Gardyloo #85

I’m getting a number of emails, “How do I buy the second book?” Well, you get in a time machine and go back to any time in the 11 months between January and November of this year and buy it.

Alternatively, when the books come in (which at this time is scheduled for January 8th) I will determine if the publisher printed any extras. If they did I will make an announcement here and it will be first come, first serve.


Still looking for that perfect holiday gift for that special person in your life? Well, I’ve added a new design to the Dumb Houdini store. It’s an image from Scarne’s Magic Tricks that was first brought to my attention by friend of the site, CC.

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Now you can display this thrilling magical image on a shirt or coffee mug. The shirt comes in white or bean green. Order yours today.

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From the email bag, regarding yesterday’s post…

“Today’s post kept me from cancelling my Timeless preorder. So… thanks?” B.O.

“I just ordered [Timeless] specifically to do your ‘jail’ presentation. I think that saves it from just being a ‘weird watch’ trick.” S.E.

“So help me, you’ve actually got me considering buying that thing [Timeless].” J.P.

“You managed to take a prop that is so weird and fit it into a routine that almost makes me want to buy this ridiculous contraption. Kudos to you, well done!” J.T.

How about cutting me in on those profits, Joao?


An Open Letter to the Homeless Man I Casually Gave 71 Cents to While On a Date Last Week

Dear Sir,

Last Friday I gave you 71 cents as I passed you on the street with my date.

I know that doesn’t seem very generous, but the truth is, I probably wouldn’t have given you any money at all if she wasn’t with me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate your plight, it’s just that I spent the past 15 years in New York City and you can’t give money to every homeless person you see. It’s just not sustainable. And I’m not convinced that it’s even a good use of my money as far as helping people goes.

But it was a first date and I wanted to look like a charitable sort, and I didn’t really want you to follow us for a block telling some horse-shit story, so I pulled the change out of my pocket and handed it to you when you approached.

It’s probably a long shot that you’ll read this, or that you held onto the coins I gave you, but I mention it in case you’re sitting around playing with some change and at one point two quarters come together and one of them splits in two and folds open like the wings of a butterfly. I don’t want you to rub your eyes, shake your head, and pour out your booze as you vow to never drink again. You’re not hallucinating. It wasn’t “spooks” or “haints” that caused that to happen. It was just me absentmindedly dropping $110 worth of magic gimmicks in your cold, crusty hand and not realizing it until the next morning, because I’m a moron.


Thats a true story. And one with many valuable lessons. The most important one being, I guess: Don’t give money to the less fortunate.

So this is my new solution for carrying around coin gimmicks. I wrap them in a rubber band before I put them in my pocket. It takes up no more space. I can get them out of the rubber band without looking. And a rubber band is something else I can do a trick with if I so desire.

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Apparently I can’t trust myself to remember I’ve got coin gimmicks on me. This will hopefully prevent me from using them to buy stuff, dropping them in a Salvation Army bucket, economically tipping strippers, or just mixing them in with the rest of my loose change in a coffee can never to be found again.

I used to just keep coin gimmicks in my pocket, then I moved them to the watch pocket on my jeans to remind myself there’s something special about the coins, but apparently that wasn’t enough. Hopefully the rubber band will do the trick.

But probably not… I fully expect you’ll read a post here in a year telling the story of how I inattentively removed some rubber-banded coins from my pocket, unwound the rubber band, then put a $75 gimmicked quarter in a gumball machine to get a Nerds filled gumball. (My gumball of choice.)

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Reader, D.L, brought something interesting to my attention, which I think points to the fact that we sometimes underestimate how difficult it is to learn magic from a physical copy of a book.

You know how it is with a real book. You try to lay it flat, but it keeps closing up on itself while, at the same time, you have your cards in hand trying to master some move and reference some illustrations. It’s all too difficult. That’s why learning magic from ebooks is just so much better and easier. Your laptop or tablet simply sits there and you can reference what you need, cards in hand.

To prove my point, look at the subtitle for The Expert at the Card Table print version on Amazon.

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Classic Treatise on Card Manipulation? Uhm, no thanks. That sounds challenging.

But take that same material and put it into an easy-to-read ebook form and now look at the subtitle.

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Hey, now that sounds more my speed. Thanks, ebooks!

Time After Time

More thoughts on the Timeless effect mentioned in Monday’s post…

One person wrote in to ask,

I was just wondering: For sure if you're framing it as a "performance," it's a poor choice of object to impossible location. And probably even in Jerxland, a Romantic Adventure that's based on a ring to watch is pretty strange. But is there any reason the "Distracted Artist" couldn't be ok for this? (As you write in this post in regards to ring and key).

You're totally right that a huge problem is that a watch is not a "container," but does that even matter for a Distracted Artist who has strange things happen to him that he wasn't calling attention to and trying to do necessarily, but its just the result of his constantly playing around with things and dabbling in magic and interesting concepts?

In theory, this makes some sense. If I can play off a ring becoming a key and the ring being found on my keychain as a moment of weirdness, then I should also be able to play off a ring turning into a watch battery and the ring being found in my watch as a similar type of moment.

But here’s the thing, the Distracted Artist is meant to be an absurdist style of presentation. It’s designed to evoke a feeling of it being unplanned. You can’t have that feeling when you’re bringing out a watch inside of a box inside of another box. You can’t even evoke that feeling by wearing a watch with a special compartment in the back. You’re clearly “set up” for what’s about to happen.

So, yes, the same basic effect (of a ring appearing in your watch) could be a random moment of some sort of blip in the universe, but that couldn’t be done with this particular effect.


Another person wrote in to ask:

Food for thought: is a "logic" required in an amateur performance?

Some of the most logical (and professional, so I completely understand that this is not a perfect simile, but hear me out) magical thinkers are Penn and Teller. They do an effect called "Cellfish" where a borrowed cellphone ends up in a Tilapia. Completely absurd--completely devoid of logic. And that’s kind of the joke, yeah? But it’s still amazing without having a cause/effect logic to it. 

I don't really have a point here--and you may have even addressed this already in an earlier blog post-- but do you agree that, with the understanding that 99.999% of hobbyists can't act/patter/perform/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, doing something completely nonsensical still can be a valid performance technique for an amateur? An amateur version of what P&T can accomplish with Cellfish?

Kind of Paul Harris' idea of a "piece of strange". Something that just "is.”

Honestly, I kind of think it’s the opposite.

As an amateur, your tricks need to have more meaning (more logic) than a professional’s.

Now, to be clear, in my opinion the difference between professional and amateur magic is this: professional magic is a performance and amateur magic is an interaction that’s woven into everyday life. This distinction between professional and amateur is 1000 times more useful than “was the person paid for the trick?”

So, to your point, yes, as a non-professional you can still put on a “performance” and you don’t really need to have much logic to that performance and it can still be impressive (a la Penn and Teller’s Cellfish). But that would be more of a non-professional performing in a professional style.

When it comes to amateur magic—unless it is something that is over in a few moments—I am pretty anti the sort of random, weird, “completely nonsensical,” “piece of strange” model, because, by definition, it’s disconnected from the world and from the spectator.

When we see Penn and Teller or any professional show, we expect something theatrical and relatively impersonal. That’s the nature of the professional show.

For centuries, that’s how amateur magic has mostly been presented too.

But, from my experience, that tends to be the least affecting type of amateur magic. A presentation that feels “logical” or meaningful to their life, or their relationship with you, or their understanding of you and your interests, or to the real world, is almost always stronger than “random impossibility.” (This, by the way, is now why I emphasize my interest in magic, as mentioned in this post. It allows me to make many more things feel like a natural part of my world, and therefore a natural part of the world I share with the spectator.)


Either way, my main issue with the trick is not the meaninglessness of putting a ring inside a watch. My main issue is that it’s obviously a fake watch. Watches don’t have storage spaces built into the back. In fact, watches are built to minimize any space in the back. As soon as they see that, you lose any sense of verisimilitude you might be going for.

We have this understanding in magic that doing tricks with “everyday objects” gets much better reactions than doing tricks with some strange object.

This is true. Doing a trick with an everyday object is generally better than doing it with a strange object. But doing a trick with a strange object is much better than doing it with an obviously bogus “everyday object.”

If you pulled the straps off the watch, gutted out the contents, and painted it purple, you might have a strong “ring to strange container” effect. “Ring to strange container” is something I can come up with some sort of intriguing presentation for. “Ring to fake watch,” is not.


Or maybe I could. The only answer might be to highlight the weird watch.

Maybe you tell the story of a great-uncle of yours who was also a magician. And a crook. He spent 40 years of his life in prison between 1950 and 1990. He recently passed away and you just received what you were left from his estate. “It’s a little strange, but also kind of ingenious. And I’m not 100% sure quite how it works….”

You now tell them a story about how in prison your great-uncle became known for being able to sneak in small items of sentimental or financial value for the other prisoners. Maybe a gold coin, or a ring, or a jewel, or a note from the outside, or something. The prison was really strict. Prisoners weren’t allowed any outside items. Other than standard clothing items the only thing they could keep in their cell was a hat, watch, belt, and shoes. Nothing else was permitted.

But, somehow, items kept being shuttled into the jail from beyond the gates, even though the prisoners were strip searched after every visit they had with someone from the outside. “I’ll show you how he did it. What do you want to sneak in a coin, a ring, a note? Whatever you want.”

So they give you their ring or mark a coin or write a little note and you fold it up small. Now you place the item in a little box or in a bag or in an envelope. Somewhere where you can steal it out.

Let’s say it’s a ring. You put the ring in the envelope and steal it out through a slit or whatever.

The purpose of the envelope (or box, or bag) is to delay the vanish. I think the load in this trick is a little fishy. There’s definitely some noise if you’re loading a ring or a coin, and you don’t want them to associate that noise with their missing item. So load the box before they know their item is missing as you bring it out of a bag or something.

“You see, what would happen is, my uncle would have a visit with someone from the outside. They’d give him the small piece of contraband in an envelope like this or a little box or something along those lines. After the visit he’d go to be searched by the guards. They’d see the envelope and be like, ‘You can’t have that.’ And he would just be like, ‘Ah, yes, of course. What was I thinking.”

You rip up the envelope. The ring is gone.

“The envelope was just a ploy. The envelope was misdirection. He already had the item hidden somewhere else.”

Now you start to open the boxes…

“Next, the guards would strip search him, hose him down, pick through his hair, shine a flashlight in his mouth and up his asshole, but they’d find nothing. Then they’d give him back his clothes, his shoes, his belt… and his watch.” You time this so you say “his watch” when you reveal that’s what’s inside the final box. “But it was no ordinary watch. It was made with a secret compartment. A secret compartment that could hold little notes, coins, jewels, or….” The back of the watch is opened and their ring is found.

Is this any good? Well… it’s something. At least they won’t be asking why this watch has a compartment in the back, because that’s the whole point of the trick.

Watch me talk myself into buying this dumb thing.

How to Use Magic to Win Friends, Influence People, Land a Job, or Get the Girl

What follows is a point I’ve made in passing before, but as the year winds down, and this season of the Jerx begins to come to a close, it’s good to make it again as it may help you with your goals in the new year.

This post will tell you how to use magic to “get stuff.” You’re not going to be satisfied with the answer, but it’s something I know how to do, and now I’m going to pass the secret along to you.

Now, I’m not a big believer in using magic to achieve some other sort of tangential objective. As a kid, I used to be. When I was, like, 11, I would have fantasies of doing a trick that was so amazing and romantic that it would just overwhelm the girls who would then collapse into my arms with lust for this dashing man of mystery. Or maybe I’d show a trick to the class that was so amazing that they would all cheer and carry me out on their shoulders like Ralphie in A Christmas Story.

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Thankfully, I sprouted a few pubes and grew out of those notions by the time I got to high school.

As an adult I performed less and less, specifically because I felt weird getting any sort of acclaim for a magic trick. Sometimes they might think it was some legitimate skill or power when it wasn’t, which was awkward. But even if they knew it was a trick, I still didn’t like being acknowledged for how “clever” I was given that it wasn’t even a trick I created and anyone I performed for could probably pull off the same feat given somewhere between 5 minutes and two weeks of instruction.

Only in recent years have I become comfortable receiving acclaim for anything magic-related and that’s because I’ve fully switched over to the audience-centric style of performing. At the heart of that style of performing you have these three understandings with the audience.

  • I’m not claiming this is real.

  • I’m not claiming to be doing anything you couldn’t do if you had devoted yourself to the study of magic.

  • The purpose of all this is your enjoyment.

This is as opposed to the magician-centric style which comes off as:

  • This is real. (Or it may be real.)

  • I have unique skills. Maybe they’re supernatural skills, or maybe they’re just superhuman skills (of memory, influence, reading body language, etc.)

  • The purpose of this is my validation.

Some will quibble with that last bullet point, but I do believe it’s almost impossible to come off as anything other than someone in need of approval if you perform amateur magic in a magician-centric style. In a professional show, it’s not as bad. But that’s a different context.

Think about it like this… If you went to a circus and saw a Strong Man perform, it might be entertaining to watch him bend steel and lift weights and dangle an anvil from his scrotum.

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But if someone were to do those exact same things in a casual situation you’d think, “Well, this guy is desperate for attention.” The same thing that could be seen as entertainment when on a stage can be seen as desperate or self-indulgent off of it.


Here’s an example of a strong, but not unusual reaction to the audience-centric style of presentation.

Below are some texts that my friend Andrew who helps out with this site received from a woman he met and performed some magic for last month. I’ve blurred her name because it’s a unique name and his responses because they gave away some personal information. The “gifts” she refers to are our friend Stasia’s Tarot Deck and Cat Oracle Deck.

I’ve noted how long after the interaction the texts came in…

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As my friend writes,

The tricks she saw are some of the same tricks I’ve performed for years, but the reactions were never as intense and long lasting as they’ve been since switching to an audience-centric style.

You might say, “So what? One random chick really liked some magic? Big deal.”

But here’s the thing, I have a phone full of texts like these (I just try not to post primary sources here, as a rule.) Andrew and my other friends who have adopted this style get these reactions regularly as well.


But I thought you weren’t in it for the kudos, Andy?

I’m not. And if you look at the texts above, you’ll see that most of the comments aren’t complimenting my friend, instead they’re talking bout the “events” or the interaction.

It’s much more difficult for traditional magic performed in casual situations to generate this sort of reaction because the response it seems to be asking for is, “You’re so amazing!” “You’re so clever!” And unless someone is already really into you, that’s not the sort of thing they’re going to think about hours or days later.

And even if they are comfortable lavishing you with praise, most people I know who have decent self-esteem don’t want to be lauded for their fake abilities.


In my work, I suggest blurring the lines between where reality turns to fiction, because that’s a way to engender a feeling of mystery. But the audience should know, ultimately, that the experience as a whole is fiction, thats it’s a story, that it’s make-believe.

I’m stressing this because getting your audience to understand what you are and aren’t claiming is the first step if you want to use magic to appeal to people or to “get something” from people in some way.

So how do we use magic to win friends, influence people, land a job, or get that girl or guy to like us?

The approach people typically take is to do a trick that makes it look like they’re clever or powerful or interesting or mysterious. Then, hopefully, people will want to be their friends or hire them or fuck them because people like to do those things with clever, powerful, interesting, or mysterious people.

That’s a dumb approach.

Think of it this way, what if our hobby wasn’t magic? What if it was storytelling? How do you win friends through storytelling? The answer is not, “Make up stories that make you seem fun, friendly, and exciting to be around.” The answer is, “Be a good storyteller.


There’s a quote by Steve Jobs that I will butcher in my paraphrasing, but it goes something like this: He was asked why the iPod was such a huge success when Microsoft’s music player was a total failure. His response was, “It’s because our goal was to make an insanely great product and their goal was to make money.”

Similarly, if your goal is to “use” magic to get something, you will almost certainly fail. But if your goal is to generate the most magical experience you can—one that takes the focus off yourself, and instead attempts to create intriguing fictions for others to experience— then you will gain friends, influence people, get jobs, and charm men and women merely as a byproduct of achieving this goal. I know because that’s been my experience in the last few years.


The truth is, when you show people a good time, they want to reward you, they want to acknowledge you. But you actually undercut that desire when you put the focus on yourself and when you try and be coy about the nature of your abilities. This is something I’ve heard from many laypeople when talking to them about magic, especially people who say they don’t really like magic. They’re often confused what the magician wants from them. Does he want to be praised for reading my mind? Does he want to be praised for making it seem like he’s read my mind? Does he want to be praised at all? What type of person does stuff in casual situations to be praised?


Here are the steps to get what you want with magic:

  1. Disabuse yourself of the idea that you’re going to “trick” people into liking you or rewarding you in some way by using magic to present a different version of yourself.

  2. Work on creating experiential tricks that have a story line that’s something other than, “Behold my power,” or, “I’m so clever.” If you need help with this, read this blog over from the start. Read my books and the JAMM. I wish I had other references for you, but I don’t.

  3. Practice presenting these tricks on real people. It will feel strange at first. If you perform for the same people all the time, it will be strange for them as well. They will have to adjust to a change in style too.

  4. Eventually people will get it. This is supposed to be a fun, strange experience for them to take part in. They can choose to sit by and watch it unfold, or they can play along a bit more and really get into it.

  5. Don’t accept praise. They’re going to give you credit for what happened, but you don’t want to encourage it. If they say, “You’re very clever,” be like, “Huh?” If they say, “That was amazing,” don’t say, “Thank you,” say, “Yeah, it was!” Your reward is in their enjoyment of the shared experience, not in their praise. Think of it like sex. You don’t really want someone to say, “Thank you,” afterwards. You want to teach them to express their appreciation during the interaction. That will force them to be more in the moment in the future.

  6. If you get really good at this, then you will be the person who orchestrates these interactions that are totally unique for people just for the sake of their enjoyment without asking for anything in return. They will want to reward this because that’s human nature. If you have any personality at all, they’ll want to be your friend; if you have any confidence and authority at all, they will be influenced by you; if you seem competent and savvy, they’ll give you a job; and if you’re not a total troll, you might win their heart.


If you’re like, “this doesn’t resonate with me at all,” that’s okay. I’m talking about presenting magic in a very different manner with very different ends in mind. You might not be coming at this from the same direction. I remember early on someone saying how shitty this site and my ideas were on some message board. Then his next post was like, “Here’s the chop cup routine I do for my corporate audiences.” Of course he and I aren’t on the same page. I’m okay with that.

If you don’t connect with the ideas in this post, and you still want to use magic to get chicks (for example), you may have better luck with something like Rich Ferguson’s, Tricks to Pick Up Chicks. It’s probably more your style. He has what I would consider to be a more traditional magician’s understanding of how to appeal to people with magic. Here’s an excerpt (a fucking honest-to-god real excerpt):

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Salvage Yard: Timeless

I’ve received quite a few emails in the past few days asking what my opinion was on the new release, Timeless by João Miranda. A couple people implied it was the worst trick they’d ever seen, a couple people didn’t love the trick but had a strange desire to purchase it, and one guy pre-ordered it but was regretting his decision.

It’s wise to come to me, as I am the great arbiter and voice of reason in magic. Genius, mediator, thought-leader, guru, influencer, sensei… yes, I suppose those are all accurate terms for how you view me. But I guess I just see myself as a simple blogger (and a horse-hung latino stud).

In all seriousness, I do think I have a good feel for these sorts of things due to the amount of time I spend talking to laypeople about magic.

Here’s a video of the effect. If you don’t have time to watch it, or if you’re in the middle of a meeting at work and are pretending to be looking over some spreadsheets when you’re reading this, I’ll summarize the trick quickly below.

So the trick is this. You borrow a ring and it turns into a watch battery. Then you open a small shipping box, remove a gift box from inside, you open the box and inside is a watch. You unscrew the back of the watch and inside is the spectator’s ring. (“Unscrew?” Yes, I know you have questions. We’ll get to them.)

So is this the worst trick I’ve ever seen? No. Not by a long shot.

Is this the worst $400 trick I’ve ever seen? Well…

The primary concern of some people seems to be the non-sequiturial nature of the effect. A ring disappears and reappears in… a watch? Yes, the ring changing to a watch battery provides a sort of internal logic, but internal logic—”magic trick logic”—is easy. If you want something to resonate with people, you need to have a logic that is more universal.

A ring appearing on a necklace makes sense because people do put rings on necklaces. (I have a great presentation for ring to necklace. I wish I had a great method.) A ring appearing in a plastic container in a gumball machine makes sense. Ring to shoelace, ring to keychain, ring to nest of boxes/wallets…these may not have the same immediate universal logic as some effects, but it wouldn’t be hard to craft a meaningful logic to such tricks. I’ve seen people tie things to their shoelace. You can put something on a keychain other than a key. Wallets and boxes were meant to hold things.

In fact, if you think of “ring to ______” and fill in that blank with almost any goddamn thing you can imagine, you will have something that makes more sense than this.

Here’s why, and here’s the trick’s fatal flaw… A WATCH IS NOT A FUCKING CONTAINER!

You don’t unscrew the back of a watch like a fucking jelly jar and find a place to store stuff. That’s not how watches work. So, the moment you do that the spectator says, “Oh, so it’s like a fake watch thing?” They’ll still be fooled, but you’re immediately into “puzzle” territory. “I don’t know how it works. But it’s a fake watch and I’m sure if I got a look at those boxes and the watch… I’d figure it out.” That’s your best case scenario.

Get a load of dat thicc boi watch…

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For the people on the fence, consider this…

What if I said to you, “I have a version of this effect I’m selling. It’s an ebook. It’s $15. It costs another $15 in materials to make. There’s a trapdoor built into the box and a little slide going into the watch. It’s constructed in such a way that the audience can handle the boxes and the watch. They can’t give them a thorough examination, but they can casually handle them.”

So it’s the same effect with similar conditions. Do you know how many people would do that trick? Probably close to zero. Because it’s not a good idea for a trick.

What people are responding to here is what is, apparently, a really clever method. Clever methods are great, but if your goal is audience-centric magic, then they’re neither here nor there.

Now, you might say, “Actually, I like that idea for a trick.” Well, okay, then problem solved. I’m happy for you. I like when people find tricks they’re excited about. I’m not trying to talk anyone out of liking this trick. I’m just giving my opinion.


João’s stock-in-trade seems to be clever methods. Clever methods are a part of what a lot of us love about magic. I’m not knocking them. But you can’t let them blind you.

On João’s Penguin Live lecture (which I remember enjoying) I believe he talked about how he has a whole crew he works with on designing his line of magic effects. What he needs to do is hire someone who’s not an engineer. He needs to hire someone who understands story and dramatic structure (I’m available). In the midst of his crew working hard to create a way to get a ring inside a watch, he needed someone who would have raised their hand and said, “Wait… what are we doing?”


I’m not trying to trash João, I don’t own many of his tricks, but a lot of them at least look really great. And his Vision Box is a really good card to clear box.

In this case, I just wish he had applied his obviously clever mind to creating a ring to impossible location worth doing. Even if it was just a wildly clever method to get a ring to appear in a ring box inside of another box, that would have been great. I could come up with 100 presentations around that.

What if there was a gift box and inside was a small old fashioned jewelry box and when you opened it the tinkling music would begin, and the ballerina would spin, and around her neck was the spectator’s ring.

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Murphy’s Magic had a big marketing campaign around this effect. They were pimping the ingenious method for days before even saying what the effect was. That was smart. If they had said, “We have the best method you can imagine to perform ring in watch!” the response would have been, “No thanks.”

But by focusing only on the method, they were able to get people in a lather about something most people wouldn’t have given two shits about otherwise.


The Magic Cafe thread on this trick is turning into a real classic. The big defenders of the effect are one guy who is trying to sell it and whose defense of this was—bizarrely—“If you don’t like it, it must mean you don’t have enough money to buy it.” Literally one of the dumbest things ever said on that site. And that’s a high bar to clear.

The other big defender is João himself, under his sock-puppet account, MagicMike34. “Mike’s” post history is very funny. “I just emailed João and he got back to me very quickly.” Of course he did… he’s you, goofball!

I guess it’s technically possible it’s not João. Maybe it’s merely a fanatical young man who writes just like João does and happened to show up at the Cafe soon after João’s account was suspended and only has anything to say about João’s work (not a single post on anyone else’s work) and it’s always a rave review. That’s possible. I guess it’s also possible he just happens to make the same spelling error on the Cafe…

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As João makes on his website…

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Regardless, I’m just happy someone is servicing and caring for the costumers. Cher had 11 wardrobe changes in her recent show. That will wear a costumer out.


So how would I salvage this trick? Well, remember, my last attempt at salvaging something was that trick with a card reveal on a fake Twix bar, and that didn’t really go all that well. In that case I took a dumb effect and tried to save it by making it even dumber (to suggest that you’re “in” on the joke) with a stupid story.

My initial thought was to do the trick with a signed watch battery. That’s probably the obvious idea. But ultimately it’s probably even dumber to have a watch battery rattling around in the back of a watch than it is a ring. If it reappeared secure in the watch, that would be one thing, but just floating around in the back compartment would be pretty odd. (Someone should work on that trick though. You bring out a non-working watch and lay it on the table. You have a battery signed and it disappears. You look at the watch for a few moments… and then the second hand jumps to life. You remove the back cover and the signed battery has reappeared.)

In this case, there is no getting around the fact that you have a specially made watch just for this trick. And if you have a specially made watch, then it goes without saying that everything else is specially made for the trick as well. You’re kind of stuck.

So, as I tried to save a dumb trick by making it dumber. I think the only way to save an obvious trick is to make it more obvious. You’re not going to like this, but in my opinion, the best use for this is to expose it. If the method is as clever as people say, then it’s more valuable to expose the method than it is to do the trick as is.

I don’t mean just expose the effect, but expose it as part of a larger presentation. For example, you borrow a ring, vanish it, and make it appear in a watch. Then you say, “Yeah, I’m not 100% happy with it, because it doesn’t make sense to have a ring go into a watch like that. Here’s how it works…,” You expose the effect and they are, likely, amazed by the method. Then you say, “I’m going to try and incorporate the inner workings into some other kind of apparatus. We’ll see.”

This is good. Now this person is going to believe that magic is done with an intricate and complicated inner methodology. You’re helping establish their understanding of how magic is accomplished. This is like the idea of “exposing” an overly complicated marked deck.

Now you come back a week later and say, “Okay, I’ve updated that trick I tried with you last week.” And now you do any other kind of ring to impossible location trick. Let’s say it appears in a nest of boxes or wallets. Not only will that trick fool them, but the more they try to figure out the trick (based on the knowledge they gained from your previous performance) the more fooled they will be. They will be thinking about complicated electronics, yet they can see the boxes/wallets are normal, which will end up messing with their minds even more.

But is it worth $400 to use this as part of presentational ploy? Probably not.


My favorite ring to impossible location effect is in the upcoming book. It’s called In Search of the Castaways. The method is dull and dirty. But the effect is awesome.

Gardyloo #84

Look what came in the mail today.

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It’s the Jerx Deck #2. What does it look like? All will be revealed eventually.

The first Jerx Deck was produced by The Expert Playing Card Company, and that was a great experience. This year’s deck, however, is a blatant rip-off of a design that’s owned by Bicycle and I didn’t want to cause any issues for the EPCC by asking them to take part in this nonsense.

Just to be safe I did print the fair use/parody section of U.S. Code on the side of the case. So don’t get up my ass, Bicycle.

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So this deck is self-produced. The quality is probably not as high as it would be with EPCC, but the good news is that no one is getting a Jerx deck to do cardistry or intense sleight of hand with, so it’s not that huge of an issue.

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Each deck comes with this phony rank of poker hands cards prop for one of the tricks in the book. If you got the book you’ll get an additional one of these cards (so you don’t have to open the deck if you’re one of those nerds). If you didn’t order the book but are a supporter at the deck level, I’ll send you a pdf with that trick from the book so you can use the card too.

So now we’re just waiting on the book. The most recent date we’ve gotten from the publisher is that we should be receiving them on January 8th. And then they’ll go out over the course of a couple weeks. Meaning right about one year exactly from when Season 3 was announced. I’m on top of my shit.


Poor Justin Flom. I have it on good authority from his wife that he spends 50 minutes every morning getting his hair just right, meanwhile his young daughter is so effortlessly charming and steals the show every time she’s in one of his videos.

AAAAHHHHH what a little ball of sweetness. I can feel my ovaries fluttering. Justin, please tell me this was severely edited and that she’s a total pain in the ass 95% of the time.

Is there some sort of service where I can be a dad for like, 40 minutes a week? I think that would be my speed. Meet up once a week. Toss the Nerf around. Go to a ballet recital. Something like that? Hmmm…. I think I’m describing a shitty divorced dad.

By the way, if you ever want a reminder of how stupid humans can be, remember that some people got upset at Justin for “sawing his baby in half.” Others felt the need to “debunk” it.

This is a good way of determining if someone is a person you want to let into your life.

If they watch that video and say, “Oh, that was cute and fun,” they’re a normal human who might make a good friend or lover.

If they say, “That’s abuse!” Or, “He’s exploiting his child for youtube views!” Then you know they’re someone who takes great joy in being offended by things. Soon that will turn on you.

If they say, “That’s not real. Here’s how it’s done…,” then you know they’re practically braindead and not someone you want to spend time with. “You’re saying the youtube video of the guy sawing his baby in half with Dr. Seuss books isn’t real? Hold on. My head is spinning. I need to get some fresh air.” Walk out and never come back.


This is an interesting trick. A freely named celebrity (or anything else) is predicted on the bottom of a coffee cup.

As someone who finds himself performing in coffee shops multiple times a week, this definitely calls to me. It’s essentially a Koran’s Medallion type of effect, but with a coffee cup. You say you used to work in a cafe and you would always try to guess people’s drinks before they ordered. You tell the person to think of any drink and you claim you’re going to guess what it is. You ask them where they would drink this and to name a famous person they might drink it with. You write something down on a napkin and put it face down in front of them. “Would you be amazed if it said your drink on the other side of the napkin?” They admit they would be and when they turn the napkin over it literally says, “Your Drink.” Ha? You then reveal that it wasn’t about the drink, it was actually about the name of the person they would enjoy this drink with and you lift up your coffee cup to show that person’s name written on the bottom.

As I said, I like the idea, but I don’t like the corny joke in the middle of it. The “Your Drink,” joke is both hokey and hack-y. You can get away with it in a “show” because shows are filled with that sort of pretense. But your life shouldn’t be. It’s sort of like what I mentioned Monday, about “borrowing” a dollar bill and then putting it in your pocket. If that doesn’t stand out to the person you’re performing for, they must think you regularly make lame jokes.

I have some alternate uses for this technique that I’m going to try out over the next few weeks. If any of them pan out then I’ll write them up in the final X-Communication newsletter for Season 3.

If you want to do the original version of the effect, here would be my recommendation: Ditch the joke, just make a guess on the drink. Maybe you’ll be right. And if not you can just be like, “Yeah, they fired me from that cafe after two days. I was not good at that job. I always got people’s drinks wrong. I wasted a lot of product.”

Or I would just get the drink spectacularly wrong. That, to me, is funnier and more in line with my personality than making some played-out joke. So I would look at them. “Imagine yourself drinking this drink. This is something you’ve had a lot yes? You really enjoy the taste of this? You maybe even crave it sometimes, don’t you? I think you like this hot… but maybe not always. Yes… I’m getting it…,” I write something down and put it in front of them. “Name your drink,” I say.

“A chai latte,” she says.

“I was a little off,” I say. They turn over the napkin and it says, “Half a gallon of horse ejaculate.”


There’s nothing I can add to all the chorus of praise and remembrances that have followed the passing of Ricky Jay a couple weeks ago. I was a huge fan of his work as a magician and an actor. In the pre-internet days of my youth, I would go to the library and they had these reference books where you could look up any topic and they would tell you what magazine articles were written about that topic. Then you would have to get a bound collection of that magazine and track down the article (that seems like a wildly inefficient way to do things to my modern mind). I would look up “magic” and read the occasional article on the subject that appeared in a major magazine. In that way I found the New Yorker article on Ricky Jay and I probably read it 20 times over the years. I got to know him that way before reading his books or seeing any of his performances.

But, as I said, there’s nothing I can add to what’s been said about what he meant to magic. I didn’t know the man and he undoubtedly would have found this site idiotic, so it’s not my place to eulogize him.

Instead, let me turn your attention this video that I was sent by JH. It’s Ricky Jay on the Sally Jessy Raphael show.

Obviously there are 100 other videos that would be better at exhibiting Ricky’s talent, but this one is a pretty fascinating time capsule. In fact, it’s not really Ricky I want to draw your attention to here. It’s actually something else we’ve lost. Something that’s faded from our lives in a way so subtle that perhaps we didn’t even notice it. Something we probably didn’t appreciate enough when we had it.

I’m speaking, of course, about the black-booted, puka-shelled, shirt-undone-to-the-navel look of Jeff Mcbride in the back there. He’s got to bring that look back. I don’t care if he’s 60. Go to the five minute mark in that video and see a young fan melt over Jeff’s dreaminess. It’s adorable. That girl's poor panties. They didn’t stand a chance with Jeff in the room.

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Wonder Room Variants

Do you know what Funko Pops are? They’re a line of 1000s of collectible cartoonish vinyl doll/figurine type things with big heads. They exist for almost anything someone might be a fan of.

Horror Movies

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Comic Books

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Star Wars

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Cereal Mascots

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Seriously, almost any sort of pop-culture genre you can think of is represented in some form in these Funko Pops.

Early last year, after I had written about the Wonder Room performance style, I was contacted by someone who wanted to hire me to create a series of effects that he could build into his display of Funko Pop figurines. This seemed like a fun(ko) idea, and he actually had the money to hire me to do it, and so I got to work designing a display and series of effects for him that combined his interest in magic with his collection of figurines.

The effects ranged from the simplest type of multiple out prediction effect to a much more complex transposition effect that was built into the display itself. In all there were 12 varied effects that he could perform. Including one with a custom Houdini Funko Pop.

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My favorite was one where a “blank” Funko Pop…

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would transform into a figurine of the spectator him/herself. Obviously this requires a lot of prep time and a bit of an expense(search Etsy for custom Funko Pops). But it was really strong magic (and could be played as slightly creepy, this doll is absorbing your essence) and it made an awesome giveaway.

The Wonder Room concept is the idea of building a repertoire of tricks into some sort of permanent display that people can look at and engage with. It could be something that is supposedly non-magic related, or it could be a collection of “strange objects” or something else that is intended to be overtly magical.

The ideal (in my imagination) would be an entire room with floor to ceiling shelves where people could peruse these odd objects, find one that appeals to them and then say, “What’s the story behind this?” But it doesn’t need to be so elaborate. It could just be a single shelf with some “odd” books you found (each book being special in some way to allow you to do some feat of magic or mind reading).

This summer, the guy who hired me to work on the Funko Pop set-up asked me to create a new display for his house. Now, I can’t tell you exactly what I worked on for him, but I can give you the basics and you could create something similar for yourself.

The display consisted of an 8 X 5 grid of small shelves. So 40 little shelves in total. On each shelf rested an object. Perhaps some sort of little toy or knick knack. (Does the phrase “knick-knack” translate for my international readers? A knick-knack is sort of like bric-à-brac. Hmm… that probably didn’t help. I know… a knick-knack is like a gewgaw. Eh… fuck it… that’s a word not destined to be translated, I guess.)

When people come in they see this display and it’s kind of inherently fascinating, all these little objects, but it’s not immediately known what this is supposed to be. They don’t really look like collectibles or any known type of trinket. What are these things exactly? So they ask, and then he tells them…

“Well, you know I’ve had an interest in magic since I was a boy. Most tricks, of course, are done with some type of sleight of hand or something like that. But over the last 45 years or so I’ve encountered some tricks that aren’t done that way. It doesn’t happen often, maybe once a year or so. These are tricks that fooled me and continue to fool me, because I’m not quite sure how they work. Yet somehow they do. My new hobby is to track down these tricks that fooled me throughout the years. And that’s what these are. Go ahead, pick one that looks interesting.”

So now there is a place to put all those gimmicky gizmo tricks that intelligent magicians have avoided as being “meaningless.” They are meaningless, individually, but together they’re not. In this context they they become a collection of little mysteries. Putting them on display makes them seem like something of importance, not something you hid away until someone happened to come over.

The guy who I created the instillation for wrote me once to say, “People who used to suffer through a single trick that I would bring out from another room, will stand in front of the shelves and practically demand to see trick after trick.” That’s the power of putting these sorts of tricks in context.

As I said, I can’t tell you the specific details of the display I was hired to create. But I can tell you about a similar one that I’m putting together with a friend now.

Eventually it will consist of 40 (or more?) of these display ledges by 3M.

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On each little shelf will be a trick. What kind of trick? Well, ideally something that is examinable and self-contained. It doesn’t need to be 100% both of those things, but that’s the ideal.

(The display case I helped create this summer was rigged to hold out any additional props/gimmicks that might be needed. So, for example, on one shelf there might be a little rubber ball on a stand (part of a bounce/no-bounce ball set). In the process of reaching for that ball, the magician is able to load the no-bounce ball secretly into his hand.)

My friend is going to be using a number of Tenyo tricks and other similar effects in his version.

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If you’re into magic, then half the fun will be doing the research, tracking down tricks, and coming up with your “display repertoire.”

You don’t need to go that route. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a display of tricks that (supposedly) fooled you. It could just be a display where the object on each shelf is something that leads into a trick. A small sealed envelope. A nest of boxes. A mini deck of cards. A red sponge ball. I’m not sure that has quite the same intrigue as a shelf of weird knick-knacks, but at the very least it presents another way to get into a performance where people can kind of peruse these shelves and be drawn to something and then you can take it from there. This is a nice position to put the spectator in. Often, with magic, the audience is just trying to catch up with a performance the whole time. The Wonder Room style allows them a choice, which—at least in a small way— allows them to lead the interaction for moment of time.

Douche Your Show of These Three Things

If you’re currently doing any of the three things below, I would recommend you stop. These are things that are used more often by professionals than amateurs, so you may think I’m in no position to comment on them. But they are all overt, audience-facing techniques, and you don’t need to be a fellow professional to see these don’t work.

“Can I get a bill from someone? Oh, thanks! [Puts bill in pocket.]”

Look, I get it, you need to switch the bill, and jamming it in your pocket seems like just about the easiest way there is to do so. The problem is, this is wildly transparent to people. I briefly mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that this was one of the first things we tested in the earliest days of the focus group testing, back when it was very informal and done for just a small amount of people. When shown a trick using this type of switch, the overwhelming majority of the group (it was either 7 or 8 out of ten) mentioned that moment as either being suspicious or being a likely part of the method in their written feedback to us.

Of course they did. In what context would borrowing something from someone and putting it in your pocket not arouse suspicion?

“I do it all the time and it fools people.”

Wanna bet? If you want to fund it, I’ll put you in touch with some of the people who help conduct the testing and you can come in and perform for a group of random people live (or do it on tape). I guarantee over half of them question the part where you put the bill in your pocket.

In fact, you should hope they question it. Here’s why: it’s not a funny joke. It’s maybe a 2 out of 10 as far as being funny goes. If you make this “joke” and it doesn’t stand out as being particularly lame, that means the rest of the “funny” lines in your show are equally as shitty.

What you should do instead: Beats me. I would say it depends on the trick you’re performing. One would think any sort of switch that doesn’t involve something going in your fucking pocket would be an upgrade.

The Dumb Mentalist

The conceit behind mentalism is that it is some form of advanced mental acuity so it always makes me laugh when—in the midst of an effect—the mentalist becomes briefly mentally retarded.

I wish I could remember the exact performance I saw (if it rings a bell for you, let me know) but it involved a mentalist reading the mind of a spectator who was thinking of an object and the performer said, “I’m getting some sort of vehicle… and it’s… on the water I think.” Now, instead of saying “It must be a boat,” like any 5 year old would in that circumstance, he still had his face contorted and felt the need to put together some more pieces. “I’m getting the sense of a triangle shape up here.” Yeah, dummy, it’s a sailboat. “And some other longer shape down below.” Still a sailboat, moron. “Is it maybe… a boat? A sailboat?”

What made his struggling even stupider was the fact that the person was thinking of one imagine from a number of different images provided by the mentalist. You could be mostly braindead and have a good idea it was a boat if you saw a triangle shape or knew it was a vehicle and you were the one who provided the 20 or so images they could choose from.

I’ve seen something similar when someone draws a house. The mentalist will be like, “I see a triangle on top of a square.” Okay, well every non-mentalist in the audience understands that’s probably going to be a house, so why are you still struggling?

What you should do instead: When using your “psychic vibrations” to discern something, don’t let the audience get a step ahead of you. You’re supposed to be the smart and intuitive one here. Instead, say things that are true but that wouldn’t obviously reveal the word or object they’re thinking of. There should be a leap in logic between the details you “see” and the thing you ultimately reveal.

For example, if they’re thinking of a sailboat you could say, “I’m getting a sense of motion…. I’m not sure if it’s the object moving, or something around the object. There’s something up in this area with a number of corners. Is it a kite? No wait… it’s a sailboat.” This way you’re still getting hits but there’s still a sense of revelation or surprise when you ultimately name it.

That is a much more satisfying structure than over-hitting to the point that it’s obvious. “It’s an animal. And it’s pretty small. I’m not sure what it could be… It has long floppy ears and a big bushy tail. And it eats carrots. And…hmmm… I’m sensing this is something a magician might find in his hat? Is that right? Okay, don’t tell me what it is. Is this something that might visit you on Easter? Okay… it’s coming to me….”

The Forced Standing Ovation

“Now, if I get this card right, I want everyone to jump up and applaud.”

Stop this sort of thing. It’s obvious and pathetic and it’s not fooling anybody.

“But if the booker sees the audience standing for me at the end of the show, then they’ll hire me again.”

Uh, was the booker’s brain recently pulled out through her nose like they used to do when prepping Egyptian mummies? Is that how fucking dumb she is? Are you really going to structure the climax of your show on the off chance the booker is half-paying attention and does notice the people standing at the end of your show, but doesn’t notice the fact that you told them to do so?

Have you never put yourself in the position of the audience to think how corny it would feel to be forced into giving someone a standing ovation?

What you should do instead: Create a show that generates an actual standing ovation, goofball. Don’t you want to be able to judge the strength of the show based on actual feedback rather than something you coerced them into doing?

Or just go the other way and string up our audience like marionettes and you can make them stand, clap, and stomp their feet at your whim. Apparently it’s all the same to you anyway.