The Witch's House

Are you familiar with this trick The Trapdoor Card by Robert Neale? I think it’s one of Neale’s more famous creations. Here is a variation done with a dollar bill. And here are a bunch of different variations with cards and other stuff as performed by the world’s greatest grandpa.

Over the years, I’ve done the variation with a bill (Wonderland Dollar) which doesn’t require the spectator to close their eyes, and I’ve done it with a playing card as well. I never really got it to feel like much more than a puzzle, but for the people I knew who liked puzzles, it could be an interesting thing to show them. In all, it was an effect I liked, but didn’t love.

Then, right around the beginning of 2018, I got an email from Nico Ruiz about a trick he does with his 6-year old daughter, Kala.

Here is part of his email:

As I told you, the trick is done by my daughter. She tells the story of a little witch who lived in the forest away from the village, but when she left, some lumberjacks from the village went into her house to eat and steal her precious sweets, so she made a curse: Everyone who entered her house in her absence would automatically find themselves outside, by magic. So she shows a drawing of her house and asks the spectator to hold the door of the house on the inside, hold it very tightly. And depending on the moment, she covers the drawing with a handkerchief or asks them to close their eyes, and instantly the spectator is holding the door on the outside. The truth is that she has a lot of fun doing this trick dressed in her witch hat.

Here’s the little witch herself.

Untitled 3.jpg

When I got the email I thought, “Oh, that’s cute.” But I didn’t really put that much thought into it.

A few weeks ago I decided this might be something fun to try for myself. I’d scribble a little picture and throw it in my wallet. Then I could tell people about this story my niece made up about a witch and a house and some lumberjacks and a curse. And then I’d pull the picture out and say she drew it the other day and she says it’s the house from the story.

“I didn’t think the picture was very good. And I was going to tell her to work on a few more revisions to have her get it to the point where it lived up to my high standards. But then I found something interesting about this drawing that made up for the poor artistic skills.”

“So, the way my niece told the story was, the lumberjacks would enter the house, then their eyes would get heavy and close, and when they opened them, they’d find they were on the outside of the house.”

“Here’s the weird thing about this drawing. Right now you’re on the inside of the house. Take a hold of the door with your hand. Now there’s no way for me to turn the paper, and the only way for you to get to the outside of the house, without letting go, would be if you somehow went through this door.”

“Don’t let go, not even for a second. Now let your eyes grow heavy and close, like the lumberjacks in the story. Now open them… and look… somehow you’re on the outside of the house.”

And I performed it like that for a few people and their reactions were much more in line with seeing something magical, rather than just seeing something puzzling.

I think there are two reasons for this.

First, a child’s drawing is something that has some emotional weight to it. Much more-so than a card or a bill. And the idea that maybe a child drew something that has some strange property is inherently more interesting than, “I’m going to fold a playing card and you’ll go from looking at the front to looking at the back.”

Second, there is a very straightforward clarity to the effect with this version. You’re inside the house, then you’re outside the house. The hole in the middle represents a doorway in the picture, emphasizing that this is a door, not just a flap in a bill or card. This strengthens the idea that the only way to get to the other side is to go through the door. When it’s just a flap, that symbolism is lost.

In Neale’s version, the flap is also a picture of a door, but his story that went along with it was too abstract for me. He talks about how in every town there is a white wall with a green door and if you go through the door you’re in a garden and when you come back out your spirit is renewed. What does that mean? I don’t know. I’m not sure any spectator would know either.

Even though it’s just a cosmetic change, I think the simplicity of “inside and outside” really helps cement the effect in the spectators mind. “There was a picture of the inside of a house on one side of a piece of paper and the outside of the house on the other and a little cut-out door in the middle. I was standing on the “inside” side of the paper, holding the door. Then I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, I was now on the “outside” side of the paper even though I had never let go.” That sounds like a magic trick, not just a puzzle.

The story that goes along with it is so simple that literally a 6-year old can tell it and understand it. And it helps reinforce where you start and end up. You’re in the witch’s house and then she kicks you out. Simple. As Neale has said, the most important thing is for people to really understand what side they start on. This version makes it 100% clear.

Some final thoughts:

- The trick isn’t mine to teach. You can see Robert Neale teaching it in the Celebration of Sides download here. I don’t do the push-through action he does in that download, I do more of a folding action, like in the clips in the first paragraph. Because I keep the drawing folded and in my wallet, I can fold right along the creases already established in the drawing. I fold it and unfold it when their eyes are closed. I’m not trying to hide that I’m doing something to the drawing. But with them holding onto it, it doesn’t seem like I could be doing something that changes the orientation in any way.

- Here is a pdf of Nico’s house drawing. You can print it double-sided on a piece of paper if you want to try it out. If you’re going to carry it around with you, you should draw your own version. I do mine a little bigger than this.

- I also have a full-size version I put on my refrigerator, just waiting for someone to say, “Hey, why do you have such a cruddy drawing on your refrigerator?”


- I’ve also done it without out the niece story. I just say it’s an old drawing I once made but there’s something strange about it. I have them hold the door on the “inside” side. Then I have them close their eyes, take a step forward, and turn the other direction. (As if they’ve stepped out of doorway and turned around.) And when the open up their eyes, they’re looking at the side, yet they’ve never let go of the picture.

Thanks to Nico and Kala for sharing their version of the trick.

Gardyloo #77

Hey-o, I’m back, and as adequate as ever.

The past week wasn’t a vacation. I was putting the finishing touches on Book #2 and writing the next issue of the X-Comm newsletter, which Year 3 supporters will receive later today.

I was also doing some preparation for the next round of focus group testing. Specifically the testing we’re going to do on controls. I was practicing some of the questions we’re going to ask on some non-magician friends, just to make sure things were clear.

I first explained the idea of controls to them in the most basic way. I wanted to see if this is something that laypeople already have an understanding of. Most non-magicians know about forcing a card, but do they understand controls too? So I explained how when you choose a card and it’s returned to the deck, the magician may shuffle it and mix the cards, but it’s possible he still knows where the card is or has controlled it to a specific position. Each of the four people I talked with this about were like, “Yeah, of course.” (And they were all asked this separately, not together.) They didn’t know the term “control,” but the concept was innately understood.

I guess that should have been obvious to me, but I felt I needed to ask anyway.

But here’s why I’m mentioning this. I told them I wanted to show them some ways a card could be returned and lost in the deck. “Some of these are controls, and some aren’t,” I told them. I lied. They were all controls. But with two of the ones I showed them, they were 100% convinced they were not controls. They even laughed at the question, “Do you think I controlled your card that time?”

If that trend holds up when we do the full testing, you’re going to have at least two controls that you can be fully confident are truly fooling. They might not be appropriate for every situation due to some constraints, but you should probably be able to work one or the other into many or most tricks.

The even better news is that they’re both easy.

We’re not doing the testing until the end of November, and I won’t have the write-up on it until well after that, but it’s something to look forward to.

From the Failure Files: Hair Raising

I once thought about making another blog that just talked about all the stuff I’ve tried that didn’t end up working, then I realized that was a dumb idea. But I’ll occasionally post some things that didn’t work here. Maybe you’ll come up with an idea that does work based one of my failed attempts


This idea involved having someone with long hair push all her hair behind her shoulders, and then pinch a small bit of hair near the front of her scalp and pull it forward so it lay down the front of her chest. So, imagine the blue line here was a small “rat tail” of hair strands.

My thought was I could make the hair levitate using a loop. It’s not the most clever idea I’ve ever had, but I thought it would be an eerily intimate trick because it affected part of the person’s body.

When I first tried it with someone, her hair kind of splayed out along the length of the loop, giving away that something horizontal was lifting it up.

The next two times I tried it, I had them tie a loose knot in their hair, to keep it as one unit. That solved the spreading problem, but both women said I must be using their own hair to make the hair rise. Like they thought I had just snagged a piece of hair and was somehow using that to pull up the rest of their hair. And I couldn’t very well say, “No, no, I’m not using your own hair” because if they reached up to check, they would have found I was using something that might as well have been their own hair.

So that idea is on the scrapheap for now.

Some friends of the site have some recent or upcoming accomplishments that I want to acknowledge.

Justin Flom has a new book of magic for kids coming out on November 13th. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m sure it’s good. It’s not out for another few weeks, but as I write this post, it’s the #2 current best seller in Children’s Magic books on Amazon. Understandably behind the greatest magic book of our time.

Screen Shot 2018-10-19 at 1.38.33 AM.png

Around the holidays I always get a couple friends asking me what book they should get for their kid about magic. I always just go with the most recent one that’s by someone I know is talented. Kids are drawn to the things that feel of their time. They’re not going to connect to some decrepit old tome talking about thimble magic and foulards. So this year I’m sure I’ll recommend Justin’s book and probably give away a couple copies myself.


My pal, Toby Halbrooks, is a producer on The Old Man & The Gun, which opens today. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ll be checking it out out next week. It’s getting great reviews.

They’re saying it’s going to be Robert Redford’s last film, but that’s a lie. He and I are working on a remake of the Fat Boys’ movie, Disorderlies.


And, as I’m thinking of people who won’t get that last reference, I’m reminded of our darling friend, Alice, who was the JAMM Muse for April 2017, where she posed as Dan Harlan.


Now, I tell every model I meet: “Take your modeling cues from the poses of Dan Harlan. That guy is sexuality personified.”


Well, Alice had the good sense to listen, and now she’s working with Playboy. You can check her out here.


You know I’ll post any video of someone destroying The Expert at the Card Table. This time a dog got in on the act. I guess he was all done licking up a puddle of his own shit and vomit and figured this couldn’t be any worse.

Here’s a fun game you can play. Almost every day, Penguin Magic sends out an email promoting some product, old or new. And the subject line is always some quote about the product. Whenever I get one of these emails, I like to pretend that they’re from a plastic surgeon who specializes in penile enlargement surgery, and these quotes are from his patients. And now that I’ve told you about it, you’re going to do it in your head whenever you get one of those emails too. So now you’re stuck with it. Sure, it doesn’t always work. But it’s good for a laugh now and then as long as you’re not some sad sack of shit who takes no joy from life. See the examples below.

Check out these quotes from the satisfied customers of award winning plastic surgeon, Dr. Altinsel’s penile enlargement surgery.

"I will use this wherever I go. I love it, love it, love it." -Ira Gurewitz

"Exceeds expectations. GREAT reactions." -Mitchell Rushing

"People started screaming and yelling" -James Wesley

"Dare I say...perfect" -Reynold Fuentes

"AMAZING. I will be using it for sure!" -Romanos

"It surprised me. It also fooled me." -Max Maven

"Turns adults into children." -Rick Lax

"I will use this for the rest of my life." -Steve Haynes

"A dream come true. I'd have paid triple the price." -Reza Mikhaeil

“A whole new spin on a classic" -Rick Lax

"This is the best I have to offer." -Richard Osterlind

Autumn Music Mix

Here’s a short mix of some of my favorite music that feels like Autumn to me. I’ve strayed from the theme in some places so it’s not all just wispy vocals and acoustic guitars, although there’s some of that too.

Here I Am by Adam Green and Binki Shapiro

This isn’t just a good autumnal song, it’s a five-star perfect song in my book. It has so many things I love: boy-girl vocals, a counterpoint-esque chorus, and the original version (not the live version below) opens with a gorgeous Beach Boys style harmony featuring overlapping vocals of Binki Shapiro who is amazing (and who is also in the band Little Joy, who was on my summer mix).

Requiem for a Witch by Gloria

Anything with the word “witch” in it is going to seem autumnal. You don’t think of witches on jet skis and shit. Add to that the crisp steel-string acoustic guitar sound and their pretty harmonies and you have a great fall song from my favorite French band.

A New Beginning by Wolfie’s Just Fine

In Friday the 13th, A New Beginning which came out in 1985, there is an extended nude scene with a girl right before the killer stabs her in the eyes with garden shears. Here’s the original death scene (not safe for work—and it’s in French because that’s the only clip I could find).

This song is about a young boy in the mid 80s seeing this and seeing sex and death all mixed up together when he may have had little exposure to either of that before, and the weird mindfuck that was for him.

The video is great. They do a really good job re-enacting the movie.

Yes, Friday the 13th takes place at a summer camp, but it’s still a movie that belongs to the fall and the spooky season..

We Could Walk Together by The Clientele

In a previous post I called The Clientele the greatest autumn band of all time. 95% of their songs would fit on this list. Here is one of their earliest.

Ooh Yah Yah Yah by Sweet Spirit

I love this song, but it doesn’t remind me of fall. However, the video does. I’m a big proponent of renting a house in the woods and staying their with friends for a long weekend once the weather turns cold. After the summer and before skiing/snowboarding season is usually a cheap time to do it. This video reminds me of that sort of thing. Everyone together in a house or sitting around a fire-pit in the chilly night air. That’s my scene.

Monday Morning, Somewhere Central by Ultimate Painting

Ultimate Painting were around for three years and put out three albums and then broke up. In those three albums is a lot of 60s inspired, autumnal music. This is one of my favorites from their album, Dusk.

The Duality of Advanced Preparation

A couple announcements before I get into the post.

First, this is the last post before my fall break. Regular posting will return on Friday the 19th. There may be some music up this weekend.

Second, if you want the upcoming book and you haven’t ordered it yet, you have a couple weeks left to do so. I’m ordering the exact amount that I need. And while the publishing company will generally print a small percentage more than you ask for as “overage,” I can’t guarantee that, so no more copies will be publicly for sale after the end of this month. You can order here if you want.

Third, if you’re supporting Season 3, the autumn issue of X-Communication will be in your email boxes on the 19th.

This is not a post about fire wallets, but I’m going to start by talking about fire wallets.

This is an anecdote I’ve thought about including in various posts over the years, but I’ve hesitated because I don’t want to hurt the feelings of people that I know. However, I thought of it again in relation to Monday’s post and I decided it’s something we can all benefit from thinking about.

In NYC there are some magicians—some you might even know—who will be hanging out at a bar and they’ll go up to order a drink and stand next to an attractive girl and pull out a fire-wallet and light it up as they go to pay. One of the guys I know who does this acts really cool about it and just lets it burn without commenting on it. The other acts like he’s surprised, “Ah, what the hell is that!” Either way it gets a brie shocked reaction, followed by a couple laughs.

I’ve witnessed this in person easily a couple dozen times. And 100% of the time there is a moment after fire-wallet guy leaves, or when people have peeled off into their own conversations where one of these women will say something to the effect of, “What’s the deal with this goofball and his wallet with the fire?” Sometimes they say it that bluntly, sometimes it’s more like, “So… your friend is…uhm, interesting.”

They’re confused. But not like, “How did he do that?” But like, “Why did he do that?”

They have this sort of look to them.


I have to be honest, I’m not sure what reaction the fire wallet guys are hoping to get. It does make these women pay attention to them, at least briefly, because they’re blasting fire around their face. And I’ve even seen them occasionally transition from the fire wallet to having a genuine interaction with someone, but it always feels to me like they had to dig themselves out of a hole in order to get to that point. As a way to engage with people, the fire wallet always felt to me a few steps removed from walking up to someone and vomiting on them. Yes, now they have to talk to you, and maybe you could even win them over, but surely it would have been easier just to say, “Hi,” right?

I know I’ll get disagreements on this. People will tell me spectators love the fire wallet. Maybe in context, in a professional performance. But done casually I can almost guarantee that you’re hearing what you hope to hear. Yes, there will be a reaction (because there’s fire involved) but what is it you think people are taking away from it?

It’s not a trick… I mean, if it is a trick, it’s literally the worst trick you could accomplish. It would be like an ironic punishment in an O’Henry story. “Oh, Great Genie, I wish for magical powers!”

“Okay. I will give you the power to set your own wallet on fire!"

“What? Oh fuck. No! Please! Don’t! I’m sorry!”

And if it’s not supposed to be magical, but just meant to be some neat special effect, then, in a social situation, you’re the guy who’s carrying around a wallet that lights on fire to get people to pay attention to him. That’s… not a good look.

This is one half of the duality of Advanced Preparation.

For the social magician, performing in a casual environment, for people he or she just met, concrete signs of advanced preparation will undermine the experience you’re trying to create with your magic.

I once watched a friend perform the brass block penetration trick, the one where you stick a match through a hole in the center of a matchbox, and everyone is like “so what?” then you open the matchbox to show that it’s completely filled with a solid brass block. It got a perfectly fine reaction, and then one of the people watching said, “So… you carry around a little brass block with you?” And you could just hear the slide-whistle of sadness suck the air out of him.

Here’s the thing, the person who said that wasn’t trying to be a jerk. But when people are out in a social situation, they want to be a part of spontaneous, organic interactions. They don’t want to be the target of this thing you were planning at home to spring on whoever happened to be at the bar that night in order to hopefully make yourself look good. Even if they really enjoy the trick, the fact that you walked in that night with the intention of showing it to whoever you bumped into, takes what could be a special moment and turns it generic.

I’m not saying don’t show people magic, and I’m not saying don’t actually do some advanced preparation. Here’s the kind of ironic thing in regards to the fire wallet thing. When I would hang around the people afterwards, someone would inevitably say something like, “Soooo… does your wallet shoot fire too?” I’d be all like, “Ah, no. He’s a good guy, actually. I don’t know what the deal is with the wallet schtick. But yes, I do some magic too. That’s how we know each other.”

“Do you have something to show me?” they might ask.

I’d pat my pockets. “Ehh… nah, not really. I didn’t bring anything. Actually…,” I’d say, and finish the drink from the bottle I was holding, “let’s try this.” I’d then take a bottle cap from the bar, show that it wouldn’t fit in the top, and then melt it through so it was inside the bottle. “Hey, there you go. Magic.” I’d say, and smack the bottle on the table. I’d really underplay it, and immediately bring the subject back to something about them. Meanwhile they’re flipping out and trying to pull me back to live in the moment a little longer. “Wait, wait, wait. What is going on?” And they’re lifting up the bottle and alternating between staring at it and staring at me. And when I slide the bottle off to the side, to be taken away by the bartender. They again have to pause and take in the moment. “You’re just going to let him take that?”

Now, the truth is, that trick requires much more advanced preparation than throwing a fire wallet in your back pocket, but that’s not how it feels to the people who see it. And that is its strength. If I had walked in with a Coca Cola bottle that I brought with me. “Hey, have you seen these weird new cola bottles they have at the store down the street?” I suspect the response would be about 30% as intense. Yes, it would be the identical trick, but a completely different feel for the spectator because the way I perform it there are no outward signs of advanced preparation. (Yes, the fact that I have the ability at all to do this would suggest that it’s something I’ve practiced in the past, but that’s a much subtler suggestion of preparation than coming in with my own props or some heavily scripted patter.)

This is one of the reasons I’m much more of a coffee shop performer than I am a bar performer. At a cafe you have, I think, many more options for items you might have with you, without it feeling like you’re setting the other person up. Normal people do bring their work or hobbies to the cafe. So it’s not unheard of that in my laptop bag I might have some books or some other objects to use as hooks. Even a deck of cards can be a “normal” object that you might have on you for various reasons. Whereas if you bring it into a bar it’s like, “Oh, I guess this guy planned to show people card tricks tonight.”

But this post is about the duality of advanced preparation. I think most people will agree with what I’ve written above. Maybe they hadn’t put much thought into it, but it makes sense. Yes, just because some object fits in your pocket, doesn’t mean it’s natural to try and pull out in casual situations.

But something else to consider is the flip-side of advanced preparation, which is this: When it comes to performing for friends, family and other people who are close to you, you will often want to emphasize the preparation that has gone into what you’re about to show them. In fact, you’ll often want to fabricate it for them even when it doesn’t exist.

Certainly you’ll still want to perform seemingly spontaneous moments of magic. But you can also make a person feel special and give some weight to an experience by implying you’ve put in some effort and planning so you can do something specifically for them.


  1. I send you an email a month before I visit to say I have this trick I’ve been working on that I can’t wait to show you.

  2. I send you a text asking if you can stop by a couple nights from now. “I have this thing I want to try out, but I need someone with your disposition to make it work.”

  3. I pick you up for a weekend getaway. I’ve found the hotel and planned our meals, but the primary purpose of the mini-vacation is because the place we’re going is on a latitude that I think will allow for this weird experience where I’ll be able to control your dreams.

Or whatever.

The duality (and dichotomy) of advanced preparation is that—when performing for strangers—it minimizes their role in what’s going on (i.e. “well, he was set to show this to anyone he happened to meet tonight”). But—when performing for friends and family—it can emphasize their role in the effect and their importance to the experience.

The most obvious analogue is romance. Imagine your spectator is the object of your affections. If you just met, they would want to feel like they’re having a genuine, organic interaction, not that you’ve come in with a bunch of pre-planned lines that you were going to deliver to whoever was standing at the bar that night. But, once you’ve been together a while, not only are the spontaneous moments of affection appreciated, but so are the ones you’ve obviously put effort into preparing specifically for them.

Bye, my loves. See you next Friday.

giphy (1).gif

A Critical Examination of Pens that Shoot Little Balls of Fire

Uh-oh, looks like we’ve got a little controversy brewing. SansMinds is releasing a sharpie that shoots a little ball of fire. And Ellusionist is also releasing a Sharpie that shoots a little ball of fire. And, apparently another guy who runs a place called House of Fire has been selling a Sharpie that shoots a little ball of fire for a while now.

It’s certainly a problem trying to sort all this out. By that I mean the legal or ethical issues in regards to intellectual property and which of these companies you support.

But I’m not here to talk about those problems.

I’m here to talk about the bigger problem which is the fact that this sort of thing looks fucking ridiculous.


I know that’s just a gif and there’s no sound so if you really want to enjoy the real-world experience of this, make a gentle “pffft” sound between your teeth and lips to really experience the savage power of this fireball!

What exactly is the reaction you expect this to garner other than an incredulous, “You spent money on a Sharpie that shoots a little ball of fire? Isn’t there a foodbank in your area you could have donated to?” There’s nothing magical about this. The best response you could hope for is, “Neat. Do it again.” To which you’d have to reply, “Uh.. yeah sure, okay. Uhm… can you be a dear and hold on for a minute while I cram some flash cotton and flash paper into this hole in my Sharpie?”

Ellusionist is much smarter than SansMinds. In their trailer, which is over a minute, they don’t show a single unedited clip of their Pyro Pen in action. They don’t want you to see how underwhelming it is in real life. Instead, every clip is slowed down to the point where it seems you’re going to be shooting an impressive stream of fire. You’re not. Ellusionist is on a big pre-sale kick for this right now. They have to be. They know that once this is out in the wild and people see what it actually looks like, their sales will pop and fizzle like… well, like the little nugget of fire this marker ejects.

Here’s the thing, when you perform magic you can choose to come off as someone with supernatural powers, or you can try to come off as just a normal person who has learned some interesting or mysterious things. Whether you’re going for all-powerful entity or normal guy who knows some cool stuff, a sharpie that shoots a dollop of fire is not helping you. Instead of “powerful” or “normal’ you come off as “a guy who’s desperate for people to acknowledge his presence so he bought a little trick marker.”

“Ah, but Andy, fire gets people’s attention.” Yeah, so does screaming the N-word or taking a shit on the floor. Getting people’s attention isn’t difficult. Doing it in a way that doesn’t make you look desperate is the key. Look, if at any moment you could casually look around and shoot a stream of fire from the palm of your empty hand, that would be cool. It would seem incredible. But these sort of half-measures—where you have a big bulky wristband or a gimmicked marker shooting off little pops of fire—they’re not going to get you the reaction you’re hoping for.

That being said, I do appreciate that Ellusionist has their typical sterling ad copy to go along with this…

If James Bond were real, this is the kind of pen he'd have stuffed in the top pocket of his bulletproof suit.

Ah yes, in fact I hear he actually does carry around this pen in the next Bond movie… James Bond: Involuntary Celibate. Seriously, Ellusionist, have you never seen a James Bond movie? He doesn’t use joy-buzzers and a squirting corsage to take down the enemy. Admittedly, that would make a cool movie. An owner of a prank shop who has to use the items in his store to take on the men who have kidnapped his daughter or something? I may have to write that.

In response to SansMinds pen, Ellusionist writes this in their ad:

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 9.37.40 PM.png

“Many will imitate Pyro, some will even try to sell off our back through their product naming tactics... but there's no mistaking originality, quality or presence. [Ed. Note: Presence? WTF?]

Coca-cola needs store brand cola to show people why it's #1. [It does?] In that same vein, Ellusionist vows to pursue the quality and safety of it's [its] innovations for decades to come... no expense spared.

As the old saying goes, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”

Yeah, that’s not what that “old saying” means. If it was about the quality of goods you receive, then paying peanuts and getting monkeys would be a great deal for the guy who gets monkeys. The saying applies to employers (not customers). It means that if you don’t offer a good salary, you’ll get poor workers. It has nothing to do with what the person is writing about in the ad. (Other than the fact that Ellusionist is unwilling to pay someone to write their ad-copy and, in turn, they get this junk cranked out by one of their in-house monkeys.)

They also write:

The PYRO Pen itself has been designed to contour to your palm like any other marker…

Ah, yes, just what I look for in a marker: that it contours to my palm. “Like any other marker”? Hey, Ellusionist, you know how markers work, right? Your palm shouldn’t be involved. Although that does explain something about who is writing their ad copy. I’ve always thought, “This seems like it was written by a dumb child or a smart gorilla.” And those are the only groups that hold writing implements in the palms of their hands.

Untitled 2.jpg

Gardyloo #76

An update about the next testing session in November. We’ve decided that the bulk of our next session is going to look at controls. I think this will be a good companion to the testing on forcing we did last year. As of now, I’m not sure what controls we’ll test, and I’m really not sure how we’re going to test them. By that I mean, I don’t know in what context the focus groups will see the controls and then what the question(s) we will ask will be in order to quantify the strength of a control. We’ve got some time to figure it out.

It’s probably going to have to be something that’s done in a fairly open way. Meaning we’ll probably need to tell people what we’re looking at. Here’s why. If there were only two controls in the world, then we could do a trick for 25 people using one control, and the same trick for 25 different people using the other control. Then we could see if there’s any significant difference in the way the two groups rated the trick. In that way we could hide what we are testing in a trick.

But if we wanted to test 6 different controls that way, we’d either need a lot more people (and a lot more time and money) or each group that saw the trick with a specific control we’re testing would have to be much smaller. And with a smaller group, 1 or 2 outliers can throw things off to the point where the data is meaningless.

So we’ll probably have to say something like, “People often assume a magician can control their card in some way once it’s been returned to the deck. We’re going to have you take a card and return it to the deck in a few different ways and we want you to rate on a scale of 1-100 how fair it seems and how confident you are that the card is truly lost.” Or words to that effect. Now that I think of it, there may end up being no control that makes them feel particularly confident the magician doesn’t know where the card is. We’ll see.

From an email I received from reader E.C.,

“As a full-time pro I feel like I need to establish my expertise with my tools (cards, coins, etc.) early on when I perform. However, I also perform quite a bit socially and I had a chance put what you wrote about in your Inexpert Card Technique post to the test recently. I was performing Chad Long’s Now Look Here at a gathering with some of my brother’s friends. I’ve performed this trick literally 1000s of times as it’s a mainstay in my professional performing repertoire. With that many repetitions I could do the trick in my sleep and my handling of the deck is very ‘smooth.’ I decided for this performance to take a page from your playbook and handle the deck as if I was a neophyte. I’ve always had really good reactions to that trick, but this time they were so far beyond the typical response I get. While I probably won’t incorporate that handling in my professional work, I plan to keep it up in future social performances. I just wanted to chime in with another data point to support your theory.”

This doesn’t surprise me. Now Look Here is a trick where cards are bouncing all around and changing to different cards. If your handling going into the trick is very slick, that gives them a partial explanation for what is happening. But if you handle cards like a normal doofus they have no good explanation for what is going on.

A little over a year ago, I created a fake blog and had it populated with material by friend-of-the site, Joe Mckay. The idea was to use this as a resource so I could plant fake stories in there when I needed them for specific presentational purposes. There are a couple that remain there permanently, like this one which is pretty much perfect justification for the “why do I have to write something down” question relating to mind-reading. And this one which sets the table for the trick at the bottom of this post.

There are also many other potential premises in the real stories that are posted on that site.

A couple people have written to ask why that site isn’t being updated. Well, the answer is that it doesn’t need to be. Any new fake stories I have to add (and I have a few) can be back-dated so they appear in the midst of the run. And the truth is, there is nothing more normal in the world than an abandoned blog.

The only thing more normal is a blog that was abandoned for 8 months, then there’s a post that says “I haven’t forgotten you! Life has been busy with other stuff, but I’m back to regular posting here!” And then there’s nothing after that post in the subsequent two years.

But yeah, as a resource, an abandoned blog is just as good as an active one. And if any supporters of this site want a story planted for something they’re working, they just need to write it up and send it to me.

There’s a site called Cameo where you can get celebrities to record personalized videos for you and your loved ones. And by “celebrities” I mean, like, Bret the Hitman Hart and Chumlee from Pawn Stars.

There’s also a section for Magicians. So if you want Patrick Kun, Morgan Strebler, or Murray Sawchuck to say something to you, well your prayers have been answered.

Morgan Strebler’s page is odd. In one of his promo videos he says he’ll do a trick for you in the videos you purchase, then in the description at the top of his page he says, “I can’t perform magic tricks in the videos. Sorry.” Uh, what? Why would I buy a video from a magician if he can’t do a little magic in the video? What am I paying for then? I can’t jack-off to it (I promise, I tried). So what am I going to do with a video of Morgan not doing a trick?

Murray Sawchuck will actually teach you a trick, as you can see from the example videos on his page. It won’t be a good trick, but it’s something. Perhaps we can pay Murray to do a follow-up to the video where he pretends to do a trick for a homeless guy.

What should we do with Patrick Kun? I feel like we should make a series of video requests, and each one is just slightly more debauched than the last. Like first we’re just getting him to undo his shirt buttons a little more each time. Then we’re like, “You should drink a beer before you shoot the video, loosen yourself up.” And we do, like, 100 video requests. And each one just makes him slightly uncomfortable, but nothing too significant. But by video 100 he’s high on amyl nitrate poppers and engaging in hardcore gay sex on camera. And we’ve got enough footage to make a film! Cut to, 5 years later, he’s sobered up and he’s walking down the street in Greenwich Village and he passes a sex shop and sees a porn DVD in the window with his image on it that he has zero recollection of ever filming. Yeah, let’s do that. It’ll be funny!

Screen Shot 2018-10-04 at 8.42.59 PM.jpg

Rock the Sure Shot

This isn’t the type of trick I do anymore, and it likely would have rotted in my notebooks from 5-10 years ago if I hadn’t been reminded of it by a recent email. It’s a little too “look what I can do,” for my current style. But it may fit your style. And I think it could probably work well in a formal show. “Look what I can do” is appropriate for a professional performance, because presumably that’s what they’re there for: to see what you can do.

So, while I’ve only ever done this at home or at work, in a casual situation, I’ll describe it as a stage piece. I’m just making up this “script” as I write. When I performed the effect in real life there wasn’t much of a script.


On stage there is a small table with a stack of printer paper and a cloth bag.

You pick up one of the sheets of paper and give it a glance. “These are some of the TPS reports from my old day-job.” You look over the paper a little bit and cluck your tongue against the roof of your mouth. “This is not… looking… too…good,” you mumble, essentially to yourself. “Well, screw it,” you say, snapping into presentation mode. You crumple up the piece of paper and toss it into the crowd and maybe have it tossed to a few more people.

“I spent years looking over those reports. Years of my life. Years of my life at a job that… well… I can’t say I hated it. It was a job I had no feelings about whatsoever. If I hated it, maybe I’d have left much sooner than I did. Or at the very least, I’d have some memories of the time I spent there. Instead it’s just like, ‘Huh? I worked where? Oh yeah, that’s right. For like a decade. I vaguely remember.’”

You ask the person who now has the paper ball to come on stage.

“I knew it was time to leave and pursue my dream of becoming a performer because I was getting too good at work. Let me clarify. I wasn’t too good at my job. I was getting too good at something I was doing to avoid my job while I was at work. I was getting too good… at waste paper basketball,” you say, and mime a jump-shot. As you do, a small metal trash can slides in from off-stage.

“I was a prodigy. I was an office sensation. I organized tournaments with cash prizes that 100s of people participated in. That company may have taken years from me, but I took 1000s of man-hours from it.”

“I’ll tell you my secret. What made me so good wasn’t because I could always hit the shot. What made me the best was I got good at reading everyone else’s abilities. Abnormally good at it. And if I sensed I found a good player who was bound to have a hot hand that day, I’d just avoid playing him or her until I sensed they had cooled off a bit. The cowards way out. But it worked.”

“I feel like I’ve got you sized up,” you say. “I’m going to make a quick prediction.” You turn your back briefly and write something on one of the sheets of paper, fold it and place it somewhere. You also do something with the contents of the small bag that’s on the table. As you do this, you say: “I’m going to have you take 5 shots at the basket. I’m going to tilt things in my favor a bit by having you wear this around your neck, which should throw off your balance just a little in a way I think will help me.”

The audience sees that the cloth bag is actually hanging on a loop of thin rope which you put around the spectator’s head, like a necklace. The bag is about the size of a baseball and there is something of some weight in it.

The audience member takes five shots with five different paper balls. You make a big deal of letting them choose the order in which they take the balls and shoot them. Let’s say they make two of the shots.

You open your prediction and reveal that it says, “You will make two out of five shots.”

“See?” you say. “I knew it the moment I saw you. You’re clearly no athlete. More of a book guy, I’m guessing. Two out of five. It was clear as day.”

“But maybe it was a lucky guess. It wasn’t, but maybe it seems like it could have been. I’ll show you something that couldn’t be a guess on my part. Something that could only be emblematic of my mastery of this game down to the inch.”

You ask the audience member to take any two of the three paper balls remaining on the floor and toss them in the trash can, leaving just one final ball on the floor. You hand a fabric measuring tape to the spectator and have them measure how many inches the ball is from the can. It’s 16 inches.

“I couldn’t have known you’d get two out of five in the basket. I couldn’t have known which two of the three that you missed you’d toss in the basket when given the choice. I couldn’t have known that particular ball would remain on the floor. And I certainly couldn’t have known how far one random ball out of five would end up from a trash can after you threw it. But… [pause] but you see, I had this job once. A job that didn’t really suck my soul, but it did suck away a lot of the years of my life. Which may be just as bad. And I became very good at this game as a byproduct of avoiding that job. So good, in fact, I could foresee any matter of chance or decision related to the game. Can you remove the bag from around your neck and dump the contents into my hands?”

The audience member does that, and into your hands falls a retractable metal tape measure.


“Before you even took your shots I made a prediction on this tape measure. [You show a marker and put it back in your pocket.] On a specific portion of the tape that is now safely wound up inside.”

You slide out the measuring tape and right on the 16 inch mark is a big black X written in marker.

You grab a paper ball and walk the audience member part-way back to his seat. “Thanks for your help. Everyone give Chris a big round of applause,” you say and toss the paper ball in your hands behind you and over your head where it travels 25 feet, right into the trash can.


The primary method I was using when doing this informally is a trick called Heightened Senses by Joshua Jay. It’s on a couple of his DVDs including his Methods in Magic DVD which seems to be sold out in most places, but you can get the download here for $20 (it’s well worth it, everything on the DVD is good). If I remember correctly, Josh uses it to predict a random spectator’s height. Since I perform for people I know, I realized that would be somewhat less than impressive.

But I still loved the method and would use it as a way to predict the length of—or distance between—other things. I started using it with backyard games like horseshoes and bocce ball. And that morphed into doing it with paper balls and a wastepaper basket.

When doing it with paper balls and a trash can, I think the sweet spot is to be about 15-20 feet from the can. You don’t want them to easily make every shot, but you don’t want them to have misses that are 20 feet away from the can either.

The initial prediction—how many they get in the basket—is any kind of one in six out you want to use. I just used an index and a switch when I was doing it close-up. If you’re doing it on stage, obviously you’ll want something bigger. You could do something more complicated and predict which shots they hit, but I never bothered with that. I don’t mind if that first prediction is underwhelming.

Something appeals to me about predicting the layout of missed waste paper basketball shots. It’s fun but also clearly impossible. And it’s an example of an Unknown Personal, which I feel make for the strongest types of prediction effects.

I think Joshua Jay’s effect is good for a parlor type setting or a small stage show where the audience is pretty close. For a larger-scale show (something big enough to have a projection screen) you could have the person toss five different colored paper balls. Maybe have them do it over their head, facing away from the can, so they’re more spread out. Then an overhead camera shot shows the distribution of the different colored balls around the basket. And then you could reveal you predicted the exact layout of the balls with a clear prediction case or a letter you mailed to the CEO of the company or whatever.


The last part of the effect I’ve never actually done. I just thought it would be cool to end the trick with an impossible seeming shot. There has to be some way to rig that up to make it work. In an actual proper show, I mean. Maybe with some kind of reel, or some variation on the type of set-up you use to make a handkerchief fly across the stage. The difficult thing would be getting the trajectory to look natural. But if you’re more of a magician than a mentalist it wouldn’t be an issue if the ball looked like it was “magically” floating into the can. In fact, if you’re a magician and don’t do strict mentalism, the better way to go with it might be to legitimately toss the ball over your shoulder and try and get as close to the can as possible. Then, when you (likely) miss, you point at the ball with the index and middle finger of one hand and give a gesture like, “get in there,” and the ball jumps from where it is into the can.