Boggle Your Brain With The Best Illusion Of The Year Contest 2020

The winning illusion, 3D Schröder Staircase by Kokichi Sugihara. Courtesy of the Best Illusion of the Year Contest

Prepare to lose your grip on reality: the winners of the Best Illusion of the Year Contest have been revealed.

First prize was bagged by Kokichi Sugihara, a mathematician at Meiji University in Japan who has won a number of prizes from the contest in previous years. This year, he was awarded for his optical illusion “3D Shröeder Staircase.” A Schröder staircase is a classic optical illusion that shows a two-dimensional picture of a staircase that can be perceived either as a drawing of a staircase leading downwards from left to right, or an upside-down staircase. Sugihara took this idea and turned it into a three-dimensional model.

Matt Pritchard, a magician from the UK, took 2nd prize for his illusion "The Real Thing??" At first glance, this illusion appears to show a can of Coca Cola in a mirror. However, it’s later revealed that the reflection is, in fact, just another soda that can be seen through an empty frame. Even once the viewer is aware of the trick, the misperception remains. 

The third prize was awarded to "Impossible grid typography" by Daniël Maarleveld from the Netherlands. The illusion consists of a bunch of twisting shapes that rotate in a multitude of impossible directions and positions.

"Landloping ladybugs" won the fourth prize for its simple but highly effective display of frame-induced position shifting. Using a series of cartoon ladybugs, the illusion shows that our perception of an object's position can be shifted depending on its framing and surrounding context. In the words of its illusion's creators –  Mark Wexler, Patrick Cavanagh, and Stuart Anstis –  the illusion shows that “Instead of seeing objects at their absolute positions, we perceive where they are in relation to other visual landmarks.”

Michael Karlovich and Pascal Wallisch from New York University won the fifth prize for their illusion "The Sunray Illusion", which appears to show bright rays beaming out of some intersecting ring-like shapes. Curiously, though, the rays are not actually there and are simply an impression created by the intersection points in these shapes.

Now in its 16th year, the Best Illusion of the Year Contest is an annual competition run by the Neural Correlate Society, a nonprofit organization that promotes scientific research into the neural workings of perception and cognition. They hope this competition will help inspire others and spark interest in the field of neuroscience. This year's judging panel included a host of neuroscientists, magicians, and artists who have an interest in perception-bending illusions.  

You can view the remaining five winners below and be sure to also check out last year’s winners.


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