No Post Today

No post today.

April Fools! There is a post. You’re reading it, dummy!

Yes! Another classic Jerx April Fools joke. And you totally fell for it. Hahaha. Your stupid face! “Huh, wait. what?” That’s you!

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I’m actually not a big April Fools Day guy, myself. The thing where we’re like, “Okay, everyone, here’s this special day where it’s officially sanctioned and okay for us to mess with each other, got it?” feels a little corny to me. I think we should be fucking with each other all year round. In good natured ways, at least. There is an element of that in my style of performance. Except it’s kind of a sideways practical joke. With a practical joke, you want them to think something is real, up until the point where you reveal it’s fake. What I want to do is give people a premise and a situation they know is fake, but then give them a couple of moments within that fantasy that feel very real.

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If you’re concerned about someone pranking you today, here’s what i recommend…

Well, first, if it’s someone you like, then just have fun with it.

But maybe you think some asshole you work with is going to try and get you and you want to have some way to reverse the narrative. Here’s something that might work. Let’s say some guy in your office, Tad, pokes his head in your cubicle and says, “Enjoying that coffee? Heh-heh….I put a laxative in it when you weren’t looking! April fools, bitch!”

You look at your watch, “Yep… right on time.” Then, in a very lifeless, dry, monotone voice you say, “Gee… Oh no. You totally got me. Darn.”

He’ll be confused by your reaction.

“Take a look at the time” you say. He checks his phone, it’s 10:45.

You reach into your pocket and unfold a business card, read it to yourself. “Mmhmm. As I suspected,” and you toss the card on the table. It reads:

Tad’s “big” April Fool’s Day joke will come together at 10:45

“You’re such a predictable little bitch,” you say. “I didn’t even drink that coffee. I switched it for another cup, dipshit.”

Actually, you did drink the coffee. You’ll be shitting your brains out all day. But don’t tell Tad that.

Method: Just write up the card in advance, minus the time. And have a nail writer in your pocket, ready to go. This is the one I use.

April Fools! I got your ass so good.

(I use the Vernet Band Writer, btw.)

Mailbag #2

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When you use the Peek Backstage, do you add another presentation on top of it? —JC

Very rarely. Here’s why. I save the “Peek Backstage” style for when I don’t have a particularly good presentation for something. Instead, my presentation is, “Hey, I have something I’m working on. Can I get your feedback on it?”

So, if I did have a good presentation, then I’d just use that instead.

To layer on a mediocre presentation on top of that is going to have them thinking about the dull presentation because I’ve asked them for feedback. But I don’t really want them concerning themselves with that. So I’ll generally perform it in a very straightforward way.

Sometimes I’ll layer in another presentation under a pretense like this:

“Hey, I’m going to show a trick at my nephew’s birthday party this weekend. Can I try it out on you first?” This is kind of a meta-meta-presentation. So it may, in fact, be a really strong trick, but I’ve dressed it up in a way that makes it seem like it’s something for children. Then I perform as I would if I was performing for a kid with, like, rhyming patter or lots of audience participation. And the person I’m performing it for will play along as the kid, but end up with their mind totally messed with because it actually wasn’t a trick intended for kids. (Sometimes they pick up on this, sometimes they don’t. It’s fun either way.)


If someone who got kicked out of the GLOMM had created a really good trick, would you still perform it? I ask because I just watched the documentary on the Michael Jackson accusers and a lot of people say they can’t listen to his music anymore since seeing that. —GM

I would still do the trick, but that’s because I have no problem disassociating the two things.

If you look at the world as a battle between good and evil—is you listening to Michael Jackson’s music a win for good or for evil? I say it’s a win for good because you’re celebrating the good he put into the world.

But only do it if you want to. If listening to MJ’s music makes you sick, then don’t. But if you want to listen to it and you’re making yourself not do so because you feel you shouldn’t because you’re supporting a bad person, then I think you are needlessly punishing yourself.

Hell, if Hitler had recorded a banging dance-hall track, or had created a really mind-blowing card trick, I’d have no problem listening to that track or doing that trick. In fact, I’d probably lean in real close to the person I was performing and say, “I have a trick I want to show you. And do you know who created it?… Hitler!’


Re: A Small Equivoque Revelation

So when I'm not annoying friends and family with magic I'm a bartender and when I first had the job of menu creation I did a lot of reading in that area. And one of the concepts that came up repeatedly was not giving guest too many options. Guest are less satisfied with their choice if you give them to many things to choose from. The magic number touted was seven items. This seems in line with your conclusion that anymore and it's harder for people see them as individual items and not as a group above seven items —PDB

Yeah, I researched similar things. There were two concepts I was looking at specifically.

The first is called “working memory” and that’s the number of distinct objects the mind can pay attention to and manipulate cognitively. That’s about four items at a time.

Then I looked at the subject of “overchoice,” which suggests that more options can lead to a sense of being overwhelmed. The actual number of options that this kicks in varies. But much of what I read suggested that it kicks in after 6-8 items.

With equivoque, we initially want to overwhelm their choice and working memory. This is what justifies the process. With just a few objects, a direct selection would make the most sense. The idea is to use equivoque in a context where it feels justified or else it sticks out too much.

It feels natural with two objects, because it’s just a single choice. It feels natural with many objects, because it makes sense to narrow down a large group. In the 3-6 range, I feel it stands out as particularly convoluted.


Re: Monday’s Post - The Three Highlights

Thank you for the non-magic posts. They’ve also influenced the way I look at life. "Slowing Time" and the post today really resonate with me.

You’ve got an amazing system and don’t need another one, but I thought you might like to hear about mine which is similar in how it highlights the little things but also takes almost no time. Because I don’t carry a notebook everywhere I use Day One app to record one sentence about every notable activity I do during the day. Important life moments/gigs/adventures get special tags and the app automatically records GPS and time/date info to search whenever. I’ve been collecting data for the last 6 years and the app will remind me of anniversaries of experiences over that time.— JF

***

What you wrote reminded me of something I read very recently, a book called “Storyworthy” by Matthew Dicks (actual name). The whole book is about crafting stories from your day to day life, and in it he features something called “Homework for Life”. I’ll probably bastardise the recounting of it, so here’s a YouTube clip of him talking about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7p329Z8MD0 — DI

Thanks guys. I like hearing about this sort of stuff.

Some related thoughts on this…

Regarding the digital/physical tracking, I do both. For the “highlights” of media I consume (as described in that post), I record that digitally. For the highlights of experiences, I record that in a little notebook at the end of the day. I’ve flirted with doing it digitally, and even using that same app JF mentioned. There are a lot of benefits to that, but in the end I decided I enjoyed the aspect of having the actual pages to flip through and being able to see the expression in the handwriting and all of that.

As for the Homework for Life video, that guy’s premise is that every day you should write down one incident that would make for the best story from that day. I can understand why that works for him, but for my purposes it’s putting the emphasis in the wrong location. I don’t really care about how other people would react to my “highlights.” They’re just for my own benefit. That way they can be stupid or prurient or inconsequential and it doesn’t matter.

The idea of the Three Highlights is that you’re not capturing everything, good and bad, about whatever experience or time period you’re looking at. It’s that you’re just capturing the three things you enjoyed most about it.

You could say that it’s easy for me to look at things that way because that’s my natural mindset, and that’s fairly accurate. I’m very fortunate to not have any issues with anxiety or depression. I pretty much strolled out of my mom’s vagina like…

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But I still think it’s a something that could be useful for a lot of people. It’s a technique I also use in bad or unpleasant situations to break the cycle of just stewing in the negative emotions. (“What are the three highlights of this shitty hotel room?” “What are the three highlights of this boring meeting?” “What are the three highlights of my friend’s funeral?”) So maybe it could have a small curative effect for people if they’re constantly focused on the negative because this trains you to do just the opposite.

Equivoque — Biggie Sized

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A classic joke from my high school days, after a trip to Wendy’s, would be to hold your Biggie drink in one hand and grab your genitals with the other and say, “I’ve got my Biggie in one hand and my drink in the other.” Good times.

In regards to yesterday’s post, a few people wrote in asking, “How do you do equivoque with 25 items?”

Well, I don’t exactly. It’s just part of the selection procedure. I’ll explain. Let’s say I want to force one coin among many. Here’s what it might look like:

I have everyone at the table toss any change they have into a pile in the middle of the table. I ask them to mix up the change, swirl it around the table, or whatever. Then I ask one person to divide the change into a few small piles. “We’re going to eliminate three of the four piles.” I have people select piles to be eliminated and they’re pushed off to the side. The coins from the final pile are laid out in a row on the table and they are eliminated until we’re down to one coin: the force coin.

The basic idea is just to introduce the force item into the procedure after a number of free choices have been made.

So they make the pile of change and mix it up. They make a number of small piles from that change and I tell them they’re going to eliminate all but one of the piles. The choose piles one-by-one for elimination. There is nothing unusual or suspicious about this, because it’s legitimately fair.

Once we get down to one pile, that’s when I introduce the force object. So if it’s a coin, then the coin is in palm and I’ll either push the pile towards them and drop off the palmed coin OR I’ll introduce the coin in the process of transition the coins from a pile into a row. No one ever notices the added coin.

At this point I’m down to 6-8 coins and I’ll use a combination of 2nd and 3rd wave equivoque to narrow it down to one coin. (The exact wording will depend on the objects I’m using. My “generic” equivoque script is likely to be in TOY, the next book for supporters of the site.)

When I first started doing this procedure, it was with folded pieces of paper with something drawn or written inside, and during the procedure I would introduce the force piece of paper that was folded in a slightly off-kilter manner which I could recognize easily. At first I didn’t know how it would be received. There were two ways this could play out.

  1. Because of the free choices at the start, the spectator’s guard would be down for the less free equivoque choices later on.

  2. Because of the free choices at the start, the equivoque portion would—in comparison—feel even more awkward or unfair than it might otherwise.

In my experience, it’s definitely been option #1.

There is something so casual and uncontrolled about this procedure that it seems to quell their suspicion. Think of it in terms of a card force (another way I’ve used it). I ask you to shuffle the deck and cut it into a bunch of different piles. How many? However many you want. It doesn’t really matter. 7 or 10 or whatever feels right. Then you have a totally free choice to discard the packets one by one until we’re down to a lone packet.

This feels so free and easy. I’m barely paying attention. Clearly I’m not trying to force a card on you. We’re just going through a process to narrow down the full deck to one card. .

Once we get to one pile, I spread them in front of you (adding in a palmed card). You then narrow down those cards to one (via equivoque). And yes, it’s not as free from then on, but I think good-will you generate during the clearly fair opening choices helps camouflage the equivoque later. At least that’s been my experience.

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A Small Equivoque Realization

I have a new trick I’ve been workshopping over the past couple months and in the course of that I’ve come to a realization about equivoque that I haven’t thought of before. (Although it’s certainly possible others have come to this conclusion as well.)

In the trick, I use some fairly standard “second wave” equivoque over the course of forcing one of 25 items. For the sake of this post, we’ll say they’re coins. They weren’t coins in reality, but it’s easier to just say that than give the full explanation for what I was using.

So I performed the trick and then broke it down with a couple magician friends and a half-dozen non-magician friends to get their feedback: how did it feel? did anything ring false to you? etc.

After some initial positive feedback, I wanted to test it out with another half dozen or so more non-magicians, but I made a change to how I was presenting it. The interesting part of what I was testing was what I was doing after the selection was made. So I decided that instead of starting off with 25 coins, I’d just start off with four, and cut a couple steps off my selection procedure.

But something (mildly) interesting happened. When I broke down the trick with these people after performing it for them (individually), four out of the six of them questioned the fairness of the selection.

So, to be clear, in the first group of performances I tested the trick with a large number of coins. During the selection process, that large number was trimmed down to four coins and from there I did a standard equivoque. In the second group of performances I just started off with four coins and went with the equivoque procedure from the beginning.

Now, I was fully prepared for the second round of performances to be less impressive, given that I was just starting with a choice of one in four coins. But I wasn’t prepared for them to question the procedure any more the second time around than they did the first, given that the second selection procedure was just a truncated version of the first.

But when I asked them what they found suspicious about the selection procedure they all responded similarly. And their responses have led me to this conclusion:

Equivoque doesn’t work well with 3-6 items.

You see, when I asked people about why their selection aroused suspicion they all said something like, “It’s just a weird way to pick an item.”

That didn’t really surprise me. I’ve been involved with some larger scale testing of equivoque in the focus groups and a certain percentage will always say that. The interesting thing is that the people who saw the longer selection procedure didn’t have the same critique even though they too eventually saw the standard 4-item equivoque.

I think I know why this was. (You might say, “Well, it was just a handful of people in each set of performances, so you can’t really draw a conclusion based on that.” Fair enough. Reasonable minds may differ, but I think the theory seems viable.)

I’ve done a little research online and it seems like the maximum number of items most human brains can perceive as distinct objects is somewhere between 4 and 6. Beyond that we just kind of see a “group” and can focus on a few items within that group but not the whole thing.

So making a selection of one item from four (for example) should be a simple process you can fully conceptualize. I’m asking you to make a choice of one distinct item from four distinct items in your brain. That should be a straightforward procedure where you just choose one of the objects. To complicate that with things like, “Pick up two,” “Slide one towards me,” “Hand me either one,” is going to instinctually feel needlessly complicated and therefore suspicious.

But, once you get to a certain number—I believe around 7 or more—then it is somewhat reasonable to use a bit of procedure to narrow down your selection because you, as the participant, don’t have a full grasp on all the choices as distinct objects. So I think going in with an attitude of, “Let’s narrow down these choices,”while not the most direct way of making a selection—is somewhat justified with a larger number of objects. And then, once you do get down to a smaller number, you can continue the equivoque selection procedure because at that point you’re just continuing a pattern you’ve established (rather than introducing it out-of-the-blue with a small number of items at the start).

That’s my theory, at least. I’ll explore it more and see if it pans out.

It may be confirmation bias, but since coming to this conclusion, any routine I see that involves equivoque with a small number of objects definitely jumps out at me as being sort of odd. I can see why a non-magician might instinctively feel that way about it. Whenever possible I’m going to try and avoid it.

Avoid it how? Well, one way would be to use something like multiple outs instead of equivoque. The other way would be to add a bunch more options at the beginning of the selection process so that going the route of “gradually narrowing” the number of choices makes more sense.

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I was listening to a podcast about the Black Dahlia Murder, and they were talking about the guy who likely committed it. And it turns out he was a real maniac who raped his daughter and pimped her out to his friends, and she, in turn, did the same thing with her kids. What does this have to do with equivoque? Well, in that family, they lived with this sort of dysfunction for so long that it just seemed normal. I think that happens with magic techniques a lot too. We get so used to them that we can forget how inappropriate they really are. Look, I’m not conflating the two things! I’m just saying if you saw two guys and one of them was selling nights with his teenage daughter to the highest bidder and the other was offering you a selection of four items by saying, “Pick up any two. Now set them aside. Take one of the remaining items. Hand it to me. The one that’s left is your selection,” then you should walk away thinking, Damn, I just met two psychopaths.

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Dear Future Authors of Books on Writing Technique,

You are likely here because of the buzz you heard about the world’s most perfect analogy. It’s in the paragraph above, between the flowers.

In order to make it clear the analogy was flawlessly constructed, please post the gif below next to that paragraph in your textbook to emphasize the fact the writing is, in fact, bellissima.

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The Three Highlights

This isn’t a magic tip, it’s a life tip. The purpose of the technique is to make essentially anything (a night out, a vacation, your entire life) more enjoyable and memorable.

It’s a simple idea that has paid big dividends in my own life, so some of you may find it valuable as well.

Imagine you’re going to see a band you like. It’s at a small club and you walk in and see a bunch of people recording the show and watching it through their phone cameras. “Ugh,” you think. “These buffoons. Can’t they just be present and enjoy the show? Does everything have to be recorded for posterity?”

Perhaps you don’t feel that way, but that’s always been my somewhat superior attitude. But I’ve had an evolution in that thought process as well, because I realized I was missing out on something. To continue with the concert example, I would find myself a few years later thinking back on some show I saw and—while I had a generally pleasant feeling about it—I had no real concrete memories from the night. I might not even be able to name a single song that I was 100% sure they played.

So yes, I was enjoying the experience more in the moment, but a lot of the particulars of the experience were left in the moment.

On the one hand, I wanted to have more long-term memories from the experiences in my life, but on the other hand I didn’t want to be so caught up in recording and documenting those moments that I became an observer and not a participant.

Is there as a way to get the best of both worlds?

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Here was the route I took for finding out how to retain more of the details of my experiences, while still being immersed in them.

My first thought was, “I should keep a journal. That way I can write down my experiences and relive them later.” My second thought was, “Fuck that noise!” Because there was no way I was going to be doing that. I write this site. I write newsletters and books. And all my “real work” is writing related to. Not only that, but I’m a pretty slow writer. I stop between every sentence and think. I don’t want to do more writing. I wince when people romanticize writing. (“Ah, the sweet sound of graphite scratching on paper as the sun comes up and I record my hopes and dreams for the day on the cream, parchment pages of my hand-sewn journal.”) Almost nothing you have to do for 60 hours a week is going to be enjoyable in your spare time as well. So yeah, I didn’t want to tie myself to the idea of coming home late after a show and then writing a couple formless paragraphs about what just happened.

But then I thought, What if I just kept my mind engaged with looking for three highlights of any experience?

This, as it turned out, was the key. So now, when I would go to a show, I would be on the lookout for these three highlights. And perhaps I would end up with something like this:

  1. When they played [my favorite song] acoustically.

  2. Dancing with the red-haired girl.

  3. The way the drunk guy at the foot of the stage was playing the air drums.

Then I would go home and write down those three highlights in a small notebook with each page dedicated to a different experience.

The writing takes less than a minute. I’m just putting down those three peak moments. I don’t really elaborate on them (unless I feel the need to).

And, as time passes, I can flip through that notebook and remind myself of the highlights of each event. “Ah, yes! That song sounded incredible when performed acoustically. Who would have thought. Oh… shit. That red-haired girl!” Etc.

You might say, “Yes, but doesn’t the act of constantly being on the lookout for ‘highlights’ of an event also pull you out of being in the moment and just experiencing the event?” No. It’s the opposite. It keeps me 100% engaged. I’m fully there. I’m not thinking of anything outside of the event. If it’s a concert, I’m hearing the music, I’m taking in the crowd, I’m observing details about the venue. Every sensory experience: sound, sight, smell, taste, feeling is noted as my brain collects potential highlights. That, in my opinion, is kind of the definition of presence.

Not only that, but it keeps you focusing on the good around you. Which has to be a positive thing for your mental health.

But here’s the best part of this practice…, it’s not just a way for you to enjoy some particular event. It’s something you can apply to your entire life. It’s fractal in nature. You can pull out or zoom in as much as you want and still look for those three highlights

For example, I view my life this way. What are the three highlights of your life? Maybe it’s the family you created, some professional accomplishment, and some personal goal you reached—writing a screenplay, or visiting every continent.

Zoom In

I keep my mind open to identify the three highlights of my year. Perhaps it’s a trip I took, a person I met, and a book I wrote.

Zoom In

I keep track of the three highlights of every week. Last week itwas a little party/get-together at my friend Bella’s house, going snowboarding, and visiting a new Thai restaurant.

Zoom In

I keep track of the the three highlights of any “event” in my life (that I want to remember): any show I see, any party I go to, any holiday spent with people. What were the three highlights of the gathering at Bella’s? The response to the magic trick I performed. This extended riff my friend John went on about us re-making A Christmas Carol that gave me literal stomach pains from laughing so hard. And watching/commenting on the schlocky 1986 horror movie, Chopping Mall.

Zoom In

I keep track of the three highlights of any media I consume. When I complete a series of TV I note my three favorite episodes or scenes. When I read a book I keep track of my three favorite parts. When I watch a movie I try to come away with three highlights: favorite scenes, memorable quotes, cool visuals, or whatever. This has completely changed how I consume media. I used to think, “Did I read that book or not?” “Did I see that movie?” Now I’m paying more attention in the moment and remembering more afterwards. What were the highlights of Chopping Mall? The weird sex-party in the furniture store. The dumb scene where the kids were calculating how much they’d have to pay the mall back because of the destruction the malls security robots caused tying to kill them (why would they be liable for that?). And when the girl’s head exploded.

If that sounds like a lot of work, it’s not. It’s just one minute per thing. So for me that’s one minute per year/week/event. It’s a couple minutes a day, a few times a week at most.

Now I have a bunch of small notebooks, that I can peruse and see the highlights of all these experiences from the past few years. Small moments I might never have recalled otherwise. A joke someone made. Something I ate. A compliment. A kiss. A weird coincidence. Or whatever. But you don’t have to make an endless list of these things, just the three highlights on whatever scale you want to do it on.

As I said, it’s maybe two minutes a day of actual physical effort (the writing). The real “work” of this comes in giving things your rapt attention. But, honestly, after a while it just becomes like a game you play in your head where you’re collecting these “highlights.”

And what you get in return is that you’re in a constant mindset of presence, appreciation, and adventure. Presence because you’re always engaged. Appreciation because you’re focusing on the positive. And adventure because your mind is concentrated on finding new highlights. Highlights of this afternoon at an amusement park, or [Zoom Out] of this 3-day road-trip, or [Zoom Out] of this week, or [Zoom Out] of this year, or [Zoom Out] of your life.

A Critical Examination of the SAM Membership Card Trick

I have never been a member of the Society of American Magicians. I think I attended a magic auction they held once when I was around 14. It didn’t turn out to be the most enticing group. It was a bunch of old guys with bushy eyebrows, uncomfortably ogling the “fresh meat” that had walked into the room. In that sense it was kind of like what I imagine going to a gay bathhouse would be like. Except the constituency was even older (and possibly gayer). And at the bathhouse—even if it’s not their priority—the clientele is likely subjected to the cleansing properties of water. Based on the B.O. situation in the room at the SAM auction, “bath” wasn’t a word I would associate with that crew.

I don’t believe I’ve attended an SAM function since then. Perhaps I missed out on a wealth of magical knowledge these gentlemen could have bestowed upon me, but I didn’t get that sense. Their skillset seemed to range from “somehow screws up self-working tricks” to “hasn’t quite mastered the paddle move.” It didn’t even seem like they were that into magic. The only real enthusiasm they showed was when someone cracked open a three flavor popcorn tin.

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I don’t know if there’s been an influx of youth in the SAM since then. Magic is obviously having a renaissance, but I don’t know if the magic clubs have been able to capitalize on it.

I have a friend who is a member and will occasionally text me shots from M-U-M Magazine (the magazine for SAM members).

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Hmmm… does he though?

Recently my friend sent me a photo of his membership card…

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Damn… you can’t just uphold the oath, you have to live by it? That’s intense. “Throw out your simpleminded Ten Commandments! You will now live by The Magician’s Oath.

Some live by the golden rule… but not me…. my life is built upon these words of wisdom:

“I shall discourage advertisement in magical publication for any magical apparatus, effect, literature or other materials for which the advertiser does not have commercial rights.”

I think that’s part of the oath. I couldn’t really find the “oath” online. That’s in their code of ethics, at least. And, as I’ve pointed out before, if you harm the chickadee you use in your final load for cups and balls, you’re out of the SAM. But if you make the birthday boy jerk you off…. you can still be a member in good standing. You just point to the code of ethics and—like a man in a movie defending his decision to use a donkey to kick field goals for his football team—you say, “There’s no rule against it!”

But not only do you get this sweet membership card when you join the SAM, you also get this totally mindfucking trick they suggest you perform with the card.

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So you vanish a quarter and make it appear under your membership card. What a brilliantly constructed piece of magic! Sure, you might say this took 6 seconds to think of because you can do the same trick with… oh… say… any object in the world larger than a quarter. But I disagree. Obviously a lot of thought went into this effect.

I am, admittedly, a little confused by the “That’s the last one” bit. It’s written on the card under Jimmy Yoshida’s picture, and is repeated during the effect multiple times. Was this a catchphrase of his? Were they his magic words? I googled it, but nothing came up. Anything you might say in response to “I’m going to eat the last Totino’s Pizza Roll,” seems a bit too informational to be somebody’s magical incantation. But they really seem to be hitting it hard in the presentation.

They also say you can add a “magical dimension” (always a good thing to have in a magic trick, I’ve found) by giving the spectator a choice of four quarters. And they mention using “magician’s force” (which I’m guessing is the same as equivoque/magician’s choice) to force the Hawaii quarter. I can’t quite wrap my mind around how you would use magician’s choice when you’re tied to the, “That’s the last one,” patter line.

Magician: Touch one quarter.
[Spectator touches the Hawaii quarter.]
Magician: That’s the last one!
Spectator: The fuck are you talking about?

or

Magician: Push any two coins towards me.
[Spectator does.]
Magician: Now hand me either coin.
[Spectator hands him the Hawaii quarter.]
Magician: That’s the last one!
Spectator: How so?

Okay, sure, maybe there are some kinks to work out. But it would definitely be worth it. Can you imagine the look on your spectator’s face and what their reaction would be if you wrapped up the trick with that stunning crescendo of a finale as written in the instructions: “That’s the last one — the 50th state quarter representing Jimmy from the Aloha state.”

I can totally picture it! That glow of wonder, and that beautiful look of child-like awe, slowly spreading across their face, as they say: “I’m sorry… what? I’m not following. Who’s Jimmy? What are you talking about?”

Swapping Spit (with Director's Commentary)

A week or so ago we had the first warm spring-esque days in the northeast (it didn’t last long, but that’s okay).

So I’m at a little get-together of eight people at my friend’s house in the suburbs of upstate New York. We’re hanging out on the deck in his backyard, overlooking a little forest area and a creek. As the sun sets and the air chills, most everyone heads back into the house except myself and a girl (woman? whatever… don’t get uptight about this shit) ok… everyone heads back into the house except myself and a strong capable female individual named Laura.

I just met Laura this evening. She’s a short, slim woman, half-Chinese/half-English, and is a practicing lawyer (but the boring kind that works with corporations, not the fun kind that works with murderers) She’s in her early 40s, but tonight she’s in skinny jeans and a pink hoodie and could easily pass for 20 years younger.

We were talking about age and I mentioned how youthful she looked. “I have that natural preservative from the Chinese side of my family. Whatever it is that keeps Asian women looking young,” she said.

“I wish I had a dash of that. I’m just pure pasty white.”

“What’s your ethnicity on your mom’s side?” she asks. I tell her my mom is part Italian, part Austrian and a mix of other things that are pretty white.

“And your dad?”

“He was the Pillsbury Doughboy,” I say.

“Oh yeah,” she says. “That’s really white. That complexion doesn’t hold up over time.”

It’s going well. She’s fun.

“Honestly though, if I had guessed your age I would have said 29,” she says.

“That’s a weirdly specific number,” I say. She shrugs.

I’m momentarily pleased that someone thought I looked a decade plus younger than I am. Then I kind of pieced it together in my head that I pretty much look my age, but I have the attitude and disposition of a 14-year-old. Her guess was probably just an average of those figures.

At one point I start chewing a piece of gum, and after a few seconds she leans in towards me. “Oh wow,” she says, “I haven’t smelled that in ages she says.”

She’s referring to the fact that I’m not chewing “adult” gum. Not like a sensible small, minty nugget of Dentyne. I’m chewing grape Bubblicious. Kid’s gum.

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<Pause>

I chew grape and watermelon Bubblicious a lot. I love that shit. And the smell is so strong and evocative—at least to people of a similar age—that someone almost always comments on it. When you find something that people comment on regularly—something you do, wear, drive, or whatever—try to come up with a way to turn that into a Hook.

I offer her a piece of gum and she gleefully takes it, unwraps it, and pops it in her mouth.

“Did you ever play that game with the wrapper?” I ask.

“Whub gamb?” she says, through a mouthful of gum.

“Oh, you know…,” I say, “I don’t know if it had a name. Hold on.” I jump up and run inside and grab a pen.

I come outside and draw a heart in the center of the empty wrapper.

“Don’t let me see, this has to be a secret. I want you to think of someone you had a crush on when you were young. Like middle school age. Someone you never told anyone about. Got someone?”

She nods. She’s on the edge of her chair. Girls love this junk. So do strong capable females. And so do a lot of guys, for that matter.

“Okay, write their initials in the middle of the heart. I’m going to stand over here, because if I see it, it won’t work.”

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She writes down the initials. I tell her to fold it in half from top to bottom, then from left to right, and again from left to right. “The initials are hidden, yes? So I can come back?”

<Pause>

Man, this sort of thing is a tight-rope. You know, because you’re reading a magic blog, what’s going to happen with those initials. However, I don’t want to telegraph that. And at the same time I need her to remember that there’s no way I could see the initials. At the end I don’t want her thinking, “Wait… could he have read the initials when I wrote them? Was he looking? I wasn’t paying attention.”

In this instance, it’s slightly easier because she doesn’t know a trick is coming. So I’m emphasizing that I need to not be able to see the initials, but she can’t really get ahead of me as to why.

I come back to the table and take the pen and draw an X on one side of the folded gum-wrapper.

“Okay,” I say, “this is a fortune telling game. You probably played it when you were a kid. Whoever’s initials you wrote on the inside, that’s who you’re going to marry. And this game will tell you how your marriage will go. You take the wrapper and shake it up like dice and drop it on the table.” I demonstrate this. “If it lands X-side up, your fortune is the worst option of the three. If it lands X-side down, it’s the middle option. If it lands on the edge like this, then it’s the best option.”

I show her what I mean by putting the wrapper in the three positions.

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I then give her categories with three different options for each and she tosses the wrapper to see which one she gets. For example:

  • Where they’ll live (apartment, house, or mansion)

  • What type of car they’ll have (used Toyota, new Lexus, or chauffeured around in a limousine).

  • What their offspring will be (one average child, three perfect children, two braindead conjoined twins)

Finally we end by asking the wrapper how long their marriage will last (1 year, 20 years, or forever).

Obviously this is stupid nonsense. But it’s mildly amusing fun as the story comes together… “Ah, you’ll live in a mansion, but drive your braindead twins around in your used Toyota.”

<Pause>

I’m taking my cues for this fake fortune telling game from a real one that was played around me growing up called MASH (Mansion Apartment Shack House).

At the end of the game I said, “Oh, there’s something else we can try. We used to do this at camp. Take the wrapper. Don’t unfold it, I don’t want to see. Hold it in your fist. Think of the person whose initials you wrote down and concentrate while chewing the gum. I’ll be right back.”

I go in the house and come back with a lighter.

I tell her to place the wrapper on an overturned bottle cap and I light it on fire. I ask her for the gum from her mouth and I take it and hold it over the flame, in the smoke from the wrapper. After a couple seconds I pop her gum in my mouth.

<Pause>

“Ew, gross!” Okay, nerd, beat it. Look, I come from a time where chewing gum that had been in someone else’s mouth was a kind of an adolescent form of flirting. Like it was a gateway to french kissing. And the whole point of this presentation was to evoke that kind of youthful, carefree foolishness. In this case I was performing for someone whose tongue I hoped to have in my mouth later in the evening, so I sure as shit had no problem chewing her gum. You could come up with another option, of course. I’ll mention another at the end.

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As I chewed her gum, my eyes looked up and scanned back and forth as if I was mentally processing some information I was receiving from the smoke-infused gum.

“Okay… this doesn’t always work… was the guy’s name….J-John? Or Jim? Am I close?”

She had a lovely, expectant, puzzled smile on her face. “Yesssss… kind of,” she said.

“Jason?” I asked.

“Oh. My. God!” she said.

“It’s Jason? Ok. I’m not sure about the last initial.”

I trace with my index finger in the air as if I’m figuring something out as I stare off in the distance. “Is it an L? No. It’s a K.”

“What!” she says. The look on her face shifting from amazement to confusion and back a few times. She sinks down in her seat, put her head back and says, “Aggghhhh!” while stomping her small feet alternately, back and forth like a drumroll. “That’s crazy!”

“Well,” I say, “if the gum wrapper is accurate, you have a nice 20 year relationship with Jason still to come.”

“Ooh!” she says, and her expression changes to one of child-like delight as she plays along, but she quickly drops it. “Wait… I think he’s gay now,” she says.

“Hmmm… well that’s not what the wrapper seemed to suggest,” I mumble.

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Okay, this is 100% social magic. The style of the performance, the nature of the interaction, the pacing of the trick, and the method are all firmly in the social magic camp. If you don’t see the appeal of this—if you’d rather bring out a business card, have them write down a three digit number, and then reveal it—then we’re probably on different paths performance-wise, so don’t be surprised if much of the content on this site doesn’t speak to you.

What this is, essentially, is a holistic, social, billet routine.

It started with me noticing that when I would chew Bubblicious gum, people would often comment about the smell and how they hadn’t smelled it in forever or how it brought them back to when they were young. Using that as a “hook” was then obvious. And I particularly like the idea of using scent as a stimulus to get into an effect.

From there I realized that when you chew a piece of gum you’re left with a natural billet.

And since I often present things as a childhood game or ritual, everything just clicked together. Click. Click. Click.

In a traditional billet effect, the spectator might think: Why is he asking for this particular piece of information? Why am I writing it down? Why can’t I just think of it? Those issues don’t exist here. It wouldn’t make sense to ask any of those questions. All of those actions are perfectly justified by the presentation.

As for the actual method of the method, here’s what I did. On this particular night I hadn’t planned on getting into this trick, I was legitimately just chewing a piece of gum. But when she commented on it, she opened the door. I gave her a piece and then suggested we play the old “fortune telling game.” When I went to get the pen, I unwrapped another piece of gum, folded a duplicate billet from the wrapper, and put an X on one side.

When I got back, I performed the billet switch in the process of demonstrating how to shake and “roll” the wrapper. There wasn’t much technique involved. I had the dupe billet finger palmed in my left hand. I took the wrapper she had written on with my right hand. I brought the two hands together, shook them, and then dropped out the dupe instead of the original which remained in right finger-palm. I could have done something slicker, but there was no reason to. The demonstration of how to “roll” the wrapper is 1000% justified. They haven’t played this game before, so of course you’d demonstrate that part. They don’t even know a trick is coming at this point.

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After that I just pocketed the real billet and popped it open and read it when I went to get the lighter, like 10 minutes later.

Doing the dirty work when you leave the room may seem bold, but keep in mind that in this situation the method is done before they know a magic trick is coming. So it’s not like they’re going to get suspicious. You need a pen. Then you need a lighter. It makes sense you’d go and get those things. If you prefer, of course, you can be prepped before the effect with a dupe, and you can get your peek of the initials during the routine itself. It’s up to you.

If you don’t want to chew the gum then maybe you could stretch it between your hands and act as if you’re looking for the information embedded in the gum in some manner. Yes, that’s still a little gross, but if you’re worried about that, then just don’t do a trick along these lines.

When it comes time to reveal the name I just guess the first two names that come to mind with that initial. If neither of those are correct, I suggest one more. I’ve only done this a few times, but I believe each time I got the name in the first three guesses. If I didn’t, I would just skip to naming both initials. It would be something like, “Is it John or James? Hmmm… maybe Jason? No? Hm, I must be way off. I could have sworn it was a ‘J’ name. Oh… it is? Oh good, I thought so. It feels like J… J.K?”

Now, again, I’m not expecting the majority of you to have the desire to perform this effect exactly as written. But there may be elements you can strip from it. Perhaps the use of a gum wrapper as a “natural” billet. Or using scent or taste as a sensory cue to send someone back to a particular moment in their life and then you can some how “pick up” on a thought while they’re in this regressed state. Or, if nothing else, I hope it’s an example of the concept of social magic (at least my definition of it) which is not just a trick done in a social setting, but a trick that is built on a social interaction and could really only exist in that context (as opposed to in a professional setting).

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