One in 2000: John Russell ’16

After spending five days together braving the dangers of the woods (including coyotes) I thought was well-acquainted with my WOOLFie John Russell ’16. Little did I know what I was in for when Russell and I met up on Friday. I knew that Russell was involved with the Williams Ultimate Frisbee Organization, and is an outdoor enthusiast, a physics fiend and a magician, but I found out the backstory behind his passions when we sat down for lunch. Russell had me laughing the whole time, as I learned how magic can be used to pick up girls and that only weaklings drink coffee with cream and sugar. 

So, John I know you’re a big coffee drinker. How are you finding the coffee here? Have you tried Goodrich?

Well, Goodrich is kind of out of my way, so I haven’t really been there very much. But really I only need a cup of plain black coffee, so it isn’t very necessary for me to get too fancy. EcoCafe, Mission and Driscoll are pretty decent, but I stay away from Paresky if I can manage it.

I’m impressed you drink black coffee. That seems bold. Have you always preferred it black?

Back when I was a camper at the camp I now am a counselor for, I had a counselor from Tennessee. He is the only person I’ve ever met that can make a Tennessee accent sound intelligent and make you feel like an idiot at the same time. He has the most miraculous timing in saying absurd things that only he could get away with. One morning, my friend and I were putting cream in our coffee and we offered the cream to him. He took one look at the cream and said, “Does it look like I’m wearing panties right now?” Ever since then I’ve drunk my coffee black.

That is an extremely good reason to drink your coffee black. I think I might start cutting myself off the sugar and milk. Do you actually like the taste of it?

When I had to wake up every morning at 6 [a.m.] this summer to watch over a group of campers, I really started liking the taste. Coffee became a necessity.

So tell me more about your physics background. I know you’re thinking of majoring in it. How did you get started?

Well, it was actually my physics teacher from high school who sparked my interest in physics. He’s a Williams alum, and he’s known throughout my high school as a legend. He’s absolutely crazy but he was a huge reason why I applied to Williams in the first place.

What made him so crazy?

He’s infamously known for giving out impossible problem sets. His strategy is there’s no reason to do the easy stuff, because if you know how to do the hard stuff than the easy stuff is just that – easy. He once gave us a problem set and we had no idea how to do it, so we Googled it and it came up as a problem set Princeton uses. He also pulls mechanical physics problems from Harvard and MIT problem sets.

That sounds ridiculously hard; I would have failed in a second. But, enough about school; tell me why you think you were picked for “One in 2000”?

Well I figured it was because you were my WOOLF leader and you saw me do magic, but other than that I was very confused.

Your magic is brilliant though. How did you get started in it?

A magic shop opened up near my town when I was younger, and my mom encouraged me to check it out since she knew the owners. The store was originally in New York City and at one point it was owned by Harry Houdini. Eventually the owners couldn’t afford to have it in the city, so they moved to their current location. My mom took me one day and they showed me a trick called Three-card Monte. I thought it was the coolest thing and was instantly hooked.  The shop owners taught me a lot of tricks and I started buying DVDs and books to learn on my own. My mom would joke that when all other preteens were spending money on video games, I was instead buying magic books, gimmicks, cards and DVDs.

That’s pretty awesome, have you made a lot of friends through doing magic?

There aren’t that many people who do magic, but if you find someone who does, you have so much to talk about, discussing tricks and so forth. Magic is a great conversation starter, though. When you first meet people, if there’s a deck of cards lying around, you can start fooling around with them and make new friends.

Have you ever used magic to pick up the ladies?

Pick-up magic is a thing! You only have to do a few tricks before you realize you could be getting [phone] numbers. I haven’t done it for real, but I could. Have I showed you the pick-up magic trick?

I don’t think you have, but now I want to see it.

Okay, so pick a card from the deck. Now write your initials on it with a permanent marker and fold the card up and put it between your teeth. Now pick a card for me and I’ll write my initials on it too.

Oh! So this is when you could get their number, right? You could have me write my number on the card and then you would have it. I see how this works now.


So now what happens?

I’m going to take hold of your hands – and don’t worry, but this part gets a little weird.

[John and I grab hands.]

Okay, now take your card out of your mouth.

What the heck, John! How did you get my card and I get yours?! This doesn’t make any sense, but you’re a genius. You need to use this on girls. Have you actually used this as a pick-up? Because you really should.

Not yet, but I’ll keep it in mind.

Ladies, this one is a keeper.

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