Control Panel

I’m on a train as I write this…

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I’m going back to NYC for some follow-up testing of something we started work on in November but we ran out of time. I’m a big train fan.. The internet is so shitty on this thing that it’s easy to find willing strangers in the cafe car or elsewhere who are happy to sit through some tricks.

Speaking of testing, this post is going to summarize the results of the testing we did on controls a few weeks ago.

What Is The Purpose Of A Control?

This may seem like a stupid question. The purpose of a control is, obviously, to control a card. But that’s not the full answer. Think of it this way… If I said, “What’s the purpose of a force?” You would say, “To force a card on someone.” But that answer is incomplete. The purpose of a force is to force a card on someone in a way that feels like a free selection. We need to understand the entire equation if you’re going to try and test these concepts.

So what’s the purpose of a control? Well, when we began to construct this testing, we realized there are two purposes to a control. This may seem beyond obvious to most of you, but it didn’t really dawn on us immediately that a control is used for two different purposes and we couldn’t test both purposes at the same time.

The two purposes are these:

A control is used to control a card while making it seem like it never moves from a specific location..

and

A control is used to control a card while making it seem like it’s lost in the deck.

For example, a control that you would use in the Ambitious Card is designed to make them believe their card is in the middle of the deck in the spot they saw you insert it.

But something like a jog-shuffle control is designed to make it seem like the card is in a position unknown to either the magician or the spectator. It could be near the top, bottom, or middle.

Now, I don’t believe the first type of control—the one that is designed to make it seem like a card hasn’t moved from the location it was placed in—really needs to be tested. Is a side-steal better than a pass? It’s kind of a pointless question. Both—when executed flawlessly—should look like almost nothing has happened so you can’t really judge them from a spectator’s perspective, they’d be virtually identical. Whichever one you happen to perform better is the one you should use.  And obviously a control that does involve some kind of rearrangement of the deck in any way is going to be worse than one that seemingly doesn’t if your goal is to make it seem like the card couldn’t have moved from the location it was returned to.

But what if your goal is to make it seem like the card is lost in the deck and out of your control? That’s a more interesting question because it’s not as obvious. And the reason it’s not as obvious is because it’s about how it feels to the spectator.

Ask yourself this question. Which card feels lost in the deck? Card A: The deck is on the table and Card A is slid back in the middle and the cards are deck is squared up. Card B: The deck is in the magician’s hands, he takes Card B, puts it in the middle of the deck and overhand shuffles the cards.

As magicians, we know how easy it is to control a card via an overhand shuffle, so I think we’d say Card A feels more lost. It was just placed in the middle and there are no breaks or crimps or anything. Assuming it’s a normal deck, and the deck is really square, then it’s hard to think how the magician would know exactly where the card is.

But what about to a layman? Does a card cleanly going somewhere in the middle feel more or less lost than one being shuffled into the deck? Do they—on some level—understand that a shuffle can be used to control the position of a card as easily as it’s used to mix a deck?

I had no fucking clue! And I had people arguing it both ways with me. This is what made it interesting to test.

Testing Methodology

We met with 46 people in groups of 4-6 over the course of two days in late November. The section on controls was one of three different things we were testing that day. And then we would have a 15 minute discussion with them. Each group was there for about 45 minutes total.

Deciding how to test the controls was a challenge. With the testing we did on forces (See The Force Awakens and The Force Unleashed) it was easier. We just would perform the actions of the force and then ask them how fair their selection felt on a scale of 1 to 100.

When working with my pre-test test group (these are laymen friends who I’ve explained the purpose of the testing to in order to come up with clear and concise questions to get to the information we’re trying to uncover) I realized it may be hard to come up with a question that elicits the type of response we’re looking for. For example, I couldn’t just ask, “Which return of the card to the deck felt the most fair?” That’s kind of unclear. A selection is active and a spectator can feel the fairness because, in a sense, they’re being manipulated. But returning the card to the deck is mostly a passive activity for a spectator, so they’re not going to have that same sense of fairness or manipulation.

I also couldn’t ask, “Which replacement makes it seem more like the card is lost in the deck?” Because that would always push them towards the control that included a shuffle. They’d answer the question from their perspective, not the magician’s perspective. If you have a red deck where they have returned the card to the middle, and a blue deck where I have shuffled the card back into the deck, the blue card feels more “lost” to them because they have some idea where the red card is, they can’t say for certain where the blue card is. But that doesn’t mean they think the blue card is necessarily out of the magician’s control.

The real question we’re trying to get to is: “With which replacement does it seem the card is truly lost and out of the magician’s control?” That’s what we want to know, but asking it that way probably wasn’t going to work.

So instead we did what we decided not to do when testing forces: We showed people the same trick seven times.

Here’s how we did that but still kept everything on a pretty even playing field.

First, we told them what was going to happen during the trick. So it’s not like the first version would be more impressive due to some element of surprise.

Second, we knew the trick had to be as dull as possible. If it was entertaining in any respect then it’s obviously going to be less so each time we perform it, which would unfairly impact later performances. So this was a completely uninteresting trick even the first time around.

Third, we rearranged the order of the forces each time we presented to a new group.

Fourth, we chose a trick where the impossibility was solely based on how much it seemed the card was out of the magician’s control. In this way we could ask an easy question, “Rate that trick on a scale of 1 to 100 in regards to how impossible it seemed,” and by answering that they were actually giving us the answer to this question: “Rate that trick on a scale of 1 to 100 in regards to how lost and out of the magician’s control the card seemed.”

The Spiel

Here is, basically, what we told each group regarding this section of the testing.

“We work with a broad community of magicians and they hire us to test out different presentations and techniques to get some honest feedback. That’s why you’re here today.”

Pause. First, let me say that I like this because it’s pretty much true. The backers of this site are the “broad community of magicians” and their support is what we use to pay for this testing.

The interesting thing to me is, when we tell the people this, they all just sit there and nod their heads like it’s the most rational thing in the world. And that’s because it is. It makes sense that magicians would try and test certain ideas with laypeople outside of a professional show. That’s completely logical. Yet it came down to me—magic’s biggest screwball; inventor of the Abracadildo—to actually do this. I know people will say, “I don’t need a test-audience. My material is honed every night in front of a real audience, [etc., etc.]” I just don’t buy that. I know how hard it was for us, in our testing, to get people to open up and give honest feedback even when they knew that’s what we brought  them in for. So to think you’re getting genuine, honest assessments in a real world situation—either from friends, or loved ones, or people who have paid you to perform—is naive. If your friend reads you his bad poetry, or if your table-side violinist isn’t very good, you probably don’t tell them how much they suck. You probably say, “Hey, how about that. Thanks. Very nice,” and nod to the people around you. I suspect a lot of magicians get this kind of response and mistake it for real feedback. “Did you hear?! He said, ‘How about that!’”

Back to the spiel…

“Today we’re looking at something you probably have given zero thought to, but this is the sort of thing magicians like to mull over and dissect. You’ve probably all picked a card for a card trick, but today we’re going to look at different ways of returning a card to the deck. We’re going to show you the same trick seven times. Don’t worry, it’s a quick trick. You’ll select a card—we’ll do that part just once—then we’ll return the card and lose it in the pack. Then I’ll take the deck behind my back and in an instant I’ll come forward with your card. The only difference will be in how the card is returned to the deck.

“You might wonder why we’re testing this. Think of it this way, if I were to take your card, turn my back, then turn back around and say, ‘I put your card back in the deck,’ you probably wouldn’t be very impressed if I found your card after that. But if I gave you the deck and the card and had you go home and lock yourself in your bathroom, return the card into the deck and shuffle it up, then come back here and then I was able to take the deck behind my back and find your card in an instant, that might be a good trick. Albeit a time consuming one. That’s the sort of thing we’re looking at today. We’re trying to find what procedures feel the most fair, while also being doable in a wide variety of performances.”

So they understood we were interested in looking at different ways of returning a card to the deck, but we implied our main concern was a logistic one

My Secret Hope

I was delighted when it turned out The Cross Cut Force was one of the most deceptive forces. Not that I liked the force all that much going into the testing, it was just surprising to me and funny that the simplest force—and a somewhat maligned one—would end up being one of the strongest.

Similarly, I hoped that we would learn that the Double Undercut is the most deceptive control.

It’s not.

The Controls

At the beginning of this section we forced a card on one orvour own people who was acting as one of the participants. That person signed the card. That card was used for each of the seven iterations of the trick. So we didn’t have them choose a different card each time, we just used the same one.

The reason we forced a card is because we didn’t always do the actual control. Much like we did when we tested forces, we didn’t want there to be a debate about the skill level of the performer. So when it came to a control that involved even intermediate skill, we would only do the actions a spectator would see assuming the performer had perfect execution of that technique. So, for example, the side-steal; we didn’t actually perform the move we would just slide the card in the deck, and square it in a manner that mimicked the action of a side steal. Then, when the performer put the deck behind his back, he would remove one of a number of duplicates of the signed force card from his back pocket

Here are the controls we tested:

Double Undercut - Card is returned to the deck by the magician and double undercut to the top or bottom. Done for real.

Side Steal or Pass - Card is returned to the deck by the magician, he takes the deck with an overhand grip and the card is on top. The deck is then placed on the table and squared. Action was mimicked, not done for real.

Cull - The spectator returns the card to a spread and the spread is closed with the card being culled to the bottom. The deck is then placed on the table and squared. Action was mimicked.

Jog Shuffle Control - Card is returned to the deck in the course of an overhand shuffle where it controlled to the top of the deck. This was followed by two tabled riffle shuffles. Done for real.

Side-Steal, Card Palmed, Spectator Shuffle - Card is returned to the deck by the magician, he squares up the deck with an overhand grip and the card is palmed. The deck is given to the spectator to shuffle. The card is then returned from palm back onto the deck. Action was mimicked.

Spectator Cuts Card Into Deck - The spectator takes the selection, places it on top of the deck and cuts the card into the deck, cutting as many times as they like. The card is controlled by having a thick card (or short card) on the bottom of the deck.

Steve Bedwell’s Dribble Toss Control followed by a Wash-style Mix - The card is shown on top of the deck. The top half of the deck is swing cut into the left hand, the bottom half of the deck is dribbled onto the table and the card is (apparently) thumbed off the left-hand packet into the dribbling cards. The left-hand’s cards are dropped on top of the pile on the table (the selection is now on top). The cards are then “washed” around the table by the magician and one or more spectators. The selection is shuttled between the hands from under the thumb of one hand to under the thumb of the other while the other cards are swirled around the table.

Other than the last one, which is a control I’ve used for a long time (it’s a good one, track it down), I tried to keep the other ones relatively general so we could compare some broader concepts (i.e., is the magician shuffling stronger or weaker than the card seemingly remaining in the middle, is the spectator cutting stronger than the magician shuffling, is it significantly stronger if the spectator returns the cards, etc.)

Ratings

After each iteration of the card being lost and found, the participants were asked to rate the effect on a scale of 1 to 100 solely based on how impossible it seemed. And since the strength of the trick was entirely due to how much the spectator believed the card was lost and out of the magician’s control, they were essentially rating the strength of the control

Here were the average ratings from lowest to highest:

Double Undercut - 25

Side Steal - 42

Cull - 47

Jog Shuffle Control - 58

Spectator Cuts with Thick Card - 77

Dribble Toss Control - 84

Side-Steal, Palm, Spectator Shuffle - 86

Conclusions

The three strongest controls all involved the spectator taking some part in the mixing of the deck.

The four strongest controls all involved the deck being mixed

The Double Undercut was the only one that actually scored a 0 with some people. I think some people see through it completely. You place the card into the middle of the deck and then use two cuts to bring that card back to the top. Even if they don’t “see” that happening, it seems many can instinctively feel that the actions could, in some way, allow you to keep track of where the card was.

Culling a card inserted by the spectator into a spread scored slightly higher than sliding the card in yourself and doing a side steal (this is even when the covert actions weren’t actually performed, just the overt ones).

The highest rated control is a theoretical perfect side-steal, followed by a perfectly casual palm, followed by a perfect replacement. I certainly can’t do that. And I’m not sure I’ve seen many other magicians who can reliably do all three invisibly (although I’ve seen some who think they can). The good news is that the control that ranked almost as high is really easy to do (but you need a table). The next highest is even easier to do, but you need to have a short card or thick card in your deck.

It’s stronger to shuffle than not to shuffle when you want to portray a card as “lost” in the deck. This may seem obvious, but I’ve heard many arguments over the years that shuffling will be interpreted as a means for you to control the card. Which, of course, it is, but I don’t think that’s a leap most spectator’s will make.

When we debriefed with the spectators after the testing we would ask why, for example, they would rate the one where the card was just slipped into the middle lower than the one where the deck was shuffled.. “Couldn’t he have moved the card to another position while he was shuffling?” While they admitted that was the case, they seemed to think that was still preferable to him just sliding the card in and pretty much knowing where it was.

The audience will generally expect you to have a little more information than they do. So if they know the general position of the card (because they saw you put it in) that suggests you yourself might know the exact position of the card. So is the card “lost” when you just slide it in the middle? Laymen don’t think in terms of “no breaks,” “no crimps,” “no out-jogged cards,” etc. So to them the difference is between seeing you place the card somewhere and not disturbing anything or seeing you put the card somewhere and jumbling everything up.

My Takeaways

The results of the testing suggest laypeople are more impressed that you can find their card after returning it to the deck in a manner that involves some kind of mixing procedure. Ideally one that they take a part in. So that’s going to be my focus in identifying controls to master and include in my repertoire. I think those will prove to be the best controls for my purposes (casual performances).

Here’s my theory. I think it’s almost instinctive for magicians to believe the gold standard for a control is an invisible pass or side-steal. It’s almost as “obvious” as the idea that the classic force is the best force. It would seem like sliding a card in the deck and doing nothing at all would be the most pure way to show that the card is lost somewhere in the middle of the deck.

But, think of it from a spectator’s perspective. Let’s say you have a card selected and signed. You cleanly slide it in the middle of the deck. You don’t manipulate the deck in any way. The card is clearly placed in the middle. But then a second later you unzip your fly and pull the signed card out of your trousers. What does the spectator think? She doesn’t think, “But he didn’t manipulate the cards in any way! He just placed the card in the middle.” Instead she thinks, “I must have missed it. Obviously he did something to get the card out of the deck and I missed it.” Humans know their memories aren’t video cameras. So the fact that you can perform something super cleanly is less consequential than you may think. “I must have blinked or looked away and he did something.” They’re wrong, but it’s an easy excuse to jump to.

Now imagine it the other way. You give them a deck of cards and tell them to pull a card out from the middle, turn it over on top of the deck and sign it, then turn it back over and cut it into the deck while you look away. You have them cut it a few more times while your back is turned so you can have no idea where the card is. You turn around and take the deck back. “So you picked any card you wanted, signed it, and cut it as many times as you wanted into the deck,” you say as you cut the deck as sort of an absent-minded demonstration (really you’re cutting to the thick card). “No one knows where the card is or even what it is other than you. And yet somehow…,” you unzip your fly and remove the card.

With the second version they can’t default to the “I missed something,” excuse. Well they can, but it’s not as satisfying because the card was chosen and lost with the deck in their hands. So what they “missed” would have to be you searching through the cards, finding their signed card, and stealing it out. And they can’t convince themselves they missed that in the same way they can convince themselves that they missed the moment you snuck out the card that you put into the deck.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. When it comes to assessing techniques, we can’t just ask if the method is structurally sound and does it fly past people in the moment, we have to ask, “Is this a technique that can be undermined with an ‘easy answer’?” If yes—even if that easy answer is wrong—then it doesn’t really matter how clever or well executed the technique is, it’s inherently flawed. We need to create an arsenal of techniques with no easy answers. More on this idea to come in…

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Get Them Digits

A little over a month ago, I presented an idea in its “seedling” form called, “Blow Up My Phone.” The idea was basically instead of having one person think of something and then revealing that by whatever method you had, you would have everyone you were with text you something (a card, a number, a picture) at the same time and you would predict or discern which one got to you first.

Some people didn’t really understand why I’d want to do this. What’s the point? The point was just to add some apparent randomness and to get everyone involved in the process, rather than pointing to one person and saying, “Name a card.”

After I made that post I got an email from Hector Chadwick (a real person, btw, and someone who happens to be fucking pretty disgusted that there is someone out there trying to take credit for his work.)

His email:

Maybe this:

Don’t write your prediction at the beginning of the routine. Have each person write their number down in preparation to send, then ask them to hold their phones against your left temple whilst someone holds your phone against your right temple.

You pick up pencil and paper and brace yourself. When you say go, they press send. You wince and reflexively write something down. You gather your thoughts and ask to see your phone. The first message received matches your prediction.

I like the idea of tapping into ‘invisible beams’ and whatnot since nobody really knows how they work anyhow. The justification of writing the prediction rather than announcing it might need a bit more thought, but the image of everyone sending a message through your brain feels pretty strong.

Just a thought.

My response:

Yeah, I like that too. And yeah, I'm struggling to see a reason for writing it down….

oh... I think I might have an idea.

What follows is the result of working on that “idea” for the last month.

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This was a difficult one for me to test out. It’s made to be performed for 5 or 6 people who you know. I perform a ton of magic, but it’s almost all 1 on 1, 2 on 1, and often for people I don’t know well yet; someone I just met at a cafe or on a train or something.

Fortunately I’ve been traveling a bit to places where I have groups of friends so it was natural to say, “Hey, I’m in town for a couple of nights. Let’s all meet up.” I mean, I would do this anyway, but it happened to coincide with my desire to test out this trick. Also, with Thanksgiving I had a chance to perform it for people who were visiting and with the holidays coming up I’ve been able to say, “Hey, let’s all get together for an early Christmas lunch,” or whatever.

In all, I’ve performed this eight times. The first four with some slight variations that aren’t interesting enough to mention, the last four pretty much as you’ll read below.

It’s a multi-phase routine. Usually I hate thinking in terms of “routines” and “phases” because it often means you’re doing the same thing over and over again, or jamming disconnected effects together. But in this case, there’s a cohesiveness to the beats and they’re all different.

Here is what it looks like. I’ll mingle presentation and method together. Presentation in in bold.

We’re sitting around a table at a cafe. Someone asks what I’m working on magic-wise.

Because I have a clear public relationship to magic, and because I don’t only talk about it when I’m performing something, it’s something people bring up with me more often than not. That’s one of the goals of my style of social magic. Make it a natural thing to discuss, not just something I only bring up when I have a trick to show them and that I only “discuss” in the form of “patter.”

“Eh, fuck that horseshit,” I say.

We’re all told we should have interesting lead-in lines to our effects. It’s hard to beat something as natural as, “Eh, fuck that horseshit.” It’s much better than the normal type of patter people try and cram into a casual social interaction, i.e., “Do you believe in fate?” Dude, we’re just having brunch here.

“Fake. it’s all just fake nonsense. I cant believe I wasted so much time on that stuff.”

Because of my personality and my style of delivery, it’s immediately clear that I’m not serious and that this is leading somewhere. You may not want that to be clear, but for my style, I do.

“I mean, like, mind-reading? What is that supposed to be? Your mind doesn’t send out, like, beams or some shit when you think of something. It’s just childish.

“I’m actually working on a new skill. But this is something that’s actually real and useful. Not make-believe. I’m learning how to interpret the signals coming from people’s cellphones, but just with my brain. No separate device. That way I’ll be able to walk down the street and people all around me are sending stuff on their phone and it’s like, Bam! I can see what you’re texting to your grandma. Bang! I can see the nudie pic your’e sending your boyfriend.”

This is what I call a “reverse disclaimer.” It’s a premise that is, in some ways, perfectly logical (if you were to read it in a sci-fi story or something) but it’s clearly not intended to be believed. This allows you to avoid the awkward situation where they might think you want them to legitimately give you credit for such a skill. At the same time it pulls the rug out from under anyone who would be tempted to “bust” you on your claims. “Hey, you’re not really reading the cell signals coming through the air.” Yeah, no shit, dummy.

“I’ve just started,” I say, “At this point I can really only pick-up on numbers. And the phones have to be really close to me. I’ll show you. I’ll try and show you, at least.”

I tell everyone to think of a two digit number and get prepared to text it to me (but don’t yet). I tell them they can text me the number itself, or spell it out and text it to me, or do a google image search for the number and send me a picture of the number, or whatever they want. As they get ready to do this, I go grab a piece of paper and a pencil. I might get a flyer from the near the front door to write on or I might grab a piece of paper or envelope from my car.

When I get back to the table I hand the paper and pencil to one of the people seated there and tell them to write down anything I ask them to after the messages have been sent.

I close my eyes, cover them with my hands, and bow a little and ask everyone to press their phones against my head (so they can still see the screen) and to send their message on the count of three.

Hector’s email suggested having their phones on one side of your head, and yours on the other. I think that is a very clear visual of what is supposedly happening (you’re going to intercept the message between the phones), but I prefer not to have my phone in the picture at this point, so that’s why I use this staging.

“1, 2, 3, send,” I say. Everyone presses send and I flinch a little, as if all these messages sent so close to my brain are having some effect on me.

The truth is, all those phones next to your head probably are eating at your brain in some way, so keep that in mind in order to inspire your acting here.

The phones are removed. I rub my temples and continue to keep my eyes closed. I tell the person with the paper to write this number down. 82081272. I lift my head up, blink my eyes a few times and wince a little like all the information I took in has me a little rattled.

I point to a couple of the people and say that I’m pretty sure it was one of their messages that came through first.

I look at the number on the piece of paper. “Is this one of your phone numbers? No? Is the number anyone sent in this number somewhere? Maybe backwards?” I take the pencil and start doing some odd calculations on the piece of paper.

In Hector’s email to me he wrote, “The justification of writing the prediction rather than announcing it might need a bit more thought.” In this presentation I haven’t really justified writing down the “prediction” but I’ve tried to justify having the pencil and paper. They’re there so you can do your calculations. This, I think, allows you to smoothly transition into writing down your guess as far as what number was sent, at least more so than if you just had to pull out the paper and pencil from nowhere.

“Okay, yes, I think I’ve got it,” I say. I write something down at the bottom of the paper.

I ask someone to grab my phone from my pocket. I don’t want to touch it.

I give them the code to unlock it and ask them to go to my texts.

“What was the first number to come through?” I ask.

“13,” they say.

“And who sent it?” I ask.

“Isabelle.”

I turn around my paper and it says, “Isabelle’s number 13 has come through first.”

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Okay, so the number is written in with a nail-writer or thumb-writer, but how do we know whose came through first?

This requires about a two minute set-up on your phone. Think of the five (or however many) people you’ll be performing for and rank them in your head from 1-5 on some scale you can remember. So it may be based on height, how long you’ve known them, who you like the best, alphabetical order, who’s the hottest, etc. Regardless, each person has a number assigned to them, 1-5.

Now go into the contact for each of those people on your phone (this works on iPhone, I don’t know about Android). Go to Contact>Edit>Text Tone>Vibration>Custom-Create New Vibration. And you will go in and create a custom text vibration for them that will vibrate the same number of times as the number you have assigned to them. This isn’t difficult. You just press your finger on the phone screen how you want the phone to vibrate. So, for example, for person two you’ll set it so their custom vibration goes bzz-bzz. Include a few seconds of silence at the end of the vibration, this way you’ll be able to tell when one vibration ends and the next one starts (since you’ll be getting a lot of texts one right after another).

It is very easy to differentiate one text from another as long as you’re in contact with your phone in some way. I usually have it in my pants pocket or jacket pocket. Even if I’m not wearing the jacket and it’s sitting on the chair behind me, I just need to place my hand or arm so it rests on the part of the jacket where the phone is.

You feel the vibration. Bzz-bzz-bzz-bzz. And think, “Okay, that was four buzzes. Who did I say was the fourth hottest person here?” (or whatever)and you know whose text came through first.

I don’t actually do it this way. As I mentioned in this post a couple of years ago. I have a custom vibration for everyone in my phone. It’s their first and last initial in morse code. That way I can know who’s texting me without taking my phone out in every situation (not just this one). But this is a simplified version of that system for someone who doesn’t want to A) learn morse code, and B) set this up with everyone in their phone.

So the number and the person has been revealed. People at the table are maybe looking at the calculations or asking if I know what their number was. I tell them at this point I don’t really have that ability. It’s not so difficult to figure out the first one that comes through, because that comes through cleanly, but after that the numbers are getting jumbled together and mixed in with each other. “In fact, that’s probably what happened here.” I pull out the calculator on my phone or ask someone else to go to their calculator. I ask everyone what their numbers were and have someone multiple them all together. They do that and the number they get is 82081272. The number I first blurted out within seconds of the texts being sent.

This is the true climax of the trick. Picking up the first person’s number is good. But knowing the product of everyone’s numbers almost instantly, the moment they were sent, is very strong. I play it off like it’s a useless skill. Yeah sure, anyone could pick up on the jumbled mass of all the numbers combined, the valuable skill is to be able to pull out the individual numbers as I did with the initial one.

This is, obviously, just the TOXIC force. I do it one of two ways. Either I have it set up and ready to go on my phone from the beginning. Or, while I’m doing the calculation on the paper, I ask someone to open their calculator for me (I don’t want to use my own at that point because I don’t want to see the texts on my phone). Then, while I’m apparently using their calculator to do some math that is too complicated for pencil and paper, I set up their phone to force the number via the TOXIC force.

Notes:

  1. If you want to make this more disturbing, it might be fun to make it look like you’re bleeding from your ears after all the texts are sent with the phones pressed to your head.

  2. You can do this for strangers or other people you don’t have in your phone, you’d just miss out on that first bit where you know who sent the text that got through first. In this case you’d just know the number.

  3. When breaking down the trick with some people who saw earlier versions, I twice heard the idea that maybe I had an app or some sort of program running that would automatically multiply together any numbers sent to me. That would be a weird app. But it’s really not that bad of a solution. This is why I changed to asking people to send me the number in its two-digit form, or written out in words, or they could write it down and take a picture, or grab an image off google images and send it to me. The implication is that having the numbers come to me in different forms will be more of a challenge, but the real reason is because I think this eliminated the idea that the product of the numbers somehow came to you automatically.

  4. You’ll find how easy it is to tell who texted you based on the vibrations and you may choose to tell the order all the texts came in. I don’t do that myself, but you could.

Thanks again to Hector for the inspiration.

Gardyloo #85

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

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


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

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

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From the email bag, regarding yesterday’s post…

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

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

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

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

How about cutting me in on those profits, Joao?


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

Dear Sir,

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time After Time

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

One person wrote in to ask,

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

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

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

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

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


Another person wrote in to ask:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You rip up the envelope. The ring is gone.

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

Now you start to open the boxes…

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

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

Watch me talk myself into buying this dumb thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • I’m not claiming this is real.

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

  • The purpose of all this is your enjoyment.

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

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

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

  • The purpose of this is my validation.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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As my friend writes,

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

That’s a dumb approach.

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Salvage Yard: Timeless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get a load of dat thicc boi watch…

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For the people on the fence, consider this…

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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As João makes on his website…

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Gardyloo #84

Look what came in the mail today.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“A chai latte,” she says.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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