What Rare Skill Do You Want to Learn?

For the past six months or so, I’ve been trying to teach myself the art of card handling. I’ve always been impressed with card and coin magicians that could do impossible impromptu tricks, anytime, anywhere. I obsessed over the work of Penn & Teller, Ricky Jay, even early David Blaine, always watching, but generally convinced that card magic was a skill far beyond my reach. Until I decided otherwise.

First off, I’d like to apologize to everyone at the Atlas Obscura offices for every time I’ve dropped a deck of cards on the floor during a meeting, or accidentally flipped an ace at them in the middle of a conversation. Soon I will have mastered card handling and sleight of hand, and it will all be worth it. Okay, it might not be that soon, and it’s anybody’s guess how worth it it will actually be, but personally I’ve found the process of learning something new, just for fun, to be a welcome experience. In trying to learn the relatively obscure art of card handling, I’ve been able to discover all kinds of books and resources related to magic that I never knew existed. To say nothing of the simple joys of learning something through practice and hard (often embarrassing) work.

Now tell us about what rare skill you’d like to learn, why it interests you, and what you could do to start learning it! Or tell us about a time you taught yourself a strange skill, and what the experience was like. Your response may be included in an upcoming round up on Atlas Obscura. Learning how to do something new can be just as curious and rewarding as any travel experience.

(Image: Aditya Chinchure/Public Domain)


Memory/Mind Palace or Methods of Loci has always been fascinating to me. I read the book Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer several years ago, and I tried to use some of the tips to improve my memory. I just think it’d be cool to be able to recite poems and quotes off the top of my head.

I would also like to master writing and reading non-Roman scripts. I can read/write Korean hanja, Japanese kanji and hiragana/katakana, and some Chinese. I would love to add Sundanese script and perhaps Farsi or Cyrillic to my repertoire.


I’m trying to learn the Navagational Stars. I keep getting sidetracked by all the mythology behind them, which has also been helpful in mentally logging the ones I have gotten through so far…

One example "Each night, Cassiopeia’s tight, circumpolar orbit means that she, shackled to her chair, “plunges like a diver, parted at the knees,” said Aratus of Soli in “Phaenomena” around 300 B.C. "

I don’t anticipate needing the skill set to get around, just to make the night sky that much more meaningful.


I think it’s super cool to learn something that people used centuries ago to navigate its hard for me to fathom. Imagine being in the middle of the Atlantic on a wooden sailing vessel with your main tool to chart a course being the stars.


I would really like to improve my animal tracking skills and also some skills in carpentry. Thankfully though I’ll be heading to Spain soon to track bears and hopefully wolves and my dads a carpenter so those are feasible.

But I would also like to :

Learn Brazilian Portuguese and stop using Spanish to get by in Brazil as I’m way too lazy with it (Also it would be nice not to be taken for being an Argentinian/Colombian all the time , considering the animosity between the two countries things can get awkward when they think you’re from South of the border)


I’d love to learn that skill too , the problem is finding the time though and light pollution

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I love this topic of discussion! It’s dear to my heart as I’ve spent the last few years delving into and attempting to master a rare skill- traditional freehand silhouette cutting. For anyone that might not be familiar with the craft, silhouette portraiture in the form I practice is very specific to the 18th/19th Centuries…the artist has a subject sit for just a few minutes, while cutting out the shape of their profile using scissors and thin black paper. The tricky part being that there is no drawing, tracing or digital alteration involved in the process. Once I started making silhouettes, I simply could not stop and I’ve been at it ‘professionally’ for about 3 years. I operate an online shop and I cut silhouettes live at museum functions and modern events. I love playing a small part in keeping what’s largely considered a ‘dead art’ alive and well.


Wow, this is gorgeous! :heart:


Thank you so much!


What an incredible skill ! I have to ask , what inspired you to learn this skill ? I mean was it anything in particular ?


I’ve actually had a couple piano gigs accompanying silent films and loved it. The most memorable one was for a screening of a William S. Hart movie in the cowboy star’s former home. It’s a really unique set of musical demands. Part improv, part composition, part high-wire act. Next year, I’m actually planning on doing a project with a friend of mine who does live Foley effects for radio plays (another antiquated talent) where we’ll accompany old cartoons.


I want to learn to play the theremin. I have an electric theremin. Now I need to sit down and actually learn.


I was going to write that too. I’ve got one. Hardest goddamn thing I’ve ever tried to play. Some great YouTube tutorials, though.


Thank you! It was a combination of things…I’ve always loved silhouettes, visually. My grandparents had some hanging in their house and I remember fixating on them at an early age. I collected antique silhouettes (still so, in fact) as a teenager, and when I was 17, I saw someone cut a silhouette freehand. It blew my mind and I’d wanted to teach myself how to do it ever since then.


It’s not rare, but I’m working on (not quitting) learning to play an instrument. This time guitar.


That’s such a cool idea! It reminds me of one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite shows, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where Captain Sisko decides to rebuild a centuries old star ship with his son to prove how ancient aliens could have made interstellar contact, and… oops. Sorry. Nerdstorm.


Animal tracking! That’s one of those skills that I always ASSUMED I would be good at, but have not a single idea of how I would do it. Impressive.


Wow! This is super cool. Do you have a link to your shop?

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I would love to learn how to build a guitar. I’ve been tempted by luthier classes but they are all rather expensive… maybe some day!


Thank you, Eric! Yes, here’s my website…it’ll direct you to my shop, social media, etc. Thanks for asking :slight_smile: www.silhouettesandsuch.com