Mark Setteducati – magical inventor (#19)

Mark Setteducati2

Magician and Inventor of games, puzzles and magic. Companies worldwide have marketed over fifty of his creations, including “Magic Works”, “Jigazo Puzzle” and “Rubik’s Game”. He is the Author of “The Magic Show”, an interactive book of magic published by Workman Publishing. In 2014 the Academy of Magical Arts awarded Setteducati a Creative Fellowship and honorary lifetime membership to The Magic Castle.

Describe something that has recently amazed you and how it made you feel.

A few years ago a friend emailed me a link to a YouTube video of one of Kokichi Sugihara’s mirror illusions, where a 3D object/shape is put in front of a mirror and the reflection of the 3D object appears to change shape in the mirror. I’ve experimented with and studied mirrors most of my life and used mirrors in many of my inventions. I even marketed games and puzzles where the pieces appear different in the mirror, but a 3D object? This blew me away and took me a while to figure out how it was done. I could have never come up with this idea. This past April I was at a conference with Sugihara where he demonstrated incredible variations and ideas with his mirror objects, and again he blew me away with the inventiveness and originality of taking his idea even further. I love when somebody does something that I never would have thought of – it inspires me to look at everything I do and exemplifies that all ideas can be taken further or in different directions. I thought I was the expert of mirrors, but Sugihara is the god!


How would you personally define wonder, awe and curiosity? And how do they relate to each other?

When you experience something you don’t understand, such as a magic trick, you wonder.

When you experience something beyond your imagination, such as the Grand Canyon, you are in awe.

When you experience wonder or awe, and want to think about, explore, or “play” with it more, you are curious.


What inspires you to be creative?

I love great ideas and being challenged by creative problems. When I create something that I am happy with it is one of the most fulfilling feelings a person could have.


Do you have any ‘rituals’ or an environment that aids your creativity?

My creative “ritual” is every Christmas, for the past 43 years, I create and make an original Christmas card that I send to my friends. My friends think that it is a nice thing that I do for them… but the truth is I do it for me! This forces me to come up with a different solution to the same problem every year; design a Christmas card. When I first started doing the cards I did not know how valuable it would be for me. Now, after many years, the cards serve as a diary of my creative process over a long period of time. Many of the ideas turned out to be basic research for what later became projects such as my Magic Show book and my Travel Wheel Of Fortune game. Again, I did not know this until after the fact. Years later looking back on my work and the Christmas cards I saw the connections. Because I send the cards to my close friends, I am forced to create the idea by myself, without showing it to my usual friends and colleagues for their input or feedback. I am flying “totally solo”, I can’t show it to them because I want it to be a surprise when they receive it. I make every one by hand, which is also very important. If I just came up with the idea and gave it to somebody else to make, it would not be the same commitment necessary to come up with a great idea. Because I make over a hundred cards it takes me the whole week before Christmas and it is so much work, it forces me to be really happy with the idea. There were several years, after I had printed and were assembling the cards; I realized I was just not happy with the idea for all the effort I was investing. This pushed me to think further, and forced me to come up with a much better idea for that year than I would have done without the commitment of hand making every card myself.


What do you love about magic?

I love great ideas and ingenious solutions to problems. The design, ideas, psychology and principles in magic are some of the best ideas humans have ever thought of.


What do you think hinders an audience from experiencing wonder when watching a magician?

The magician’s failure to present and show to their audience how wonderful the tricks and effects are; but instead tries to show the audience how wonderful the magician is.


Where do you think our sense of wonder comes from and what can we do to cultivate it?

Our minds automatically try to figure out, understand and make sense of everything it encounters. When it can’t, such as with a magic trick, it makes us wonder. Some people draw conclusions too quickly and accept and are satisfied with inadequate solutions or cliché answers. For example, if they see a card trick, they might assume a card was palmed because they heard magicians palm cards so that’s how it must have been done. Even though this would be an impossible solution, they stop thinking and their minds accept this answer. The more you think about things the more you wonder, so don’t stop thinking.


I’m a massive fan of paper engineered books and hands down my favourite is “The Magic Show”. Could you tell me a little bit about the development of the book and its impact?

The ultimate challenge is to invent a trick that will fool people without a magician present and performing it; self-performing magic. Even more challenging is to use only paper. This is what I set out to do. Design a book that would perform magic. When I design my Christmas cards I try to make them “tricks”. Several of the tricks in the book started as one of my past Christmas cards. People only see the end result of the book and don’t see the enormous amount of time and effort put in by not only me, but the many people involved in making it. From my co-author Anne, to Steve Ellis the artist, the staff at the publishing company which includes the editor and design department, the paper engineering consultants, the many variations of tricks we tried that didn’t work, the seventy people on the assembly line in Ecuador that actually hand assembled each book. I remember being in Ecuador when the first copies came off the assembly line for me to approve. When finally holding the first finished book in my hands, looking through it I only saw it as printed cardboard pages. It was very anti-climactic. I thought to myself, “all this work for this…?” It was a letdown. I was so tired of it that I didn’t see the magic; I only saw a bunch of printed cardboard pages. Later, when people started to tell me how much they loved it including people I really respected, I started to see the magic again. It’s now been almost 20 years since it was published and people still talk about the book, which I never would have imagined would happen.


Lots of your toys/games/puzzles seem to have a strong magical influence. When you invent them how does your magical background help?

There are two ways to invent a trick, toy, game or puzzle. First would be to start from a theme, a name, or something specific you would like to do. For example, you might want to make a pen disappear, or make a game about the stock market. The second way to invent is to start with a principle and explore it. This is the way I like to work; start with a principle and see where it takes me. Many of the principles I start with use magic, illusions, and mirrors. My exploration of ideas with mirrors began in the early 1970’s, while I was a student at the School of Visual Arts in NY. I made a business card using a mirror to reflect my name, and it was my first idea with a mirror. Around the same time, in a design class where we were given different assignments each week, I put a half cube on a mirror, which combined with the reflection to create the illusion of a cube. More than 10 years later this evolved into my first marketed mirror puzzle called “Optical Conclusions”. I kept thinking about mirrors because i felt there was more there. I developed many other ideas with mirrors, including my “Dracula Bank” marketed by Tenyo, and a game called “Illusion” where some pieces appeared to be a different color when reflected in the mirror. This was marketed as “Rubik’s Illusion”. Principles and ideas can take years of exploring and incubation time before you realize their full potential. It took several years after the illusion game before I realized what seems to be obvious now but wasn’t then, that I could put images instead of colors on the pieces and create a puzzle. This became my Harry Potter mirror puzzles.


Another thing that strikes me about your work is how playful it is. How can we sustain play into adulthood?

The biggest obstacle to play is a new phenomenon that didn’t exist when I was growing up. It’s called mobile devices, iPads, Facebook, texting, social media, etc. I watched TV when I was a kid, but this was only a small part of my day and was very primitive compared to what we have today. This new phenomenon is much more addictive, isolating, all consuming, all of the time, and causing many problems that didn’t exist before, not only for kids, but also for adults. If you want to sustain play, try to get away from this stuff and interact with people in the real world and the old way, without the distraction and addiction of this new phenomenon.

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