The talk was not about Mikhail Gorbachev, his rival Boris Yeltsin or empty shops, but rather Kio - the "Soviet Houdini" who imitated the American magician's escape from a locked trunk under water before 15,000 frantic watchers.

Millions of Soviets stayed up until 2 a.m. Sunday to see a replay of Saturday's stunt on television, watching as Kio arrived at a frozen pond in a cream-colored Mercedes and dressed in his trademark light-colored suit.The 46-year-old magician, born Igor Renard, was then tied into a bag, locked into a trunk and hoisted above the pond by a helicopter. The trunk then was dropped through a hole in the ice.

When he didn't reappear, the 15,000 Muscovites frantically crowded the pond's edge yelling "Kio, Kio." Television host Vladimir Molchanov, star of the "Before and After Midnight Show," snapped his microphone wire as he joined the rushing crowd, yelling "Kio, where are you."

A suspiciously dry Kio then stepped from the Mercedes he had left at the ice's edge, moving as if he were in a trance.

"Sensation," headlined the Communist Party newspaper Pravda, now in desperate search of just such sensations to win back its plummeting circulation.

"This shocking trick first took place about 100 years ago by the American magician Harry Houdini, who knew well the tastes of the crowd and . . . shocked the world," said Pravda, darkly adding Houdini probably was an "intriguer."

Houdini, born Erich Weiss, performed his escape from the Seine River where he was dropped from a bridge shackled and chained. "Houdini flew up to the water's surface like a cork waving the chains over his head," Pravda recalled.

Pravda said Kio, whose father was also a Soviet magician, studied Houdini's escapes, but the newspaper maintained the Soviet's stunt Saturday afternoon surpassed that of his idol.

Kio said as he was being locked away he was not afraid because "I am fully insured."