Magic at your fingertips

Menny Lindenfeld and Shlomi Grandes have harnessed technology to 'liberate' magic, imbuing ordinary cellphones with the power of illusion.

July 9, 2009 13:27
Magic at your fingertips

Menny Lindenfeld 88 248. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel has been called the land of miracles, but not many know that it's also the land of magic. It turns out that some of the most important innovations in magic and mentalism originated right here. "Not only that," says Shlomi Grandes, of Trixcell (, makers of the first and only applications that let you perform magic on your cellphone. "The Israeli crowd is the toughest one in the world to crack. If you can do magic in Israel, you can do magic anywhere." Everyone's heard of Uri Geller, of course - the man who arguably has done more for magic and mentalism than anyone since Harry Houdini (who was also Jewish). Geller's showmanship inspired a whole new generation of magicians and mentalists, and his Israeli TV show, The Successor, was the prototype for the NBC show Phenomenon, in which Geller and fellow magician Criss Angel chose the most promising up-and-coming magicians. Geller is known for his famous spoon-bending tricks and has made a name for himself on late-night talk shows around the world as an expert on magic and mentalism - with great controversy, at times. But Geller isn't the only big local name in magic; living and working in Tel Aviv is Menny Lindenfeld, the "magician's magician." A well-known and well-respected performer, Lindenfeld is also the creator of some of the most popular tricks used by magicians around the world. He's advised and worked with some of the most famous stage performers, helping them to train and polish their act. "I can't mention any names," Lindenfeld says when asked for their identities, but "you've definitely heard of them." Lindenfeld wowed me with a video of his Hollow (and Hollow II) card trick, in which a hole in a playing card gets "transferred" to another card. It has been one of the best-selling professional tricks over the past several years. But developing tricks for professional magicians wasn't enough for Lindenfeld, or his childhood friend Shlomi Grandes. What kid hasn't tried his or her hand at sleight of hand? What excitement when you rip the plastic off the box of a new magic kit and you start trying to do the various tricks, only to find that it's a lot harder than it looks like on TV. There's a reason for that, says Lindenfeld: "To perform magic successfully, you have to make yourself part of the trick, to train your hands and your mind." In other words, you're either aiming to be a professional magician, or you're a spectator, whose participation is limited to oohing and ahhing. LINDENFELD AND Grandes have set out to change that, using cellphone technology. The two established Trixcell, a company that makes "magic trick" software applications. For example, in Trixcell's Pyro trick, you ask someone from the audience to blow on an image of a flame on the screen of your cellphone. Try as they might, the flame doesn't go out. But when you try it, the flame flickers until it finally extinguishes. And there's no secret buttons or Bluetooth connections involved; the trick works even if you're not holding the phone. Or take Trixcell's latest accomplishment, a homage to Uri Geller - the spoon trick. In the application, you see four cutlery items on your handset's display: a knife, tablespoon, fork and teaspoon. Center the phone on the table and ask a viewer to concentrate together with you on any chosen cutlery item (the "mark" doesn't tell you what item s/he's chosen). By just looking at the phone and concentrating - without touching it - your united mental power makes the item bend. You can see some amazing videos of the tricks in action on the Trixcell site, but seeing them in real life on your cellphone is even more amazing. But most amazing of all is that you and I - the ones who until now could do no more than observe - can now "do magic," just like Uri Geller and David Blaine, another headliner. And maybe even do them one better: According to Grandes, "If we were to show these illusions to Geller and Blaine, they would not be able to figure out how they work" - unlike with "traditional" magic, where a professional would be able to surmise more or less how the trick was done. How does Grandes know? "We've shown the tricks to professionals in the magic field, as well as to cellphone application experts - and no one has been able to figure it out yet." Instead of years of laboring at the craft, anyone who purchases tricks can, with just a little practice, entertain friends and family with the magic of their cellphone. In other words, Grandes and Lindenfeld have not only produced a great party trick, they have "liberated" magic, using technology to bring the power of illusion to the non-pro. "We aim for the layman when we develop our tricks," says Grandes. "Our tricks are designed to enable people who have never done magic to participate in presenting illusions." The technology acts as the magician's "back end"; it replaces the years of practice usually needed to perfect an illusion. The concept has taken off, and the applications have been wildly popular just about everywhere they are sold - in 90 countries, through some of the largest cellphone service providers. And the applications are available not only for advanced smart phones, but for even older Java-based phones. It's part of the pair's commitment to bringing cellphone magic fun to the masses. "Unlike other companies, we make sure to develop whatever applications we build for all levels of phones, not just the most advanced ones," says Grandes. "And we sell in even less attractive markets, where people are poorer and devices are simpler, because we want everyone to be able to enjoy this." TO ENSURE that the tricks are as authentically "magical" as possible, Lindenfeld has tapped contacts to assemble the "Shadow Magicians" council, some of the biggest names in magic. "It's my job to look at the various technologies and determine which ones - GPS, voice, etc. - would be relevant to a trick we want to develop," says Grandes. "Then Menny and the Shadow Magicians take over, brainstorming the ways we can pull off the trick within the confines of the technology." The group has contributed significantly to the final form of the tricks Lindenfeld and Grandes have produced. Everyone who sees them loves them, to the extent that this year self-funded Trixcell's applications were nominated for a Meffy, a top award from the Mobile Entertainment Forum, in the category of best content of the year. Grandes's background is in marketing, while Lindenfeld has been interested in magic since he was growing up in Vienna. It was there he got his first exposure to magic, through the amateur magic act of a friend of his father's. At 20, he went to Montreal to seek his fortune, and began performing there. But performances weren't enough for him; he wanted to create the tricks as well as stage them. Lindenfeld was certainly up to the task; he is "one of the best and most creative artistic designers in Israel today," says Grandes. Lindenfeld also designs the screens and graphics for the applications, and the marketing displays on the Trixcell Web site. He may spend much of his time developing the Trixcell tricks and creating new tricks for professionals, but Lindenfeld is not averse to taking to the stage when needed. In fact, he's a little too good. "Once I was performing on behalf of a large Israeli exporter of motor blades and engines, which are generally used under very extreme conditions," he says. "I was to do a show before all the company's major clients in Germany, so I thought I would do a trick that the customers and the company could appreciate - using some of the blades produced by the company." Big mistake, he says; "My trick was to bend one of the blades mentally - the blades that were supposed to be able to stand up to any kind of punishment, and come through undamaged." And, indeed, he pulled off his trick - to the shock of the customers, who thought they were getting a nearly impenetrable product, and to the chagrin of the blades' producer, who now had to explain "why the mental abilities of a magician were more than a match for the blade." Needless to say, Lindenfeld adds, "they did not invite me back for another show." EVEN THOUGH Trixcell sells in 90 countries, including many where you wouldn't expect to find an Israeli company active, the company has never had any trouble except for Egypt. There the entire line of Trixcell products was pulled from the catalog of Mobinil, the largest cellphone service provider, when it found out that Trixcell tricks were made by an Israeli company. "Israel has a peace treaty with Egypt, and even if they criticize Israel there, Trixcell only deals with business, not politics, so it's a very unfortunate reaction on their part," says Grandes, who adds that the company has never gone out of their way to hide its Israeliness. The loss is all the Egyptians'. Trixcell's tricks can make you instantly popular and gain you points with the boss or even potential mates (Grandes says the tricks "are a great way to hit on girls," or vice versa). "Magic and magicians are always the center of attention," says Grandes. "It makes Menny and me very happy to be able to give more people the opportunity to be magicians and make people smile."

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