Gardyloo #54

Here's something called Ghost System by Lloyd Barnes and Ellusionist.

I like the visual element of the trick. It's a clever idea. But the trick definitely has an issue and it's a pretty glaring one. 

How about if we take a look the FAQ in the email announcing this trick.

Q. Is there a slit in the box?
A: Absolutely not.


And now let's take a look at the top comment Ellusionist has made on that youtube video. 

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What they're saying is, "We know it kind of looks like there's a slit in the box. There's not."

Ok, but surely we can follow the logic of this one step further, yes? What happens when you show this trick to someone and they say, "Did it go in a slit in the box?" Because, here's the thing, "slit in the box" is not some obscure concept Stewart James came up with. A layperson is completely aware of the concept of "slits." Therefore, the disavowal of a slit isn't something that needs to be in the advertising, it needs to somehow be in the trick itself. Laypeople don't care if they have the right explanation. They're satisfied just to have an explanation that could be right.

So now we go back to the spectator who says, "Is there a slit in the box?" What's the game plan?They can't examine the case. Maybe you say, "Actually, let me direct you to this FAQ from Ellusionist and you'll see there is not, in fact, a slit in the box." What are the other options?

Someone on the Cafe said, "You can't hand the case out. [But] there is no need if you structure your routine." I have to be honest, I never understand what the fuck magicians are talking about when they say stuff like this. "Structure your routine"? How does this work? It sounds like voodoo. Like there's some special "structure" you can use to make people forget the box is suspect.

From what I can tell, most magician's definition of "structure," "routining," and "audience management," is: "If you're worried they're going to bust you on the method of your trick, do another trick right after to stop them from talking." This comes from the same school of thought as, "Turn up the radio and you won't hear the rickety noise your car engine is making." 

If there's some way to present this effect without people jumping to the conclusion of "there's a slit in that box," then Ellusionist should have filmed that for a demo. Then they wouldn't have to fall all over themselves to remind us it's not just a slit.

From the Spring edition of X-Communication:

Help an old magic blogger out. A couple months ago I witnessed one of my favorite moments in entertainment history. It was an episode of the Andy Griffith show and Andy had just been sprayed with perfume by Ellie May. He returns to the jail and Barney starts sniffing around a cooing over this new scent, Midnight Madness.

At one point he says, “Midnight Madness, Zazoo Zaz!” . 

I love this. Please start saying it. I have no idea where it comes from, and googling it has been no help. Barney uses it to mean, like, “Ooh-la-la.” But I think it makes a good all-purpose positive exclamation. “Our team won! Zazoo Zaz!” “Zazoo Zaz, this car is fast!” “Ooh, ooh… I’m coming… Zazoo Zaz!”

A few of you have informed me that it's probably a reference to the song Zaz Zuh Zaz by Cab Calloway and I was just mislead by the closed captions. That's probably the case. Although I prefer Zazoo Zaz! 

The next step is for you to start incorporating it into your everyday vernacular and online posts.  It's a natural phrase to throw around at magic conventions and on magic message boards. "Zazoo Zaz! It really looked like that coin penetrated that box. And you say there's no slit?"

"Quick! Snap a picture of me in idea-cooking mode."

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Yigal is notoriously litigious, or, at the very least, he's known to protect his intellectual property rigorously. I have no problem with that. I think it's a good thing (except when I don't). 

But that fact has given me a wonderfully diabolical plan. I could use some help. I need to find out what he's reading here. Then find out what page he's on. Then see if I can intuit what type of idea he was cooking. Then I go and trademark or patent or copyright the idea myself. Then, later, when he tries to come out with... I don't know... an invisible thread reel built into a belt buckle or something... guess who beat him to the punch? Your boy, Andy. And then I'll be rich with that magic money like:

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Goddammit, someone find out what he's reading in that photo! Zoom in. Enhance. Enhance!

[Dear Yigal, please don't sue me for using your facebook photo. I am but a poor magic blogger, tending my posts. It's all in good fun. I actually think it's a very nice photo. You look good enough to take to the picture show. (zazoo zaz)]

I got another one of these offers. You have no clue how tempted I am to see what they would come up with for this site.

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In fact, I look forward to the day when this entire site is populated by "well-written pieces of content" written by others that I was paid to post.

I have a new favorite magician.

This isn't magic, but it's one of my favorite things I've stumbled across on youtube in a long time. It's from Candid Camera in 1965. It's nothing complicated. All they did was introduce some students to a new hot teacher and then record their reactions. The girls at the beginning are adorable, but it really picks up when we see the boys' reactions to "Miss Darling." It's so great. They totally flip out. I guess this is what it was like before the internet, when any random hot lady would just send you out of your mind because it might be 8 more months before you saw another one (undoubtedly when you were peeking through a hole in a picket fence or some other 1960s shit). And to be fair, the teacher is a genuine smoke-show. If anyone can track this woman down for me, please do so. Seriously, Miss Darling, I don't say these words often, but, Zazoo Zaz!

Presenting Coincidences

I really love this one. This is a model for a lot of what I believe—and what I espouse—in regards to how magic should be incorporated into the day-to-day existence of a social magician. It is an amalgamation of a lot of the concepts I've talked about here: imps, hooks, smear technique, shifting the power away from yourself, etc. And it's a way to extend a trick so the magic is not just one instant, but instead a thread that is woven through your interactions with someone over time. 

There are a number of tricks in the literature that are presented as an example of an incredible coincidence. And there are hundreds more than that when you realize that most any prediction effect can be rejiggered to come off as a coincidence. I love the concept of coincidence as a theme, but the truth is that none of these effects really come off as a coincidence. How could they when we're sitting here and counting and dealing cards on a close-up mat and so on. Oh, sure, these cards matched those other cards over there, but that doesn't feel like a coincidence. Not when you were telling me how to count and cut the cards, that just feels like a trick. We wouldn't have even started this process if you didn't know where it was going—and if you know where it's going... then it ain't a coincidence.

So how do you present coincidence effects in a way that the coincidence aspect doesn't just feel like a cheap pretense for a trick? I've thought about this a lot and have come up with a number of ideas I really like, but this is one of my favorites.

The best way to present a coincidence effect is to wait for a coincidence to occur.

I'll explain.

I've moved around quite a bit for the past few years. And anytime I know I'll be staying somewhere more than a few months, I install a plank shelf by ILOVEHANDLES near the front door. It's a small "floating" shelf with a magnet inset in the bottom so you can just touch your keychain to it and your keys will stick underneath. On top of mine I keep a deck of cards.


So let's imagine you come visit me. You walk in the front door and I say, "Can you do me a favor? Mix up that deck of cards." You do. "Now name any card," I say. You say the two of diamonds. "Now turn over the top card," I say. You do... and it's the nine of spades.

"Ah...," I say. "So do you want to order food now or do you want to wait until the game starts?"

If you're like most people you will say, "Was that supposed to be a trick or...what was that?"

"Oh, no. It's nothing. I used to have this science teacher in high school and every day he'd walk in the classroom and throw a piece of chalk against the chalkboard. And he said the reason he did it is because all physical objects are made of atoms and atoms are mostly empty space or whatever. So, his theory was that one day, all that empty space in the chalk and the chalkboard would line up perfectly and then the chalk would just GLORP! right into the chalkboard."

"I don't know if that's really possible or not. I think probably not. It was probably just his way of waking us up at the start of class. But I've been doing a similar thing for a while now. I'm kind of fascinated by coincidences. And there's a theory that suggests that coincidences aren't just these random occurrences, but they're the result of an alignment of energy. The energy between people and the room they're in and the objects in the room. That sort of thing. So the thing with the cards is sort of my version of throwing chalk against the chalkboard. Just trying to see if things are potentially lined up in perfectly. And if that ever does happen, then I'll know the situation is right to try and induce even bigger coincidences."

And that's it. That's the set up. (And, of course, it's not quite a monologue in real life.)

Now every time you come over I ask you to shuffle the deck, name a card, and turn over the top card.

After a few times, it's just something you do without prompting. You come in. Take off your shoes. Grab the deck. Name a card. Shuffle, cut, turn-over a card. 

And then, months down the road, you come in, name the 7 of spades, shuffle the deck, cut, and turn over... the 7 of spades! I stumble over the coffee table, to check and see if you really named it correctly. You did! We celebrate like something actually exciting has happened. 

I'm looking around. We need to try something else. "How much change do you have in your pocket?" You have 12 cents. So do I!

"Wait. Hold on. Let's try something really impossible." And now we grab the cards and we're shuffling and dealing and things are matching or whatever. But now it doesn't feel like "coincidence" was just a tacked on pretense to a magic trick. Now it feels like we're in some sort of weird state—a coincidence-saturated environment—and it's crazy how things are falling into place.

And when it's over your mind is kind of racing trying to process it all. Did that really happen? It happened, yes, but did it really happen? It had to be some kind of trick. Maybe you're a little spacey and you truly believe you just experienced something crazy. Or maybe you're hyper-rational, so you know it was a trick. But it doesn't matter because someone planting a seed and then waiting 8 months for it to sprout in order to give you this fun, fascinating encounter, unlike anything you've ever experienced, that's really great too. It's something you'll never forget. 

I've been doing this for years, and I do it to everyone. So multiple times a year—and there's no way to know when it will happen—I get to enjoy this crazy experience of coincidence with someone.

Here are 5 non-obvious benefits to this:

1. No one ever seems to forget the story—and it's a true story—of my teacher throwing the chalk at the chalkboard. So that concept of testing something that's unlikely to happen on the off chance it does (and then taking that and running with it) stays with them. And I don't have to justify why they're doing it again each time.

2. As a performer/social magician, this keeps you very engaged. It's fun to not know when you'll get the chance to perform this in full. (You have to always have a couple follow-up effects chambered for when this hits.) And it's genuinely exciting when it does happen. I think the participants pick up on that excitement. 

3. It's true that 51 out of 52 times you won't be able to perform this. But the fact that they're coming in your place and immediately grabbing a deck of cards is going to present you with many unobtrusive ways to transition into some other trick if you want to.

4. This presentation creates a sense of continuity over a very long period of time that you can only get in non-professional performing situations. Last month this finally "hit" on a friend of mine who had been visiting me for years, all over the northeast. And later in the evening she was reminiscing about all the different places where she'd come to see me and gone through the process of naming and turning over a card. It was a real travelogue of apartments and hotel rooms and rented cabins and this trick/presentation kind of tied all of that together in a very cool way.

5. It happens... and it seems to happen more often than you'd imagine... that I meet someone new, or they're visiting me for the first time. They come to my place, I ask them to name a card, shuffle the deck and turn one over... and they nail it the very first time. I do not do anything more when this happens. I don't play it off as a coincidence. No. When this happens I fully accept the role of the world's greatest (and cockiest) magician. This is the rare occasion where I do take complete ownership of the miracle. They stand there with their mouth agape and I just kind of sniff and smirk a little, run my fingers through my hair then polish my nails with my shirt. "You like that? Just a little something I'm working on. If you're good maybe I'll show you another trick sometime."

There you go. I hope some of you will find value in this. I would resist the urge to do something to the deck (put in duplicates or add a breather crimp to commonly named cards) let the universe dictate when you perform this. 

If you want to know my favorite coincidence effects, I think I'll write an article on that for the Summer X-Communication. And if you want to know my other favorite way of presenting coincidences, it's going to be in Magic For Young Lovers. It requires a little prop that will be included with the book. It's got a similar feel to this, but it's the version I use when I know I want to do a coincidence type routine on a specific time/day.

X-Communication Spring Issue

Will be in Season 3 supporter's email boxes this evening. You'll get it after I do my taxes, assuming I don't throw myself out the window in the process. (If your copy doesn't show up by midnight (my time-NY), get in touch. There is undoubtedly someone whose email I got wrong, or wasn't added to the correct subscriber list or something, so this mailing will flush that out.)

This issue includes a trick called "There In Spirit," which I performed most recently this weekend. 

Many magicians want gasps, some prefer applause or stunned silence. The response I got from the woman I performed this effect for on Saturday was, "That literally made me pee a little in my pants."

The Fail-Safe

This is an idea I came up with for a friend of mine for a very particular situation. He was performing a trick with mis-pipped cards. We'll say it was Michael Skinner's 3 Card Monte. It wasn't, but we'll say it was so you can follow along. (The actual trick isn't one you know because it's his own effect.) His concern was this, he had found that in workshopping this trick that if he was to put the cards away right after the effect, people would become suspicious about the cards. On the other hand, if he just tossed the cards on the table at the end, people almost never reached for them. But... on the third hand, on the rare occasion someone does go for the cards, there's really no way of talking yourself out of that situation. You're completely busted.

So what do you do? Typically, the course of action magicians seem to take is that you should put the gimmicked items away and then move onto another trick. They've convinced themselves that this is going to fool people. It doesn't. People know what's up. Outside of a formal show there's no real reason to rush along to another effect and hide everything you just used other than that they're suspect. I think it's a bit of a puss move. I'm not sure it's worth salvaging one performance in 20 if the other 19 are diminished in some way (which I believe they are when you squirrel away the props right after an effect).

No one likes getting busted on a trick, I get that. Even if you don't have your ego wrapped up too much in the performance, it's still a waste of an effect and of people's time. 

So my friend had a performance for an important individual for whom he wanted to make a strong impression. He had this trick he wanted to perform and he didn't want to come off as the scared magician, immediately putting the deck away after a trick. But he knew if he set it down confidently there was maybe a 5-10% chance the other person would pick it up and bust him on it. You could say, just don't do that trick. But he really wanted to do that trick.

Here was my idea...

Imagine this from the spectator's perspective. You have this person over your house who you know performs magic. At some point you ask to see a trick. He shows you this really mind-blowing card trick where cards are transforming and transporting all over the place. When he's done he just sets the deck on the table and goes back into conversation. Your curiosity gets the best of you and you pick up the deck and start looking at it. "Hey," you say, "all these cards have two different values on each card." And this great trick you saw just crumbles.

At this point, the magician just sits there, stone-faced and says in a cartoonishly sad, monotone voice. "Oh... gee. I'm so embarrassed. You busted me. Who could have guessed you would figure out my trick at," he looks at the clock, "7:19 pm." Silently, he reaches into his wallet and pulls out a business card and slides it to you on the table. He indicates you should turn it over. You do, and on the back it says, "Oh... gee. I'm so embarrassed. You busted me. Who could have guessed you would figure out my trick at 7:19 pm."

Now the whole scenario shifts. You were set up! But how could he know when you'd ask to see a trick. How could he know you'd reach for the deck of cards? How could he have seen how everything would play out? 

Well, he didn't. He just owns a nail-writer and a wallet that allows for nail-writing. But you don't know that. You're an entertainment lawyer, for chrissake. 

So that's the idea behind The Fail-Safe: Having a way to predict the exact time you got busted on a trick. 

It's not something you'll need every time you perform, but it may be something you can use for confidence and peace of mind during an important performance opportunity. As it turned out, my friend didn't need to employ the fail-safe. But I've used it a couple times and it's really very strong. I don't think it feels like you "salvaged" a trick that was busted. I think it feels like you anticipated how everything would play out and the first part was just an entertaining "sucker" effect, in some way. 

I'm not suggesting you use this in situations where you know the person is going to get handsy and grab something they're not supposed to. This is more for those times when you think there's a small chance someone might take a look at something that blows the trick, and you just want to have an insurance policy in place. 

You can use any secret writing technique you want. I use the set-up from the trick Millinta in the JAMM #10. This allows me to nail-write on the inside of a folded piece of card in an apparently sealed envelope. I have one in an end-table near my couch and another in my messenger bag. 

The funny thing is, because I've been wanting to test this out, I've been very cavalier about just tossing gimmicked items onto the table when I'm done. Most of the time, that seems to be all it takes to make people assume there's nothing to be found. What's even been more enjoyable to me is watching people pick up gimmicked items, examine them and then replace them having found nothing. I've had people pick up gimmicked coins and gaffed notebooks and not find anything. I had someone pick up and spread through an invisible deck and not realize it.

And for the people who ended up looking at the items or even just feeling like they could, I would assume the trick had a greater level of impossibility than if I had just turned and put the items in a drawer somewhere. In that way, the Fail-Safe may not only be a useful ploy for salvaging a trick that gets busted, but just having it in your back pocket may affect the openness with which you perform in a way that makes your tricks stronger across the board.

Gardyloo #53

A few months ago I mentioned a round of focus group testing that was going to look at discrepancies in card tricks to see how frequently they were noted by an engaged, critical audience. We conducted that research about a month ago in NYC. The reason I haven't written up any of the results on this site is because the testing didn't really bear fruit in the way that I had hoped it would. 

This is mainly my fault because it wasn't a very well designed test. There were too many different variables we were hoping to look at. And because we're limited by the number of subjects we can work with (limited by time and money) we just need to stick with simpler questions in the future, because all the variables got in the way. 

I originally was inspired to test discrepancies because I had found a trick that I thought was really beautifully constructed, but it had a big discrepancy (in the trick you show the four queens singly, but really you showed the same two queens twice). And I was wondering how often that would be noticed. There are a lot of card tricks with big discrepancies and maybe someone only mentions it once every 25 times you perform. But that doesn't mean that someone doesn't actually notice it much more often.

So I wanted to test that, but got carried away with variations. How often do people notice the duplicate card in an Elmsley Count? Does it make a difference if the EC is done with aces, face cards, or spot cards? What if you use a change in tempo or position of the card to block them from getting a clear view of the card the first time around—does that help hide the discrepancy or does it just create more suspicion? These sorts of things. 

But ultimately the data was too diluted to come up with any meaningful results. Which may seem like a waste of $2500. Which is what a couple days of testing costs (and that's with the people who are helping conduct the testing volunteering their time). But I feel like we learned a lot from this experience in regards to how to construct future tests to make sure our result definitely have some value. And I also feel like the people who contribute to this site would rather me be putting the money into something that may potentially provide value/content for the site rather than just spending it on high-price prostitutes. (Not that I don't spend it on high-priced prostitutes. I just mean that's not all I spend it on. I try to split it up in a "one for for me," type of way.)

And all was not lost because during this round of testing we came up with something to study the next time around that I think is going to be very interesting. You should hear about that in a month or so.

I've said in the past that lapping a coin while sliding it off the table is my favorite coin vanish, and given the reasons for that here.

I also think it's probably the best way to switch a coin as well.

But when I'm not sitting, the coin change I use is the Capricorn Change by Jay Sankey from his Revolutionary Coin Magic DVDs. If you don't know that move, I think it's worth tracking down and working on. It's a good fundamental move to have in your arsenal. It's not a visual change, although I guess it can be. I use it more when I want to switch in a particular coin at the start of a trick. The spectator places their coin in your empty right hand, you place it in your genuinely empty left hand (it's not a shuttle pass) to set it aside or give it to someone on your left, and in that process it's switched. It looks pretty innocent (in the gif below it's isolated and being transferred for no reason, so it looks less innocent, but in real life, before a trick has even really started, it's fairly invisible).


"Surprise can be an agent of social change." So says a new research paper out of the University of Illinois. (Thanks to reader, G.G., for sending me the link.)

Consider the professional comedian or magician and - presto! - you have someone who is a "professional surprise engineer," Loewenstein said.

"A magician is setting up a situation where you think you're seeing most of or all of what's happening, but in fact you're not really seeing the critical bits," he said. "What's amazing is that you know when you go to see a magician perform that you're going to see something that you didn't expect - and they do it anyway.

"Crafting surprises is something everyone can learn to do, and they will be more influential if they do."

Is this true? Maybe. I haven't read the actual paper the article references. Although it is hard to imagine a group less influential than magicians. Oh sure, once a century a magician demonstrates some actual influence on culture. But that doesn't strike me as such a great batting average. 

The way magicians imagine magic can be used to attract women...

How it actually comes off when people use magic expressly to try and attract women.


I'm off next week. Posting resumes on the 16th. Also, subscribers to the site will be receiving the first issue of the new quarterly review magazine around that time as well.

In that issue I spend a few pages describing a routine I've been using in conjunction with a new magic app. The routine is a combination of an old premise with this new app and some handling that I believe is new (although it's not particularly revolutionary). The combination of these elements has created one of the strongest tricks you will ever perform. I'm not kidding and I'm not hyping it. When it comes to strength of effect and practicality I would put it in the top .1% of effects in magic history. You can learn it in 5 minutes. It's dead easy. It takes 5 seconds of prep time. You can carry it with you all day and it takes up essentially no more space than what you already carry with you. You can go into the effect instantly at any moment. It feels completely impromptu. There are numerous presentational angles to get into the trick. It would work great in a show, it's even better in a social magic setting. And the effect is fucking devastating

Those of you who have paid the $260 in support of this site are getting a full year's worth of posts, a limited edition hardcover book, a limited edition deck of cards, and another 100 pages of content in the quarterly magazine. I suspect if you perform this trick you will feel you already got your money's worth. 

Again, not kidding, no hype.


The Good Will Hunting Book Test

Maarten Bosmans is a magician from Belgium who initially reached out to me a year and a half ago to tell me The Jerx was his second favorite blog. Now, I don't hold a grudge, but eat shit, Maarten, this is the best blog ever written. 

Maarten is a huge movie fanatic (his favorite blog is and he likes to create material inspired by movies. 

He recently sent along an idea for a book test based on this scene from Good Will Hunting.

First I'm going to briefly explain his idea and his methodology which would work well in a stage or parlor context, and then I'm going to explain my ideas on a similar type of effect in a social or amateur magic presentation. Even if you're not drawn to this particular effect, you may find some ideas in here that you could use in some other context.

The Basic Idea: In a traditional book test your participant will think of a word or phrase and then you will tell them what they're thinking of. Simple.

In this version what you'll be demonstrating is a profound familiarity with a certain subject matter or series of books. Briefly, let's say you have 20 books piled on a table on stage. Your spectator will freely select one (true) and freely select a page (kind of true) without you knowing either (untrue). They will then read off the first four words on that page. You are blindfolded and/or turned away.

"The fireflies were all...," your spectator says. 

"'The fireflies were all. The fireflies were all...," you mumble. "Oh...'The fireflies were all over the place as the sun came up.' Yes, that's referring to John Glenn as he reaches the Canton Island tracking point. That's The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe... page two-hundred sixty eight."

The Good Will Hunting Book Test - Do You Like Apples? Stage Version by Maarten Bosmans 

I consider this a stage version because it uses props you would find in a stage show (forcing bags, folios, blindfolds—don't fret if you don't use these things in performance, neither do I, you'll see in the next section). 

His basic method is to give people a free choice of book, followed by a limited choice of page number, and then you use a crib to determine what words come next.

Let's say before the show starts you ask your audience to write down a few numbers between 0 and 400 on individual slips of paper. They can write as many numbers as they like and these slips are dropped in a bag or a box. During the course of the effect, it will seem your spectator has a free choice of these slips written by the audience but really they will be forced to choose one with particular numbers on it using a clear forcing bag or an Amazebox

So let's say they're forced a slip of paper with these numbers on it: 48, 183, and 349.

You are blindfolded and you ask them to pick up any one of 20 books (or more) that are on display, and to open the book to any page number they want from the "random" slip they chose.

Now, you'll know what book they chose (because you can see through the blindfold) and you'll know what page they're on by seeing if they open towards the beginning, middle, or end of the book. 

Next, you need to access your crib. Maarten suggests using Banachek's Psychic Pad Folio or Force 4 by Wayne Rodgers. I don't know how either of these things work, but from context clues I'm guessing it's something you could open one way to look at your crib and open another to show just a blank pad. In Maarten's version he has the spectator say the first four words and then he writes down what the fifth word is on the pad (before going on to relay the rest of the sentence verbally) and he peeks the crib at some point before that. He also has a subtlety where he opens up the folio towards someone and asks if there's anything written on the top sheet (remember, he supposedly can't see). Perhaps there's a word on it (from a previous performance) and they rip the page off for him. Then when he opens it towards himself the next time he's peeking the crib on what was just seen as an innocent blank pad.

From there you do the reveal in any way you choose.

Now... let's take a look at a different version. 

The Good Will Hunting Book Test - Miss Misery Amateur Version 

While I like Maarten's idea, I know that I'll probably never have an opportunity to perform something that used a blindfold, a folio, and some sort of switching/forcing device, so I wanted to work on a variation that didn't use those objects. The other potential issue with Maarten's version is that because it's a book test that uses your own books, they might just assume you have some strong familiarity with the books. And because the presentation is not about something supernatural, and actually is about having a strong familiarity with the books, then it might not be as powerful a trick as it could be otherwise.

So what I decided was to work on a version that didn't use any props I didn't normally have with me. And to try and do it in situations where I could use other people's books. 

I've had a chance to perform this twice in the past couple of weeks and it went over very well both times. 

The basics of the effect are the same as Maarten's with some small differences. I'm still going to limit their page selection and I'm still going to use a crib. But with this version you don't need to know what book they've chosen or what page they've turned to.

We're going to limit their page selection down to two pages per book, but in a way that I think seems pretty fair. You might say, "Unless they can open the book to any page they want, it's going to feel contrived and unfair." And, in a way, you're right. If you have a way to do a book test by allowing someone to open to any page in any of their own books, then that's certainly something I would prefer. But since I don't have a way to do that, we're going to have to use a bit of procedure for that part. 

Here's a tip for this sort of thing: If you have to use procedure when something more straightforward would be more logical, then don't announce why you're doing the procedure until after you do it. 

For example, don't say, "We need to come up with a random number of cards to deal, so I want you to roll these two dice and use the two digits to make a random number." You're giving people too much time to sit with the procedure and feel that it is a needlessly complicated way of determining a random number. 

If instead you say, "Roll these two dice a few times and stop whenever you want.... Now I want you to use the two numbers on top of the dice to create a two digit number. If you had rolled again, you would probably have different numbers, right? I couldn't have known what numbers you would roll, and you didn't know what numbers you would get either, correct? So it's a truly random number, it's not a favorite number or a number that has meaning to you or a number everyone thinks of, correct?" And you get them agreeing to all this stuff that makes the number seem truly unknowable/unpredictable. "Now we're going to deal off this random number of cards...." See? Only now do you say what the number is going to be used for. And at this point you're already on the move. Things are progressing. It's more difficult for a spectator to think, "Well, why did we choose a random number that way?" because their mind is occupied with other things at that point. 

We're going to use a similar technique to limit their page selection in a way that might not feel completely straightforward, but I don't think it feels anywhere near as limiting as it really is. 

The Two Certainties Page Force

Here's what it looks like. You take a borrowed deck of cards and remove the 10s, Jacks, Queens, and Kings and give the spectator the number cards (Aces being 1s) to shuffle. They shuffle them however they like. Cut the cards. Remove three cards from where they cut. Arrange those three numbers in their head in any way they like to create a page number and turn to that page number in the book. 

That's genuinely how it looks, and yet they will be forced to one of two page numbers in the book. 

Here's the procedure (I came up with this myself, but would not be surprised if there is a precedent for it). You take a shuffled deck and openly outjog the 10s, Js, Qs, and Ks. As you are doing this you cull a 2,6 and 8 to the top of the deck.

Strip out the the outjogged cards, turn the deck over and place the face up cards on top of the deck. Spread through them, ostensibly to make sure you got all 12 cards out that you were trying to (the idea here is that you're removing the faces and tens so they just have the number cards). Spread the first three face-down cards (the 2, 6 and 8) and get a pinky break under them. Square the cards and lift off your face-up picture cards and the three face-down cards below them. Give the number cards to your spectator to shuffle. As they shuffle, you fiddle around with your cards and eventually get a break above the three face-down cards at the bottom of your packet. Transfer your cards and your break to a right hand biddle grip/thumb break.

Ask for the number cards to be placed on your left yand. Tell your spectator to cut off a packet of cards. Gesture with your right hand (in front of your left hand), for them to set that packet on the table. As they do this you pull your right hand packet back and as it briefly passes over the left hand and the three cards are dropped on the left hand packet (this is the John Bannon SWAK (Swindled With a Kiss) technique, I think it's probably more fooling because the cards in your right hand seem to be all face up). Now extend your left hand and ask them to slide off the three cards "from where you cut to."

They will have a 2, 6 and 8. As long at the books in play have less than 627 pages, they will be forced to choose either 268 or 286. (You could use 2, 8 and 9 and you'd be safe with books up to 828 pages.)

If you feel like you need to, you can retcon the number selection. You can imply that using the cards makes it truly random. And that maybe you could have guessed what numbers they would think if they thought of a number on their own. Or maybe the book tends to open to a particular page if they were just to riffle through it. I don't really know if it's necessary or not. I'm not sure if justifying it puts undue emphasis on it. Because there's a free choice of book, and because there is still a choice involved in how they arrange the numbers, and because they apparently came from a shuffled packet of cards, I probably won't attempt to justify the procedure unless someone asked why we did it that way.

I'm going to switch to first person now.

At this point I would walk into an adjoining room and put myself in a corner like the Blair Witch Project. "I'm not going to turn around or even look in your direction. You can watch and make sure my face is planted in this corner the whole time. I want you to peek at your cards and arrange the numbers in any order in your mind to make a page number. Then I want you to flip to that page in any book on your bookshelf and go to the first full sentence on the page and read out the first four words of that sentence. If any of the words give away what the book is, skip to the next sentence. Like if it says, 'Then Moby Dick said,' just go to the next sentence. I don't think Moby Dick actually says anything in that book, but you get what I'm saying. Try your best to shield everything from me and keep your eyes on me to make sure I never turn around."

This was the little speech I gave my friend the first time I performed the trick. I had been staying with her and her husband at their home in Pennsylvania. On the shelf in the room I was sleeping in were about a dozen literary classics. She was in the room while I was facing a corner in the hallway.

"'Or do you kiss,'" she said.

"Hmmmm. Uhm... oh... 'Or do you kiss my hand in the spirit I once let you kiss my cheek?' That's Estella in Great Expectations. Charles Dickens. Page... 268?" I said, as I turned around to face her.

(Earlier in the day, when she asked how I slept I said I hadn't been tired so I stayed up memorizing the books in my room.)

Where was the crib? I'll get to that. First, let me describe the crib. It isn't like Maarten's crib where you know the book and the page and then you're looking for the correct word. I didn't know the book or the page until she said what the first four words were. I then have my crib with all the four word phrases listed in alphabetical order. I just look down for the one that begins "or do you kiss" and look to see the book, page number, and rest of the line (which you don't have to get perfectly).

I created the crib on my phone. It took me about a minute per book. So I did a dozen books the night before in under 15 minutes.  As I walk into the corner, the phone is in my shirt pocket. At this point in time I'm still holding the picture cards in my hand and my hands are spreading them, riffling them, cutting them, etc, as I've been doing this whole time. Once I get to the corner I pop the pop the phone out of my pocket and just hold it on top of the deck as I continue to spread and riffle the cards and making noise with them. From the back it just looks like I'm messing with cards, but I actually have the phone on and open to my crib. As soon as the four words are named I scroll to that line with my thumb and get the info, and then pocket my phone back in my shirt pocket. 

Putting myself in the corner comes across as me being extra clear that I'm not peeking. But really I'm just hiding what I'm actually doing. As I turn back towards my friend, my hands are just holding the deck and my eyes are closed as if I'm thinking. It looks very innocent.

If you have good eyesight, obviously a printed crib could work very well too.

Now, the second time I performed this I actually did it impromptu and crib-less. I was in a friend's bathroom and they had three books in there. I took a shit and memorized the six force lines.

Later, when asked to perform a trick I had them select three cards and one of the people there took them, sight unseen, and went into the bathroom and closed the door. Everyone else was outside the bathroom with me. 

"Take the cards from your pockets and create a three digit page number," I said. "Open to that page in any book in there and read the first four words on the page to me."

"'Finally after what seemed,'" the person on the other side of the door said.

"Hmm," I said, "That's in a couple of the books. Can you read any other three or four words on that page?"

"'I dropped it,'" she said.

"Oh, sure...ok...'Finally after what seemed.'... 'Finally after what seemed like a forever of running, someone said, 'I think we lost them.'' That's from Wonder by RJ Palacio. That's on page...265? No.. 268, yes?"

It's strong stuff.

If the four words seem sort of generic, then I would have them read a couple other words off the page.

Yes, but Andy, won't they ask you to complete that sentence or another one in the book or something? If you really memorized the books, wouldn't you be able to do it again. Or just start reading off the book from memory?

That's only an issue if they're taking it all too seriously. If they are, I recommend this line: "I'm just kidding around ding-dong. It's a trick. I didn't memorize the books when I was taking a dump."

Once people know you well enough to know you're not trying to impress them with your mega-brain, they don't feel the need to challenge you as much.


The My Boy is Wicked Smaht Variation

I think using the spectator's books makes this very strong. But I'm also thinking of making a crib that includes every book I own on a shared google spreadsheet. Then when someone visits we can do a skype call with this "genius" friend of mine who seemingly has read every book  ever and can remember almost everything about them. They select a book and page without me knowing and we ring him up. My friend says the four words from seemingly a random page from one of many, many books and he can end up finishing the quote, naming the exact page, etc. All he has to do is subtly scroll through the spreadsheet as we interact.

Even people who agree with my presentational esthetic often don't understand why I'd want to have someone else perform the trick. The reason is because I don't necessarily care if someone thinks I'm the one responsible for all these weird things. I like the idea that I can be a tour guide showing them strange objects and experiences and introducing them to these weird people who are capable of some unbelievable things. 

I'm also thinking of setting up a crib for books in a certain section of the local public library. Like a section that doesn't change much. Like books about ferns or something. And then I can say how I used to be obsessed with ferns and read every book on them endlessly as a kid to the point where I have them almost memorized.

I think the page force is almost strong enough to do the effect with one book. And then you'd have to only memorize two sentences. Although maybe not. I don't know.

If I had a legit stage show, here's what I'd do. People would be encouraged to bring a book with them to the show. The first 10 or 20 people who had books with them could place them on a table on stage before the show began. As people filed in, I would be onstage flipping through the books very quickly. My phone in my pocket would be shooting video and I would make sure to stop at the three force pages briefly in each book. Then someone backstage (Joshua Jay or whoever I have working for me) could make up the crib from the video during the first half of the show. And then you'd have a really kind of mindboggling book memorization feat with borrowed books with "random" page numbers generated by the audience.

One of the greatest footnotes to Good Will Hunting is that Elliott Smith was nominated for an Oscar for Miss Misery, a low-key indie-pop song. It was up against My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion from Titanic, and was such a contrast to that bombastic, overplayed, shitty song.

Smith didn't want to perform at the Oscars originally, but he felt compelled to because he was told the song would be performed whether he sang it or not. As he said, "Yeah, at first, I thought, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea,’ But they said if I didn’t sing the song, they’d get someone else to sing it ... like Richard Marx. It was like, ‘Well, then again ... I could do it!'" 

There's really no good quality video of his Oscar's performance, but here's the best I could find.

(Here's the original. (You lose the harmonies on the Oscars version.) If you don't know Elliott Smith, he's one of the best singer-songwriters of the past 50 years. Heavily influenced by the Beatles, his voice and guitar playing are amazing and often chill-inducing. And pretty much every album is a masterpiece. (You won't have trouble catching up with his catalog. He killed himself in 2003. Or did he?))


Tomorrow's post will be up in the afternoon. It's an interesting book test variation that I think you might like (or at least there might be some ideas in it that you find valuable).

Next week is spring break here at the Jerx. No new posts during that time. I'll be at Lake Havasu ripping beer bongs with my boys in Beta Theta Pi.

On April 17th, the first issue of what I think I'm still calling X-Communication comes out for all Season 3 supporters. It's essentially a product review newsletter but because it's a quarterly publication it doesn't make sense to try to limit myself to the newest products. So there's going to be a mixture of new stuff, old stuff, and individual effects I've plucked from books and videos. This first issue has a much more narrative feel than you might expect. I'm not sure if that's the direction I'm going to go in with future issues or if it's just the way this one turned out. We'll see. In the coming issue I'll be writing about a really strong but overlooked live lecture from last year, one of my favorite marked decks, some words of wisdom I received during one of our focus groups about a mentalism tool everyone seems to be using that perhaps they shouldn't be, a new utility prop I really like from a company you've never heard of, and a look at some variations on a relatively new plot in magic (I'll direct you to my favorite version on a forgotten DVD from a few years ago), plus a bunch of reviews and jokes about my genitals or someone else's genitals.

Later, dudes.