Show Swapper

This idea has a bit of a long history. Three years ago I wrote about a one-time-only performance piece I helped out with in a post called The Talent Swap. Then, about a year ago, friend of the site, Anthony Lisa wrote me with an idea that was partially inspired by that post. I liked his idea, but it wasn't really full formed and it was a stage trick, so I didn't end up doing anything with the idea. But it did get me thinking of The Talent Swap again, and if there was a way to do it more regularly as opposed to just a one-time special occasion thing. And from there I came up with a version that you can do much more often and that will be in the next book. What's written up here is a theoretical stage version of the close-up version that's in the book. Got it? I don't care. Moving on.

If you wanted to do what follows there are a lot of blanks you would need to fill in. This is a concept, not a fully fleshed out routine. I've written it up as a full routine, but that's just to give things some context.

This goes back to last week’s posts about the Spectator as Magician plot. For a lot of performers, the rationale behind the plot is: I’m going to give you my powers briefly. I don’t love that as a presentation, but maybe it makes sense for a formal show, because formal shows ARE about the performer, there’s really no way around that. So “I’m going to give you the power” may be as decent a premise as any other. The only real issue I have with it is when it’s paired with a sentiment of, “You can do this because you’re mind is powerful and can do anything!” Which is it? Are you working through me? Or is my mind so powerful it can do anything? Pick one. Those are very different concepts.

Anyway, the idea here is to make it not just a Spectator as Magician plot, but also something of a Magician as Spectator plot. Because you’re not just giving him your power, your are swapping powers for a brief moment. 

Here’s how it might look.

“I’m a delicate man who is afraid of hard work, and I’ve been slaving away up here for just shy of 20 minutes already, so I’m going to take a brief respite for a while and let you all take over the entertainment. While you were in the lobby, before the show, some of my team members asked you to write a talent you have on a piece of paper. I have those papers in this bag and we’re going to have a little talent show.” 

The house lights are brought up, the bag (clear forcing bag) is shaken up and three slips of paper are removed from it by a randomly selected spectator. The slips are opened one at a time and the person whose name and talent is on the slip is asked to demonstrate their talent. So maybe one says, I can sing opera, and that person sings a few bars. The next says, I can fit my fist in my mouth, and that person does so. The last slip chosen says, I can recite dirty limericks in Russian, and that person demonstrates that talent. 

You ask the person who removed the first three slips to remove one more. “We’re going to do something a little different with this one. Whoever’s talent this is is not going to demonstrate this that talent… I am.

“You see, I only really have one talent: extra sensory perception [or however you define your powers on stage]. Other than that, I’m kind of useless. I can’t carry a tune. I can’t cook. I’m a terrible lover. I played one game of soccer in fourth grade and they had to call 911 to cut me out of the net.”

But I’ve found something in my research. It’s an old ritual that will allow me to briefly swap my talents with someone. And whatever slip you just chose is the one we’re going to use.”

You pull out some other slips to briefly show what could have been picked. Play guitar. Do a handstand push-up. Deep throat a 14-inch cock. 

“Good god! I’m glad that’s not the one that was picked. But… come see me after the show,” you say, pocketing that slip.

“Okay, please open the slip you chose. Whose is it?”

“Tommy P,” the audience member says.

“Okay, Tommy P., can you stand up?”

A man in the audience stands up. 

“And what does it say Tommy’s talent is?’

The person who picked the slip says, “Breakdancing.”

You slump over, resting your palms on your knees and mumble, “Aw, fuck me. Seriously?”

You quickly shift back to performance mode. “Ok. No. That’s fine. Tommy, come down and join me on stage.” 

Tommy joins you on stage.

“Tommy, here’s what’s going to happen. In a moment we’re going to do a little ritual. After that—if things work out right—I should be able to absorb your talent, and you should be able to absorb mine. So I will be able to breakdance, and you’ll have extra sensory perception.”

“Now, obviously, it won’t be difficult to discern if I can breakdance. But demonstrating your ESP might be harder. So, here’s what I’ve done. I’ve written down the password I use for all my online activities on a long scroll of paper, rolled it up, and placed it in that clear chest hanging from the ceiling. The moment I start breakdancing, I want you to open your mind and let some information come to you. My password is a word and a number. That’s the only hint I’ll give you. It might be a long or short word, it might be a long or short number. Don’t try to think of it now. Wait for the swap to happen.”

You then go through the ritual, whatever that may be. Think of movies where people swap bodies. Maybe you both blow out candles and wish at the the same time, or maybe you pee into the same bucket. You can come up with whatever ritual you want. 

You direct Tommy to stand on the opposite side of the stage from you. “Now we wait,” you say.

“Actually, could someone in the booth give me a little beat?”

After a few moments some hip-hop starts to play in the theater. “Okay… yeah… das dope, das dope.” You suddenly jump forward and do some stilted, awful hip-hop dancing.

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“Uhm… nope… not yet, I guess.” You say and embarrassedly take a couple steps back.

After another false start or two you slowly walk forward…, “Wait… I think it’s coming,” you say. And just like that, the beat drops and you begin to breakdance in a fairly impressive manner. 

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After a few moments, while you’re spinning on your back or doing the worm or whatever, you start to yell over the music. “Tommy, what’s the word? What word comes to your mind.”

Tommy stutters out, “Cement.”

“And the number, Tommy?

He says 22.

After another moment your impressive dancing sputters back into a middle-aged white-guy shuffle. 

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“It’s gone. It’s over,” you say. "Damn... I want to be cool again," you say, dejectedly.

You gather yourself together.

“Ok, now Tommy, don’t let me put words in your mouth. I want to make sure I heard correctly. What word did you get?…Cement? And the number?… Okay, so Cement22 is the password you got.”

The clear chest is lowered, the scroll removed and unravelled to reveal “Cement22.”


Obviously this is a use for some sort a prediction chest. But, for me, this is so much more interesting than "say some words and I'll show I predicted them." Even if I try to put myself in a true layman's mind—having never seen a prediction chest routine before—that type of routine is such a basic bitch usage of that prop.

Whenever possible, I want to get away from presentations that are 98% boring bullshit set-up with 2% interesting surprise at the end. With magic, and especially mentalism, this can be a huge weakness.

With this routine you have the interesting/fun talent show portion, followed by the intriguing premise, the odd ritual, the humorous part where you're wildly inadequate at the talent, the potentially surprising part where you're suddenly decent at what appears to be a randomly chosen talent, and then at the end, the magic punch to the routine.


Of course, you don't need to do this with a prediction chest. Any "spectator as magician/mentalist" effect could likely be routined to fit in this structure.


Logistically, how might this be done...

Well, first you need to learn to do a few different skills with some aptitude. It's up to you how many you want to do. Ideally you'd want to learn some skills that many people might possess, but perhaps ones that might not look like they'd come naturally to you. If you're a big, manly white dude, then maybe breakdancing, playing the flute, speaking French, and doing a split or something.

Now, you'll need to have someone in the audience each night who has one of the skills you've learned and who writes that skill down on their slip. How? The easiest way would be, of course, to just use a stooge. Then you wouldn't even have to use a gimmicked prediction chest, they would just name what's already in there. Of course that's not very satisfying, and I personally feel like I can always tell when someone is a plant. (Of course, maybe I can't, maybe I just spot the bad ones.) 

I remember before I saw Derren Brown in NYC and people were waiting in the lobby, some of the crew members came out to ask us some questions and have our pictures taken. That's kind of how I imagine this playing out. The crew goes out before with little slips of paper and explains that during the show there will be a brief portion where people will present skills or talents they have as part of a larger demonstration. "Do you have any special skills or talents?" If the person doesn't immediately offer up something they can continue, "Like maybe you can dance, or play an instrument, speak another language, or have some athletic skill? Or anything at all." All subjects that could lead them to one of the skills you've worked on.

With an audience of, say, 80 people, I feel like you're bound to find someone you can steer into putting down one of the talents you learned. 

But why would the stage-crew be involved if you were doing this for real? Isn't that suspicious? Why not just have people write down their response and put it in the bag.

I don't think it's suspicious. The stage crew needs to track down instruments or other items they might have backstage to be used during the demonstration, so they'd need to know what types of things people are writing down (in theory).

Alternatively, this could be a question people are asked online when they purchase their ticket. "During one portion of the show members of the audience will be asked to demonstrate a skill or talent they have for a few seconds. Is there a skill/talent you can demonstrate? If so, please indicate that below along with any necessary items required to demonstrate this skill." 

Now, in this case you'd have some warning of what's to come. So you may have a week or a month to prepare. That would obviously make things easier and more sure-fire. 


How good do you need to get at this skill?

You just need to look like you have this skill for a few moments. Can you learn to play the flute well over the course of a few 45 minute rehearsals? No. But you can learn to play a few bars of a not-too-complicated but not-too-basic melody on a flute in that time. That's enough.


Speaking another language might not be visually interesting as a "swapped skill" but it could be funny. If French was the language, you could sit there twiddling your thumbs. "Uhm... baguette...Gerard Depardieu...uhm... cheese? I don't know... I don't think this is--" Suddenly you jump out of your chair and start speaking quickly and gesturing wildly, "Je ne viens pas vous occuper ici, quoi qu'on en puisse dire, de l'intérêt de quelques individus ni du mien; c'est la cause publique qui est l'unique objet de toute cette contestation: gardez-vous de penser que les destinées du peuple soient attachées à quelques hommes; gardez-vous de redouter le choc des opinions, et les orages des discussions politiques, qui ne sont que les douleurs de l'enfantement de la Liberté."


For this to work, the audience must believe the participant is not a stooge or a plant. If they don't believe that, then both parts of the routine will fall flat. This is maybe a lot to hang on a clear forcing bag, but I think it can work. The person who ends up pulling the names from the clear forcing bag must be chosen randomly in some way (throwing something into the audience, etc.) If the audience believes that person is fair, then they are more likely to believe the selection is fair. 

And because they see different talents coming out of the bag both before and after the talent to be swapped comes out, I think it's pretty convincing that this is a "random" selection.


Something to consider, if the talent is, for example, playing the flute, then maybe there are two flutes on stage. But one is rigged in some way so that it doesn't play. So when you start playing your flute you have her pick hers up and she blows and nothing comes out, implying her talent has really been sucked out from her. If there was some sort of switch of the instrument so it seemed to be one she had just played moments before, that would be even stronger.

But this is probably all just overkill.


This final idea comes from the routine Anthony Lisa sent me that inspired this version. While you're doing the talent you've absorbed, a stage-hand comes out and takes a Polaroid picture. Then, when the audience leaves the theater, they walk past a wall with a bunch of Polaroids with you doing all these different talents: ollying on a skateboard, doing a one-armed handstand, playing a banjo, balancing a step ladder on your face. Or whatever. The implication is that these are all talents you "absorbed" briefly in previous performances. In reality it's a bunch of photoshopped pictures made to look like Polaroids.


You know who this is ideal for? Someone on America's Got Talent, or something like that. You already have a number of other people with "talents" sharing a stage with you that evening. When one is "randomly" selected by one of the judges and you swap talents with them, that would, I think, make for a pretty great segment. It seems like an effect that makes sense for that environment, rather than something that was shoe-horned in. Let me know when someone steals the idea because I wont' be watching.

(To be fair, I have no clue what people want to see on any of these "Got Talent" shows. I occasionally see a segment that people are passing around like it's great and it strikes me as some grade-A hokey horseshit.)


This may have been a lot of words to spend on a trick almost none of you will do. But I still think it's a interesting idea to think about, and I know at least one person will run with it. (I've only put a handful of stage ideas out in my work, but with every stage idea I've mentioned, at least one person has written me to say they're using it.) And there may be be pieces of the idea that you take away. Or maybe it's just inspirational literature, a thought experiment of a way to use a standard prop in a different way.

If you are like me and you don't perform professionally on a stage, the close-up "social" version which can be done one-on-one, is detailed in the upcoming book.  


And while we're tangentially on the subject... here's one of my favorite breakdancing videos. Well, part breakdancing, part yoga. 

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Regarding Tuesday's phrenology post, this doesn't have to be used for the Spectator as Magician plot. You could very well have the chart out and use it on yourself as a way to get into a trick. As an Imp it's very versatile. 

Actually, the strongest version may be to sit there, pressing on your head like a weirdo and examining the chart, then you do a trick where you read their mind. Then you kind of shake your head and blink hard a couple of times. "Whoa, that's a weird feeling," you say. And then you ask, "Do you want to try?" They won't be expecting that. They will, likely, think you were just messing around, but then when you suggest they can do it to, that should be very intriguing And when when it ends up working, that should be even more powerful.

That's a nice flow for a casual performance: You're doing something odd which gets their attention, you follow that up with a decent trick. They feel they have an understanding of the nature of this interaction and then you ratchet it up a notch by suggesting that not only were you serious about the phrenology stuff, but they can actually experience it themselves. That's strong structure.

It would be as if you were 12-years old and it was Christmas Eve and your dad walked by while you were sitting in the living room. He seems to notice something through the window and he goes over to look outside. He's staring out the window into the sky. "Holy cow! I think I see Santa!" He freaks out a bit and starts jumping around with excitement. You're 12, you don't believe in Santa, you get that he's doing a bit. But then he says, "Come over here and look." That's the same as the moment where you say, "Do you want to try?" with the phrenology presentation. Both phrases seemingly take the "bit" one step past what's possible if reality is what they assume it to be. And that's where you're really going to capture their imagination, especially if you can follow up on the promise that there's more going on here than they originally thought.


Back in 2015, when this site first went the way of being "reader supported," I offered anyone who purchased the first book a "Friends of the Jerx" post where I would write about whatever they wanted. That offer has long since expired, but I'm going to reinstate it for one long-time supporter, Cleo Ferris Lunt who has a short story in an anthology publication from her school's creative writing course. It's $3 for the ebook and the money goes to charity. On top of that, I thought the story was pretty good and memorable too.

Check it out here.

And if you have a $3 product with the proceeds going to charity, I'll reinstate your "Friends of the Jerx" post opportunity too. Otherwise you'll pay my standard advertising rate ($14,000) and you'll like it, you little pay-pig. (I'm a financial dom.)


I like Mickael Chatelain's material a lot. It's super clever and the secrets are fun. However, if you ever wanted an image that encapsulates how arbitrary and un-awe-inspiring and meaningless a lot of close-up magic is, it might be this one.

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Yes, finally you can do a trick that calls to mind the primal imagery and the universal story that appears across cultures: the story of the one card folded around another card with a hole in it and a straw going through the hole.


Here is something I used to do pretty regularly as part of an Open Travelers/Invisible Palm Aces routine. I didn't really have a set place to do it. I would do it as a lead-in to the routine, or a follow-up from the routine, or as part of the routine itself for the final ace.

The idea is this. You talk about being able to absorb the cards into the flesh of your hand. You have a card palmed in your right hand, and with that hand you point at your left palm and say that there is a card in that palm right now. You extend your left hand and have someone touch it to see if they can feel the card. While this is going on, you backpalm the card in your right hand down at your side. 

Then you turn to the right and bring your right hand back into the picture palm up and touch your left palm with your right thumb as you make some comment about finding the card under your skin. Then you turn your left palm away from the audience and curl in your right fingers and "remove" the card, apparently from the somewhere deep within your palm. 

All these words are confusing. This is what it looks like.

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In real life I wouldn't do it in long sleeves as in this gif, because you don't want to give the person an easy explanation as to where the card came from.

Last Call for Monthly Payments

If you wanted to support this season of The Jerx via 12 monthly payments, Saturday is your last day to sign up to do so. Why? It just makes things easier logistically in a number of ways, but the primary reason is because I don't want to be accepting monthly payments so far into 2019 for the 2018 season. 

Lump sum payments will be accepted for many more months to come, so there's no rush there.

If you want to sign up to support the site through monthly payments, you can do so here until Saturday. 

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A Clarification and A Mission Statement

I had another post I wanted to do related to the Spectator as Magician plot (a theoretical stage version based on a close-up version that's in the upcoming book) but I'm going to push that into next week because I want to clarify a fundamental philosophy of mine when it comes to performing magic. I've touched on this before, but not clearly enough because I'm asked about it once a week, at least, over email (and twice today, which prompted this post).

I've often said that if you want people to truly believe you have supernatural powers, then you have a personality disorder. I've also said in the past that, "I don't like magicians who want others to walk away from their performance believing something untrue. I think that's bad for the spectator, bad for magicians, and bad for the art of magic."

Now, people have a hard time reconciling that with my approach to presentations. The emails I get essentially say, "If you don't want people to believe in these things, why invest so much time and energy into these presentations?" More specifically, they'll look at something like my previous posts on the Spectator as Magician plot and they'll question why I think it's important there's a rationale for why the spectator has these powers at this point in time, and not before and not after. Why go though the whole bit with the phrenology chart and setting up the idea that the effects are temporary, when I don't really want them to believe in those things anyway? 

Well, let me first confirm that yes, I don't want people to believe that me pressing on certain areas of their skull will allow them to read minds. In general I don't want them to believe any presentation I give them. Belief is the death of the feeling I want people to have. I talk about this more in this post, Feeling and Belief

Let's stick with the phrenology example, because it's the most recent. If I don't want people to really believe phrenology is the cause of the effect, why introduce it at all? Or if I'm going to set it up, why go into the detail about the effects being temporary? Why worry about the chart looking authentic? Why not just give them a noogie and say, "Hey now you're a mind-reader. What number am I thinking of?" Why worry about it seeming real, if I don't want them to walk away believing it was?

Hold those questions...

Imagine I was someone who made movies. Actually I want you to imagine three different versions of me as a filmmaker.

1. Let's say I hired some actors to dress in period-appropriate clothes (that is, clothes appropriate to the period of the film, not clothes to menstruate in) and I got an actor to play me as a child. And I went to a bunch of locales near where I grew up and I used an old VHS camcorder to make "movies" of me getting first-place in the spelling bee, hitting the game-winning home-run in Little League, and getting ready to go to prom with the head cheerleader. Let's say none of these things actually happened, but I'm trying to create a false record through these videos to convince people I'm this amazing person with a bunch of skills and accomplishments I don't really have. If I did this, you would rightfully think I was a psychopath.

2. Okay, let's say I'm not making movies about me. Instead I'm making films about aliens and Bigfoot and ghosts. I'm shooting a bunch of fake footage of these entities, but I'm trying to pass off these movies as documentaries. I'm claiming the footage is real. Maybe some of you would think that was a fun thing to do, a larger percentage of you would probably think that makes me a loser. (I'd agree with the latter assessment.)

3. Now let's say I'm the director of a motion picture called The Last Temptation of the Skunk-Ape (In Japan it's known as The Final Days of Swamp Cabbage Man). It takes place in Florida in the mid-60s and it follows a young couple on the run from Florida's smelly Bigfoot monster.  And I get every last detail correct. You grow to really feel for the young couple and you cry and scream and jump in your seats and feel relief that they escape at the end. 

You would probably think that was a good thing, and a good use of my filmmaking efforts. You wouldn't think I was a psychopath or a loser. And no one would ask, "Why are you putting so much effort into this when you're not trying to get people to believe it's a documentary? Why do you want people to be moved by this experience if you don't want them to think the movie is real?"

We understand this logic when it comes to movie-making. I'm just applying the same logic to performing magic. I don't want people to think I have supernatural abilities. I don't want them to truly believe my presentations. What I want to do is to create really compelling magical interactive fictions for them to experience.

So if I do a Spectator as Magician plot, for example, and I don't give them a rationale for why they can accomplish this thing at this point in time, that is a plot-hole in the interactive fiction. If I don't explain why they won't be able to read minds when they leave, that is a continuity error in the the interactive fiction.

I want the experience to seem as real as possible. But as I said in the above linked post about feeling and belief, what makes that so powerful is that it seems so real when they know it's not. As I wrote there: The magic feeling occurs in the gulf between what they believe is true about the world and what felt true during the course of the effect.

I don't want people to say, "I believe he read my mind," or, "I believe a ghost cut that deck." I want them to say, "I know there was no invisible dog," or whatever the case may be, "but... how did he?...wait...uhm... he must have... no, that's not it... fuck, it really feels like there might have been an invisible dog."

And I want there to be no plot-holes, continuity errors, or loose ends that take away from that experience. Nothing that feels false or out-of-place. Not because I want them to see this fiction as reality, but because I don't want impediments in the way of their reality getting caught up in the fiction. 

Of course, these are my goals at the highest levels. Often what I do is not so ambitious. I do a lot of stuff that's just intended to be fun or interesting or entertaining. But those sorts of things don't need clarification. And still, in those situations, true "belief" is never something I'm after. 

In fact, having someone really believe something that isn't true, makes me very uncomfortable (as it should any normal human). And what steered me away from the more believable presentations was when people were actually presuming there was some truth to them. It was then that I adopted the following mission statement:

Make the unbelievable feel real and the real feel unbelievable.

What I mean by that is, if my presentation is something unbelievable like ghosts or time travel, I want that to seem as real as possible. If it's something "real" like body language or memory, then I want to push that to the point where it seems unbelievable, e.g., "I can tell which of your hands is holding a coin based on your cat's body language as it sits in your lap," or, "Yeah, I took off two weeks from work this spring and memorized the public library. Go ahead. Grab any book."

In my earlier years, at my best, I think my performances would fall into the "amazing/puzzling/impressive" category. And there's nothing wrong with that, really. But I do think that's the type of experience people can get by watching something interesting on tv or on youtube. By pursuing the "interactive fiction" idea and following the mission statement above, I feel like now, at my best, my performances fall into the "amazing/fantastical/unreal" category, which people seem to really enjoy. And that seems a worthy goal given that social magic is one of the few forms of entertainment that can reliably deliver such an experience.

Mess With Their Head

This is your make-up post for the one that didn't publish last Monday.

Here is a little gift for you. What follows is an Imp, a Hook, and it ties into yesterday's post on enhancing the Spectator as Magician Plot. 

It's a phrenology chart from the 1800s. 

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Phrenology is a pseudo-science about the shape of the head or some junk, I don't really know what it is. But I do know there are about 50,000 different tricks you can get into if you leave this chart out, half-folded on your coffee-table or something like that. 

You see, I've modified this chart by adding "Retentiveness" (i.e. memory) long and short term; "Intuitiveness" (general, imagery, numbers and letters); and "Sympathy." These are all things that might realistically be listed on this chart, but they're also subjects you can use (along with a number of the others that were already listed there) to get into many effects, particularly in the "Spectator As" genre. Most any routine where the spectator achieves some magic/mentalism effect could be seen as a result of memory, intuition, or sympathy.

So, someone finds you studying this chart, or finds it on an end-table in your house. "What's this?" they ask.

"Oh, it's an old phrenology chart. It's some horse-shit 'science' from the 1800s. I'm kind of interested in it because [here you put in whatever backstory you have for your performances: your mentor suggested you read up on it, another magician you hang out with showed you something interesting in regards to it, you read something about in your uncle's notebook, you saw a video on it that was being passed around in a private facebook group, or whatever.) There's actually a kernel of truth to it. There are different areas of the cranium that you can stimulate in a way that will enhance or hinder certain mental states temporarily. It's kind of interesting but not anything you can really build a whole branch of medicine on like they tried to a couple hundred years ago. The technique is kind of hit and miss, and you build up a tolerance to it very quickly, so when it does work it works briefly and then you have to wait a few months for that area to reset to its natural state. Actually... can I try something with you?"

What am I doing here? Well, I'm just making up shit about something that's already bogus in the first place. But I'm also establishing a fairly perfect Imp for a Spectator as Mind Reader effect. Yesterday I wrote:

"For the spectator to feel like maybe they've done something they've never done before, they need to be subjected to a new, or at least uncommon, experience or sensation."

In this case, the "uncommon sensation" is going to be you "stimulating" a certain area of their scalp. Don't just do it for a few seconds. Give it at least half a minute. I like to tell them it takes about two minutes. This is the buy-in concept in action. Use your fingers and varying degrees of pressure, or maybe use q-tips like this is a clinical procedure. 

Now you'll shift into an effect based on whatever area of their scalp you were supposedly stimulating: a demonstration of their enhanced memory, a manifestation of their increased intuition, or something that relies on an upgraded sympathetic response. 

Not only does this particular Imp establish why they can suddenly perform these feats, you also make it clear why they won't be able to in the future. (You've told them from the start the effects are temporary, hit and miss, and that the body almost immediately builds up a tolerance to it, so it's something that can only be done occasionally. (Of course, six months later you can have a different effect chambered to go through this process with them again.))

Be sure and check out some of the other areas listed in the chart (some you'll have to look-up the definition to know what they mean) they are bound to give you ideas for other types of presentations. I've been using this chart for a little over a year and have a bunch of different effects that utilize many different classifications listed in the chart. I have a trick that might be in the next book where I do something and the spectator is like, "So what?" Then I stimulate the "wonder" part of her cranium and do the same thing again and she's blown away. More details on that to come.

You can almost certainly shoehorn any trick into at least one of these designations. If not, come up with your own categorization for it and then be like, "See this section 19a where it says 'not determined'? Well, a few decades after this chart was made they found out that section controls _________." And just put in whatever you want.

Here is the chart in pdf form for you to download and print. (If you feel the need to re-do the chart to add something else to it, I would encourage you not to clean it up. I purposely made the chart with all the weird hyphenation and letter-spacing of the original. You don't want something that looks slick and new because there are no slick and new phrenology charts.)

Enhancing the Spectator as Magician Plot

The Spectator as Magician (or Mentalist or Mind Reader) plot is one that has always had its share of detractors. Critics will say that it makes your "powers" seem less special and that it turns magic/mentalism into something the just anyone can do. Usually this criticism is made by people in the mentalism community who want their audiences to believe they genuinely have some supernatural abilities. Giving someone else that ability would—in their mind—undermine the fake powers they don't really have that they're desperately trying to convince people they possess. Don't listen to these people. They are deranged and overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy in their personal life. They don't make good role models.

And their logic is moronic too. Imagine you went to an orchestra concert and at one point the conductor plucked you out of the audience and said, "You're going to play harp on this next number." And you said, "Well, I don't play harp." And he said, "We have the power to allow you to play harp for this one song." The song starts and miraculously your fingers are dancing along the strings and playing in perfect time with the rest of the orchestra. Now the song ends and the audience bursts into applause. What are you thinking at that point? Are you thinking, "What?! How...? What was that?" Or, as those mentalists would suggest, are you thinking, "Huh. Well, I guess playing the harp is easy. Thanx byeeee!"

I don't believe for a second that the Spectator as Magician/Mind Reader plot takes away from the performer in any way. When done correctly, especially in a social setting, it can be a truly unreal and profoundly memorable experience for people. 

The problem is this: you hardly ever see anyone perform this plot correctly

Let me explain...

Let's say you're good with a nail-writer. So you've been doing a trick where you have someone think of any two-digit number and it matches what you wrote down before the start of the trick.

Then you decide that instead of you being the mentalist, you will do this as a Spectator as Mind Reader plot. So instead of saying, "I've predicted the number you're going to think of," you say, "I'm thinking of a number. I wrote it down so I can't change my mind. I want you to try and see if you can read my mind and tell me what number I'm thinking of."

Generally you will find that this gets a stronger reaction. But I think the increase in reaction is due to you shifting the focus off yourself and presenting the trick in a way that is different than what they've seen before.

In reality, I think the trick is only somewhat stronger. You may go from a 5 on the reaction scale, to a 6. But if you want to go to a 9 or 10 you need to give them an experience that feels different in some way. 

What I mean is this, if you perform Out of This World for someone, it feels to them like they're dealing out cards randomly, because they are. If you ask them to name what number you're thinking of, it feels like they're guessing, because they are. So you're presenting them with experiences where the only difference is the outcome. So for them, reading your mind or predicting the future feels identical to guessing. They never get the sensation of doing anything unusual because the "mind reading" is only verified in retrospect. You're not really giving them much to believe in here. "When I walked in I wasn't psychic. When I leave I won't be psychic. And when I guessed what number he was thinking of, everything felt normal." You can't really expect the trick to be that much more affecting just because you switched from "I'm reading your mind" to "You're reading mine," if everything else is the same.

Enhancing the Spectator as Magician Plot

Here is how you take Spectator as Magician/Mind Reader to the next level. 

For the spectator to feel like maybe they've done something they've never done before, they need to be subjected to a new, or at least uncommon, experience or sensation. They need to do, see, taste, hear, feel or smell something that puts them in a slightly different state of mind. Then their experience of "reading someone's mind" will be associated with a state that is different than the norm. And then, when the outcome is different from the norm, there is a cohesiveness to the experience.

Here's an extreme example, just to make the point: Take someone who has never used drugs before and give them a dose of LSD. Then, right when they're really feeling it, perform Out of This World for them. I promise you, they will truly believe that in their altered state of mind they were granted some power/insight to differentiate between red and black cards. They won't doubt this at all. 

Again, that's just a theoretical point. Don't dose people with LSD. But you should do something to put someone in a slightly different state before they take on the role of mind reader or magician. It can be anything: holding their breath, an unusual physical exertion, listening to a particular frequency of tuning fork, tantric breathing, ingesting something unusual, gazing into rippling water, inhaling some mysterious scent, getting a mild static shock. Or put them in a state of low-level fear, or arousal, or bliss. Or go visit them when they're sick and bring some soup and a get-well gift and say, "You know, there's something strange you might be able to do when you're in this condition. Are you up for trying it?" There are countless directions you can take this.

For long-time readers, you'll recognize this is an extension of the ideas of Imps. Imps are particularly useful in Spectator as Magician effects because they justify why now this person is able to do this thing.

Done in this way, you can really capture someone's imagination with the Spectator as Magician/Mind Reader plot. In my experience, if you don't provide an impetus to help explain why they suddenly have this ability, then the experience can ring a little hollow. It may still be a good effect, but the audience won't really entertain the notion that they played a big role in what happened. Instead they will see themselves in the same way they see the magic wand you hold; not as a true source of power, but as a prop you used in the process of the effect.

Gardyloo #61

Building on Wednesday's post, I have another post on transitions coming up in the next few weeks. But before that comes I want to give you one piece of advice that has been very helpful to me that was given to me by a friend of mine. And it's this: A good transition does not have to be smooth, a good transition only has to feel naturalWith this in mind there are many available opportunities to shift into a magic performance other than the "steer the subject X" approach that has traditionally been the only advice offered.

The next post on transitions will dissect that idea.


Do you mail things internationally often? If so, maybe you have some input here.

Let's say I want to mail a book from New York state to some other country overseas. It weighs 2 pounds. It seems my options are:

1. Use USPS and spend about $30.

2. Use FedEx or UPS and spend about $160

That's not an exaggeration. Here are my options via UPS from New York to Oslo, Norway.

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(I particularly like the "saver" option which saves me a whole $1.22.) 

Is there some secret to international shipping that I don't know about? Are these really my only options? If you have some experience with this and know another option I might not have considered, let me know.


Dear Penguin,

Here are my Top 5 Penguin Live Lectures I'd like to see:

  • David Acer
  • Richard Sanders
  • Bro Gilbert
  • Michael Weber
  • David Stone

Please get to work on that.

Speaking of Penguin Live, I don't know this week's lecturer, but she looks really hot.

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In this post on using the Google Home in concert with magic effects I wrote:

[Y]ou could theoretically create an "if this" statement for every card in the deck. Then you could have a card freely chosen (say from a stacked and/or marked deck), cue it to Google Home in your question and have it name the correct card in a very fair way. 

Reader, Brian Villa Connor offered this cueing system. 

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It will take a moment for you to wrap your head around it. Ultimately it's fairly simple, but it's not really intuitive (it's not one of those things that you learn once and remember forever, you'd have to practice it in your head from time to time).

Here's how it works. Someone chooses a card, you secretly know what it is. In the course of asking your Google Home to help you out, you'll code the card to it and it will give the proper response. (See the previous linked post for more info on how that part works.)

So your sentence will be, "Hey Google, [suit code phrase] ["help me" if 8-K]  [the combination of phrases that delineates the value]."

Some examples: 

"Hey Google, can you pick a card?"
Google replies: "Okay, I pick the Ace of Clubs."

"Hey Google, I'd like you to name a playing card."
Google replies: "Okay, how about the four of hearts.

"Hey Google, please think of a playing card." 
Google replies: "Okay, I'm thinking of the six of spades."

"Hey Google, I want you to help me and name any card."
Google replies: "Okay, the nine of diamonds."

"Hey Google, can you help me and think of a card?"
Google replies: "Okay, I'm thinking of the Jack of Clubs."

You can play around a little with the wording on both the input and the output to make it more to your liking, but I think this is a pretty good start. 

The mnemonic for remembering the suit input is:

"Can you" = Clubs > Both start with C

"Please" = Spades > Both have the P and S sound

"I'd like you to" = Hearts> When you "like" something online, you often click a heart.

"I want you to" = Diamonds > You want money (you greedy bitch).

Thanks to Brian for letting me describe this here. 

And I'll put the challenge out to anyone else if you can come up with (or know of) an easier two person code we could program into a Google Home (or similar device) for playing cards, pass it along. What I like about this one is that the phrasing never gets too weird, and all 52 cards can be expressed with the manipulation of 11 total variables. Which seems pretty good, but I'm interested in hearing other ideas. 


Slight (Of Hand)

First there was that dress that people saw as different colors. Then there was the Yanny/Laurel audio clip. Now we have the following video clip that can be interpreted one of two ways.

Either it's Josh Jay directing traffic and this woman misreads that gesture and goes to shake his hand and gets dissed.

Or—as I choose to view it—Josh is going in for the handshake and this woman punks his ass with the old "too slow" move.

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