Once a week in 2nd grade, my teacher would take the class to the library where we were expected to frolic through aisles of books about Paul Revere’s ride and friendship bracelets. What actually happened was an entirely different story. While some children flocked to the magazine section to pick up the newest copy of MAD magazine against their parents’ wishes, others raced to the back of the room to fight for a book of a different caliber. It didn’t have words. It didn’t have characters. It didn’t even have a plot. What it did have were pictures, though they weren’t entirely conventional.

Made in 1991 by Tom Baccei and Cheri Smith, Magic Eye Inc. (which was originally called Miru Miru Mega Yokunaru, meaning Your Eyesight Gets Better & Better in a Very Short Rate of Time in Japanese) was a book series that took tessellated patterns and embedded 3D images within them. It was more than just a book series; it was a phenomenon, a visual spectacle, and a cutthroat determinant of elementary school social prowess. It often produced conversations like this:

Tommy: Jimmy said he knows what the image on page 22 is.
Amanda: Nah, I heard he looked in the back of the book. He cheated.
Tommy: Nuh uh, he outlined the shape for me at recess the other day. He can’t fake that.
Amanda: He can and he did. You probably just couldn’t tell.
Tommy: I’d be able to tell, trust me.
Amanda: Most children at one time or another have faked seeing the image.
Tommy: Well they haven’t faked it with me.
Amanda: How do you know?
Tommy: Because I know.
Amanda: Oh, right, I forgot. You’re a boy.
Tommy: What is that supposed to mean?
Amanda: It’s just that most boys are sure it hasn’t happened to them and most kids at one time or another have done it so you do the math.
Tommy: You don’t think that I can tell the difference?
Amanda: No.
Tommy: Get outta here.

Okay, that may have just been a slightly altered scene from When Harry Met Sally but it’s the same idea. One’s ability to see the hidden image was of the utmost importance in elementary school and could be achieved in one of 3 ways:

1) Looking at your nose until you were sure your eyes were stuck in that position then quickly switching to the page.
2) Blurring your vision for a short period of time and refocusing it slightly while staring at the page.
3) Putting your nose to the page then slowly back away from it.

The key to each of these approaches was to look beyond the book and keep your gaze out of focus, no matter how much your brain told you not to. For those of you who are Magic Eye amateurs, let me give you an example. Look at the following collage of Nicholas Cage’s face.

Terrifying right? Sorry, let me fix it.

Much better. Now, to see the picture I have hidden within this Nick Cage soup, look at your nose until your eyes have gone out of focus then quickly look back at the computer screen. (Viewing Magic Eye pictures over the internet is significantly more difficult than on paper so even if you are a Magic Eye expert, this may take a few tries.) Try not to focus your vision. If you see a floating heart, congratulations, you just beat Magic Eye. If you see Nicholas Cage’s face, look away. You’re still seeing it?? Even with your eyes closed?? I’m so sorry. This is all my fault. Go to the doctor. Don’t hate me forever. I was only trying to make you popular! Please stop crying!

Before I take you to the hospital, I will quickly say this: Magic Eye may have only been a book but it was the closest thing to magic that I ever got in elementary school. It was also the first time I remember kids fighting over a book, something that doesn’t seem to happen as often as it should. Because if kids are going to be fighting anyways, I’d rather it be over a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn than over a Justin Bieber poster or something equally as insignificant.

Image via Make your own Magic Eye image here.