My #1 Tip for Amateur Mentalism

As the world’s only professional amateur magician, I am also the only professional amateur mentalist. So while no one thinks of me as an authority on mentalism, I have performed a lot of it. And today I want to present what I think is the key to the most compelling amateur mentalism (regardless of what the actual effect may be).

You see, the problem is, many of the role-models in mentalism aren’t great entertainers. They’ll ask you to think about a time of day, they’ll furrow their brow, then they’ll write something on a pad, then they’ll ask you what time you were thinking of, then they’ll turn the pad around. Literally that’s all the thought they’ve put into presentation. And these are people with multi-volume L&L DVD sets.

In a way, the professional mentalist has it easy. If you roll into town and put on your mentalism show and successfully name what animal someone is thinking of, the spectator has to consider a few options. 1. It was a trick. 2. You really did it using some kind of supernatural abilities.  3. You really did it using your intelligence and powers of perception in a way that mimics psychic power.

This triune view in regards to the nature of the performance is baked into mentalism. You can deepen the mystery by being a competent performer, but even a moron with an invisible deck will have people weighing the options. 

But when an amateur performs a feat of mentalism for friends or family, the audience knows you can’t read minds, and they probably know you’re not so off-the-charts brilliant that you can use your vast intelligence to simulate mind-reading. So they don’t have to consider those possibilities. It just becomes a question of figuring out how you did it (rather than the more intriguing question of what was the nature of what just happened). In other words, they don’t have a lot to chew over in their mind other than what the method might be, which is generally not what we want our spectators to be ruminating on after we leave them.

So, does that mean all amateur mentalism is destined to just be a puzzle? No. I have the solution. 

The solution is to add more process to your mentalism. 

Think of last week’s post about naming the color of your spectator’s prom dress. 

If they write down “blue” and then you look at them for a moment and say, “Blue,” and raise an eyebrow like you’re Max Maven, they have two options. They can reassess everything they know about you and your mind powers or they can think “How did he see what I wrote?” And they’re going to do the latter.

For the amateur mentalist, mind-reading can’t come too easy. 

Let’s say you have them write down the color of their prom dress. Then you tell them that with enough other sensory stimuli you can sometimes pick up on details someone is just thinking of. Then you ask them if they remember a song they slow-danced to at their prom. Maybe they do or maybe you check out the music charts from the year they graduated and make an educated guess of a song that might have played. You ask how tall her date was and maybe you crouch a little or stand on your tip-toes to re-enact the height difference. You start to slow dance. After a couple moments you ask her if she thinks you two are moving about the same number of rotations-per-minute as she and her date were all those years ago. She says it was maybe a little slower. You ask her to really concentrate on being back in that moment, dancing, the song, and specifically the color of her dress. 

You look down at her and blink a little as if something is coming into focus. You let go and take a step back. Squint a little. “It’s uhm… it’s a blue dress. I mean… it was a blue dress, right?”

Here’s what happens with this style of amateur presentation.

The best case scenario is that you’ve given them more to consider about the nature of what just happened. Yes, they know you’re not someone who can just look into someone’s eyes and read their mind. But maybe you are someone who can—in a controlled setting with a lot of other sensory clues—pick up on someone’s thoughts (or read some physical clues that give you some insight or whatever).

That’s the best case scenario. That something that was “just a trick” becomes something less easily categorized and more resonant for the spectator. It happens more often that you might think.

But the thing is, even if that best case scenario doesn’t hit, even if they still see it as a “trick,” the experience of the trick is exceedingly more fun and engaging than you rubbing your temples and going, “It was blue!” 

Even if they know it’s all fiction, this fiction:

“I can read your mind by concentrating.”

Is significantly less interesting than this fiction:

“If we go on a little nostalgia trip and set up some things in the present day to put your mind back a couple decades, I can sometimes pluck a small detail from your memory.”

That is, of course, just one example. I’ve come up with a million of these little pre-effect encounters. They’re not hard to create. (I’m sure more will be on this site or in some future release.)

Coming up with an engaging procedure or technique or ritual that leads into the mentalism is a no-lose situation. At the very least it will make the effect more interesting. And ideally it will also make the whole experience a little more enigmatic and intriguing.

[While I haven’t done the prom dress trick above, a very similar effect is a staple of my impromptu repertoire. I ask my friend to think of a dance she went to as a teenager and remember a song she danced to. I have her dance with me to the song in her head. After a few seconds I stop her and say, “No, really do it for real. Really hear the song in your mind.” We start dancing again. This may be a slow dance or she may be swinging my arms around like a maniac. Either way is fun. I tell her I think I may know what it is. Maybe I’m way off. If I am, that will be funny. But I actually have a pretty good idea of what it might be. There was something very evocative in the energy she projected when we were dancing (or whatever). I borrow her phone and bring up a song on youtube and hand the phone back to her. I ask her what the song was. I tell her to raise the volume on her phone and she finds the song she named is the one I was playing on her phone. This is my presentation for Marc Kerstein’s Earworm. And it’s pretty fucking delightful.]

This Isn't Working Like You Think It Is

I had a friend, Jeremy, staying with me this weekend. Many years ago, Jeremy was a part of the group of guys with whom I started the focus group testing of magic effects in NYC. In the early days of that testing, before this site existed, we would often test something, get what we thought was a clear answer about an issue, and then kind of forget about it. What I mean is, the testing started as a hobby for us, and another excuse to perform while hopefully getting some insight into things that you wouldn’t get in a traditional performing situation (that is, a performing situation with a friendlier crowd). So we weren’t taking a bunch of notes and keeping a lot of records. We were just performing or showing people clips and encouraging them to be as critical as possible to see what sorts of things were consistently getting busted.

Because we weren’t doing it for posterity, a lot of the specifics of the things we tested have been lost to time. But usually when I meet up with one of the guys, I’m reminded of somethings we tried back in the day. And this weekend, Jeremy reminded me of some of the things we looked at that magicians do frequently that fool nobody.

Half-Assed Card to Pocket

If you palm a card off the deck and then pull it out of your pocket and you think anyone watching thinks you’ve done anything other than take a card from the deck with your hand and shove it in your pocket, you’re deluding yourself.

CTP.gif

This was one of the most clear-cut things we ever tested, with a near unanimity of people fully understanding that the card was in the magician’s hand before it went into the pocket. Why we would expect people to think otherwise is honestly a little strange.

There may still be an effect there. They may wonder how you got it from where it was in the center of the deck (or so they assume) into a position to be removed from the deck. But beyond that there’s no question in regards to what’s going on.

I’m not saying Card to Pocket is inherently a bad trick. I’m just saying that if the audience doesn’t see an empty hand going into a pocket, they will naturally assume you’re placing something in there rather than removing something that was already there. Showing an empty hand is the first thing you would do if you wanted to show people how you can make an object teleport to your pocket. Laypeople understand this.

Fortunately, there are Card to Pocket routines that take this into account. But there are still a ton of magicians who are doing a very basic palm and removal sort of thing and not fooling anybody.

Pulling Coins from your Elbow or Behind Your Knee

This just seems lazy. And it looks like exactly what is going on, that is, that you’re pretending to take a coin out from behind your elbow. I get it, you have to get the coin back in play during the course of your one-coin routine, but why emphasize the face that it was really just hidden in your hand by pulling it from somewhere like your elbow? Wouldn’t it make more sense to pull it from your mouth or under your collar or your butt-crack or shake it out of your shoe or something?

Jeremy reminded me that we once tested a simple coin vanish and appearance (or vice-versa) and compared it to a minute-long one coin routine with multiple vanishes and appearances. We had the people rate the effects based on how entertaining and how amazing they found them (we may not have used those exact words, but that was the general gist). The short routine was not only more entertaining but it destroyed the longer routine as far as “amazement” goes.

Since that time, I always pay attention to the audience during a one-coin routine. They’re frequently pretty zoned out.

I think often the thought process of magicians is, “I’m just going to overwhelm them with so many different moments of magic.” But I’m not even sure that’s possible. It seems to me that for a moment of magic to hit there needs to be some space to breathe. Too many moments together just kind of blur into nothingness.

Switching Small Objects Under Larger Objects

Sometimes you’ll see something like this: The magician is holding a pad of paper. The spectator chooses a card and hands it to the magician. The card is taken under the pad in the process of putting the pad into the other hand, and in that action the card is switched. Or a bill is borrowed, folded into quarters, and in the process of shuttling the wallet from hand to hand, the bill is placed under the wallet and switched for a gimmicked bill.

This is another technique that was widely called out by laypeople in our testing. Understandably so, I think. I believe the technique can work when properly choreographed and done on an offbeat, but that’s hardly ever how it’s done. Usually someone is switching an object that has just been made the focus of attention with no proper justification for why they’re moving the objects around between their hands like they are. If you take something of importance and then even momentarily hide it behind something else, it’s going to create suspicion. So if you’re going to use this type of switch I would say you need to make sure your justification and choreography are really well though out.

This Type of Coins Across

Coins.gif

This is a similar situation to the card to pocket mentioned above. The spectator may not know the exact details of how everything got into place, but they certainly know you’re just dropping a coin from your right hand into the spectator’s palms under the cover of pulling their thumb.

If you watch this Coins Across on youtube, you’ll see the first coin to go across gets a polite chuckle from the main participant. The second coin gets zero reaction from anyone. They don’t even blink.

You might think it’s a dead audience, but then the third coin to go (which uses a different method) gets a good response.

You could argue that the first two coins are meant to be a set-up for the final coin. Okay, that’s fine, but why use this structure:

Phase 1 - Nothing moment
Phase 2 - Nothing moment
Phase 3 - Magic moment

When you could use this structure:

Phase 1 - Magic moment
Phase 2 - Magic moment
Phase 3 - Stronger magic moment

(In the autumn issue of X-Communication I will explain the impromptu coins across that I’ve been using for a long time that follows this structure. There’s nothing revolutionary about the handling but it’s got a really nice build to it which is sometimes lacking in coins across.)

The participants in our focus group would say, “He just dropped the coin from his hand.” And when we’d say, “Yes, but how did it get to that hand?” they would just kind of dismiss that question as if it was unimportant. They had figured out the ending of that moment, so the middle didn’t matter. If Ammar had just opened his right hand to reveal the coin (in other words, if he had made the middle of that moment the end), they would have been left with something they didn’t understand. But by going the extra step of “making it appear in the spectator’s hand” they felt like they had figured it out.

(Another trick with almost an identical issue is coins to glass where the magician holds the glass from above like a mutant and then the audience is supposed to be surprised when something appears in the glass. They’re not.)

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 7.50.19 PM.jpg

By the way, in November, when book number two is complete and at the printers, I’ll be back in NYC conducting another day or two of testing. I’m not sure what the focus is going to be right now, but if you have something in mind, let me know. Just make sure it’s something that’s simple and quantifiable.

Gardyloo #73

I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback on my posts on the “Five Causes” from this week and last week. While I appreciate hearing when people find something I’ve written to be valuable, when I get too much positive feedback my mind starts to think, “Time to write something really stupid.”


This is weird.

So, as you know, I’m a huge fan of erotic fiction. It combines my two greatest loves: masturbating and bad writing.

I was reading an ebook the other day about an erotic detective. He was investigating the murderer of a wealthy business tycoon. The murderer had shot his wad all over the victim’s face after he died. (They know it was post-mortem because there was no semen in the lungs.) But the investigation was complicated because the victim’s lover had also shot his wad on the man’s lower back earlier that evening.

There were two suspects who were paraded pants-less in front of the detective. One was 7 feet tall, the other was a little person. Their bodies were completely different, especially in the genital area. One was the victim’s lover, the other his killer. But nobody knew which suspect was which. The detective knew if he could match up the suspects to the “deposits” they left on the man’s body, he would know who was who. And without even looking at the evidence, the detective just reached back and felt the two puddles of ejaculate and was able to identify the killer.

The detective’s apprentice begged the detective to tell him how he did it. The detective said that due to the size difference in the suspect’s testicles, he just needed to compare the volume of the semen puddles to know which person had left which deposit. “Don’t fret, should you ever face a similar situation in the future, my dear boy. It’s elementary. Due to the unavoidable size difference in the balls, you’ll be able to distinguish the two wads without looking.”

I was really blown away by this beautiful prose, but something felt very… familiar about it.

I rushed to my magic library and began flipping through pages and pages of books and magazines.

Days later I had found it. In a trick called Paper Balls in MAGIC Magazine.

Screen Shot 2018-09-12 at 7.09.07 PM.png

There it was. In the method description as written by MAGIC Magazine trick editor, Joshua Jay…

Screen Shot 2018-09-12 at 7.10.10 PM.png

There it was! Someone was ripping off Joshua Jay’s trick descriptions and using his words to create erotic fiction!

Here’s where it gets really strange.

I looked up the author of the ebook, Professor Harry Dingus (probably a pseudonym, I assumed), and here is the picture that came up.

joshua_0182.jpg

Look… I’m not seeing things, am I? That’s Joshua Jay, right?

Can you believe he’s recycling his old magic write-ups to get sickos like me off with his erotic ebooks? That’s some crazy shit.


Reader, D.C. sent me a bunch of screenshots of some guy flipping out in the Digital Force Bag facebook group because they announced they won’t be providing future updates for the Android app. The subject of the email was, “Can I do it with dominoes?” Which is a quote from something I said once: “Honestly, just get an iPhone if you're a magician. It makes things so much easier. iPhone is the phone of magic. Saying, "Can I do it on Android?" is like watching a card trick and saying, "Can I do it with dominoes?”

That’s kind of flippant, I know. And I meant it more as a joke than a proper analogy. But seriously, just get an iPhone. I mean, if your priority is doing magic with your phone, get an iPhone. If your priority is to make a statement about what brand or operating system you use, or you need an Android for some other purpose, I understand, but you can’t get worked up if you get left behind on the magic app scene.

Yes, there will be a learning curve if you switch over. But it’s the same sort of learning curve you face going from Apple to Android. All the phones are pretty easy to use these days, it just takes a couple days to reorient yourself to the operating system.

But Android is 85% of the marketplace and I shouldn’t have to get a new phone and I’ll never buy an Apple product and people who like that company are a cult and-

Ah-buh-buh-buh-buh… stop it, sweetie. Calm down. This is no way to go through life, getting worked up about this stuff. Yes, Android owns a large part of the phone market. But they don’t own such a large part of the “expensive app” market (and magic apps tend to be relatively expensive due to the narrow group of the population they’re aimed at). Use your brain. I can’t say I understand all the nuances of this, but I can assume app developers aren’t avoiding making Android apps because they hate money. They’re doing so because there are, apparently, factors that make it not cost effective. Being a pain in the ass about it is probably not going to help get more apps for Android.

Frankly, I’d rather peel my dick like a banana than be a magic app creator. Having to deal with people complaining about why the app isn’t 99 cents and why isn’t it available for every OS and why haven’t you anticipated every potential way someone might want to use it. And then you have to keep up with the technological changes and updates to the OS to keep it working. I appreciate that anyone even bothers with it, because it seems… not fun.


But here’s something that is fun. Take your DFB app and make a list called Sex Location Wishlist. And fill it with the most exotic locations you can come up with: On the side of the pyramids in Egypt, On the moon, On top of the Empire State Building.

Now you’re out with your friend at Arby’s, enjoying a large Jamocha Shake. You mention the list you’re creating of places you want to make love before you die. You have her name a number as your next target location. You go to the list and she scrolls down to her number, past entries like, “In zero gravity,” “On top of the Great Wall of China,” “On the 50-yard line during the Super Bowl.”

She gets to her number and it says, “In a booth at Arby’s.”

“Well, no time like the present,” you say, unzipping your pants.

The Five Causes: Prom Dress Edition

Last week, in the post, “Causes and Effect,” I said: “I'll expand on this idea in a post next week where I'll look at one effect through the lens of the five different causes.”

Well, as the passage of time dictates, “next week” is now “this week.” So let’s do this.

The effect we’re going to look at is the revelation of the color of your spectator’s prom dress.

Let’s say the method for the effect is an impression pad or a peek.

“But Andy, how do I justify asking them to write down the color of their prom dress?”

You don’t. You say, “Do you remember the color of your prom dress? Or some other memorable dress you wore for some special occasion? Let’s try something. Write it down on that pad, then take that sheet and fold it and put it in your pocket. We’ll get back to it later.”

No justification is needed because they don’t know what you’re going to do. If you say, “I’m going to read your mind. Write down the color of your prom dress.” Then the question becomes “Why do I need to write it down?” But here they don’t know to question it because they don’t know what’s going to happen. If after reading their mind they say, “Why did you have me write it down?” Then you can use your justifications. (“It cements it in your mind.” “So I’d have proof I got it right and you weren’t just being nice.” (A better thing to say than, “So you wouldn’t lie and say I got it wrong to make me look bad.”))

Okay. So you know the color of the dress she wore. Now let’s plug that into the five causes.

No Cause

“I have a little stick here with six gemstones on it. Is the color of your dress represented by one of these stones? Great. Now I just snap my finger and all the stones become the color of your dress.”

Snapping fingers = No Cause

Now, “No Cause” doesn’t necessarily mean bad. This would be a fine trick as it is. (Although it would require you to have a secret bandoleer of Hot Rods that you have access to.) The problem with “No Cause” effects is that there is nothing beyond the effect itself to really connect with a spectator.

No Cause effects are like a one-night-stand: fun, but not meaningful, and often forgettable.

Lip-Service Cause

Type One - Non-Sequitur Cause and Effect

[Unwrapping a candy cane.] “When I smell mint I can tell people what color their prom dress was.”

This is just nonsense, and will be ignored as such.

Type Two - Unfulfilled Cause and Effect

[Said to someone you just met.] “I think you and I have a strong connection. And because of that, I believe I can guess what color dress you wore to your prom.”

This is “unfulfilled,” because you’re saying the cause is your “strong connection.” But you’ve done nothing that would imply you established that connection or suggest why you and the other person might have such a connection (are you from the same town? do you like the same movies? were you born on the same day?). “We have a strong connection,” is meaningless without establishing or justifying that connection.

Believable Cause and Effect

  1. Pseudo-Psycho Analysis - “Well, I know you like to stand out in a crowd, so I don’t think you’d wear black. But I also know you like to stand-out because of your personality more-so than just how you physically present yourself. So I don’t think you’d wear anything outlandish. So…hmmm… I think it would be a bright color, but not too flashy. There was probably something unusual about the dress. Maybe it was vintage? I’m not sure. Okay…I’m going to commit myself. I think it was a yellow dress.

  2. Pseudo-Face Reading (I don’t know what you’d call it.. micro-expressions, micro-movements?) - “I want you to say the color of your dress to me, but only say it in your mind. Scream it to me. Okay, I can tell by the slight jolt of your head that it’s just one syllable. Do it again? Ah… yes. Your lips pursed together. There’s a plosive sound there. So… one syllable, with a B or a P maybe. It’s got to be blue, right?”

  3. Pseudo-Muscle Reading - “Give me your hand. I want you to imagine a rainbow spectrum floating in the air between us. It goes from red on this end to violet on this end. I’m going to move your hand through that spectrum. Try not to give anything away. Red. Orange. Yellow. Green. Blue. Indigo. Violet. Okay… it’s definitely on the warmer end of the spectrum. Let’s try again. Red. Orange. Yellow. Red. Orange. Yellow. It was definitely yellow.”

Unbelievable Cause and Effect

(This is the only version of this effect I’ve actually done.)

“You asked me how I’m liking this new apartment. It’s pretty great actually. I’ve never had a garbage disposal before. It’s nice. One thing that’s kind of weird is that the closet over there is a time machine. And I’m pretty sure they’re supposed to disclose that kind of thing. I know it sounds crazy, but I swear on the life of everyone you love that I’m not lying.” [That’s my favorite thing to say when I’m obviously lying.]

“I’ll prove it. I’ll go back to your prom and figure out what color dress you were wearing.”

I hop in the closet and pop out three seconds later. My shirt has changed from a plain grey t-shirt to a “Where’s the Beef” shirt. I’m wearing 80s sunglasses. And drinking from an old can of Jolt cola.

DSC_0560_large_large.jpg
877233_a971e9b4-6d65-4673-bbeb-52f630abfa3e_grande.jpeg
31238ad570f3d571e8279f5f4a59668a.jpg

“Radical!” I say.

My friend is dying . Both because I look like an idiot and because of the insanity of the mini quick-change. It’s not quite America’s Got Talent level quick-changing, but it’s still pretty impressive. W

“Oh my god,” I say. “That was so bodacious. Time travel is so gnarly.”

My friend is laughing. “My prom was in 2004!”

“Well, yeah,” I say. “You think I’m just going to time travel back to 2004? And do what… watch the finale of Friends? Fuck that noise. I want to go somewhere cool. I went to 2004, visited your prom. Then I went back to ‘85 and had a fucking blast at the arcade.”

“Oh wait… your dress. Right. Your dress was… [I pause as if searching my memory, building tension] gold.”

She smiles and throws her head back.

“And can I say something with total sincerity? I know we’re having some fun here, but I want to say something from the heart.” I take her hands in mine and get super serious and say in a quiet voice. “That night… your prom… you looked…totally tubular.”

The “unbelievable cause”—which here is time travel—is the foundation of the Romantic Adventure style. This style is based on an interactive fiction you engage in with the spectator.

It’s the style that, in my experience, people find the most enjoyable and memorable. And yet it often puts the least amount of emphasis on the trick itself.

(The method here is Calen Morelli’s Dresscode to change the shirt. And then the sunglasses and soda were just on the shelf in the closet waiting for me to grab them.)

Mystery Cause and Effect

“Want to see something weird? Have you ever seen one of these? It’s called a Memory Crystal.”

You place in your spectator’s hand a small, smooth, cloudy white crystal.

“My friend’s uncle is a travel writer for National Geographic and he brought a bagful of them back from this island in the Bay of Bengal. Check this out.”

You have her hold the crystal between her hands.

“You need a color that’s associated with a strong memory. It can’t just be, like, ‘think of any color.’ So that’s why I asked you to remember the color of your prom dress. So think about that color, and of that dress, and that night.”

“This works better with some people than others.”

With your hands, you start “brushing” energy from her head, down her neck, down her arms and into her hands.

“Where is the paper you wrote down the color on? In your pocket? No… don’t worry about it. But what was the color? Actually, don’t tell me yet. It’s called a memory crystal because apparently it can absorb the color associated with a memory if it’s strong enough. I don’t really know how it works. It never really works when I do it myself, but I’ve seen it work for other people. Let me peek in our hands.”

You do and look up with a bit of a smile. “Was your dress green?” you ask.

She opens her hands and now the crystal is a pale green.

“That’s so crazy,” you say, shaking your head.

The idea behind the Mystery Cause is that you are either not spelling out the nature of how this effect is happening, or claiming you don’t really understand it completely yourself—there’s some mysterious element to it. And rather than give them a Cause that is believable or unbelievable, you are presenting a void for them to fill in whatever way makes them happiest. They can choose to believe it’s a trick and you’re screwing around, or it’s a real mystery, or somewhere in-between.

The method here would just amount to having 4 or 5 crystals of different colors that you could switch in for a clear crystal as you put it in someone’s hand (using any type of coin-switch that might work with the crystals).

If you peek the color and you realize you don’t have a matching crystal, then you just do something else with the information (you don’t commit yourself to the presentation until you’ve peeked the color).

✿✿✿

Okay, so that’s how one effect can look after being run through these different “Cause” filters. This should give you some idea of what type of Causes you’re drawn to, and help you in coming up with presentations that fit the type of magic you want to perform. At least it does for me. And that’s ultimately the first step in coming up with your own presentations.

I’ll have some final thoughts on this concept (final for now, that is) next week.

Mindwipe

Three weeks ago, I went to the homes of three different friends and left each of them with a roll of the softest, fluffiest toilet paper I could find. None of that single-ply nonsense. This stuff was a real treat for your bunghole. 

I had them place the roll of toilet paper on the toilet paper holder (or whatever that's called). And I put a bright pink post-it note on the wall next to it that said, "Contact me the moment you finish this roll of toilet paper." (I added a piece of tape to secure the post-it, as I wasn't sure it would stay up with the steam from a shower.)

In addition to the note, I told them what I wanted them to do: Use the toilet paper as they normally would. No more or less than usual. And when they got to the end, leave the tube on the spool and call or text me immediately. Any time, day or night. 

This took a little convincing, of course. You can be the most trustworthy guy in the world, but saying, "Here, I want you to rub this particular roll of toilet paper against your orifices for the next few days," is kind of sketchy. It smacks of some weird fetish. So I did this with people who know me pretty well.

My friend Nicole was the second person to finish her roll about eight days later. This is the story of her roll.

mr-whipple-charmin-commercial.jpg

Imagine

Around 9:30 pm on August 27th, Nicole texts me to tell me she was finished with her roll of toilet paper. 

"I'll be right over," I reply.

Twenty minutes later I enter her apartment. We go into the bathroom together. I give her a Sharpie and aske her to sign the cardboard tube. She does, and I then have her take it off the holder. I begin to tear one side of the TP tube along it's length (in other words, tear it so I could open it flat). I pause after I have put just a small notch in it.

IMG_4683.jpg

"Wait," I say, "How long after you finished this roll did you text me?"

She thinks for a moment and says, "Maybe two minutes."

"Okay... and do you know what time it was when you texted me?" I ask. I set the TP tube down and pull out my phone. I open it up to my texts and see that her text came in at 9:28. 

"So you would have finished the roll around 9:26, yes? August 27th at 9:26 pm."

She agrees. 

I reach for the roll again, but then stop myself. "Actually, I should explain this first," I say. "A week ago I had this weird premonition. And I went out and bought this roll of toilet paper for you. And then I took a pencil and wrote something down on the inside of the roll." 

I mime the awkwardness of trying to write something with a pencil on the inside of a toilet paper roll. 

"I actually had a few other premonitions and left rolls with a few other people around town. I don't remember yours precisely, but I think it's kind of close." 

I tell her to take the tube and tear it open. She does, and written on the inside is:

IMG_4688.jpg

"What!?" she says, looking rattled.

"Don't shit yourself," I say. "You're out of toilet paper."

Method

Okay, it's just a thumb-writer. 

But in a way this is the perfect use for that tool. I'll explain in a second. 

This idea is based on an email that Noel Qualter sent me:

The effect is you go to a friend's house and a few days later said friend is in the bathroom. They go to pull off the last piece of toilet paper and written on the tube is a message - ‘Hi Sharon, I reckon it’s 12.22pm on Wednesday 3rd. All the best."

All methods rely on you waiting till there’s only a few sheets left and guessing but that’s terrible.

I thought that was a great trick, but I knew there was no real, workable method to it. You can't force people to shit/piss and wipe themselves on a set schedule with a set number of pieces of toilet paper. So your prediction has to be done after the fact. Which means it can't be done without you there.

But I thought I could do something less perfect, but similar, and I dropped off three rolls of toilet paper with three friends so I could try it out.

I dropped those rolls off on August 19th, with only a vague idea of how I was going to finish the trick. If the idea didn't crystalize in a few days, there would be no trick. I would have just gifted some friends toilet paper for no reason.

My original method was to have the time the roll was finished written backwards on a thumbtip in dry-erase marker. And I thought I'd be able to just handle the roll briefly and stamp the time on the inside. This came nowhere near working. 

Then I thought I needed something more like an actual stamp. So I spent hours and hours working on turning a thumbtip into something you could use to stamp the time on the inside of a TP roll. It involved little numbers that I formed out of rolled clay, which were then adhered to the thumbtip (barely). It was a huge waste of time. I spent days on this, trying to create this thumbtip stamp thing. And I got a super delicate version of something working right before my friend Chris contacted me to tell me he had finished his roll. 

Before I go over his place I create the thumbtip stamp to match the time he contacted me. I have a little ink pad in my pocket so I can ink it up right before it's needed. It's kind of an awkward mess. But I go over to his place, just briefly handle the tube while I'm taking it off the holder, stamp in the time, and hand it to my friend. He tears open the tube and is momentarily flummoxed but then says, "Was this stamped?" While the numbers of the stamp were "hand-made" and imperfect, they didn't look like they were drawn with marker. They looked stamped. And then he kind of unravelled the whole method, realizing I must have stamped it in quickly post facto. Then he said, "If it had been written in there, I would have lost my shit."

Then it hit me: what am I thinking? We already have a tool to write with that attaches to the thumb. Why was I avoiding it in hopes of something more clever? This trick is actually perfect to use with a thumb-writer. 

  • Your thumb is completely covered from all angles.

  • Messy writing is 10,000% justified. Writing with a full-size pencil on the inside of small tube would be messy.

  • Unless your spectator specifically knows about thumb-writers, there's no possible explanation for how the writing could have got inside there in the brief moment you held the roll. What I mean is, if you're using a thumb-writer with a post-it pad, it's possible they could hit on the idea that maybe you wrote your prediction later than they thought with a small pencil. But even with a tiny piece of lead it would be so awkward to put two fingers inside the tube to hold it and write something. It would be way too obvious.

So here's the choreography. I'm pretty happy with it.

1. I have a Sharpie in my shirt pocket and my thumb-writer is in the watch pocket of my jeans. And in my head I have the exact time I got their text (or phone call).

2. With otherwise empty hands, I hand the Sharpie to the person to sign the TP roll.

- Why do this? Because the only explanation will be that I somehow switched the roll. And the only way around that explanation is to make it unswitchable (have it signed), or to draw extra close attention to the roll during the whole procedure, which is not something I want to do when I'm going to be thumb-writing in it. 

Plus, when the writing implement in play is a Sharpie, and the prediction is in pencil, I think that subtly suggests the prediction was not done just recently.

3. While she does this, I slip on the thumb-writer.

4. I have her remove the roll from the holder and I take it as if I'm going to tear it. Notice my thumb (and the secret writer) are naturally hidden in the tube exactly as it would be if I was doing this action for real.

IMG_4631 2.jpg

5. I pause here as if to shift gears, because I want to clarify something before we go further. Remember at this point they have no idea where this is going. Both hands rest on the tube in preparation for the writing to come. You can also do it just holding the tube in the hand with the thumb-writer on it, but this feels more natural to me to pause with both hands on it.

IMG_4668.jpg

6. I'm going to write the two pieces of information (date and time) under the cover of two completely logical—not just logical, but necessary—questions.

7. "Wait... how long after you finished this roll did you text me?" During the time I ask, they think, and they answer, I write the date with the thumb-writer.

8. "Okay, so do you know exactly when you texted me?" Again, during the time I ask, they think, and they reply (or they go to their phone to figure out). I have plenty of time to write the time I know they texted, minus the number of minutes they just said. 

The truth is both of these secret writings will likely be done as you ask the questions, but you have much more time than that if you need it. 

9. I set the tube down and remove my phone, or I shift over to look at my spectator's phone to see the time of the text. I walk through the math with them. "Okay, so you texted at 9:28. And you said that was, like, two minutes after you finished the roll? So you would have finished it around 9:26." Here it feels like I'm just putting this all together now. But actually, that time is already written in the roll that I am no longer holding and don't need to touch again. As I do this, I slip the thumb-writer into my pocket.

10. I talk about my premonition and mime awkwardly writing inside a roll of toilet paper with a full sized pencil. This has them anticipating messy writing.

11. I reach for the tube but stop myself. I have the other person take it and continue the tear I started to reveal the prediction.

Done!

I really like this effect. It's super personal and fun to do. I like that nobody really knows when it's going to end, so it feels very spontaneous. (You don't have to immediately go over the person's house when they call, you can stop by the next day or whenever.) It almost has a headline prediction feel. Like when you leave an envelope with a person for a week and say, "I'll be back to open this with you." That sort of thing, where you establish a little anticipation early on and let it build over the course of a few days.

Thanks again to Noel Qualter for the idea.

Gardyloo #72

In this post I mentioned the idea of some kind of robotic thing you strap on to a spectator's hand and then you insinuate that you can program it to allow the spectator to accomplish some feat of magic.

Well, friend of the site, Simon Graf, rolled with the idea and made a mechanized glove.

He uses it with a spectator-cuts-the-aces routine, as mentioned in the post linked above.

(BTW, Simon, in your email to me you asked if I thought you should make the glove look more complex and "believable," and I forgot to answer. My answer is: I don't think it matters too much either way. I think it looks good as is, but it wouldn't be a mistake to add more to it. People are going to be dubious of it regardless of what it looks like. This is one of those sorts of presentations that I like a lot. The kind that people will immediately think is almost certainly bullshit, but if you pull it off successfully and they have no other good explanation as far as how the effect was accomplished, they'll find themselves seriously considering the bullshit despite themselves.)


A few people have asked what I think of Banachek's appearance on the Joe Rogan show.

If you haven't seen it, it's an hour and 45 minute interview followed by 20 minutes of tricks that pretty much completely fail to land. It's a little hard to watch, honestly. 

The interview is fine and interesting enough. Banachek goes into a lot of stories about fooling the scientists who were investigating the paranormal back in the early 80s. The funny thing is, you imagine it was a bunch of clever ruses carried out by Banachek under the guidance of Randi, but most of his stories were like, "When the scientists left the room we bent a bunch of stuff then they came back and their minds were blown." It's like, really? It seems science doesn't devote their best and brightest to see if you can bend spoons with your mind. Let's hope these aren't the scientists we have on curing cancer now.

As far as the tricks go, I don't see it as Joe being too harsh. I just see it as him saying the things that most spectators wouldn't. I've said this since the beginning of the site, but most adult spectators are overly forgiving of magicians. And I think it's a huge detriment to magic. They let magicians off easy, and in turn magicians think they've gotten away with something they haven't. It's a bad cycle because most magicians don't really want honest feedback anyway. And often spectator's think you have to go easy on the magician. They haven't seen high-quality close-up magic. And that's why they're not into magic because they don't want to play the game of "let's pretend you have super powers because it's too awkward for me to point out the obvious."

I've learned through our testing that you have to beg (pay) people to give you honest feedback. But it's really the only way to hone an effect to the point where it's bulletproof. Do I think this was a bad outing for Banachek? No, I think it was an average outing with an honest spectator. (But for fuck's sake, don't use a Mind Power deck for something that's recorded on video.)


The problem isn't that Banachek bombed. The problem is that even if he had done well it wouldn't have mattered. Magic on the internet is kind of anti-wonder. If you do something really great on facebook, youtube or instagram, it will be met with people exposing it in the comments, or people saying it's fake. It's not a flaw of the performers (at least not always), it's the nature of the medium. The internet is great for dissecting magic, but terrible at generating true amazement. I can fuck with someone's head for a weekend with a simple trick in real life. But if I put that same trick online, in five minutes someone would say, "Oh, he turned over two cards as one." 

I know this sounds like some crotchety old man shit. "Bleh! The internet is bad for magic!" But it has nothing to do with fear of new technology, because you know what other mediums aren't good for transmitting the power of magic? Fucking books. The gramophone. Or those pictures of people doing the cups and balls on Egyptian tombs. 

Magic, like sex, is most powerful as an in-person experience. Everything else is a cheap substitute. And anyone who would argue otherwise has probably never experienced the real thing (done well) in person.


I have a few credits related to the AdBlock control in Monday's post.

Caleb Wiles mentioned David Regal's Sticky Transpo to me, where Regal uses double-sided tape on the back of a joker to steal out a signed selection. In this case, the removal of the joker is done by the performer overtly as part of the trick.

Curtis Kam steered me towards John Scarne's Western Union trick where a waxed joker is removed by the magician and tossed off stage, along with a spectator's selection. 

And Simon Aronson mentioned a card idea that was in his first book (appropriately called Card Ideas) that also involved using a waxed ad card as a method to steal out a selection.

While none of these uses were about doing this in the spectator's hands, they're definitely similar precursors. Thanks to those who wrote in with a credit. 


Okay, I know I've written too much about the Digital Force Bag app, but it's one of those nice tools that is very much a blank slate, and I have about a dozen other ideas with the app that I've tried out and had some fun with. This one is particularly stupid.

I start talking about numbers and how I'm a big "number freak" and how "math is my jam" and how I'm always just "Beautiful Mind'ing" the word around me which I see in numbers. Some numbers I love and some I hate. Numbers were my friends when I was growing up! (I say this as if it makes me a quirky fun guy and not a total loser.)

I write something on a business card and toss it writing side down on the table. "Name any number," I say.

They say 59.

I tell them to turn over the business card. It says 23.

"You're good at this too. You must have my love of numbers as well. Yes, we're a special breed."

They're like, huh?

"You said 59," I say. 

"This says 23," they say.

"Yeah, exactly. You somehow sensed that 23 was my 59th favorite number."

I then have them go into my phone and in my notes app they find a list, "Top 100 Favorite Numbers Between 1 and 100." And, sure enough, my 59th favorite number is 23.

As I said, it's stupid, but it makes people laugh. And the more they think of it, the stronger it gets.

And occasionally (once so far, for me) they name the number you tossed on the table. And you, of course, just milk that for all you can.

Causes and Effect

What a magic presentation comes down to, essentially, is cause and effect, i.e., what is the cause of the magical effect?

Cause and Effect = The Narrative = Your Presentation

These are all the same thing.

Here are what I consider to be the five varieties of cause and effect in magic.

No Cause and Effect

No Cause and Effect is exactly what it sounds like. There is no cause given, we just see the effect. The rope is cut into three pieces and then it's whole again. The rubber bands are linked and now they're unlinked. There's no dove in the pan and then...well, F me... there's a dove in the pan!

"No Cause" also includes things like snapping your fingers, waving a wand, "concentrating," or any other supposed cause that a modern audience will just ignore.

Lip Service Cause and Effect

For my non-English speaking readers, "lip service" is when you say something, but you don't really back it up with your actions. Lip Service Cause and Effect is when you just toss out a cause, but it's not really the focus of your presentation.

There are two types of lip service cause and effect.

Lip Service C&E Type 1 - The Non-Sequitur Cause and Effect

In Pit Hartling's trick, Unforgettable, from his book, Card Fictions, he states that drinking orange juice will give him a super powered memory. He doesn't say why it does, he just says it does. It's just a goof that gets him into the trick. It's "lip service" because there's no real narrative connection between cause and effect. It's arbitrary. And that's why I wouldn't really consider it a strong presentation. Which is fine because you're not meant to invest much in such a presentation. (You know it's not a strong presentation because you could come up with 200 similar examples in an hour. "When I wear red my memory is supercharged." "On Tuesdays my memory is supercharged." "When I part my hair on the left my memory is supercharged.") 

Lip Service C&E Type 2 (Adult Onset) - The Unfulfilled Cause and Effect

In this demo for Ben Earl's The Answer, the "cause" he gives for what's about to happen is "influence." But then he does nothing to demonstrate how this influence is manifested. This happens a lot in mentalism. "I influenced you to say the time 6:45." Okay... how? In what way? You might say, Ah, but that's the point. His influencing is so subtle you don't even see any remnant of it. Okay, but that doesn't make for a compelling presentation. Again, it would be lovely if a good presentation was that simple—just take any mentalism effect and say it's done with "influence"—but it's not that easy.

By "unfulfilled" I mean you haven't fulfilled the promise of the Cause you establish. You just toss it out there and then move on. (To be fair, I wouldn't waste a good presentation on Andi Gladwin either.)

Believable Cause and Effect

This is pretty straightforward.

"I will tell what hand holds the coin by reading your body language." 

"I'll figure out the first letter in the word you're thinking by having you recite the alphabet while I judge your micro-expressions." 

"I will use sleight-of-hand to stack this deck for a winning poker hand in three shuffles."

These are all examples of believable cause and effect. This is not my preferred style, but it's one of the more popular types of "causes" to suggest.

A believable cause and effect will generally put the focus on the performer.

Unbelievable Cause and Effect

This is the sort of presentation I like the most. I like the theatricality of it. I like that it shifts focus off me (at least in the fiction of the narrative). And it's the sort of thing the people I perform for tend to enjoy.

One thing to keep in mind is that unbelievable does not mean illogical. It just means something that your audience is unlikely to believe: time travel, mass psychosis, anti-gravity pills, invisibility cloaks, or whatever. 

Read the post, "The Sealed Room With the Little Door," for more detail on why I like unbelievable premises. 

Mysterious Cause and Effect

This is something I've been exploring a lot in the last couple of years. The idea is to hint at the cause but not fully explain it. I first talked about this idea in this post where I mentioned the phrase "Mystery Imps." (Imps being another word I use for "cause.") With the Mysterious Cause and Effect you are going to hint at the narrative but never quite spell it out. 

If you burn a billet and then form the ashes into some kind of symbol before blowing them away, you're hinting that the symbol is important in some way, but you're not saying how. You're creating a mystery. 

If you ask someone to repeat an incantation in an unknown language before an effect, that is also a mystery cause and effect.

If you say you found some notes in a shoebox when you were cleaning out your grandfather's house after he passed and one note had directions for some weird card game or something, and something weird happens when you follow this procedure, that's a mystery.

From the spectator's perspective, there is a Cause, but either the performer is keeping it secret, or the performer doesn't fully understand it either.

✿✿✿

Okay, so what's the point here? 

The point is you can take a big step towards achieving whatever the goal of your performance is by choosing the correct Cause for your effects. 

Is the presentation there as an excuse to show the trick? Or is the trick there as an excuse to weave a story? Or are the trick and presentation there to put the focus on you?

If you want to put the focus on the trick, go with No Cause or Lip Service Cause. If you want to put the focus on yourself, go with a Believable Cause. If you want to put the focus on the presentation, go with an Unbelievable Cause or a Mystery Cause.

But can't I do something that puts the focus on the trick and the presentation and myself? Yes, sometimes you can have a perfect confluence of these things, but more often than not if you don't focus on one aspect you'll just have something bland that doesn't make an impact in any particular area.

Here is my personal pecking order. Ideally I want to use a trick to create a compelling interactive fiction. I would much rather say, "Uh-oh, guys... I think we're stuck in a mini time-loop," than, "When I snap my fingers, the card jumps to the top." So my first choice is an Unbelievable Cause.

If I can't think of a good, coherent Unbelievable Cause for a particular effect, then I will go for a Mystery Cause.

If it's a quick, visual effect that doesn't lend itself to a Mystery Cause, then I'll do No Cause (in the Peek Backstage style). 

Again, this is just personal preference. I prefer the presentation-focused causes, because I find a strong presentation is more enduring than a strong trick. The presentation can be a whole journey. 

But you may find that sort of thing silly. You may just want to perform the strongest visual eye-candy you can, in which case focusing too much on a presentation-focused cause may distract from that goal.

I'll expand on this idea in a post next week where I'll look at one effect through the lens of the five different causes.