Art in Motion


As a firm believ­er in form fol­lows func­tion, I have to say, air­planes are some beau­ti­ful engi­neer­ing. That’s why I was excit­ed to check out MotoArt with Ben from Atlas Obscu­ra last Sat­ur­day. Locat­ed right by LAX air­port, this com­pa­ny takes old air­plane parts and turns them into high-end art and fur­ni­ture pieces. I had not heard of them before the tour, but was sur­prised to find they have had a lot of pub­lic­i­ty over their sto­ried his­to­ry — they’ve been cov­ered in numer­ous mag­a­zines, start­ing with a spread in Max­im and cul­mi­nat­ing with a show on Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel called Wing Nuts!

Dave, one of the co-own­ers and co-founders, led the tour. He and his part­ner Dono­van start­ed as sign guys work­ing most­ly for the theme parks in the area. One day, their scrap met­al guy hap­pened to have an old air­plane pro­peller in his truck, and Dono­van bought it for $100, pol­ished it to a mir­ror fin­ish, and sold it as a free­stand­ing sculp­ture for $1,000. Just like that, the seed was plant­ed. After mak­ing more pro­peller sculp­tures and sell­ing them at a show for $6,000-$10,000 each, the two decid­ed to make this their full-time job.

They have had some inter­est­ing ups and downs along the way. It used to be that when a mil­i­tary air­plane was decom­mis­sioned, a mini-bone­yard would form around it. The scrap­pers would tear the air­plane apart, and the gov­ern­ment would buy back some of the still func­tion­al parts, and then the rest were auc­tioned off to pri­vate par­ties. How­ev­er, Iran was caught try­ing to buy parts from an F‑16, and the gov­ern­ment decid­ed that nation­al secu­ri­ty demands that any­thing remote­ly mil­i­tary could no longer be sold off. There are a cou­ple of flaws in the log­ic, though. First, any­thing pre­vi­ous­ly decom­mis­sioned and junked is still OK to be resold. Sec­ond, we sell these same air­planes to our allies around the world, and there are no restric­tions on how they deal with their decom­mis­sioned air­planes. In short, it was secu­ri­ty the­ater that just made it more dif­fi­cult for MotoArt to get their hands on sup­plies for new pieces. That said, MotoArt did take out a big loan and buy up every­thing mil­i­tary that they could, and they still have con­tacts and leads to junk­yards with mil­i­tary parts sit­ting around. But they also great­ly expand­ed their use of com­mer­cial air­plane parts, which are unrestricted.

Here are a cou­ple of my favorite pieces from the tour:

B-25 Bomber Desk

First is the B‑25 Bomber Desk, from the air­planes per­haps most famous for the Doolit­tle Raid of Tokyo dur­ing World War II. The fab­ric skin was peeled off to expose the alu­minum frame, which was pol­ished and in some cas­es pow­der coat­ed dif­fer­ent col­ors. Dave told us that since they got the parts as-is, some of these desk have orig­i­nal bul­let holes in them still.

C-119 Flying Boxcar

The oth­er is the C‑119 Fly­ing Box­car Para­troop­er Door Cof­fee Table. While there is not an icon­ic mis­sion that these air­planes were used on, the door and the desk are quite beautiful.

It is a shame I could not even afford a small end table from MotoArt. Dave joked that even as the own­er of the busi­ness, he has trou­ble afford­ing his own prod­ucts — a very nice prob­lem to have. Next time you are by LAX with some time to kill, think about swing­ing down to El Segun­do and check­ing this place out.

Magic Castle Tour

Atlas Obscu­ra’s tour of the Mag­ic Cas­tle guid­ed by Seigfried Tieber sold out before I could get a tick­et. How­ev­er, it was so extreme­ly pop­u­lar, they did a repeat per­for­mance! I got pri­or­i­ty as a wait­lis­ter from the first time and quick­ly secured a tick­et this time. I showed up slight­ly ear­ly and enjoyed a drink at the main bar again as I wait­ed for Siegfried and Hadley to arrive. Here is the pro­gram from that week:

Magic Castle program (outside)

Magic Castle program (inside)

Magic Castle Tour

The tour itself was very inter­est­ing. The Mag­ic Cas­tle is quite a maze, so hav­ing a guide was great. Besides show­ing us the var­i­ous rooms, Siegfried stopped at an emp­ty par­lor to do some tricks for us. Serendip­i­tous­ly, his friend, a fel­low magi­cian, hap­pened to be tak­ing some peo­ple on a tour, stopped to watch and also per­form a bit! (I am sor­ry, I for­got his name…) Siegfried also told us a lot about the his­to­ry of the Mag­ic Cas­tle. Every room is packed with mag­i­cal relics and hid­den gems:

  • Invis­i­ble Irma is a ghost who plays piano behind the main bar and takes ver­bal requests!
  • I learned that magi­cians from the Mag­ic Cas­tle actu­al­ly designed the Haunt­ed Man­sion ride at Dis­ney­land, and there is still a minia­ture of the ride that explains the trick to the ghost­ly apparitions.
  • The base­ment bar, only open on week­ends, has a magi­cian bar­tender who per­forms tricks as he makes your drinks.
  • We saw a small group of magi­cians ner­vous­ly wait­ing to audi­tion for membership.
  • Milt Lar­son, one of the founders of the Mag­ic Cas­tle, was a con­sul­tant and had a cameo in Bed­knobs and Broom­sticks, one of my favorite clas­sic Dis­ney movies. (He is the unim­pressed spec­ta­tor with the bowler hat in the scene I linked.)
  • We got to peak our heads into the library, which is for mem­bers only.
  • We saw an instruc­tor set­ting up for one of the Acad­e­my’s class­es for aspir­ing magicians.

The tour con­clud­ed with a Q&A ses­sion with Siegfried, and then he invit­ed us to stay as long as we liked and check out the var­i­ous per­for­mances. In fact, he high­ly encour­aged see­ing as much as we could, because the Acad­e­my had just had their annu­al awards cer­e­mo­ny and many win­ners were per­form­ing this week.

Will Houstoun

First, I saw Will Hous­toun in the Close-Up Gallery. He had just won the Lit­er­ary Fel­low­ship and you could see it in his act. Each trick start­ed with his­tor­i­cal mag­ic triv­ia, he would per­form a relat­ed trick, ask a true-or-false ques­tion, and then reveal the answer. For exam­ple, he told us about one of the old­est tricks, the cups and balls, and its vari­ants such as three-card monte. He per­formed a sam­ple and then told us about the most famous magi­cian to do this trick, Mat­tias Buchinger (some­times Matthew Buckinger to his Eng­lish audi­ences), who was able to per­form this rou­tine despite being born with­out hands or feet! Spoil­er alert, this one is true!

Matthew Buchinger

Robert Dorian

Next up, I saw Robert Dori­an per­form in the Par­lour of Pres­tidig­i­ta­tion. He is a men­tal­ist, which I usu­al­ly enjoy in small­er dos­es, but not an entire act’s worth. It was a strong show­ing for the most part, but there was one bit where it was obvi­ous he was get­ting frus­trat­ed with the audi­ence vol­un­teer who could not fol­low his direc­tions. My favorite trick was flip­ping through a stack of cards with names of celebri­ties. He asked an audi­ence mem­ber to pick one and said that celebri­ty would then walk into the room. The secret, he told us, is that he got all of them to show up and wait out­side for a name to be called, and then the right one just had to walk in. We could not be sure, though, because the name on the card select­ed was his own.

Rob Zabrecky

Right after Mr. Dori­an’s per­for­mance, I got back in line for the Par­lour of Pres­tidig­i­ta­tion to see Rob Zabrecky. If you have not seen him before, he has got a very unique style of mag­ic — very Addams Fam­i­ly or Tim Bur­ton. I think this pho­to says it all:

Rob Zabrecky

I think every one of his tricks was great! An ear­ly one that got me was when he explained that he was work­ing on his social skills. He asked an audi­ence mem­ber to roll a die, and the result cor­re­spond­ed to a num­bered card held in a can­de­labra. On the back of the card was a social con­ven­tion they would do in front of every­one. (This was explained with a bit of a leer to the cute audi­ence mem­ber he had select­ed.) She was quite relieved to get “Hug” on her card. Lit­tle did she know, when he hugged her, we could read the backs of all the oth­er cards, and they all said “Kill.” I want to tell you about more, but I will hold back in case you ever get a chance to see him perform.

After that, I tried to cir­cle back to the Close-Up Gallery to see Bebel, but unfor­tu­nate­ly the small room had already filled up, so I had to go home only hav­ing seen these three acts.

Escape from the Jail

I went back to San Fran­cis­co in April to play SCRAP’s lat­est escape room, Escape from the Jail, with my usu­al crew plus a few new people.

Escape from the Jail


If you are unfa­mil­iar with SCRAP, they are a great escape game com­pa­ny and claim to have pio­neered the indus­try. I am not sure if that is true, but they were def­i­nite­ly the first I per­son­al­ly had heard of. My first game, The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad, was an excel­lent intro­duc­tion to escape games. Since then, I have played more of SCRAP’s games than any oth­er com­pa­ny’s. They keep things inter­est­ing by hav­ing three dif­fer­ent for­mats of games:

  1. Escape Room” — Your team is any­where from four to twelve play­ers. The team books exclu­sive access to a room for a spe­cif­ic time slot. You tear it apart look­ing for clues to solve puz­zles and “win” by find­ing the key to phys­i­cal­ly get your­selves out of the room.
  2. Escape Game” — Your team is always six play­ers. The team gets one table in a large con­fer­ence room, with any­where from twen­ty to thir­ty oth­er teams also play­ing at the same time. Each team gets a dupli­cate copy of the puz­zles and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly tries to solve them. Tech­ni­cal­ly every team can “win” by putting down the cor­rect “final answer” on your answer sheet.
  3. Escape Park” — Your team can be any num­ber of play­ers. The team runs around a large open area such as a city neigh­bor­hood or sports sta­di­um. Each team gets a dupli­cate copy of the puz­zles and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly tries to solve them. Tech­ni­cal­ly every team can “win” by putting down the cor­rect “final answer” on your answer sheet.

(My names, not theirs.) These dif­fer­ent for­mats allow SCRAP to put unique twists on their games as well as roll out new games much more often than com­pet­ing com­pa­nies that only do “tra­di­tion­al” escape rooms.

Escape from the Jail

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SCRAP’s most recent offer­ing was Escape from the Jail, which is in the “escape room” for­mat. The game is still cur­rent­ly run­ning, so I do not want to give away too much. Obvi­ous­ly, the theme is a prison set­ting. The sto­ry is that we were false­ly accused of a crime and have to escape before we are exe­cut­ed. SCRAP’s observers were described to us as ghosts of past pris­on­ers; I appre­ci­ate that they always have an expla­na­tion of why staff is in the room with you.

Besides the usu­al safe­ty rules (no run­ning, do not touch things marked as not part of the game, etc.), there were a cou­ple of new wrin­kles. First, our team was split in two, and locked into adjoin­ing cells with a sol­id wall in between. One staff mem­ber role-played a prison guard rather than just a silent observ­er. He enforced the prison-spe­cif­ic rules, includ­ing no talk­ing between cells! If you have played any escape games before, you know how vital com­mu­ni­ca­tion with team mem­bers is, so this lim­i­ta­tion made the game very interesting.


The puz­zle for­mat was very sim­i­lar to pre­vi­ous SCRAP games — you solve small­er puz­zles through­out the room and they feed into a “mas­ter puz­zle” cross­word that you have to ref­er­ence over and over. As usu­al, the puz­zles are well designed and fair­ly dif­fi­cult, but can be solved pure­ly through skill and with­out need of out­side knowledge.

Physical Challenges

It is hard to hold this against SCRAP, since it is not real­ly their style to have any phys­i­cal chal­lenges, thought I would like to see more of this type of thing from their escape room sce­nar­ios. I think the most dif­fi­cult thing we had to do was use hand tools to take apart a locked box.


My group of escape artists knows most of the SCRAP staff by name, but they have been hir­ing more and more late­ly. The staffers are this par­tic­u­lar game were all new to us, but they were well trained, and the guard was outstanding.


SCRAP games are always fun to me because their puz­zle design is great brinks­man­ship — we are always around the final puz­zle when time is up! The oth­er impor­tant fac­tor to me is involve­ment — there needs to be enough mate­r­i­al for every team mem­ber to be work­ing on some­thing at a giv­en time. SCRAP usu­al­ly nails this because of their ten­den­cy to reuse puz­zle pieces. Even if there are not enough new puz­zles for mem­bers to work on, some­one can and should be review­ing pre­vi­ous puz­zles to see if they can be applied.

Over­all, it was a great game. And true to team tra­di­tion, we failed with final key in hand, rac­ing for the exit door!