Jerx Mailbag

After watching Shin Lim win America’s Got Talent: The Champions last night, I began wondering if all the magic on tv these days is a good or bad thing. Your thoughts?

Excerpted from an email from reader, A.C.

I think it’s probably a bad thing for most magicians, but it need not be bad for you, the person reading this.

Let me start by saying this… It’s shocking to me how popular magic is on t.v. at this time. There’s a bunch of shows devoted to magic, you have talent shows where magicians routinely do very well, and magicians are all over daytime and night time talk shows. If you’re under the age of thirty it may be hard for you to believe that there was a time when there was almost no magic on television. If you had come up to me as a kid and asked me what the “magic scene” on tv was, my response would be, “Well, David Copperfield had a special eight months ago. And then… let’s see… what else. Oh yes, Bill Bixby had a show where he played a magician five years before I was born.” And that’s not me exaggerating for comic effect. It’s pretty much the truth. Okay, maybe once every three years a magician would be on a talk-show, but if you weren’t watching it in the moment, you were fucked. That thing was lost to history.

So i’m genuinely amazed by all the magic content that exists out there on TV and online. And, honestly, I watch about zero minutes of it, on average. I have no real interest in that style of magic. I’m burnt out on it. When I had my old blog, in the early-mid 2000s, I felt obliged to comment on any magic that would show up on tv. But if I did that now, with this site, that’s all I’d ever do.

So, is all that magic on TV a good or bad thing? In my opinion it’s good for magic, but it’s probably not great for the average magic performer. In the 80s you could get away with doing some standard card magic as an amateur magician. Magic wasn’t as fucked-out as it is now, and the magic that was on tv wasn’t usually of the close-up card variety. So it was still pretty novel. Magic slid by for a long time because it was novel.

Now if you perform some typical close-up magic, your audience can often compare it to something similar they saw online a few days ago. And you’re just not going to compare to Shin Lim and his black-art and wind machine nonsense.

But the good news is this… you’re reading this site. And if you’re reading it regularly, you’re getting a consistent dose of me telling you that amateur/social magic needs to evolve. I’m pretty well convinced that amateur magic is going to develop into its own separate thing. You may say that’s a self-serving statement because I’ve spent years saying we need to treat amateur magic differently than professional magic. So essentially I’m just saying, “Yeah, I’ve been right all along.” But I just don’t see how amateur magic can continue to be the same as it has been traditionally. 20 years ago, the only way to see a card trick was for someone you knew to show you one. Now anyone, anywhere can see a card trick at anytime. And while magic in person is generally more powerful than magic online, if you’re just demonstrating the impossible (with no interactive element) then it doesn’t make much of a difference either way. (And no, interactive does not mean "have them hold the cards” or “have them name a random number.”)

For amateur magic to thrive in a world where people can watch the greatest magicians of all time whenever they want, then it needs to be something you do with people, rather than for them. It needs to be as distinct from watching magic online, as having sex is distinct from watching porn online. That’s my goal and where I’m trying to push things. So the success of Shin Lim or anyone else is really no issue for me because I’m trying to give people the experience of what I think amateur magic should be and this is something that can not be replicated by seeing it on tv

Two-Card Transmogrification

A couple years ago I was on a short road trip for work and the stereo in the rental car I was in fizzled out. Soon after that, my phone started running low and I needed to conserve the battery so I could use it to navigate once I got closer to my destination.

So I was sitting alone in a car with nothing to keep me entertained other than my own thoughts. Now, I know it’s probably a criticism of the modern age that we’re constantly “entertaining” ourselves to death and “why must you always be listening to podcasts and music, why can’t you be content listening to the simple trill of a sparrow?” I get all that. And I do think I would benefit from carving out time in my life where my brain is being less stimulated. But in that particular moment, with nothing to listen to, no one to talk to, and driving through dull terrain with not a single interesting thing to look at between me and the earth’s fucking curvature on the horizon, I was pretty miserable.

To entertain myself, I decided to play a game where I would try and come up with as many different ways as I could to present a two-card transposition. So a card is shown, set on the table, another card is shown, and then you reveal those cards switched places. How many ways can you present that? The rules I established were that I could build up the presentation in any way I wanted, but the handling would be the same for each trick. So, it wouldn’t be about adding more phases or different techniques. It would just be ways to present that one switch.

This is similar to another game I play where I try and think up ways to reveal a peeked word, as discussed many moons ago here.

So what are some ways to present a two-card transposition?

The first one comes easily.

1. Present it as two cards switching by MAGIC!

Boom. That was simple. And, of course, that’s where most people stop thinking. Despite the fact that when you look at it isolated in that way, it’s really kind of a dumb way to present it. “I am a great and powerful Magician! Behold my awesome powers as I… make this little piece of paper switch places with this little piece of paper a few inches away.”

So what else?

2. Present it as a demonstration of a secret gambling move.

3. Present it as a demonstration of suggestion or hypnosis, i.e., “You only thought I put the Ace of Spades on the table because I said that with such conviction. In reality it was the 2 of hearts all along.” Blah, blah, etc. etc.

4. Some dumb “story from your past” type of presentation. “One time, this guy came into a bar and showed me the Ace of Spades on top of the deck and dealt it onto the table…,” and so on.

This is far and away the least interesting type of presentation in my opinion, based on the feedback I get from audiences, and it boggles my mind that it’s so common with magicians.

Ok, where else can we go with this trick…

5. Maybe some sort of pseudo magical history type of presentation. You tell them a little about Dai Vernon and you mention that he said the most magical thing you can do with a deck of cards is to make two cards switch places because it’s such a simple, uncomplicated effect, but most people never get to witness it. So now you’re going to give them the opportunity to see something that one of the greatest magical minds thought was the most amazing thing you could do. (I don’t think he actually said that. I think he might have said something similar about a color change. I don’t really know. Or care. For the sake of engaging the audience it doesn’t really have to be true.)

If you’re familiar with my style, then it’s not hard to imagine some more “meta” presentational ides in line with that sort of thing. Such as…

6. A presentation where you say you’re working on this classic trick and could you get their help with it. You go through the motions a couple times but don’t do the actual mechanics of the switch (so the cards just end up where you would expect them to be). You scratch your head as if you can’t understand why it’s not working. You consult a book briefly. Then say, “This says I should use a blue deck, but I don’t see why that would make a difference..” And you swap your red deck for a blue deck. This time it works. You’re happy but also mildly annoyed/confused because you can’t wrap your head around why it didn’t work with the other deck. Maybe you try it another time with the red deck and it doesn’t work again.

That’s a combination of a few different things I’ve written about here. It’s sort of the Peek Backstage style along with the idea of intentionally complicating your spectator’s understanding of magic methodology. They think in terms of sleight-of-hand, and that’s it’s a mechanical technique that just works if you do it right. I never deny that sleight-of-hand is used in magic, but I will confuse the issue by implying that there are other aspects to the methods that are less straight-forward and not as easy to comprehend

Now, as I drove the presentations became more ridiculous, of course, because the “normal” ones were taken.

7. A presentation “exposing” this awesome new trick deck you got. You remove the deck from the freezer. “Every card has one face when it’s cold and another when it’s at room temperature. Some cards are paired up in a way so you can do this trick.” You show them the Ace of Spades and set it face-down in front of them, and the 2 of Hearts in front of you. You wait five minutes. “That should be about enough time,” you say, and flip them over to see that they’ve “changed.” Offer to sell this gimmicked deck to your friend for $40.

By the time I reached my destination, I had come up with a couple dozen presentations. A lot of them were kind of stupid, of course. And many of them I didn’t remember by the time I was in a position to write them down. I’ve continued to play this game since and I now have a document with 65 presentations for a two-card transposition. My goal is to get it up to 100.

What’s the point? Well, I think this sort of think is a valuable creative exercise if you want create your own presentations. While maybe only 1/4th of the presentations I’ve come up with are something I would consider good to great, that’s still 15+ good to great presentations for a two-card transposition, which is pretty valuable to have. And almost all of the 65 are more interesting than just “I did this with my magic powers!”

The other benefit of this sort of exercise is that it will keep you on guard to identify other tricks that are, what I think of as, “blank slate effects.” I’ll have more to say on this in a post in the near future. The two-card transposition is more than a trick, it’s a building block that you can create all sorts of effects around. As mentioned, the peek of a word is a similar building block. But we often use these things in the blandest way possible because we think of them as complete tricks rather than elements of a trick. “How will I reveal this word I peeked? I know. I’ll pretend to think real hard and then say it with my mouth.” There are literally 1000 more interesting/entertaining things to do with a peeked word than that. And while not every blank slate effect will spawn that many iterations, there are many tricks that I feel we can wring a lot more out of. More to come on that.

[I mentioned posts will be getting shorter. They will. I’m working on that.]

Progenitors - The Tracker

Sometimes I have a pretty good idea for a trick but it morphs into something very different and I never end up returning to that potentially good idea for whatever reason. Most often they slip from my mind entirely, but when I remember one I’ll try and throw it up here for people who may want to run with it.

One of my favorite tricks in Magic For Young Lovers is called In Search of the Castaways.

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It’s an effect that’s a real earthquake of entertainment. In essence it’s a ring to impossible location, but it veers off in an interesting way.

That effect was born out of a coin trick that I had been thinking about.

I’ve often said that long, multi-phase card routines are like a massage. In the moment they can be very rewarding, but people don’t really remember the details for very long after (unless you construct a trick that is something more than just impossible). At best you sort of want them to look back on the thing fondly as a whole.

Multi-phase coin tricks are even worse. There can be so much going on that people barely retain anything that happened 10 seconds earlier. Usually, I’ve found the best course of action is to simplify the trick down to one moment. One coin disappears. One coin changes. Or whatever.

But often you’ll want to blow that out a little so the whole thing isn’t over in just a moment.

My idea was that I would maybe teach them a rudimentary coin vanish, then explain how that’s just sleight of hand, which is sort of a “beginners” method for magic. And then I’d show them a more “advanced” version where the coin is truly gone at the end.

“So,” I’d say, “I learned that from an older magician. And one of the things about developing these relationships in magic with people who know more than you is that you’re just not supposed to question things. That’s like a sign of disrespect or whatever. But even though he taught me how to vanish small objects. He never told me where they go. Maybe he didn’t even know, but the question sort of ate at me.

“So I decided to find out. And that’s where it got really weird. Want to see?”

Now this is an intriguing premise regardless of how much they buy into it.

I would then pull out one of those Tile tracking devices. These are small, square objects that you attach to your keys or whatever and you can track their location via your phone. So if you lose your keys you can turn on your phone and use the app to find where they are.

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The idea would be that I’d show the Tile and turn on the app to demonstrate how it locates the device and shows it’s in my house. Then I’d vanish it (it’s coin-esque in size, if not shape). Then I’d be like, “Now, here’s the weird shit,” and I’d turn on the app to locate the tracker and we’d find that it’s… I’m not sure where. Maybe it would indicate an address across the country where the guy who taught me to vanish objects lives. (“Is he hoarding the coins and stuff? Is that why he taught me how to vanish money in the first place? That seems like a needlessly elaborate way to make a few bucks.”) Or maybe it would show some random spot in the middle of the ocean. Or it’s three billion miles away orbiting Neptune. Or somehow indicate it’s suspended in some other dimension.

I don’t really know what would go over best, because I never got a chance to test. Primarily because it morphed into the Castaways trick which is an idea I like more. But also because this isn’t quite how those Tile devices work. They’re not really GPS devices. They operate via Bluetooth so they can only tell you where you lost item is if you’re within 100 feet or so.

Now, if you’re more motivated than me, what you could do is make up some fake GPS tracking devices, similar to the Tile. They wouldn’t need to have any actual functionality. You could make a shell for them too, which would give you even more options. Then create a simple fake app or website where you could feed into it the locations you want it to spit out when queried later. But you’d have to be pretty motivated to do that.

I think there’s a lot that could be done with these small location devices. Even if you are just vanishing them and then finding them somewhere else in the house, that could possibly be interesting. Or you could secretly set-up by attaching one to your keys and putting them in some particular spot in your house. Now force that spot with the DFB app or something similar. Then present it as an upgraded piece of technology. It doesn’t find your key where it is, it puts it in a location you select.

Dustings of Woofle #1

The Poetry of Magic

The stunning beauty of magic ad copy continues to move me to my very soul.

From the ad for the trick Uncaged.

“Chewing gum is a basic prop that has been used by most magicians as a trick and will continue to be used in the present.”

Sometimes a statement is just so true that it becomes transcendent. Yes, of course, gum is one of magic’s “basic props.” Probably not as popular as cards, but a little more so than coins.

Of course, before getting into escapes, Houdini himself was known as…

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Not only is gum one of the foundational elements of magic but, as the ad says, it “will continue to be used in the present.” It’s very bold to predict the present, but it does have the ring of truth to it.

Thanks to friend-of-the-site, D.K, for turning me onto this finely written verse.


Season 3 supporters have until the end of the day on Wednesday to reserve their spot for Season 4. For people new to the site, if you’re interested in one of the unclaimed spots, there will be details posted on Thursday for you.


Handmade glass Jerxy Cat sculptures found in Venice, Italy by reader, J.T. Part of a painstakingly slow process I’m working on to back up all of this blog’s contents in the medium of blown glass. (GIFS are proving especially difficult.)

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A bug has been found in the Jerx app. It’s easily avoidable, but you should know it’s there. In the Drawing Switch section if you “undo” your initial drawing during performance and re-draw something, then it won’t “switch” properly when it’s supposed to. Simple solution, don’t undo your drawing during performance. I’m sure we’ll get it fixed soon. Thanks to T.W. for spotting this.


I know a lot of you come here for jerk-off fodder. Here’s a little something for your fantasy file, courtesy of reader, W.F.

Potential New Features

Here are some new types of posts you may see around here.

1. New miscellaneous posts.

In the early days there was a regular Sunday post feature called, Sundry Drive. That turned into Gardyloo. The individual Gardyloo segments could get somewhat long. The new aggregate posts will contain three or four quickly digestible items. Either pictures, videos, or very short written segments.

I’m not quite sure what I’ll name this recurring segment, but I’m thinking of the name below because it’s stupid and sounds like the title of an old soap opera…

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2. Reader Mail

I already have the Dear Jerxy posts where I address a larger subject inspired by someone’s email to me, but I have other emails that might be of interest that don’t really fit that format. I may start doing some mailbag posts consisting of briefer questions/comments from readers.

3. Consumer Advocacy

I’m hoping I don’t have to do this one, but I’ve got the platform for it, so if it’s needed I will. I’ve been getting more and more emails from people whose posts are being removed from the Magic Cafe for no reason at all.

I have zero issues with the Cafe removing posts for vulgarity or harassment or whatever. And I have no issue with them deleting references to this site. I heard there was a very nice thread about Magic For Young Lovers there which they let go for a few days. I think they were waiting on some negative reviews to hopefully pop up. When it turned into a love-fest for the book—because it’s fucking brilliant—they had to step in and remove it. That’s fine with me. They’re too stupid to know that attitude towards this site only helps me.

But when they delete helpful posts because they’re critical of people advertising on the site, that’s pretty sketchy.

So if you’re being censored for something perfectly reasonable on the Cafe, you can reach out to me and I’ll happily post whatever they’re deleting on this site instead. So, you have a choice if you’re selling a magic project. You can let valid criticism stay and be buried in a thread on the Cafe. Or you can raise a stink and get the post deleted and I’ll post it here instead. One thing to keep in mind… I’m more popular than any given thread on the Cafe. Many more people will read it, and I’ll do a better job calling you out for your shit than whoever posted on the Cafe in the first place.

I’m also happy to lend a hand for other legitimate non-Cafe magic gripes as well. I’m not going to step in for every minor dispute, but if I can help out with some issue you’re having by giving it a little publicity, I’d be okay with that.

In New York City the consumer advocate group on the local news was the Fox 5 Problem Solvers.

On this site we have…

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Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

It’s the two-year anniversary of the Jerx Amateur Magic Monthly magazine. I really love how that thing turned out.

On this Valentine’s Day I want to recognize our eternal valentines, the JAMM Muses—the ladies who graced the cover of that fine magazine. The Muses were a combination of exes, old friends, new friends, and a few who were essentially strangers before the shoot, but they were all universally a delight to be around and the magazine wouldn’t have been nearly as good without them.

(Also thanks to my friend, Andrew, and his assistant, Taylor, for conducting the shoots for The JAMM. And thanks to JM Beckers for coining the term JAMM Muse.)

February Muse - Jessica

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March Muse - Mallory

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April Muse - Alice

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May Muse - Breanna

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June Muse - Karla

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July Muse - Eliza

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August Muse - Stasia

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September Muse - Gibson

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October Muse - Jerri

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November Muse - Nikki

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December Muse - Amanda

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January Muse - Amber

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