Thank You

You know, like that Dido song. 

I want to thank those of you who are already supporting the site by subscribing to the monthly magazine and those of you who are planning to in the future.

The audience for this site is tiny, and those of you who support it are a small fraction of that audience. See Fig. 1

 Fig. 1

Fig. 1

So if you think, "Aw, it probably doesn't mean that much to him that I subscribe. That Tarbell Award Winning hotshot with all his fancy new magic friends." No! I have no new magic friends. Just you. The things I like to write about here, the things I like to think about, the things I find funny, appeal to, approximately, 3% of the people who visit this site, based on the numbers that support it. Good! That seems about right in line with the 97% of magic/magicians that I find intolerable. I didn't win that book award because the stuff I was doing here was becoming accepted or mainstream. I have a small, enthusiastic fanbase and other books had a much larger readership that was just less inclined to want to vote or care about voting for something like that. 

So thank you to that 3%. The vast majority of you I have known from the beginning of this site, and a lot of you from way back in the Magic Circle Jerk days. (And there are a good number of new people who only recently found the site too, which is awesome.) I know all of your names. And it does mean something to me that you support the site. I'm looking forward to rolling out some other benefits for subscribers over the next few months. 

For the other 97% of you? If you don't like the site, I wouldn't expect you to pay. But think about this... that Dido song?... it was recorded almost 20 years ago. Life is flying by. Stop wasting your time reading a site you don't like. And if you do like it, and $10 is too much to swing, I get it. I hope you're in a better financial situation soon. If you like it and you can afford it, but your position is, "Well... you should work on this for me for free." Go suffocate on a dog's dick. I mean that with love. The truth is, I'm not writing the site for you. I write it for the three percent.

Tenyo Trio Trial

In the focus group testing I helped conduct last month we took a look at three broad presentational frameworks for presenting a Tenyo trick and I found the results pretty interesting.

And before you write to tell me that you can't make any broad generalizations based on the feedback of a few dozen people, I already know that. There is nothing definitive about the results we got and our process didn't meet rigorous scientific standards, but I think there is still value in what we found.

[If you're interested in how the testing worked, we had three sessions with 12 people each. Each session lasted about 45 minutes. In those 45 minutes the groups watched five magic performances, each one from a different performer. Two were on video and three were in person. Three of the effects related to something specific we wanted to test and varied slightly from group to group. The other two effects were performed the same way for each group and served as something of a control so we could compare one group to another. After each effect the participants were asked to rate their enjoyment of the effect on a scale of 1-10. There was no discussion, they just watched and rated.

Each group consisted of both men and women with as much of a range in age, income, and ethnicity as we could find. They were paid $25 for their time. 

The hardest thing I've found about these groups is getting people to relax and not be on alert the whole time. A lot of people seem to think this is part of some larger psychological test and it's not really about watching some magic tricks. This attitude can, obviously, get in the way of them just taking in the experience. So there is always a little lecture up top where we ask people just to chill out and enjoy the performances, but I still sense some people think that's part of the ruse.]

We presented the Tenyo effect Crystal Cleaver to each group.

For Group A the presentation was just a standard walkthrough of the actions of the trick. "I have a little illusion I'd like to show you. Can I borrow someone's ring? I'm going to place it in this box." Etc.

For Group B the presentation was, "I would like to show you all something very special to me. It's the first magic trick I ever learned. It came in a magic set I was given for my 8th birthday."

For Group C the presenter came in with a small box in his hands. The presentation was, "Hi everybody. This is going to be a little different. I've been asked to show you the item in this box. I actually don't know what it is myself, so this will be something of a surprise for all of us." He would then "perform" the effect by following the instructions written on cards.

The same person performed the effect each time. He is a theater actor in NYC and a very occasional amateur magician. 

The only instructions the participants were given regarding the scoring system is that it's not like the grading system in high school where 70 (7) is average and 50 (5) would be a terrible score. Instead it's like a bell curve where 0 means they hated it, 10 means they loved it, and 5 is about average.

Here were the average scores for each presentation:

Group A (Standard magic presentation) - 5.2
Group B (My first magic trick) - 5.1
Group C (Mystery box/No traditional "magician") - 7.1

This is the type of stuff I find fascinating. The same effect getting a 40% higher "score" from people just based on it not being performed.

What I find interesting is, like many of you, I had originally thought the "this is my first trick" presentation for Tenyo-style effects was pretty good. But it actually received a slightly lower average score than just walking through the effect with a bland, standard presentation. I had come to the conclusion myself that the "first trick" presentation doesn't work as well as we'd hope, but I think I still expected it to do better than just describing the actions of the effect.

We didn't get a chance to break it down with the participants, and even if we did, I'm not sure they would know why this presentation didn't appeal to them. But I have a theory. From watching the performance I could tell people were interested in the idea of seeing his "very first magic trick." Who wouldn't be? People's first anything is usually an interesting or at least a cute concept. And, as magicians we think, "I've justified the prop! It looks like a toy, so I'm saying it's a toy." And that's true, but that's also only the beginning. You have to play out the whole thing. At the end of that presentation I think you have one of two scenarios. Either they believe you, in which case they're likely thinking, "I was just fooled by something an 8-year-old was performing from a magic set?" Or they don't believe you and that's much worse. That's like low-level emotional manipulation. "He pretended to share something emotionally relevant from his youth so he could show us some stupid trick."

That's not a great look.

You might think I'm taking it all too seriously, but imagine you were dating someone and they said, "I want to cook you something tonight. It's a traditional family recipe. And it's the first recipe my grandmother ever taught me when I was a little girl." And then sometime after dinner you find the recipe on the back of a soup can and they're like, "Oh yeah, I was just goofing around so you'd be into it." You'd think they were a psychopath.

On the other hand, I was gratified to see what I've noticed in my own performances echoed in this testing: The less you take responsibility for what is occurring, the more inherently interesting/entertaining a trick is likely to be. No, maybe not for professional magicians, who people are specifically going to in order to see magic. But in the amateur/casual magic scene that's definitely been my experience. 

This goes for things beyond Tenyo tricks. In fact I think it's just the beginning of the development of a style of performance and interaction that may, one day, be quite common. A number of people have expressed an issue with this because it de-emphasizes the role of The Magician. And while I agree that's true I think it does so in favor of an increase in actual feelings of awe, surprise, wonder, etc. 

More on this to come.

Madison x Erdnase x Ammar x Silly Billy x Jerx

Daniel Madison has released what looks like an incredibly tedious project where he goes through and explains shit from Erdnase. It's called Madison x Erdnase and you can get it on Ellusionist. You know, if you're, like, in one of those Brewster's Millions situations where you need to get rid of a bunch of money and you're completely undiscriminating about what you buy.

But what has everyone's nuts in a coin-purse is that he says this:

"I'm better than Erdnase, and I can prove it."

OOOhhhh... why!? Why, Daniel? Why must you insult our beloved Erdnase?

Now, here's the thing... is Daniel Madison better than Erdnase? I would hope so. Erdnase blows. The book certainly has some value as a historical document, but the tricks in that book are a dreary mess and the writing is completely lifeless.

Yeah, but is he better as a gambler/card cheat than Erdnase was?

Well, I wouldn't be surprised. Watch anyone else's project on Erdnase, or watch them teach a move that's taught in EATCT and they'll often say, "This is how it's taught in Erdnase, but here is how I do it." The implication being that they're better than Erdnase. Or at least know better than Erdnase. 

The evolution of the art and science of magic/sleight-of-hand should suggest a lot of us are better than people practicing it 100+ years ago. We have the benefit of their experience to build on. That's not a dismissal of their contributions, it's an acknowledgement of them. 

If you love Erdnase, then you should love Daniel Madison too. They're pretty much the same thing: monotonous, pretend gamblers. I doubt either of them played a hand of cards with anyone other than their grandma in their entire lives. The only difference between the two is Daniel dresses like he's an extra in a period-piece drama that takes place in Williamsburg, Brooklyn circa 2007.

If you're turned off by the advertising for this set, just remember you're probably not their target audience. Look at his goofy fake apology he posted on youtube. It's like he's Ric Flair cutting a promo. He's doing a pre-pubescent's idea of a tough guy. Which goes along with the ad copy for the book which is directed at 14-year-olds with self-esteem/confidence issues. It's a bunch of words that are supposed to sound meaningful but read like gibberish to anyone who graduated 8th grade. It's very reminiscent of the ad-copy for this edition of Erdnase that I commented on back in 2015. 

There's almost nothing compelling that you can say about Erdnase as a product (as opposed to as a piece of history) so you just have to kind of spout nonsense. I feel bad for whoever had to try and come up with this garbage.

I think I'll study the 8 hours over the course of "decades." Two seconds a day for 40 years is about my speed with this sort of thing.

Does no one at Ellusionist own a red pen? "This challenges the norm we've chosen to accept." Is the first thing you cross out with a note saying, "This means absolutely nothing. I get that we're trying to imply there's something new or revolutionary here, and we can't just say 'Daniel Madison is out of ideas so he's hitting the public domain magic books to see if there's anything he can scrounge up there,' but certainly we can find something more meaningful than this shit, right?"

"Disguised in the Erdnase palette"? I don't think that means what you think it means. And I'm pretty confident saying that because it doesn't mean anything, so if you think it means something you're mistaken. Those words aren't intended to go together.

"[T]his smooth green collector's box invites the fingertips." Finally! My fingertips have been longing for the welcoming feel of "smooth" for far too long. 

This is how little there is to say about the contents of this set. They're all like... "Uhhhh... well... don't forget to mention how smooth the box is!"

"Surprise is in the opening, value is in the owning." And "copywriter" is not in the job description of whoever wrote this. I'm available, Ellusionist. Thejerx@gmail.com.

Oh, and it should be "its predecessor." 

Resting "weightlessly"? The fuck are you talking about? Ah, yes, finally the incorporeal version of Expert at the Card Table you've always wanted.

And a custom foreword? Ooh-la-la, you mean a foreword written specifically for that book? Those are my favorite types of forewords! So much better than those generic forewords you sometimes get. You know, like the one at the start of Moby Dick

Foreword

This is a book. There are pages and a cover. Read the pages one-by-one until there are no more pages. 

You can put this on a bookshelf or in a bookcase. You can also donate it to the library when you are done.

Enjoy this book.

According to the ad copy, you get Daniel's annotations to the book. And judging by this image, the annotations consist of drawing shapes around the illustrations. This is helpful for knowing where the illustrations are.

The project also comes with two hideous decks of cards.

My favorite part of the video on the product page is when Daniel says the design on these cards is the same one "used by Erdnase himself." Uhm... bitch knows it's a book, right? Those are illustrations. I'm pretty sure they put a little scribble there to indicate the back of the card, not because that's what the cards actually looked like. He must know that, right? Although I hope he doesn't. It's funnier if he doesn't. By that logic Erdnase himself is just a pair of disembodied hands that float in the air because that's all they show in the illustrations.

I'm on no one's side in this debate. I think the fetishizing of EATCT is corny as shit. Therefore I think getting worked up about whatever Daniel Madison has to say about it is stupid. And I think the project itself is completely unnecessary. The truth is, the only way he was likely to get anyone talking about another snooze-inducing tour through EATCT was to make a statement to rile up a bunch of goofball magicians. 

Actually, I changed my mind. I'm on Daniel's side. I think behind the faux gambler, tortured artist persona, he's probably a decent dude. (Although feel free to write to me and tell me otherwise. I love some good magic gossip.) And he's really good with a deck of cards. Certainly much better than I. He also gets a pass from me because he came up with Angle Z which is an incredibly useful, simple idea that should be in everyone's toolbox. I wish he'd spend more time coming up with new stuff rather than re-hashing old shit. Or, if you're going to rehash old shit, go put out a treatise on Mark Wilson's Complete Course In Magic. You won't get cool points, but it's something that might actually be used to show people a good time. There's no need to master EATCT unless your goal is to only perform for other magicians, which is a rather useless, insular, magician-centric, masturbatory exercise.


I'm better than Stan Allen and I can prove it.

The second issue of The JAMM comes out later today. 

Magic has long been about creating a fake persona—the magician, the mind-reader, the gambling expert—and then trying to fool people with supposed manifestations of these fake personas. 

The style I prefer is where you present magic as a normal human (yourself) and everyone involved knows it's fake, but it's fun, entertaining, and surprising so that makes it worthwhile. That's the type of magic The JAMM features.

Hey Andy, I didn't get into magic because I had a great personality that people liked being around! My style is to perform as the "Gentleman Conjuror." I read EATCT and pretend to like whiskey.

Okay, whatever dude! To each his own.

Issue #2 is 30 pages. 30 pages! (Don't get used to it.) 

By the way, I encourage you to read the reviews in The JAMM even if they're for a product you already have or one you're not interested in. I go on the occasional tangent you might find interesting. 

In this month's review of P.A.T.H.S by Matt Mello, I offer a way of presenting a certain type of progressive anagram style effect without guessing letters. Without any yes or no responses. Without asking questions. Without the spectator saying anything. And it works 100% of the time and it's really strong.

If you subscribe before 12:01 AM, New York time on Tuesday the 7th, your subscription will begin with this issue, #2. Anything after that will start with the April issue which comes out April 6th.

Yellow Nocturne

Last winter I posted the trick White Nocturne. That is a pretty effect that I use whenever I can on nights in November and December when snow feels fresh and beautiful. It's a genuinely "magical" moment that gets very strong reactions, especially given how easy it is. 

This is a very different type of winter trick. This is more of a post-New Years winter trick when snow is seen as a gross pain in the ass to a lot of people. (I'm pretty pro-snow whenever. But a lot of people get sick of it once the new year comes.) I wanted to post it up as we are getting to the end of the snow season here in the northeast US. (Although this is also a trick that can be used during very hot, dry times as well.)

What follows may read as a joke. It ain't.

Imagine

You ask your spectator to think of something there is no way you could know. 

"I want you to think of someone you had a crush on. But I want it to be someone I couldn't possibly know, so make it someone you never told anyone about. Do you have someone like that in mind?"

She does and you have her write that person's initials on a small piece of paper and fold it up.

The paper is torn up and the pieces are dropped in a large glass of water. You stir them around and they completely dissolve.

You look in the water and attempt to get a sense of the initials, but it doesn't work. 

"There's one other thing we can try," you say. And you pick up the glass and chug the cloudy liquid.

An hour or so later you take her outside and pee the initials in the snow.

Method

A center-tear done with dissolving paper. (Search "dissolving" paper or "water soluble" paper on Amazon.) Make sure it's non-toxic because you're going to be drinking the stuff. I assume they're all non-toxic, but double check. I don't want your widow suing me after you die doing the pee trick.

What's nice is the center-tear is motivated (breaking something up into smaller pieces before dissolving it is a pretty well understood concept) and you have an hour to get your glimpse at the stolen piece. So you have all the time in the world to pocket the piece and then look at it at a later point in time when there is no heat.

The dissolved paper liquid doesn't taste great, but I'm a bit of a baby when it comes to that sort of thing. And it doesn't help that it looks like a giant load of watery ejaculate. (Of course that will make it easier for some of you.)

As I mentioned, you could do it on a hot sidewalk too. I haven't done it that way, but it's probably more pleasant then yanking your dick out in the dead of winter. I suppose anywhere where liquid would make a distinct mark would work.

You want to have a relatively full bladder going into the effect, but don't chug so much all day that your urine is totally clear.

I think initials are your best bet. But if you're a real Rembrandt of the Dong, you could do a drawing duplication.

Yes, it uses urine, but you can do this as a fairly PG effect. No one needs to see your genitals.

As I said, this may seem like a joke effect, but it's not. I've done it and people are legitimately fooled by it. But on top of that it's funny, and entertaining, and surreal. It's a completely unbelievable premise but there is a certain internal logic to it that I think people find appealing. You drank the initials, then you peed the initials. Like maybe it could be true in a universe just a couple degrees off from ours. Hell, given some people believe in homeopathy, maybe it could be true in this universe. 

And sorry ladies, I'm afraid this effect is for the Gentleman Conjuror.

(Actually, maybe not. Maybe you have a dude drink the liquid and when he needs to pee you bring him out to the snow and hold his junk and proceed with the trick as if it's some kind of biological/scatological automatic writing thing.)

Equestrian Singles

This was a helpful exercise for me in determining the type of magic I wanted to perform (and in other areas of my life as well). If you're a bit adrift in identifying your focus as a performer, this may be helpful for you as well.

Let's say I ran a matchmaking service (something more one-on-one than my dating service Equestrian Singles). Perhaps I would ask you to give me a list of women you find attractive and would like to date. I might also ask for a list of women you find unattractive and wouldn't want to date. Those would both be useful lists. But I think the most helpful list in identifying a direction to move in would be a list of women you find attractive that you wouldn't want to date. This would help me identify the deal-breakers and the qualities those women had in common that were somehow more significant than your innate attraction to them. 

I asked myself a similar question regarding magic: What magicians do I want to fuck?

No, that wasn't the question I asked myself. It was, "Who are the magicians you like watching, and who you think are good performers, but whose style of performance you're not drawn to?"

This first time you ask yourself this question it's obvious and easy. I think of David Copperfield and Penn and Teller and other stage performers. I like their work, but have no interest in performing in that style.

Now I ask myself the question again, but narrow it down by adding in the details of who was included after my the first round. (Stage performers were excluded, close-up performers were included.) So now the question is:  Who are the close-up magicians I enjoy watching but wouldn't want to perform in their style myself? 

That knocks out a lot of funny and talented performers—in fact, some of my favorite performers. What do they all have in common? They all perform in a highly-scripted, very "professional" manner. That style doesn't interest me. I prefer an unscripted, more natural, casual style.

So I ask it again, but with this new information incorporated. Who are the natural, casual close-up performers I like and who I enjoy watching, but whose style I wouldn't want to mimic in my performances? And the answer to that question for me was people like Dani DaOrtiz, Greg Wilson, and Peter Turner. I like to watch those guys, I think they're talented, and I enjoy their creations. But I wouldn't want to perform in their styles. Why not? What do they have in common?

For me what they all have in common is that their styles are very intense and forceful and almost domineering in a way. Not in a bad way, but just in a way that a lot of their material depends on a quick and animated manipulation of the spectators.

When Dani DaOrtiz forces a card he deals off clumps and spits out words like, "You tell me where to stop. I don't care. Right here? I don't care. You tell me. Ya-dah-dat-dat-dahh. Here? There? Keep going? Stop? You tell me. I no care... I no care."

When Peter Turner is revealing a digit from a cell phone passcode, a verbal stream comes pouring out. "I see you keep people at arms reach. Have two genuine friends, a lot of acquaintances. Just fell out with a friend over the phone a couple of days ago. Which is something you've told no one. It's the number 8." He says all of this in 7 seconds.

When Greg Wilson performs he grabs people by the wrist and shoulder, directs them to where he wants them to be and where he wants them to look. "Stand over here. Look at the pen, look at the coin, look behind my ear." Etc.

Dani is trying to use the pace of his delivery to get you to say stop at a certain point. Peter is trying to get in a lot of vague information along with something he knows is accurate, so when the spectator says "yes" to the number 8, it seems like she's saying yes to what came before as well. Greg is trying to get you used to him being physical with you so he can steal your watch or wallet. 

These are all valid techniques but they don't mesh with my preferred style which is beyond relaxed and low-key.

I just don't like anything that feels like me manipulating someone in any way: verbally, psychologically, or physically. You can see that throughout my work. In the JAMM #1, I describe a way to hand someone a bent coin (or any other changed object) without them noticing because I don't even like folding someone's fingers over a coin I place in their hand. 3rd Wave Equivoque and The Reverse Psychology Force were developed as ways to take the pacing of those classic techniques out of the performer's hands and into the spectator's. 

My ideal performance dynamic is me curled up on the other end of the couch as you walk though the effect yourself without my apparent manipulation. And what pushed me in that direction was not watching performers I dislike, but watching performers I liked and seeing the things they did that didn't resonate with me. There isn't a ton to learn by watching people whose work you the. And there's probably a limit to what you can get out of emulating the people you love. But there's definitely something to be gained by watching people whose work you respect and admire, and then being propelled by the areas where your ideologies differ.