The Green Grass Test

This video was promoted everywhere today. It's for a trick called Offworld by JP Vallarino.

It's a variation on Out of this World where the spectator guesses the colors of the cards one by one as they're revealed by the performer. It looks very clean and I was really taken with it when I first saw it and I planned to pre-order it. But then I applied the Green Grass Test to it.

I think, as magicians, it's easy to get caught up in the new thing. At least it is for me. And when I see the "new" thing it's very easy to fall into the trap that this new thing is better than whatever dumb old thing it's replacing.

One day I realized that was a very magician-centric style of thought. I was purchasing variations on effects just because they tickled my fancy (as opposed to my spectator's collective fancies). 

So then I came up with the Green Grass Test to prevent myself from falling into the "newness" trap. The test is simply this: When a new trick is released that is a variation on an older trick—or that creates a similar effect as an old trick—I imagine that the new trick is the old trick, and the old trick is the new trick. And then I determine which one I would be drawn to. Don't worry, I'll explain that. The purpose of this is to try and figure out if I'm drawn to this new version because it's new, or because it's genuinely better.

So, for example, let's pretend Offworld was the effect we had all been doing for the past 75 years. Then, one day, a young upstart named Paul Curry fired up his webcam and began to tell us about this variation on Offworld he'd created called Out of this World. 

"The effect is kind of like Offworld. But it doesn't use rough and smooth. In fact, it uses a normal deck of cards. The deck can actually be borrowed and shuffled by the spectator. And get this, they do all the dealing themselves. It's fully examinable."

Our minds would be blown and our jeans would be creamed and we would gladly be tossing away this gimmicked deck we had used for 75 years in favor of what would certainly be seen as a huge evolution in the trick. Wouldn't we?

Well, there is no "we" answer. I can only answer for myself. For myself and my performing considerations, the Green Grass Test helped me come to the conclusion that this is a significant step backwards from a traditional OOTW. 

With a traditional OOTW I can borrow a deck, have them shuffle it, spread through the cards rapidly to have them subliminally "absorb" the order (and for me to cull the cards), give them the deck to deal, and have them reveal (at least some) of the cards at the end. And I can do all of this at any time without having to run off to get my special deck.

Again, I'm not suggesting Offworld is a bad trick. I just realized that what attracted me to it was that it looked easy and new and not that it would ultimately be a better trick for my audience. Your performance considerations might be different. Maybe you only perform at restaurants and you'd never be in a position to do a full OOTW and you still want to do a trick where the audience guesses the colors. Well, then this would likely be a good option for you.

Here's one final thing to consider... I was out tonight with my friends Mark and Andrew working on the details for some upcoming focus-group testing we're doing in early 2018. 

The subject of this trick came up and Mark said that he got an early preview version of the effect and that it was pretty good. He went out to his car and came back with the deck a few minutes later. We waved the bartender over and Mark performed the trick for him. He asked him to guess what color the next card would be and he got it right like 10 times in a row. He did it face up like Greg does in the demo. It looked really good.

When he was done I took the deck to examine the construction and I was really impressed. It felt like it was legitimately just single cards and I couldn't tell where the rough/smooth element had been applied. 

As I was about to ask if it used thin cards or something like that, Mark called me a dipshit and said it was just a regular deck. He didn't get any "early preview" version of the effect. He was just messing around. When he went to his car he stacked the deck he already had in his pocket so it alternated Red-Black throughout. When he returned he held the deck face-up and asked the bartended to guess what color the next card was. If he guessed the opposite color of what was on the face, Mark would just push off the top card and put it to the rear of the deck. If the bartender guessed the same color as was on the face, Mark would do a double push off and put it to the rear of the pack. The R/B configuration never changes. He could have done it all night.

The little prick was screwing with me! And it worked. In fact, I remember thinking that it looked much better to just push off the top card normally rather than drag it off the back of the pack as Greg did in the demo. 

It's definitely more difficult to do it with normal cards, and you almost certainly can't do the full Offworld routine, but if a double push-off is in your arsenal, it might be worth considering. 

[The Green Grass Test can be used in other contexts. It originated when I was at a film festival for a week with a friend of mine and he was contemplating a dalliance with a woman there even though he was married. I wasn't really trying to talk him out of it, per se, just give him some perspective. I told him to imagine he had been married to this new woman for the past 5 years and not his actual wife. Would she still hold the same allure? If he imagined his wife as the new woman, wouldn't he probably be more drawn to her? Then I famously said, "When you think about it, this new woman is more of a dumpy broad than your wife!" I really have a way with words. Well, it worked out and he didn't cheat. I don't think I saved their marriage by making him fall back in love with his wife or anything like that. It was more a matter of me poisoning this picture he had in his mind of this new woman by recasting her as some old nag that he was sick of.]

Coming in The JAMM #12

The final issue of the JAMM (for now, I may pick it up at some point in the future) is the New Year, New You issue, and it will feature three effects to (perhaps) empower your spectator to affect a positive change in their life. That may seem a little ambitious for a magic trick, but that's why I started writing my own magic magazine. So I'd have a place to put ambitious ideas. 

And in this case, it's true. While one trick is a pretty recent creation, and is something of a positive magical joke, the other two tricks are ones I've used over the past couple years with friends facing challenging situations. And a handful of times, these tricks have served as a tiny spark that blew up and led to life-changing actions by the spectator. No kidding.

You'll read all about it January, 6th.

A Critical Examination of Ellusionist's 2017 Holiday Gift Guide

I'm a big Ellusionist fan. It may not seem that way because I always have some comment to make about their latest mis-steps. But the reason I always have a comment to make is the same reason I'm a fan: they try. If you launched an online magic store in the early 2000s and you watched as Ellusionist and Penguin ate your lunch and you sat there wondering why you couldn't get any traction, it's likely because you just transplanted the brick and mortar magic shop model to an online presence. 

We like to romanticize the past, but let's face it, a lot of real world magic stores sucked shit. Many merely survived because they were the only magic store within a three hour's drive. That's not a business model that translates online. 

What Penguin and Ellusionist realized was that, in a crowded marketplace, you stand out with innovation and marketing. Did that lead to a lot of failed ideas? Sure, but it also brought on a ton of success as well.

Well, I don't know about that, Andy. Ellusionist just seems pretty ridiculous to me.

Let me ask you this, do you have pubic hair? You do? Okay, well then you're not their target audience.

You see, much like the producer behind the band Menudo

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Or serial child molester Earl Bradley


Ellusionist isn't really interested in you once you reach the age of, like, 14.

Not that they don't want you as a customer, they'll definitely still take your money, you're just not in the demo they're targeting.

This is evidenced in their giveaway this holiday season. Ellusionist wristbands.

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For every $50 you spend, you get one of these wristbands and, depending on which wristband you get, you get a specific prize as well. 

Andy, who would wear that garbage?

Read this ad copy. That will tell you.


It's for kids. In fact, it almost sounds like they transcribed the ramblings of that kid you went to school with who was a pathological liar.


So don't feel like you're out of the loop if Ellusionist's marketing schemes don't connect with you. They're not intended to, if you're an adult. 

In fact, I'd feel sorry for you if you're of voting age and you're like, "I can't wait to get my Ellusionist wristband!" I feel like the next stage in that thought process is you calling up their customer support and saying, "Yes, I was wondering if you make something with the same pattern, but in a noose size?" Because if you're a grown adult that's excited about wearing the Ellusionist logo and Daniel Madison's face on your wrist. Your future is pretty bleak.

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Let's look at a few of the other things Ellusionist has on their holiday gift guide

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I mentioned this trick in a previous post. I'll reiterate what I said there which is, I don't think it's a very good trick, but if you like what you see in the trailer, then I'm sure you'll be happy with the product. 

One thing you need to consider is this: does it make any sense to alter an object magically and the change it back to its normal condition? In this trick you "remove" an angel from one end of a playing card and then... you put it back exactly where it was. This is a wildly unsatisfying structure for a trick. It's almost the definition of pointless. 

I'm reminded of tricks where you, for example, link two rings torn out of playing card. Then you say, "In fact, the only way to get them apart is to tear one of the rings." And you tear one of the rings to separate them. Or Osterlind's coin in bottle where he magically puts a coin in a bottle and then says, "In fact, the only way to get the coin out is for me to break the bottle." And then he breaks the bottle!

This sort of structure suggests a misunderstanding of what it is that captures the imagination with these types of routines. If you're going to alter something "magically" so that it's somehow a unique or impossible object, don't go and undo that. "But I have to for the sake of the method," you say. Well, then it's not a good trick. 

Imagine a story where a guy finds a magic fairy in a field who's willing to grant him one wish. "I wish for true love," he says. The fairy makes a beautiful woman appear and she immediately falls madly in love with the man. "In fact," the fairy says, "this love is so true and powerful that the only way for me to end it is to kill her." And she pulls out a gun and blows the woman's fucking head off.

That is, essentially, the same sort of story you're telling when you change something in a magic way, and then change it back so that it's a normal object.

Venom Levitation System

This produces some of the most amazingly magical looking levitations and animations that I've ever seen. I definitely considered picking this up, even though the set-up sounds fairly convoluted (it's two thread reels instead of one). The only thing that kept me from getting this were the reviews on the Cafe that suggested the thread is really visible and you need to get a completely different thread for this to be useable. For $150 I don't want to have to re-jigger these things to get them to work properly. If anyone has had experience with this and can let me know if the supplied thread is good or if swapping out the thread is less horrendous than it sounds like it would be, let me know, because I do like how good this looks.

The Villain System

From what I can tell, this is pretty much Harry Robson's Roughing Sticks, but perhaps a different formulation and it comes with a download with a few effects on it. 

My question is, did Daniel Madison forget his phony backstory? He was supposed to be an underground gambling phenom who left the "biz" because he got busted for cheating and then had the shit kicked out of him by some toughs in the world of underground gambling. And now he's shilling roughing sticks? That seems a little off brand. Unless maybe he tried to ring in a Mental Photography Deck into one of his illegal games. Maybe that's why he got his ass beat. 

For reference, here's Harry Robson, the other big name in roughing sticks. From looking at him, it might be a stretch to associate such a product with general badassery.


As I said. Roughing sticks don't really seem on brand for Madison's character. What's next? Daniel Madison for Card-toon? "One of my proudest moments in the dingy world of high-stakes illegal gambling was when I was down 250 thousand dollars to Saudi Prince Majed bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. As he was gathering his stack of cash to leave, I said, 'Double or nothing. Would you believe me if I said I have a stickman on the back of this deck who can find your chosen card?'"

Chess Guess by Chris Ramsay

This is a "which hand" style of effect but with a chess piece rather than with a coin or something. I'm kind of worn out on the "which hand" stuff, and I don't want to carry around chess pieces, so it's not really my scene. But it looks like it should be good if that's what you're into.

I find this bit of the trailer a little odd. I'm pretty sure he says, "See, because you're a chess player, you think with your mind, right?"

"Hey... this guy's good! I do think with my mind!" 

That's some classic Chris Ramsay cold reading.

Madison Kitten Deck

I love the idea behind this deck. I think the execution could have been a little bit better, but I'll definitely be picking one up.

The idea is to make a gimmicked deck that looks like something that would be found at your grandma's house. 

When I first read about it, I was hoping for something like these.


That's what I think of when I think of an old cat deck. And I think I had been hoping it would be this kind of one-way back design. Maybe bridge size.

So when I saw the design they settled on and it didn't really capture the same spirit, I was a little bummed. But it's growing on me.


The box seems a little anachronistic. Like something you'd find at Spencer's Gifts, not in a grandmas junk drawer.


When I get my deck I'll probably ditch the box and wrap a few rubber bands around it instead. 

It's a marked deck and there are a couple of other gimmicks included as well. And it's just $9. So that seems like a pretty good deal. 

There you go. There are a few other items in the holiday guide. Some new decks that I have no comment on. A variation on Bob Farmer's Little Hand trick, but with a cat's paw. Not sure that's such a great idea, but I'll reserve judgment until it's actually released. And Clone which allows you to copy a spectator's signature on bills or cards. Obviously that could be an invaluable tool. I'm just waiting to hear if it's any good or not before shelling out $150.

So, all in all a kind of mixed bag. Definitely some interesting stuff, and some stuff that didn't do it for me. 

The preceding was a paid advertisement for

No, I'm just messing with you. If Ellusionist had paid me to write this, I think there probably would have been a couple more positive reactions to the products released, and certainly one less reference comparing them to America's most prolific pedophile.

Gardyloo #43


Hey, why can't it be both?

This is the first holiday season I've been around writing this site regularly. The first year of this site I ran old MCJ posts during December. The second year, I was between "seasons." But this year I'll be with you throughout the festive season. Don't forget to pause and enjoy it. 

But I'm not religious, Andy.

Me neither! But I like giving gifts and parties and eating food and singing songs and baking cookies and snowy moonlit walks and the smell of pinetrees and good will towards men and all that junk.

Guys, I know misdirection works. I know it's a fundamental tool of magic. And certainly in the flow of a routine it can be invisible. 

My point in my post earlier this week was this: If you have something that is an object of interest or suspicion and you pull focus from that object with (as Tommy Wonder says) something (a statement, a question, another object) that is "thoroughly intriguing," do not think you've fooled people when the original object is now changed in some way when they return their focus to it.

I was thinking about this because of the recently released trick by Phill Smith called Humint. This is a business card peek and a token that the spectator flips in order to decide if they're going to lie or tell the truth during a game of 20 questions. Phill gets the peek while the spectator is looking at the token. In my opinion, that's the wrong time to get it. This misdirection is actually too strong. His coin is a "thoroughly intriguing" object, and the fact of the matter is, even if the card with their word on it really was buried in the stack of business cards, it's not inconceivable that you could crack the stack open and peek at their word in that moment when their focus is thoroughly "misdirected."

This is, I think, this mistake in Tommy Wonder's essay where he says misdirection should be about, "Presenting something of greater interest that attracts attention." That's exactly what the audience's understanding of misdirection is. They're on guard for that. In my experience, the strongest misdirection of attention is done with something that is so dull as to be unmemorable. A secret move that is covered by the misdirection of a natural, forgettable action (adjusting your glasses or straightening a close-up pad), is going to result in a much more "magical" effect than a secret move that is covered by directing their attention to something more interesting (and therefore more memorable).

The problem is that there is a thin line between misdirection that is subtle enough to be forgotten, and that which is too subtle to work. This is the problem that occurs when you're trying to misdirect their attention.

That's why I think you're better off misdirecting the focus of their suspicion. You can't have "too much" misdirection of suspicion. 

I'm not sure if this is clear or not.

Imagine you have a coin in your hand and you want to make it vanish via misdirection.

Misdirection of Attention
Too little: A subtle gesture that doesn't cause your spectator's focus to leave your hand.
Too much: Fonzie walks in from the room and hits your tv like the jukebox in Happy Days and a porno starring your spectator's parents starts playing on the tv. When he turns back to you, the coin is gone.
Just right: A comment to your spectator causes a brief moment of eye-contact at the same time the coin rolls out the back of your fist into your breast pocket. 

It can be hard to hit that "just right" moment that lies between "I saw what you did" and "I missed it, but you obviously did something when I was distracted."

Misdirection of Suspicion
You encourage them to watch your hand as closely as possible but the coin still vanishes because they were watching the wrong hand from the beginning. 

You might say, But Andy, you're talking about something different than what we usually talk about when we consider "misdirection." 

Yeah. I know. That was my point, goofball. My point was just that we often resort to misdirection of attention to get an audience to look in the wrong location, when it might be a stronger technique to misdirect their suspicion to get them thinking in the wrong location.

Here's a genuine story that's ripe for use in some kind of routine.

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Maybe you have someone pull a card from a deck, you turn away while they look at the card and then turn back, have them re-insert the card and shuffle the deck. You spread the cards over the table and are able to find their card.

"Let me show you how I did it," you say.

You bring up that article about the cards. "I actually have one of these decks that's made with radioactive ink." You pull a second deck out of your pocket. "This was the deck you originally picked the card from. I switched it for this other deck when I turned around. So I had you replace the radioactive card into the normal deck. Now just by waving my hand over the cards I can find yours. It's just something you get a feel for. One of the cards will just radiate a different energy. Like, literally. It will give you like...hmmm... how do I put this... like a shooting pain through your spine? I guess that's how I'd put it. It's probably not great for you to be around this deck all day. And I can't imagine it's doing wonders for me in my pocket so close to my scrotum. But that's a small price to pay to be Mr. Cool Magician."

You then give them a wink and run your hand through your hair like a stud. You grimace a little and pluck out a handful of hair that apparently came out of your scalp. "Hmmm...," you say. You start moving your lower jaw back and forth and poking your tongue to the side of your mouth. Then you spit a tooth on the table. "Aw, crud," you say.


A fake tooth in the side of your mouth. Some hair that you can pull from your pocket at an opportune moment. (Put both hands in your pockets to get the second deck during "explanation," remove the deck first, then remove your other hand with the hair curled in your fingers.). And two identical decks of bicycle cards. One with the middle circle filled in with a marker that matches the back color so you can identify one card from a deck placed into the other.

[Thanks to David Thomas for sending the link my way.]

Here's a creative exercise for you. Go bak to Monday's post. Now reimagine the routine using these rubber bands.


The readership here is primarily men, and I realize the holiday time can be stressful when it comes to knowing what to get for the women in your life. 

If you're anything like the typical magicians I've met, then I think I know the gift your wife is wanting—if not craving—this year. 


Follow-Up & Update

I got a lot of positive feedback on yesterday's article on misdirection. It apparently bothered some people too. I guess because I was questioning Tommy Wonder or whatever. My bad! 

Here's the thing, I'll admit I don't have a ton of reverence for 20th century magic theory. But, to be fair to me, in that century the public's perception of magicians went from this:

"Magicians are people who can do amazing and strange things."

to this

"Magicians are amazingly strange people."

So while I'm happy to look to magic theory for guidance, ultimately, I'd rather just test things out and get genuine critical feedback from laypeople and then base my techniques on that. I want the audience to write my magic theory, not another magician. 

The good news is, I don't give a shit if you disagree with me. And, for that matter, I don't give a shit if you agree with me. So we're good either way. 

Jerx Deck Update

The paper proofs have been received. From what I've heard, we're still looking at getting the decks sometime around the new year. If that changes, I will let you know.

Redirecting Misdirection

There is a Tommy Wonder essay in The Books of Wonder that talks about misdirection that, I think, gets just about everything wrong. It starts off with a discussion saying we should call it "direction" rather than misdirection. His point being that we should focus on the thing we're trying to draw their attention to, rather the thing we're trying to draw their attention from. While this makes sense, it's also, essentially, just semantics. If you're "directing" someone towards something in order to take the focus off something else... that's misdirecting

He then writes:

[F]or our secret moves to avoid unwanted attention we must direct attention toward something else. From this it follows that we must have something else available at those times, something of interest. The more interesting this certain something is, the easier it will be to focus attention on it. The next time you wish to hide something, don’t think of hiding it, but rather think of what you can offer of interest in its place. Preferably this should be something thoroughly intriguing.

This is genuinely awful advice. 

Rattling your keys in front of the audience so you can do your secret move isn't misdirection. Nor is it "direction." It's simply distraction. 

Misdirection should be a secret action, but if I pull your focus to something "thoroughly intriguing," that's a very overt action. 


Let's say you write something down on a card and fold it into quarters and hand it to me and I hold it in my right fist. With my left hand I bring out a bismuth crystal. I tell you that bismuth is the "bism" part of Pepto Bismol and that we can actually extract the element back out from Pepto Bismol caplets. This beautiful, iridescent, rainbow crystal is actually keeping you from shitting your pants when you have diarrhea. And just like it binds up your intestines to keep you from spewing brown gold everywhere, it can also bind up your thoughts to keep them from pouring out of the butthole of your mind, allowing me to catch a thought before it evaporates into the ether. I then "read your mind" and tell you what you wrote on the card.

How clever of me! When your focus was on the crystal I got my peek. And you had no clue. 

The problem, of course, is that while you might not have seen me get the peek, you know your attention was directed away from the card with the word on it. If your attention is shifted away and then something changes: the magician knows the word you wrote down, the ball has disappeared, the card is in the magician's pocket. Well... that's all the explanation you need. You don't need to know exactly how it happened, just that there was an opportunity where something could have happened. That will knock something down from a miracle to a clever trick.

I'm going to give you some advice that has been very, very helpful to me in creating effects that I think truly feel like genuine mysteries to the audience:

Don't think about misdirection as being about the direction of someone's focus or interest. Instead, think about it as the direction of someone's suspicion.

If I tell you I'm going to sneak into your house tonight, the Tommy Wonder style of using misdirection to accomplish that task would be to set off a fireworks show so I can sneak in while you're distracted.

The type of misdirection I'm recommending is akin to climbing in the window while you're guarding the door.

An audience can feel it when their attention is redirected from their natural locus of interest. When we did the testing on card peeks, the worst performing one was the one that occurred when the participant's focus was drawn away from the deck and the magician.

What does it look like to direct someone's suspicion? Here's an example. When you use an impression pad, it can feel very clean and neat to have them write down a word, tear off the sheet, fold it up and put it in their pocket. Why wouldn't you do this given the pad allows you to? Well, one reason you might not want to do it is that now the pad is the only item in play that could offer a clue to what they wrote. Given that, your peek of the impression can't be awkward at all or else you're intensifying the suspicion on the pad, which is exactly where you don't want it.

But if you don't allow them to pocket their word—if, for example, you ask them to fold it up and let you hold it in your fist—their primary focus of suspicion is on something that's genuinely clean (your hand holding the paper). You're never going to do anything sneaky there, but that's where they would assume something sneaky would happen. So when you pick up the pad with your other hand, open it to the impression, peek the word, let a few pages fall over the impression, then set it down to write or draw on it—even if you do this awkwardly (which you likely will because you're doing it with one hand)—it won't seem strange because the focus of their suspicion is the paper in your other hand. They're waiting for you to try and get a peek at that. And when you never come anywhere near opening your fist to look at the paper, then they're at a dead end.

In this case, the folded up paper is the door they're guarding and the pad is the window I'm sneaking through. But that's an imperfect analogy, because if done correctly, they don't even know the window exists. All of a sudden you're just in the house with them.

By directing their attention with suspicion, rather than with interest, you get to use the power of their skepticism and distrust against them. On the other hand, if your focus is on directing their attention by focusing on that which is fleetingly interesting, you're just encouraging them to slough off the mystery by putting it down to mere distraction.

Issue #11

Coming tomorrow night to subscribers’ email-boxes, The JAMM #11. 

I like this one a lot. While the theme of the issue is using magic in the context of gift-giving, a number of the ideas provided can be utilized in a much broader range of contexts. The tricks that bookend the issue present frameworks that you can use for a number of different effects. 

Below is our JAMM Muse for December, Amanda, with a festive take on this James Randi promo shot.