Nine hundred and fifty-seven.
Apparently, that’s the College’s answer to the question that has tortured young candy enthusiasts for decades — just how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?
This answer was one of several revelations delivered by Peter Boie, the self-proclaimed Magician for Non-Believers, to a packed Rathskeller on Friday night. Others revealed that, given a suitably dramatic background track, it is possible for one to wrangle his way out of a straitjacket in five minutes flat, that an over-the-top Siegfried and Roy impression can amplify even the simplest feat of magic and that the difference between reality and illusion is a matter of perspective.
Boie, whose talent for mystique and knack for showmanship earned him nominations for Best Novelty Performer and Fastest Rising Star by Campus Activities Magazine, delighted the wall-to-wall crowd at the Rat with sleights-of-hand, harrowing escapes from a variety of “lethal” contraptions (notably, the Thumbcuffs of Death) and clairvoyance.
He played all of a traditional magician’s hands — tricks with cards, tricks with scarves, tricks with the assistance of bewildered audience members — but threw in a few of his own as well.
In one instance, he brandished a blue scarf, turning it over and over between his fingers and chatting with the audience until the mood was sufficiently lulled, at which point a single flash of his hand turned it into — snap! — an egg.
“This is a magician’s old favorite,” he said. “What they don’t want you to know is they’ve really got the egg in their hand the whole time. It’s plastic and it has a hole in it.” He reenacted the trick for a bemused audience, revealing how the egg and scarf were strategically placed in the magician’s hand and one was fed into the other while the magician struck up a casual rapport with his crowd.
But just as members of the audience were beginning to feel there was reason for their non-belief, Boie delved into the large box positioned in the center of the stage. He emerged with an eraser, and, flourishing the scarf and plastic egg, added offhandedly, “So we know the egg has a hole in it. That’s how this trick is done. But what happens when you simply … erase it?” With that, he rubbed the eraser three times over the hole, and it disappeared, to awed gasps from the audience. He cracked the egg, no longer plastic, into the cup. “Then, you get magic.”
An unassuming, dryly funny stage presence, Boie knew how to engage a college audience. One stunt found him holding aloft a rope with four knots in it, asking a female volunteer to blow on each knot to make it disappear. After three failed attempts, Boie quipped, “You don’t get a lot of practice with this, do you?”
His persona, not overtly bawdy, ensured that it took the audience a few moments to grasp the double entendre, but when they did, scandalized laughs rippled through the audience.
And then there was the Tootsie Pop. Approximately halfway through the show, Boie asked for a volunteer to help the College crack the riddle that has puzzled our generation since 1969 — the one involving that animated kid, Mr. Owl and a Tootsie Pop. From a throng of volunteers, he called up Lindsay Flanagan, freshman elementary education major, to complete the task of licking a Tootsie Pop to its Tootsie Roll center, and counting her licks on a Tootsie Pop Lick-o-Meter, a device that records the number of “licks it takes” on a small LCD screen. He set up Flanagan with a Tootsie Pop she randomly drew from his bag and the Lick-o-Meter, and sent her back to her seat to tackle her assignment.
At the end of the show, Boie called Flanagan back up. “Lindsay! Are you still licking?”
In fact, she had stopped, recording the number of licks it took her to reach the Tootsie Roll center on the small device. Once onstage, Boie asked her to remove from the Rathskeller stage’s right wall a large envelope marked “finale” that had been taped there since the first trick.
“This was my prediction,” Boie announced, “for the flavor and lick count of this lollipop Lindsay licked tonight. Would you please read it for me, Lindsay?”
Flanagan could barely contain giggles of glee as she read Boie’s predictions for the fate of the grape lollipop she had just finished enjoying: “It will take 957 licks, and the lollipop will be grape.”
“I thought it was unbelievable that he knew exactly how many licks she had and what flavor lollipop she had, because the envelope was sitting there the whole time,” said Stephanie Burdel, sophomore elementary education major.
Burdel captured the sentiment of the audience — awed, delighted and feeling as though they witnessed something that defied reality, something unbelievable.
Or perhaps it is not so unbelievable after all. Maybe it is, as Boie said, magic.
“Whatever you believe,” he told the audience, “just know that reality is the illusion.”