As a magician, the most shameful thing you can say is, ‘I do Out of This World with half a deck, because it’s faster.’

Wait, check that, the most shameful thing you can say is, ‘Yes, officer, I molested the birthday boy.’ But the Out of This World thing is still pretty pathetic too.
— From the effect, A World Out of Time in Magic For Young Lovers

Just a quote from the upcoming book so you know that I haven’t just written one of the greatest magic books ever, but also an important piece of art.

So, a Book 2 update. When we* contacted the printers last week to see if the most recent shipping date we’d received from them (January 8th) was still accurate, we got this reply:

“Manufacturing is running around 3 days behind schedule. They are working overtime and weekends to get caught up so check back on Monday and lets see where we are at.”

On Monday we wrote back and heard this:

“The ship date is 1-14-19.”

So that’s the latest news I have there. I will keep you updated. Assuming that date holds up then we’re looking at an end-of-the-month-ish date for delivery from me to you.

[* This isn’t the royal we. When I say “we” on this site, it usually just means “not me.” I get a good amount of help on certain logistical aspects of running this site and producing the products. I’m not dealing directly with the printers. Hence “we.”]

Pre-illustration photo and illustration from the trick Ass to Mouth from Magic for Young Lovers


Season 4 Q&A

Are you definitely doing another season of The Jerx?

There’s a good chance, I think.

The first question I ask myself is, “do I have the content for another year?” I do. The next question is, “Is there interest in another year?” I’ll know that when I put out the call to this year’s supporters to see if they want to sign up for another year. If there is enough interest in another year, I’ll do one.

How will the (potential) next year be different?

Well, there are three types of posts here that require a lot of time on my part: effect/presentation posts, theory posts, and research posts. These types of posts will no longer be on the site and will instead be in publications for supporters only.

Not everything that could potentially fall into one of these categories won’t be posted, but the more fully realized effects/presentations (which is something I haven’t posted on this site for a while now), the fleshed out theory, and the posts related to focus-group testing or other long-term research won’t be up here anymore.

Wait… so what types of posts does that leave? Making fun of Ellusionist? Joshua Jay photoshops?

Yeah, mostly. There will be shorter, but more frequent posts. Imagine the typical Friday posts, but spread throughout the week.

Oh, I see. So you’re going to take the good stuff away and make people pay for it and just leave the dumb stuff here?

I’ve been saying for a couple years that I’m going to be shifting my focus to the people who support the site. If you thought it was “good stuff,” you would have hopped on to support it already. Right?

Yeah, but…

Look, I get it, you’re thick as pigshit and you can’t fathom why someone is only willing to devote 100s of hours of his time for free content and not all of his time. I’m a true monster.

You’re just trying to make money.

Well, yes… to a certain extent. This is time consuming and it’s taking away from time I would be using for other work.

But money is only part of the equation in finding the balance between my time, my interests, my need to eat, the niche focus of this site, taking care of the supporters, etc.

If money was my primary focus, I would not have stopped allowing new supporters for this site.

Yeah, I don’t get that move at all.

Well, there are two reasons for it.

The first reason has to do with how I see the “business” of this site. I don’t see it as people paying me to produce a $260 book every year. I see it as a type of consulting service. Most non-professionals don’t have the time, energy, or social circle to try something out 20 or 30 times in a casual situation. But they like the that someone is, and they’ve found some value in the ideas and effects generated by the time I devote to that pursuit. I see it less as selling a product and more as providing a service. And if you’re providing a service, you can’t just take on unlimited clients. I’m at the point where I have enough people on board to keep the site going, but not so much that I can’t read everyone’s emails and at least consider ideas and suggestions they send my way.

The second reason to limit supporters is as a form of anti-piracy.

Huh? How does that work? Won’t there be even more bootleg copies of things if there are less legitimate ones to go around?

Well, maybe/maybe not. If I write a book and give one copy to my friend, and he’s a good guy and doesn’t share it, then there is no piracy and there is only one legitimate copy. At the same time, anyone who wants can go to Penguin and buy an online lecture—there are unlimited copies for sale—and yet people still steal the content.

Fewer copies means I can keep better track of what’s out there, and who is screwing me over. But ultimately is very difficult to stop people from ripping you off. I will be able to find out who did it and terminate their “membership.” But who knows what I can or can’t stop completely.

So as much I want to be anti-piracy, my way of doing so is to come at it from the opposite end. I’m going to be pro-supporter. By limiting the number of supporters, I’ve created a situation where it’s better for you to support this site rather than rip me off. First it’s better for your state-of-mind because you don’t have to look in the mirror and think, “I’m a piece of shit.” But it’s also better for supporters financially. Supporters of this site will have a physical product to enjoy. And one that was made in smaller quantities than there was a demand for. Which means there will always be a secondary market where you can at least get your money back. So it’s pretty much free to support this site.

So here’s what a potential Season 4 holds:

For Non-Supporters (and everyone else): You will still be getting a bunch of content here, but it’s going to be of the less in-depth, less substantial, more fun variety. There will probably also be more off-topic posts as well (music, life-advice, things I’m into.)

For Supporters: Once the initial Book 2 mailing is complete, you will get an email with more details about staying on to support the site and reserving your spot in the new super-secret magic society. That email will include the details about the rewards for Season 4 which will include Jerx Deck #3, a physical publication of some sort, the pdf newsletter, an ebook covering the focus group testing done from late 2018 to mid 2019, and access to at least one exclusive effect that I’m thinking about releasing that won’t be available anywhere else. For the most part, this is going to be discussed off this site. (Either on a new separate site or via email.)

For Non-Supporters Who Want to Be Supporters: Any Season 3 supporter who chooses not to sign up for Season 4 will have their spot made available for someone else to take. I will have a sign-up for people who’d like to be on the waiting list posted here in a couple weeks.

I know this is all stupidly complicated, but it is how it is.

I’ll be back next week with any further updates I receive from the printer. And for the few of you who like the music posts, I’ll be posting some of my top songs from 2018.

RTP: A Happiness Practice

Today, as we get ready to turn the calendar page to 2019, I want to talk about a mindset that has improved my quality of life in recent years.

We all know people, maybe you’re one of them, who tend to live in the past. Perhaps they’re having a hard time moving on from some past trauma, or they’re looking at the past from the opposite perspective and they romanticize some time period or relationship from bygone days. I think we all recognize the danger of indulging too much in this kind of mindset. At best it’s unproductive and at worst it can be paralyzing.

I’ve been fortunate that I’ve never really fallen into that mentality. I’m able to look back fondly on the past, but not live in it. And I’m pretty much immune to the negative impact of past setbacks, pain, or trauma.

Instead, I spent a lot of time focused on the future and investing my time and effort in ways that would pay dividends down the road. Not only did this lead me to be more productive than the people I knew who were stuck in the past, but looking ahead just seemed like a more motivating way to go through life.

But, I’ve come to realize that this can be something of a trap as well. “Building towards the future,” is great, but I think it can be a lie we tell ourselves too. “Yeah… now kind of sucks. But if I put in the work now, then I can reap the rewards in the future.” The future—which may or may not come as we intend it to—is often the excuse we use for not living our life today in a way that brings happiness and excitement.

Okay.. gee, thanks, Andy… what is this? A post to tell us to “live in the present”? Wouldn’t a picture of a shitty motivational poster have accomplished the same thing?

No. I’m not telling you to live in the present. First off, I’m not even really sure what that phrase means. If you’re telling me to live in such a way that I take as much pleasure as possible from the present moment then you’re essentially telling me to lay on the couch watching tv, jacking off, and deep-throating a tube of cookie dough. That’s not the “happiest” thing I could achieve in my life, but at any point in time, it might be the most immediate thing I could do to enjoy that moment.

“Live” is about as passive a verb as you can get. So… live in the present? What does that mean? How is that actionable?

I don’t suggest you live in the present. My suggestion is this…

Romanticize the Present

I mean the word “romanticize” in two respects. First, I mean it in the way we say “romanticize the past.” That is, to look at the present with rose-colored glasses, to de-emphasize the problems and to focus on the things that make you happy. Don’t wait 20 years to look back fondly on this period of your life.

Second, I mean “romanticize” in the straight dictionary sense: invest with a romantic character.

And by “romantic” we’re talking these synonyms: adventurous, charming, chimerical, daring, dreamy, enchanting, exotic, exciting, fanciful, fantastic, fascinating, mysterious, passionate, wild.

If your focus is on the past, the rest of your life may end up passing you by without bringing you any joy.

If you’re always working towards “the future” you may end up sacrificing the present for something you find out you didn’t really want. You may find out that working 12 hour days in your 30s, 40s, and 50s, so you could retire and drive an RV when you turned 60 was a mistake.

If you choose to simply live in the present, then your life might consist of a daily pleasantness of ordering pizza, playing video games, and ripping bong hits, but your days will blend into each other. You will become so enmeshed in the present that you aren’t creating unique memories to look back on with fondness, or generating things to anticipate in the future.

Ah, but what if you choose to romanticize the present? What if you look at your life as a series of small memorable adventures for yourself and those around you? Then you’re creating positive, lasting memories while at the same time generating anticipation for near-future experiences. And in the present you’re focusing on the positive and creating moments that bring you and those around you happiness. You aren’t just “living” in the present, you’re actively putting effort into molding the present to your liking.

Yeah, that’s great, Andy. I don’t have time for that. I have a mortgage to pay.

I live this way and I make money.

Sure, but you’re a once in a generation—nay, once in a century—type of talent. I haven’t been blessed like you have been.

That’s true. But look, this isn’t a lifestyle that demands all your time and money. In fact, part of what pushed me in this direction was thinking back to being a kid in the 80s (a time when I had no money) and thinking about all the memorable exploits my friends and I had back then. Why? Well, because we were constantly pursuing adventure.

If I ask you the memorable things that happened to you in 2018 and you have to search and search for an answer and eventually you say, “My mom got cancer,” that feels to me like you’re not living your best life.

I try to have some new adventure brewing in my life every few days or so. A meetup with someone, an excursion, trying something for the first time, creating something, or whatever. Always have some little thing on the horizon. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have big plans too. But I know people who work all year planning for one 10-day vacation in September and if that is anything less than perfect, then this one exciting adventure for their year goes down the drain. And even if it is great it often feels like it still didn’t live up to the build-up.

But if you’re regularly engaging in new undertakings and trying new things, then you can be a little more daring and adventurous. If something doesn’t work out, then you only “wasted” a couple weeks of planning and you have something new coming up just around the corner.

Let’s say you go at a leisurely pace of one interesting, memorable experience a month. At the end of a year when someone says, “What were the highlights of your year?” you have 12 distinct memories of some new thing you did or place you went. These don’t have to be huge deals. Maybe they’re a day-long road-trip or a concert you went to or a five-minute short film you made. You’ll still be ahead of the game. I know this because I ask people all the time, “So, what were the highlights of 2018 for you?” And most struggle to have any answer at all. In the end, they’ll usually spit out something they could have said any year. “Thanksgiving was nice.” Or something like that.

You’ll feel like the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World if you can name just 12 relatively minor things. “Oh, I took a pizza making class and now I can make this amazing homemade pie. I went snowboarding in Vermont last February. Carol and I went for a weekend in NYC and saw My Fair Lady on Broadway. I joined a softball team and we lost a game 43-0. Me and the kids went camping during the Perseid meteor shower. Pat and I took a road-trip to the last remaining Howard Johnson’s.” Etc., etc.

The goal is not to sound like someone who is engaged with life. The goal is to be that person.

As long-time readers probably recognize, I came to this mindset through magic. In The Jerx, Volume One, I wrote about the Romantic Adventure style of magic presentation. This is a style that is not just a demonstration of your skill, but instead involves something more immersive for the spectator. They participate in the presentation rather than just witness it. This style evolved from short interactive pieces to more long-form ones, where the trick would be a part of a larger experience. Not only did I find the tricks to be much more powerful in this style, I also found that they were more enjoyable for myself and the spectator. Performing in this style had enriched my life. I could look back and see 100 little experiences that I had crafted for people and each one was a distinct memory for me. This proved to be significantly more rewarding than a jumbled/vague memory of showing people card tricks over the course of a year.

And the reaction to this type of performance was overwhelmingly positive. One time I asked a friend if she wanted to see something weird and I took her on a 40-minute drive to a waterfall that has a natural gas flame that’s lit behind it. While we were there I showed her “something strange that happens in this area.” After the trick she looked at me and said, “This feels so indulgent.” I asked her what she meant and she said, “I never take time for things like this.” What she meant was she rarely ever takes time to do something just for the sake of doing it.


For many of us, life frequently amounts to the same dull things over and over again, interspersed with some periods of big tumult (changing jobs, moving, ending a relationship, etc.). Often we only fill our lives with things that require no effort (watching tv, playing video games) or things that we have to do (mow the lawn, go to work). To set aside an hour of planning and a few hours of execution for something that is ultimately inconsequential is kind of a rarity, but I think it’s these things that can generate the most happiness.

From there, the idea of the “romantic adventure” as a lifestyle choice developed. You see, the words “romance” and “adventure” both imply a kind of impracticality. Grand romantic gestures and big adventures both suggest things that were done for no practical purposes. I figured including more of such things in my life could lead to even greater enjoyment. And that’s saying something because I figure I was probably already in the 99th percentile for happiness. But it worked. Including small, indulgent, impractical adventures regularly in my life made me happier and gave me more opportunities to appreciate the present.

If any of this resonates with you—if you feel your life could benefit from romanticizing your present—here is what I recommend. Once a month (and that’s really a beginner pace, you want to work up to at least once a week) you’ll want to come up with some sort of mini-adventure. What constitutes an adventure? I think of it as something that requires some time, energy, and a little planning but that doesn’t serve any real purpose other than the enjoyment and satisfaction of the experience. So that could be: organizing a party, going on a hike, taking a class in something that isn’t for work, hang-gliding, going on a police ride along, taking a road trip, visiting some “haunted” locations, submitting a pie in the baking contest of your state fair, seeing concerts, exploring some abandoned places, going to see some high school plays, going to a minor league baseball game, having sex in nature, learning to cook something new, visiting someone you haven’t seen in a long time. These are examples, not suggestions. Do the things you like. Bring people along or go by yourself. (If you’re going to have sex in nature, bring someone else. Shoving a pinecone up your ass doesn’t count.)

And, of course, you have an interest in magic which is tailor-made for bite-sized adventure. Crafting an experience for someone else is also an experience/adventure for you.

Eventually you want to plan these things as frequently as your schedule will allow.

You have a family and a day job? I understand. But you still watch four hours of tv a night. You can fit a little adventure into your life.

I like to find something interesting to do every few days. I’m never really stuck for an idea. I find books and websites with interesting places to visit. I reach out to people I haven’t seen in a while and plan meet-ups. I’ll just start driving and spend a night in a town I’ve never been to. Once you open yourself up to it, you’ll find ideas everywhere.

Further Reading:

Read more about the Romantic Adventure style of performance here and here.

Read The Secret to Happiness Part Two to see how I incorporate big, long-term goals in my life. I haven’t abandoned these types of goals.

Read How to Slow Time for an earlier look at a similar idea.

Happy New Years, everyone.


Stocking Stuffers


A Sponge-Ball Routine

This is the only sponge ball routine that I enjoy performing. It’s pretty funny. Like, real person funny, not magician funny (i.e. not funny). I have a few friends who perform it too and I considered having someone record a video of it so you’d understand the delivery, but I decided against it. I think it’s the kind of thing where if you are the sort of person who would be good at delivering this, then you’ll understand the humor from the text alone; if you’re not, then seeing a video won’t help you anyway.

For those who are funny, no explanation is necessary. For those who are not, none will suffice.

Sponge balls always gets a good reaction, but it falls into that category with other tricks like cups and balls, linking rings, egg bag, chop-cup, etc. What category is that, Andy? Classics of magic? No. Tricks that blow. Tricks where it’s just a sequence of meaningless impossibility. I get no joy out of performing that sort of stuff. Or watching it. If it’s your scene, great, knock yourself out. I’m just not into it.

This trick has something of a “story” to it, although it’s structured more as a three-beat joke. You get the best moments of sponge magic without the boring, repetitive stuff.

Here’s how it starts. I ask, “Have you ever heard of Memory Foam?” They usually say yes and tell me about how they have a memory foam mattress or pillow or how they slept on one at their cousin’s place. Or whatever. As they say this, I let my face scrunch up, like I’m confused. “Huh? What on earth are you talking about? A bed?” I give my head a little shake like I’m thinking, “What a lunatic.”

“No,” I say, “memory foam. Those pieces of foam that absorb your thoughts and become the shape of your favorite memory.”

I pull out two red sponge balls. “You haven’t heard of this? These are two balls of memory foam. It’s okay. You don’t need to be familiar with everything in the world, but don’t make up something about a bed or pillow or whatever, just because you’re feeling self conscious about not knowing something.”

“I’ll show you how it works.” I take one of the red balls and push it into my fist. “You just concentrate for a moment and it absorbs your favorite memory. You don’t even have to know what it is. The foam knows.” After a beat I open my hand and the sponge ball is now a cube.


I look confused for a moment and then say, “Oh! Hahah. The time I saw that box! That was a great time. That box was awesome.”

I put the cube away in my pocket. “Here, you try,” I say, and pick up the remaining ball and give it to my friend to hold. I tell her to squeeze it and let the memory foam do its work. When she opens her hand there are now two balls. “Oh, I say. You were remembering the time I showed you those two balls of memory foam. That was like 45 seconds ago. That’s one of your favorite memories? I mean… okay… that’s great. I’m glad you’re enjoying this. It’s a little sad,” I say, as my voice trails off.

“Anyway, let’s try it with you,” I say to another friend. I pick up the two balls and give them to him to hold. After a moment I have him open his hands and, as you probably imagined, a big red sponge dong shoots up.


“Oh…,” I say. “Uhm…. uh… well… that seems like maybe it’s a private memory. Yes? Why don’t we… uhm…. let’s just….” I take the ding-dong and put it aside or put it in my pocket and uncomfortably transition to something else.

There you have it.

You need a sponge ball to cube gimmick. Two sponge balls. And a sponge ding-dong.

I think the choreography is pretty obvious. Briefly: You bring out one sponge ball and the ball to cube gimmick. After you change the ball to the cube you put the cube away and steal the other sponge ball which you load in the second person’s hand. When all attention is on the second person, then you steal the dong. You’ll figure the rest out.

I’ve added other phases where the balls go from hand to hand or change color. They worked fine, but I like this three beat structure the best.

A Tip for Those of You With Office Jobs

Maybe this isn’t a universal tip, but it certainly held true when I worked an office job. What I learned on that job is that you should never take the week between Christmas and New Years off. So many other people take it off that it become a de facto week off even if you are coming into the office. You can take three hour lunches, watch movies on your computer, write a magic blog… whatever you want. And you’re not burning any vacation days and people actually feel a little sorry for you. You seem like a good worker. “I’ll come in and hold down the fort,” is your attitude. Meanwhile you’re taking naps and leaving at 3:30.

Again, this may have just been my particular situation, and obviously if there’s something you want to be doing on those days, it’s a bad idea. But if you just sort of automatically take those days off because everyone else does, I recommend sticking around and saving those vacation days for another time of the year.

Cardigram: A Trick from JM Beckers

You shuffle a deck of cards. You invite three friends to cut the cards as much as they want. The deck can be placed under the table so you can’t see it. The cards are cut some more and then three cards are removed, one for each spectator. The rest of the deck is placed in the card case and never looked at again. The spectators put the cards in their pockets or sit on them or whatever. All this can happen while your back is turned or you’re out of the room. You never see the cards or the deck. In fact, you can pour acid in your eyes and blind yourself before the selections are made and you could still successfully complete the effect.

The three cards are hidden. The deck is hidden. Yet you are able to name the cards or, as in the trick described by JM, you’re able to pick up on some details of the cards and your mentor is able to nail them exactly via email.

I haven’t performed the trick in the following pdf myself as it’s similar to some other stuff I do, but I think people who like this site will appreciate it. Presentationally it draws a bit on ideas I’ve offered here. But methodologically it’s the sort of thing that I never could have come up with myself. If you’re like me, it will take you a little while to wrap your head around it, but once you “get it,” it’s fairly simple. There is a section at the end of the pdf with some thoughts by me. Cardigram is based on tricks by Alex Elmsley and Denis Behr.

Here’s the pdf.

Thanks, JM.

A Mnemonic Trick for Remembering Names

I’m not naturally great with remembering names. I used to feel like my mind was actively fighting with me to ignore people’s names when I first heard them. Like they’d say, “Hi, I’m Sarah,” and I would just immediately zone out on the name.

I tried a number of the standard memory techniques that you read, e.g.,:

Make a rhyme, associating the name with your impression of the person. Or link the person’s name to a song lyric, e.g., Dave needs a shave.

Those sorts of things would sometimes work for me, but not always. My brain wouldn’t always make the reverse connection, “Ah, here’s this guy… what’s his name? It has something to do with his beard. Harry? Vandyke? What the hell was his name…? ‘Tim needs a trim’? No. that wan’t it.”

Also, I didn’t like that I was taking that moment right when I was meeting them, the moment I should be attuned to their face and what they’re saying, and instead I’m trying to come up with some stupid rhyme or association.

So here’s what I do now. It has the advantage of requiring no cleverness on my part and it’s memorable in a way that they tell you these sorts of mnemonics should be.

When I meet someone and they tell me their name, I immediately imagine them 69’ing someone I know with the same name. It can be someone I know personally or someone famous or a fictional character. So if Sarah introduces herself to me, then I just imagine her engaged in simultaneous oral with singer Sarah McLachlan, as that’s someone I can picture in my mind. If I want to be extra sure, I’ll add another detail to the background that I associate with the person I know. So, for Sarah McLachlan it might be some abused/homeless dogs who are also 69’ing. That image won’t leave your mind.

Of course this only works so long as you know of someone else with the same, but if you don’t, then you can say, “I’ve never heard that name before. Where does it come from?” Or whatever, and undoubtedly you can find some sort of mnemonic hook in that conversation.

Try it when you’re out for New Years. It works for me. Plus there’s something enjoyable about seeming like a nice attentive person and remembering people’s names when really I’m imagining them choking on the genitals of Ian Ziering.

An Anniversary Waltz Tweaking

I’m going to briefly describe some changes my friend Andrew has made to a traditional Anniversary Waltz handling that I believe elicits even stronger reactions from this already strong trick. I’m not going to get into the details of the handling, you should be able to work it into whatever version of AW that you do.

The first change is a bit of a misdirect in the presentation. Let’s say he’s performing for a newly married couple. He has one card chosen from a red deck and another from a blue deck (forced, of course) without anyone looking at them. He holds one of the cards face down in each hand. He then says something like, “Even though you could have chosen any card in the deck, you happened to be drawn to these two cards specifically. And just like you, John and Julie, these cards are… a perfect match.” He smiles broadly as he reveals the cards with some gusto. They don’t match at all, not even close. Only now does he realize this. “Oh… huh.” This gets a nice laugh.

The cards are placed face up on one of the decks which is secretly turned over to switch in the double facer. The “two” cards are signed.

The second change is to use a double-backer in the lead up to the final display. There are many routines where this is done so you can show the “front and back” of both cards, separated from the deck. But instead of using a normal double-backer, in this case you use a red/blue double-backer. It’s a small change, but it really does emphasize these are two separate and distinct cards. You are clearly seeing two different faces and two different backs which, I believe, amps up the impossibility when the cards become one single object.

You can, of course, bring the patter back around, e.g., “The important thing is not that these cards match. What matters is how well they come together… [etc., etc.]”

You’ll read my version of Anniversary Waltz, which veers off from the traditional one, in Magic for Young Lovers. If I was going to do a more traditional version it would be this one. It’s always nice when you can misdirect the audience (“Oh, I know what’s going to happen. The cards will match. I wonder how he rigged it so they’d match?”) and then follow it up with something significantly more impossible. This is a concept I’ve talked about in the past called “The Trajectory of Expectations.

Merry Christmas everyone! As I mentioned on Friday, this is the end of Season 3. I’ll be checking in here occasionally until regular posting resumes (most likely) with Season 4 in a month or so. Look for a post in a week about the direction of Season 4 (first discussed in this post). Until then, enjoy the holidays, eat, drink, be merry, and do some magic for people.

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Gardyloo #86

Friends, this has been the last full week of posts for Season 3. Another 150 articles this year, the equivalent of 1400 pages of content; plus 100 pages of X-Communication (final issue for Season 3 in January); and, oh yeah, an actual 300-something page book as well coming next month.

I couldn’t have done it without the great Jerx writing staff.


A lot of great guys and girls putting this site together. And I have to say, only six employees jumped off the roof to their death this year. That’s something to be proud of. And, to be honest, those six weren’t really pulling their weight. They needed to go one way or the other. If they can’t keep churning out the content, then, quite frankly, they don’t deserve their nickel.

(Speaking of “not pulling their weight,” where’s the goddamn photoshop of Joshua Jay doing his Balance effect but with one of the items swapped out for a dildo, that was supposed to be on my desk this morning, Wu Chunming?)

At any rate…, there will be a final post for this season next week and that will be a wrap for Season 3. Thanks to those of you who supported this year.

There will be some occasional posts in the weeks to come, but it will probably mainly consist of updates for people receiving the book and information on the potential Season 4. If you’re one of the people getting the book or if you want to claim one of the extra copies (if there are any), then check back here every few days.

Regarding last week’s post that dealt with me accidentally spending or giving away expensive gimmicked coins, a couple of people wrote in with the same, genius solution: Carry my gimmicked coins in the back of my Timeless watch.

What a great idea.

By the way, that Timeless thread on the Cafe is interesting to me. I think it’s pretty indicative of a divide in the way we present magic, a divide that has only grown larger in recent years.

You have people who are like, “The effect doesn’t make sense. The prop doesn’t look real. We shouldn’t value method at the expense of effect.” Let’s call this the “modern” school of magic thought.

Then you have a more traditional viewpoint, which is, essentially, “As long as you’re doing something impossible, then you’re doing magic, and who really cares if it makes sense or is obviously a prop or whatever.”

Here’s a post by Alex DLF from that thread, “But when people show you that this trick works very nicely, and baffles the audience, I think that, even if you don't like it, you have to agree people don't have the same consideration than magicians. I never heard "Oh, that watch looks strange" or "Wow, it's an empty watch !". They are just amazed by the fact they find a ring/coin inside.”

Uh-huh. First, “people don’t have the same consideration than magicians.” This is true. But it’s true in the exact opposite way he suggests. Real people are much more cognizant of weird or unusual magic props. If you bring out a wallet that doesn’t look like a normal wallet, or a pen that doesn’t look like a normal pen, or a watch that doesn’t look like a normal watch, people notice. And they notice more than magicians do because we’ve grown accustomed to unusual looking objects.

“I never heard "Oh, that watch looks strange" or "Wow, it's an empty watch !" Yeah, no shit. Why would they comment on something so obvious? This is a very typical sort of head-in-the-sand approach to magic. “Unless someone comes right out and says something to me, then it’s totally not an issue.”

There is sort of a disdain for the audience that permeates the posts of the traditionalists on that thread. If you believe the audience deserves an experience that goes beyond being fooled by an obvious magic prop, then you’re told you’re “overthinking” it. To be fair, the biggest defenders of this trick are the people who are trying to sell it, so I don’t actually think they care so little about these things.

As I asked in an earlier post, would you do this trick if it didn’t have a clever method? I can’t imagine the answer being yes. Another question I would ask would be, if you would do a trick with a watch with a storage space on the back, is there any prop you wouldn’t use in a trick?


I love a good, shoddily edited magic tutorial. I particularly like it when it’s clear they filmed something and didn’t even ever bother watching it back.

This video for Anything by Ben Williams is that sort of thing, but it’s also something of a mystery. What was it that happened to Ben at 10 seconds into the video below? Dick caught in a mousetrap? We may never know. Whatever it was it apparently didn’t warrant editing out of the final version of the download.

I broke a tooth playing lacrosse years ago. It wasn’t like a sanctioned lacrosse game with helmets and mouth guards, we were fucking around in a parking lot. The tooth I chipped wasn’t really visible and I never got it fixed. Last week, because of my mostly sugar diet, I had to have it pulled. And I had the dentist give it to me.

Last night I performed Get Them Digits, the routine from Monday, for some friends in NYC. After they all pressed their phones against my head and pressed send, I had this moment where I kind of shook my head a bit and moved my lower jaw from side-to-side. Then I spit out a tooth. “That can’t be good,” I said. It added a nice element to the routine.

Bish the Magish who once asked the age-old question if I was a “magic terrorist or a sick little boy” has a new promo video on his youtube page. Well, “new” might not be the best word. I guess I mean new as in “recently posted” because something tells me these video clips might be a little older. Maybe even a year or two old.

Now, I’m not going to make fun of Glenn Bishop here. It was never a fair fight, but at least 15 years ago when we were going at it we were both nobodies. Now that I’ve been named “the voice of 21st century magic,” by Fake Magic Monthly, it would certainly seem like a case of “punching down” to go at it with him now. I guess I’m growing up. Perhaps I’m a sick little man now.

The truth is, the people I used to be vicious towards were the people who started shit with me. Glenn hasn’t talked any trash in a while, and—as I’ve said on this site about Steve Brooks—I feel a strange affection for the man. In fact, if someone wanted to make me a set of Steve Brooks and Glenn Bishop cute plush dolls, that would be great.

In addition, Glenn has had some health issues recently and I don’t want to send any negative energy his way. Instead, I want to help our old friend Glenn.

You see, there is one problem with that video.

The length? The fact that it’s a 10+ minute promo video?

No. Sure, they say promo videos should be about 3 minutes. But that’s for a promo video that doesn’t have Glenn Bishop, baby! When you got Bish, all those rules go out the window.

My problem is with the music. That 80s keyboard and guitar sound is weak as fuck. It certainly doesn’t highlight Glenn’s dynamic performing style.

I’ve done him the favor of re-editing the first 90 seconds and adding a new soundtrack. A word of warning though, if you’re watching from work… turn the volume way up. You want to make sure everyone knows you’re watching something cool and to come over and enjoy it with you.

Control Panel

I’m on a train as I write this…


I’m going back to NYC for some follow-up testing of something we started work on in November but we ran out of time. I’m a big train fan.. The internet is so shitty on this thing that it’s easy to find willing strangers in the cafe car or elsewhere who are happy to sit through some tricks.

Speaking of testing, this post is going to summarize the results of the testing we did on controls a few weeks ago.

What Is The Purpose Of A Control?

This may seem like a stupid question. The purpose of a control is, obviously, to control a card. But that’s not the full answer. Think of it this way… If I said, “What’s the purpose of a force?” You would say, “To force a card on someone.” But that answer is incomplete. The purpose of a force is to force a card on someone in a way that feels like a free selection. We need to understand the entire equation if you’re going to try and test these concepts.

So what’s the purpose of a control? Well, when we began to construct this testing, we realized there are two purposes to a control. This may seem beyond obvious to most of you, but it didn’t really dawn on us immediately that a control is used for two different purposes and we couldn’t test both purposes at the same time.

The two purposes are these:

A control is used to control a card while making it seem like it never moves from a specific location..


A control is used to control a card while making it seem like it’s lost in the deck.

For example, a control that you would use in the Ambitious Card is designed to make them believe their card is in the middle of the deck in the spot they saw you insert it.

But something like a jog-shuffle control is designed to make it seem like the card is in a position unknown to either the magician or the spectator. It could be near the top, bottom, or middle.

Now, I don’t believe the first type of control—the one that is designed to make it seem like a card hasn’t moved from the location it was placed in—really needs to be tested. Is a side-steal better than a pass? It’s kind of a pointless question. Both—when executed flawlessly—should look like almost nothing has happened so you can’t really judge them from a spectator’s perspective, they’d be virtually identical. Whichever one you happen to perform better is the one you should use.  And obviously a control that does involve some kind of rearrangement of the deck in any way is going to be worse than one that seemingly doesn’t if your goal is to make it seem like the card couldn’t have moved from the location it was returned to.

But what if your goal is to make it seem like the card is lost in the deck and out of your control? That’s a more interesting question because it’s not as obvious. And the reason it’s not as obvious is because it’s about how it feels to the spectator.

Ask yourself this question. Which card feels lost in the deck? Card A: The deck is on the table and Card A is slid back in the middle and the cards are deck is squared up. Card B: The deck is in the magician’s hands, he takes Card B, puts it in the middle of the deck and overhand shuffles the cards.

As magicians, we know how easy it is to control a card via an overhand shuffle, so I think we’d say Card A feels more lost. It was just placed in the middle and there are no breaks or crimps or anything. Assuming it’s a normal deck, and the deck is really square, then it’s hard to think how the magician would know exactly where the card is.

But what about to a layman? Does a card cleanly going somewhere in the middle feel more or less lost than one being shuffled into the deck? Do they—on some level—understand that a shuffle can be used to control the position of a card as easily as it’s used to mix a deck?

I had no fucking clue! And I had people arguing it both ways with me. This is what made it interesting to test.

Testing Methodology

We met with 46 people in groups of 4-6 over the course of two days in late November. The section on controls was one of three different things we were testing that day. And then we would have a 15 minute discussion with them. Each group was there for about 45 minutes total.

Deciding how to test the controls was a challenge. With the testing we did on forces (See The Force Awakens and The Force Unleashed) it was easier. We just would perform the actions of the force and then ask them how fair their selection felt on a scale of 1 to 100.

When working with my pre-test test group (these are laymen friends who I’ve explained the purpose of the testing to in order to come up with clear and concise questions to get to the information we’re trying to uncover) I realized it may be hard to come up with a question that elicits the type of response we’re looking for. For example, I couldn’t just ask, “Which return of the card to the deck felt the most fair?” That’s kind of unclear. A selection is active and a spectator can feel the fairness because, in a sense, they’re being manipulated. But returning the card to the deck is mostly a passive activity for a spectator, so they’re not going to have that same sense of fairness or manipulation.

I also couldn’t ask, “Which replacement makes it seem more like the card is lost in the deck?” Because that would always push them towards the control that included a shuffle. They’d answer the question from their perspective, not the magician’s perspective. If you have a red deck where they have returned the card to the middle, and a blue deck where I have shuffled the card back into the deck, the blue card feels more “lost” to them because they have some idea where the red card is, they can’t say for certain where the blue card is. But that doesn’t mean they think the blue card is necessarily out of the magician’s control.

The real question we’re trying to get to is: “With which replacement does it seem the card is truly lost and out of the magician’s control?” That’s what we want to know, but asking it that way probably wasn’t going to work.

So instead we did what we decided not to do when testing forces: We showed people the same trick seven times.

Here’s how we did that but still kept everything on a pretty even playing field.

First, we told them what was going to happen during the trick. So it’s not like the first version would be more impressive due to some element of surprise.

Second, we knew the trick had to be as dull as possible. If it was entertaining in any respect then it’s obviously going to be less so each time we perform it, which would unfairly impact later performances. So this was a completely uninteresting trick even the first time around.

Third, we rearranged the order of the controls each time we presented to a new group.

Fourth, we chose a trick where the impossibility was solely based on how much it seemed the card was out of the magician’s control. In this way we could ask an easy question, “Rate that trick on a scale of 1 to 100 in regards to how impossible it seemed,” and by answering that they were actually giving us the answer to this question: “Rate that trick on a scale of 1 to 100 in regards to how lost and out of the magician’s control the card seemed.”

The Spiel

Here is, basically, what we told each group regarding this section of the testing.

“We work with a broad community of magicians and they hire us to test out different presentations and techniques to get some honest feedback. That’s why you’re here today.”

Pause. First, let me say that I like this because it’s pretty much true. The backers of this site are the “broad community of magicians” and their support is what we use to pay for this testing.

The interesting thing to me is, when we tell the people this, they all just sit there and nod their heads like it’s the most rational thing in the world. And that’s because it is. It makes sense that magicians would try and test certain ideas with laypeople outside of a professional show. That’s completely logical. Yet it came down to me—magic’s biggest screwball; inventor of the Abracadildo—to actually do this. I know people will say, “I don’t need a test-audience. My material is honed every night in front of a real audience, [etc., etc.]” I just don’t buy that. I know how hard it was for us, in our testing, to get people to open up and give honest feedback even when they knew that’s what we brought  them in for. So to think you’re getting genuine, honest assessments in a real world situation—either from friends, or loved ones, or people who have paid you to perform—is naive. If your friend reads you his bad poetry, or if your table-side violinist isn’t very good, you probably don’t tell them how much they suck. You probably say, “Hey, how about that. Thanks. Very nice,” and nod to the people around you. I suspect a lot of magicians get this kind of response and mistake it for real feedback. “Did you hear?! He said, ‘How about that!’”

Back to the spiel…

“Today we’re looking at something you probably have given zero thought to, but this is the sort of thing magicians like to mull over and dissect. You’ve probably all picked a card for a card trick, but today we’re going to look at different ways of returning a card to the deck. We’re going to show you the same trick seven times. Don’t worry, it’s a quick trick. You’ll select a card—we’ll do that part just once—then we’ll return the card and lose it in the pack. Then I’ll take the deck behind my back and in an instant I’ll come forward with your card. The only difference will be in how the card is returned to the deck.

“You might wonder why we’re testing this. Think of it this way, if I were to take your card, turn my back, then turn back around and say, ‘I put your card back in the deck,’ you probably wouldn’t be very impressed if I found your card after that. But if I gave you the deck and the card and had you go home and lock yourself in your bathroom, return the card into the deck and shuffle it up, then come back here and then I was able to take the deck behind my back and find your card in an instant, that might be a good trick. Albeit a time consuming one. That’s the sort of thing we’re looking at today. We’re trying to find what procedures feel the most fair, while also being doable in a wide variety of performances.”

So they understood we were interested in looking at different ways of returning a card to the deck, but we implied our main concern was a logistic one

My Secret Hope

I was delighted when it turned out The Cross Cut Force was one of the most deceptive forces. Not that I liked the force all that much going into the testing, it was just surprising to me and funny that the simplest force—and a somewhat maligned one—would end up being one of the strongest.

Similarly, I hoped that we would learn that the Double Undercut is the most deceptive control.

It’s not.

The Controls

At the beginning of this section we forced a card on one orvour own people who was acting as one of the participants. That person signed the card. That card was used for each of the seven iterations of the trick. So we didn’t have them choose a different card each time, we just used the same one.

The reason we forced a card is because we didn’t always do the actual control. Much like we did when we tested forces, we didn’t want there to be a debate about the skill level of the performer. So when it came to a control that involved even intermediate skill, we would only do the actions a spectator would see assuming the performer had perfect execution of that technique. So, for example, the side-steal; we didn’t actually perform the move we would just slide the card in the deck, and square it in a manner that mimicked the action of a side steal. Then, when the performer put the deck behind his back, he would remove one of a number of duplicates of the signed force card from his back pocket

Here are the controls we tested:

Double Undercut - Card is returned to the deck by the magician and double undercut to the top or bottom. Done for real.

Side Steal or Pass - Card is returned to the deck by the magician, he takes the deck with an overhand grip and the card is on top. The deck is then placed on the table and squared. Action was mimicked, not done for real.

Cull - The spectator returns the card to a spread and the spread is closed with the card being culled to the bottom. The deck is then placed on the table and squared. Action was mimicked.

Jog Shuffle Control - Card is returned to the deck in the course of an overhand shuffle where it controlled to the top of the deck. This was followed by two tabled riffle shuffles. Done for real.

Side-Steal, Card Palmed, Spectator Shuffle - Card is returned to the deck by the magician, he squares up the deck with an overhand grip and the card is palmed. The deck is given to the spectator to shuffle. The card is then returned from palm back onto the deck. Action was mimicked.

Spectator Cuts Card Into Deck - The spectator takes the selection, places it on top of the deck and cuts the card into the deck, cutting as many times as they like. The card is controlled by having a thick card (or short card) on the bottom of the deck. Done for real.

Steve Bedwell’s Dribble Toss Control followed by a Wash-style Mix - The card is shown on top of the deck. The top half of the deck is swing cut into the left hand, the bottom half of the deck is dribbled onto the table and the card is (apparently) thumbed off the left-hand packet into the dribbling cards. The left-hand’s cards are dropped on top of the pile on the table (the selection is now on top). The cards are then “washed” around the table by the magician and one or more spectators. The selection is shuttled between the hands from under the thumb of one hand to under the thumb of the other while the other cards are swirled around the table. Done for real.

Other than the last one, which is a control I’ve used for a long time (it’s a good one, track it down), I tried to keep the other ones relatively general so we could compare some broader concepts (i.e., is the magician shuffling stronger or weaker than the card seemingly remaining in the middle, is the spectator cutting stronger than the magician shuffling, is it significantly stronger if the spectator returns the cards, etc.)


After each iteration of the card being lost and found, the participants were asked to rate the effect on a scale of 1 to 100 solely based on how impossible it seemed. And since the strength of the trick was entirely due to how much the spectator believed the card was lost and out of the magician’s control, they were essentially rating the strength of the control

Here were the average ratings from lowest to highest:

Double Undercut - 25

Side Steal - 42

Cull - 47

Jog Shuffle Control - 58

Spectator Cuts with Thick Card - 77

Dribble Toss Control - 84

Side-Steal, Palm, Spectator Shuffle - 86


The three strongest controls all involved the spectator taking some part in the mixing of the deck.

The four strongest controls all involved the deck being mixed

The Double Undercut was the only one that actually scored a 0 with some people. I think some people see through it completely. You place the card into the middle of the deck and then use two cuts to bring that card back to the top. Even if they don’t “see” that happening, it seems many can instinctively feel that the actions could, in some way, allow you to keep track of where the card was. (Note: I’m not suggesting the double undercut is a useless move, or even a bad move. Just in this context it’s not very good.)

Culling a card inserted by the spectator into a spread scored slightly higher than sliding the card in yourself and doing a side steal (this is even when the covert actions weren’t actually performed, just the overt ones).

The highest rated control is a theoretical perfect side-steal, followed by a perfectly casual palm, followed by a perfect replacement. I certainly can’t do that. And I’m not sure I’ve seen many other magicians who can reliably do all three invisibly (although I’ve seen some who think they can). The good news is that the control that ranked almost as high is really easy to do (but you need a table). The next highest is even easier to do, but you need to have a short card or thick card in your deck.

It’s stronger to shuffle than not to shuffle when you want to portray a card as “lost” in the deck. This may seem obvious, but I’ve heard many arguments over the years that shuffling will be interpreted as a means for you to control the card. Which, of course, it is, but I don’t think that’s a leap most spectator’s will make.

When we debriefed with the spectators after the testing we would ask why, for example, they would rate the one where the card was just slipped into the middle lower than the one where the deck was shuffled.. “Couldn’t he have moved the card to another position while he was shuffling?” While they admitted that was the case, they seemed to think that was still preferable to him just sliding the card in and pretty much knowing where it was.

The audience will generally expect you to have a little more information than they do. So if they know the general position of the card (because they saw you put it in) that suggests you yourself might know the exact position of the card. So is the card “lost” when you just slide it in the middle? Laymen don’t think in terms of “no breaks,” “no crimps,” “no out-jogged cards,” etc. So to them the difference is between seeing you place the card somewhere and not disturbing anything or seeing you put the card somewhere and jumbling everything up.

My Takeaways

The results of the testing suggest laypeople are more impressed that you can find their card after returning it to the deck in a manner that involves some kind of mixing procedure. Ideally one that they take a part in. So that’s going to be my focus in identifying controls to master and include in my repertoire. I think those will prove to be the best controls for my purposes (casual performances).

Here’s my theory. I think it’s almost instinctive for magicians to believe the gold standard for a control is an invisible pass or side-steal. It’s almost as “obvious” as the idea that the classic force is the best force. It would seem like sliding a card in the deck and doing nothing at all would be the most pure way to show that the card is lost somewhere in the middle of the deck.

But, think of it from a spectator’s perspective. Let’s say you have a card selected and signed. You cleanly slide it in the middle of the deck. You don’t manipulate the deck in any way. The card is clearly placed in the middle. But then a second later you unzip your fly and pull the signed card out of your trousers. What does the spectator think? She doesn’t think, “But he didn’t manipulate the cards in any way! He just placed the card in the middle.” Instead she thinks, “I must have missed it. Obviously he did something to get the card out of the deck and I missed it.” Humans know their memories aren’t video cameras. So the fact that you can perform something super cleanly is less consequential than you may think. “I must have blinked or looked away and he did something.” They’re wrong, but it’s an easy excuse to jump to.

Now imagine it the other way. You give them a deck of cards and tell them to pull a card out from the middle, turn it over on top of the deck and sign it, then turn it back over and cut it into the deck while you look away. You have them cut it a few more times while your back is turned so you can have no idea where the card is. You turn around and take the deck back. “So you picked any card you wanted, signed it, and cut it as many times as you wanted into the deck,” you say as you cut the deck as sort of an absent-minded demonstration (really you’re cutting to the thick card). “No one knows where the card is or even what it is other than you. And yet somehow…,” you unzip your fly and remove the card.

With the second version they can’t default to the “I missed something,” excuse. Well they can, but it’s not as satisfying because the card was chosen and lost with the deck in their hands. So what they “missed” would have to be you searching through the cards, finding their signed card, and stealing it out. And they can’t convince themselves they missed that in the same way they can convince themselves that they missed the moment you snuck out the card that you put into the deck.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. When it comes to assessing techniques, we can’t just ask if the method is structurally sound and does it fly past people in the moment, we have to ask, “Is this a technique that can be undermined with an ‘easy answer’?” If yes—even if that easy answer is wrong—then it doesn’t really matter how clever or well executed the technique is, it’s inherently flawed. We need to create an arsenal of techniques with no easy answers. More on this idea to come in…


Get Them Digits

A little over a month ago, I presented an idea in its “seedling” form called, “Blow Up My Phone.” The idea was basically instead of having one person think of something and then revealing that by whatever method you had, you would have everyone you were with text you something (a card, a number, a picture) at the same time and you would predict or discern which one got to you first.

Some people didn’t really understand why I’d want to do this. What’s the point? The point was just to add some apparent randomness and to get everyone involved in the process, rather than pointing to one person and saying, “Name a card.”

After I made that post I got an email from Hector Chadwick (a real person, btw, and someone who happens to be fucking pretty disgusted that there is someone out there trying to take credit for his work.)

His email:

Maybe this:

Don’t write your prediction at the beginning of the routine. Have each person write their number down in preparation to send, then ask them to hold their phones against your left temple whilst someone holds your phone against your right temple.

You pick up pencil and paper and brace yourself. When you say go, they press send. You wince and reflexively write something down. You gather your thoughts and ask to see your phone. The first message received matches your prediction.

I like the idea of tapping into ‘invisible beams’ and whatnot since nobody really knows how they work anyhow. The justification of writing the prediction rather than announcing it might need a bit more thought, but the image of everyone sending a message through your brain feels pretty strong.

Just a thought.

My response:

Yeah, I like that too. And yeah, I'm struggling to see a reason for writing it down….

oh... I think I might have an idea.

What follows is the result of working on that “idea” for the last month.


This was a difficult one for me to test out. It’s made to be performed for 5 or 6 people who you know. I perform a ton of magic, but it’s almost all 1 on 1, 2 on 1, and often for people I don’t know well yet; someone I just met at a cafe or on a train or something.

Fortunately I’ve been traveling a bit to places where I have groups of friends so it was natural to say, “Hey, I’m in town for a couple of nights. Let’s all meet up.” I mean, I would do this anyway, but it happened to coincide with my desire to test out this trick. Also, with Thanksgiving I had a chance to perform it for people who were visiting and with the holidays coming up I’ve been able to say, “Hey, let’s all get together for an early Christmas lunch,” or whatever.

In all, I’ve performed this eight times. The first four with some slight variations that aren’t interesting enough to mention, the last four pretty much as you’ll read below.

It’s a multi-phase routine. Usually I hate thinking in terms of “routines” and “phases” because it often means you’re doing the same thing over and over again, or jamming disconnected effects together. But in this case, there’s a cohesiveness to the beats and they’re all different.

Here is what it looks like. I’ll mingle presentation and method together. Presentation in in bold.

We’re sitting around a table at a cafe. Someone asks what I’m working on magic-wise.

Because I have a clear public relationship to magic, and because I don’t only talk about it when I’m performing something, it’s something people bring up with me more often than not. That’s one of the goals of my style of social magic. Make it a natural thing to discuss, not just something I only bring up when I have a trick to show them and that I only “discuss” in the form of “patter.”

“Eh, fuck that horseshit,” I say.

We’re all told we should have interesting lead-in lines to our effects. It’s hard to beat something as natural as, “Eh, fuck that horseshit.” It’s much better than the normal type of patter people try and cram into a casual social interaction, i.e., “Do you believe in fate?” Dude, we’re just having brunch here.

“Fake. it’s all just fake nonsense. I cant believe I wasted so much time on that stuff.”

Because of my personality and my style of delivery, it’s immediately clear that I’m not serious and that this is leading somewhere. You may not want that to be clear, but for my style, I do.

“I mean, like, mind-reading? What is that supposed to be? Your mind doesn’t send out, like, beams or some shit when you think of something. It’s just childish.

“I’m actually working on a new skill. But this is something that’s actually real and useful. Not make-believe. I’m learning how to interpret the signals coming from people’s cellphones, but just with my brain. No separate device. That way I’ll be able to walk down the street and people all around me are sending stuff on their phone and it’s like, Bam! I can see what you’re texting to your grandma. Bang! I can see the nudie pic your’e sending your boyfriend.”

This is what I call a “reverse disclaimer.” It’s a premise that is, in some ways, perfectly logical (if you were to read it in a sci-fi story or something) but it’s clearly not intended to be believed. This allows you to avoid the awkward situation where they might think you want them to legitimately give you credit for such a skill. At the same time it pulls the rug out from under anyone who would be tempted to “bust” you on your claims. “Hey, you’re not really reading the cell signals coming through the air.” Yeah, no shit, dummy.

“I’ve just started,” I say, “At this point I can really only pick-up on numbers. And the phones have to be really close to me. I’ll show you. I’ll try and show you, at least.”

I tell everyone to think of a two digit number and get prepared to text it to me (but don’t yet). I tell them they can text me the number itself, or spell it out and text it to me, or do a google image search for the number and send me a picture of the number, or whatever they want. As they get ready to do this, I go grab a piece of paper and a pencil. I might get a flyer from the near the front door to write on or I might grab a piece of paper or envelope from my car.

When I get back to the table I hand the paper and pencil to one of the people seated there and tell them to write down anything I ask them to after the messages have been sent.

I close my eyes, cover them with my hands, and bow a little and ask everyone to press their phones against my head (so they can still see the screen) and to send their message on the count of three.

Hector’s email suggested having their phones on one side of your head, and yours on the other. I think that is a very clear visual of what is supposedly happening (you’re going to intercept the message between the phones), but I prefer not to have my phone in the picture at this point, so that’s why I use this staging.

“1, 2, 3, send,” I say. Everyone presses send and I flinch a little, as if all these messages sent so close to my brain are having some effect on me.

The truth is, all those phones next to your head probably are eating at your brain in some way, so keep that in mind in order to inspire your acting here.

The phones are removed. I rub my temples and continue to keep my eyes closed. I tell the person with the paper to write this number down. 82081272. I lift my head up, blink my eyes a few times and wince a little like all the information I took in has me a little rattled.

I point to a couple of the people and say that I’m pretty sure it was one of their messages that came through first.

I look at the number on the piece of paper. “Is this one of your phone numbers? No? Is the number anyone sent in this number somewhere? Maybe backwards?” I take the pencil and start doing some odd calculations on the piece of paper.

In Hector’s email to me he wrote, “The justification of writing the prediction rather than announcing it might need a bit more thought.” In this presentation I haven’t really justified writing down the “prediction” but I’ve tried to justify having the pencil and paper. They’re there so you can do your calculations. This, I think, allows you to smoothly transition into writing down your guess as far as what number was sent, at least more so than if you just had to pull out the paper and pencil from nowhere.

“Okay, yes, I think I’ve got it,” I say. I write something down at the bottom of the paper.

I ask someone to grab my phone from my pocket. I don’t want to touch it.

I give them the code to unlock it and ask them to go to my texts.

“What was the first number to come through?” I ask.

“13,” they say.

“And who sent it?” I ask.


I turn around my paper and it says, “Isabelle’s number 13 has come through first.”


Okay, so the number is written in with a nail-writer or thumb-writer, but how do we know whose came through first?

This requires about a two minute set-up on your phone. Think of the five (or however many) people you’ll be performing for and rank them in your head from 1-5 on some scale you can remember. So it may be based on height, how long you’ve known them, who you like the best, alphabetical order, who’s the hottest, etc. Regardless, each person has a number assigned to them, 1-5.

Now go into the contact for each of those people on your phone (this works on iPhone, I don’t know about Android). Go to Contact>Edit>Text Tone>Vibration>Custom-Create New Vibration. And you will go in and create a custom text vibration for them that will vibrate the same number of times as the number you have assigned to them. This isn’t difficult. You just press your finger on the phone screen how you want the phone to vibrate. So, for example, for person two you’ll set it so their custom vibration goes bzz-bzz. Include a few seconds of silence at the end of the vibration, this way you’ll be able to tell when one vibration ends and the next one starts (since you’ll be getting a lot of texts one right after another).

It is very easy to differentiate one text from another as long as you’re in contact with your phone in some way. I usually have it in my pants pocket or jacket pocket. Even if I’m not wearing the jacket and it’s sitting on the chair behind me, I just need to place my hand or arm so it rests on the part of the jacket where the phone is.

You feel the vibration. Bzz-bzz-bzz-bzz. And think, “Okay, that was four buzzes. Who did I say was the fourth hottest person here?” (or whatever)and you know whose text came through first.

I don’t actually do it this way. As I mentioned in this post a couple of years ago. I have a custom vibration for everyone in my phone. It’s their first and last initial in morse code. That way I can know who’s texting me without taking my phone out in every situation (not just this one). But this is a simplified version of that system for someone who doesn’t want to A) learn morse code, and B) set this up with everyone in their phone.

So the number and the person has been revealed. People at the table are maybe looking at the calculations or asking if I know what their number was. I tell them at this point I don’t really have that ability. It’s not so difficult to figure out the first one that comes through, because that comes through cleanly, but after that the numbers are getting jumbled together and mixed in with each other. “In fact, that’s probably what happened here.” I pull out the calculator on my phone or ask someone else to go to their calculator. I ask everyone what their numbers were and have someone multiple them all together. They do that and the number they get is 82081272. The number I first blurted out within seconds of the texts being sent.

This is the true climax of the trick. Picking up the first person’s number is good. But knowing the product of everyone’s numbers almost instantly, the moment they were sent, is very strong. I play it off like it’s a useless skill. Yeah sure, anyone could pick up on the jumbled mass of all the numbers combined, the valuable skill is to be able to pull out the individual numbers as I did with the initial one.

This is, obviously, just the TOXIC force. I do it one of two ways. Either I have it set up and ready to go on my phone from the beginning. Or, while I’m doing the calculation on the paper, I ask someone to open their calculator for me (I don’t want to use my own at that point because I don’t want to see the texts on my phone). Then, while I’m apparently using their calculator to do some math that is too complicated for pencil and paper, I set up their phone to force the number via the TOXIC force.


  1. If you want to make this more disturbing, it might be fun to make it look like you’re bleeding from your ears after all the texts are sent with the phones pressed to your head.

  2. You can do this for strangers or other people you don’t have in your phone, you’d just miss out on that first bit where you know who sent the text that got through first. In this case you’d just know the number.

  3. When breaking down the trick with some people who saw earlier versions, I twice heard the idea that maybe I had an app or some sort of program running that would automatically multiply together any numbers sent to me. That would be a weird app. But it’s really not that bad of a solution. This is why I changed to asking people to send me the number in its two-digit form, or written out in words, or they could write it down and take a picture, or grab an image off google images and send it to me. The implication is that having the numbers come to me in different forms will be more of a challenge, but the real reason is because I think this eliminated the idea that the product of the numbers somehow came to you automatically.

  4. You’ll find how easy it is to tell who texted you based on the vibrations and you may choose to tell the order all the texts came in. I don’t do that myself, but you could.

Thanks again to Hector for the inspiration.

Gardyloo #85

I’m getting a number of emails, “How do I buy the second book?” Well, you get in a time machine and go back to any time in the 11 months between January and November of this year and buy it.

Alternatively, when the books come in (which at this time is scheduled for January 8th) I will determine if the publisher printed any extras. If they did I will make an announcement here and it will be first come, first serve.

Still looking for that perfect holiday gift for that special person in your life? Well, I’ve added a new design to the Dumb Houdini store. It’s an image from Scarne’s Magic Tricks that was first brought to my attention by friend of the site, CC.


Now you can display this thrilling magical image on a shirt or coffee mug. The shirt comes in white or bean green. Order yours today.

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From the email bag, regarding yesterday’s post…

“Today’s post kept me from cancelling my Timeless preorder. So… thanks?” B.O.

“I just ordered [Timeless] specifically to do your ‘jail’ presentation. I think that saves it from just being a ‘weird watch’ trick.” S.E.

“So help me, you’ve actually got me considering buying that thing [Timeless].” J.P.

“You managed to take a prop that is so weird and fit it into a routine that almost makes me want to buy this ridiculous contraption. Kudos to you, well done!” J.T.

How about cutting me in on those profits, Joao?

An Open Letter to the Homeless Man I Casually Gave 71 Cents to While On a Date Last Week

Dear Sir,

Last Friday I gave you 71 cents as I passed you on the street with my date.

I know that doesn’t seem very generous, but the truth is, I probably wouldn’t have given you any money at all if she wasn’t with me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate your plight, it’s just that I spent the past 15 years in New York City and you can’t give money to every homeless person you see. It’s just not sustainable. And I’m not convinced that it’s even a good use of my money as far as helping people goes.

But it was a first date and I wanted to look like a charitable sort, and I didn’t really want you to follow us for a block telling some horse-shit story, so I pulled the change out of my pocket and handed it to you when you approached.

It’s probably a long shot that you’ll read this, or that you held onto the coins I gave you, but I mention it in case you’re sitting around playing with some change and at one point two quarters come together and one of them splits in two and folds open like the wings of a butterfly. I don’t want you to rub your eyes, shake your head, and pour out your booze as you vow to never drink again. You’re not hallucinating. It wasn’t “spooks” or “haints” that caused that to happen. It was just me absentmindedly dropping $110 worth of magic gimmicks in your cold, crusty hand and not realizing it until the next morning, because I’m a moron.

Thats a true story. And one with many valuable lessons. The most important one being, I guess: Don’t give money to the less fortunate.

So this is my new solution for carrying around coin gimmicks. I wrap them in a rubber band before I put them in my pocket. It takes up no more space. I can get them out of the rubber band without looking. And a rubber band is something else I can do a trick with if I so desire.


Apparently I can’t trust myself to remember I’ve got coin gimmicks on me. This will hopefully prevent me from using them to buy stuff, dropping them in a Salvation Army bucket, economically tipping strippers, or just mixing them in with the rest of my loose change in a coffee can never to be found again.

I used to just keep coin gimmicks in my pocket, then I moved them to the watch pocket on my jeans to remind myself there’s something special about the coins, but apparently that wasn’t enough. Hopefully the rubber band will do the trick.

But probably not… I fully expect you’ll read a post here in a year telling the story of how I inattentively removed some rubber-banded coins from my pocket, unwound the rubber band, then put a $75 gimmicked quarter in a gumball machine to get a Nerds filled gumball. (My gumball of choice.)


Reader, D.L, brought something interesting to my attention, which I think points to the fact that we sometimes underestimate how difficult it is to learn magic from a physical copy of a book.

You know how it is with a real book. You try to lay it flat, but it keeps closing up on itself while, at the same time, you have your cards in hand trying to master some move and reference some illustrations. It’s all too difficult. That’s why learning magic from ebooks is just so much better and easier. Your laptop or tablet simply sits there and you can reference what you need, cards in hand.

To prove my point, look at the subtitle for The Expert at the Card Table print version on Amazon.

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Classic Treatise on Card Manipulation? Uhm, no thanks. That sounds challenging.

But take that same material and put it into an easy-to-read ebook form and now look at the subtitle.

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Hey, now that sounds more my speed. Thanks, ebooks!