Dustings of Woofle #12 ft. The Violence Force

A couple people wrote to ask why I didn’t just use the George Sands’ “Prime Number Principle” (PNP) to force an item from a circle as in Monday’s post, The Wrath Force.

First, let me describe a simple demonstration of that principle for those who are unfamiliar with it. Put five cards in a circle. Designate one of those cards your force card. Now start with the card one card clockwise from the force cards. That card will be the count of “one.” Count any number less than five around the circle starting with the “one” card. When you land on a card, turn it over, it’s been eliminated, but keep it in the circle. Continue counting that number again starting with the next card in the circle. Eliminated cards are still counted. What will happen is that you’ll eliminate every card except your force card. This is similar to the force I described Monday, just much simpler since you don’t need to remember a bunch of rules.

So why didn’t I just use that? Well, for a few reasons.

Reason #1 - I was set on using five objects (as I had Quinta in mind). And with 5 objects, using that principle as a force isn’t great (at least not in a circle formation). You can’t use the number 5. The number 1 looks stupid. 4 doesn’t look great either—you just end up eliminating cards in order around the circle. So only two numbers work and/or look any good.

Reason #2 - I misunderstood something about the PNP which I’ll get to in a second.

Reason #3 - I liked the idea of using dice to choose the number. My theory was that if I used the PNP and they picked 3, they’d think “Well, probably everyone picks three. There aren’t that many numbers between 1 and 5.” And they’d be close to right. The force I described on Monday allows them to use any number between 1 and 12.

Reason #4 - The PNP just wouldn’t work with the effect I created the force for.

But, now I’ve come around on all those reasons. I’ll tell you why.

1. With the PNP you don’t need to use 5 objects. You can use any prime number of objects. So if I used 7, I would had twice as many numbers that worked and looked like a random elimination (2, 3, 4, and 5). 6 works too, it just doesn’t look as random because the objects get eliminated linearly.

2. The thing I misunderstood about the PNP is as follows… you’ll see in the write-up I linked above (and in most of the other write-ups I’ve seen) that it says the principle works with any number less than the prime number you start with. But unless I’m mistaken (which is possible, I’m dumb), it works with any number at all, as long as it’s not a multiple of the number of items you start with. So if you start with 7 items, every number will work except for 7, 14, 21, etc.

3. So… that means with 7 cards, we can still use a couple real or imaginary dice. And the force will work as long as they don’t choose/roll a 7. If they do roll a 7, it’s easy enough to get around that. Just say, “Okay 7, great. Oh wait… we have seven items here. We’ll just keep counting around to the same object. Pick any number other than seven.” And you’re good to go.

4. The reason I created the Wrath Force as written up Monday was for something in the next book that wouldn’t work with the PNP. Because it’s for supporters, I can’t give too much away. But I’ll say this, it’s not a card force and it doesn’t involve any counting at all. And it perfectly mimics a method of selection almost everyone has done in their lives at some point. Originally I needed the more complicated version of the force to make my idea work, but I think I have a simplified version that will work. I just haven’t had a chance to try it out yet. If it ends up working, you’ll see it in the book.


So using the Prime Number Principle is really the way to go. It’s so much simpler. Here’s how I would use it in the context of a card force.

The Violence Force

(Because the cards are in a circle, I’ve been naming these forces after Dante’s circles of hell. Look at me, I’m a smarty-pants!)

This combines methods to make a really impenetrable force. It’s not going to be your everyday force, because it’s very process-heavy. You might think a lot of process would weaken a force. In some circumstances it can. But I don’t think that’s an issue with this force as I’ll explain later.

Procedure

It will be easier if the force card has a mark you can identify on the back, but it’s not necessary. Having a joker in the deck is good too, but also not 100% necessary.

You hand the cards to the spectator to shuffle.

You take them back and remove the joker. In the process you cull or cut the force card to the top.

You tell the spectator to cut the cards into “a bunch” of small packets. You want about seven or eight packets. Keep track of the packet that was formerly the top of the deck.

“We’re going to eliminate the entire deck down to one card. To do that, we’ll eliminate seven of these eight packets. Give me one packet to eliminate.”

The packets are given to you one at a time. You flash them to show the cards that are being eliminated. As the packets are handed to you, you’re reassembling the deck in your hands. If the packet with the force card on top is eliminated, just make sure that it ends up back on top of the cards in your hands. Simple.

You’re down to one packet, either it already has the force card on top or it will when you palm the force card off the cards in your hand and push the remaining packet towards the spectator.

If necessary, have them add or subtract cards to that packet to get to seven (you don’t mention the number seven to the spectator because you don’t want that number to seem important). Here’s the easiest way to do it.

  • If there are more than seven cards—for example, 9—spread them between your hands face-up, but with the last one held as a double, hiding the force card. “You eliminated those piles randomly, not knowing what was in them. Now I’ll let you make an intentional choice and just name a couple of the cards here and they’ll be eliminated as well.” The card(s) they name are removed.

  • If there are less than seven cards—for example, 5—flip over the eliminated cards and swirl them on the table. “You eliminated these piles randomly. Now you have the chance to give a couple cards a second chance. Which ones do you want to add back in?”

Arrange the seven cards in a circle. Place their finger or a marker of some sort on the card one card clockwise from the force card. Now you can tell them what’s going to happen and be very direct. “You’re going to choose any number you want. We’ll start with the card you’re on as one and count clockwise. Whatever card we end up on will be the eliminated card. And we’ll continue like that until we’re down to one card.”

You can go the dice route, the invisible dice route, or just “name a number that’s not too large, because we’re going to be counting up to it at least 6 times.”

Thinking of it now, I might disqualify 7 before they have a chance to choose it or roll it. “Name any number. Just not 7 because we have 7 cards and we’d end up just counting around and around to the same card.”

Follow the process and eliminate all the cards until you’re left with one, the force card.

There are so many layers to this: mathematics, sleight-of-hand, and genuinely free choices, that it will be very difficult for them to understand how this could be a force.

I know a lot of you are thinking, “I wouldn’t use that. I want something more direct. ‘Point to a card.’ ‘Touch a card.’ ‘Name a card.’

I fully get that instinct. But the truth is, a direct and “quick” force can often be dismissed with an “Easy Answer.” Did he make me touch that card? Does everyone name that card? Etc.

Layering methods helps eliminate some of those Easy Answers.

Yes, but isn’t it obviously a force? If it wasn’t, why would you go through this whole process? Why not just have them name a card?

That’s a good point, and it’s a problem with many process-heavy forces. Think of the 10-20 force where you’re asking for a number, counting down to that number, then adding the digits and counting down again. That’s a very bizarre process.

But in this force, all of the process is for the same reason: to eliminate cards. First we’re eliminating packets, then once we’re down to a handful of cards we’re eliminating them one at time. It all feels like one type of process continuing throughout the force.

And there is a logical reason to do it this way rather than have them just name or touch a card. That reason is drama.

“I’m going to have you select a card. Actually I’m going to have you eliminate 51 cards. Usually a magician will just have you pick one and you never really know if you picked it freely or if maybe he forced it on you somehow. That won’t be the case here. You will watch 51 different options fall away based on your decisions and chance. So you’ll actually see the consequences of your actions every step of the way. Here, shuffle up the deck.”

And you can make a big deal every step of the way as you show them the ramifications of their decisions. In the right situation, this type of “slow motion” force can be incredibly strong.


Let’s take a quick break from this discussion to look at the…

Questionable Cafe Claim of the Day

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Later in the same post…

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Hmmmm…

“These tricks are PERFECT for TV! (Also, you can’t do these on TV.)”

This is reminiscent of my Tinder profile where I talk about how great I am at eating pussy and then tacked onto the end it says, “Oral sex not included in our date. Contact SansMinds for cunnilingus.”


Damn, guys. So, I just had a chance to perform The Violence Force, as written up above. (I wrote part of the post a couple days ago, it’s now Thursday evening as I write this.) That thing is super strong. Stronger than I expected. Yes, it’s process-y, but it feels like a cohesive process. We’re whittling down the deck to one card in ways that involve choice and chance.

When I want to test out a force I always choose an effect where “force” should be the obvious answer. If a force is the easiest answer for an effect and they still don’t offer that as a potential explanation, then you’ve got a good force.

I also like to use an effect that doesn’t have an inherently exciting revelation. I don’t want to mistake their excitement for seeing fireworks in the sky spelling out their card to color my impression of how the force went over.

Here’s what I did. There were two decks on the table. One happened to be marked. I told my friend Mike to shuffle that deck while I looked through the other deck. I acted like I was considering something, but really I was just waiting for him to finish shuffling. When he was done, I noted the marks on the top card and removed the matching card from my deck, gave it to Mike, and told him to sit on it without looking at it.

I then went through the force as written above. Once the cards were in a circle I was pushed back well away from the table.

When the remaining card matched the card under his ass he said, “What the good heavens? You indubitably never ostensibly touched the blessed cards!”

(Actually, what he really said was, “What the fuck? You fucking never fucking touched the fucking cards!” But my critics have informed me that smart people don’t need to use bad words to make their point. So I wanted to make my friend seem smarter. But I don’t like lying to you readers. Sorry, Mike.)

He was wrong though. I had touched the packet when I pushed it towards him, loading in the palmed card, and when I spread through to see how many cards we had. He had ten, and rather than eliminate three, I had him add in one “second chance card.” The nice thing about the Prime Number Principle is that it works with any prime number so you have some flexibility. (It just doesn’t work with 280,859, for some reason. Seriously. I swear. Try it out.)

I think the reason he didn’t remember me touching the cards is that there is a very hands-off feeling when anything of importance is happening (when cards are being eliminated) that I think carries over for the whole force.

I really like this combination of principles. And adding a marked deck to it just makes it that much more impossible to figure out. This is likely going to be one of my go-to forces when I want a more drawn out procedure.


He’s no longer with us, but thanks to George Sands for the Prime Number Principle. I’ve never taken a deep dive into his work, but his Sandsational Rope routine was something I bought on one of my first visits to a magic store when I was young.

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Also, that picture looks like it was taken in front of the same blue background my school pictures were taken against when I was a kid.

He couldn’t have possibly been in elementary school in the 1980s, could he?

Wait… no… hold on…

I just found this picture. He was clearly in high school in the 1980s.

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We’re about a month away from the rise of the Full Harvest Moon, and this will be the third year where I will take that time to make some decisions about the future of the site. I think I know what my plans are. They’re similar to the plans I had last year to take things more underground, but I didn’t follow-thru on that like I wanted.

I’d like to get an idea of how you read the site so I can decide if what I’m thinking makes sense. If you read this site with any regularity, please fill out the form below.

About how often do you stop by this site? *
Are you a supporter of the site? *


Your Origin Story

“How did you get into magic,” (or the related, “Where did you learn this stuff?) is a question that comes up all the time for magicians, at least in the social magic sphere it does.

Did you get a magic set? Did you read a book in the library? Ok. So what? I’ve made this point before, but millions of kids got magic sets, or checked out books from the library, or had an uncle who showed them a trick. The fact that magicians actually use those things as an answer is sort of ridiculous. Those aren’t rare occurrences. It would be like asking a race car driver, “How did you get into this?” And him replying, “I got my driver’s license!”

People want to know how this became a passion for you. Not whatever dumb thing first introduced magic to you.

This isn’t a job interview, it’s a conversation. It’s a mistake to think that what people are looking for when they ask this is information.

Let’s pause here, because this is true in almost all social situations, so this is going from magic advice to life advice. If you take what I’m telling you here and run with it, it could change your social life. When someone asks you something about yourself, they’re not looking for an answer, they’re looking for a story.

On average I visit one or two coffee shops a day, and if I see a potential first date underway, I’ll almost always park myself nearby so I can eavesdrop on it like some busybody old lady. The majority of the guys there are terrible at carrying on a conversation.

Her: Where did you go to school?

Him: UNLV

Her: Wow. That’s pretty far away from home.

Him: Yeah.

Her: And you studied?

Him: Finance.

Her: Hmmm…and is that what you’re doing at Xerox?

Him: No. I’m in human resources. Do you want some of my scone?

Everything could be a story, but instead he’s just giving information. And this is on a first date, when they’re supposed to be getting to know each other! Get your shit together, guys!

If you’re in the dating world, or the making friends world, or even just the “meeting new people and having good conversations” world, then you need to think in terms of stories to answer questions about yourself: your job, your family, your interests, where you went to school, what you do in your free time, etc.

Ask good questions, really listen, and answer their questions with stories. That’s the secret for connecting with anybody.

What do you mean: a story? How do you answer, “Where do you work?” with a story? I don’t have an interesting story about where I work.

Look, i’m not saying everything has to have a, “It was a dark and stormy night” type story, with a hero and a protagonist to go along with it. I’m just saying you weren’t born working at Applebees, so there is some journey in regards to how you got there, or some journey in regards to where you’re going, so put your answer in that context.

Hey, I’m not some narcissist. I’m not going to answer every simple question with a “story.”

Look, if someone is asking you a question because they need information, then give them the information. If they’re asking the question to get to know you, then give them the story. This is how two people build a connection. They shoot out stories like little vines that get entangled. Two people telling stories and relating to each other’s stories is how you build any type of relationship. If you think collecting straight facts creates any sort of bond then go be a census worker. See how many close friends you make along the way.

So let’s get back to the subject of magic and the question of “How did you get interested in magic?” It’s fine if going to the library, or seeing your uncle perform a card trick, or getting a magic set is part of the answer. But it can’t be the whole thing.

But Andy, I really did get a magic set. And that really was how I got interested in magic.

No it can’t be just that. There has to be more to it. You’re not that malleable that just the mere exposure to a magic kit made you practice magic for the next 20 years.

By that logic, if instead of a magic kit you had gotten this…

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you’d be a ballerina princess now.

Or if this had been your Christmas present…

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you’d have your PhD in Disgusting Science.

I don’t buy it.

They’re not asking how you were first exposed to magic, but how it took hold. So tell that story.

Now, for a lot of you, that story might be: I was a really socially awkward kid and magic was a way to interact with people in a structured way without exposing too much of my real self to them. You can tell them that story and that type of honesty/vulnerability can be attractive as long as they don’t sense that’s still the reason you perform magic. If that’s still the case, then it will just come across as sad.

When asked how I got into magic, I will often tell my actual origin story, which I posted here years ago. But sometimes I’ll tell two other stories from my youth that are also true, although they’re not really what got me into magic. I was hooked before these incidents. But no one really cares if it’s not the literal truth. If you asked someone how they got into baking and they didn’t tell you the exact inciting incident, but rather some other formative moment from their youth involving baking, I think you’d probably be okay with it. Unless you’re a real weirdo.

Here are the two other answers I frequently give…

1. “Well, I always had an interest in magic, like a lot of kids. Then, one day, I was at a gathering at the house of one of my dad’s old college friends. I was probably 12 at the time. And one of the older guys there knew some magic and showed me a trick that completely blew my young, dumb mind. And I begged and begged him to show me how to do it, but he just wouldn’t. And it was torture for me. So after that I just started reading everything I could about magic and tracking down any information I could find at the library and I convinced my parents to take me to some magic stores. I literally spent months and months trying to figure this trick out and in that time I grew an appreciation for all the different aspects of magic. So that’s where the interest really took hold. After about a year and a half, I finally stumbled on a way to do the trick and it was this huge relief. But then, by that point, there were 50 other paths I was going down. So I was really entrenched in it as a hobby…. Hey… would you want to see that trick that fooled me so bad?”

2. “Well, most kids have an interest in magic to some degree. And I had learned a few tricks from a family friend that I would show people from time to time. And when I was about 11 there was this girl I was obsessed with and during lunch one day I showed her a couple tricks and she was super into it. Like she moved in real close to me and started touching my arm and my shoulder a bunch. Then she put her hand on my leg, which, for an 11-year-old boy is essentially a hand-job. And she was like, ‘You should come over Friday and show me some more magic.’ And I was like, ‘Hellz, yes, I should!’ But I didn’t really know any more good tricks, so I spent the next few days just trying to track down some more magic. I went to four different libraries and checked out a bunch of different books, and it was during those few days that the seed was planted and I grew a real fascination for magic. Anyway, I go to her house that Friday, ready to knock her panties off with my incredible tricks, and she pulls me into the living room and there’s this guy on the couch and she says, ‘I told Paul you’d come show us some tricks.’ I was there to entertain her… and her new boyfriend Paul. I was thinking, ‘Fuck this noise,’ but I didn’t know how to leave gracefully. So I just showed them a couple of things and then I was like, ‘There’s a bad energy here. I’m not sure what it is. But it’s going to make the tricks not work.’ Or something like that, and I left. Hey…, do you want to see the trick I showed that got her all horny for me that day?”

Okay… you see the pattern here, yes?

  • I was a kid with a normal interest in magic.

  • Then some event happened involving a magic trick.

  • That event led me deeper down the path and nurtured my appreciation for magic.

  • “Hey, do you want to see that trick?”

This is a very good structure, if you can fit your own story into it. Using the answer to the question they asked as a way to transition into another trick is a very solid way to capitalize on their interest.

Another option, if you feel you don’t have any story from your past that would make a good answer to the question of how you got into magic is to just lie. I’m not saying you have to try and actually convince them of your lie. It can be an obvious fabrication. Even an obvious fabrication can serve the purpose of getting to know someone more than a dull true fact would.

Which person do you know better:

Person 1: “How did I get into magic? I got a magic set on my birthday.”

Person 2: “How did I get into magic? Well, when I was young, I was abducted by a leprechaun for six months. It was rough. I missed my family. I fell behind in school. And I was physically and emotionally abused by a leprechaun. So that sucked. But he did know magic and would teach me these skills in between making fun of my height or beating me with a rainbow. We became lovers, yes. It felt consensual, but I was his captive at the same time as well. So there are a lot of mixed up feelings there. After some time, he let me go. I begged to stay. I was messed up in the head. Anyway… would you like to see the first trick he taught me?”

The Wrath Force

[Edit 8/14: You can ignore this post. In fact, print it out and set it on fire. I—happily—have a much, much, much simpler way of doing this now. I’ll explain on Friday.]

I’ve written a bunch about Phill Smith’s Quinta which is a way of forcing one in five objects by counting any number given by the spectator along a row of objects. The item you land on when you reach their number is the force object.

A couple weeks ago I had two people in two different performances express an issue with how I was counting. Both people pointed out that if you’re counting back and forth along a row of objects, you should count the end positions twice as you go back and forth. In other words, you shouldn’t count

1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1 2 3 4 5

you should count

1 2 3 4 5 5 4 3 2 1 1 2 3 4 5 and so on.

That way every object has an equal probability of being landed on (assuming the number is truly random).

Now, this is true, but it’s not something I believe anyone has mentioned before. Perhaps some other people thought it but didn’t bother to say anything. I don’t know.

Both of these people who mentioned it had an analytical sort of mind. So I thought it might be good to have an alternative to Quinta for when I’m performing for those sorts of people.

This isn’t better than Quinta, by any means. But for some purposes you might prefer it.

The Wrath Force

Here’s how it works.

Five objets are placed in a circular formation. You have something to place as a marker of some sort on one of the objects.

For this example, let’s say you have five playing cards.

You say, “In a moment I’m going to ask you to name a number from 1-10. [Or you can have them roll two invisible dice, or real dice.] Feel free to change your mind a couple of times. We’ll move the marker around the circle one card at a time until we get to your number. Whatever card the marker ends up on will be eliminated. We’ll continue to count to your number until all but one card has been eliminated. Whatever’s left will be your card.”

This sounds like a pretty thorough description of what’s going to happen. But it leaves enough things unstated that we will take advantage of to force the object regardless of what number is named.

These things are:

  1. Whether we’ll count clockwise (CLOCKWISE) or counter-clockwise (COUNTER).

  2. Whether we’ll count the card the marker is on as 1 (ON ONE) or count the first card it moves to as 1 (NEXT ONE).

  3. Whether eliminated cards are still counted (IN) or skipped (OUT).

Again, let’s imagine we’re using cards. You ask the spectator to shuffle the five cards and place them in a circle shape. You need to know where your force card is. So maybe it’s marked, or nicked in some way, or the cards might be face up. Regardless, you place the marker one card clockwise from the force object. Like this:

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The X-Card here is the force card. That thing on the card next to it is a game piece, which makes some sense, but you can use a coin or any other object you want.

To be clear, you set down the marker before you tell them what’s going to happen and before they name their number. You don’t want them to think you set it down in a specific place to make things work out with whatever number they name. This feels pretty fair.

If I’m performing for more than one person I like to have them each roll an imaginary die in their head. Then we add the two digits together. If I’m doing it for one person, I might have them roll a real die and imagine rolling a second one.

Here’s how to get to the force card with any number 1 thru 12. I’ll GIF a couple so you get the general idea.

If they say ONE

This is a stupid thing to say. But if they do, the rules are:

  • CLOCKWISE

  • ON ONE

  • IN OR OUT (DOESN’T MATTER)

If they say TWO

  • CLOCKWISE

  • ON ONE

  • IN

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If they say THREE

  • CLOCKWISE

  • ON ONE

  • IN

If they say FOUR

  • COUNTER

  • NEXT ONE

  • OUT

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If they say FIVE

  • COUNTER

  • ON ONE

  • OUT

If they say SIX

  • CLOCKWISE

  • ON ONE

  • IN

If they say SEVEN

  • CLOCKWISE

  • NEXT ONE

  • OUT

If they say EIGHT

  • COUNTER

  • NEXT ONE

  • OUT

If they say NINE

  • CLOCKWISE

  • ON ONE

  • IN

If they say TEN

  • CLOCKWISE

  • NEXT ONE

  • OUT

If they say ELEVEN

  • CLOCKWISE

  • ON ONE

  • OUT

If they say TWELVE

  • CLOCKWISE

  • ON ONE

  • IN

NOTES

1. The question here is “How do you memorize this?” I don’t have a clue. That’s for you to figure out. I was able to memorize it as I worked out all the possible combinations when I was coming up with it. It’s less difficult than you might think to memorize. Half of the options (1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 12) are all the same (CLOCKWISE, ON ONE, IN). 4 and 8 are the same. 7 and 10 are the same

2. You could create a crib with right and left arrows for clockwise/counter clockwise, 1 and 2 for if you start on the first card or the next, and I or O if the cards stay in the count or are out of the count.

So if they say the number “Eleven,” you’d look at your crib and see this: →1O M That is: Clockwise, On One, Out.

3. Could you figure out more numbers beyond 12? Yeah, probably. But remember, this isn’t like Quinta where we’re using a number to select an item. We’re using a number to eliminate items. So you wouldn’t really want to count to, like, 45 four times. There are some routines where it’s theatrically more interesting to knock out options one at a time, in which case this would be a good force. Otherwise Quinta would be the way to go. That’s much simpler.

4. For the numbers where the items remain IN and counted, you need some way to mark them as eliminated. In the GIF above, the cards are turned over. If you’re not using playing cards you have to find some other way to show the objects as eliminated. For example, if you’re using drawings or words, you can use a pen as a marker and cross them out. Or if you’re using physical objects you can knock them on their side to show they’ve been eliminated.

5. Similarly, when eliminated items are OUT and not counted, you don’t need to push them out of the circle like he does in the GIF. You can just do something to show they’re eliminated and skip over them going forward.

6. After we count to and eliminate the first object, I like to pause and point out how if they had chosen another number a different object would have gotten knocked out. And I’ll point to a couple other possibilities. “If you had said three, for example, this cards would be gone. If you had said five, this card would be gone.” And one of those “casual” examples is the force object.

7. Look to last Friday’s mailbag post for a strong use of this as a force from a full deck. You’d have the force card palmed out. Have the rest of the deck shuffled and cut into many piles. Piles are eliminated by the spectator until you’re down to one. Palm in the force card on top of that pile and add or remove cards until you have five (again, see Friday’s post). Then have these remaing cards shuffled and placed in a circle and take it from there. This is probably a little more logical than using Quinta in that circumstance because you are continually eliminating down to one card, rather than eliminating down to five and then selecting one of those five.

Mailbag #10

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All these questions come from the same email from supporter JC

I think one of the reasons your presentations hit so hard is because often the effect is simply being used to show proof of some other thing. So, in effect, the trick is a “Rep” of whatever premise you're using. Is that a good way to think about it?

You have the right idea but you’re mixing up the terminology. You’ve accurately characterized my position that tricks tend to be stronger (in my experience) when you present them as proof of something else. Well, let’s not say “proof” let’s say, “an example or demonstration of some phenomenon.” Now, performers are already doing this in a very general way. They are showing a trick and that trick is a demonstration of “my magic powers” or “my mental powers” or, more recently, “my powers of influence.”

Now, that’s all fine, and I certainly do plenty of effects that fall into those categories, but I don’t think we should limit ourselves to these three phenomena for a couple reasons:

  1. It’s not that interesting after a while. Demonstrating how you can read someone’s mind is great. Demonstrating general “magic powers” is also fine. If you’re working a restaurant and have a constant slew of new audiences, that will serve you well. But if you’re an amateur, performing for friends and family over months and years it can come across as the same thing over and over. “He read my mind and told me the card I was thinking. Then he read my mind and told me the city I was thinking. Then he read my mind and told me the name of the person I first kissed. Then he read my mind and told me my least favorite ethnicity. Then he read my mind and told me what I drew on the pad. Then he read my mind and told me what I believe to be my dog’s third favorite ice-cream flavor.” That’s the same phenomenon over and over. By nature it’s not going to be as interesting as if you couch the presentation as a demonstration of various phenomenon.

  2. The three phenomena mentioned above are all very magician-centric. “Look at me read minds.” “Look at me do magic.” “Look at me influence you.” In the long-run that’s going to come across as needy. Let’s assume the spectators already know you’re asking them to play along to some extent. They know you don’t really have magic powers. So if you’re going to ask them to play along with a bit of fiction, why is every bit of fiction about how special you are? Doesn’t that seem a bit desperate?

When you use your tricks to demonstrate other phenomena you can both tell a wider range of stories, and also not seem quite so pathetic.

As far as the word “rep” goes. That’s not quite the way I use it. A Rep is something you add outside the confines of the performances, to expand the boundaries of a presentation.

As an example of both parts of your question, think of the Wisdom of Crowds Word Reveal. This is taking a trick that would typically be a presentation of straight mind-reading, and then performing it in such a way that it’s a demonstration of something else: the power of the dark web, or massive data mining initiatives. Most people would still recognize this as some sort of trick, but the presentation is more compelling than saying, “I’m going to read your mind,” for the 50th time. 

Here’s how a “Rep” (Repercussion) might be used with that effect. Let’s say you performed it for a co-worker that you normally eat lunch with. For the next week or so you bring in a PB&J sandwich for lunch rather than go out to eat with everyone. When people ask you why you’re not going out you say, “Remember that data mining thing I showed you on Friday? It’s $120 each time you want to query it. I didn’t really budget for it so I need to save a little cash this week.” The “repercussion” of you performing that trick is that you need to tighten the purse strings for a few days. You’re continuing the presentation as if this seeming impossible thing (a database that can predict what random item you’d think of) is real.

What makes Reps so insidious when you want to fuck with people is that you have a magic trick that is inherently unreal, but then you have repercussions which are perfectly plausible as long as you accept the reality of the magic trick. So they’re another tool the amateur has to smudge fantasy into reality and vice versa.

2. You mentioned in a post that one of the ways you use equivoque to force a card is to let them make as many piles as they want, let them eliminate the piles fairly, palm in the force card, and then go into equivoque. Could you elaborate on this a bit? Not the palming or equivoque but the procedure before that?

Hmmm… well there’s not much of a “procedure” before that. The force card is in my lap or in my pocket. I have the spectator shuffle the deck as much as they want, and cut the cards into “a bunch of piles.” I tell them we’re going to narrow the cards down to one pile, then one card, and I have them start eliminating piles one by one. They do all this themselves. They can turn over the piles they eliminate and see that all the cards are different. So they get a real sense of seeing the potential outcomes dwindle.

Eventually we’ll be down to one pile which I push towards them while sweeping the other cards aside (and adding in the palmed card). Then I’ll equivoque to that card.

Actually, these days I’m more likely to use Phill Smith’s Quinta. With that the process is different. We’re down to one pile. If the pile has five cards, we’re set. If it has four cards, I tell them to add one “second chance card” from any of the discards. If it has three cards then I use a variation on Quinta with three cards in a triangle shape (which I’m pretty sure is also Phill’s but I can’t remember the name of it).

If there are more than five cards, it becomes even stronger. I spread the cards to see how man are in the pile. Let’s say it’s eight. I tell them to pick up the stack and deal them into a pile on the table. The top card is my force card because that was palmed on top of the stack. After they’ve dealt that first card I say, “and turn over any three as you go and set them out here to eliminate them.”

Either way, we’re left with five cards and I’ll go into Quinta from there.

You mentioned in an old post that there is a reason you use UNO cards a lot. You said you'd do a post explaining those reasons but I don't believe that post ever happened. Could you talk about those reason?
—JC

Yeah. You’re right. In this post I said, “I use Uno cards a lot. I'll write up the reasons why in a future post.” Given the fact it’s four years to the day from that original post, I guess it’s about time I get to that. Here are some of the reasons I like using Uno cards when possible.

  1. They’re smaller than playing cards, so somewhat easier to palm.

  2. You have 0s and 1s, so if you’re doing a trick where, say, someone shuffles the cards and mysteriously deals out their own phone number or something, you don’t have to do that thing where you’re like “a ten is a zero and aces are ones.” Some tricks just aren’t as pristine when you have to interpret the cards like that.

  3. There are natural duplicates in a pack of Uno cards which can prevent discrepancies that you might see in card tricks with a typical deck.

  4. There are actual “Wild” cards in an Uno deck which are naturally relevant for any trick where one or more cards transform into other cards.

  5. You don’t have the, “I’ve seen this one before” response you might get when you go into a trick with a normal deck of cards.

  6. I think people are less likely to question a deck of Uno cards. People have heard of trick decks of playing cards, but Uno cards feel somewhat above suspicion because it’s a brand name product, not just generic “playing cards.” Yes, but isn’t Bicycle a brand name product too? Not to people who don’t play cards regularly.

  7. I like performing for the ladies. Chicks dig Uno. If I have an Uno deck on my coffee table when a woman is around, there is a very good chance she’ll suggest playing it. Rarely will they pick up a normal deck and be like, “Let’s play cribbage!”

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How to Get People to Question Irrational Beliefs

This is a picture I took in a coffee shop the other day.

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It might not be 100% clear what’s going on here, but for the first time in my life I encountered people using a pendulum in the wild. I came in just as they were wrapping up whatever they were doing, so I didn’t quite get the gist of what was going on, but they were raving about how “amazing” it was.

For most of my life I would have been the person who would say, “Have you heard of the ideomotor response? You’re actually moving the pendulum yourself, with movement you don’t even sense that you’re doing. That crystal means nothing. It would work the same with a washer on dental floss.” Well, I probably wouldn’t actually say that to strangers at a cafe, but I’d want to.

While I’m still personally just as much of a skeptic/non-believer as I’ve been in the past, I’ve come up with a new technique for handling this sort of situation. I no longer try to make a rational argument against this sort of thing. You don’t rationalize with people who think a crystal on a chain has mystic powers. It’s not like it was a double-blind, placebo-controlled study that got them believing in the powers of crystals in the first place. Believing nonsense is just one of 1000 coping mechanisms we have for filling the holes in us that are inherent in the human condition. So it would be like trying to rationalize people out of doing meth. “Meth is actually really bad for you.” “Wait… whaaaaattt???!!!!”

So I don’t try and talk people out of that sort of thing these days. I’m still a grade-A expert at making people feel retarded for believing in something stupid. But I just don’t care about that stuff anymore. If you want to believe in crystals, or tarot, or ghosts, or the Law of Attraction, or whatever… knock yourself out. I’m not completely laissez faire about it. If someone is being taken advantage of, then I’ll intervene. And if someone is like, “You know, I’m thinking of stopping my chemotherapy treatments and instead rubbing this lucky penny for 45 minutes a day,” then I’ll say something. Beyond that, I don’t really challenge people on this sort of thing. (And I’ve even taken on some irrational beliefs of my own in regards to synchronicity and my own control over the universe. I find it has a positive impact on my outlook and behavior.)

Despite my change in approach, I think I’ve stumbled over a non-combative way to make people reassess beliefs that many of us would describe as nonsense. It’s a bit counterintuitive, and it certainly doesn’t always work, but I’ve found better success with this technique than I have with trying to debate these things with people.

Instead of arguing over the topic, I just amplify their belief and then demonstrate the phenomena in a very direct way. So, for example, if someone is talking about the power of the tarot, they usually mean that you can read into the cards in some sort of general way that maybe addresses your past or future if you squint enough. So I’ll be like, “Oh, absolutely, the tarot is incredibly powerful. I’ve learned techniques that allow it to make specific predictions of things that will happen in the immediate future.” And then I’ll do some sort of tarot-based card effect. Now, you might think that a strong trick would reinforce someone’s belief in the tarot. But what I find is that if it has any effect at all, it’s to undermine their belief in the phenomenon. If this clear, credible “evidence” seems like it must be fake, then the vague, sketchy evidence their belief was previously based on is going to come into question as well.

Not for everyone. A lot of the time they’ll still continue to separate the experiences. But for some people, doing something so blatant and “obviously a trick” will weaken their belief in the phenomenon in general.

I’m not trying to change people’s opinions. But that is the outcome for a subset of people when I do a trick with a presentation based in some irrational belief. And for everyone else, I’ve just done a trick dealing with a subject they’re interested in. So it’s a win-win. I don’t end up actually reinforcing anyone’s belief, because my style of magic is unbelievable.

With the women using the crystal in the coffee shop, I certainly wasn’t trying to change their opinion on crystals or pendulums. I did engage with them because it was such a perfect set-up for a trick that I was compelled to capitalize on it. I ended up talking with them about crystals and offered to show them something interesting I’ve learned about “crystal power.” “It’s not about the size of the crystal,” I say, “It’s the number of facets present. That’s why a packet of sugar crystals is so powerful. It’s just about the sheer number.” It’s funny to me when people who were just earnestly waggling around a pendulum are giving me sideways glances like I’m crazy. But they were game to play along. So they each dangled sugar packets over playing cards and they were able to each find the color cards I had assigned them. (An impromptu OOTW style trick.)

I then dumped some packets of sugar out on a saucer. And with the sugar and the cards completely out of my hands, they shuffled the deck in packets, holding them over the plate of sugar. Then they cut the deck to one card, the six of diamonds. Without touching anything, I showed them that if they looked at the sugar just right they could see a faint 6 ♦️ in the sugar. This completely fucked with them.

(How? The deck was marked, and I used some techniques I learned from Ben Earl to allow them to shuffle the cards before doing the cross-cut force on themselves. I had dumped the sugar out and subtly drawn the card in the sugar long before they finished shuffling and cutting. By the way, I didn’t have the marked deck on me. Months ago I put it in the bookcase at the coffee shop below. I’ve also set some stuff up in the Trivial Pursuit game and the Scruples game. And I have a crib for the first few words on page 127 of most of the books on that bookshelf. Always Be Prepared. It’s the Jerx Scouts motto.)

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As the women got ready to leave and one went off to the bathroom, the other said to me, “Do you really think there’s anything to the crystal stuff?”

I said, “Of course! You just witnessed it.”

She said, “Ahhh. Gotcha,” in a way that suggested: Okay, I get it. it’s all just fun bullshit.

My goal wasn’t to talk her out of this belief, but if it had been, I think I would have considered this a success.

Dustings of Woofle #11

Hey, everyone! I’m having a blast here at MAGIC Live! You know how cool and charismatic one magician is, right? Well, now imagine 1600 of them in one place! Talk about a party!

The dealer’s room is always a highlight. This year’s crop of pom pom sticks is really something to behold. But I think my favorite thing so far has been Dan Harlan’s newest version of Cardtoon. Instead of just a card reveal, you now flip through the deck and it tells the heartbreaking story of a young man’s struggle with his sexuality and coming out to his father (a decorated military veteran) and their subsequent 20 year estrangement. Not to spoil it, but they do reconnect when the father is diagnosed with cancer. And in the goosebump-inducing finale, the father—in his final days of life—joins the son to march in the gay pride parade. And together they raise a sign that says “3 ♧” (Or whatever card your spectator named.)

It seems every year this convention redefines the art of magic. I’m very excited because I’ve negotiated exclusive rights to broadcast the main stage on a webcam below. So even people who are unable to attend can still see the incredible artistry on display.

Let’s take a look…

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I came across an effect recently called Unsolved by Francis Girola. It’s a deck with information on cold cases printed on the cards.

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If that sounds like an odd pairing to you, it does have a precedent. There have been decks of cards printed up in the past with information on murders and missing people on them. They’re given out, usually to prisoners, as a way to hopefully get people talking and maybe elicit some new information in regards to these cases that have gone cold.

In Unsolved, the cards are apparently marked in a way so that you can know details about the crime/victim on the face of the card.

With the amount of friends I have who are interested in true crime, this would be a no-brainer for me to pick up. And then I saw the face of the cards….

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Check out the phone number. They went to the effort of making these cards mimic something that exists in reality, and then they put a “555” phone number on the cards.

Now, maybe this isn’t well known around the world… maybe they see American TV and someone gives out a 555 number and they assume that what a real phone number looks like. It’s not. The 555 is used in TV and movies because it’s not real. This number is particularly fake. It’s Jim Rockford’s phone number from the Rockford Files and has been used in a bunch of different tv shows.

Why they went this route, I have no clue. They could have just got a Google Voice number and printed that on the cards, and even had a recorded message when you called saying “leave your tip” blah, blah. Or they could have left off a phone number and had it say, “Please contact a prison official to report your tip,” since these were meant to be given out to prisoners.

Oh, Andy, no one will look at the phone number.

It’s the biggest thing in the boldest font on the card! A card you’re asking them to invest their attention in. A big 555 is pretty obvious, even if you’re not really focused on the phone number. It’s as obviously fake as if it said, “Please submit tips to: Santa Claus, 123 Main St., Anytown, USA.”

I’m going to guess that they didn’t print a ton of these, in which case it hopefully won’t be too much of a financial hit to set these on fire and print up a new batch with a proper phone number. I’ll be here with my grubby little fingers ready to click “buy” when that happens.


Cut for Time: F.U.2.

Here’s a section that was cut from my post on FU2 from last Friday.

It was inspired by a line in the Ellusionist ad copy which said the trick is the perfect heckler stopper. Now, I don’t know shit about “heckler stoppers.” I perform for people I like and who like me. Either no one ever seriously screws with me, or perhaps I just don’t ever interpret anything as that. So I can’t speak from experience. But I’m going to guess pulling out a specially-made card with a printed middle finger on it isn’t going to stop any hecklers. More than likely they’re just going to upgrade you from a regular wedgie to an atomic wedgie for your cornball trick.

Instead of suggesting to an asocial 14-year-old that they’re going to be stopping hecklers with this trick, I wanted to give them a more realistic expectation of how things will go down….

“Hey everyone, look at my special, funny joke card. Now I’m the life of the party! Hey, Kaitlyn, did you see? Did you see the funny card I had? Kaitlyn! Did you see it? It has a middle finger on it and it says ‘fuck you.’ And I totally made a fool of the school bully with my specially printed funny card from ellusionist.com. And now I’m the hero of the school! Kaitlyn, stop trying to kiss me! I’m sorry if my trick turned you on so much, but I have to go do some more magic. The whole party is really buzzing about me and my incredible tricks. Can’t you hear th—” buzzz, buzzz, buzzz. Huh? Bed? Sheets? Pillow? It was just a dream? But it felt so real! Aw, fudge… I jizzed my underpants. “Honey, time to get up. Do you want me to make you a soft-boiled egg?” “Mom! Get out of my room, you stupid B!” Ugh! I can’t believe it was just a dream. But soon it will be true. I’ll show them all. Mom, Kaitlyn, Trevor the bully. When I get that special card from Ellusionist, then they’ll show me the proper respect! Things are bound to turn around for me.

One week later the card arrives in the mail. One week after that he’s googling ways to build a bomb to blow up the school.


I think one of the more powerful moments of synchronicity in the existence of the known universe that very few people ever talk about is the fact that if you were on Lance Burton’s Young Magician’s Showcase in 2001, and you thought wearing a red jacket was a strong sartorial choice, then there is a 100% chance you went on to start a company called Vanishing Inc.

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Cafe Soaps: F.U.2

Cafe Soap are the little “soap operas” that unfold in threads on the Magic Cafe. Back in the early/mid 2000s, when the Cafe was thriving, the Soaps were plentiful and fascinating. You’d get a thread that would go on for 18 months and 30 pages with a guy promoting his self-levitation that he would assure you was totally real, and definitely coming out. “Ah, damn! There were problems with the DVD replicator. It’s going to be 6 more months.” That was always great news. It was like your favorite show got picked up for another season. There would be accusations of theft and fraud and obviously-fake accounts that were just made that day, “I’m a friend of Tom’s. This trick is real. I’ve seen it.” But the dude’s syntax was identical to Tom’s.

With the Cafe well on its way to becoming the equivalent of the once thriving, now empty, mall near you (the one full of 35 dark, deserted stores; a weird smelling shop that sells wall tapestries; a local pizza place operating out of the old Sbarro in the otherwise abandoned food court; and, for some reason, a Bath and Bodyworks), the quantity and quality of the Cafe Soaps has gone far down hill.

But here’s a decent one. It’s people arguing over a trick where you claim to have predicted a spectator’s chosen card. It turns out your “prediction” actually says “Fuck You” on it. You then go on to show that you actually did know the card they would choose. You may imagine people are arguing about it in this manner: “You came up with that shitty idea.” “No…you did.” But believe it or not, they actually want to take credit for it.

The dispute is between Lloyd Barnes, from Ellusionist, who has released the trick as FU2, and Harrison Green Bomb* who has been performing a very similar trick in his act for some time now, apparently.

[*Edit 8/4/19 - Yes, I know that’s not how you spell it, but H.G. wrote and asked me to remove the next paragraph about his penis so it wouldn’t show up in searches by corporate clients—so instead I just removed his last name altogether, so now they won’t find this post at all, and we all still get to fantasize about his sweet dong.]

(I once saw Harrison perform magic naked. I’m 100% serious. This was somewhere between 2008 and 2010, I think. It was a brief period of time where people thought it was brave to do whatever they were doing on stage naked. So you had naked improv and naked stand-up and naked magic. It was stupid, unless someone you thought was hot was involved in it, then it was great. I can’t remember much about the show. I remember the guy who hosted the show legitimately had a micro-penis. And I remember Harrison did the Baby Gag. Speaking of which, I don’t think Harrison was working with too much downstairs either. Making a “baby gag” would probably be the best he could hope to do with that thing. In a full grown adult’s mouth it would rattle around like a Jolly Rancher. (I’m kidding, Harrison. Your dick made no impression on me one way or the other…. Ah! And isn’t that the cruelest thing you can say about a dick? Indeed.))

I can see both sides of the issue. I can see why Harrison feels it’s a rip off of his trick, and I can see Ellusionist’s position that the tricks themselves are different in method and have a somewhat different payoff. Like a lot of things in magic, it’s ethically ambiguous. In this sort of situation, I tend to side with the original creator. And in this case that’s a particularly easy thing to do because I sure as shit am not going to walk around with some pre-printed cards with a middle finger on them.

The problem I see with the trick is this… only a bunch of corny-ass magicians would think the phrase “fuck you” is somehow shocking or edgy. It’s not. You can say it in a PG-13 movie. So it’s not really that crass, nor is it inherently funny in any way, it’s certainly not original, and it’s not even charmingly sophomoric like a sponge ding-dong. The trick gets a good response when Harrison performs it, but that’s because he’s a competent performer, not because “fuck you” itself is particularly clever.

As far as I’m concerned, the best use of this sort of idea is by Joshua Logan, John Bodine, and Brian Hart, in the November 2012 issue of MAGIC Magazine. In their trick, Freak Out, you print a horrible, explicitly graphic sexual image on a card (think “goatse” or “lemon party” or someone sucking a log of shit out of someone’s ass). When your spectator sees that, they will give it a look that you try and play off as them reacting to your correct prediction. That seems like it could be fun. But no one is going to react in a shocked way to the words “fuck you,” unless it’s 1880 and you’re performing at Little Loyd Fauntleroy’s birthday party.

But whatever. I’m going to put an end to this dispute by giving both parties some alternative phrasing to put on the card. So now it’s not a a “fuck you” trick anymore. Okay? Problem solved. Here… for anyone to use… are some other things you can print on the card as a way to say “fuck you” with a little more panache…

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