2017 Superlatives

I'm on my holiday break next week which means this is the last post until 2018. As we say goodbye 2017, I wanted to list some of the things that stood out for me this year.

Best Treasure Hunt

Hidden Gems by Mark Elsdon

This is a collection of 100 routines that Mark has identified as some of his favorites ever put in print. (Not his own routines, other people's.) They're not explained. You have to go and track them down, but that's part of the fun of it. 

I like things like this. It reminds me of making mix-tapes or mix-CDs back in the day. Like you're plucking out certain things to shine a spotlight on them so they don't get lost amongst all the other songs on the album, and all the other albums that have come out.

Back in the day, on the Cafe, when a new book would come out, you would often have someone ask, "Are there any particular routines I should keep an eye out for?" And it became fashionable for someone to reply, "Just read the whole book. See what you like for yourself." I think they thought this was somehow the smart and noble response. It's not. It's corny. Highlighting the things you particularly liked about something is a normal human thing to do. Would you lecture someone who asked, "Hey, what were your favorite songs on that album?" Only if you were a socially awkward, self-righteous screwball.

So I appreciate Mark putting this together. Don't expect to find 100 tricks you're going to love as much as he does. I would say about 25% of the ones I've read have spoken to me on some level. Some are longer routines that just aren't my style. And others I just don't connect with at all. In fact, I just read one routine last night that was genuinely one of the worst tricks I've ever come across. But the difference of opinion on this sort of thing is also part of what I find interesting about it all.

Best Magic Reviewer

Well, I'm tempted to say me. Who else would devote six pages to a review for a trick about a "Smurf Dick" as I did in the JAMM #5? But I'll take myself out of the running. I'm also tempted to say Kainoa Harbottle because he gave glowing reviews to both The Jerx, Volume One and the first half year of The JAMM in Genii magazine, so he obviously knows what he's talking about. But that may be coloring my impression of his reviews a tad.

So I'm going to go with Ekaterina who does reviews on her youtube channel.

Now, I don't always agree with her assessments of things, but that's not that important. I don't think you need to find a reviewer you always agree with. You need to find someone who is thoughtful and consistent. Then you can make your own judgments relative to that person's. 

What I particularly like about her reviews are:

  1. I feel I'm getting a pretty honest assessment with her. Some reviewers really just want to bash things, others really just want to lavish praise on things. I don't think she seems to be coming at her reviews from either of those directions.
  2. She usually demos the effect.
  3. She's willing to give negative reviews to things she was given for free.
  4. I know she actually performs for people in real life. 
  5. She's not unwilling to discuss methodological aspects of an effect that may affect your decision to buy or not. She doesn't "expose" anything, really, but she puts things in a way that a knowledgeable magician can understand any potential pitfalls or considerations of the method.
  6. She seems like a normal human being. Her reviews are clear and conversational. She's not desperately trying to be funny. 
  7. She's not part of any retail magic operation, so she's not forced to give things glowing reviews so they can get them off the shelves. 
  8. Last week I said I was considering purchasing Clone from Ellusionist. She saved me $150.

Most Amazing Trick I Experienced in 2017

Seth Raphael has a trick coming out that is one of the best tricks I've ever seen. He sent me a book of mazes in the mail. It looked identical to some shitty book straight out of my childhood.

I had my friend call up Seth and he performed the trick for us over the phone. I won't give away all the details, but my friend freely chose one of the mazes in the book and attempted to solve it. Without asking any questions, Seth was able to tell him which maze he chose (they were all named) and the exact route he took in his attempt to get through the maze. Then there were a couple kickers on top of that which I won't get into now because I'm not sure how much Seth wants divulged about it. 

It was the most convincing demonstration of clairvoyance I've ever seen. So much so that I originally thought my friend was in on it, and he originally thought I was in on it. And our second thought after that was that there was a tiny camera in the package he sent us that was somehow broadcasting what was happening in the room. That's just how confused we were. 

The trick is a combination of insanely clever methods and incredibly simple methods. It's not the sort of thing that you can perform over the phone in most circumstances, because you can't really leave the book in the spectator's hands for an extended period of time after the effect as Seth did with us. But it's definitely something you could find a place for in close-up, parlor or stage, I would think. I like to bring the book to a friend's house and have them shut themselves in their bathroom so there's no way I could see. Then I do the trick by talking to them from the opposite side of the door.

I'm glad it's something I got to see performed before I had it explained to me because there are some parts of it that I might have felt wouldn't work that well had I not seen them in person. I'm not sure what the timetable is for the release, but keep an eye out for it.

Most Amazing Non-Trick I Experienced in 2017

I was reading someone's version of the Open Prediction and they mentioned that after the spectator had set aside the face-down card, they just had them turn over the rest of the cards as a block and spread through them to show the predicted card wasn't there. This seemed like a big waste of possible tension. Yes, it takes longer to deal through the cards, but that's where the build-up happens. 

I wanted to see what it felt like to deal through the cards in an open prediction. Does it really feel long and dull? So I shuffled a deck and said, "I predict you'll set aside the four of clubs." And then I dealt through the deck as if I was a spectator and I set a card aside and dealt through the rest of the cards. As the cards to be dealt dwindled and no 4 of clubs showed up, I was elated to think that I might actually have done the trick for real. And when I got to the end and turned over the face-down card that I had set aside, I realized that I had actually done it. It was amazing. I had assumed I'd just get a glimpse into what it felt like for a spectator, but I had actually given myself the true experience of getting it right.

I decided to try it again. I named a random card, the six of hearts. Shuffled the deck, then dealt through it, setting one card aside as I did. This time I got to the last few cards and I was flipping the fuck out because the six hadn't shown yet. I had done it again! A 1 in 2704 possibility had just happened!

And, while I think of myself as intensely logical, I began to think crazy thoughts. Do I have some weird gift? Is some greater power giving me a glimpse into the impossible?

I needed to try it again. I thought of the king of clubs, shuffled, and dealt.

It showed up about a third of the way through. I'm not psychic. The universe wasn't sending me a message. (Or maybe it was, and it just got pissed that I had to push it to three times. Honestly, if it had worked three times I would have kept going until it didn't. So I kind of see the universe's point.) 

But for a couple minutes I got to experience the bonkers feeling of having had something truly amazing occur. And to feel how especially strong it is when there is no "magician" taking credit for that feeling.

Best Live Lecture

I didn't watch a ton of these this year, but the one that I thought had the best material was Hanson Chien's Penguin Live Lecture.

It's almost all rubber band material, so if that's not your scene, you probably won't like it.

I don't actually love rubber band effects myself. It's hard to do anything with them other than something in a "Hey, look what I can do," style. But, that being said, rubber band magic is great for quick, visual effects with objects you can have on you at all times. So it has those benefits. 

Hanson's style is very smooth and not overly fidgety. Sometimes with rubber band magic it's clear that something is going on in the set-up phase, but his effects have as little of that sort of thing as possible. 

These are the tricks from the lecture that I already do or will be working on:

  • Ultimate Jump
  • Touch
  • Frozen Band
  • Freeze
  • CCR
  • Hanson's Linking Bands
  • Breaking Point

He teaches the material well (I often find rubber band magic unlearnable the way some people teach it). And he has a low-key natural humor that I found enjoyable. If you're into rubber band magic at all, I would pick this up.

My Favorite Effects I'm Working On At This Very Moment

Because of the backing of the people who support this site, I'm able to devote a good deal of time so I can always be working on new ideas. I have a ton of new stuff I've created in the past year that will likely see the light day in subscriber rewards in the future if this site continues.

As of this moment, these are three of my favorite tricks/concepts I've been working on in the past couple weeks.

1. A sequel to the Baby Who Knows. In this one, an infant reads her mother's mind, and then repeats the trick with her father.

2. A trick where a small sealed bag that contains a blend of dried flowers and other objects is placed under your spectator's pillow at night and ends up controlling her dreams.

3. I've been thinking a lot about different orientations for a trick. That is, the physical positioning between the performer and spectator. I think playing around with that, and not just doing everything seated at a table, can produce very memorable moments. I mentioned above the idea of doing a trick on the opposite sides of a bathroom door. Another one I'm working on is one where you and your spectator lay together in bed or on the floor. You put your cell phone between you with the flashlight on, pointed up. Then you do a trick with the shadows on the ceiling.

My Favorite E-mail This Year

I've always liked that there are barriers to entry for the material I put out. First, the site isn't advertised, so you have to have someone tell you about it or stumble onto it yourself. Then it's full of long, wordy posts that require a commitment to read. There are concepts and inside jokes that only make sense if you go back and read 30 months of posts. And then there's another level where you can support the site financially and get access to a bunch of other ideas. And beyond that, those ideas often require a leap of faith because they're not always standard types of effects with the usual performer/audience dynamic. I think there is a learning curve to the style of magic I promote here. At least there was for me. 

So to really put it all together you first have to find the site, then read through hundreds of posts, donate money, read more, and then commit to trying out a style of performing that's possibly designed to not give you the type of reactions and response you got into magic to get in the first place. It takes some work to be a fan of this site. So that's why I appreciate the people who go through the effort to actually try out the effects and explore the concepts written up here.

This year was really the first time where I received a decent amount of feedback from people who were out there performing the material from this site, JV1, and the JAMM. I received a bunch of emails with write-ups of how the effects went, pictures from the performances, and a few videos of effects being performed in casual situations and even on stage. It's cool to see people performing this stuff or being inspired by the ideas and building on them.

In that regard, I think my favorite email this year is one I got last week from a magician and supporter of this site, Kevin Blake.

For context, in the JAMM #6, I included a trick called Faith. In this trick you go outside with your spectator and give her a helium balloon with a ribbon or string tied to it. You have her take her ring and tie it to the string. She ties the ring to the string herself. She holds the string in her hand. And she, after some cajoling, lets it go. The ring can be seen on the string floating away and eventually the balloon disappears into the night sky. It's really that straightforward. 

You can then make the ring reappear in any number of ways. 

I love performing this trick. And I love the idea of it. The climax is genuinely amazing but what I really love is the moment when they are holding the string with a helium balloon on one end and their ring on the other and they have to decide if they're actually going to let it go for the chance that something amazing could happen.

I have a special place in my heart for this trick. So I was happy to receive this email from Kevin where he discussed incorporating the effect, or elements of the effect, in an upcoming show.

Currently in the writing phase of a new show, and your “Faith” trick is something I hope to include in it. I think it would be super powerful as a theatrical piece, bringing a woman outside (with cameraman so audience can watch on feed) and having her go through the process of letting it go (or just letting it go myself, not sure). And then having it reappear at the end of the show. 

I think the idea of that trick is one of the most beautiful and powerful of all the magic I’ve ever seen. 

I don’t have a live-feed capability in my venue quite yet, so going to do something different with the balloon and turn the image in the poster below into a story about hope, dreams, and loss—until I think later this year when I have time to workshop it into the show. But regardless, thought you’d enjoy seeing your ideas inspire the artwork for my next show. The show is going to be awesome. I think you’d enjoy. 

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That poster is dope. It was created by Kevin and illustrator Matthew Jay Fleming (who has some really gorgeous concert posters on his site). 


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone! I'll see you back here on January 1st, 2018.

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Confession

Yesterday I walked into Tannen's magic shop in NYC, told everyone I write the Jerx, and I was immediately propositioned by half a dozen guys who wanted me to make love to their filthy bottoms. 

How? Why?

Confession time. My recent posts on misdirection have been a con job. It's all been an experiment in NLP and subliminal messages.

How did I start off yesterday's post? "This is a long one." This got you primed to be thinking about my dong.

And the whole subject itself... "misdirection."

Misdirection.

Missed erection.

I got you all feeling like you really "missed" an "erection" in your life. I had you craving it. 

Did I just blow your mind?

Now, granted, as a heterosexual male, I probably should have picked a more target-rich environment to test out my wonderful secret seduction techniques than my overwhelmingly male audience.

I just couldn't help myself.

But I promise I'm done with that now. I swear I'm not going to say anything else to try and get you to want to act as a power bottom for me.

Say... do you think I should review Super Hole? Like, not just a cursory overview, but really go deep into Super Hole?

Ok. I'll stop now. I'm going to go outside for a walk. I love to hear the crunch of the snow on the ground below me. The sky is beautiful tonight.

(blow me. this guy is beautiful tonight.)

Guys, I'm totally Wonder-Wording your asses, Kenton Knepper style!

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Practical Misdirection for the Amateur Magician

[This is a long one.]

In regards to some of the recent discussion here about misdirection, I received an email from a magician who certainly has the credentials to know what works and what doesn't when it comes to that subject. I don't want to name names, but he's someone who has been performing professionally for most of his life, has authored half a dozen books, operates an online magic-shop with his life partner, and his name is something like Smoshua Smay (but replace the SMs with Js). Ok, no more hints!

In his email, he expressed that there was a part of Tommy Wonder's essay on misdirection that I hadn't addressed or had perhaps overlooked. He wrote:

"I think the part of his worldview on misdirection that is accurate (and, at the time, new) is that it is continuous. It's not something you turn on when you're ready to get the peek, or steal the load. The idea, as I understand Tommy, is that you're a tour guide, and as a tour guide you show things of interest seamlessly, flowing from one interesting object to an interesting premise, to an instruction for the spectator, to a funny line, and so on. In essence, that every second of a trick has something interesting happening to occupy the spectator's attention."

Okay, where to start...

1. If you don't know the Tommy Wonder essay we're referring to, you can read it, and dozens of other essays on magic, in this free ebook from Vanishing Inc

2. I believe Smosh beautifully paraphrases Tommy Wonder's thoughts as expressed in the section of his essay called "Continuous Direction."

3. I agree with Tommy's thoughts. If you're putting on a magic show, then you do want to guide people from point to point, continually leading them from one moment of interest to another, like jumping from one rock to another in order to cross a stream, and, in doing so, bringing them to the precise location you want them to be at on the opposite bank.

In that way, moments of misdirection (or direction) will blend in with all the other moments around them where you aren't diverting them away from something, but just onward to the next moment of significance.

Not only do I agree with Tommy on this point, it borders on common sense to do so in a theatrical context. 

And that's kind of the point. While this is good advice for a professional magic show—or even an amateur presentation where you want to mimic the esthetic of a professional magic show—it's almost unusable advice in a casual, amateur performance. What people expect or accept in a theatrical setting they don't expect or want in a casual one. This is why we must have different techniques for the two.

The moment you sit down with someone and start directing their attention from moment to moment, you've lost the feeling of a real interaction. This is not how normal humans relate to each other. This is why magicians in casual situations often come off as robots or aliens not quite familiar with human interaction when they slip into "performance mode."

You can test this idea by imagining yourself showing someone something non-magical, but using the precepts in Tommy Wonder's essay. If you were showing someone your baseball card collection and every beat was planned and every moment outlined in advance, you understand how that could seem awkward, yes? 

In a more formal style you would want to come off as a "tour guide" showing people things of interest. But that's not my style. I don't want to come off as a tour guide, because I want it to feel like the destination is some place neither of us have been before. A tour guide has an intimate familiarity with the location. But I want the limit of my influence to feel like, "Hey, I've heard about this interesting place. Do you want to check it out?" And then we discover it together. 

Instead of being taken on a guided tour through a place, I want the person to feel like they were free to follow their whims and explore as they pleased. Obviously there are some constrictions, but I don't want it to feel that way.

In my experience, this leads to more powerful magic (and if it didn't, I wouldn't do it this way). When things are too "directed," it's less surprising when something happens to work out in a particular way. The whole point of being "directed" is to reach a particular destination. So when things feel "undirected" and yet we still end up at some incredible conclusion, that's almost the definition of a "magical" experience.

So while I agree that Tommy's ideas make sense for a formal show where the audience expects to be led (and for amateurs who want to perform in a formal manner). In casual situations I think we need a different tactic. 

Eyes vs Minds

Here is the approach that I've found most useful in dealing with misdirection in casual performances. 

It comes down to breaking misdirection down into two categories: misdirection of the eyes (misdirection of interest) and misdirection of the mind (misdirection of suspicion). And yes, I realize suspicion is a form of interest; these are just general labels to help categorize these things. Don't be a pill about it.

To know when to use which type of misdirection, we need to know if the audience has established a locus of suspicion. That is, have they identified an area or object where they suspect something is going to occur. While this can sometimes be a grey area, usually it's pretty clear. 

Here are the two main precepts:

1. If no locus of suspicion has been established, then misdirect their eyes (misdirect their interest).

For example, let's say you bring out a deck of cards and you have the aces on the top. You want to palm them off in order to have the deck shuffled. At this stage in the performance, your spectator isn't focused on any one thing, so they shouldn't be burning the top of the deck. So we just need to misdirect their eyes. It doesn't even need to be a matter of misdirection, you just have to wait until they're not looking at the deck. 

2. If a locus of suspicion has been established, you need to misdirect their mind (misdirect that suspicion).

The heart of what I'm saying is this: Suspicion always trumps interest. You can't misdirect people from something they're suspicious of with some object of interest. Let's say two coins have disappeared and you have a final coin in your fist that you want to make vanish. That coin, due to the nature of the trick, is now the locus of suspicion. If you try to misdirect people's eyes and interest away from the coin in order to ditch it in your pocket, you're not going to fool people. People know when their attention is being pulled away. They can feel it. Some people won't give in and will just stare at that hand regardless of what technique you attempt to employ to distract them. Others will look away when you, for example, ask them a question, because they don't want to be dicks about it. But if you then make the coin vanish, there is no doubt in their mind about what happened: you did something with it when they weren't looking. It's a perfectly reasonable assumption.

And for most audience members that is enough of an explanation. They don't need to know more than that. "Something happened when I looked away." Case closed.

In this situation, rather than using misdirection that gets them to look another way, we want to get them thinking another way. And that's misdirecting their suspicion. So, for example, instead of distracting you with something else while I peek the billet, I get you to believe your billet is somewhere it isn't. That gives me the opportunity to peek your billet outside the locus of your suspicion. 

Or, instead of asking you a question to bring your eyes off my hand holding the coin, I sleeve the coin or false transfer it so it is no longer where you think it is. Then I can vanish it without you apparently ever having turned your attention away from it.

"But, Andy, shouldn't we misdirect their eyes away from the sleeving or the false transfer? Wouldn't that make it doubly deceptive?

Not in my opinion. I think that's an abuse of misdirection. If your false transfer can't withstand the heat of their attention, then you need to work on your technique. If you have a move that absolutely can't be done with people watching you or your hands then, in general, it's probably not a move that should be done once people have established a locus of suspicion. If you do the move in such a circumstance, it will just fall under the umbrella of, "He did something when I looked away." And they'd be right about that.

The Misdirection Flowchart

Here is my thought process when working on an effect.

I consider each move or deception separately.

The first thing I'll think is, "Is this move something that needs misdirection" The move itself may be so subtle or invisible that it doesn't need misdirection. And if it doesn't, I don't add it unnecessarily.

But if I think, yes, the move needs some misdirection, then I'll ask, "Has a locus of suspicion been established at this point in the trick?" If the answer is No, then I'll use traditional misdirection techniques (asking questions, drawing their attention to something) or just wait for them to look away naturally.

If the answer is yes, there is something they're suspicious of, and that object is what needs to be manipulated in some way, then I'll ask, "Can I misdirect their suspicion? Is there a way to get them to focus that suspicion on the wrong object or in the wrong area?" 

If the answer to that is yes, then I'll use that tactic to misdirect their suspicion.

But if the answer to that is "no," then I just won't do the trick. If the only way to pull off the trick is to get them to divert their attention from the thing they're naturally suspicious of, then it's not a good trick for my style of performance. 

Ambitious

Here's an example of the terminology and ideas as they would apply to an ambitious card routine.

Phase 1: The spectator selects a card and signs it and it's placed in the middle of the deck. I do a pass and it's now on top. Type of misdirection: Misdirection of eyes/interest. At this point, there is not overt suspicion on the card. They have no idea what's about to happen. They don't realize it's physical location in the deck is that important until I say, "I'm going to make your card rise to the top." And, of course, I don't say that until after the move is done.

After phase 1, the Locus of Suspicion has been firmly established. It's the signed card. 

Phase 2: Most of us couldn't get away with another pass for a second phase of the ambitious card with a spectator watching closely. And if we draw their attention away from the deck at this point, they'll just think something happened when their attention was diverted. So instead we focus their suspicion in the wrong place. So maybe I secretly turn the top card over against my leg. The selection is then placed face-up on top and switched for the indifferent card when I turn the double face-down. "Watch carefully," I say. They can burn my hands as their selection goes into the middle. I tell them to take the top card but not to look at it yet. "If this worked, that should be your card." They say, "No way." They turn it over and it is. (Type of misdirection: Misdirection of suspicion - get them to believe the locus of their suspicion is somewhere it isn't.) In this phase they think they're watching exactly what they want to watch (their card), but in reality their focus is on an indifferent card. 

Phase 3: The selection is placed in the middle of the deck, but again rises to the top. (Type of misdirection: None.) Tilt and a double lift can withstand the spectator's gaze without significant misdirection.

Phase 4: I tell them to cut the deck so I can bury their card in the middle. They try and find that the deck is one solid block (Paul Harris' Solid Deception). (Type of Misdirection: Misdirection of suspicion - get them to place their suspicion on the wrong object.) In this case the deck is switched at the climax of phase two, when their attention/suspicion is on the card in their hand. This is kind of a hybrid between misdirection of the eye and misdirection of the mind. Because the final effect happens somewhere outside of where they've focused their attention, a spectator could conclude, "He must have done something to the deck when I was looking somewhere else. I didn't know to focus on the deck." They could think that (although it's unlikely in this particular trick due to the fact the deck is seemingly normal after it's been switched).

But, you see, it's okay if they come to that conclusion. I'm not operating under the delusion that I can get them to never think they were looking in the wrong place while something happened somewhere else. That's not my goal. My goal is that they'll never feel like their attention was pulled away from where they wanted it to be. If your audience has established a locus of suspicion and you just try and misdirect their interest away from it, they will always feel that. However, in something like the example above, their attention is never pulled away from anything. They're free to follow their impulses every step of the way.

The Next Evolution

Those are my thoughts on misdirection. Just to be clear, there are some effects that are about misdirection, e.g. "I'm going to get your card under the card box and you're not going to see it." Those effects are outside the scope of this essay. Once you start invoking misdirection in your presentation, that's something else altogether.

Now, some people will claim they're so good with misdirection that the audience will actually forget they looked away. No, they won't. I promise you. Not if they've established a locus of suspicion. 

The truth is usually just the opposite. Your spectator really will have their focus on everything that is happening, but when the climax occurs they'll think, "Ah, you must have done something when I looked away."

I remember performing Out of this World for the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen one night on the floor at the foot of her bed. When the cards were turned over she screamed and then, after a moment, she said, "You must have switched them. I must have looked away at some point and you switched them." It's a ridiculous idea. But I guess it seemed less ridiculous than that she was able to shuffle a deck of cards and then separate them into red and black by instinct.

If you're performing in a conversation/casual style, you're more susceptible to this type of thing. The magician on stage or at your restaurant table can implore you to "look, watch... make sure my hand never goes near my pocket," etc., etc. But if your goal is to not come off as a "performer" and you want to make things seem less prepared and more organic, then it can be weird to beg them to focus on something. That doesn't feel like the laid-back style some of us are going for.

That's why I think the next evolution in thought in regards to this type of thing will be at the opposite end of the misdirection spectrum. It will be about focus. How do we get people to feel like they've taken in all the information they should during the course of the effect without explicitly telling them what to take note of? How do we get them to, for example, make sure a coin never leaves their site, without saying, "Make sure this coin never leaves your site"? Because telling them explicitly can kind of tip your hand in regards to where this thing is going. And often, in certain types of performances, I don't even want them to know at that point there's a "this" they're involved in that is going anywhere.

Anyway, that's something I've been thinking about for a while now. I'm not sure if it's something others have written about. If you know of anyone who has, or if you have any insight into it, let me know.

Remaining Year Two Schedule

There will be posts Wednesday (The final day of Hanukkah) and Friday (Christmas Eve Eve Eve), then I'm off next week for the holidays.

I will return on the 1st (New Year's Day) with a few final posts for Jerx Year 2(.5). The final post of for Year 2 will be on the 9th (National Apricot Day). 

After that? We'll see. An email will go out to Year 2 supporters with the details of potential Year 3 rewards. If there is interest in doing another year, then we'll start up again a few weeks after that. 

A Reminder in Three Well-Worn Analogies

I tend to assume that what I'm about to say is so ingrained in the fabric of this site that it doesn't bear repeating, but maybe that's not the case. Some people have only recently come to this site, some have never read the old posts, and some have merely forgotten. So as we come to the end of this second season, with a potential third season on the horizon, maybe it's a good time to reiterate my perspective on things (with some analogies I've made before) for those who are new or confused.

This site is written from the perspective of someone who only performs amateur magic. That is, casual, conversational, interactive magic for a handful of people, at most. My preferred performing situation is one-on-one because that allows you to create the most personalized experience for the people you perform for.

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Analogy #1: If you cook for one person, you can really create a meal that will appeal to their tastes. If you cook for a bigger group you need to take into account a number of other factors in regards to preferences and dietary restrictions, and you'll end up with something a little less personalized for any one particular individual. And if you have to cook for a few hundred people, then you operate a Denny's, and your menu is designed for broad appeal. The food is going to be relatively bland and inexpensive. It's not awful food, but it's not, generally, great food either. 

To continue the analogy, I find that a lot of people are interested in how to go about creating a warm, intimate dinner for two, and they're seeking out advice on how to do this in books written by people who own and operate a Denny's. 

I realize the analogy has an implied value judgment. Like, "intimate dinners are good" and "Denny's is shit." But that's not the point I'm making. I'm not shitting on professional shows. I'm saying the two things are not designed to provide the same benefits/experience. A professional show can offer a communal experience with a large group of people you may or may not know. It can shine a spotlight on the performer and her skills. And it can be a strength of the formal magic show that it is totally removed from your day to day life, and allows you to put everything on pause for a moment.

I think those can be great things in that context, but I also think they're the opposite of what amateur magic can provide at its best.

In my opinion, most of the issues with amateur magic can be traced back to people using advice and techniques designed for professionals in non-professional circumstances. If you think these two activities (professional and amateur magic) operate under the same rules, well, I'm not surprised, because that's how it's sort of been written about for 100+ years.

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Analogy #2: Imagine if you wanted to add some levity to your conversations and brighten the day of your friends, family, and co-workers. You look up some books on "how to be funny." And instead of teaching you how to add humor to your day-to-day life, they instead told you how to perform stand-up comedy. They have you doing the rule of three and "act outs" and crowd work. If you actually try and incorporate that into your regular life you'll come off as a grade-A weirdo, because professional comedy is a different thing than being funny in social, amateur situations.

Similarly, professional and amateur magic are two different things. One is a "show" and the other is an interactive experience (or, at least, it probably should be). A professional might say, "my show is an interactive experience too." Maybe so, but it's an interactive experience of a show. That's what the experience is for people. Whereas, for the amateur, the experience doesn't have to feel like show or a presentationIt can feel like a game or an experiment or a moment of synchronicity or a strange happening or a field trip or a bit of interactive fiction or a conversation or a weird coincidence or some supernatural phenomenon or 100s of other things. 

You might say, "Oh, don't be so naive, Andy. People see amateur magic performances as 'shows' too." But that's really only true if your amateur performances are caught up in the trappings of a show (heavily scripted patter, obviously planned out 'routines,' etc.) 

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Analogy #3: If you sit someone down and make them listen to you play the french horn and you properly introduce each song and take a bow afterwards, that will feel like a "show." But if you're whistling while you clean the house, or if you ask someone their opinion on a song you made in GarageBand, or if there are wind-chimes tinkling melodically on the porch, none of those things are going to feel like a "concert" to the person who experiences them.

What this site has largely been about is finding alternate contexts for magic tricks so that they don't feel like a presentation that's delivered for a particular response. Can we take this moment that might come off as a "show" if presented in a traditional manner and make it come off more like the tinkling of a wind-chime? Or can it be the mix-tape we're making-out to on the couch? Or can it be the music that is the result of a jam session we're both having? 

These may sound like chimerical notions. But, you know, that is kind of the business in which we're involved. And, ultimately, I think this is the power of a magic performance that's not done on a stage in a spotlight. It can be done in such a way that it feels like it's woven into other people's lives.

But I've found that to do so will generally take different tactics. And what we've grown to think of as "good technique" might not be great in this context. For example, on Wednesday I'll have some more thoughts on misdirection for the amateur magician. Some of these thoughts may seem to contradict some conventional wisdom, but I'm just talking about what I've found to work from an amateur perspective. Don't get your dick in a twist about it.

Gardyloo #44

In a previous post I mentioned my friend Andrew's “Board Room.” That is, the Wonder Room concept but built into a display of cards and board games. 

He recently added a new game to the mix that I thought was worthy of note.

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What Shall I Be - The Exciting Game of Career Girls

The game is a little over 50 years old and comes from a time when girls had, essentially, one of six options for a career.

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Model, Actress, Ballet Dancer, Nurse, Airline Hostess, and Teacher.

That seems about right. I mean, what else would a female be capable of being? I mean, I suppose prostitute goes without saying, but that might be weird in a game like this. I guess they could work in a science lab or something… you know, holding the beakers for the men, maybe? 

At any rate, Andrew is trying to figure out some ways to utilize this game in a magic context. There are a few different options. The nice thing is, since it’s a game no one knows how to play, you can make up any sort of rules you like. Rules that just happen to fall in line with the process for some trick. Or you can play the game for real and then screw around with the pieces in an “unplanned” way after the game.

Because the game comes with dice and game pieces, I told him it would be perfect for Phill Smith’s Quinta.

Have the person roll two dice and combine them in any way to make a number, then count their way back and forth along the game cards. They don’t land on any of these.

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Instead, they land on this one. 

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Or, you know, the reverse of that sort of thing.


Reader, MK, emailed this picture he and his sister created as a a lo-fi finale for the Red Pinetree Gift Lottery from the JAMM #11, which he’ll be performing at a Hanukkah dinner soon.

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Love it. And RPGL is one of my new favorite things to perform. It doesn't feel like a trick until that very last moment (if even then).


I don’t perform for other magicians a ton. I used to. In fact I used to pretty much only perform for other people who had an interest in magic. It’s a safety net, because you don’t have to try that hard. 

On the rare occasions I do perform for other magicians, here’s something I like to do. I’ll do a trick with a gimmicked deck or some gaffed cards or whatever, and when I’m done I’ll push the cards towards them and, as a final exclamation point to the effect, I’ll say two words: “Completely examinable.” 

About 30% of the time they’ll pick up the deck and give it a thorough look and realize it’s totally gimmicked. Then they’ll be like, “What do you mean it’s examinable?” And I’ll just say something like, “Hmmm. Yeah... I guess you're right," like an idiot. 

Now, since I was probably going to discuss method with them anyways, I haven't really lost anything here.

But about 70% of the time they’ll either only give the deck a cursory look (and miss the secret) or they won’t look at it at all because they take me at my word. 

On some occasions I'll come clean and say, “No. I’m just messing with you,” and get into the method with them. But often I'll just box up the deck, put it in my pocket and say, "I think I'll keep that one to myself." This drives people crazy. Especially if they were playing it cool and the reason they didn't pounce on the deck is because they assumed you were going to explain it to them.

It's fun to screw with magicians.


The French Twins, have recently released a new effect called Cigarettes (real creative name, guys). 

I've always thought card in cigarette could be pretty powerful, but I'm too lazy to be rolling up cards and putting hem in cigarettes. So I'll probably pick up some of these to play around with.

You may remember the French Twins from a previous effect, Card to Condom (or Magix). Of that trick I said:

"If I had a son and I walked into his room one day to find him dead from auto-erotic asphyxiation, wearing his mother's panties on his face like a bandit's bandana, holding a picture of a bull terrier's butthole in his hand and he had one of these fake condom's in his pocket, the first bit of scene staging I would do would be to get rid of this fake condom magic trick. He just can't be remembered that way."

And after busting on that trick for a full blog entry, the twins wrote me to tell me how funny they thought the post was. And that they realized the demo video had a "nouvelle vague cheap softcore porno" feel to it (their words). So they seem like good guys.

Although I'm not quite sure what their brand is exactly. "We create tricks to be done immediately pre- and immediately post-coitus." That seems a little limited. But I look forward to seeing their forthcoming effect, "The Light and Heavy Jizz Towel."

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This isn't magic, but they're friends of mine and it was making me laugh a lot tonight, and this blog is nothing if not a moment by moment record of my whims, so here it is...

Ethan died, and his friends and family can't stop wondering what they could have done to stop it.