Gardyloo #21

I'm off next week. As I mentioned when we were gearing up for year two, there will be new content 48 weeks out of the year. Next week is not one of those weeks for me. Next week is my spring break from this site. Imagine me in Lake Havasu drinking vodka off a slalom down some co-ed's asscrack. That's not what I'll really be doing. In reality I'll be doing my taxes and taking naps. 

In the April issue of The JAMM (coming out tomorrow), I review Michael Murray's effect, The Solution

Soon I will be releasing a short pdf with a variant of the effect called the SOLOtion. It's a one-on-one version of the effect that is really killing people I've performed it for. It's not the identical effect but it's very heavily inspired by Michael's trick so I will be giving it away as a free pdf to people who own The Solution (similar to the pdf I release for Marc Kerstein's Wiki Test).

A somewhat Distracted Artist moment on The Flash. (Although I think this guy oversells it.) As spotted by reader M.K.

Reader F.A. writes in to say,

I really love the Transgressive Anagram concept and have been using it fairly frequently since you first wrote about it. One of the nice things about it that you haven't mentioned yet is that it's very easy to practice because Yes and No responses come at you in equal measure. So you can practice the anagrams just by flipping a coin to simulate getting a yes or no response. With traditional anagrams the only way I found to practice would be to run through the full anagram in my head, but I wouldn't be able to practice dealing with actual responses in real time unless I was doing it live for a person. But with TAs you can just flip a coin and that mimics the actual 50/50 responses you will get for every guess in those anagrams.

Here's another idea I've been using for a context for Tenyo tricks. It's very similar to the ideas I've mentioned in the past in that it's a context that distances you from the prop. Rather than showing up with your little plastic gizmo like a goofy little schoolboy, you discover the prop with your friend and work through it.

I do it with this bad boy.

And I tell my friend that, in this one village in Japan, boxes of cereal are showing up on store shelves with a free magic trick inside (I point to the yellow and red oval and say that's what it says there). I tell them it's become a real phenomenon over there because the tricks seem like children's toys but nobody can figure them out. And the the boxes are only on the shelves in one small area of Japan. I tell them I have a friend who is teaching abroad and was able to snag me a box and how I'm lucky because otherwise they're going for a couple hundred dollars when they show up on ebay. 

"And the weird thing is, at first, Kellogg's in Japan was promoting this and retweeting a lot of the hype it was generating, but then a couple weeks later they deleted any mention of it from their social media, and now they're paying to have any reference of it removed online. The latest is that they're telling people not to eat the cereal in these boxes because it isn't from an actual Kellogg's production facility as far as they can tell. So nobody knows what's going on."

We open the box and dump out the cereal and there's a sealed plastic bag with a little trick and some instruction cards inside. We open it up and follow the instructions and the trick unfolds leaving us both baffled. It's a seemingly innocuous trick where a ball penetrates into a sealed clear plastic box. But the presentation makes it so much more interesting to people. The reactions far exceed what they are when I just perform it as a standard trick. They're not even comparable.

And then, later that night, we can make "Sausage Mix" from the back of the box. So it's a win-win all around.

Going Trans and Wanda Disney

In this post I introduced the idea of the Transgressive Anagram. That is the idea of using an anagram as a way to "peek" a mentally selected word, and then transgressing out of the anagram into something a little more interesting than guessing letters. 

I have a couple more thoughts on this and why you might want to use this technique in your anagram work.

The first thing to understand is that, traditionally, anagrams have been optimized for hits. As Atlas Brookings writes in his book on the subject, "It is important to recognize that you want to play the numbers to ensure that you get hits more often than misses."

So if, for instance, you wanted to do a progressive anagram of the Cafe staff (because your audience has been clamoring for it), you might guess an E first, because that will get you a "hit" for 20 of the 27 staff members. 

But with transgressive anagrams we are optimizing for speed, not hits. So we don't choose the most popular letters, we choose the letters that split the possibilities in half (or as close to it as possible). This allows us to narrow down to the word as quickly as possible. So in our Cafe anagram we would guess a T first because that splits the staff up 14 and 13. 

What are the repercussions of choosing speed over hits?

Well, I'll describe a real-world example. In Atlas Brookings' book, The Prodigal, he gives a progressive anagram for hand-animated Disney movies. There are about 35 of them. On average it takes him seven letter guesses to figure out the movie. Sometimes it take as many as ten guesses to get to the movie, but he never gets more than three "wrong" guesses.

I've created a transgressive anagram for essentially the same group of movies and it's always just five guesses. So the plus side is that it's usually quicker. But on the negative side, it can be 5 straight NOs.

So it's really a matter of style and what your routine is. If your routine is, "I can read your mind and I will prove it by naming the letters you're thinking of," then you're going to want to choose a traditional progressive anagram because that will minimize the "misses." 

But there is some new thinking in progressive anagrams where there aren't really misses. I'm speaking here of Matt Mello's ideas in his ebook P.A.T.H.S. And with those ideas I think you'd want the shortest version of the letter guess procedure

There are also routines that would benefit from you being able to say, "I'm going to take five guesses and then commit myself." Which you can do with a transgressive anagram, but not with a standard progressive anagram, because it may range from 2-10 guesses (or more).

With a 5-guess transgressive anagram, you can have 32 potential choices. Since each guess narrows the field by half, after your first guess you have 16, then 8, then 4, 2, and 1.

Here is how I would handle transgressing (or not) from the anagram depending on how those five guesses went. Let's assume I was using my Disney anagram.

If I got all 5 wrong: "Holy crap... I really thought I was getting better at this. Thanks for helping me out, but it's not working. Let's try something different. Can you maybe picture a scene or two from the movie?" Then I'd go on to describe the scene. Or, since there is only one 5 NO outcome. That could be predicted in an envelope just off to the side. A folded sheet of paper that says, "I predict I will get all 5 letters wrong" [Open up the paper] "Because you will think of Pinocchio."

If I got 4 wrong and 1 right: "I told you I was psychic! With just a handful of question I psychically figured out there was a G in your movies title!" [I put the emphasis on how little I know. Not mentioning the fact that I also know 4 letters that aren't in the title.] "Let's try something that might actually work. Can you picture it visually? That should be easier for me."

Four wrong and one right is one of my favorite outcomes as you seem to have gained so little information from the procedure.

If I got 3 wrong and 2 right, or 2 wrong and 3 right: "Ehh...I'm not really feeling this. It's feeling like guessing. Let's try something different. Is there a song you would associate with this movie?"

You could, of course, continue to guess letters if you like, since you now know the word. But I generally prefer to move on to something not related to letters or even the words itself. 

If I got 4 right and 1 wrong, or all 5 right: I would finish naming off the letters, or at least most of them and then name the movie.

Wanda Disney

The JAMM #4 will feature a couple TA and PA ideas, including

1. Wanda Disney, my Disney movie transgressive anagram. Atlas' idea to create a Disney anagram is a good one. People from 15-100 have no problem coming up with a classic Disney movie. I worked a long time on this. Writing progressive anagrams is hard enough as it is. To create a complete, perfect 5-guess transgressive anagram for 32 movies is even harder ("perfect" in the sense that it's the most amount of possibilities you can have with five guesses). And to do so in a way that anticipates and avoids potential problems is harder still. What do I mean by that? Well I wanted to avoid situations like this whenever possible, "Wait, you said it didn't have an H in it, but it's THe Aristocats. You forgot the H in The." I created the anagram so the guesses avoid any easily overlooked letters. And so that the guesses don't ever lead to an obvious answer. "You're thinking of a Disney movie with a D M and B in it?" At this point the whole audience knows it's Dumbo, but you need to keep guessing just on the off chance it's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The anagram I wrote avoids those situations as well.

2. There will be a Silent Anagram (as described in the JAMM #2) that deals with another pop-culture category. 

3. I have a variation on one of Matt Mello's ideas that I'm really happy with. It's similar to his ideas in PATHS in that it removes the concept of "misses" from the letter guessing procedure. But here it's done in a slightly more dynamic and visually interesting way. 

Ok, I shouldn't tease you. Here's your full transgressive anagram for the Cafe staff. Memorize and be the envy of your magic club. You start by guessing "T." If you get a yes, you always go to the adjoining green box to the right. If you get a no, you go to the adjoining red box to the right.

Make sure to ask someone to think of a random Cafe staff member. If you ask them to think of their favorite, they'll have an aneurysm as they think, "How will I ever narrow this down to just one?"

How to Not Shit Your Pants Part 2

(Or How I Cured a Fear of Heights and How to Get People's Attention When You Perform)

You asked for it! You said, "We really need a follow-up to this post. Any more hot, steamy tips on how not to drop a load in your pants?" Actually, I do have another. Kind of. But this is more of a tip on performance and presentation that I'm sneaking in through the backdoor (so to speak).

Andy, do you need to see a gastroenterologist? Why is this such a big concern for you?

No, no. It's not that. It's just something that's completely universal we can all relate to. Shitting our pants is one of the first things we ever did, and is often the last thing you do in life as well. But in those middle years you want to kind of avoid it as best you can. 

So let's say you're ten minutes from home and you start to feel the rumblies in your tum tum. What do you do? Well... if you're in the position to, maybe you take the advice in my first post on the subject. But maybe you're in a subway car, or on a first date, or taking your church's youth group out for ice cream sundaes (trying to avoid the Hershey squirts while indulging in some Hershey squirts) and you're just not in a position to start jerking off. What's the plan? Well, I suppose you start heading to the nearest bathroom as fast as you can.

But now you're five minutes away and "as fast as you can" isn't going to cut it. What do you do? Here's what you do. You slow down. If you're in a car you begin to take the scenic route home. If you're walking, you stop and look in a store window.

What I've found is, in almost any situation where you're trying to combat or contend with something impulsive or instinctive, often the best technique is to act in a manner that would appear to make you more vulnerable. 

I don't know the science or the biology or the whatever of all of this, but I do know the part of your brain that is regulating these instinctive things is the dumb part because you can lie to it.

I realized this once when working on a project that involved standing near the edge of a skyscraper in Manhattan. I don't have a panic-inducing fear of heights. I just have your general unease about heights. The kind of thing where my genitals tingle watching something like this.

I was standing on top of this building wondering if I was really going to spend the next 8 hours feeling woozy. And I thought, "I'm just going to step closer to the edge, as if I'm completely cool with it." And once I did I was much more relaxed. 

Now, if someone had pushed me towards the edge, I'm sure I would have shit my pants (to bring things full circle). But intentionally making myself more vulnerable had short-circuited my natural response to heights. The way I imagine my brain processing the information is this: "We don't like heights!... but we just stepped closer to the edge of this building for no we like heights?, obviously we're not concerned about them enough to warrant a fear response." And that was it. After that it was much less of an issue.

I find lying to yourself in this way is the key to controlling the instinctive and impulsive parts of yourself, and I use it all the time.

If you have to take a dump and you instead slow down and smell a flower, that can often be a good last-ditch effort to impose the will of your neocortex over your reptillian brain. (And if worse comes to worse and you do shit your pants, then at least you have your nose in a flower.)

I've found you can pull a similar trick on other people.

It's understandable that when performing magic for people we want them to be engaged and tuned in to what we're doing. But the mistake I see a lot of performers making in a casual situation is to try very hard to grab their spectator's attention with what they consider to be good performing or storytelling technique. So they'll do a lot of dynamic soft then loud talking. Speak quickly. Follow a tight script. Use different voices. Mimic the emotions they want to elicit. 

Essentially they'll do something similar to this bit of storytelling in the 2004 National Storytelling Championship.

This is not a good way to interact with normal humans in a casual situation. Some of these techniques may be good when you already have people engaged in what you're showing them. But these aren't good techniques if you feel like you're losing your audience or that you haven't won them over yet. You would think they would be. You'd think if people were fading off then if you sped up your speech and got really animated, then people would be more interested. But I've found it to be just the opposite. The more of a "show" you put on, the more people naturally push away (unless, as I said, they're already completely absorbed by what you're doing). 

I think their brain instinctively thinks, "If what he had to say was that interesting, he wouldn't need to put this much of a show behind it."

So if I feel I haven't yet connected with the person I'm performing for, I slow way down. And I recommend you try it too. It's going to feel like the wrong move. It's going to feel like smelling a flower when you have to take a shit. But I believe it's the right move. I don't think people want to be sold a story (in this case in the form of a magic trick). I think they just want to see an good/interesting one. So when you're a little quieter and a little more relaxed I think people flip their expectations. "He must have something good to say if he can deliver it so plainly."

As I said, this is advice for a non-performance situation. And not all of them. Once you have people on your side, then you can get them more involved and riled up with those storytelling techniques. But that's not the way to get them on your side. Do the opposite to intrigue them.

It's kind of like dealing with someone you're romantically interested in. Once you're in a relationship you can send flowers and offer back-rubs and declare your love and those will all be welcome gestures. But you don't do those things to create a relationship with someone who is not yet into you. In fact, it will often backfire because the other person is like, "Why is he trying so hard? Clearly this must not be a good deal for me if he needs to sell me on it so much."

There aren't a ton of great examples on video of a good way to do this. That's because, as I said, it's about saying things in a non-presentational kind of way (the type of thing you're less likely to record and put online). But I do have one good example. When I find myself overcompensating in a performance and I want to get myself to slow down, this is the video I think of in my head. It's Gruff Rhys describing the story behind the song Ohio Heat. Listen to the pace he tells the story. Listen to how he is remembering the elements in real time (rather than repeating something he's told a million times). I'm not saying this is a great story. In fact, there isn't really much of a story there. I'm just saying this low-key style is one I find people are drawn towards simply because it doesn't sound like you're trying too hard. As someone says in the comments, he "tell[s] a fairly mundane story and mak[es] it sound like the most magical thing that's ever gone down."

The Dirty Secret of the Live Demo

I'm going to tell you a secret about advertising a magic trick. If your trick is really terrible, you absolutely want to go out and shoot a demo of live performances.

This may seem counterintuitive. You may think you'd want to have a demo shot in studio directly to the camera. Or maybe no demo at all. But in reality you want to put it out in front of real people. 

Yeah, but what if they don't like the trick?

That's the beauty... it doesn't matter! First, the spectators in demos are coached up a little bit to give bigger reactions. But that's barely even necessary. Here is something you need to keep in mind when watching online demos: With a camera pointed at you, it's much easier to give a fake positive reaction than a genuine negative or neutral one. 

This isn't just true for magic demos. Go buy yourself the cheapest frozen lasagna you can find. Heat it up. Dish it up on little plates. Then set up a display somewhere with a sign that says "Mamita Brooks' Old Country Lasagna." Tell everyone it's made from your grandma's original recipe. Then shoot video of them tasting it for the first time. They will be mmm'ing and oh'ing and oh-my-god'ing like they're swallowing angel ejaculate. 

This is exactly what is going on in magic demos. The magic companies want you to think they're being helpful. "Here's how it plays for real people." No. That's how it plays for people who won't question anything you do, will overlook any flaw because it would be awkward to mention it,  and will automatically give you a positive response because they're on the spot in front of a camera.

Thats why, in a sense, live demos are completely useless. They're shot from different cameras in a way that always hides the week angle. And the reactions are always going to be somewhat artificial (unless you're using a hidden camera or something like that).

In fact, if you're super thin-skinned and always need positive feedback, a presentational style you could adopt is that you have a freelance gig recording magic demos for a Ukranian magic site. Then, whenever you want to perform, you set up your tripod and pull up a black backdrop and show people tricks. They will automatically smile and laugh and you'll barely have to do anything at all. 

I do have a tip for you to help you get slightly better insight into how an effect will actually play. Instead of watching the people who are directly interacting with the magician, watch the people around those people. 

First, I'll show you a good example. Here's Jon Dorenbos performing Torn and Restored Transpo.

You see everyone is on board, not just the one guy being performed for. The whole room is at least somewhat engaged and smiling and reacting. His performance isn't particularly original, or even that interesting to someone who is familiar with the trick, but the trick is strong enough to keep everyone's attention.

Now look at something like this new release ID7. I review it in full in the next issue of the JAMM. I don't want to give too much away, but it ain't good. It's a complete trifle of an effect, and even Rick himself doesn't try that hard to make it very interesting. 

But it gets good reactions! Look at the demo.

Yeah, that's the point I'm trying to make. Those reactions are essentially trick independent. Show someone anything with a camera in their face and you'll get something similar. But we can get a sense for how the trick really plays by observing the people just one step beyond the main spectators. These people don't feel that social pressure to act amazed. And there you see the real level of interest the effect engenders.

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Beck and Card

Coming in the JAMM #3

Beck and Card

This is the best version of the ambitious card I've ever seen. I can say that because it's not my trick. 

This is definitely a more traditional performance piece and would fit perfectly into any walk-around/table-hopping situation where the normal ambitious card would work. 

Except it's not a normal ambitious card. In fact, while it's the structure of an ambitious card, the trick is not really about a card rising to the top of the deck over and over. 

Not only that, but incorporated in the trick is an almost unlimited potential for humor. With a table of four or more people you will often have to actively make sure things don't fly off the rails. 

And it leaves them with a uniquely signed card that literally every table will take and keep as a souvenir. 

Created 15 years ago by a friend of mine, and honed over 1000s of real-world performances by another, the details of this routine will be released here for the first time anywhere. 

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The readers of this site are a little community. A little community that just happens to be widely spread out all over the globe. I spare you having to deal with an actual online community and just absorb everyone's feedback myself and filter it back out to everyone. It may seem like a one-man operation, but it's not. It's a little village. A village in our minds. is the village newspaper. Support it so the village can stay around (it's the village's only industry). You support it by subscribing to The JAMM (the village's monthly magazine). 20 pages a month of tricks and reviews.

"That's okay, Andy. I'm content just reading the village newspaper."

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(A shot from this winter in the village of Little Jerx Valley.)