.

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Neither suave nor glib, Setteducati is tall and gaunt, favors luminous suits and wears a pageboy coif reminiscent of 18th century composers.

He lives in Santa Monica and Manhattan and sells his magic concepts to firms like Tenyo (Japan) and Milton Bradley, which market them worldwide as games, puzzles, tricks and toys.

“The Magic Show” book, designed with co-author Anne Benkovitz, uses new principles the pair designed that could not work except in paper form, he said.

“Some friends who are great magicians were fooled by this book,” he said. “They knew the basic principles, but had never seen them applied this way.”

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We preferred to do our own market research. We gave the book to two children, ages 8 and 10. Once it was given, we could not get it back. The kids worked on it all afternoon. They played with it all night. They took it to Disneyland to peruse in their spare time. And then to school on Monday, to show off their skills to friends. On a Christmas gift scale of 1 to 10, they rated it an 11. When last seen, the book was in the hands of the 10-year-old, who was sitting on the floor at day-care, surrounded by a circle of her peers.

“How did you do it?” they were asking. “How did you do it?”


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