Last week's Big Bang Theory episode (aired March 10), The Prestidigitation Approximation (available until the next episode airs), features Howard doing card tricks for Raj and Penny, and in the process driving Sheldon crazy. As we've noted before, Howard is not all that good a magician--his tricks are always of the "is this your card" variety (just like this one, in fact), but he is very good at pushing Sheldon's buttons.
Sheldon's reaction is an excellent example of Randi's principles: the intellectual is the one of the easiest persons to fool with a magic trick because he can't believe there's much he doesn't understand and the scientist can be easy to fool because he believes nature doesn't lie. So, physicist Sheldon develops all sorts of explanations for Howard's incredibly simple tricks. Howard of course responds, "I'm telling you, believe in magic, you Muggle!"
Penny tells Sheldon she has an explanation but Sheldon sputters, "Oh, please! If I don't know you don't know! That's axiomatic." Penny whispers her explanation into Howard's ear, he tells her she's correct and she crows, "Not too bad for someone who doesn't know what axiomatic means."
Part of the magic of this episode consists of the reality that Howard, Penny, and Raj construct around Penny and Raj's purported understanding of Howard's trick. Whether Penny and Raj understand how Howard does the trick is not the issue; it's whether they can convince Sheldon that they know and he does not. Sheldon becomes so obsessed with obtaining the solution to the magic trick that he actually breaks the law in order to solve the puzzle. He films himself doing the trick and playing both parts ("Pick a card") and then uses an infrared camera as well as the Cray Supercomputer at the Oakridge National Laboratory in order to "analyze shuffling patterns." When Leonard tells him he's committing a federal crime, he says, "Relax. We're not under attack right now." When his analysis goes awry, he muses, "I wonder where I could get some Uranium-235 right now...come on, Craigslist." Ultimately, he tells Howard, "Apparently, you can't hack into a government supercomputer and try to buy uranium without the Department of Homeland Security tattling to your mother." Howard shows him the trick "one more time," but Sheldon says, "This time, do it with me so I can see there's no monkey business." Since Raj is sitting next to him, of course Howard has a confederate, and Sheldon is stumped once again. "Yeah," says Howard to Raj as Sheldon walks away in disgust, "he's gonna win the Nobel Prize."
Well, he might. That doesn't mean he can, or should be able to, figure out a magic trick. As Raj would say, that's the fun.