The Distance You Can Be From Your Son


This weekend I was in the city I grew up in visiting some old friends. On Saturday, I went to the park with my friend Kathy and her son, Jack, who is not quite two and a half. The park is just a large area of lawn behind a suburban neighborhood with trees on either side and a highway a couple hundred yards away at the back.

"What's the furthest you've ever been from your son?" I asked her. "Not when someone else is watching him, but when it's just you and him."

"I don't know," she said, and thought to herself. "Maybe in the house somewhere? He'll be in one room and I'll briefly go to another room. Or to check the mail maybe?"

"What about when you're out somewhere," I asked. "How far away are you comfortable letting him go?"

"Not at all far. At the zoo once he wandered maybe 20 feet from where I was and I freaked out."

"That's understandable," I said. "It's a zoo. There are animals and strangers and other things to be worried about. But what about here? There's no one else around. The trees are far away, the road is far away. Any idea how far you'd feel comfortable letting him get away from you?"

"I don't really know," she said.

"Let's try something," I said. "Take this." I gave her a small gift-card sized envelope to put in her pocket. "Come stand with me at this tree. Let's have Jack run across the park. At some point he's going to be at a distance where you need to run after him. You may want to before that point, but I want you to wait until you need to go after him. Okay? We don't know when that will be. It's certainly not going to be when he's two feet away. And it's not going to be when he's about to go into the street. But somewhere in the middle you'll feel that compulsion to go after him. Are you okay with this?" 

She agreed. Yes, it was a weird request on my part, but it didn't seem overly dangerous. It was just grass all around us, the street was a long ways off. And she's young and in shape and can easily catch up to a toddler.

"Once you meet up with him, just stay where you are and I'll catch up with you."

We got down on the ground and I tried to convey to Jack that we wanted him to run as fast as he could across the park. Jack was into the idea and raring to go. 

"Ok, Jack. Go!" I said and set him free. He ran as fast as his legs would take him.

Kathy felt an immediate urge to go after him within 15-20 feet but held herself back and just watched for a little bit. Jack became smaller and smaller. He stumbled a couple times, but nothing serious. I could tell the tension was building with Kathy. He was still some distance from anything that could cause him harm, but I could tell the distance itself was becoming overwhelming for Kathy and eventually she tore off after him.

I caught up with them a few moments after that. She was on her knees hugging him.

I looked back at the tree where we started. "How far do you think that is?" I asked. Neither of us had any real clue. "Let's count it off," I said.

We walked back to the tree with me stepping heel to toe and her counting off steps. We were estimating that each step was about 1 foot (i.e. 12 inches, for my non-Imperial system readers). When we got back to the tree we were at 171 feet. 

"Interesting," I said. "Can I get that envelope I gave you?"

She handed me the envelope. "I made a prediction," I said, and I removed something from the envelope. On it I had written:

He didn't
run into
the road
and get hit
by a car.

"Impressive, right?" I said. "Here, I'll tell you how it's done. If he had run into the road, I would simply have covered up the n't in didn't with my finger so it says, 'He did run into the road and get hit by a car.' Simple!"

"Okay, I admit, that's not that great of a trick. This isn't my prediction, it's another envelope." I opened the envelope I was holding and removed a small folded card half-way. I offered it to her to take out the card. On the outside of the card was a picture of Jack I had taken the day before. It was a close-up of his face and he was giving the camera a sideways glance and funny smile that made him look like some old Vaudevillian comedian.

On the inside it said:


And here come the tears and the cooing and the hugging.

Method and Background

A thumb-writer/nail-writer/swami/boon or whatever you use for secret writing.

And the set-up I first wrote up in the JAMM #10 which allows you to thumb-write on the inside of a folded piece of paper that's in a small envelope.

The method is the simple part.

In fact, it's pretty much the same as the method mentalists use all the time to predict a random number. Gee... great. A random number, a random word, a random time of day. 


"Well, predicting random numbers was good enough for [Insert Mentalist's Name] so it's good enough for me."

Hey, I hear ya, and that's fine by me. I'm not trying to change anyone's mind. You do you.

On Monday I wrote that predicting or divining "random" things means losing the opportunity to imbue an emotionally relevant element into an effect. And I wrote how I was getting much stronger reactions when making the "unknown personal" central to the effect.

This trick is my favorite type of unknown personal because not only are you predicting something there's no way you could know or research about a person. You're predicting something that is both wildly personal but also completely unknown to even the person themselves. They don't know at what distance they'll feel physically unable to be apart from their child. They've probably never really thought about it, but it's still somehow fundamental to the nature of their relationship with the child. 

I have to give 100% credit for the idea behind this trick to the artist Lenka Clayton who, six years ago, did a series of these experiments with her own son, seeing how far apart she could be from him in different situations. 

I just saw the videos recently and I thought they'd make a perfect starting off point for an effect with strong emotional elements. The videos are intriguing, funny, tense, and heartwarming. I knew it would be interesting for people to experience that themselves. 

This nice thing about this style of effect is that it naturally takes the focus off you. Yes, you're "predicting" something you couldn't know, but there's so much more going on that it doesn't come off as just a display of your genius. (As opposed to the way, "here's the random number you thought of" does.)

When Kathy asked me later on how I could know, I just deflected. I told her I had talked with her son the previous day. I showed him how long a foot was and asked him about how many of them away he felt he could be before he needed his mommy and he told me 171.

Summer X-Comm Coming Tonight


Calling out around the world
Are you ready for a brand new beat?
Summer's here and the time is right
For the 2018 Summer Issue of the X-Communication Newsletter.

25 pages of reviews, thoughts and handlings on products new and old, and the discussion and explanation of a trick called the Einstein-Rosen Coins Across. 

If you're a supporter of the site and you don't get it by tomorrow, send me an email and let me know.

The Unknown Personal

I want you to think of a random number between 1 and 1000.

I want you to think of a random time of day.

I want you to think of a random word... now think of a random letter within that word. Now randomly go up or down to the next letter in the alphabet. 

For the last couple months I've been deeply immersed in putting together the opening essay in book #2, and that essay is about the ways at our disposal to inject some emotional resonance into a trick. The rationale behind presenting magic in this way isn't to make you look better or to make magic somehow more important. It's not like, "Everyone thinks magic is just light entertainment or something for kids. I'll show them. They'll certainly know magic is something important when I do a trick with the initials of their favorite dead relative!

That's not the idea. The idea is that if you're going to ask them for 5, 10, 15 minutes or more of their time, it would be nice if the experience could be more than just a momentary diversion. I'm not against momentary diversions, and I think magic can be great in that context. But if the experience contains an emotional hook, then whatever that hook is will also trigger their memory of the effect in the future. So they can relive that experience multiple times, and hopefully take some level of enjoyment from it each time they do.

This isn't anything new or controversial that I'm saying here. I think most magicians would probably agree that if a spectator can connect emotionally to a trick it's likely to stick with them longer. That almost goes without saying. While I think most magicians agree with that in concept, I think they may feel they lack ways to add an emotional element that are simple, practical, and don't feel corny or manipulative. And they'd rather entertain with a "meaningless" card or coin trick than swing and miss with something potentially more affecting. So the purpose of the essay that opens the forthcoming book is to collect some of the techniques that I've found to work in that regard.

One of the ideas I've been thinking about recently is cutting down on the use of the word "random" unless the theme of what I'm doing is actually about true randomness (which it rarely is). 

I used to gravitate to "random" words/numbers/drawings. And the reason for that was—because I'm generally not performing for complete strangers—predicting or divining something personal can seem less impressive. If I tell you what your lucky number or favorite food is, you might think, "Wow!... wait... did he ask someone? Or did I mention that before? Or did he find that out from something I posted online?" When it's personal information the reaction can go from "How could he have known that!" To, literally, how could you have acquired that information.

To avoid that problem I have stuck to "random" elements, because I wanted to emphasize how impossible what was about to happen was. Unfortunately, you're also emphasizing how disconnected what you're doing is to them as a human. The experience becomes less personal because they just become a random number or word generator.

So now, when it comes to these sorts of things, I try to stick to predicting or divining things that fall into the category of: unknown personal. That is, information that is personal or unique to the spectator that could not be researched or discovered beforehand.


Let's say I have a word prediction.

Random: "I want you to think of a random word. Something I could never just guess." 

Pros: Impressive.

Cons: No relevance to the spectator.

Personal: "I want you to think of the first name of your favorite relative when you were growing up." 

Pros: The effect is more personal.

- Potentially less impressive.
- They may come up with their own idea in regards to how you got the information.
- Unless you build out your presentation some, it may feel like you're just asking for a piece of personal information to make "just a trick" seem relevant in some way. It's almost like a salesman asking you your kid's name and then using it in the next sentence. "Don't you think little Johnny would want his dad driving the safest car on the road?" It can seem manipulative. 

Unknown Personal: "Did you have a favorite book when you were younger? Like maybe between the ages of 10-15? Something you read over and over? Or something that made an impression on you? I want you to imagine standing in front of a bookshelf and reaching for this book. You open it and flip to a certain section that has a scene or a passage you remember well. Imagine reading that passage and think of a word that stands out, it may be something that's key to that section or whatever. It just stands out in some way. Concentrate on that word.

- It's completely personal to them.
- There's no way you could have "found out" this information beforehand.
- When they think of this book in the future they'll be reminded of this trick and will get to re-live it in their memory.

Cons: Finding something both "unknown" and "personal" takes a little more thought than just asking for a random word or their favorite pet's name.

But really, that's the only "con" I can think of. And once you get in the habit of identifying "unknown personals" it's pretty easy. If it's not completely clear now, it will be in future posts as there are many more examples to come.

Gardyloo #65

This is weird.

So a few years ago there was a product put out called The Divers Lung Tester. It's a steampunk looking thing that's used for a prank.


The idea was that you would introduce the prop as an old "Divers Lung Tester" and you would blow into it and the air would flow through it and move the little paddle-wheel thingy. And you would say that the longer you could blow and move the wheel the better your lung capacity was for diving purposes. Or something.

But, when the other person goes to try it, they end up blowing a bunch of powder into their face.

The Diver's Lung Tester is a version of a prank known as a "blow back pipe."


Is this funny? Maybe. It's just not really my scene. When I want to cover someone's face with a milky whiteness, I have them wrap their lips around something else. That's more my style.

But here's the weird thing. The guy behind The Divers Lung Tester has come out with this.


It's a whistle that blows powder in people's faces. 

The ad copy says:

"Completely self-contained, The Whistle Blower does everything the Divers Lung Tester® does, but with the added advantage of being able to fit into a pocket."

Uhm.... okay... Here's the thing... if your only goal is to get powder on someone's face, then yes, I guess this does everything the Divers Lung Tester does. But, by that standard, Mr. Fuji does the same thing as well.


The thing about the Divers Lung Tester is you could have it on a shelf or a table in your home and someone's going to look at it and wonder what it is. And when you describe what it does and demonstrate it, most people will have at least some inclination to want to try it themselves. So there's very much a garden path here that you're leading people down. 

But where is the motivation with a whistle? There is none. "Here, come blow this whistle I've been carrying in my pocket!" Uhm, yeah, no thanks. I'm good.

I guess you could come up with some convoluted rationale in regards to why you need someone to blow into a whistle for no reason, but it hardly seems worth it. Coming up with some lame thing like, "Blow the whistle when you see your card," or some shit is literally no different than just whipping some talcum powder in their face. There's no sport in just telling someone to do something arbitrary that has an unpleasant outcome.

Jokes and pranks are like little cons. And like cons, you want to have the "mark" acting on their own free-will. I offer you a piece of gum and you take it and it snaps down on your finger. You see a dollar bill on the street, go to pick it up, and I pull it away on a string. Classic pranks. But if I command you to take a piece of gum or pick up a piece of paper on the sidewalk, you kind of lose the prank aspect. (Coercing someone to do something that has a negative consequence isn't really a prank.)

One of the quotes used in the advertising gets things exactly backwards. "This is a beauty, it brings the classic Lung Tester with all its fun into a perfectly natural prop, just love it." The strength of the Lung Tester is that it's not a natural prop. That's what provides the motivation to get them to blow into it: the novelty of it. If you wanted to make a close-up plastic version, they should have built it into one of these. 

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.20.52 PM.png

You could brag about how good you are at it and how it "actually takes quite a bit of skill to keep the ball floating" and pretty soon someone would be grabbing it out of your hands just to try it and shut you up by showing you it's not really that hard.

Honestly, what they should have done is made something that said "Pocket Breathalyzer" with some kind of spinning wheel that supposedly tells you your blood alcohol level. You could bring it out at a party or a bar which would be a perfect location for this kind of prank. When they blow into it you could turn your back for a moment and when you turn back around you're like, "Well, you're not too drunk, but your cocaine problem is out of hand."

Or make it a "Breath Freshness Analyzer," people would be falling all over each other to blow into it. 

But no one wants to just randomly blow on a whistle you had in your pocket.

Could I come up with a motivation for this? Well...I guess you could gift it to your friend as a rape whistle, then break into his house later that night and start raping him to get him to blow the whistle. And sure, there would be lots of laughs later on as you two cleaned the powder from his face and the blood from his underwear, but is it really worth becoming a registered sex offender for this prank?

More from the ad copy: "You will certainly be a talking point with The Whistle Blower in your everyday carry!"

Oh, you'll be a "talking point" alright. People will be saying, "Did you know this fucking nerd carries around a trick whistle in his pocket every day?"

Also, if you want this, Penguin is running a great sale on it...

Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 2.44.42 AM.png

And finally, every time I say something mildly critical about anything, I get at least one email lecturing me about why I'm wrong. Not to pull back the curtain too much but I don't really care about this type of stuff. It's just fun to write about and joke about. I mean, I believe the general gist of what I'm saying, but I don't care if anyone else does. You want to buy the whistle that shoots powder on people? Knock yourself out. Have fun. 

In fact, here's a mildly funny use for it.

"Check this out," you say, pulling the whistle from your pocket. "Seventy-eight dollars. No kidding. I know it looks just like a cheap plastic whistle, but it's actually a dog whistle. The cool thing is the company that manufactures them can make them so the sound is at a frequency that's unique to your specific dog. So it just calls him and not other dogs in the area. And it works up to three miles. Try it out. Give it a blow." They do and they get covered in powder. "There's ol' Rusty," you say. Then, very solemnly, "He got hit by a car three years ago. We had him cremated."

One of the more embarrassing things I've seen in a few different Penguin Live lectures is when someone shares a mediocre trick and then says, "This trick just gets stunned silence from spectators." No. It just gets regular silence. 

This is a little self-preservation thing a lot of magicians do. They'll do a trick and it doesn't get much of a response and they'll think. "Ah! They were just so blown away they couldn't respond." 

Understanding reactions is critical to getting better with magic. Here is how to differentiate between stunned silence and regular silence.

Stunned silence is the start of a reaction. It's a period of processing what happened. At some point, stunned silence is replaced by some sort of outburst—a physical or audible reaction.

If you get only silence—even if it's accompanied by a smile and a dropped jaw—that's just normal silence. If it's not followed by another reaction, the smile and the dropped jaw are there for your benefit because it's awkward for them to not say or do anything. So they'll do the least they can and move on.

The key is to not interrupt the silence. If it's genuine stunned silence then the reaction will only build from there. Don't step on it. If it's regular silence, and they move on to something else, you'll know the trick is perhaps not as strong as you imagined.

Stunned Silence

You: "And here is the coin!"

Them: [Silence... Mouth open... Silence... Silence] "W-w-wait... no way... the coin was— wait. What the fuck? Are you kidding me?"

Regular Silence

You: "And here is the coin!"

Them: [Silence... jaw dropped... smile.] "Okay... so what time is the movie?"

Okay, I'm not too proud to admit I'm dumb. 

Someone please explain this James Thurber cartoon from a 1930s New Yorker for me. 

Is there a joke here? Is it funny? Or is it the type of thing that we're supposed to look at, chuckle, and say, "Oh, how wonderfully droll," as if we have some idea what it means?


A goldmine of decks came for me in the mail this week.

First, from Chris Chelko, I received every version of the Whispering Imps decks that have been created. 


The original Whispering Imps deck is one of my favorite premium decks from the past five years, and many of these variations are quite rare. I can't wait to practice my mercury card fold with them.

I also received my first batch of Magic Neko decks from my friend, and frequent Jerx collaborator, Stasia Burrington.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 10.06.49 PM.png

The artwork is amazing and the little "oracle guide" that comes with it is rife with presentational possibilities for magicians and readers. 

Right after I got them in the mail, I went to a cafe near me to grab a coffee and go through the deck. Literally within 18 seconds of sitting down, the girl sitting next to me turned and said, "Oooh, what are those?" And with that, a trick ensued. 

Any prop that gets the other person to initiate the interaction is wildly valuable to the social magician.

(In Recognition of) The Best Rubik's Cube Trick

This is the final post before my summer break. Regular posting will begin again on Friday the 13th. (Spooky.)

The Summer edition of the X-Communication newsletter will be sent to subscribers on the 17th.

I'll always remember how much fun we had in Mr. Mitchell's class. 

One more year! Class of '19. Next year we RULE THE SCHOOL!

Have a bitchin' summer.


In the last post, I wrote about how inconceivable improbabilities can sometimes cause some spectators to disengage from the trick. In recent years, the most popular trick that falls into the "inconceivable improbability" category is the Rubik's Cube matching effect. There are a bunch of different ones on the market. The one I use is Perfect Square by JB Dumas and Michael Lam. Why that one? Well, because they gave me one for free when it first came out. (Otherwise I probably never would have done the effect as it's not the sort of thing that immediately appeals to me.)

For the most part, everyone's presentation for a Rubik's matching trick is the same. "Did you know there are 43 quintillion different combinations a cube can be mixed up in?" Then they go on to try and break that number down in a way that is equally inconceivable. "If every star in the sky was a human, and those humans had as many hands as there are grains of sand on the beach, and if each hand mixed up a Rubik's cube into a different combination once per second for as long as the universe has existed... you still would be 118 combinations short of 43 quintillion."

It's like, ok dude, we get it. There are a lot of combinations. Get to the trick.

I wanted a way to perform the trick that was less of a math lecture and more of a profound weirdness. I also didn't want to tip the ending too much by emphasizing how many different combinations there were. And I wanted a way to naturally "fall" into the trick. When you bring out two Rubik's cube and start giving a dissertation on combinatorics, you're doing a lot to strip away the "magic" of the whole thing. When the interaction feels completely pre-planned you weaken the strength of the magic moment. 

What follows is the presentation I've been using for over six months. It uses a Hook to make the encounter feel more spontaneous. I don't go into this effect if they don't notice and comment on the hook. (But, there are a number of different hooks in my home, so even if they don't pick up on this one, they're likely to find another one that will allow me to roll into a different effect in a very organic way.)


My friend Jessica is visiting my place for the first time and I'm giving her a quick tour. She doesn't mention the book titled How To Converse With Spirit Friends on my end table. She doesn't mention the old Polaroid camera on my dresser. But as we settle back into my living room, one of my Hooks does catch when she points at something on a shelf opposite us.

"What's that?" she asks. "Did you win a trophy for doing the Rubik's cube?"


I give an embarrassed laugh. "Ah... no not quite. I found that in some old stuff at my mom's house. I was in a Rubik's cube solving competition at the mall in the mid-80s when I was little. I didn't come close to winning it. But everyone ended up getting a trophy for some made-up reason so no one felt bad. I can't even remember what mine was for. Something bizarre. But it was just know... a participation trophy ultimately. I thought it would be funny to put it up like I was really proud of it."

"Can you solve one?" she asks.

"Uhm, yeah, sure. I still play around with them. I'm not super fast. But I can solve it in a couple minutes. Want to see?" 

I open the drawer on the end-table next to my side of the couch and dig around for a moment and pull out a solved Rubik's cube.

"Here, mix this up," I say and toss her the cube. 

We talk a bit more and then I ask for the cube back and she holds it out to me. 

I go to take it from her and then freeze. "What the...."

I look at her cube a little more, then I turn and look at the one resting on the trophy on the shelf across the room. "You've got to be shitting me," I say. I walk across the room and return with the trophy and cube. I take the cube off the top and put the trophy on the coffee table. "Let me see," I say, and extend my hand for the cube she's holding. I take it with my left hand and put it side by side with the other cube. 

"You're not going to believe this," I say. "So, there are like... I don't know... billions and billions of combinations a cube can be mixed up in. But check this out... This side matches. And so does this one. And this one. And this one. And... they all match." I give her the cube from the top of the trophy. 

"Oh waaaaiiit," I say, and stare off into the distance a bit. "Shit! Now this thing makes sense!" I set my cube off to the side and pick up the trophy and spin it around to reveal the inscription.


In Recognition of the World's Greatest Coincidence.

Okay, the method has already been stated but let me point out some other details about what's going on here and what I love about this trick.

A Perfect Hook - The best hooks are those that are unusual enough to encourage your spectator to comment on them, but also things that aren't so odd that they scream, "This is for a magic trick." If you leave out a Tenyo trick, that might cause someone to ask about it and get you into the trick, but it's also obvious that that's why you left it out. A trophy off on a shelf somewhere isn't an obvious set-up, but at the same time, it's something many people will notice and comment on. 

The Real vs The Feel - Bringing out two Rubik's cubes and talking about probabilities feels pre-planned and set-up and the boundaries of the effect are well established. The fact that you're talking about all the different combinations shows that you already know where things are going. This presentation, on the other hand, feels much more spontaneous and natural. The boundaries are blurred. At the end they will surely understand on some level that you choreographed this interaction. And that's fine because it still felt like an organic amazing experience. When did the trick start? When they themselves brought up the trophy on the shelf? As a spectator, if you feel like you instigated the action to come, it's going to feel very authentic, even when you know certain elements of it are theater. 

Presentation - Talking about being at a Rubik's cube solving contest at a mall in the mid-80s is 43 quintillion times more interesting than talking about the mathematics behind the cube. In real life, when performing this, I flesh out that image a little and give some more details about how KB Toys had put on this event and there were dozens of kids there and it was out near the fountain by the food court. Or whatever. Paint a picture. If you're too young to go with that exact patter, well, I feel sorry for you. Being a kid in the 80s/90s was sweet. You could say it's your dad's trophy, or come up with a contest in a time that would be more era appropriate for you. But seriously, you missed out. The mall used to be real dope.


The Move - The nice thing about the Perfect Square move is that it's very quick and smooth. Yes, you can see something unusual if you know what you're looking for and you're staring directly at it when it happens. But under real circumstances, it's imperceptible.


And it's particularly deceptive in this case for two main reasons. The first is that you do the move when they're not looking at the cubes. The second, and more important reason is, at this point they don't even know they're seeing a trick.

So I grab the gimmicked cube off the trophy, take the mixed up cube from the spectator and place them side by side. It's at the point where I say, "So there are like... billions and billions of combinations the cube can be mixed in,"—and my friend is looking at my face, and not the cubes—that I do the move. It's invisible. 

The Clean-Up: You never really know how things are going to go in a casual performance situation. It's not like a professional magic show where you're expected to control the audience. In social magic, the minute you start "managing your audience," you're forfeiting the whole casual feeling of the interaction. And that "casual feeling" is the element that makes social magic so powerful.

When I came up with this idea I wondered if the other person would immediately reach for the cubes so they could see for themselves if they matched up. I didn't want to say, "No! You can't look at these!" So here is how I routined it so that doesn't happen

  1. When I'm showing the sides of the cubes as matching, I don't rush the first few sides. I want it to be completely clear what they're seeing. 
  2. After showing the sides matching, I hand them the cube that was on top of the trophy. They've already handled the initial cube, so they know that's normal. Now they get to handle this one and see it's normal too. 
  3. At that point they might be inclined to grab my cube so they can compare for themselves, but just at this moment I draw their attention to the trophy, and I set the cube I'm holding to my side on the couch. The trophy now becomes the focus of attention.
  4. After the reveal on the trophy I bring back the Rubik's cube from my side, minus the gimmick. (I stuff that back behind a pillow when I get a chance.) Now they have two normal Rubik's cubes to look at. 

I know what you're thinking: "Wait... they can examine the cubes, but the cubes don't match anymore." True, but my theory was that if you initially showed that a few sides matched very slowly and cleanly, then you could speed up for the final few sides. I don't mean you rush through them, but you go at a pace that says, "Yes, of course the sides match too." At this point I don't think there is an intense desire for the participant to look at the cubes for themselves. At least not to see if they match. The "matching" aspect has already been proven. And given that there are six sides and four orientations for each side, it's not immediately apparent they don't still match.  So if there's suspicion about the cubes, I think the suspicion is that maybe the one on the trophy wasn't normal (but that's the one they were given to look at right after). And now the other cube is out to be examined too. So everything seems very clean at this point.

I've shown this trick to 7 or 8 people and while they've all looked over the cubes at the end, only two have said, "Hey, these don't match." But I'm not bothered when they do. It's actually a good thing, because then I get to extend the trick with another magical moment. 

I take the cubes back from them and say, "What do you mean? We just saw they matched." So imagine I'm sitting to their right on the couch. I take the cubes from them. My left hand holds the cube they originally mixed. My right hand holds the pre-set cube that was in the gimmick. I compare the two cubes together then start rotating the cubes in my hands to find the matching sides. But then, out of nowhere, one of the cubes is perfectly solved. 

Of course, what happens is that while my left hand rotates its cube, my right hand is doing the one-handed solve. But it doesn't come off as a one-handed solve. The right hand is obscured by the left. So it looks like I was just turning the cubes in my hand, looking for matching sides and one cube just became solved. 


"Wait...,"I say. "This wasn't like this before, was it?" And I hand both cubes to the other person. "This is some weird shit, right?"

Again, it's not a demonstration of your ability to solve a cube with one hand. It's just supposed to be this bizarre transformation that occurs out of nowhere. This is a strong magical moment. The reason I don't do it every time (and only do it when they notice the cubes no longer match) is because I believe that structurally it's better to end with the trophy. 

Happy 4th of July to my fellow Americans.


This is Part Two of of last week's Dear Jerxy post. In that post, I wrote about The Unmoved, a group of people who just don't react to magic in a way that makes performing for them satisfying. That's not to say you need your audience to lick your balls after every performance—I know a number of people who enjoy magic immensely but their reactions are low-key and subtle. The Unmoved aren't just quiet reactors, they are people who hang onto non-explanations as a way of not engaging with the effect. They're fooled by the tricks, but instead of letting the experience of the trick affect them and reacting positively, they say things like, "You must have done something," "Magicians have some way of doing that," "It was just a trick." These statements are an odd combination of "true" and "immensely stupid."

In last week's post I mentioned that because of my style of performing and attitude, I don't really have to deal with this type of spectator much. 

But here's something that does happen to me from time to time. I'll have someone who does enjoy the tricks I'm showing them. They're reacting appropriately and having no problem embracing the mystery. They're fully engaged. Then I do a trick that I know is a really strong trick with a good presentation and it gets a minimal or muted reaction. 

I can't blame the audience because they have a history of being a "good" spectator. 

So it must be the material, yes? It's must not be a good trick. But that's not the issue either, because it tends to happen with some of the strongest tricks I know. 

I think this is possibly the issue that "Hopeless in Halifax" was dealing with too, because the two tricks he mentioned ("Dear Penthouse Forum" by me, and "Amaze" by Seth Raphael) are two very strong tricks. I've received killer reactions with both.

Ah... but that may also be the problem.

You see, I'm not a big believer in the Too Perfect Theory. In 100s of hours testing magic effects and 1000s of hours performing, I've never seen a response to an effect that suggested, "The weakness of this trick is that it's too perfect." That seems like a concern borne out of magic theorizing, not actual performing.

However, I am a believer in The TIT. 

The TIT is the Too Inconceivable Theory.


The Too Inconceivable Theory suggests that there are some tricks where the impossibility of the effect is just too vast for some people to wrap their mind around and, in response, they just sort of shut down when presented with that kind of trick. 

The first thing about this we need to keep in mind is: There is not a perfect correlation between impossibility and the amazement/reaction of your spectator. In fact, sometimes they're not correlated at all.

A Thought Experiment.

I have to admit, I haven't done this for real yet (that's what makes it a thought experiment—if someone want's to put up the funding to test this, I'd be happy to) but I'm pretty confident in what the results would be.

Imagine two tricks.

Trick #1 - I bring out a sheet of paper that has a grocery list of 20 items on it. I also bring out a paper bag with something in it. I ask someone to name one of the items. They do, and I open up the paper bag to reveal that item.

Trick #2 - I bring out a sheet of paper that has a grocery list of 20 items on it. I also bring out twenty coupons for each item on the list. I ask someone to mix up the coupons and then deal them out in a row. When they do it's found that they've arranged the coupons in the exact order the items are on the list.

Which do you think gets a stronger reaction? I would guess it's probably the first one. Or at least they'd be very close. 

But how can this be when the first trick is a 1 in 20 occurrence and the second trick is a 1 in 2.5 quintillion occurrence (2,432,902,008,176,640,000, to be precise)?

Because, as I said, reactions are not always correlated to impossibility. 

An Actual Experiment

Here's something we did once in our focus group testing about two years ago. It wasn't the main focus of our testing and we only did it to either 20 (or maybe 24) people. And, in truth, the findings weren't statistically significant. But in this case the lack of statistically significant findings is what made it interesting. 

A Rubik's cube matching effect was the trick. We performed it for half the people using typical patter of "43 quintillion different combinations" etc. etc. Then we performed it for the other half of the people with patter that said, "There are almost 1000 different combinations that the cube can be arranged in." At the end, the spectators rated the tricks on how "amazing or impossible" they seemed and both versions scored the same. (Actually, on a scale of 1 to 10, the one where we downplayed the impossibility averaged two decimal points higher than the other. I don't remember the raw numbers, and I don't have them in front of me, but it was something like 8.8 and 9.0. But the point is there was essentially no difference.)

So What Does It Mean?

This has been my experience...

Most people's reaction to an effect will be somewhat correlated to the impossibility of an effect to a point, and then it plateaus.

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For most people, you're not going to get much more mileage out of a one in billion chance than you would out of a one in a thousand chance.

But there is a certain percentage of the population, maybe 10%, where the reaction doesn't just plateau, it actually drops down significantly. When the impossibility of an effect becomes too great to conceive of, they just disengage. They can't appreciate the effect. And they'll resort to the non-explanations discussed above.

For them, the graph would look something like this.

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I kind of think "amazement" can operate in the same way as pain for people. For the most part, the more pain we're in, the greater our reaction is. But for some people, when the pain gets too much, their body shuts down and doesn't process the pain. They go into shock and become numb to it. It's not a perfect analogy, but I think it's something similar.

An Analogy

If you're not understanding why this might be, think of it like this... Imagine you took someone to go mountain climbing. You stand at the foot of the mountain. "This mountain is 1000 times your size," you tell them.

"I feel so small!" they say. 

"If that makes you feel small," you say, "check this out." Then you show them a gif of the scale of the universe.

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And you think, Well, they felt so dwarfed by the size of this mountain, they're definitely going to be totally blown away by this gif.

And instead they're like, "Oh yeah. Neat."

Why aren't they significantly more moved by this gif which shows the reality of how cosmically small they are than they were by this mountain which is something they could climb in an afternoon?

Because, the mountain is real and present and tangible. The scale of the universe, on the other hand, is inconceivable

Similarly, choosing one out of 20 postcards feels like a real, tangible choice. Shuffled decks and mixed-up Rubik's cubes may have possibilities in the quintillions or more, but that's all theoretical. So it doesn't feel like a choice amongst distinctly different elements that you can truly conceive of.

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How to Handle This

An effect I used to perform a lot was Paul Harris' Bat Fishing where eight cards from a shuffled deck match the serial number on a borrowed bill. I didn't use the same method as he does in Art of Astonishment, but it was the same effect. Most of the time, this was a total mind-fuck. But then there was that 1 in 10 time where they wouldn't seem to process it. 

So how would I win them back? 

I would go into an effect that was an outright impossibility. What do I mean by that? I mean something that is impossible as opposed to just wildly unlikely. A matching shuffled deck effect is a one in a shit-tonillion chance, but a color changing deck is something that is a complete impossibility. You want to go with the complete impossibility.

Why would they react better to a complete impossibility if a one in a billion effect is too much to handle? Because this isn't the Too Impossible Theory, it's the Too Inconceivable Theory. People don't have a problem conceiving of a 1 in 100 shot. And people have no problem conceiving something being impossible.  In my experience, it's when something is in that grey area between "improbable" and "completely impossible" that I think some people's reactions can falter because they don't have a full grasp on the nature of the impossibility. 

In Summary

So, let me bring it back to Hopeless' question from last week where he asks:

Regarding "you're a magician you can make me do anything," is this a barrier you've experienced or had any luck breaking down?

To summarize my two posts about this...

  • A muted reaction of "Well, I guess you're a magician and you can make me do anything," suggests they were fooled but not moved by the trick.
  • If you know your presentation is strong (based on other performances) then it's likely that type of response is a form of a Non-Explanation, which is a default way some people will dismiss a trick rather than engage with the mystery.
  • If you find they respond to all tricks that way, then you've have found someone who is not comfortable with the unknown and they will likely never be a good audience for your magic. 
  • On the other hand, If you find they enjoy some tricks but resort to a non-explanation/become Unmoved with vast improbabilities, it's possible that they check out when confronted with things that are too inconceivable. Stick with effects that are more immediately comprehensible: either pure impossibilities or more conceivable improbabilities.
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Gardyloo #64

Well, this is pretty delightful...

On Wednesday, I wrote up the Harmony Ritual, a trick I performed last weekend for a woman named Elena who I met at a resort in the Catskills. 

A couple days ago she called and left me a message. She wanted to tell me that her first day at her new job had gone well. And then she said something I found very interesting. Here is an excerpt from the voicemail. (The audio quality isn't great, it's out of context, and she speaks with an accent, so I'll transcribe it after.)

If you didn't catch that, she says, "I actually did the ritual last night and it was balanced again."

That's right. A few days after we were together, she went and performed Miraskill on herself. This is classic smear technique type of stuff, where the boundaries of the effect become blurred past the performance itself. It's the type of magic that's really only possible when you shift the focus off yourself. Do I think she really believes that this is some magic ritual? No. But you establish the effect in such a way that you allow for harmless fantastical beliefs. It's like wishing on your birthday candles or throwing a coin in a fountain. In our heads we know it's nonsense, but in our hearts we play along.

There's a trick I do regularly that requires me to know what ESP symbol a spectator is thinking of. A set of marked ESP cards definitely seems like the easy way to get the information, and it is. But this is something I want to do in casual situations and carrying around ESP cards is decidedly not casual. And while drawing out the symbols on business cards or something else at hand is an okay option, it would require a more "hands on" technique to know which symbol they chose.

So I thought about maybe creating a drawing app where you could have them draw one of the symbols and the app would "decode" what they drew and signal it to you in some way. But after thinking about that idea it felt too complicated both programmatically and logistically. (Most people don't know the ESP shapes, so I'd have to write them down first, and if I'm writing them down then clearly there's something to write with, so why am I having them draw on an app?)

Better yet, I thought, if I could just have them look at the symbols on a website and somehow know which one they were looking at, that would seem ultra-fair.

And I realized I had essentially worked my way around to another use for my pal Marc Kerstein's app Xeno.

So I emailed him and said, "Make this for me!" And he was like, "Y-y-y-y-yes sir. Anything for you, sir." (Dude's a total puss.) And now it's available in the app.

Xeno is an app that allows you to know what a spectator is looking at on a series of different websites. (The sites include lists of movies, songs, names, astrological signs and now the ESP symbols.) The nice thing about it is you don't have to touch their phone and they don't have to make any type of selection on their screen. They just look at something on the page. 

I told Marc I'd write the copy for the ESP symbol site. With only five symbols, it might not make sense for you to send someone to a special website. Why not just rattle them off and have them think of one? And why does this site exist in the first place? Why would someone start a site to just list five ESP symbols? Well, they wouldn't, of course. 


So I wanted to have a site that justified its own existence and justified why you had people go to this particular site (and not Wikipedia or something). With that goal in mind, I wrote up a site that is, supposedly, designed to help people increase their ability to transmit and receive ESP symbols. The author of the site has found that by concentrating on the unique physical and symbolic attributes of the shapes, your success at transmitting them will increase significantly. So next to each shape there is a little write-up in regards to how to think about that shape to increase the success of transmission.

This justifies why you needed them to go to that specific site, and why you need them to scroll and look at their particular shape (so they can read the entry that goes along with it). 

The nice thing is, because the site tells them how to think about the symbol, you can act as if you're picking up on more than just the shape. You can pick up on the features they're thinking of or the symbolic meanings. 

As I said, I wanted to have this site so I could perform a trick that normally involved carrying ESP cards with me. But honestly, I'll probably use this site even when I'm doing an effect that requires me to have ESP cards. If you do any of the effects out there where a spectator "reads your mind" with ESP cards, this would be a good lead in because you can quickly and unequivocally read their mind and then wave it off as if it's no big deal, "Oh, I do that all the time. What I really want to try is to get you to do it." Then you can have them scan through the rest of this site and the site becomes something of an "imp" or a "buy-in." This site—which suggests the manner in which you think about the shapes is important—adds an interesting layer to what might be seen as "obviously just a trick." Why did he have me read that page if this is just a trick? Is there maybe more to it?

And finally, here's the choreography for this. You bring out your phone and say, "I want you to look at something before we start." Then you change your mind. "Actually, can you go to this site on your phone?" You tell them the site, and drop your hand with the phone to your side where it's forgotten. They go to the site and you sidle up next to them to look at the screen with them. While in this position you do the first part of your dirty work. Don't read the whole introductory text with them. Just summarize it for them. "Ok. So this guy thinks he's come up with a way to increase the success of transmitting ESP symbols. I've tried it and actually does seem to work better. Think of one of those shapes." You step away. They tell you they have one in mind. You turn your back and tell them to scroll down to where it describes how to project that shape. They do that. You do what you need to and put your phone away and you're good to go.

In the last post I compared what my mind sees as the "obviousness" of the method of Miraskill to using a microwave to vanish an ice cube. Well, as it turns out, that analogy was perhaps more apropos than I thought because what I see as "obvious" in both cases seems to not be the case. Miraskill fools people and ice doesn't melt in the microwave. (Well, it will eventually, but not like you'd expect.)

I think I would have fallen for this if it was presented as a trick. You put a glass of water and a glass of ice in your microwave. You microwave it on high for a minute. While it's going, you tell me about this primo ice you've been buying. "I have it shipped in from Holland. It's super high quality." When the timer dings, the water is now hot (proving the microwave works) but the ice hasn't melted at all.

If you find some really dumb person who's super into health food, you can tell them that it's the purest ice in the world ("because, as you can see, it's impervious to outside radiation"). Then sell them a tray of cubes for $62.

I'm psyched for my friend and frequent Jerx collaborator, Stasia Burrington's forthcoming deck of playing/oracle cards, The Magic Neko deck which is available for pre-order now.

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Now I've got a message for some of my younger male readers. About 15 or so years ago, Ellusionist put out something called the Black Tiger Deck. It was a black deck of playing cards and on the box there was a tiger who flexing or some shit? Like he was in a pose that no tiger has ever been in.


It was the epitome of Ellusionist's corniness. And I have no doubt they made a mint off these decks because Ellusionist knows their audience. A bunch of virgins definitely bought the deck thinking they'd take it to school and girls would be breathlessly fanning themselves, "Who is this sexy bad-boy with this black deck of cards with the super-ripped tiger on the case? I can't wait to get to know this virile rebel!"

Here's the deal, you want a girl to pay attention to you? Don't get the deck of cards that says, "I'm compensating for my low testosterone." Get Stasia's deck. Women (and men) of all ages are taken with her esthetic. You keep that out on the lunch table. A girl picks it up and oohs and ahhs over its cuteness. She asks why you have the deck. You say a friend of a friend designed it. (I'm your friend. Stasia's my friend. It's true enough.) And you grabbed it today because there's something you're working on with it. Then you point out that the case says it can be used as an oracle deck and there's this little fortune-telling ritual you'd like to try. Cute drawings, kittens, fortune-telling rituals: you'll be a girl magnet. 

Then do a trick in the guise of a fortune-telling routine. Make it positive. Don't be like, "Uhhhh... I think you're going to get cancer." There should be some sort of magic surprise/coincidence at the end. Don't take credit for it. Blame the deck or the universe or her "energy." Don't make it something about you or your "compatibility" with her. Too soon. When you're done, don't do any more tricks. Tell her you have to get going and excuse yourself. Be a little mysterious.Before you go, imply you might have something else you're working on that you'd like to show her in the future. "You have a very unique energy," you say. Then go on your way. Just plant the seed, baby. Trust me. I'll Cyrano your ass into going to prom with the head cheerleader if you just have a little faith.