That Bitch-Ass Tart (a presentation for The Ambitious Card)

The Ambitious Card is not a trick that is well-suited for a presentation beyond, "Hey, check this out." This is true of most multi-phase tricks where the same thing happens over and over and the strength of the trick comes from the impossibility of the repetition. That's just the nature of those sorts of tricks. The only variation I've seen that successfully feels like something other than the card rising to the top over and over is my friend Andrew's trick, Beck and Card which is in the JAMM #3.

That's not to say there aren't other good presentations. In the past I've enjoyed performing David Regal's version where you have someone draw a dog on the card and the card comes to the top when it's called. It's cute and fun. But It's more like a "skin" put on top of the standard Ambitious Card trick to make it a little more entertaining. It's not the type of presentation that turns the experience into something different. 

Earlier this year, Detective Chris, sent me a card routine he had put together that included a couple ambitious phases. The routine started with him removing the Queen of Diamonds and saying that this will represent his ex-wife. The "ex-wife" repeatedly comes to the top of the deck before going to his pocket and then his wallet. It's a presentation that lends itself to some potential humor (or lends itself to you coming off as insecure misogynist, which, as a magician, you probably are).

It wasn't really my type of routine for a couple reasons. The first is that it's eight phases. The second is that I prefer presentations that aren't overtly representational. A lot of magicians love this type of thing. Think Eugene Burger or Robert Neale. And even though Chris' routine didn't have the formal story structure you might see with those two magicians, I think whenever you set up a magic prop as representing something else (e.g., "The Queen of Diamonds represents my ex-wife.") you are essentially telling a story about something other than the here and now. And, as I've said before, in my experience, the strongest tricks are the ones where the narrative of the story is in the present-tense. The audience isn't hearing a story, they're witnessing one unfold. 

I was inspired by Chris' routine and in writing him about some tweaks I would make to it, a presentation evolved that I thought some other people might really like. It's not something I've performed, and I probably won't because it's not 100% my style. I think it's about 65% my style. But I think some people will find 65% my style to be something that's right up their alley. And, while I've written it up as a sort of R-rated routine, you could tone it down and come up with something more family friendly and it would work as a nice little showpiece. 

It's still a multi-phase routine, but it's not the same thing happening over and over, as in a standard ambitious card. And there is still an element of a card representing a person, but in a more indirect way. Instead of a trick that starts out being about your ex-wife (or girlfriend, or boyfriend, or whatever) it turns into that as it progresses. So the card isn't used as a representation of your ex-wife, but it becomes a manifestation of her, and her energy, as the trick goes along. 

That Bitch-Ass Tart 

I will describe the routine and method at the same time. I haven't worked out the finer details of the method because, as I mentioned, I haven't performed this myself. But if it's something that appeals to you, it would be relatively easy to figure out those details.

The idea behind this presentation is that it's meant to evolve out of another trick that you're performing for people. You'll see what I mean. It's meant to feel unplanned. The extent to which the audience believes it's unplanned isn't that important. 

Scene One

So, let's say you're showing your audience every trick from Expert at the Card Table. You've just shown them, "The Invisible Flight." Then, as is customary after showing people a trick from Erdnase, you gently wake them from their slumber, and then you go into "The Travelling Card."

"Ladies and Gentlemen: I am constantly importuned by some of the most curious and least discerning of my auditors to explain the manner by which the results in certain tricks are achieved," you say to the audience, in Erdnase's stilted prose.

You have a card selected and signed without looking at it. 

[Here you force the Queen of Diamonds.]

When it's handed back to you, you notice what card it is for the first time and it sort of breaks your concentration.

"Oh... uhm... actually... let's use a different card for this. If that's okay."

You put the Queen into the middle of the deck.

"It doesn't really matter what the card is, as long as you sign it."

You toss the top card on the table and gesture that they should take it and sign it. 

They pick it up and find it's the Queen. The card they just saw you put in the middle of the deck.

[To accomplish this I would either use a top change and bury the indifferent card leaving the Queen on the top of the deck. Or I'd secretly reverse the top card, place the Queen on top face-up. Double turnover, and slide the indifferent card (apparently the Queen) into the middle.]

Scene Two

You see they've got the Queen again.

"Goddammit," you say, resignedly. Your shoulders slump. "Sorry. This is not what I wanted to be dealing with here today. I really just wanted to show you how great the tricks in the 'bible of card magic' are. But... ok... how do I explain this... This is all due to my ex-wife."

You don't need an ex-wife to do this presentation. You can be 14. It will still be good.

"So... it's our first date. I, being a bit of a loser, decide to show her a magic trick. I thought I was being romantic or something so I said, 'Sweetie, if you stay with me, I'll always be your... King of Hearts.' And I made the King of Hearts appear from mid-air. And then she took the deck from me and pulled a card out and said, 'And I'll always be your Queen of Diamonds.' That should have been a sign. I mean, like, seriously bitch? Diamonds and hearts aren't even the same family. You didn't pick the queen of hearts? For real? It turned out to be sort of apropos given how good she was at spending my money, and then taking half of it in the divorce. And, since there isn't a Queen of Sucking Your Friend's Dicks While You're Out of Town, it probably was the most appropriate."

"At first it was cute. She'd call me her king of hearts, and I'd call her my queen of diamonds. It was sweet. But then when things went south between us, that whole pet-name thing became disgusting to me. And just seeing a queen of diamonds would haunt me because it would remind me of her. Usually I would take the card out of the deck because not only was the association too painful, but it also seemed like the card was somehow drawn to me. It would always show up in my hand during card games, and pop up when I was showing someone a trick. Obviously it must be something I'm doing subconsciously in the way I'm handling the cards or whatever. The card's not possessed. My rational mind knows that. But it feels like the card is hounding me and mocking me, like she did. Whatever I do to get the card away from me... it's always, just... right there."

[During that last sentence you can do any standard ambitious card sequence. "Whatever I do to get the card away from me," bury the card in the deck, "it's always, just," take the top card off the deck, "right there," turn the card over. Don't do this in a "ta-dah!' way. Just in an exasperated, "see what I mean?" way.]

Scene Three

"But... let's move on," you say and take the card and put it in your pocket. 

"I've moved on in my life and we're going to move on with the trick. Please, take any card you want."

You ribbon spread the cards on the table or spread them between your hands and the Queen is back, staring at you, face-up in the middle of the face-down deck.

"The hell?" you say. Reach into your pocket where the Queen was and pull out the pocket showing it empty.

[You have a couple options here. The queen is placed face up on top of the deck. You want to do the thing where you seemingly pick it up in the palm of your hand, but actually you deposit a face-down card on top of it to hide that it's there. You can either side-steal out a card into your right hand and deposit it on top in the motion of taking the queen and then go to your pocket with nothing. Or you can do an Erdnase color change, but instead of using it as a color change you're miming the actions of taking the card and putting it in your pocket. Either way the card is now face-up, second from the top in the face-down deck. Then give it a cut, pass, or overhand shuffle to centralize it before spreading the deck for the selection.]

Scene Four

You take the card out of the deck, uncap the marker and start X'ing out the Queen's face. You cross out the spectator's name too. "I don't even like having your name associated with the card. Say... what's the worst thing you can call a woman?"

After a moment your spectator suggests something. "Fat-ass cum dumpster?"

"Perfect," you say, and write it on the card.

You make some disparaging remarks to the card and then tear it into four pieces and set it aside.

You take a deep breath and let it out. "Ahhhh... that felt good. Where were we? Oh yes... say stop as I run my thumb along the edge of the deck."

The spectator stops you at a card... it's that goddamn queen again!

Slowly, almost fearfully, you reach your hand across the table for the pieces of card you ripped up earlier. You turn them over, and they're four pieces of the King of Hearts—your card.

"Oh, Jesus...," you say. 

[Okay, for this part the King of Hearts needs to be on top of the pack. When I say I didn't work out the fine details of the effect, that's one of the ones I'm talking about. You'll have to figure out how to keep that card there during the earlier parts of the trick, or how to get it there when you need it.

After you've de-faced the Queen (rest it on the top of the deck while you draw, so you have an excuse for having the deck in your hands) you're going to do a top-change, but with a minor variation that I've found goes over well in similar contexts.

So the card is in the right hand, in top-change position. By that I mean it's held between your thumb on the back and fingers on the front. At this point, however, it's not held horizontally, it's held facing your spectators. Then you tilt it back towards yourself so you can see the face too. And you'll speak to the card (as if speaking to your ex). "You sick bitch. They got it right. You're just a fat-ass cum dumpster." 

Now you'll look up and make an aside to your audience. "Well, to be fair, she actually had a pretty smoking hot body. That's probably what kept me around so long." During this aside you will execute a standard top change. The card is now held facing the floor. 

Twirl the card so it is now facing you and again say something to it. "But whatever. Your personality had a fat ass, you ho-bag." You then rip the card into quarters. Try to keep the face to yourself, but if a bit of it flashes it's not the end of the world as they're both court cards. 

By having a continuity of action (talking shit to the card) that happens before and after the top change it really locks in the idea that it's the same card. I've done this phase in a separate context and the reactions are very strong when the card returns whole.

Scene Five

You rub your eyes with the heels of your palms. "Gahhhh! Again, I'm sorry, this isn't what I wanted to be doing here today. This is the same feeling I had when trying to distance myself from her before."

Take a beat and compose yourself.

"You know what? Screw it. The only way forward in my real life was to make peace with the situation. So that's what we'll do. It's fine. This card is fine. She's fine. Everything is just fine. I can't let it ruin my life or ruin my time here with you."

You put the card back in the deck and shuffle up the cards. You spread the cards to have one picked by the spectator.

"Let me guess...," you say, somewhat defeatedly. 

But no, the spectator didn't pick the queen. You look at the card. It's the four clubs. 

"Huh... well, what do you know...maybe it's over. I guess there's a first time for everything." 

You flinch. "Oh no," you say. "Oh no, no, no, no, no." You flip the deck face up and spread it on the table. The Queen is nowhere to be found.

"Don't tell me...," you say and reach for your wallet. 

You open it up. "My cash is gone! Goddammit, all my credit cards are gone!" With two fingers you reach into your wallet and remove the signed Queen, holding it lightly from one corner. "You bitch!" you say, and toss it away and run out of the room flailing and sobbing like a genuine pantywaist.

Moments later a gunshot is heard from the other room. Your problems are over.

Or, for a less dramatic ending you can remove the card, huffing and puffing with anger. Then be like, "Ah... I can't stay mad at you." Toss the card on the table. "Gotta go, guys. I'm in the mood for a little sex with the ex, if you feel me. Yes, she's an absolute cretin, but you gotta see that ass," you say and run out of the room for your booty-call.

[So this final phase is obviously just a card to wallet effect. The handling will vary depending on whether you're sitting or standing and the type of wallet you're using. You'll put the card back in the deck and shuffle controlling it to the top or bottom. You can then palm it off or lap it. Again, this will all depend on your situation. Keep in mind there's a good moment of misdirection where the spectator is turning over their genuine selection that you may want to take advantage of.]

There you go. After writing it up, I'm more pleased with the whole thing than I thought I was and I'm definitely going to try it out. If nothing else, I hope it serves as an example of a routine taking place in the present tense. It's not a story or a joke illustrated with cards, and it's not a re-enactment of something that happened once at a bar or around a poker table. It's something unfolding in real time that has some meaning. This is not a subtle difference that audiences aren't aware of. It's a much more engaging experience for the spectator, and it has nothing to do with them believing what's happening is real. They know it's fiction either way. But that's what makes this style of magic so strong. People are used to hearing, reading or watching fiction, they're not used to being in a fictional experience as it happens. (More on this next week when we talk about the Romantic Adventure performance style.)

Social Magic Basics Pt. 3

The presumption when talking about Social Magic is that magicians tend to fall into one of two categories:

1. They want to perform magic to strangers for money.

2. They want to perform magic to people they know for fun.

(This implies two other categories as well, but I think we can take the category of "wanting to perform magic to people you know for money" off the table. That seems like a long-shot. 

So that leaves the category of "wanting to perform magic to strangers for fun." I don't think this category really exists. There was a time in the early 2000s where—inspired by David Blaine—a lot of people talked about performing "Street Magic" where you would walk up to strangers on the street or in a mall and perform magic for them. This idea appealed to younger magicians, primarily teenagers, because teenagers are stupid, and performing for strangers for fun is sort of a stupid idea. They didn't ask to see magic, they don't know you as a person, and you don't have a camera crew to put your performance into context. It's just kind of a weird deal all around.

That's not to say that everyone I perform for is a close friend or family member. I often show a trick to someone I just recently met that night, but usually it's someone I hope to interact with after the effect. I don't perform and then run off. So the magic might be part of building some rapport. Or I may perform for my seat-mate on a train or plane. But I see that as a little mini-relationship, and I would still only show them something if it flowed with our interaction.)

The idea of Social Magic is to develop a manner of performing for the people in your life so that it remains fun for everyone involved for the long-term.

Here are some styles of performing that I've found don't work in the long-term:

1. Pretending you have actual powers that are either supernatural or just highly unusual. In the long-term this will be obviously incongruous with the real "you."
2. Performing tricks that are highly scripted, in a theatrical style. In the long-term this can come off as annoying or alienating, and it can be a barrier to your interaction with people because it feels like you step into a character when you perform.
3. Performing tricks very casually with no other framing device other than, "Here's a trick." This is probably where most of us are or were with our performances for friends and family. While the casual aspect is good, in the long-term, the magic itself quickly loses its novelty. And if there's nothing for them to latch onto other than the trick itself, then your tricks will sort of blend together and won't garner the reactions they did when you first started showing them magic. 

As it turns out, the tactic that I think does hold up in the long-term, is presenting yourself as someone with an interest in magic and then giving people a semi-fictionalized glimpse into what the world of magic entails. You're not pretending to be a magician, or mindreader. You're not putting on a show. And you're not giving them random tricks devoid of context. 

Instead you're giving them a true "behind the scenes" look at how magic is learned, practiced, and passed along, mixed with a more fantastical take on that subject as well.

Social Magic and Performance Styles

The performance styles I've described in the past fit in well with this concept of Social Magic. They are all "meta" presentations, for the most part. They are presentations that are about being someone who has an interest in magic. (If you're newer here, the Performance Styles are briefly described and linked to their original posts in the Glossary.)

The Peek Backstage is a style that is about the study and practice of magic and letting them assist you in those things.

The Distracted Artist is a style that is borne out of the idea that someone who studied and worked on magic tricks would interact with their environment in a different way than someone who hadn't. Just as anyone who studies a particular art or craft might.

The Engagement Ceremony is a style that is about the unusual rituals and procedures you might come across as someone with an interest in magic. You don't need to present these as actual supernatural rituals. My attitude is that I'm just always on the lookout for potentially interesting concepts and techniques and here's this thing I read about (a Navajo synchronicity ceremony, for example) and, of course, it must be nonsense but there does seem to be something weird that happens sometimes when you follow it. And then people are free to play along and buy into this as much as they like.

The Wonder Room is a style that is about the strange objects you might accumulate as someone with an interest in magic.

You might not immediately grasp how a "meta" performance style can disarm people and open them up to experiencing the magic more profoundly. Here's an analogy I've used before that may register more with you now after having read these Social Magic posts...

If you meet me at a party and I'm all dressed in black and goth-y and I'm like, "I'm a real life vampire... a creature of the night. No, I don't turn into a bat. But yes, I drink blood and exude raw sexual energy." Your first image of me would be some jocks dunking my head in the toilet in high school because you're a rational adult and you know vampires don't exist so me pretending to be one on any level comes across as somewhat pathetic.

But if you meet me at a party and I tell you how I have an interest in vampires and the subculture and I've been doing a lot of research on the subject. And then I say, "Obviously anyone claiming to be a modern-day vampire is just play-acting. I mean... I think that's true...but I have to say, I went to this one village in Serbia while I was doing research and some pretty crazy things happened when the sun went down...." Then I could undoubtedly tell you a story that would chill you and enthrall you on some level. And in a much greater way than I could if I was trying to pass myself off as a vampire.

I think it works that way with magic too. If I say, "I'm a magician," people's first thought will be "Oh, so he does little tricks and stuff, like I did when I was a kid." And if I say, "But I don't do cheap tricks. Im actually a real magician," then people will just think I'm straight up delusional. Neither of those thoughts are great for engendering a feeling of magic.

But, if it comes out that I have an interest in magic and I say something like, "I don't really perform all that much. I used to when I was a kid. But now it's just one of my hobbies to track down some more esoteric concepts. I mean... you can learn how to do basic tricks from youtube or a book, but there's a whole other level to this sort of thing that almost nobody knows about that I've been trying to learn through some back channels," then I will have people begging me to show them something. And by not trying to come off as "the magician" or some psychological genius, but instead just a person who has an interest in this sort of thing, I am much more relatable. So they can sort of join me on this journey. And then when I say something like, "Say... do you want to see something I learned recently that really freaked me out? Don't ask me how it's done, because I don't know. I just know how to set it up and it sort of works itself. The guy who showed it to me won't teach me the full secret until someone else who knows the secret dies. He only ever wants six people in the world who actually know the secret," I can sort of sneak enchantment in through the backdoor in a way I never could with a more direct presentation where I need to take credit for my "miracles."

By using these meta-styles I'm giving people areas of entry to talk about magic with me beyond just saying "show me a trick." This allows the subject of magic to flow more freely in and around my conversations which, in turn, leads to more opportunities for weaving magic into my natural interaction, which is the goal of Social Magic. 

[The one performance style I haven't mentioned here is the Romantic Adventure. That's a weird one because it's sort of a meta-meta-performance style. I'll have some new thoughts on this style soon.]

Gardyloo #47

From reader, Devon L.

"I'm new to your site and I'm slowly working my way through your back catalog of posts so I don't have much experience performing tricks in the way you suggest. But I wanted to drop you a line to let you know I tried the Google Home trick you posted today for my wife and it got the biggest reaction of anything I've performed for her since we first met 12 years ago. Despite knowing it was a trick she was riveted to every step of the presentation in a way she isn't with most tricks and she yelped when the Google Home said her word. I don't know why it went so well, but I wanted to thank you and I just signed up for the year 3 bonuses. Thanks."

I have a theory, Devon. Because I've had similar experiences with that effect. I thought it would just be something of a goof, but it has turned out to be a fairly strong trick for me. And I think the reason why it's a strong trick is because the narrative is unimpeachable. The "story" of the trick is ridiculous, but the structure of the story makes perfect sense.

The story: The man thought his Google Home was not only listening to everything he said, but also picking up on thoughts too. So he asked it what the woman was thinking, but the thoughts weren't coming through clearly. So he had her concentrate on a specific random word, but still the thoughts weren't clear enough. So he blocked his thoughts with tin foil and then the Google assistant was able to read the woman's mind. 

Yes, it reads like a summary of the world's worst Black Mirror episode, but there's no flaw in the narrative itself. And while I don't think every trick you do needs to have a logical narrative that accompanies it, I do think having one makes it easier for an audience to connect to the trick, and gives them something beyond just "being fooled" to hang onto long past the conclusion of the effect.

Compare the previous story to this one: The man borrowed a dollar bill. And then it disappeared. And it showed up in a lemon!

That's just retarded nonsense. And that's true of most magic presentations. "Behold the classic story of a man who put a ball under a cup and then it went under a different cup." 

You're giving people something impossible, but not much else. Many magicians would argue that that's enough. They'd say, "Magic is about doing something impossible, not creating interesting narratives." That's a fair point of view. But I think there might be some correlation between that stance and some other things magicians say like, "Why do people just see my tricks as a puzzle to be solved?" and "Why do people think magic is just for kids?" and "Hey, let's go beg congress to pass a resolution recognizing magic as an art."

Regarding Stray the Daisy, Pete McCabe wrote in to suggest that if you add an extra card to the top of the deck at the start, then you can know how many cards the spectator dealt off just by reading the number on the back of the top card, rather than reading the number and subtracting by one. 

This is true. And it is a smarter set-up.

But beyond that, I just like the idea that in some part of Pete's mind he read something that required you to subtract by one and he thought, "There's gotta be a better way!"

As for me, I'll continue to do it the old way and subtract by one because I'm a really smart guy with a savvy mathematical mind. (And I keep my phone in my lap open to the calculator during that trick to double check my work.)

LiacCOJ - Imgur.gif

Dear friend, and illustrator of The Jerx, Volume One; The Jerx deck; this site's banner image; and the GLOMM logo—Stasia Burrington—recently had the first children's book she illustrated released by HarperCollins. It's called Mae Among the Stars and it's about Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel in space.

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 5.31.07 PM.png

If there's a young person in your life who might appreciate the book, don't hesitate to pick it up.

There may not be a big overlap in the audience for her book and my work (despite the fact that I too am a huge inspiration for young women of color), but I wanted to mention it because I'm very proud of her and happy for her success.

Just working on the cover art for a 14 DVD box set of my work with Josh Jay doing the performances and explanations. Once I get the cover finished and take in the money for pre-orders, I'm going to ask Josh if he wants to do it. (If not your money will be donated to the Jerx Home for Destitute and Feeble-Minded Magic Bloggers.)


Thanks to Chris Combs for the image.

Another GH Idea

Another effect it's worth adding to your Google Home (or possibly similar products) is the Trick that Fooled Einstein.

I have a little stack of change on my end table, behind a lamp. If someone mentions the Google Home and asks what it does or whatever, I can be like, "Yeah, it's capable of some crazy stuff. Do you have any change?" I grab my stack of change, then we both shake our coins in our hands while I ask Google, "How much change do we have?"

The GH gives its response and the semi-odd phrasing is passed off as being due to the "weird algorithm" Google uses to figure out how much money you each have. 

With a second, slightly different, key phrase you can repeat the trick after each of you have added or discarded some coins to show it's "not a fluke."

I've only done this once so far but it got a good response. And when the person I performed it for mentioned it later to a third friend he said, "We shook our change in our hand and it could tell us exactly how much money we had." Completely forgetting that it didn't quite do exactly that.

The Google Home Word Reveal

Google Home is the little speaker/virtual assistant thing put out last year by Google. It's a similar idea to Amazon's Echo and Apple's new HomePod. You can use it to play music, make phone calls, answer questions, and control different things in your house (lighting, thermostat, tv) so long as those things are "smart" (so it won't work on your wife, right guys? hahahahahaha, that dumb old bitch!).

I have to be honest, when reader L.B. wrote in to suggest maybe utilizing the Google Home as part of a trick, I thought it might be mildly amusing but not really all that great. I thought that both about the concept of using it in a magic trick, and about the Google Home unit itself. But, after having a unit for a few days and playing around with it, I'm actually surprisingly happy both with the unit itself and the responses I've received when using it for a magic trick.


When it comes to technology and the Product Adoption Curve, I'd put myself as a "late early adopter." So somewhere near the right side of that green area. I'm not a super tech-savvy guy, but I usually have a pretty good eye for what technology is going to stick around and what's not. (I remember when my friend was buying his movies on LaserDisc in the late 90s and I was like, "You really think this is a technology with a shelf-life greater than 6 months? You don't see a slight issue with this as a storage medium?")


Google Home (as well as the other similar products on the market) didn't seem like something I needed to have, but at the same time I knew it was probably just a matter of time before I got one and I'd end up finding a number of uses for it. 

So, when L.B. suggested the idea I went and bought one. The Google Home Minis are $50. So it's not a super-big investment.

Let's start with the basic, somewhat obvious, idea of how to use this as part of a magic. 

You can configure the Google Home to respond in a certain way to whatever you say. So if you say, "Hey Google, what card did she pick." You can have it respond to that with, "She picked the three of spades," or whatever. So then you would force the three of spades, ask google what she picked, and that would be the trick.

That's fine, and I'm sure it would go over as well as any standard card revelation. But I wanted to build on the idea a little and add a few more elements to embellish the presentation and also hide the idea that there is something pre-set.

Here's how it looks. 

My friend Sara comes over, notices the Google Home and asks me if I like it and what I'm using it for.

"I didn't think I was going to be such a big fan of it, but I'm actually really glad I bought it. I might get another one for my bedroom." Then I demonstrate some of its features, like how it can control my lights and music.

"It's a little weird though to think that's it's always listening. And they say it's not constantly recording, but who the fuck really knows. And it just does some... strange things sometimes. Like it will play a song I had stuck in my head when I ask it to play music, even though I don't specifically name that song out loud. And sometimes it starts answering questions before I've completely verbalized them, like it knows what I'm about to say." 

"I know it sounds like horseshit, but I'm not kidding. It kind of makes sense. It picks up audio waves, so why not brain waves? That seems like it could be possible, at least in some rudimentary form. I'll show you. Think of something."

Sara settles on something in her mind.

"Hey Google, what is she thinking of?" I ask.

I can't tell. There are too many thoughts coming in at once.

"Okay. Yeah, it helps to have one particular idea that exists outside your mind to concentrate on. So... uhm... grab a couple books from the bookshelf. Two that have a similar number of pages." 

I now run through the process of the Hoy Book Test to have her settle on a word to think of. You could also do some kind of peek of a word they wrote down. Or, less ideally, have them freely choose a card and figure out what it is in some manner. My preferred usage is with the Hoy Book Test. Nothing is written down, it's not playing cards, it feels very random because any two books could have been chosen. 

So my friend is now thinking of a word. I ask again, "Hey Google, what is she thinking of?"

And again the reply comes: I can't tell. There are too many thoughts coming in at once.

"Dammit. I swear this works. I'm not crazy," I say. "Wait, I know."

I go to my kitchen and come back a few seconds later with a large square of tin foil and start shaping it around my head. "This will help block out my thoughts so she can home in on yours."

[There is very little in my magic performances that is "scripted" in the traditional sense. But saying "I'm not crazy," right before going and putting on a tinfoil hat is one of those beats I always intend to hit.]

Once I have my tinfoil hat on and I'm looking like a complete dork I say a final time, "Hey Google, what is she thinking of?"

This time Google replies, "Okay. It's coming through clearer now. I think there is an S sound in there somewhere. No. Wait. I know what it is. She's thinking of the word: history."

She is and she freaks out. 

"It knows everything!" I say. "Pick something up off the table." She picks up a remote control.

"Hey Google, what is she holding?" I ask.

"She's holding a remote control," Google Home says.

Sara tosses the remote aside like it's a cursed object.

"This thing is too scary," I say, and I chuck it out the window.

[No, I haven't thrown it out the window. But for $50, it might be worth it. What I really do is I unplug it like I'm a little freaked, and thus putting an end to asking the thing more questions.]


I'm not going to dwell too much on the technical details other than to say it's very easy to set this up.

So, we want to Google Home to reply a particular way when we say something. And then we want to be able to change that reply to something else in just a few seconds. This is how we're going to add a little shade to the method. Instead of just being a card force and a little robot that always replies the same way to a certain question. We're going to have it respond different ways to the same question.

Getting Google Home to Respond What You Want It To

Method 1 (Don't Use) - In the Google Home app there's something called "shortcuts" where you supposedly can get your GH to reply whatever you want to a particular input. I tried it and it didn't work. So I don't recommend it.

Method 2 IFTTT - IFTTT stands for If This Then That and it's just an app that connects two apps/programs/smart objects in your house so that when one thing happens it triggers something else. I'm not even going to get in the potential uses for this, but I have a feeling there are all sorts of magic related ones that you could find.

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So you get the IFTTT app, which is free, and it connects to your google home. And you create an "applet" which is just a simple conditional statement. "If X happens, then make Y happen." Again, if it sounds complicated or techy in any way, it's not. The image to the left shows you the extent of the "programming" required. And this video walks you through the whole process.

So that "applet" gets saved and now whenever you say "What is she thinking?" you will get the "I can't tell..." response.

Now what you do is go in and edit that applet so it has the following line in the What do you want the Assistant to say in response? field

Okay. It's coming through clearer now. I think there is an S sound in there somewhere. No. Wait. I know what it is. She's thinking of the word

So this is everything but the actual word itself. Don't worry about the potential non-hit in the middle.  If there is an S sound in the word, it's a minor hit before the actual reveal. And the "No. Wait," suggests "No, I'm not just getting a letter, I'm getting the full word." And if there's not an S sound then the "No. Wait," makes it seem like it's correcting itself. Either way the statement will make sense. And it makes the revelation bigger so that it's not just the word itself.

Keep in mind: you don't save this new message yet. You just turn off your phone at this point and set it somewhere in your kitchen near the tin foil.

This is all pretty straightforward from here. 

You try to have it read her mind in a general sense, and you get the "I can't tell" response.

You say, "Ah, we need you focusing on a single thought." Then you go through whatever process (Hoy book test, peek, card selection) to get them to narrow it down to a single thought. You ask Google Home again what your friend is thinking but you still get the "can't tell" message.

You realize you need to block your own thoughts. Go to the kitchen, turn on your phone and type in the one word at the end of the phrase you already entered then hit save. Put the phone back and grab a piece of tin-foil you've already removed from the roll. This shouldn't take long. Maybe 10 seconds, 15 at most, to type one word. That doesn't seem like an unusually long period of time to get some foil.

Return. Make yourself a hat. Ask again what she's thinking. React. But remember, you're not supposed to know the word so get her to verify it first.

But what about that bit at the end where I tell her to pick up something off the table and the GH tells her what it is? This is simply a matter of only have a few items on the table and then having a key phrase for each one. "What did she pick up?" "What is she holding?" "What's in her hand?" Etc.

You might wonder why that bit is even there. In a theatrical magic presentation you would never follow up the revelation of seemingly any word in the English language with a 1 in 5 revelation. Certainly not within the same broad "effect." You might feel like the correct structure would be, "Let's see if Google Home can guess which object you picked up." And then follow that up with, "Okay, let's up the ante and have you think of any word in the English language." But the reason I prefer to do it in the opposite order is because it feels less like I'm showing concern for dramatic structure. I don't want it to feel like a two phase "routine." I want the "what item is she holding" bit to come off kind of as a throwaway afterthought. I get into it before the reaction from the first effect has died down. What I really want to do is confuse the issue. Since there is a bit of a build-up before the first reveal, they might start formulating some hypotheses about what happened and when it happened. By slapping on another similar effect—but with a different method—at the end, I think that helps obscure the method used in the main part of the trick.

Other Ideas

1. I don't know if there's a limit to how many IFTTT statements you can create, but assuming there's not, you could theoretically create an "if this" statement for every card in the deck. Then you could have a card freely chosen (say from a stacked and/or marked deck), cue it to Google Home in your question and have it name the correct card in a very fair way. You could use a crib. Or you could do one of those things where the first word of the sentence cues the value and the last word cues the suit. Then you only have to remember 17 things (suits and values) rather than 52 different phrases for each card.

2. Most laypeople don't realize how few items there are that people draw when asked to draw something. You could have cues for the top 25 most drawn items. Then you could peek a drawing, or openly just watch the person draw whatever they want and then cue the correct drawing with your question. "Hey Google. What did he just draw?" He drew a car. "Isn't that crazy?" you say. "I found out how it works. It actually listens to the marker strokes while you make the drawing. That's how crazy sensitive this thing is. What will they think of next"

3. You can, of course, just use these same tools to do dumb stuff like this.

Coming in MFYL: The Damsel Technique

From the post, The Force Unleashed

The Damsel Technique: I'll probably write this up at some point next year. It's a tiny idea but one that can have a big impact. This was the technique I originally wanted to test when I went off to NYC. It can be used with almost any force (it works amazingly well with the cross cut force). In our testing we used it with the dribble force. We performed a standard dribble force for 11 people and their "fairness" rating was 54. We performed the same force with the Damsel technique for another 11 people and its fairness rating was 86. And it has applications beyond card forcing. You won't get all the details any time soon, but I mention it now just to whet your appetite. Y'all whet?

The update here is that I will not be posting this on the site. Why? Because I like it too much and I've found it to be super valuable. Not just for stronger card forces, but for all sorts of tricks where your spectator is forced to a particular outcome. I've used it with the Hoy book test and other mentalism effects. In fact, the technique originated in a Rubik's cube trick I was working on. So it has all sorts of applications. 

The reason I'm not putting it on here is because it's something I want to save for paid supporters of the site, so it will be appearing in the 2018 supporters bonus book, Magic For Young Lovers. 

If you're like, "What the hell... you said you were going to post that here and now you're not?" My response to you is: get fucked.

Here's the thing, the absolute most valuable stuff I've ever written about magic is available for free on this site. And that's the stuff about presentation style and amateur/social magic. I wish I had those insights at a much earlier age because they have completely transformed my performances and increased the spectator reactions and enjoyment by an order of magnitude. I would have paid a lot of money if someone had pushed me in that direction long ago. And all that's here free. So you can't say I'm holding out on you.

But at the same time, I need to reward the people who keep this site going. That's who I write it for. So the best tricks and some of the better techniques are going to be saved for them. That's just how it is. 

I'm grateful for everyone who supports the site. And I have no issue with those who are indifferent to it or dislike it. But, "I don't think it's worth $20 a month to support the site and I demand you make every single thing you write available to me beyond the 150 essays and effects you make available for free every year" is not a position I find tenable. 

I try to make sure everything is available at a reasonable price because I know I've been in situations when I was younger where money was tight. So even if you went for the highest level of support, that comes to $5 a week. And even when I was struggling I still had $5 per week that I could waste on something. So it feels fair to me.

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Look, I could have followed this lady's approach and had a $10,000 per month reward level. At that reward level you can get yourself a non-nude video of her. $10,000 per month and you won't even get a single goddamned nipple, son.

For those of you who support me at the $20/month level you'll be getting full-frontal and my a-hole spread wide. Metaphorically, I mean. (Although for $10,000/month you can have it literally).