Expanding and contracting circles, mutating colors, and false image matches dominated the 2014 Best Illusion of the Year Contest, held on May 18th in the TradeWinds Island Grand in St. Petersburg, FL. One thousand perceptual scientists joined artists and the general public to determine the TOP THREE illusion masters from a pre-selected group of TOP TEN finalists, chosen by an international committee of judges. Each winner took home a trophy designed by the acclaimed Italian sculptor Guido Moretti: the trophies are visual illusions themselves.
It was the 10th annual edition of the contest, which annually draws numerous accolades from attendees as well as international media coverage. Las Vegas magician Mac King was master of ceremonies for the event, hosted by the Neural Correlate Society, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote public awareness of neuroscience research and discovery, and sponsored by Scientific American.
Each of the 10 presenters displayed and described their creations for 5 minutes, to the sounds of music and confetti cannons, in an event unlike anything else in science. Afterwards, the audience voted on their favorite illusion while Mac King performed some of his signature magic tricks for the audience.
The First Prize winner of the contest, an illusion by Christopher Blair, Gideon Caplovitz and Ryan Mruczek from University of Nevada Reno, took the classical Ebbinghaus illusion, where the perceived size of a central circle varies with the size of surrounding circles, and put it on steroids by making it into an ever-changing dynamic display. Blair rhymed his 5-minute presentation Dr. Seuss-style.
Second Prize went to Mark Vergeer, Stuart Anstis and Rob van Lier from the University of Leuven, UC San Diego and Radboud University Nijmegen, for showing that a single colored image can produce several different color perceptions depending on the position of black outlines over the image.
Third Prize went to Kimberley Orsten and James Pomerantz from Rice University. Their illusion consists of three images, of which two match and one is a mismatch. Viewers see one of the matching images as odd, and mistakenly perceive the other two as identical.