Around ten years ago now, good god, I got involved in what we awkwardly refer to as the atheskeptihumanist community, the online space of people who were actively interested in building a prosocial online community that present a counterpoint to religious and counterfactual organisations. During this time I listened to a lot of podcasts and read a lot of blogs and generally got a handle on the ways that I was messed up by my religious experience.
Then Elevatorgate happened, and I watched the way (now Dr) Jey Mcreight was treated by the community around them, and basically everyone involved in that space got super split along lines of ‘not a garbage human’ and ‘garbage human tolerant or adjacent’ and I became aware of just how badly ‘atheist’ was maligned as a label amongst other non-religious people. It was still an important part of who I was, but good news, a religious upbringing taught me how to keep important parts of my identity hidden from the world around me for fear of how I’d be treated.
Still, there were names during that time. People whose credentials and work I picked up that I managed to keep a hold on, even after I stopped checking the same spaces. Dr Luke Galen, for example, who researched prosociality in religious organisations, or PZ Meyers who I saw standing up for queer folks in the face of transphobia from younger members of the movement, and Brian Brushwood, a goofy street magician who did a few podcasts on how understanding how people are fooled.
Brian Brushwood, through the early days of ‘Netflix as a subscription service that mailed DVDs to your house’ and ‘everything is a domains.com sponsorship,’ ran an online video show called scam school (It’s been changed now to Scam Nation as it works on growing up a bit) which was about bar bets, magic tricks, games and puzzles that you digest in about five minutes. The channel has problems, certainly back a decade ago, when it did bar tricks to get attention from girls, and when dealing with other magicians from other spaces, there’s always that risk.
Especially when you check out his other channel, Modern Rogue, which is basically a No-Boobs Lads Mag of activities – building impromptu tools, trying to do things from movies, dangerous stunts, playing with fire, picking locks, concealing weapons, all that good stuff.
Now, okay, here’s why this channel got great though: because during the lockdown, turns out you don’t have people going to bars to do puzzles and bets and magic tricks.
But what Brian Brushwood does have is a family.
And that means that for the past few months, Scam School has been held in his backyard with his daughter, Josie. And if you’ve ever wanted to watch a magician deal with a hard audience, there is nothing so hard as an unimpressed ten year old kid. It’s lovely, it’s wholesome considering it’s talking about ‘beer bets’ with a kid?
Alright, now, one of the reasons I brought this channel up is because there’s a single trick from this channel that I do, and it’s one of my favourites because it’s a math puzzle and the trick itself is three hundred years old. Probably older, but we have proof it’s at least 300 years old. It also works as a trick you can perform for an audience of two.
EDIT, 17/03/2021: The original version of this article deadnamed Dr McCreight. This was not intentional and has been corrected.