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Escapology

From Academic Kids

, a famous escapologist and .
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Harry Houdini, a famous escapologist and magician.
This article is about the study of escapology. For the Robbie Williams album, see Escapology (album).

Escapology is the practice of escaping from restraints or other traps. Escapologists escape from handcuffs, straitjackets, cages, steel boxes, barrels, bags, burning buildings, fish-tanks and other perils, often in combination.

Some escapologists' tricks are accomplished by illusionists' techniques; others are genuine acts of flexibility, strength and daring.

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Techniques of escapology

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Escapology in its purest form is generally related to ropework, and problems are set with rope, cord, or string. However, professional escapologists' tricks will include anything from handcuffs (rigged or otherwise) to chains, mailbags, or even, in the case of Harry Houdini, escape from a prison cell. Items such as straitjackets are a staple feature in any show, either in "rigged" or official versions.

Although many cuffs sold in toy stores or adult stores don't even need a key to release, similar types can be opened with any thin, rigid object, such as a watchmakers' screwdriver, by pushing 'up' from the keyhole towards the chain. Spare keys are easy to find, and useful to carry. A shim—a flat metal strip which can be pushed into the 'bow' of the cuffs to release the lever holding the cuffs in position—might also be useful.

There are methods used to secure a pair of handcuffs from these attacks. Hinged handcuffs are designed to prevent twisting the wrists. The keyholes can also be put facing upwards, towards the captive's elbows (this works best in conjunction with hinged or rigid cuffs). Putting the person's hands into thick gloves or mitts before applying the handcuffs inhibits the use of fingers.

One of the best ways to prevent a bound person from escaping is to secure the thumbs together; another good way is to secure his elbows. When thumbs are bound, the hands are effectively turned into paws, and cannot be used to untie knots or handle keys. Thumbcuffs, thread or fine cord can be used to do this. Wrapping the hands into balled fists with tape (preferably thicker varieties like duct tape or electrical tape) is also effective.

With ropes, there are secure ways to tie people, and there are safe ways to tie people: rarely can both be managed! Especially when someone is struggling, slippy knots can cut off circulation, and perhaps even strangle if the rope is around the neck (it shouldn't be).

One way to make a rope-tie inescapable is to start with a hangman's knot (Jack Ketch's knot), and pull the loop tight around whichever part of the captive's body which needs to be secured. This knot is solid, self-tightening, and difficult to undo. However, care should be taken when tying, showing, or describing this knot, as it has some very negative associations: people may think the knot is intended for the escapist's neck, or they may associate it with the Ku Klux Klan and lynching, even where the planned use of the knot is benign.

Useful ways to tie ropes include the jacobi or reverse-jacobi positions, where arms are crossed, and the ropes tied around the body, straitjacket-style; or Japanese positions, where the hands are tied high up behind someone's back. See Japanese rope bondage for more details. Generally, any position which ties the elbows behind the back is difficult to escape from, as the escapist can't reach that area with hands or mouth to untie things.

With roped bondage, the escape strategy will be to move slack around until the escapist can get it somewhere useful to untie a knot, or to release a part of his body. Most people will leave plenty of slack when tying: in their knots, in the bits between knots, and even around the wrists. The escapist should try each loop of rope in turn, and go to work on the most promising ones.

The escapist may try to get a head start when tied by breathing in, making fists or pulling away from knots to gain slack when the ropes are tied off. If the wrists are tied together, they can be pushed apart (either during or after their tying) to get more slack. The escapist can also gain slack by tightening adjacent loops in the rope.

Leather bondage gear is sometimes used as an escapology challenge, but most such gear is straightforward to escape from. Assumed wrist sizes (and the distance between subsequent buckles) in leather gear are normally too large. There are nearly always major weaknesses in leather gear, usually involving the escapist's ability to reach buckles.

On chains: see locks and lock-picking. With a self-made or purchased lock-pick set and practice, any padlock can be opened.

Escapology in fiction

The novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon (winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize), features escapology as an important plot point. Ragtime, by E.L. Doctorow, features Harry Houdini as a major character.

In American superhero comic books, many superheroes like Batman are trained in escapology which is invaluable when dealing with deathtraps. However, the one superhero who is an escape artist by profession is Mister Miracle.

Escapologists

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