Wikipedia Surfing: from Houdini to a Whist-Playing Automaton

So, Harry Houdini is Willard Angeline’s arch-rival. I’m surfing Wikipedia and click from Harry Houdini to his mentor, Harry Kellar and stumble on this crazy bit:

In 1878, Kellar returned to England and invested $12,000 in new equipment, one of them being a version Maskelyne’s whist-playing automaton “Psycho”.

Whist-playing automaton?

Picture from the Museum of London:

From the Victorian Dictionary:

Psycho is the figure of a small and melancholy Turk, with lack-lustre eyes, and hands having a peculiarly unnatural appearance, even for an automaton, about the nails. He is seated cross-legged on a box, and he has small boxes near him. On the whole, he rather resembles a Turkish gentleman who, having determined upon travelling, had begun to pack up, and having suddenly tired of the occupation had sat down on a trunk, and rested his left arm on a couple of small boxes. However, Psycho is an independent gentleman, for he and his trunk are raised above the floor on a glass pedestal, quite transparent, and he most certainly appears to have no connection with anybody either on, or off, the stage. He does a sum in arithmetic; he takes a hand at whist, and plays (I was told this, not being a whist-player myself) a very fair game. Some clever people say there’s a dwarf concealed inside. If so, the dwarf himself would be a fortune in a separate entertainment; but, again, if so, Heaven help that unfortunate dwarf! Where the poor creature can possibly conceal himself is, to my mind, a greater wonder than that Psycho should be worked by electricity, as was, I believe (for I dare not say I know) the plain clock face of transparent glass shown in MR. ROBIN’S entertainment.

Punch, February 20, 1875

You can be damned sure that psycho will be in the Spirit of the Century game and when he does, he’ll do a bit more than just play whist, I reckon.

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16 thoughts on “Wikipedia Surfing: from Houdini to a Whist-Playing Automaton

      • Re: Hoaxy Automata

        There’s a great book about The Turk by Tom Standage called. . . The Turk! 🙂 It details the automaton’s history and has lots of fun facts.

        You might also be interested to read *The Sun and The Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York* by Matthew Goodman. It is supposed to be excellent, and probably full of good stuff for your Cog game.

      • Re: Hoaxy Automata

        There’s a great book about The Turk by Tom Standage called. . . The Turk! 🙂 It details the automaton’s history and has lots of fun facts.

        You might also be interested to read *The Sun and The Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York* by Matthew Goodman. It is supposed to be excellent, and probably full of good stuff for your Cog game.

  1. Re: Hoaxy Automata

    There’s a great book about The Turk by Tom Standage called. . . The Turk! 🙂 It details the automaton’s history and has lots of fun facts.

    You might also be interested to read *The Sun and The Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York* by Matthew Goodman. It is supposed to be excellent, and probably full of good stuff for your Cog game.

  2. Re: Hoaxy Automata

    There’s a great book about The Turk by Tom Standage called. . . The Turk! 🙂 It details the automaton’s history and has lots of fun facts.

    You might also be interested to read *The Sun and The Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York* by Matthew Goodman. It is supposed to be excellent, and probably full of good stuff for your Cog game.

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