[This is not an advertisement. All the decks are spoken for, other than a few that will be going in The Vault as part of my retirement plan.]
Starting next week, the physical reward for those who supported the Jerx, Season Two will start shipping: the first Jerx Deck.
For this deck, I wanted to stick pretty close to the esthetic of the blog so the design and illustration is based upon the work Stasia Burrington has done for this site and The Jerx, Volume 1. Which, in turn, is obviously based on the masthead for Annemann's, The Jinx which was done by Chris Carven. (Thanks to Max Maven for tracking down that illustration credit for me.)
I also owe a big thanks to Bill Kalush and The Expert Playing Card Company, both for lowering their minimum order, dealing with the incompetence of myself and the people helping me out who had never worked on this type of project before, and for pushing the deck through the process quickly so I could have it out around the new year.
Here it is, The Jerx Deck #1.
The deck is black and white with a classic finish on the cards, housed in a beautiful uncoated matte paper tuck box. I'm not sure what all that means either.
I know what you're thinking. "Oh, Andy, is this one of those decks you have to liberally butter in order to be able to do your moves?"
Not at all. These babies will glide right out of the box, first time, every time. (If you need to do a sleight other than the glide, then I suggest you use another deck of cards, hot-shot.)
While the faces are standard, the deck does feature custom jokers as well as the ace of spades.
I also did that self-indulgent, narcissistic thing where I put my own face on one of the court cards. Here's me...
That might look like a normal card face, but that's actually what I look like in real life. I'm a dainty little fop with pale skin and dull lifeless hair that hangs to my shoulders and I constantly have the 500-stare of a Vietnam vet.
Finally, we all know a big problem in the premium card industry is people going out and creating their own bootleg playing cards with an office copy machine. We've all had it happen to us where we open a deck of cards that we've paid big money for, we start dealing through them and then realize, "Wait... I think this deck may have be printed on regular copy paper and then cut with a pair of scissors." To combat deck piracy, each case has this admonishment, inspired by the words in Harry Lorayne's Apocalypse magazine...
The Jerx Decks are in and the first images of them will be posted tomorrow. (This weekend an email will go out to those of you who will be receiving the deck. That will link to a form to collect your current mailing address, and the deck will start shipping next week.)
Thursday, the final JAMM cover will be posted.
Friday, an extra long edition of Gardyloo.
Saturday night, the final JAMM will arrive in subscribers email boxes.
Monday, in what will be the last post of Season 2, and potentially the final post altogether, I won't be talking magic. Instead I will return to my erstwhile lifestyle blog, The Splooge, with a sequel to this post. Yes, the Secret to Happiness Part Two.
Happy New Year, everyone.
In 2017 I performed 2140 magic tricks (not different tricks, but 2140 total). Approximately 10% of those performances were me half-assedly muddling through new tricks for other magicians, but the other 90% were all actual performance for real people.
I kept track of every individual performance in a spreadsheet. I tracked the name of the trick, who I performed it for, about how long it took, their reaction (on a scale of 1-10), the presentation and/or style of presentation, and any memorable comments they made. The final thing I tracked was—if they mentioned the effect again—how long after the initial performance they mentioned it.
When 2017 began I was thinking about my goals in performing and what ways there were to quantify my success with those goals.
My main goal, put as succinctly as possible, was to give people a magical experience that resonated with them. What do I mean by "magical experience"? Well, I don't know. It's hard to say because the nature of the phrase suggests that it's probably something not easily definable.
I can tell you what I didn't mean, though. I didn't mean that I just wanted to fool people.
Real people don't use the phrase "that was magical" to mean "I was fooled." So I wanted to use it in the real person way. I wanted to fool them in service of an enchanting, other-worldly moment.
Those types of moments aren't quantifiable, but you know them when you're experiencing them.
But one thing I could track, to a certain extent, was resonance. When someone talks to me, or texts me, or calls me long after the trick and mentions it, I can make note of it. When 6 months after a performance someone tells me they had a dream about it, that can be seen as a data point. Even on a shorter time scale, if someone brings up a trick later that same night, that's obviously a more enduring trick for them than something they never think of or mention again.
And the idea behind tracking this was to identify what aspects of a trick might make that magic feeling linger. Would something visual endure more than something cerebral? Is something mildly magical that happens in their hands remembered longer than something incredibly magical that happens in mine? Or is it the other way around? Is a card trick more memorable than a coin trick? Or are they equally forgettable?
This is the type of stuff that fascinates me, and I feel I have no way of knowing without studying it.
The first pattern I saw emerge was that almost all memorable tricks were strong, but not all strong tricks were memorable. For example, doing a color change with a card can get a gasp or even a minor freakout, and might score an 8 on my subjective reaction scale. But I don't usually have people come up to me weeks later saying, "Hey, remember when you changed that card?"
Now, you could say, "Well, just because they didn't mention it again doesn't mean they don't remember it." That's true. So, "memorable" is probably an inexact word. I should stick with resonant/enduring.
So, what was the common thread that I found ran through lasting magical experiences? I'll get to that in a moment. It's going to be something I plan on focusing on in 2018. I want to take a bit of a detour first, because I feel like what I'm getting to is something that's often botched by magicians who consider themselves to be "thinkers" who are "pushing magic forward."
We all agree that a lot of magic can come across as meaningless. "Here are some coins. They change. Now they go to this hand. Now they disappear." It can be a cool thing to watch but it can often feel very inconsequential. Especially if you're performing for people who have seen other tricks from you before.
Many magicians recognize this and they think, "I don't want to do meaningless magic. I'm going to give my magic meaning!" Often though, the result of that effort is magic presentations that are much more awkward and off-putting than someone mumbling their way through a dull narration of which hand they're putting the coin in. Why is that?
Let's consider this question:
How do you give your magic meaning?
It's a trick question.
You can’t give your magic meaning. Meaning isn’t given, it’s taken.
The audience provides the meaning.
What you can do is imbue your presentation with things they can take meaning from. But when you start giving them the meaning, that's when you turn people off. A poem, or a novel, or a movie that beats you over the head with what it's about is generally considered not great art. It's bad art in magic too. If you're like, "You were able to separate the reds cards from the black cards because you can do anything you set your mind to. You just need to have faith in yourself and you can achieve anything!" You're creating a situation where you're trying to force them to get some meaning from something.
(This sort of thing is particularly hideous because they know it's a trick. So you trying to use it as evidence of some positive attribute of theirs is sad and condescending. It would be like if you printed their picture on the cover of a Playboy magazine with "Playmate of the Year" on it and then tried to use that as evidence of how pretty they are when everyone involved knows its fake.)
The nice thing I've found is this: The elements that make a trick stick with people long-term are also the elements that make an effect fertile ground for a spectator to discover some meaning. These things are connected (unsurprisingly).
When I looked at the effects I performed in 2017 that people continually brought up again and again over time, they weren't the most visual effects, they weren't the most interesting effects, they weren't the funniest effects, they weren't even the most surprising effects.
The tricks that stayed with people were the ones with an interactive, present-tense narrative that engaged them emotionally.
Let me break that down as best I can.
Interactive: The person you're performing for is a part of what's unfolding. They're not just watching you do something.
Narrative: The most memorable tricks had an element of story to them. The least memorable didn't. Those types of tricks can still be impressive tricks. But they're demonstrations. Like watching a plate spinner. You probably don't fondly remember a plate spinner over and over throughout your life, because that demonstration isn't really connected to anything.
Present-tense: The "narrative" is happening in the moment. You're not telling a story about something symbolically with cards or coins. And you're not relating a story from your past. The story is unfolding in the moment. Let's break this down further:
- Symbolic story: "Once, in an old kingdom, there was the group of poor workers. They'll be represented by these low cards. They always dreamed of becoming rich and powerful so they could help those around them. One day they found a magic crystal and when they touched this magic crystal they turned into kings and queens."
- Relating a story from the past: "One time I was at this poker game at a bar I used to go to. I was losing a ton of money and this old bedraggled woman approached me during a bathroom break. She sold me this crystal for a dollar and said it would help me in the game. During my next hand I was dealt a 2 and a 7 offsuit. But I took my crystal and rubbed it against the cards like this and they changed to aces!"
- Present-tense: You're flicking a crystal around on the coffee table and your friend asks you what it is. "Oh, it's stupid. There was an ad for it in the back of a poker magazine I was reading. They sell all sorts of dumb 'lucky' items. I occasionally pick something up because I'm a little superstitious that way. This one actually came with instructions, which made me laugh. It would be like instructions for a lucky rabbit's foot or some shit. Let me see if I can find them. I might have thrown them out." Then you return with some instructions and follow them with your friend "just for a laugh" and in the process a bad hand changes to a good hand, or maybe whatever position on the table the spectator places the crystal is always dealt the best hand or something like that.
It's the final part of that phrase, the part about "engaging them emotionally" that I think is the most interesting, the most complicated, and the part that I think is open to misinterpretation and abuse.
Often when magicians try to inject emotion into their presentations they do so in a way that is very manipulative (invoking someone's dead relatives; or saying things like "this will work because you and I have a deep connection") or in a very grandiose "let's give our magic meaning" kind of way.
That's not the sort of thing I'm talking about. I just think there has to be some small emotional elements to an effect if you want it to be resonant.
I wouldn't have always thought this. For a long time I believed that what set magic apart from all the other arts was its ability to surprise. Therefore, what we should put our emphasis on, is the nature of that surprise.
But what I'm finding is that "surprise" isn't really a lasting emotion. It's not a sticky emotion. It's nature is fleeting. So, yes, there should be a surprise, but there should also be an emotional element to the presentation so that it sticks with people as time passes.
You might say, "Of course, there should be an emotional element to our magic. What's new or intriguing about that? People like Eugene Burger and Robert Neale preached that for decades."
Yeah.... that's not the sort of thing I'm talking about. Burger and Neale would put emotional elements into performances of magic in a highly theatrical way. You can see that in this performance of Neale's A Room for Death. That's an example of telling a story using the props as symbols. (And, to be honest, I think I must be too dumb to understand what that story means. So, Death comes and stays in your room and nothing at all changes the next day? Uh...what's the issue?)
I think that type of performance is fine for a theatrical show, but is awkward, at best, in a casual situation. Because...well...there's nothing casual about it. It comes off as a planned soliloquy because that's exactly what it is.
What I'm talking about is seeding your effects with narrative elements that have emotional content (those elements are what I mentioned above as being the things people can take meaning from) and then presenting the effect with the pacing and context of a genuine human interaction.
If this sounds unclear, it's because I'm unclear about it. This site was never meant to be me lecturing you because I know all the answers. It's about my journey working on these things and testing these ideas out. And I'm just saying that in 2018 I'm going to be thinking a lot about utilizing emotion in the presentation of magic. This is something I actually already feel I'm pretty good at, but it's not something I've thought much about directly, only tangentially.
Here's an example of the type of thing I'm talking about. It's a silly example but it will serve the purpose.
I performed the Bob Farmer "Little Hand" effect 13 times in 2017. This is a trick where a little doll's hand comes out from between your hands and grabs a coin.
It's the dumbest thing you'll ever do, but you'd be surprised how strongly people react to it. I'm not even sure if they see it as a trick or just a goof or what, but people genuinely flip out over it.
Now, seven of the times I performed the trick, I did so in a relatively quick, straightforward way. Similar to the way I've seen Michael Ammar perform the trick. Just like, "Hey, want to see how I make a coin disappear?" That sort of thing. Even with that little thought in presentation, people love it. But, only one time in those seven did someone mention the trick again after a few minutes had passed.
In six of the 13 performance, I gave the trick a much longer build up. It would go something like this. I'm hanging out with someone and at some point I start poking my tongue around in my mouth a little, like I'm trying to dislodge a bit of food from a molar. Then I sort of lean in to my friend and say, "Did I ever tell you about Kip?"
Then I launch into a story in a way that is so overly serious that it's obvious I'm goofing around, at least to the people who know me.
"When I was a kid I always had this lump in the roof of my mouth. And as I grew it got bigger but it never really got in the way of anything, so my parents and the dentist never really had me do anything about it. Then, about the time my wisdom teeth came in, this lump grew to the point where it was getting in the way of my eating and talking. So I went to an oral surgeon to get it examined and removed"
"I didn't know what it was. I thought maybe it was some kind of tumor or something. I had no clue. When I would poke the lump with my tongue I could feel, like... stuff in there."
I should stop at this point and say this isn't a great presentation if you're hoping to hook up with the person you're performing for. It's a little gross.
"So they completely numbed the roof of my mouth. And I remember watching as the dentist went into my mouth with scalpel. And even though I was numbed to the pain, I could still feel the sensation as he sliced the scalpel along the roof of my mouth."
Here I mime slowly dragging a scalpel. People shiver at the thought.
"And then he spread out the skin." Again, I continue to mime this.
"And I could feel this...stuff fall into my mouth. You see... it was a tumor of a sort. It's a tumor called a teratoma. And it was made up of hair and teeth that had grown in me from a twin that I absorbed while I was in the womb."
Here I change tone dramatically from the hushed voice I've been using to relay this horror story to something really upbeat.
"So yeah, his name's Kip and he's just kind of floating around in me. He's actually a really cool guy. Real chill. You'd like him. He's a good dude. Collects coins. Loves the ladies."
Then I pause, and go back to a hushed tone.
"Do you want to meet him?" I say, with what I hope is an evil twinkle in my eye.
Forget that you know where this is going and put yourself in a layperson's shoes. What could possibly happen next? I love this moment.
When they say yes I go off to get a coin. "He collects coins. We might be able to lure him out with one."
I come back with the coin (and the gimmick) and then cup my hands and wait. I wait a good 20 or 30 seconds. The tension is ridiculous.
Then I whisper to my friend. "Say something. If he knows a woman is out here he's more likely to show up. He's kind of a playboy. Just be like, 'Oh, gee, it sure would be nice if Kip showed up. Would be great to meet him.'"
After a little cajoling she says the line. And we wait a little longer, staring at my hands. Finally, something starts coming out. She jumps. It's a little hand. It grabs the coin and scurries back from where it came.
The reaction is priceless. The build up of tension leading to that moment is just bonkers.
But there's more to it than that. I performed the trick that way six times in 2017 and in five of those cases, the person I performed it for brought the trick up again at a later point. Often many times: hours, days, weeks, and even months later. They would want me to do it for someone else or they'd just mention some aspect of the whole thing that stuck with them.
This version was significantly more resonant. And it's my belief that the resonance came from the fact that it was—as I mentioned above— an interactive present-tense narrative that engaged them emotionally.
Although there was a long backstory, the effect happened in the present moment and they were involved in that part of the story.
As for the emotional element, I think there's a lot there. There is, of course, the horror and disgust of the backstory. But also just the concept of, essentially, killing your sibling in the womb has some emotional weight, as does the idea that he lives within you still. Those things could be (and have been) the subject of novels and movies. And then there is the much greater tension and relief in this trick when performed this way.
This is what I mean by "seeding" your presentation with emotional elements. I don't know what exactly the person is going to latch onto, but I want to give them things the can latch onto besides, "I was fooled."
You might never perform this trick this way. It might just not be for you. But I wanted to give you a very explicit example of what I meant by inserting emotion into an effect. I would say a lot of the other stuff I'm working on in this regard is much more pleasant.
Now you have a choice to make. You can click this link and go to the google image result for teratoma. Or you can live your life without ever making that mistake and you won't have to deal with that disgusting shit rattling around in your brain.
So yeah, that's going to be a big focus in my own experimentation in 2018: emotion. It's pretty much a natural outgrowth of stuff I've talked about on this site since the beginning. But now I plan to look at in a more structured way. We'll see where it leads.
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
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:
- 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.
- She usually demos the effect.
- She's willing to give negative reviews to things she was given for free.
- I know she actually performs for people in real life.
- 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.
- She seems like a normal human being. Her reviews are clear and conversational. She's not desperately trying to be funny.
- 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.
- 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
- Frozen Band
- 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.
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.
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.
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."
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!
[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.
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.