Schedule Note

Just an FYI that tomorrow's post will be showing up a little later in the day. I don't believe I ever specifically stated new posts will always be up at 3am New York time, but I've gotten into that habit, so I want to keep my precious babies clued in when I break that pattern.

I know for a lot of you—if not most of you—this site is all you have in your life. Sure, you have some fat wife and rotten kids, but this is the only thing that brings you true joy. I don't want you to not find a post here tomorrow, figure I got hit by a bus, and then swallow a bunch of slush powder or something.

I'll be back. I swear. Daddy's just going to get some cigarettes.

The Freaks and Geeks Technique

I've mentioned before about the focus group testing I was involved with in regards to magic. A lot of the results of that testing are lost to time. The people I conducted the tests with and I weren't doing things with an eye towards the future. We were just curious about answering specific questions we had. "Are people really suspicious of a deck that's not a Bicycle deck?" No. "How many phases is ideal for the ambitious card?" Based on people rating their "enjoyment" of a routine on a scale of 1-10, the ideal number of phases for an Ambitious Card routine is either four or one (That is, do it once without repeating it. But this requires a lot of focus being placed on that one moment.)

I recently recovered a lot of our notes and participant questionnaires which were buried deep in my storage space and I've been reminded of a number of questions we tackled (and, to be honest, a lot of it is straight gibberish to me, I have no idea what our notes refer to).

This weekend I got an email asking me if I had a routine for the WOW gimmick. I do have such a routine, but it was developed with other people so I want to get their okay before I release it anywhere.

But that request reminded of one thing we tested that I think had interesting results and has informed a lot of my material in the years since. 

This was a year or so after WOW 2.0 came out (The original WOW gimmick came out over 10 years ago, guys). I was at a coffee shop with a friend and we were talking about how to justify the gimmick. Is it a luggage tag holder? Does it protect expensive baseball cards from UV rays? Do you keep a credit card in it so people can't scan it and steal your data while it's in your purse? A bunch of ideas that were about a 3 or 4 on a scale of 1-10. But seemingly better than just bringing out this weird sleeve and saying nothing about what it was. 

Then another friend joined us and asked what we were talking about. We clued him in and his response was that we were doing the exact opposite of what we should be doing. And he explained his theory, which I'll get to in a moment.

We decided to test both theories in front of people, to see which performance they enjoyed more and which engendered the least amount of suspicion towards the gimmick. (Via an app my friend had developed that I've mentioned on here before. It measured the position of someones finger on a phone screen over time. People would swipe up when something happened that drew their suspicion, then back down after the moment passed.)

In both versions we had the ungimmicked sleeve (which they sell) examined and switched for the gimmick before the trick starts.

In Version 1 the gimmick was introduced as a sleeve that is designed to protect valuable sports cards in some rounds, and as part of a luggage tag holder in other rounds. 

My other friend's theory was that we shouldn't be trying to normalize the gimmick. We should instead suggest that it's something incredible. So in Version 2 the gimmick was introduced as a prototype of a time-traveling device that could send "nearly" two-dimensional items back and forth through time. "Like a fax machine, but through time instead of space," is one of the lines I remember being used.

At that time I'm sure my money was on Version 1 getting the better reactions. "People like magic with ordinary objects," I had been told. So present it as an ordinary object, of course.

In actuality, the results of the testing showed something else. The people enjoyed Version 2 about 25% more than Version 1. And people registered their suspicion four times higher on Version 1 than on Version 2.

I was sure something was off about the results. How could people be four times more suspicious of a luggage tag holder then a "two dimensional time traveling machine"? Well, in part the answer is because it's NOT a luggage tag holder. It doesn't look like any luggage tag holder anyone has seen before. 

But that's not the total answer.

And I know it's not the total answer because later we tried the same test, except this time we used a trick that did use an actual luggage tag holder (a variation of John Guastaferro's Lost and Found). And they were still more suspicious of us referring to a luggage tag holder as what it was than referring to it is a mini fax-machine that sends items through time. The differences weren't as dramatic, but they were still there. 

Here's my theory about why this is. When you're performing as a magician, people are inclined to not believe what you say. If you introduce something as a common object, people will think, "That's not a common object. There's something more going on with that. I'm suspicious of it." But if you introduce something as some kind of fantastic object they think, "That's not some fantastic object, it's something much more mundane." This is jiu jitsu. You're using people's momentum against them. In this case, their natural distrust for what you're saying as the magician. You're using that to make them think the object is more ordinary rather than thinking there's something special about it.

If you pull out a luggage tag holder and call it a luggage tag holder, people will think, "Who's he kidding? There's no way that's a normal luggage tag holder." But if you pull out a luggage tag holder and call it a 2D time-traveling case, they think, "Who's he kidding? That's just a luggage tag holder."

In the first case they think your primary motivation to lie is to deceive them, so it makes them suspicious. In the second case they think your primary motivation to lie is to entertain them, so they essentially ignore it.

I'm not suggesting this is the right move in all situations. I'm saying it's the right move when dealing with props that are unusual or out of place ("unusual" and "out of place," like you in high school, that's why it's called the Freaks and Geeks Technique). In those situations you've already abandoned the notion that what you're doing is off the cuff or organic. So in that case you might as well use the cover of theatricality to justify the prop rather than being all like, "No, no, I swear. This is just a normal thing."

When something is out of place it's not a normal thing even if it's a normal thing. If you perform magic at a restaurant you can do effects with items on the table or with cards or coins (or other items strongly associated with a magician), or with your phone or keys or other items people carry regularly. That all works. That's all magic with "everyday objects." But if you pull out a Q-tip, then it's suspect because people don't bring Q-tips to restaurants. An object's everyday-ness is location specific.

This technique is similar to what I wrote about in the post "The Hidden Benefit of the Unbelievable Premise." When you give something a dramatic purpose it becomes less suspicious methodologically. And, as we saw in our testing, if you have something unusual or out of place, people are more interested in it if you give it a fantastic (unbelievable) story then if you go out of your way to justify it as normal.

Summary: Freaks and Geeks Technique - If you are using an unusual object, or an object that wouldn't normally be found in the environment, implying that it's some "ordinary" object will generate push-back and cause people to think there's something extraordinary about it. But if you imply there's something extraordinary about it, they will push back in the direction of assuming it's something common.


JAMM #5 will be sent to subscribers later tonight. Anyone who subscribes before then will receive issue 5 as their first issue. If you're after that, then your subscription will start next month with issue 6. You can subscribe here.

We were talking to Karla, our JAMM Muse for June and we were telling her she would be doing a pose inspired by Annemann for the cover.

"Who's that?" she asked.

"You know, Annemann. The guy behind The Jinx and Practical Mental Effects."

"Never heard of him," she said. "I only read the truly foundational authors in magic and mentalism."

Then she pulled this book out of her bag and crashed on the couch for the rest of the evening.

Gardyloo #25

I got this email the other day. I'm very tempted to take them up on their offer.

I consulted the "team at Thejerx" and we're pretty much all for it. They write the content and pay us for it? Deal. If I had some idea what a reasonable price to ask for would be, I'd do it. I'm just curious to see the article they'd write. I'd fully expect it to be some dull generic bullshit about DraftKings or whatever. But maybe they'd surprise us all with a multi-phase prediction routine using sports betting, with a theme about the nature of risk that really makes people reassess their lives and puts everything I've ever written to shame. Well... keep an eye out for it. They're probably not huge fans of me preemptively telling you about it. Or referring to it as likely being "dull generic bullshit," but who know.

And, in the future, if there's ever a post you don't particularly like, just realize it's probably the doing of DigitalContentZone.

As I suspected might happen, Penguin has removed the download I mentioned in the Smurf Job post a couple days back. 

But don't worry, there is a six-page review of this effect in the JAMM coming out tomorrow. That's right, six-pages. I went all Jamy Ian Swiss on a single completely inconsequential effect from a $4 download. After you read that you'll have a good idea of what the effect entailed and why I'll never perform it again.

Magic in the Media!

You know I always like to see how magic is portrayed in television and film. 

Now, this example isn't strictly an example of magic, but our sister art hypnosis.

The May 10th episode of Law and Order SVU, entitled Spellbound, featured a hypnotist! How exciting. I'm going to watch it right now. I can't wait to see how this hypnotist factors into the story. Do they bring him in to help crack a case? Does he peer into someone's mind to find details that bring a murderer to justice?

I'm going to watch it and find out!



Okay. He raped women using hypnosis and NLP.  That seems about right.

If you have Netflix and are into MST3K at all, the new season features a movie called The Time Travelers from 1964. There are a lot of magic tricks in the film presented in the manner of special effects. It's pretty amusing to watch them shoe-horn tricks in that don't really relate to the plot. Check it out if that's your thing.

My pal and JV1 illustrator, Stasia Burrington released her full 78-card tarot deck recently. I have one and it's the balls. I highly recommend picking one up.

I also really love these circus posters below. The original artwork is for sale in her etsy shop.

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This isn't magic, and it's not even new, but I watched it this weekend and it made me laugh a lot. It's a compilation of "jokes" from Norm McDonald's podcast. I have a feeling this might not translate well outside the US, or inside it, for that matter.

On the Fragility of Fooling

I have no doubt these thoughts have been expressed before. In fact, the only idea I'm totally sure is 100% unique to me on this site is the time I suggested making cards with brown and pink pips and then using the statement, "It's a fanny colored card," as a two-way out (based on the multiple meanings of the word 'fanny') in order to fish for the color.

I used to believe that fooling people was the purpose of magic. And, I guess, I still believe that. Certainly there needs to be some level of deception for something to be considered magic. But what I don't believe is that the more someone is fooled the better their experience is.

In 2004, on my old blog, I talked about the experience of seeing Kenton Knepper perform Kolossal Killer live. I talked about how the people who I was with were fooled by it, but then after he left the trick quickly fell apart. This has been the same with pretty much every performance of KK I've seen. People are fooled, but then they think, "I'd like to see what else was in that wallet. Maybe it wasn't a full deck, but he could have had a bunch of cards." And from there it's not hard to see how the "out" on the back of the card actually gives the trick away. 

At the time, I thought the fact that the trick falls apart on reflection was the fatal flaw of the trick. I wrote:

When performing magic your greatness is only determined in part by how well you fool them in the moment. The other part, the overriding part, is if they look back on the incident and are still fooled by it. Imagine if you were prepared the finest meal you'd ever tasted, everything was cooked to perfection with the perfect amount and right combination of spices, it was served in a beautiful room, on beautiful china, by a beautiful waitress. And for the rest of your life you think, "That was the finest meal I ever had." What makes that meal important to you is not just how good it was at the time, but in retrospect it is still the finest meal you ever had. Now take the same situation, same incredible meal, but this time you go home and a little while later your stomach starts rumbling and you spend the rest of your night puking and shitting your brains out. That's right. The sluices are open at both ends. Now, if anyone ever asks you what the finest meal you ever had was, you're not going to choose the one that had you puking and shitting all night despite the fact that it was incredible when you ate it. You're going to choose something you got at Applebee's or whatever. My point is, for an audience, figuring out a magic trick has the same effect as getting diarrhea from a meal. You get the point.

I no longer believe that. In fact, I know it's not true. I've experienced the opposite (that is, a trick that doesn't fool people in the long run, but still provides a great experience) from both sides (performer and spectator).

In the epilogue to The Jerx, Volume One, I tell the story of the greatest magic trick ever performed. This was a trick that was profoundly mystifying but only for a short length of time. I've never seen a trick get a stronger reaction, nor have I ever seen a trick have a more profound impact on someone long after it was over.

Earlier this week I wrote about Derek DelGaudio's show and I said:

I especially loved the final moment of the show. I'm a sucker for a twist ending. And In & Of Itself, has a final 2-second effect that occurs at the very end of the show that came as a complete surprise to me and will forever be one of my strongest memories from any theater show. And it made something click in my head about our objectives when we perform magic (more on that to come in a future post).

(This is that future post.)

Now, here's the thing. That final effect only fooled me for a matter of moments. I experienced the effect, was blown away by it, but almost immediately knew what must have occurred. (Or, at least, I have a workable theory of what occurred.) And I don't think that's just true of me as a magician. I think any intelligent audience member would say, "Ah, when we were looking here, this must have happened over here." (I'm being coy to preserve the moment for those who haven't seen it yet.)

But that moment was still powerful to me. Even though it didn't "fool" me in the long run, it was still so surprising and visually and conceptually interesting that it's one of my favorite pieces of magic I've ever seen.

This was kind of a key moment for me, to be on the other end of the equation. I had learned as a performer that people had a greater appreciation for an effect as a story they live through rather than just being fooled by a hard-hitting trick. What I mean is, in my experience people have a greater enjoyment for a minor trick with an interesting presentation than they do some mindblowing miracle that they just can't connect to in any real way. But it wasn't until experiencing it myself that I felt like I truly understood why that is in a personal way, rather than just a theoretical way.

As magicians we concentrate so much on whether something fools people. But fooling people, at least initially, is relatively easy. One magic book alone will give you 50 ways to fool someone. Yet we keep looking for some new trick that might fool someone in a way it matters. The problem is that "being fooled" is a very fragile thing. If your spectator figures out the method, or thinks they figured out the method, your goal of "fooling" them crumbles. Even if they don't figure out the method but just say, "Ah, I don't really care how he did it," then you've sort of failed to fool them. Because fooling them would imply they're actively trying to figure out how you did it. You can't beat someone in basketball if they're sitting on the sidelines. And you can't really fool someone unless they've bought into the challenge.

So "Fooling" is not really the metric I use anymore. I don't think it's that useful as far as determining what people will enjoy. "This fools them more, so they'll like it better," isn't something that really rings true. Being fooled is an intellectual concept, not inherently an entertaining one.

What I've found is that if you want your magic to resonate, you don't just want to fool people, you want to thrill people. That's the verb I'm trying to keep in mind these days.

I want experiencing an effect to feel like...oh... I don't know... something like saving a hot blonde from a gorilla and a muscle-bound guy with a wooden mallet by fighting them at the same time. Punching them simultaneously with such force that you bust through the bars of a jail cell while death attacks you with a snake. Or something like that.

The main problem with most of the tricks in print isn't that they don't fool people, it's that that's all they do. You're fooled by Kolossal Killer, and that's all you get from it. So when the method crumbles the whole point of the interaction goes with it. Even if your method is impenetrable, being fooled is something that tends to diminish over time, especially if a trick is otherwise sort of meaningless. 

But being thrilled is something people cherish and romanticize. It doesn't necessarily diminish over time, often it gets built up.

How do you thrill people? I don't really have a step by step approach to it. But I think that's what I've been working towards in this site, although I didn't really know that was the word I was looking for. For example:

  1. I think you can thrill people by appealing to their sense of adventure. The Romantic Adventure and Engagement Ceremony styles are designed to put people in the position of taking part in something they've never done before.
  2. I think you can thrill people with genuinely surprising moments. The finale of Derek's show was a surprise. There was no prelude to the moment. It just happened. That's similar to the esthetic I strive for with the Distracted Artist style. Real surprise in magic is rare. If I borrow your ring, wrap it in a silk, make it vanish, and it appears on my shoelace, that's kind of a surprise, but kind of not because you're expecting something unusual/amazing to happen. It would be completely different if I asked to have a closer look at your ring (for some reason) then when I handed it back it was gone. We both looked all around for it and found it on my shoelace. Imagine how that would feel, especially if you had no idea I did magic. That's a true surprise.
  3. And I think you can thrill people by removing them from the role of spectator. For years I've harped on removing yourself as the magician, but haven't mentioned the corollary to that which is that when you do that, you remove the other person from the role of "spectator" or audience. They become more of a participant. And that expanded role makes them more susceptible to getting wrapped up in and "thrilled" by the experience.

Obviously I still think fooling people is important in magic. And the two goals should go hand-in-hand. Being fooled can be a big part of being thrilled, but I think the first step for me in making progress in this direction was realizing that just fooling people was more about my ego than it was about entertaining people. 

I'm not suggesting every trick needs to be some monumental life-changing thing. I think there's value in little thrills too. I'm only suggesting that I think you need to offer more than fooling someone if you're looking to give them an experience to remember.

Someone will now email me and say I'm just reiterating something that was said in Our Magic, or Your Magic, or Fucking Steve's Magic, or whatever it is. I'm sure that's probably the case. But I'll tell you this: To whatever extent it's been said before, it clearly didn't stick. Bill in lemon, cups and balls, linking rings, the egg bag, almost every card and coin trick ever—these are tricks designed to fool, not thrill.

I really like thinking in terms of "thrill" "enthrall" and "excite" as opposed to "fool" when thinking about the experience I want to deliver. It gets me in the right mindset in regards to thinking presentationally rather than methodologically. For the people who write me and ask how to go about coming up with more engaging presentations I think it's helpful to have those words as the target you're shooting for. That's going to have a greater impact on what you present to people than if your goal is just their basic ignorance of your methodology. 

And it's just a good word.


Smurf Job

MAGIC magazine is dead. I give Genii about three more months. Meanwhile, the JAMM is the fastest growing magic magazine of 2017. And why? Well, probably because I had zero subscribers at the start of 2017 so any amount constitutes an infinitely large growth rate, percentage wise.

But I also think it's because I'm willing to tackle the subjects people really want to read about, not the typical magazine dross.

Some dull article about the acts on America's Got Talent six weeks after I ignored that information on iTricks? No thanks.

An 8-page review of some Stewart James biography or something? Ugh... they still make Ambien, right? So what would ever compel me to read that article?

No... I'm not just trying to fill pages so I have something to attach ads to. I search out the stories that matter to you. 

For example in JAMM #5 I will be reviewing a routine called "Smurf Job" from Flirtic Vol. 7. (I'm linking you to an archived version of the page because I fear someone at Penguin might sober up and think, "Uh.... wait... is this something we should have on our site?")

Here is the description of "Smurf Job":

While playing pool in a pool hall, you let the girl give you a handjob and then cum into her hand!!! Yes, this is a magic trick. ;-)
Not R-rated. This is fun. (no human penis being harmed in this effect LOL).
* This will lead into the topic of sex in no-time...and her thinking about sex with you!

Did I stick to my rule of trying out every trick I review? Yes.

Was it almost impossible to find single women in a pool hall that I wanted to get "thinking about [having] sex with [me]!" Absolutely. 

I'll break that ad copy down line-by-line and give my performance experiences with Smurf Job in the next issue of The Jamm. Cumming next Tuesday.

100 Trick Repertoire: The Reset

In The Amateur at the Kitchen Table I argue for the creation of a 100 trick repertoire for the amateur performer (as opposed to the advice, "Learn six tricks, and learn them well," which, if it's appropriate for anyone, it's really only appropriate for the professional performer). 

In that essay I discuss how to go about building and maintaining your repertoire, but there are a few additional personalizations in regards to how I handle my 100 trick repertoire that I've been meaning to cover.

Today's idea is especially timely for me because of something that happened this weekend. Since this site began, I've kept a draft email in my gmail account. In this draft email I write down the ideas I have for future posts. As of this weekend I had somewhere in the area of, I would guess, 250-300 ideas.

And then, Sunday, the draft was gone. Nowhere to be found. I searched my mail for words that I knew were in the draft, there was no copy of it anywhere. I hadn't sent it, it wasn't in the trash. It was just gone and I had no backup.

I should have known better because my gmail drafts (which I use for a lot of things) were acting funky for a couple months. They weren't automatically updating and saving like they should. And sometimes draft titles would just disappear. But this was the first time the whole draft just up and vanished. 

It would have been easy to be angry or distraught about this. It was, potentially, a couple years worth of posts ideas that were lost in the ether. But I just decided to start rebuilding the list and I was immediately reminded that this post—The Reset—was one I had been meaning to write about.

The Reset is a feature of my 100 Trick Repertoire. Here's how it works. I have a three digit number that is my reset number. Let's say it's 520. Then, every day I check the evening numbers for the New York Lotto Pick Three. If those numbers match my reset number, then I delete all the documentation I have in regards to the tricks that comprise my 100 trick repertoire, and I start building it up again. So, this means I reset my repertoire, on average once every 1000 days. Almost three years. It's happened to me twice in the past 5 years since I implemented such a system.

When I do a reset it doesn't mean I never do the old tricks again. It just means that I rebuild up the repertoire without paying attention to what it was comprised of.

Why do you do this?

While the 100 trick repertoire as I describe it is something that should be dynamic and constantly evolving, I still think there's the possibility for it as a whole to get a little stale after a couple years and I think it benefits from starting from a blank slate now and then.

And I think there is a survival of the fittest aspect to this process as well. Once you delete your documentation on your 100 trick repertoire, you will immediately remember, say, 40 of them that you definitely want to reincorporate back into the rotation. These tricks tends to be the ones you like the best and/or that the audience likes the best. That's a good foundation for your repertoire.

And finally because building your repertoire is fun, so it makes sense to give yourself the opportunity to do so on some kind of regularly occurring basis.

Well, then why not just do it on a truly regularly scheduled basis?

The reasons for the random factor are these:

First, there are some people who love the planning and the organizing phase of things. They love it a little too much and it prevents them from ever executing a plan.  This is a kind of procrastination that's easy for people to justify. "I'm going to [lose weight, start that business, end this relationship, go on a vacation, find a new job, start a new hobby] as soon as I have the perfect plan figured out." And they spend all their time planning and no time doing. But it feels like they're doing something. The purpose of the 100 trick repertoire is to get me to perform more, not to spend a bunch of time crafting a "perfect" theoretical repertoire. If it wasn't random, that could encourage having a "reset" more often than necessary, because it suits people who like planning over doing.

Conversely, it also prevents someone from scheduling the reset at a non-beneficial interval. If you do it every 10 years then you're not really getting the benefit of being able to reassess the direction you're going in every 2-4 years, which I think is a good frequency.

So why not just schedule it every couple of years?

In order to prevent a "spring fever" situation. If you know you'll be tossing out this repertoire in the next three or four months, you might be less inclined to rehearse it and nurture it and make it grow.

Plus, I just like the idea of letting "fate" dictate certain things in my life. I'm a big believer in randomness and ways of using it to keep things fresh and compelling in the areas of my life that are important to me. More on that to come someday (maybe).

As far as this site goes, many of the post ideas that were lost are gone for good. On the other hand I've remembered about half of them in the past few days. So there's no issue with me running out of things to say anytime soon. Don't you worry. I've got plenty more important things to write about. PLENTY. I promise you. Just soooooo many interesting ideas rattling around in my head. Important ideas about the art of magic.

Which reminds me, the posts for the next two months will consist of an episode by episode examination of the Amazon original series, Just Add Magic.

Do these bitches really have what it takes to represent magic with the dignity it deserves? We'll find out as I break down each episode in the series, talk to the stars, and try and answer the hard hitting questions: Will Darbie's parents get back together? What happened the day they created the Can't Recall Caramel? How will Chuck saving Buddy from a car affect Kelly's parents view of him?

All these questions and more will be answered as I take a deep dive into Just Add Magic over the next two or three months.