Enter the maze

De dot dot dot de dash dash dash, that's all I want to say to you

by Peter W McOWan and Paul Curzon, Queen Mary University of London

Morse Tapper istock 877875

Magicians have always kept a close eye on new science and technology...it makes for great tricks. The idea of communicating with dots and dashes revolutionised Victorian communications, for example. It also inspired lots of mentalism acts, where a pair of magicians can apparently communicate words or objects to each other by some kind of telepathic link. Perhaps you could make yourself a special magician's jacket that allows you to magically allow your partner-in-crime to read your mind.

Morse code is the method by which each letter of the alphabet is converted into a unique combination of dots or dashes. It revolutionised communications. Because the dots and dashes were easy to create, transmit and receive even if there was atmospheric interference it became the Victorian equivalent of today's internet communication coding. The fact that it was a fairly simple code that allows you to spell out any word made it popular with many mentalism acts. Previously, mentalism couples needed to learn complex codes with lots of different signals meaning different objects or words to make their act seem magical.

The dots and dashes can be communicated in lots of ways - with sound, with electronic pulses, but also with light. One mentalsim technique involved a torch bulb, a battery and a switch, and most importantly a small hole in the back of a jacket. Standing with their back to their partner-in-mentalism, the magician could transmit all manner of information using the flashing torch. The switch might be hidden in their shoe and switched by their toe. It needed more than the electronics to work as a mentalism act, though. They needed a code and Morse code gave them a flexible way of communicating anything.

The audience who were in front saw none of the coded flashing going on behind only the seemingly impossible recovery of secret facts told only to the transmitting performer.

With a battery, switch, wires and a small torch bulb or led you could make one yourself. For a more modern twist, perhaps using a micro:bit that can talk to other devices, you could come up with other ways to communicate the code - vibrating the partners phone maybe... over to you to come up with your own cunning magic mentalism trick.