The Dumb and the Deckless

As I mentioned would be happening last week, the Jerx Deck bonus period for JAMM subscribers is now over. Those who paid for a full-year subscription in a lump sum, or in monthly payments, will be receiving the deck when it becomes available. Hopefully in about a month or so. I will also hold a deck for those of you who subscribed later in 2017 and who want to change your monthly subscription to a full year purchase. Those of you who fall into that group will have until the end of January to take me up on that. 

 

The Jerx 2017 Gift Taking Guide, Part One

This is the first post in a week-long series dedicated to my gift taking guide.

Yes, this is a guide for things you might want to ask for this holiday season. Not things you might want to give. If you're legitimately looking at some generic gift guide, like this one from Walmart, to find something to give to someone you love, just end that relationship now. You two clearly haven't maintained it in a way that's good for either of you. You have 5 kids together? I don't care, end it. Ultimately that will be a much better gift to give than a Conair Foot Bath. Let her go find someone who cares about her enough to keep track of what she might want throughout the year. 

Moving on.

Here's something I wrote in the last issue of the JAMM:

With most any other hobby, the holidays are a good time to ask for the things you might want related to that hobby. If you’re into bowling, then it’s perfectly normal to put a new bowling ball on your wishlist. And because the people who love you want to get you something you’ll enjoy, they’re happy to get you that bowling ball. Everyone’s happy all around.

But if magic is your primary hobby, it can be a little weird to be like, “Hey, for Christmas can you go to Penguin Magic and buy me this peek wallet?” Especially if you end up performing for these people in the future. “Oh, you want to put the word I wrote down in that special wallet I got you for Christmas? Okay, sure.”

The thing is, people want to get you something related to your interests. And if magic is a big interest—and you don’t let them know something particular—then they may go off on their own and get you some weird magic shirt or a Criss Angel biography or something.

So I think it’s good to have some magic things on your list that a loved one can pick up for you that are magic related but that aren’t specific effects you plan on performing for them. All the better if they can be found on Amazon or Ebay or something.

So this week I will be discussing items that are somewhat magic adjacent that you may want to consider adding to your wishlist this year. 

These aren't affiliate links or anything like that. I'm not trying to make 1% off your transaction. I'm genuinely mentioning these sorts of things as items that I have put to good use in my magic practice, and they might serve you well to. And they're all things you can ask for without directing someone straight to Ellusionist or something.


Today's post is dedicated to just one broad category:

Accessories

I'm not a big believer in wearing all sorts of crazy nonsense. In the mid-2000s there was this concept called "peacocking" in the pick-up artist community. This was the idea that you wear a bunch of outlandish shit in a desperate attempt to get people to pay attention to you. The pioneer in this field was the pick-up artist (and amateur magician) known as Mystery. 

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Here he is peacocking with a fuzzy hat, goggles, eyeliner, corny earrings, labret piercing, beard-lette, four rings, painted finger nails, big belt buckle, necklace, and outfit from Hot Topic's Gay Pirate collection.

Did this get him laid? Apparently. Good for him. I'm just stuck in that rut of using my charm and personality instead. But when that fails, fuzzy hat here I come. 

When I suggest that accessories make a good gift for someone with an interest in magic, I'm not suggesting taking it to this degree. But I do like to have one moderately unusual item on me that may lead into a topic of conversation that may, in turn, lead into a performance.

For me, this is usually in the form of a ring. I know some people are hesitant about wearing something a little unusual. "I don't want to look like I'm starved for attention." I get that. But as long as it's one small thing, you're not going to come off that weird. Picture me, a normal looking guy: jeans, sneakers, hoodie, and then, if you're looking closely, you notice a slightly strange ring on my finger. You're not going to think I'm some ostentatious weirdo. If you're like most people, the biggest reaction you might have is to ask, "What's the story behind that ring?" 

Here are some of the rings in my collection that I've used to get into an effect in a "hook" fashion, or as an actual part of an effect.

Secret Decoder Ring - There are a zillion contexts this can be used in. For example, the spectator creates a "random" number with a calculator, or cards. The number seems meaningless, but when "decoded" becomes some word with some connection to the spectator. You can do this with essentially any technique you know of that forces a number.

Dice Rings - These can be found in six "sides" and 20 "sides." There is an outer band that spins and you can use that as a random number generator. They're primarily used by role playing game nerds, but there are a number of magic tricks that use dice that could use these rings as well. Or you can just use it as an entrée into some mathematical (or pseudo mathematical) effect. "Why do you have that ring?" they ask. "Oh, there's this project I've been working on, not a work project but a personal project. It's a little strange. But I have to feed my mind random numbers throughout the day. It's kind of like a memory exercise. Actually, would you mind helping me out with something?" This is quintessential "hook" technique. I can't over express how different the interaction between you and your spectator is when a performance springs from their queries, and seemingly their direction.

I also just use the dice ring personally as a simple decision maker. (Which is also another presentational subject matter you can use with this ring.)

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Handcuff Key Rings - I don't know where mine came from. They were a gift, and my friend who gave them to me a few years ago doesn't remember where he got them. They look like simple brass rings from the top of the hand, but from the inside it's clear that they're not. One of them you unbend to use as a handcuff key and the other just has the key part jutting out of the ring itself. 

These can, of course, lead into a story which can lead into a trick. Maybe your mentor gave you one after you successfully completed some bit of training or something. "What was the training?" Oh, funny you should ask....

Here's another example with what looks like a much more legit lock pick there. Although the ring itself looks too normal to serve as a Hook. Here's a bracelet that comes apart to form a handcuff key. Look around and you'll see they've built handcuff keys into lots of different things.

Lastly, I'll let you in on a little secret project I'm working on for myself. It uses a ring that is a bit more conspicuous than the ones above. If you search on Etsy for something like snow resin ring, you will find a number of different options. Many contain a little miniaturized landscape like this.

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I think this is pretty magical looking thing. And I'm now working with a craftsman to make a custom version of one of these rings to do a trick with. In the trick, my friend and I will do a visualization exercise that will inject us into the ring and then back out again. There will be "proof" of this journey because there will be a change to the ring and a change to the physical location we're in.

More details about this may come out someday.

If you don't wear rings, I would encourage you too. Even just a normal ring opens up a whole branch of magic for you to perform that you can always have on you and practice or perform at a moment's notice.

Or, if not rings, then find something you are into: sunglasses, watches, necklaces. And then work backwards from there, looking for magic you could use incorporating these items. There's not going to be as many of those sorts of things in the literature as you'll find with rings, but you can track stuff down. It can be an enjoyable process to be like, "Hmmm, if I started wearing watches regularly, what 5 tricks could I then add to my repertoire just because I know have this prop on me at all times."

There can also be a nice full-circle type of thing when someone gives you a gift and then, at a later point, you do some sort of effect with that thing. When you—for example—make the hands on the watch they gave you magically move to the time they're thinking of, that's a nice subtle way of interweaving the magic with other aspects of life.

Gardyloo #42

Next week's posts will be dedicated to the Jerx 2017 Gift Taking Guide. Over the course of three posts, I'll discuss ten things (or categories of things) you might want to ask for this holiday season. These things aren't strictly magic related (as in, they're not specific tricks or DVDs or something) instead they are things that are tangential to magic that you may want to put on your wishlist.


Here's a fun trick. It's particularly good for those times when someone is just begging you to learn some magic.

Effect:

You ask someone if they'd like to learn how to make a coin vanish. You bring out a bag of powder. "This is Woofle Dust," you say. You spit in your hand then sprinkle on some of the Woofle Dust. You place a coin in that hand and a moment later it's gone.

You offer to teach them how to do it. You have them spit in their hand and then sprinkle the powder on their palm. Then they place a coin in that hand and make a fist. "Hold tight!" you say, and grasp their hand, holding it closed. 

After a few moments they'll start to struggle and squirm. "It's burning!" they'll yell. 

Fight with them to keep their hand closed. "I thought you wanted to learn magic, you little bitch," you say. "You have to become acclimated to the Woofle Dust." 

After a minute, let them open their hand and find a hole burned into their skin. "You put the coin in upside-down, dummy," you say.

Requirements:

1. A half dollar
2. A clear forcing bag. One half is filled with powdered sugar, the other half with industrial strength lye.

Method: 

Spit in your hand and sprinkle some powdered sugar on it. Do a false transfer of the coin and make it vanish.

Now switch the bag over and have your friend spit in their hand and sprinkle some of the lye on their palm. Hold their fist shut until you can smell the chemical burn in their hand. 

Call your friend a pussy.

Switch the bag back over and dump some of the powdered sugar into your mouth.

(You may want to put a small mark on the side of the bag that has the powdered sugar so you don't put lye on your skin or down your throat. Maybe a lower-case p for "powdered sugar" on one side, and a capital P on the other for "poison." Wait... that's a terrible idea... those letters look identical in isolation... wait, come back!)


Episode 79 of the podcast Criminal might be of interest to some of you. It deals with a famous medium named Helen Duncan. I found it pretty interesting. Like all non-dickheads, I have an issue with anyone using deceptive techniques and then genuinely purporting to talk to people's dead relatives. But, at the same time, I do think this is a subject that can be pretty fascinating to incorporate into your presentations in direct and indirect ways.


The ad copy for this trick called The Skirt is fantastic and strange. I'm 75% sure that English is the second language of whoever wrote it. And I am 100% sure whoever wrote it is a raging virgin, constantly having to change his jizz-stained underpants after seeing a Dove bodywash commercial or a booby shaped cloud.

The effect resembles a leg in a slit skirt when a lady is walking. The face-up card would be the woman's leg. The face-down cards surrounding it would be the skirt. Instantly the face-up card vanishes, leaving only the cards (or skirt) that were next to it. 

The above vision is consistent with this project concept. That in itself is sexy. And that is why it is named The Skirt

Oh, baby, I can't wait to see this sexy trick!

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Oh...

Oh my god...

Oh my god, it's happening!

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While there's no denying the sexiness of this trick, there may be some debate on whether or not there is an actual trick here. 

Hey, see this little sliver of card?

No.

It's right here, see? I'm going to make it vanish. It's like a leg vanishing in a skirt.

Leg's don't vanish in skirts. They just go behind the skirt momentarily.

Uh... what? Oh, then forget that analogy. Nothing's going behind anything here. It's vanishing. Yes, 97% of the card is already behind other cards, but won't it be a genuinely sexy vanish when the final three percent disappears?

If I say yes can we get this over with? Ew... do you have an erection?

Probably. Look, the card vanishes. Now I will put the deck in the case. Like a penis going into a vagina. The above vision is consistent with this project concept. That in itself is sexy.

A Critical Examination of a $5 Magic Set

The other day I was in the store Five Below. Do you have these stores near you? If you don't, how do I explain them.... You know a dollar store, where everything costs a dollar? Well, Five Below is a store where everything costs 5 dollars (or less). Hmm... that wasn't that difficult to explain at all.

Unlike many dollar stores, which are often dreary and a little gross. Five Below is usually bright and well organized. The other difference is that Five Below is more aimed at young people.

Now, what it has in common with a dollar store is that you walk in there and say, "I can't believe this is so inexpensive!" And then you buy the thing and take it home and you're like, "No. I can believe it. This is a hunk of shit."

I go there for their candy selection because I have the palate of an 8-year-old. I also like to check out their game section which is always filled with the most moronic stuff. It's almost like some game magnate died and left the company to his mentally deficient, lunatic son. And now the other board members of the game company are producing all of his horrible ideas in hopes of activating some clause in the contract that allows them to take over the company if the stock price dips below a certain level.

So this dingbat is sitting at the head of the table, with a mouth full of crayon, and he's like, "Uhh... how 'bout a net you put on yer head and toss emojis into!"

And they're like, "You got it, boss."

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Then he's like, "I know! Let's make beer pong for when you're taking a dumpy on the toilet."

And everyone is like, "That's gold. We'll start production today."

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And so it was, while traversing the game aisle, I found this magic set.

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It's Rubik's, it's Fantasma Magic, these are two legit entities. Surely it can't be that bad right? 

Oh, it can. 

Are you really going to review a $5 magic set? That seems kind of petty.

Uh, yeah bitch, I am. Go read another site. Let me have my fun.

Here's how I imagine this going down.

INT. - FANTASMA OFFICES - DAY

TEDDY, the creative director for Fantasma sits at his desk, pushing a pen through a dollar bill. CARLA, the CEO of Fantasma walks in.

CARLA
Great news. The Rubik's licensing deal came through. I need 50 ideas for the set on my desk.

TEDDY
You got it. When do you need them by?

CARLA
Six minutes.

[Three minutes later.]

CARLA
I lied, I need those ideas now. What do you got?

To say there was no thought put into this set is an insult to the brain-dead.

I should have had some idea what to expect from this image on the side of the box.

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Yes, that's right. They took the normal plastic set of cups and balls and called it "Rubik's Cups and Balls." This was their innovation. 

I'll tell you what seduced me a little. It was the image on the other side of the box. The Mental Cube Box. "Read your friends' minds...know what color they chose!" 

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I assumed this was some version of the Color Vision trick, but it seemed like there was some sort of twist to it. Look, the cube goes in mixed and comes out solved (with the spectator's thought of color face up?). That actually sounds like it could be pretty cool. Well... as it turns out, although the pictures are labelled 1, 2, and 3, they're actually two different tricks. Pics 1 and 2 are from one trick and picture 3 is the first picture from another trick which, apparently, takes place on a planet that has a number system based on factors of three. 

I'm not an idiot. I wasn't expecting this to be a bunch of good tricks for $5. What I was expecting was one good trick, and then a bunch of trash. But no, this was 100% trash. 

The other thing that made me get it was where it says on the box, "Produce, Vanish, and Transform The Cube." Surely there would be at least one half-good idea for doing such a thing in the kit. But no, there isn't. In fact, I'm not even sure what "cube" they're referring to in that statement. Would it surprise you to learn that of the "50+ tricks" the box advertises, not a single one of them uses an actual Rubik's cube?

Here's what you get in the set:

1. The aforementioned cups and balls. 

2. A production box with one wildly idiotic design choice for a set based on the Rubik's Cube. 

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That's right, it's not a cube. It's the ever famous Rubik's Rectangular Parallelepiped.

3. A Rubik's paddle trick where the cube goes from mixed up to solved. This is fine. For a kid's trick, I mean. 

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For some strange reason, they flipped the orientation of the cube from one side to the other, as if to emphasize that it's not changing, but instead being turned over. While it's not the sort of thing I think someone would notice in performance, it's something that could register subconsciously as not right. And at the very least it's a dumb, unnecesarry decision.

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4. The Color Vision variation which you can use wise one of the two included cardboard cubes.

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Except you can't. The color vision box is supposed to have a perfectly cube shaped bottom portion so it can be rotated without it being noticed. This isn't a small detail... it's how the goddamn trick works. But they screwed it up and gave us a box that was shorter than it is wide, so when you rotate it and put the lid back on, it hangs off. So you can see something is weird from just a slight angle.

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You would think when partnered with Rubik's you would have some understanding of how to make a cube shape. And if not, surely one of the dumb apes at Fantasma could have placed a call to the Rubik's company to get their help with the concept of squareness.

5. Out-to-Lunch Cards

This was to be my saving grace. Even if everything else in the kit sucked, I knew I could use these OTL cards as an adjunct to some other Rubik's trick I can do. For example, I could have them sign a card with a mixed up cube, solve a cube in real life (the regular way or magically) and then have the image they signed now solved as well. Or I could do it without a cube. Have them sign the mixed up cube card, take it back, start folding up the card a few times, back and forth as if I'm somehow "solving" it. Then I unfold the card and the cube is solved. That could be a fun, quick little trick. 

So, if nothing else, at least I have that.

No... no, I don't.

The geniuses at Fantasma decided not to have the image transform from an unsolved cube to a solved one (you know, the ONLY thing you do with a Rubik's Cube). Instead it goes from an unsolved cube to this shit...

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A bunch of little cubes in the air. Great. That makes sense.

Now, you might say, "Okay, Andy, those 5 tricks suck, but what about the other 45 tricks in the set?"

Well, they might have fudged that "50+" trick description just a little. For example, each step of the Rubik's Cups and Balls is considered a different trick. Just the set-up for the trick is considered the 8th trick in the book.

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Via that technique they stretch these five tricks into 25. The other 25 are made up of dumb classics that have nothing to do with the Rubik's cube.

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Speaking of breaking fingers, Fantasma Magic, if you don't make things right with me and refund my money I'm going to send some thugs your way to break your fingers. That's right. And no, I'm not some meek little pussy that will be satisfied just to get my $5 back. I also want five percent interest back too. So I expect to see $5.25 from you in my paypal soon or you will have made a powerful enemy in the magic world.

Last Call for the Jerx Deck

By the end of this week at the very latest (but likely sooner) the Jerx Deck #1 will no longer be a bonus for people who purchase the full year of The JAMM.

Don't come crying to me if you miss out. You had 11 months!

There's been some confusion over email about who will get the deck. Listen up:

1. If you purchased the full volume of the JAMM, you're getting the deck.

2. If you subscribed to the JAMM before the first issue (Feb. 6th), you're getting the deck.

3. If you subscribed to the JAMM at a later point (after the first issue), I'm holding onto a deck for you. The way you get it is—at some point—converting your subscription to a full JAMM Volume One order. (See this post for how to do that.) There's no hurry to do this. I will hold a deck in your name at least until February of next year.

Before the deck is sent (which will be sometime around the new year) I will reach out to everyone who has a deck coming to them in order to get the address it should be sent to. That's the final step before the deck goes out, so don't worry that I'm going to send it to some defunct address that used to be connected to your paypal. Don't be proactive about this. Wait for me to write you (it helps me keep things in order).

You'll Never Believe this Single Mom's One Weird Trick for Stronger Magic Presentations; The Shocking Truth Other Magicians DON'T Want You To Know

[When I read the draft of this post, the title: One Simple Trick for More Intriguing Presentations, reminded me of a clickbait title, so I decided to just go all the way with it.]

This is a weird one for me, because I was positive I had already written this post before. It was one I had on my list when I first started this site. But when I looked for it in the archives to reference for something else I was writing, it wasn't there. So... I guess I didn't write it? I don't know. There's a chance I decided not to write it up in order to keep it to myself because I do think it's a pretty valuable short-cut towards creating more interesting presentations. And I'm not one of these magic content creators who is like, "I'm not holding anything back!" I hold a lot of stuff back from you guys. 

I've definitely talked about similar ideas before, but I guess I never stated the concept clearly in a single post (or I'm just really bad at searching my own archives).

The idea arose from some of the focus-group testing I helped conduct in the past, but it wasn't something we set out to test. This was years ago and I honestly don't remember the exact genesis of the idea, but I know that's where it started and that it's something I've used ever since. 

I'll call this the "Based On Technique." (Part of the reason I like to give things names is so I can refer back to them. And another part is so I know what to search for in the archives so I don't lose posts I thought I wrote.)

Here's an example. The spectator hides a coin in either hand and you know where it is. A typical presentation for this is that you can read the spectator's body language to know which hand holds the coin. 

Trick: I can tell what hand holds a coin.
Implied Method: I can read your body language. 

Now, as I originally said in the Sealed Room with the Little Door post, there are two ways for a spectator to react to a trick with a believable implied method (aka a believable explanation).

"1. The spectator believes it, which is good for your ego, but not great entertainment, I don't think. 2. The spectator doesn't believe it and is put into the awkward position of wondering if you really want them to believe this somewhat believable explanation. For these people, the believable explanation often seems less like a 'presentation' and more like you're lying in order to impress them with some skill/power your don't really possess. Which a lot of you are, of course."

The Based On Technique can be used any time you have an effect with a believable premise. Let's go back to the coin in the hand. Typically you might say something like, "By reading your body language I can tell which hand holds the coin." (Or maybe you read their facial expressions, or you can detect when they're lying, or whatever semi-reasonable presentation you're using.)

The Based On Technique works like this. It's a two step process. First, is the Set-Up, where you relate what they're about to see to some believable concept. But instead of saying that's how the trick is done, you say what they're about to see is based-on that technique, or inspired by that technique, or has its roots in that technique. So you might say some something like, "Ok, this is... well... it's kind of based on techniques that were first used in reading body language." And you say it almost reluctantly. As if you don't want to mislead them by mentioning body language, but that's the closest thing that they might be familiar with that you can relate it to.

The second part of the technique is the Turn, where you then make a claim that steers them away from the concept you just mentioned. Going back to the example: "Ok, this is... well... it's kind of based on techniques that were first used in reading body language. But with traditional body language reading, you would need to see the person. This isn't like that. That's why I'm going to be completely blindfolded for this."

You see what we're doing, yes? We're giving them something to relate to, but then we're twisting it in a way to make the supposed method more fascinating. What kind of evolution of body language interpreration could involve not actually seeing the person? Are you sensing some kind of... change in their aura or something? 

This isn't just a hypothetical example. I've had Hugo Shelley's 6th Sense for a while. It allows you to know which hand holds a coin. The effect is so straightforward and clean that I just got the feeling that people thought, "Well, I guess he can tell which hand holds a coin based on my body language." They just seemed to believe it, which is not what I was going for.

But the reactions were much stronger when I changed my presentation to the one above. You still have the same outcome (you can tell them what hand holds the coin), but the proposed method is now interesting in its own right.

When using the Based On Technique, never tell them it's based on what it actually is based on. For example, don't tell them it's based on old mnemonic techniques, if, in fact, memory techniques could explain the effect. 

Here are some other examples of the technique:

The Set-Up: "Have you ever heard of human lie-detecting? They teach it to detectives to use in the field. You can determine when someone is lying by paying attention to their breathing rate and pupil dilation when they talk. This is something like that."
The Turn: "But it's different because with standard lie-detection techniques, I'd need you to say something. And in this case I'm not going to need you to verbalize anything at all."

(After someone shows you the 21 Card Trick, or some other mathematical effect.)
The Set-Up: "Oh yeah, that's a classic. I have a trick that's kind of based on that one. It has its foundations in mathematics too."
The Turn: "It's a branch of mathematics known as chaos theory. Can you throw the deck in the air and let the cards scatter around the room."

(Let's say I have a self-working effect. I might say something like this.)
The Set-Up: "This is sort of a variation on some of the most basic sleight-of-hand techniques that I learned in books I got from the library when I was a kid."
The Turn:  "But those techniques would require physically manipulating the object itself. This is a variation on sleight-of-hand that doesn't involve touching the objects."

As you can see, you don't have to be a genius to come up with this kind of construction. You just say the trick is "based on" some genuine thing. And then you add something that is also supposedly true about the trick that seemingly contradicts what the spectator knows about the subject you just invoked as being the methodological basis for what they're about to see.

Here are the two main benefits I see with this technique:

1. First, for those of you who are uncomfortable with a truly outlandish presentation, it's sort of a training-wheels technique to push you gently in that direction. It takes a believable premise and turns it into something a little more "out there."

2. This goes along with something I've written about frequently here. And that is the notion that a modern audience knows you don't have magic powers. So they know there's a secret involved. And instead of denying there's a secret, we can take steps to inject mystery and uncertainty into the audience's understanding of what secrets are and how they work. 

This technique is an easy way to generate very intriguing implied methods. Let me put an example into Magician-ese. If I said, "I have a trick I want to show you. It's kind of based on the Gilbreath principle, but it starts with a borrowed, shuffled deck that I never touch." Now you have to try and wrap your mind around something that's somehow related to the Gilbreath principle but uses a shuffled deck. It essentially doubles the mystery. You have the mystery of the effect and the mystery of the method.

"But they're not really going to believe the method," you might say. "They're not really going to believe it has something to do with body language, but you don't need to see their body."

Yes, there's some truth to that. But I think you'd be surprised how attractive this type of explanation can be. If I say, "I'm going to read your body language to tell you which hand holds the coin," it's very easy to dismiss that as being nonsense. Especially if you know me and know I'm not a master of body language. But if I say that I'm using a technique that's related to body language but differs in some radical ways, it's actually harder to dismiss that, I think. It's harder to dismiss it because you don't know what it is you're dismissing. I haven't made it concrete enough for you to reject completely. 

In the post I mentioned above, The Sealed Room with the Little Door, I wrote about the difference between tricks with believable implied methods and tricks with unbelievable implied methods. And I wrote how my favorite types of tricks to perform were strong tricks with unbelievable implied methods: time travel, witchcraft, evil twins. That's still true. I think when you can really pull that off you have the most "magical" type of effect because people know it's not real, but it feels real. The Based On Technique introduces another option that I like a lot as well. You have the believable implied method, the unbelievable implied method, and now the inexplicable implied method; where the concept behind the method is as mysterious as the trick it produces.