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Merrymakers

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St. Patty’s Day Merrymakers: Talking about luck with Karla Starr

Karla Starr

Karla Starr

Karla Starr is a writer living in New York City. She writes about social science, and is currently writing a book about how and why people get chosen for opportunities. Recently I had the chance to talk with Karla about whether luck is real, how to create more of it, and how to avoid the bad kind.

 Feeling lucky? Read on!

Everybody’s Invited!: What is luck?

Karla Starr: It’s one of those words that can have a slippery definition. It can mean a million different things, and some people don’t believe it exists. The definition I like best is “probability interpreted personally,” because you can’t argue that probability doesn’t exist.

EI!: Are some people really luckier than others? Because sometimes it seems that way.

KS: It depends on how you interpret it. Looking at the bell curve of probability distribution, if events really are random, then some people will be the recipient of more unlikely occurrences than others, by definition.

One of the main things that explains why some people might have more good things happen to them is rooted in personality. If you’re an extroverted optimist, you’ll have a larger social network which leads to knowing about more opportunities, such as cool parties or jobs.

EI!: What else contributes to feeling lucky?

KS: Whether you have an Approach/Promotion mindset or an Avoid/Prevention mindset. People with the former are more focused on the possibility of rewards. They’re focused on new friendships and experiences. Those with the Avoid/Prevention mindset are more concerned with preventing pain or bad things from happening. They’re more likely to focus on not being rejected, and not losing what they already have.

The Approach/Promotion mindset leads to the exploratory behavior that is associated with better luck.

EI!: I’m listening to you describe these two types of people and I’m thinking that one is clearly better. Is that just me being biased?

KS: It’s not that we all have one mindset or the other all the time. We can change from one to the other, depending on the situation or the domain. You might be risk-averse when it comes to money, but have a high risk tolerance in social situations. It’s also easy to prime people to behave in one way or the other.

EI!: Phew! Good to know. The Avoid/Prevention mindset sounds like it’s related to scarcity.

KS: It is! Or, rather, it’s related to perceived scarcity. People who perceive something to be scarce end up being overly focused on whatever goal they’re trying to reach. Here’s an example from earlier today when I took a walk outside. I wasn’t walking with a specific goal in mind, like, say, to the train, hurriedly. I was just wandering around my neighborhood. Because I wasn’t overly focused on getting from point A to point B, I was paying attention to the different things in my neighborhood. And I found five dollars.

EI!: Lucky!

KS: Yeah. So then I went and bought kale, and an onion, and a mango, because that’s how I roll.  You see that all the time here in New York. People are in such a rush that they only see the step in front of them. They wouldn’t notice if Benedict Cumberbatch walked right by them.

EI!: Um…I would definitely notice. Hey, if this is just about probability, then wouldn’t paying more attention open you up to more bad luck, too? If you’re looking around more, aren’t you more likely to notice your ex on the subway platform and start crying uncontrollably?

KS: That leads us back to another part of the equation which is optimism and, specifically, resilience. If you’re resilient you can recover from seeing your ex on the subway, and you might not consider yourself any less lucky for having seen him. What looks like an average amount of good luck might actually just be an abnormally high amount of resilience.

EI!: Word.

TO CREATE MORE LUCK IN YOUR LIFE, CHECK OUT KARLA’S PRACTICAL STRATEGIES FOR BRINGING ON MORE UNEXPECTED REWARDS:

  • Always leave a lot of time to get from one place to another, and look around you. That’s when you notice the really cool stuff that can change your life.

  • Maintain a wide, diverse social circle. Increasing your network increases the number of opportunities you’re aware of. It’s just a numbers game.

  • Say yes to new things. Optimistic people imagine the world is full of potential rewards, and therefore they’re open to new experiences.

  • Don’t take rejection personally. While there are certain things you can do to set yourself up for success, there are so many factors that go into decision-making, many of which are out of your control. Resilient people can bounce back because they don’t personalize failures.

Be sure to visit Karla’s website for more.

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Merrymakers: Philip Levy, Magician

Philip Levy, of Theatricks by Phil, is has been making magic in the Long Island area for thirty-five years. His popular close-up and stage shows feature magic, comedy, balloon twisting, puppetry, card and rope tricks, and more.

We were curious about the behind-the-scenes story of the life of a magician, and Phil was kind enough to entertain our questions (after all, he is an entertainer).

Magician Philip Levy

Magician Philip Levy

Everybody’s Invited!: When did you get into magic, and how did you learn it?

Phil Levy: After seeing the Tony Curtis movie, Houdini, at ten years old, I was hooked…but it wasn’t until my late twenties that I purchased my first “magic” trick. It was an inexpensive, and simple, close-up effect that was difficult to learn due to the fact that it was produced in China and poorly translated. As time went on I learned other tricks from purchasing at what we call “Brick & Mortar” magic shops – and also from books and tapes. I still learn through books but, now, from DVDs, downloads and lectures.

EI!: You perform for all different kinds of audiences. How do you go about crafting your live shows?

PL: My shows are crafted through practice and experience; the more shows you do, the better you get at what you do, as in any field of endeavor. If it’s a skill that you must learn, it must be built on a strong foundation, then through your passion and experience, hopefully, you become the craftsman that you want to be—although always striving to be better. For me, the entertainment value is the be all and end all in my act and magic performance. My forte is comedy magic and the laughs either come from much thought, and hard work, or simple ad-libs, due to circumstance.

EI!: What kinds of shows do you enjoy doing the most? What kind of magic is the most fun for you?

PL: I get the greatest fun when I perform for children. My holiday shows during Halloween and Christmas are themed, and only come into use once a year, so the opportunity to change the act is wonderful. I also say I get the greatest fun when I perform for an adult audience. In other words, whatever type of show I am doing is the the greatest fun. In the thirty-five years that I have been performing professionally, my audiences have been mostly children but I do enjoy the opportunity to perform for adult audiences. Obviously, the magic becomes more sophisticated as the audience gets older.

There are many magic categories: the silly kids show including close-up magic using cards, coins, ropes; stand-up shows from mentalism to comedy; or big theater shows with large stage illusions. I can do them all except the last.

EI!: Do you get nervous before you perform?

PL: Practice and experience keep a performer’s stress level to a minimum. But being nervous, to a certain extent, helps to keep your adrenaline going so you can be at your best. This also means you care about what you are doing and want it to be a successful experience for all.

EI!: What would people be surprised to know about the life of a magician?

PL: Whether we are performing magic for friends, as our hobby, doing it professionally, part-time on the weekends, or as a full-time magician traveling all around the world, there are a few things we have in common. One of these is what people don’t see or think about: the hard work that goes into making the magic look natural and easy.

EI!: Is there anything else should I have asked you?

PL: I mentioned Harry Houdini introducing me to magic performance in a very special way. He was the first President of the Society Of American Magicians, located in New York City, a National & International group that has grown to approximately three hundred clubs. Fifteen years ago I was fortunate to have discovered a local club on Long Island, New York – the Long Island Mystics, Assembly #77. The group numbers about sixty people, male and female, who gather once a month to share their passion. It is made up of hobbyists, part-time and full-time magical performers. Therefore my connection with Houdini continues as I am now into my third year as President of the most prestigious magic club in the area.

If you’re interested in hiring Theatricks by Phil for your next family or corporate event, please visit the website.

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Merrymakers: Jennifer George, author of The Art of Rube Goldberg

Jennifer George is a jewelry designer in New York City. She makes unique pieces using found objects and vintage beads and jewelry. (See Jennifer’s work here.) She also happens to be the granddaughter of legendary cartoonist and inventor, Rube Goldberg. If you’re not familiar with the machines that are named after him, check out this collection of  Rube Goldberg machines that others have made to get an inkling of the whimsical contraptions he’s known for.  (Or see his work here.)

Jennifer recently completed a coffee table book about her grandfather’s work,The Art of Rube GoldbergThe book has been seven years in the making, and comes out this week.

Jennifer and I recently discussed the making of the book, her grandfather’s legacy, and what it means to be in a creative family.

Author Jennifer George

Author Jennifer George

Everybody’s Invited!: Why did you want to write this book?

Jennifer George: It began seven years ago, maybe more, when my father was still alive. He was running my grandfather’s businesses. There hadn’t been a quintessential, major book on Rube since he was alive. My father was approached by Charlie Kochman, the head of Abrams ComicArts, to rectify this!

The book was green-lit the day before my father’s funeral, so it was a bittersweet moment. But it fell into my lap. It wasn’t something I had always dreamed of doing, nor had I ever envisioned putting in the countless hours that I put in on this book. But you know what? It’s been an amazing journey.

I knew my grandfather the way you know your grandfather. He was Papa Rube. His cartoons were all over our den when I was growing up, and I didn’t even read them! They were part of the furniture. I didn’t know him as Rube Goldberg. There was a big learning curve for me while curating this book. I got to know the man my grandfather was.

EI!: What surprised you about working on this book?

JG: The sheer volume of material. It was extraordinary. To put it into perspective, Charles Schulz did 18,000 drawings in his lifetime. Rube did 50,000. I only went through about 13,000 cartoons. We had enough material to do dozens of books.

The Art of Rube Goldberg

The Art of Rube Goldberg

EI!: I love Rube Goldberg machines. To me it seems like your grandfather was saying that if you use technology to simplify life, it can backfire.

JG: I think that’s one of the things he was saying. He wasn’t always the biggest fan of technology. Remember, when he was creating stuff, it was at the dawn of the industrial revolution. Think about a toaster. If you look at the myriad of crazy toasters—just to make a piece of toast! He believed that part of any design process should be simplification. Go through your plans and take out everything that’s extraneous. He thought good design meant utter simplicity, and he really believed that we overcomplicate our lives constantly.

Look at the Segway. God only knows how he would have spoofed on that! I mean, we have feet! We can walk. Here we are trying to get places quicker and suddenly the thing shoots you off a cliff!  I think that’s what happened to the poor guy who invented it.

EI!: He also seems to also be making a statement about the journey being more important than the destination.

JG: You got it. Absolutely. You might think to yourself, “Oh, why did I have to go through this heartbreak or this bump in the road?” But if you put all the pieces of your life together, you’re meant to be where you are right now. Things happen for a reason. All of the little pieces go together to make you, you.

EI!: Did the experience of writing the book change you at all?

JG: Ironically, I think it’s made me more serious. I haven’t had time to stop and smell the roses. I am having a good time, though.

EI!: Do you have a favorite cartoon or machine?

JG: In terms of inventions, I love the ones that are wearable. There’s one that’s called How to Not Forget to Mail Your Wife’s Letter.  It’s this giant rigmarole contraption that attaches to this guy’s waist, and goes out for I don’t know how many feet, and comes back and eventually reminds him to mail his wife’s letter.

EI: Halloween costume idea!

“As you walk past cobbler shop, hook strikes suspended boot causing it to kick football through goal posts. Football drops into basket and string tilts sprinkling can causing water to soak coat tails. As coat shrinks cord opens door of cage allowing bird to walk out on perch and grab worm which is attached to string. This pulls down window shade on which is written, “You sap, mail that letter.”

“As you walk past cobbler shop, hook strikes suspended boot causing it to kick football through goal posts. Football drops into basket and string tilts sprinkling can causing water to soak coat tails. As coat shrinks cord opens door of cage allowing bird to walk out on perch and grab worm which is attached to string. This pulls down window shade on which is written, “You sap, mail that letter.”

EI!: From the outside it seems that your family is extraordinarily creative and quirky. Does it feel that way from the inside?

JG: Yes. My dad produced My Dinner with Andre, at a time when producing a movie like that was insane. Some people see elements of Rube in my jewelry—I use found objects, and I try to incorporate a sense of humor. My son and daughter seem to be carrying on the tradition. Max is the editor of the humor newspaper at Oberlin, and Emily just won a filmmaking prize at a high school film festival in New York City.

You know, if my kids had come to me and said, “I want to be a lawyer,” I think I would have fallen off my chair. But when they say they want to be a writer or a filmmaker…well, that I can understand.

EI!: What do you want people to know about your grandfather?

JG: I want them to know that he was a real person. A lot of times people say, “Was there really a Rube Goldberg?” Yep, he wasn’t just an adjective! Another thing, he did more than just inventions. His archive is deep and full and funny. And while I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, or Rube Goldberg for that matter, I do want people to see the gamut of what he created and the book does just that. For decades his imagination was on fire!  He had the ability to make people laugh at themselves, at the human condition. This is why his work is still relevant today.

 

The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius is available on Amazon.
Selected and with commentary by Jennifer GeorgeIntroduction by Adam Gopnik
Published by Abrams ComicArts

Rube Works, a mobile game for iOS and Android, also comes out this month.

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Merrymakers: Dinner with Strangers

Carolyn McCandlish is no stranger to surprises. As the Director of Experience Design at Surprise Industries, she plans surprises for other people regularly. But it was Carolyn who was surprised to receive an out-of-the-blue invitation inviting her to host a dinner party for a group of strangers. No one at the party would know anyone else. Sounds kind of scary, right? Carolyn was up to the task. Read our interview with Carolyn to find out how she pulled it off and whether she’d do it again.

Everybody’s Invited!: What intrigued you about the idea of hosting a party where nobody knew each other?

Carolyn McCandlish: I love the idea of meeting new people and pushing myself into uncomfortable situations. I can be pretty shy with new people, but at the same time, I love people, so I like to put myself in those kinds of situations.

EI!: How do the logistics work? How do you build the guest list?

CM: Each person who has attended one in the past gets to recommend fun people to attend in the future. A friend of mine had participated in an earlier dinner for strangers, and she passed my name along. No friends of the same person are ever invited to the same party, in case they know each other. So if you do know someone, it’s a complete coincidence. The email I received included an ask for someone to volunteer to host. Nobody volunteered so I stepped up to the plate at the last minute. I was a bit nervous, but I figured everyone had been vouched for in some way. In my case it ended up being a pretty diverse group of smart, creative people. 

EI!: Were people uncomfortable at all? Did you do anything to help guide the conversation or put people at ease?

CM: It was definitely a bit uncomfortable at first as people started getting to know one another. Wine helped. But we were also instructed to make something together at some point in the night, so we had something to discuss and ideas to bounce around when there were lulls in the conversation. People were also told to bring something savory if they were born between January and June, and something sweet or a drink if they were born between July and December.

EI!: What surprised you most about hosting a dinner party for strangers?

CM: I guess it surprised me most to see the way things started to mesh, and the way people dove right into bonding. You aren’t allowed to bring a plus one so nobody can hide behind a familiar relationship as a crutch, as often happens at parties.

EI!: What do you think people got out of the experience?

CM: I think people got a lot out of the rich discussions we had. We talked a lot about art because people were approaching it from different perspectives—singing, rapping, acting, and more. It was cool to hear everyone’s ideas. A lot of people were pretty new to New York, too, so I think it was nice to have a little community that was brand new for everyone.

EI!: Were any ongoing relationships formed during the party?

CM: We talked about getting together in the future, but I don’t think anyone has. I haven’t seen anyone since. But I know my friend’s friend set her up on a date with someone at her stranger dinner.

EI!: Nice. What advice would you give to someone who was organizing their own dinner party for strangers?

CM: Hmm…have some sort of activity to collaborate on. Some culminating product of the evening. Or some kind of goal. That was helpful because it shaped the trajectory of the night a bit.

The strangers were tasked with creating something together, so they created a series of old-timey family photos. This is one of them.

The strangers were tasked with creating something together, so they created a series of old-timey family photos. This is one of them.

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Merrymakers: Joyce Johnson, Game Designer

We love games here at Everybody’s Invited!, so when I had the chance to interview Joyce Johnson, the mastermind behind games like In a Pickle (a party favorite amongst my friends), I jumped at the opportunity. Joyce is living her dream—creating innovative games that bring families and friends together—so I wanted to know some of the secrets of her success. Read on to find out the tricks of the gamemaker’s trade.

Joyce with her assistant, Mister Mistoffolees

Joyce with her assistant, Mister Mistoffolees

Everybody’s Invited!: How did you get into this business?

Joyce Johnson: That’s a long story, so I’ll give you the shorter version! While working in my parents’ real estate development business during the 1990s, my heart kept telling me to pursue a creative direction. Skilled as a cartoonist, I started a greeting card company, which grew to 100 cards over a 10-year period. Adults were my customer base and I knew I wanted to create something for kids. With no knowledge of the toy industry, I invented a toy and got a patent, which taught me a lot. Then in 2002, I enrolled in an adult education class here in Santa Barbara called Game Design for Fun & Profit.  I knew instantly that inventing games was my destiny and the rest is history!

EI!: What kind of games do you love to make, and why?

JJ: To date, I have 38 published games, spanning all ages and kinds of games so this is a hard question to answer! I have a sweet spot for kids’ games!  In my childhood, I didn’t get to play much so creating games for kids lets me play and I get to watch kids play!  This makes my heart happy on many levels.

EI!: Do you have a process for the work you do that you can describe?

JJ: Great question! I have a super fun office full of inspiration—toys, dolls, and knickknacks, too!  My creative process is free flowing. Ideas for me are constant so I store a lot of thoughts in my mind at all times. Some ideas I write down, others I choose to hold in my mind and let them develop there.

When a particular game idea rises to the top, I will usually develop a prototype first (rough game board, cards, etc.) and then test the game myself, along with my husband Tim (my greatest supporter and a smart and skilled gamer). When the game passes that preliminary test, I go on to play the game with the intended age group, often in the schools, with the neighborhood kids, or through play tests I put together.

After multiple revisions and more testing, I create final rules and then submit the game (by pitching in person or in written form through email) to game publishers in the industry. Publishers, if interested, will request a prototype to play test and cost out, and then the waiting process for a licensing contract (or not) begins. I move on to the next project while the time passes!

EI!: Are there trade shows for game designers?

JJ: Yes, there are many shows throughout the year for the toy industry.

I attend the New York Toy Fair every February where I present to many game publishers and also during industry events at ChiTAG in November. ChiTAG is the largest toy and game fair in the United States, and it’s open to the public! It’s a blast and anyone who loves to play games or invent games should check it out! There are many events during the week of ChiTAG—something for everyone!

EI!: What keeps you motivated when designing games?

JJ: I love bringing joy and laughter to the world through my work! Creating card and board games completely fulfills my purpose. The industry can be challenging because of the rejection part of the process, but when one door closes, it’s fun to go searching for another door to open! I’m a big kid at heart so it is very easy for me to stay motivated in my career.

EI!: What skills and qualities do you think are most necessary for someone who wants to be a game inventor?

JJ: The ability to invent and execute clever ideas is super important!  Knowing how to make a prototype, whether by hand or on the computer, is necessary.  I am fortunate to have a business background too, so the combination of creative and business skills is greatly appreciated in the toy industry.

I believe a game designer needs the qualities of flexibility and persistence.  The industry is constantly changing and publishers often tweak your game to make it even better (hopefully!) When those changes happen, it’s important to understand those decisions and not be a control freak. If you have stick-to-itiveness, that quality will keep you going when the going gets tough. The rejection process requires a tough skin and a constant moving forward in order to succeed.

EI!: What surprises you most about designing games?

JJ: To this day, when my game samples arrive from a publisher, I open the box and cry tears of joy. I’m like a little kid surprised with a present! I feel the same way when I see my game on a store shelf or in someone’s game room!  It hits me that I’ve made a difference in the world!

EI!: What is your most popular game?

JJ: In A Pickle, published by Gamewright, is my biggest seller.  It is a co-invention with a colleague of mine. I originated the idea for the card game while in the Game Design class I mentioned earlier. I made the first prototype on 3” x 5” cards. I knew I wanted to create a game about fitting things inside of things! I thought it sounded like fun and it is definitely fun to play!

Be sure to check out Joyce’s games at JoyceJohnsonDesigns.com. Also, today is her birthday!

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