Adam Green’s profile of pickpocket Apollo Robbins in The New Yorker has rightly generated much buzz this week: Robbins is a master, and Green does his rich story justice.
The New Yorker produced an accompanying video of Robbins showing Green how he can relieve him of his watch, his wallet, and even his cellphone (from his front pocket) without being detected. It’s a fun clip that gives some hint of how Robbins manipulates the spotlight of attention in away that allows him to “work in the dark.”
For sheer entertainment and wonder value, however, I actually prefer this older clip of Robbins fleecing New York Times science writer George Johnson in a less rehearsed and controlled situation. This occurred at a special MindScience conference on the neuroscience of magic. Johnson was by chance called to the front of the room to serve as a mark. And Robbins simply cleans him out. You watch — and watch again. Even the second (or third) time through, you’ll miss most or all of the moves Robbins uses to empty Johnson’s pockets.
For more on the neuroscience of magic, see the lab page of Susana Martinez-Conde, a visual attention scientist who, with her husband and collaborator Stephen Macknik, organized the conference and wrote, with Macknik and writer Sandra Blakelee, the excellent Sleights of Mind.