Mailbag #5

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How do you get people into engaging with your for your longer tricks? I don’t really see how you can initiate that type of performance. -GY

I’ve laid out my technique before. The way I do it is to start slowly with people and gradually bring them into a world of magic tricks performed in different contexts. I only continue on the trajectory laid out in that linked post if people seem to be enjoying these sorts of interactions. I’ve never actually said to people, “I perform magic tricks in different contexts to generate an immersive world of fantasy!” It sounds like it’s going to be very lame.

So I don’t tell them that, but I do bring willing participants along to that point after a while. There is a learning curve for them. This is a different style of magic and a different type of interaction. They have to understand that it’s a little more participatory. Traditionally, magic is is presented in a “just sit still and appreciate what I’m doing,” sort of manner. So you have to teach them that it’s encouraged for them to not only watch you do something impossible but to also play along for a few minutes. And that’s what the process in that post allows.

Yes, it takes some time, but time is one of the things that differentiates social magic from traditional, professional magic. Incorporating magic into your ongoing relationships is sort of the idea behind the social style. Social magic isn’t just:: Do matrix but do it at Starbucks. It’s about using magic to relate to people in a social context. And that’s something that develops over time.


How scary should you go in social magic? When does the emotion of fear in the participant hinder or enhance the entertainment?  Is that a personal persona choice?  Is that an audience understanding choice?  Are there overarching limitations for humankind?  If I could perform a routine in a certain setting that causes uncontrolled screaming at the end, should I?  With no disclaimer?  Is that going too far? — DA

“How scary should you go in social magic?” In the past few years I’ve taken people to three abandoned mental asylums and one abandoned resort as well as numerous other “haunted” places in the middle of the night to explore and experience a magic trick. These trips are unforgettable for them and having a focal moment where something exceptionally weird happens is an indelible mental hook. So I enjoy a good scary social magic presentation.

“When does the emotion of fear in the participant hinder or enhance the entertainment?” I’m not sure I can say when it enhances an effect. But it definitely can, and significantly. Here’s an experiment. Get the cheapest Haunted Deck you can find. Perform it for someone at your coffee table. Now perform it for someone else, as I have, in the dead of night, by flashlight, in one of the locations below (not my pictures, but actual places I’ve visited) and you will learn that fear can definitely enhance an effect.

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It’s one thing to find a word you thought of has been predicted on a piece of paper. It’s another thing to find something you thought of spray-painted in brown paint (that is brown paint, right?) on a crumbling wall.

I would say it hinders an effect when they can’t focus on the “impossible” element because they’re too focused on the scary element.

“Is that a personal persona choice?” Somewhat.

“Is that an audience understanding choice?” Yes.

This sort of goes back to Friday’s post. Do they know this is theater? Then anything is potentially fair game. Especially when they’ve indicated they’re open to scarier stuff. When someone says to me, “Yes, I’ll go explore an abandoned asylum with you,” I know that’s the type of person who’s on board with being freaked out.

If they don’t know it’s fiction, then you’re not doing magic. You may be fooling them, and you may be fooling them with magic techniques, but if they don’t know they’re seeing magic then you’re doing a prank or you’re a scam artist or something.

“Are there overarching limitations for humankind? If I could perform a routine in a certain setting that causes uncontrolled screaming at the end, should I?  With no disclaimer?  Is that going too far?”

Uncontrolled screams of fear? I think in my opinion that would be going too far. (Unless you had someone who asked you to try and scare them as much as possible.) Maybe a brief jump scare, but not an extended period where they were overwhelmed with genuine fear.

My performance philosophy involves allowing people to opt-in to the emotions as much or as little as they want. The only thing I really want to “force” on them is the impossibility and the mystery. I may choose to put that impossibility in a setting that is conducive to an emotion: a scary setting, a romantic setting, a joyful setting, a nostalgic setting. And then I may fill the trick and the setting with other emotional elements, as described in Magic For Young Lovers. But the setting and the elements are there for them to interpret and connect with in the way they choose. This is what creates a nuanced and interesting experience. Anything that 100% produces an extreme emotional reaction is almost by definition going to be somewhat basic and manipulative.


Re: The Watch by Joao Miranda

[I]t's a remote control watch. It's what every spectator suspects when you do Psychokinetic Time.

I really admire Joao Miranda's ability to get shit built, especially technologically complicated stuff, but at this point in particular it's like... I don't think this is a prop that exists for a good reason? If I ever use my own watch for PK time people figure it's remote controlled, and that's a shitty $30 timex that doesn't always get their predicted time right. 

That's why you use their watch, which also has the benefit of not costing you $450. —SM

It’s interesting…You would think now would be the point where we’d be phasing out tricks that involve predicting the time on your own watch. But instead there’s been an uptick in releases of that effect.

I understand that it’s much easier to release a magic product once similar products have gone through research and development for a much wider market, but isn’t the whole idea of using technology in magic that you want be ahead of the curve?

If I painted “Magic Box” on my refrigerator and performed a trick where a can of soda placed in the magic box would become cold “by the power of my mind” over the course of 90 minutes, everyone would say, “That’s a shitty trick,” because nearly everyone knows what a refrigerator is.

But at what point did that become a shitty trick? It was long before 100% of the population understood the technology. 50% is already way too high. 25% is too much. 10%? 5%? I don’t know where the line is. And I don’t know why no one even talks about it. It seems like it’s the most important question when dealing with technological magic. Instead all we talk about is whether the remote is too loud. (Yes, it’s too loud.)


This is a nerdy piece of magic but there’s something memorable about it and I just thought I’d share it with you. {…}

While my real-life stuff leans toward more believable magic, when it comes to having fun with a group of younger kids, at say a family party, I’ll bring some sponge balls with me. The thing that gets them excited about the (end of the) trick is that the balls keep multiplying and multiplying. So lately, when the effect hits a great kid particularly hard, I’ll slip the mom a sponge ball and tell them to pop it under their pillow when they’re asleep. 

These have been parents I know and I typically I get texts back the next morning about the reaction and a) apparently, it’s bananas and b) it’s gratifying. For both me and the parents - everyone’s in on the secret and the kid thinks you’re magic

I don’t perform a ton for kids, but I like it. If they’re bugging me to see a trick I’d say something like, “Look, I’ll show you a trick. But I have to be clear… I don’t know how to make it stop. Are you sure you want to see it?”

Then I would keep it going for years. Just keep finding ways to sneak sponge balls into their life as an ongoing trick (which would eventually turn into a joke, and then a form of torture). This is the sort of thing people love to help out with, so it would be easy to get other people in their life to join in. You could make it so their locker is filled with sponge balls in high school. Then there’s one sitting on their desk on the first day of a new job One is on their pillow on their honeymoon. During the sonogram of their first child, the doctor says, “This is nothing to be alarmed at, but there is a red, spongey mass,” and he shows them the sonogram and there’s a sponge ball on it. It’s not the sort of thing you would do for your neighbor’s cousin’s kid, but if there’s a special niece/nephew or grandkid or whatever in your life, it could be a fun, ongoing shared game. Then when you die, you plan it so the person in front of him/her in the procession line leading to your coffin drops a sponge ball on your corpse for them to find.

No, it’s not a “trick” at that point. It’s something better. It’s a potential life-long way to say, “I love you! I’m thinking of you!” to a special kid in your life.

Carbonaro and the Belief Paradox

I recently received an email with the subject line, Carbonaro. It read:

So why not more love for this guy? His TV schtick seems to embrace at least one of your core ideas: It's Not About Me.”— ML

Now, while I don’t regularly watch the Carbonaro Effect, every time I do watch it, I think, “Why don’t I regularly watch this?” I always enjoy it when I see it. I enjoy it on the primary level that everyone who watches it can appreciate. And I also enjoy it as a magician, seeing the way they’ve repurposed older effects to put them in new contexts.

As ML states in his email, there is a big overlap in the presentations on the Carbonaro Effect and the presentations I write about here in that they both shift the power away from the performer. But beyond that, I don’t think the Carbonaro Effect is a great model for social magic. The “magic as practical joke” style is really only something you can get away with once per spectator. It would fall flat if you tried to do it continually to people. Carbonaro’s style is somewhat predicated on playing different roles. He’s a shoe salesman. Or he works in a toy store. Or he’s your dad’s verbally abusive boyfriend (The Carbonaro Effect: A Very Special Episode, Season 3, Episode 19).

Whereas, in social magic you’re just you. The whole point is that you’re performing for people who know you.

And where Carbonaro generally doesn’t want the people he’s performing for to be thinking in terms of magic, in social magic you do, because that’s going to be your “in” to perform for them. Once they get to know you and they know you’re into magic—or at least generally into some mysterious or unusual things—then you don’t have to come up with a new entry point every time you want to show them something.

But the big difference is that Michael Carbonaro wants those people to think what they’re seeing is real, at least for the few minutes until it’s revealed it’s a prank. That’s the premise of the whole show.

And while it works great on that show, in a social magic situation, this actually leads to less powerful performances over time than them knowing it’s fake all along.

How can this be? How could knowing something was fake the whole time be ultimately more powerful than thinking it was real at least some of the time?

This is the Belief Paradox.

Let’s think about it. Let’s say I’m going to show you something impossible. I have three potential ways to play it.

  1. I show you something impossible and I want you to genuinely believe in the reality of that experience for the rest of your life.

  2. I show you something impossible and I get you to believe it’s real. Then at the end I reveal that it’s just a trick. This would be the Carbonaro style. You experience the situation as if it’s real, but then learn that it’s “just a trick,” or “just a joke.”

  3. I show you something impossible and—while there may be elements of the presentation that you’re not certain about as far as if they’re real or not—you know the experience as a whole is fiction.

Let’s take #1 off the table for the amateur magician. If you seriously want to live your real life with your friends, family, and co-workers, as if you have legitimate magic/mental powers you’re a fucking lunatic. Your self-worth is so ridiculously non-existent that you can’t even be yourself around the people you love. You need mental help.

So now let’s consider #2 and #3. In #2 I convince you that what you’re seeing is real. At the end I come clean, but for those few moments I had you genuinely convinced of something.

In #3, while it has the structure of a real-life interaction, you know from our history that this is a type of trick that we engage in for some period of time and play along together, but at no point am I expecting you to accept this as “reality.”

In the long-run, #3—where there is never any feeling of true 100% belief—is more powerful. Why? You would think something you believe, even for just a short while, would be stronger than something you don’t believe at all. But it’s not the case. That’s the paradox. Here’s why it works…

When someone successfully tricks you or plays a prank on you or scams you, they are generally toying with your emotions in some way. They want you to feel fear or joy or sadness based on something that isn’t true. When you find out it wasn’t real you say to yourself, “I felt those things because I thought the situation was real, but it wasn’t. So those feelings weren’t actually real.” You don’t have to live with those feelings because they were built on false pretenses. So the lasting feeling is just the feeling of being tricked.

If you believe something is real, and at the end I tell you it was fake, that pulls the rug out from under the entire experience. Both the things you believed and the things you felt. It’s all tainted as being fake.

However, if you’re taking part in something that no one is suggesting is anything other than fantasy and yet you still feel some fear, joy, or sorrow, those feelings are completely legitimate. They’re not based on your confusion about the reality of the situation. So they can’t be undermined.

If you watched something you thought was a documentary, and got very worked up by it, and then someone told you it was fake, you’d consider the way it made you feel as illegitimate. But when you watch a fictional film, you value the emotions it generates, even though the film itself is not “real.”

It works this way with the “magical” feeling as well. If you feel it in a situation that you think is real and later you learn isn’t, you tend to toss it away along with your belief in the situation. But if I can develop that magical or mysterious feeling in a situation you knew from the start was “fake,” then it become an enduring feeling. You can’t destroy it by saying, “Well, that wasn’t real.” Because the feeling developed from a situation you knew wasn’t real in the first place.

(I cover more of this difference between feeling and belief in this post, appropriately titled, Feeling and Belief.)

Seedling: Origami Card Wallet

I’m surprised I haven’t seen this before. It was just passed along to me recently by friend-of-the-site, JM Beckers, who found it on the French magic forum, Virtual Magie (run by Étienne Brooks).

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It’s a way to fold a packet trick holder/wallet from a piece of paper. (Unless you describe your favorite genre of music as “Screeching Awfulness,” I would turn the sound off.)

There are actually six different pockets in this. Two on the inside, two on the side, and two on the outside.

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I like it. And I think there’s probably something to be done with this beyond just a cheap way to carry your packet tricks around.

My initial idea is to carry around cards for Origami Poker by John Bannon. (I’ve always done it with 16 cards, not 12. Works the same.) But instead of forcing the royal flush, you force four or five random cards and then reveal you predicted them by unfolding the card holder and revealing the prediction

Now, in my opinion, that’s still sort of a “nothing” trick, but there is kind of a nice connection between the origami holder and the folding action of the cards in the trick. There’s a through-line there to pursue perhaps.

What I’ve done is fold a wallet from one of the prop Penthouse Forum magazine pages that came with The Jerx, Vol 1.

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I tell the spectator I had two big interests as a child, (“Well, really three,” I say, “but the third isn’t important now.”) My first interest was origami, and my second was magic. (“The third interest was 8-bit soft-core computer porn. It was the pre-internet days. If you squinted you’d get the general outline of a booby. But honestly, that’s not what this is about.”)

Then I talk about ways I combined my interests and show an example of an origami card holder I would make as a kid.

“I came up with another way of combining origami and magic. It’s something I called the Origami Shuffle because it was a way of mixing cards that was like folding paper. I’ll show you.”

I then go into the Origami Poker procedure (this is taught by John Bannon in multiple places, and by myself (with John’s permission) in The JAMM #2). At the end they slide out the five face-down cards into a row in front of them. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if after all that shuffling and mixing you had found a royal flush?”

They turn over the cards and after the first one or two, it’s clear it’s not a royal flush.

“Huh…well…origami was really my primary interest. Magic was a distant second. Actually… probably third when you throw in the computer porn. So…,”

I then act like I’m just noticing the values of the cards that were turned over.

“Wait a second. This is incredible. I think I’ve found a way to combine all three of my youthful passions.” I start unfolding the card holder. “In 1986, there was a strip poker game for the Commodore 64 featuring Samantha Fox, an English musician and model.” I show them the ad, but don’t draw attention to the cards at the bottom yet.

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“I made this holder from an old magazine advertisement for that game.” I hand the page to them. “After all that mixing you did, look what you found.” They either notice the cards in the ad or I point them out to them.

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It’s a pretty fun trick that’s relatively strong as well. I have the holder with the cards inside a pocket of my messenger bag ready to go.

“But I don’t have that page, so how can I do the trick?” You can’t. This is more intended as a brainstorming post, not a “go out and do this” post. (Although if you absolutely have to do this trick for some reason, I do have a few remaining copies of that magazine page and I’ll sell you one for…hmmm… $12.34. “That’s a lot for one single sheet of magazine paper.” You’re right. It might be a lot if I was trying to sell these. But I’m trying not to sell these (I’d rather just hang onto them, as now I have two tricks I use them for), I’m just trying to make them available for someone who feels they “have” to have one.

Let’s think of some other ways the idea of a prediction within the card holder can be used. I think the most fruitful path to pursue is to get away from thinking of playing cards. That makes the most sense too because playing cards are usually in a deck, not separated out. So having a special holder for playing cards isn’t the most natural thing.

It may make sense to work backwards and think of what the document is that’s been folded to make the little wallet and then decide what type of cards might be inside. For example, if the wallet was made of a map (on the inside) then you could have blank cards with directions or coordinates on them or something, and your force 4 or 5 cards would indicate one location, then when you unfold the wallet they see a map with that location circled.

Or you could have cards that have a squiggly line drawn from one edge of the card to another edge. Four of these are forced in the Origami Poker style. These four “random” squiggle cards are pieced together in a way where they form one continuous line. When the wallet is unfolded, that exact abstract shape has been predicted. Or the “abstract” shape isn’t as abstract as first imagined. Maybe it looks abstract, then when you unfold the wallet you reveal a travel poster for Iceland and you point out that the shape the spectator made is the outline of Iceland.

Or this, you have 16 cards which can be put together to form a piece of artwork. From my understanding, magicians are aware of only one piece of art, the Mona Lisa, so let’s use that as an example. You have a packet of cards that form the Mona Lisa. The cards are shuffled by you and the spectator and “folded” into one pile. All the face down pieces are removed and the puzzle is put together with just the 11 random face-up pieces. So there are 5 missing blocks. Then when the card holder is unfolded it reveals the Mona Lisa with the identical five chunks missing.

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You could also fold the wallet a little smaller and use it to hold a bunch of the small size Polaroid pictures. Your prediction could be a group photo of four or five people on normal printer paper which you make into the wallet. Then during a party you take individual shots of the people there and print them out on a Zip Printer. Then you do the trick with the photos. They “randomly” select a group of people and that exact group is in the group photo that wallet is made of. Then you refold everything, put the pictures back, and leave it all as a gift for the person you performed for.

Again, this is all just brainstorming. Even the Samantha Fox thing is something I’ve only performed twice. But the cleverness of the wallet and the “tidiness” of the wallet becoming the prediction are the sorts of things spectator’s seem to enjoy. So I think there are a lot of potential uses here. If you come up with something interesting, let me know.

Dustings of Woofle #5

After some deep soul searching, consultation with my pastor, as well as with my pastor’s pastor, I have decided to go back to publishing on a regular Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule, with the occasional non-magic post thrown in on Tuesday/Thursday. Doing shorter posts on no schedule sounded like it would be the ideal way to fit the writing of this site in around the other stuff, including performing, working on the next book, and other magic and non-magic projects. But the posts never got shorter, so it never became the sort of thing where I could say, “Oh, I’ll just write up something quick when I have a spare 45 minutes.”

So I think going back to a regular schedule will actually be easier for me. But I’m free to change my mind at any point and mix it up because I can do whatever I want. I’m the straw that stirs the drink, baby!

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I have not read (or even heard of, until recently) the book, Experiencing the Impossible: The Science of Magic. So I can’t say for sure if it’s any good. But I will say the author does have a keen sense of beautiful writing. From page 224…

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Okay, Andy, but “beautiful” doesn’t narrow down which post he’s talking about. Your beautiful writing is your calling card.

True, true. The specific post he was referencing was this one.


Magical Transformations Pt. 2

The evolution of the back of the Squishers deck.

  1. The initial drawing to show the general layout.

  2. Stasia’s sketch based on that drawing and the original Squeezers back.

  3. My adjustment to the initial image. I wanted the bottom cat to be more facing up, towards the sky, than out, towards the viewer. But I don'’t have the artistic skills to express that, so I took a toy army man and used him instead.

  4. The final product.


Here’s a free tool to create traditional style branching anagrams.

For example, let’s say you wanted to do a trick where someone could think of a word related to me, the author of this site. You would just input the most obvious words, separated by a comma:

Jerx, Andy, blog, magic, genius, beautiful, writing, well-endowed

And it would spit out this…

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And then you’re able to test the anagram or save it.

I have found some benefit in just building out the anagram yourself, manually, and I would probably recommend that if you have something specific you want to do . But this is definitely much simpler and will give you the opportunity to iterate much faster and try out different word groupings.

There’s also probably an effect based in the fact that you can create an anagram at an instant. For example you could have someone text you a list of words, and almost immediately you could call them and read their mind over the phone. It’s not a great idea, but it might be the beginning of a decent one.

Spectacles, Testicles, Wallet, and Watch

A couple months ago I was watching this outstanding cover of Rage Against the Machine’s, Bulls on Parade by Denzel Curry.

At around 2:25 in the video, right when he’s just about to drop a verse from his song Sirens over the guitar solo, it looked to me like he gave himself the sign of the cross. Looking at it now, I’m not sure that’s what he was doing. He really only touches his forehead and chest. But it doesn’t really matter either way. It just matters what I thought he was doing.

So, in my head, he was giving himself the sign of the cross before launching into that rapid-fire verse. Which made some sense. It’s not unusual to see someone do that before anything they might find challenging, like engaging in a UFC fight or walking the runway for Victoria’s Secret.

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So I thought, “Hey, maybe I’ll start doing the sign of the cross before a magic trick.” (That’s not what I ended up doing, but it was my original thought.) I thought it might pique someone’s interest. Think of it, even with the most absurd trick. Like a plastic Tenyo effect. If you were a spectator and someone showed you that trick, you might enjoy it or not or whatever. But what if, before the magician showed it to you, you saw her casually give herself the sign of the cross in your peripheral vision. Wouldn’t that give you pause? Wouldn’t you at least think, “I wonder what that was all about?”

Now, imagine it’s done before some intense mind reading effect. You see the magician give himself the sign of the cross. Is he doing that because what he’s about to try is really hard? Is he doing that because it’s scary to him? Is he doing it because he’s calling on a higher power to help him out? Or is it just a meaningless habit?

Who knows, I just think it’s a potentially interesting moment that adds a small element to what’s about to occur. If your audience saw you do the sign of the cross before a Magic Square routine (especially if they felt like they “caught” you doing it, not that you were doing it for them to see), I think people would interpret that as a sign that you’re about to do something you’re not overly confident in. And toning down your confidence is a sure-fire way to increase tension and interest.

I couldn’t really start doing this though, because I’m not known among my friends to be a religious person. It wouldn’t make sense.

So I decided to try something similar. Before a trick I would turn away slightly and tap out an X on the back of my hand. And I did it consistently for about six weeks with almost all tricks (unless it was a trick where I was claiming to be in no way responsible for what was going to happen).

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I didn’t draw any attention to it, but I would notice people noticing me do it. Only one person commented on it the first time they saw, but a handful of people who saw more than one trick over that time mentioned it to me.

“What were you doing with your hand?” they’d ask.

“Huh?”

“Did you tap something on your hand? I saw you do that another time as well.”

“Uhm, it’s just… nothing. Nervous tic.”

Now, going forward, when I perform for them, I try and hide this gesture from them. I mean, not really. But I try to make it seem like I’m hiding the gesture. A couple people have “caught” me doing it and called me out. What are they thinking? I’m not sure. This isn’t the sort of thing I can ask them about without breaking the fiction and ending the “game” we’re playing.

I assume they’re thinking, “Is he screwing with me? Probably… right?” But the fact that I’m not openly mentioning it to them will, I think, cause them to at least consider that there’s maybe something going on there. Not necessarily some genuinely “mystical” hand gesture, but maybe something that helps me focus or calms my nerves? Yes, that seems to make sense. Surely it’s not some actual ritualistic behavior that means anything, right?

It doesn’t have to be the tapping. Maybe it’s a necklace you pull out from under your shirt and rub a small medallion which hangs from it before a trick. Maybe it’s something you hum to yourself. Any type of ritualistic gesture or action could capture their attention.

What’s the point of all this? I’ve written in the past about the concept of Smearing (here and here, for example). These are techniques used to extend the presentation past the boundaries of the trick itself and to tie multiple tricks together over time. In my experience, they help keep your long-term audiences a little more engaged. These sorts of things give them something more to chew on than they get with a series of completely disconnected tricks.

April By the Numbers

In April I performed 92 tricks for 72 different audiences. (“Audience” = a person or group of people.)

  • 60 audiences saw 1 trick.

  • 8 audiences saw two tricks (6 audiences saw two tricks in one setting, the other 2 audiences saw two tricks on different occasions).

  • 4 audiences saw four tricks (over the course of the month).

55 of the 72 audiences were friends, relatives, acquaintances. 17 of the audiences were strangers.

The average audience size was 1.7 people. 77% of my performances were for one person. The largest group of people I performed for was 12.

80 of the 92 tricks were planned. 12 were done impromptu.

52 performances were of a trick or presentation of my own devising. 19 were tricks I was trying out in order to potentially review for the X-Comm newsletter. 21 were other people’s effects that are in my regular repertoire.

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One of the most time-consuming parts of doing this site the way I want to is finding people to perform tricks for without burning those people out on tricks. If I’m dating someone or working on a short-term project with people, they may end up seeing tricks more frequently. But generally I try to not show people more than one trick a month, on average. That’s still 12 tricks a year. That’s still a lot, I think. And—while I don’t track this closely—I try to make sure that at least a third of the time we hang out there is no magic involved (unless they specifically request it).

So, imagine that, you’re in a position where you want to perform a trick, on average about three times a day. But you don’t want to perform for the same person more than once a month. And you don’t have regular co-workers you can perform for. It’s forced me to become a little social-butterfly. My social circle has probably grown by a factor of ten since starting the site. It takes a lot to be a professional amateur magician.

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My most performed trick last month was performed nine times. It’s called The Wuzzles and it will appear in the next book (although probably under a different name). It’s a strange one. I had the original idea about two years ago and was just going to throw it on this site as kind of a jokey method for a 50/50 prediction trick. But it got a much stronger reaction than I anticipated. The presentation grew since then. It takes about 5-10 minutes to perform, depending on how you go about it, and it evolved into something I thought was impossible: a truly engrossing and baffling single 50/50 prediction. One that sticks with people. There are certainly a number of tricks in the next book that are much more overwhelmingly powerful than this one; but this one really seems to eat away at people for a long time. And it’s got an interesting method. It essentially uses exposure in order to fool people.

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I visited 18 different cafes (42 visits total) and spent $320 on coffees for myself and others in April. That’s almost $4000 a year in coffee costs. And I don’t even really like coffee. But a cafe is an ideal place to perform (for my purposes). Obviously it’s a great place to meet people you know for a quick hang-out. But it’s also one of the most ideal places to show something to strangers. People are seated, there are tables, it’s not super loud, and many people are there alone. Contrast that to a bar where people are often standing around with a group and music may be blaring. I’ve certainly shown magic to people in bars on occasion, but very rarely anything long-form they can get truly engrossed in.

At a cafe it feels completely socially acceptable—at least in the US—to turn to the person next to you (assuming they’re not absorbed in something else) and start up a conversation with them. It’s relatively normal. At least more so than bothering someone at the library or trying to flag someone down in a mall. And, of course, in a coffee shop it’s perfectly natural to have books, food/drink, silverware, napkins, sugar packets, money, loyalty cards, computers, games, playing cards, etc.

So the $4000 annual coffee shop budget may seem exorbitant, but it’s also kind of a necessity for what I’m trying to do. I think of it as renting office space.

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You might think, “Can’t you just sit at home and come up with ideas? Can’t you just imagine how these things will play out?” No. I can’t. Maybe someone can, at least with a different style of magic. But with the social style of tricks, I just see no way of getting an accurate read on this sort of thing without actually performing them. I don’t really believe in magic theory. I believe in testing things out and getting results and talking to the audience and getting feedback. That doesn’t seem like “theory” to me, that seems like “magic science.”

The need for testing is magnified when it comes to “trick-adjacent” ideas. I’ll have an idea for a little “extra presentational” bit and I’ll have no clue how people might react. I may think it’s going to be very clever and then use it in five performances and not a single person will notice or comment on it. Or it may be something that they end up latching onto more than the trick itself. It’s impossible to know.

In an upcoming post, I’ll talk about one of these ideas that I included in many of my April performances. It’s a nearly imperceptible bit of theater you can add to many tricks that seemed to intrigue a number of the people who saw it last month.

The Non-Binary Binary Prediction Principle

This is a variation on a Karl Fulves prediction idea that came to me from reader, Leo Reed. It’s not the sort of thing that you can base a whole trick around, at least not in my opinion, but it’s something that can be an interesting added element to a routine in a few different ways.

Gender Is Fluid

Here is the principle in its most basic incarnation. You would never do this as a trick by itself, but just to understand the concept, here’s what it might look like.

There is an envelope on the table. You tell the person it’s a drawing of a sign on a public restroom door.

“Do you think it’s a men’s room or a women’s room?”

They answer. You cut open the envelope and remove the paper from the envelope and they were correct.

Method

This is the prediction inside the envelope.

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The prediction should be in an envelope of approximately the same size. Depending on their response, you will cut open the envelope to reveal the prediction and, in the process, cut off the incorrect part of the prediction.

So depending on where you cut you will have one of these options.

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You don’t want to use a 3X5 card or something like that for the prediction. If you do, it will seem incomplete when they see it afterwards, because it’s not the dimensions they’re used to. Instead you want something that feels longer than you’d expect. So once you cut off the incorrect part, the remaining piece seems to be of normal dimensions.

Simple, and as I said, probably not that great in isolation.

Here are some uses of the principle that might be a little more interesting.

Gender Reveal

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You could predict the gender of someone’s unborn baby. Have the prediction set up so it says, “It’s a boy!” at the top and “It’s a girl!” at the bottom. Same stick figure drawing.

The “when” and “where” of introducing the envelope and then opening it are going to depend on your relationship with the parents and when they end up learning the sex of the baby themselves.

Ideally you’d want them to have the envelope in their possession before even they know the gender of the baby. They don’t know what it is. It’s just some mysterious envelope you had them sign and told them not to open. Then after they learn what it is you come over again and open the envelope to reveal you knew all along.

It may be hard to orchestrate that all in reality. But it’s an interesting idea.

Pendulum Proof

I’ve seen pendulum routines where a pendulum will go back and forth over a male’s image and in a circle over a female’s image.

“Skeptics will say you’re moving it yourself somehow without even knowing it. That’s nonsense, of course. Ideomotor effect? More like, idiot motor effect! Take that James Randi! Anyway, I can prove it’s real. I have a simple stick figure drawing of a man or woman inside this envelope. I don’t even know what it is myself. I sealed one man drawing and one woman drawing in an envelope before I left home, mixed them up randomly, and took just one with me. So I don’t know what it is and you don’t know what it is. I don’t want you to try and guess what it is. Just hold the pendulum and let it tell us what it is.”

Celebrity Paraphilic Infantilism Gag

I have a friend who does magic professionally who is using this in the following way. He tells people he has been learning to draw caricatures of celebrities. It’s his true passion and he hopes to one day drop magic altogether, but until then he has an effect that combines the two. He brings out a notepad and a sealed envelope. The first half of the notebook has different male celebrity names on each page, the second half has different female celebrity names on each page. He has one person open the notebook to a male name and another person open the notebook to a female name.“Inside that envelope is only one sketch of a celebrity. There are 100 celebrities in that notebook. You are each thinking of one random celebrity. We’ve narrowed 100 down to two. Now we need to select one winner from those two. How should we do it?”

This is the fun part. He lets them decided how to pick the winning celebrity (or winning spectator depending on how you want to frame it). Maybe they flip a coin. Maybe they play rock paper scissors. Maybe they arm wrestle. Maybe they have a 30 second verbal debate and a third-party at the table is the judge. Maybe they see who can throw an olive the furthest. It can be anything. And it’s not like you could have made an educated guess as far as which person would win because you let them decide the nature of the competition.

So now you know who won, and you also know if that means you need to remove the male or female version of the image.

Your prediction is set up like this.

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If you need to reveal the guy drawing, you cut off the bottom of envelope/prediction and pull the sketch down and most of the way out of the envelope to reveal the stick-man, but not the name yet.

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“There he is,” you say. “It’s a pretty good likeness, I think. I’m proud of it.” This is like the “baby gag” in magic, and was in Leo Reed’s original write up of the principle to me. You milk that for what it’s worth, then you say, “You don’t think it’s accurate? Did I not get it right? Who did you pick?” They name their celebrity and you pull the picture out the rest of the way and show the name. “That’s exactly who I thought. How could you not see that? Maybe the chin isn’t completely right, but it’s pretty close.”

If you need to reveal the girl image, you cut off the top of the envelope/prediction and pull the sketch up and out of the envelope to the “waist” of the image. “What do you think, does that look like your celebrity?” You go back and forth on this for a bit. You ask them to name the celebrity for the first time “for the people who live under a rock and can’t recognize my drawing.” They say, Natalie Portman. You then pull up more and reveal the stick figure is in a dress, “proving 100% I knew exactly who would be chosen. Famous dress-wearer, Natalie Portman.” They’re of course thinking this is just more of a gag because you had a 50/50 chance of it being a woman. You then pull the prediction out all the way to reveal the name.

This, I think, with the gags and stuff, is not the sort of thing I would do for friends. But I do like that part where they decide how winner will be decided between the two celebrities. That feels like it could lead to some genuinely spontaneous moments.

The method is, of course, one Svenpad®️ (or similar) with men’s names in the top half and women’s in the bottom, or you may prefer to use two separate pads.

Picklepants

“Whenever my niece stays with me, she tells me a bedtime story. I said that right. I don’t tell her one. She tells me one. Each one is about some royal family living in some mystical land somewhere, but they’re totally fucking insane. They all have these crazy names and get involved in totally messed up shit. Last week it was something like King Queefingham is building giant robot dogs to devour the moon or something. She has a crazy imagination. I keep a list of the characters she’s created in my phone. They’re strangely evocative and I’ve found out something weird that seems to work much more often than it should.”

You ask your spectator to name a number between 1 and 100.

You open your phone and go to your list of character names and have them read off some of the names they see there. King Sparkles. Shadow Charm. The Caramel Star Twins.

Next to the chosen number 78 is Picklepants.

“Picklepants. That was a good story if I remember correctly.”

You draw their attention to an envelope that’s been on the table the whole time. “I asked my niece to draw one of her favorite characters for me to show you guys tonight. One that she thought you’d be drawn to in some way. I have no idea what she drew yet. Let’s check…, oh wait. In the Picklepants story there was a king and his daughter, the princess. Do you think it’s the king or the princess?”

They say the princess.

You open the envelope and slide out the picture. It’s a crayon drawing of a stick figure in a dress with a crown.

“Yup, that’s her. Princess Picklepants. That’s crazy.”

They’re not convinced so you turn over the paper and there it says, “Princess Picklepants.”

The basic idea for this came out of Leo Reed’s email to me. I’ve expanded the story and tweaked the methodology and the nature of the prediction.

This uses the Digital Force Bag app, of course any other way to force “Picklepants” would work just as well. Cards with names on them, a forcing notepad, an actual force bag. In my opinion the phone makes the most sense.

The prediction paper is set up like this. This is on the front side.

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Then turn over the paper end for end so the head is at the bottom of the page and write this.

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If your spectator says it’s the princess you’ll refer to the character as Princess Picklepants. You’re not cutting off any of the image, just the words “the king” on the back.

if she says it’s the king you say, “Ah yes, Picklepants the King. An unforgettable character.” And when you cut open the envelope you’ll be removing the word “princess” as well as the bottom of the dress and legs from the image.

Combining a small, obviously free choice with a force is something I wrote about in Magic For Young Lovers. It’s very powerful. They can’t just say “the phone (or the notepad or whatever) was gimmicked” because that free choice somewhat lessens the importance of the force procedure. And the fact that the name of the character is written so large in a way that is apparently unalterable makes this a nice combination of methods.

There you have it. Thanks to Leo Reed for sharing the idea of turning a skirt into legs, and to Karl Fulves for starting us along this path with his trick, “How to Predict the Super Bowl” in his Big Book of Magic Tricks. If you’re interested in that you can find out more in a post I wrote three years ago about some modifications to his prediction system.