Part I: Contrecoup Astonishment

How do I make my magic as strong as possible?

That was the question I asked myself.

For a few years I have been tracking the response of my audience to every performance of a trick, which is in the range of 1000 tricks a year (not 1000 different tricks, but 1000 total trick performances). Not only have I ranked their response on a scale of 1-10 (or, in some cases, had them rank it themselves), I’ve also kept track of their comments and if they brought the trick up at a later date. So I have their initial reaction as well as their long-term reaction to tricks.

By studying this, I realized I could break down what were the defining qualities of the strongest magic I perform.

That’s what this week’s posts are going to be about. It may seem like “theory,” but it’s going to lead somewhere actionable. And those actionable steps are the ones I use when I want to create a trick that genuinely fucks people’s minds.

In today’s post I want to talk about “astonishment.”

To do so, I’ll have to wrestle the word away from Paul Harris who really defined the word for the modern magician in his Art of Astonishment set of books. In the opening essay he talks about the moment of astonishment that follows a trick as being a pure child-like state of mind that usually lasts “under 10 seconds.”

Paul Harris has always been one of my favorite magicians, but over time I’ve come to disagree with his understanding of “astonishment.” (You can read his essay in this free ebook from Vanishing Inc.)

My first issue is his basic premise, that a child’s natural state of mind is one of astonishment. I’ve spent a good amount of time around children. They don’t seem in the least bit astonished by the world around them. They often seem fascinated by the world around them, but that’s something different. Astonishment involves having your expectations subverted. A young child has hardly any expectations, so there’s not much to subvert. If you reached into your throat and pulled out a python in front of an adult, they would be astonished. An infant would look at you like, “Oh…so this is something that happens? Neat.”

The second issue I have with the essay is that it implies a powerlessness on the part of the magician. It doesn’t suggest any ways to increase or maintain astonishment. Really the only suggestion is that you try to make it clear to the audience that feeling astonished is a good thing. And then you just hope they don’t fight the feeling. You’re putting the onus on them to feel astonishment. A much more productive mindset, in my opinion, is that it’s your job as the magician to create a state of astonishment that they can’t easily dismiss.

My final issue with the essay might seem like it’s just semantics, but I don’t think it just that. Or, if it is, I think the semantics I’m going to use are more useful.

Paul describes the moment of astonishment as being like the ringing of a bell that happens at the climax of a trick and then quickly dissipates. I’m going to suggest another name for this moment, but for now let’s call it “initial astonishment.” What I’ve learned is that there isn’t much correlation between the moment of initial astonishment and the overall strength of a trick.

Instead, a trick’s power is most closely related to the moment of contrecoup astonishment (this is just a temporary term I’m using to differentiate it from “initial astonishment”).

What is contrecoup astonishment? it’s comes from the concept of a contrecoup (pronounced contra-coo) head injury.

Think of the last time you bashed someone in the head with a baseball bat. (If you can’t remember the most recent time, just remember any time that comes to mind.)

When you hit someone in the forehead with a bat, there is an initial impact of the brain against the front of the skull. But then the brain rebounds and hits against the back of the skull, causing an injury on the brain on the opposite side of the point of impact.


Initial astonishment is like the primary head impact.

Contrecoup astonishment is the moment of astonishment that happens after the trick has travelled through the spectator’s brain.

Think of the appearing cane. The cane appears [FWAP!}. There’s a moment of initial astonishment. Then the trick travels through the brain (that is to say, the brain processes the trick) and there is very little “contrecoup astonishment.” In the moments after the trick, they think, “Whoa! Where did that come from? Hmm… it must expand somehow? Or unfold? Either way it’s some sort of trick cane, I’m sure.” The initial astonishment of the surprise of seeing the cane quickly evaporates.

This is in line with the Paul Harris model of astonishment. Something amazing happens, there is a moment of astonishment, but that feeling soon goes away after the spectator starts to process what they just saw.

What I’m suggesting is that real “astonishment” happens after the brain has gone into processing mode.

You’ve probably all had this sort of experience. You perform a trick: “And the folded red card in this clear box is actually… your signed card!”

Your spectator responds…., “What the hell?! No way!” This is the moment of initial astonishment. It’s usually pretty good-natured.

Then they stop, and they furrow their brow, and they look down and think for a few seconds. You can see their mind working. Their head snaps up. “Wait…wait…wait…hold on. You brought that folded red card out before I chose my card. And my card had a blue back. Wait…,” more thinking, “How? That’s not possible.” They’ve gone from the initial, jovial response to the effect, to something that seems much more unsettled.

This, I feel, is the true moment of astonishment. It’s not a brief moment. It’s actually a feeling that builds over time (to a point).

What I noticed, when looking at the effects that garnered the strongest reactions, was that while some had intense moments of initial astonishment, they all had strong moments of contrecoup astonishment. They were strengthened by being processed by the brain.

Here’s the terminology I’m going to use going forward.

What Paul Harris calls “astonishment,” and what I’ve been calling “initial astonishment” is really just, Surprise.

Surprise is typically an involuntary, fleeting feeling. In a matter of seconds, the spectator’s mind will attack that feeling of surprise and subject it to all the brain’s critical faculties. Often, they will be able to come up with a reasonable explanation (even if it’s just a general explanation) for what occurred and the moment will fizzle out. But if the feeling of surprise isn’t undermined by that process, then it develops into a feeling of Astonishment. (In fact, “an enduring surprise,” is a pretty good definition of magic.) This happens in a matter of seconds. The Surprise will either crumble away to nothing when looked at critically, or it will change into Astonishment when the spectator realizes they have no feasible explanation for what happened.

Now, Astonishment is kind of an uncomfortable feeling; I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some adrenaline response to it. Most people can sit with it for some amount of time, maybe up to a half hour. I know some people who will allow themselves to be thrilled by a trick for an entire evening, but that is pretty rare. Eventually the feeling of astonishment needs to be processed in some way.

There are two ways for a spectator to process astonishment.

  1. Destruction - “I’m going to figure this out. I’m going to do some in-depth critical thinking. I’m going to do some googling. I’m going to find someone who does magic to explain it to me. I’m going to post on Reddit seeking an answer.”

  2. Acceptance - “I don’t know what happened or how it could have happened. I have no explanation for it. And I’m just going to embrace it as something cool and unexplainable that I was lucky enough to experience.”

If the spectator can’t destroy the feeling of astonishment because the effect was too well constructed, or if they choose to accept the feeling, then it will eventually transform into a feeling of Mystery.

In previous posts I’ve talked about Paul Harris’ concept of Astonishment (which in this post I’m calling Surprise) and Mystery as two different things, but now I believe mystery is surprise that has evolved over time. Surprise is the seed, mystery is the flower.

In Paul’s essay he suggests trying to convince people to stay in that initial moment of surprise as long as possible. But it’s very hard to do that. It’s nearly impossible to shut down your critical thinking that way.

What you can do, however, is craft your tricks so they survive the initial critical thinking and make the jump from Surprise to Astonishment. And from that point, you can train people that it’s just more fun to welcome the mystery rather than to see the whole thing as some sort of problem they need to solve. At this point I can identify people who are connoisseurs of astonishment and want to experience mysteries and the unknown and bizarre experiences and strange fictions. I still have to get past their critical thinking, but once I do, they’re on board. These days I rarely run into someone who is going to desperately try and “debunk” a trick. If they’re that type of person, I spot them early on and they’re not someone I’d plan a “big” trick for in the first place.

For me, this model of the spectator experience—going from Surprise to Astonishment to Mystery—has been incredibly useful for creating really powerful, long-lasting effects. It focuses my efforts on reinforcing those few seconds between Surprise and Astonishment and not giving them any “easy outs” to allow the surprise to die out.

In the end, I’m not dismissing Paul Harris’ idea that the first few moments after a trick can present a powerful void of understanding to the spectator. I don’t know if this is actually our “natural” state of mind or whatever, but it’s fine if you believe that. It’s still compatible with what I’m writing here. My point is that by focusing past the surprise element, we can see a trick as not just the cause of a fleeting moment of child-like wonder, but also as an enduring source of mystery.

Dustings of Woofle #8

Next week I have three posts scheduled which are all going to be shorter (I think) theory posts. These three ideas go together and are the things that I’ve been thinking about recently when it comes to creating tricks that really hit people hard. I don’t think the ideas are all that ingenious, in fact they’re almost basic, but I think they’re things we maybe forget to focus on when we’ve been in magic for a while.

When performing magic, I will generally prioritize the overall experience, beyond just “fooling” them. But obviously if you can start with a trick that is inherently astounding and then create a really captivating presentation around it, you’ll have the best of both worlds.

Next week the focus is on the astounding aspect.

So check back then for: A Unified Theory of Blowing People’s Fucking Brains Out Their Buttholes.

Monday: Contrecoup Astonishment
Wednesday: Broken Tricks
Friday: No Easy Answers

A few months ago, Penguin switched from their live lecture format to a live “act” format. Not everyone loves the change, but I feel it’s not really that different.

With the “act” structure, instead of: trick, explanation, trick, explanation—they show a full act in front of a real audience and then they explain the act separately with just the magician and Dan Harlan. The nice thing about this is you can have a non-magician join you in watching the act and get their opinion on it. I’ve done this with four of the “acts” so far and it’s been very interesting to see what they comment on and what they enjoy and don’t enjoy. I’ll likely share some of these comments in the X-Comm newsletter if I review one of the acts there. But I encourage you to try it on your own. It’s eye opening.

In the previous post I mentioned the “Full Strawberry Moon,” and I received a couple emails asking where I find information on the symbolism of the full moons. To clarify, I don’t usually find that information out. I usually just make it up.

Here are the Algonquin Indian names for the full moons

January - Wolf Moon
February - Snow Moon
March - Worm Moon
April - Pink Moon 
May - Flower Moon
June - Strawberry Moon 
July - Buck Moon 
August - Sturgeon Moon 
September or October - Harvest Moon 
September - Full Corn Moon (Harvest)
October - Hunter's Moon (Harvest)
November - Beaver Moon 
December - Cold Moon

But this isn’t quite a science, as you can imagine, so each full moon actually has multiple names. March isn’t just the “Worm Moon.” It’s also the Crow Moon, Crust Moon, Sap Moon, Sugar Moon, and Chaste Moon, among others. You can find more info about that at this site, and in a ton of other places online.

There is some symbology to the moon and its names throughout the year, but as I mentioned, I make it up more often than not. “It’s called the Wolf Moon because—like a wolf—they believed your senses became keener and more attuned during the January full moon,” or whatever. I just find some way to connect the supposed symbolism to the effect I want to show them. No one is fact checking this shit. And if they do, you just say, “Hmmm… I can’t remember where I read it. I’ll see if I can find it and I’ll email it to you.” Then just forget about it.

I realize this is not everyone’s thing, but I’ve always received a good response to it. I like taking people out under the night sky as part of a presentation and telling them something about what’s going on celestially and saying/implying “Oh, and on this one night of the year we can try this special thing….”

Reader, KM, writes:

The Self-Working Hook post reminded me of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry doing a magic trick on a talk show. I remember when I saw this years ago it opened me up to how much you can get away with by being a) actually charismatic and b) casual and non-professional. The switch and the lemon force are so straightforward and casual, really like a precursor to The Jerx way of doing things. Even the introduction of them learning/practicing magic on set is very Peek Backstag

I like it. It’s not quite the same thing as I talk about. They’re using it more as a presentation than a context (not sure if that’s a completely clear distinction, I may clarify it in another post someday). But it certainly plays well. They would have made an enjoyable magic duo. They could have been the next Helder Guimarães and Derek Delgaudio! (Meaning they could have done one show together then grown to hate each other’s fucking guts.)

A few weeks ago I mentioned one of the guys who helps out with this site was going on an extended vacation and would be selling some of his magic collection to raise funds. I mentioned specifically that he would be selling some of the book tests that have been released in recent years that are made to look like old books. I also said that I would promote his ebay listings when they were available. Then I never mentioned it again.

That’s because I got to thinking, “Hmmm… maybe I should buy those book tests.” It’s kind of a dumb idea because it’s a huge investment (The books sell for $200-$400 a piece.) And I’m not even sure they fit with my style of performance. But I was just taken with the idea of having a little shelf of seemingly normal, old books that are pretty much completely examinable. Someone could look through them, pick one or two that caught their eye, and I could show them something hopefully amazing with them.

And so… I bought the whole lot of them.


It’s an expenditure I’m having a hard time justifying. But I figure I’ll take some time to learn the workings of these, then run them into the ground for a few months with my friends and family, and then sell them to someone who might have a more long-term use for them. (If you’re interested in buying the lot if/when that time comes, let me know.)

They’re pretty sweet.


I like this one a lot. The backstory is that this book about a haunted house in England (the most haunted one, apparently)—which is a real book you can find used copies of online—belonged to a ghost-hunter who would carry it with him on his travels. And he would keep notes of his investigations in the book. So it’s filled with 100s, if not 1000s of hand-written notes, markings, hand-drawn illustrations, highlights, etc. These aren’t printed as part of the book. They were written/drawn into the book by someone over the course of many hours of work. Making it a genuinely handcrafted book test with an inherently creepy backstory.


I figure I can come up with a few different stories regarding where the books came from. Weird bookstore. Weird garage sale. Weird great-uncle. Weird something-or-other. Perhaps they all came from the same source or maybe I’ve been tracking them down here and there.

Some of the books can be used together. But even if that weren’t the case, I think they benefit from being displayed as a group. I think together there is more credibility to them. Now it looks like I have a small collection of old/interesting books, rather than a bookshelf filled solely with stuff I got from Barnes and Noble in the past 15 years and one random old book. Plus I like the idea of saying, “Grab one or two and bring them over,” and not knowing for sure what will happen next.

Of course, this means I’ll have to have a working knowledge of ten or so book-tests at a time, which may be beyond me. We’ll see.

The funny part will be when I get hit by a bus and die a week from now and my family comes in to clean out my apartment and they donate these to the library and the library says, “These aren’t nice enough for the library, but we’ll sell them in our book sale,” and someone buys them for 50 cents a piece.

By Proxy World

Here is a mildly amusing way I used to get into Out of This World from a borrowed, shuffled deck. (Amusing for the performer, that is.) I guess it’s somewhat bold in that you’re having them set up the deck for you, but it makes complete sense contextually, so it doesn’t raise suspicion.

Here’s what it looks like…

Take the deck and shuffle it.

Cut the deck into two halves and place them in front of the spectator and say, “Can you shuffle?” And do the standard miming for “riffle shuffle” with your hands. It’s the same move as if you were giving a baby a shoulder rub. (You fucking creep.)


It really doesn’t matter how they shuffle. This is just to check out their abilities.

One of three things will happen.

  1. They will say, “yes,” and they’ll riffle-shuffle the two halves together. (It may take them a second to orient the halves in their hands because they’re not used to having the deck pre-cut for them.)

  2. They will say, “No. Uh, kinda. Well no. Not like the fancy kind.” In which case you say, “No problem. It doesn’t really matter.” And you shuffle the halves together.

  3. They will say, “yes,” and they’ll go to shuffle, but they’re so not used to having the deck separated for them that they will put it back together and then riffle off half of it and go into the shuffle. This isn’t a problem. Just something to note for now.

(I’m going to continue this write-up as if your spectator fell into groups 2 or 3 above. If they are in group 1 you can do something slightly different at the end, which I’ll get to in the notes after the description.)

Take the deck from them and spread through and pull a red card and a black card from the middle and set them side-by-side on the table.

Give the deck to the spectator face-up and tell them to deal the red cards onto the red card and the black cards onto the black card.

Kindly thank them in your mind for setting up the deck for OOTW.

When they’re done, look at your watch or a clock and say, “Okay, that took around 40 seconds. I think that’s a reasonable amount of time for that task. But I’m going to show you a way that will have you doing it in less than half the time.” (I don’t tell them I’m going to time them before they deal, because I don’t want them to try and do it quickly.)

Assemble the deck. Give it a red-black shuffle. (A legitimate overhand shuffle where you run the cards singly in the middle, maintaining the separation of the colors.)

“Now, I know you’re not a card expert, so it would be impossible for you to know exactly the order in which the cards are getting mixed, of course.”

After the shuffle, give the cards an in-the-hands false cut. Then cut a quarter of the deck to the table. “You don’t spend your day handling cards. You couldn’t say for sure if that’s 10 or 15 cards, right?”

Then cut 2/3rd of what remains (half the deck) to the right of the first packet, but with some space between. “Is that 20 cards? 25? 30? It would be hard to say.”

Take the cards left in your hand and drop them a few cards at a time into a pile between the two piles on the table. “Is that 2 cards? 3? 5? You mind—your conscious mind, at least—says there’s no way you could know. Because cards aren’t your area of expertise.”

Place the original packet you cut off, on top of the packet in the middle that you just put on the table, then shuffle that half into the other with a genuine riffle shuffle. Don’t push the halves flush. Spread them in their just-woven state.


“If I gave you 10 minutes to study this, you might be able to remember the exact pattern of how many cards of each half were woven with how many cards of the other half.”

Push the sides of the spread flush, and the square up the spread.

“But now it would be seemingly impossible to have kept track of all of it… the shuffling, the cutting, more shuffling. If I asked you if this top card was red or black, would you be comfortable stating that with certainty? How about the 10th card? How about any card. No…. of course not.”

At this point the deck is mostly still separated into reds and blacks, although there are likely a few cards mixed up in the middle. You’re going to clean this up in the process of removing some “leader” cards for the red and black packet. That may be all you need to do. Or you may have to cull or otherwise secretly move a couple more cards in the process of spreading the deck towards yourself to pull out the leader cards.

“You seemingly can’t know anything about the order of this deck. But for what’s about to happen, that somehow must not be true. Here… take the deck. We’re going to do what we did before. You’re going to deal the cards into red and black. But you’re going to do it in half the time. And… you’re not going to look at the faces of the cards.”

This comes across as a nice little twist in the routine. Up until this point, they didn’t really know what was coming. All you told them at the beginning was that they were going to separate the colors again but in half the time. With that in mind, there’s no reason for them to question the shuffles. They’re anticipating getting a mixed deck back from you, and your shuffling is in line with those expectations. Only now does it dawn on them that something different may occur. This is the moment that clarifies all the patter from before about, “You couldn’t know where any particular card is,” etc., because the only way to do what they’re about to do is if they somehow tracked the distribution of red and black cards during your shuffle.

“Go ahead. Trust me. Trust yourself. Deal the cards into two piles. Obviously not just back and forth, but two somewhat even piles. This will be the red pile this is the black one. Go quickly and don’t think about it.”

From there you finish with your preferred Out of this Word handling.


1. Although this was always very strong for me, I don’t really perform it anymore because I have other ways I prefer to do OOTW. If I was going to do it like this, I would want there to be some reasoning for why they could now achieve this feat. So there would be something that happens after the first deal. Something that would somehow affect their luck, intuition, perception or whatever.

2. Keeping that in mind, the face-down deal doesn’t have to immediately follow the face-up one. They could happen hours apart (or more). “Okay, you did that in about 40 seconds. Later tonight, when the Full Strawberry Moon rises, I’m going to show you something you won’t believe. The Strawberry Moon is said to affect intuition.” Or something like that. (The Full Strawberry Moon was a couple days ago, guys. You missed it. The good news is, any celestial event can have any meaning you want. All that shit is made up anyways.)

3. If, during the beginning phase of the trick, they’ve demonstrated they can shuffle the two halves together cleanly, you can have them do the final shuffle during the actual trick, if you want. I’m not sure how much it adds.

4. You may be tempted to use a Rosetta-style shuffle if they can’t riffle shuffle. Don’t bother, It won’t work. While the Rosetta shuffle mimics a riffle-shuffle in some respects, it doesn’t replicate a tight, well-done rifle shuffle. You’ll have too many cards to clean up.

5. Don’t rush the cutting portion (the part between the two shuffles). I used to try to set up for that final shuffle with some quick cuts without comment, but it’s hard to get your proportions right that way. You want to be cutting off very close to a quarter, followed by very close to half the deck. By acting like you’re making some salient point about how many cards you’re cutting, that allows you to give it the attention it needs without it feeling weird.

6. You may be concerned that at one point in the presentation they are staring at a deck that’s separated into red and black. Don’t be. It really doesn’t give them any clue on how the trick works. After they see the deck separated that way, they see a genuine shuffle, followed by a genuine cut, followed by a second genuine shuffle (that they may do themselves), followed by them dealing through the deck (which feels like another kind of “mix.") If they follow all of that and whatever OOTW handling you’re doing, then there was no way you were ever going to fool them with the trick in the first place.

7. I originally conceived of this as just a lazy way to get the spectator to do the work for setting up OOTW from a shuffled deck. But I think the face-up deal actually adds a nice element and makes complete sense presentationally. You’re establishing a standard for comparison which they are then going to exceed in an impossible fashion.

Mailbag #7


We all constantly hear magicians talk about how they want to be the most memorable part of the performance. Many times I’ve heard a magician tell of how a layman began to describe a trick he once saw and how amazing it was, and when the magician asked him what that magician’s name was, the layman came up empty. And every magician always talks down about this, that the opposite is really what’s important: for the spectator to remember YOU and not necessarily the trick.

I just found it interesting (and correct me if I’m wrong) that with you, the important thing is for the spectator to get the experience, and whether or not he remembers you were involved is almost irrelevant. As you’ve said many times, you are just as happy when a spectator has an experience and you are just another “bystander” that apparently had nothing to do with creating the experience. Especially because with your style you are not even trying to take credit for the effect.

I guess this is understandable for professionals that want to get future bookings, it’s important people remember them and their names. But as you’ve pointed out, a huge percentage of magicians in the world are mostly hobbyists that do magic for family and friends. —YR

Yes, this is one of those things that is completely the opposite for professionals and amateurs. If you’re a professional magician and nobody really remembers you, then you probably won’t be a professional magician for very long. So if you don’t make the performance about you in some way, you’re not really ever going to take-off as a professional.

On the other hand, if you’re an amateur magician and you consistently make the magic about you then you won’t be an amateur magician for very long. It’s just not going to be fun for your friends and family in the long term.

Let me illustrate this by taking it to the extreme. Imagine you were at a barbecue at your friend’s place and you said, “Hey, everyone, want to see a magic trick?” And then you fired up some Peter Gabriel and unbuttoned your shirt and had a fan blowing your hair and you acted like Shin Lim for the next 8 minutes. If you did that, it’s possible you’d get a good response. But if you tried to do it again a week later, people would be like, “Oh, that’s okay. We’re going to play Jarts.” Putting the focus on you is not something that’s going to appeal to people week-after-week, year-after-year.

I’m going to get back to this letter at the end of this post. First I’m going to answer a couple other emails…

Can you give us your impression of John Kennedy’s Tractor Beam? I like the idea of the light being what causes the animation but I feel like the “laser pointer” also being the actual electronic reel makes it pretty obvious what is going on. Am I just overthinking this or is it just that blatantly obvious what’s going on? —SL

This is the sort of thing where I honestly don't know how a layperson would respond to it without showing it to them myself (and I don't like the trick enough to bother with that). I definitely don’t think it looks “obvious” at all, so that wouldn’t be my concern.

My issue with the laser pointer (besides the fact it doesn't look like a laser pointer) is that I think it's probably less interesting than "amplified mind power" or "sexual energy" or "low level nuclear radiation" or "shadows" or whatever you might say is moving the object if you did something similar without the laser pointer. The laser pointer is almost too believable for me. I mean, it is possible to move things with lasers.

I apply the "green grass test" to this. If people had been doing this trick with a laser pointer for years and then someone came along and said, "I've found a way to do it without the laser pointer," wouldn't we all be excited about that? So isn't this maybe a step backwards? 

That being said... I could be dead wrong. Someone could test this out and find it gets much better reactions for some reason I can't wrap my head around.

If any readers end up getting it, I’d be interested in hearing how it plays for you.

Have you ever written about methods to overcome / bury / decapitate-and-shove-garlic-in-the-mouth-of my "magician's voice"? 

I try to be conversational with my scripts, but tense up, and endlessly revert to that booming, gesturing "and now I'm going to show you something amazing!" Robert-Houdin persona. Which isn't pleasant for anyone. 

(Or, if you haven't written on it, do you know of any good books / articles on the subject?  Ken Weber's chapter was way too short and pretty much said, "Just don't do it. Be conversational." Which I'm having a damn hard time doing.) —AD

No, I don’t think I’ve written about this specifically and that’s because it’s not an issue I’ve ever really had to deal with, so I don’t have much insight into it. I do think it’s an important issue, though, because hearing someone go into a “performer” voice is a huge buzzkill. In a social situation it’s the kiss of death as far as creating a moment that feels spontaneous. But even in a professional show you’re going to want to feel more conversational at times.

You say you “try to be conversational in your scripts.” If I had to guess, I would think that might be one of your problems: you’re too scripted. You’re too comfortable in what you’re going to say, which allows you to slip into a more presentational tone of voice. I don’t really know how to get around this if you’re talking about a professional show. I guess it’s just a matter of getting better at acting. You need to learn to act as if you’re speaking extemporaneously. I can’t act for shit, so I can’t give advice there.

In a social magic situation, the way to appear less “performance-y” is simple: don’t script so much. It’s hard to appear too presentational when you’re not sure exactly what you’re going to say. And you don’t gain anything by having a polished script when you show some friends a trick after dinner.

My “scripting” consists of this:

  1. I will come up with a one-sentence general premise for the effect.

  2. I will make note of anything I need to establish for the trick to really seem impossible. Establishing these conditions is key to making the magic as powerful as it can be, so I will “script” the way I’m going to reinforce them (verbally or via my actions).

Beyond that, I sort of wing it. I talk to you and I tell you a story and I may stumble through parts or say something that’s not 100% clear and you’ll have to ask me to clarify. This is how people communicate in real life. The subject of the conversation may be somewhat fantastical, but it will still have the rhythm of a normal interaction.

So my first recommendation is to script less.

My second recommendation is to use presentations that involve less certainty on your part. You say you end up reverting to the, “And now I’m going to show you something amazing,” style. But you can only do that if your premise is, “Hey, here’s something amazing,” in the first place. If your presentation is more along the lines of, “I don’t understand this thing I found,” or, “Can I get your help with this?” or, “Let’s test this out,” or, “This weird thing keeps happening, I want to see if it happens with you too,” then you will find it difficult to get pulled into something that feels too much like a “Ta-Daa!” moment because it would be a very abrupt change from the presentation you’ve established.

But again, that advice is more geared towards social performances. If you’re reading Ken Weber you may be thinking more in terms of a professional show. In which case I agree with his advice: Just knock it off and act like a human.

So, getting back to the first email, there was this line I wanted to comment on…

[W]ith you, the important thing is for the spectator to get the experience, and whether or not he remembers you were involved is almost irrelevant.”

Yes and no. I think sometimes people interpret me saying, “take the focus off yourself,” as me implying that I see magic as some selfless act of giving “wonder” to the world. Like I see myself as just a benevolent sprite, spreading joy through my delightful acts of magic!

Not quite. While I do think it’s sad if you’re doing magic just for some validation, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting magic to be a part of your persona that makes you more likable and enjoyable to be around. Magic is not really the kind of art where you’re like, “I’m going to do whatever I want, and damn what anyone else thinks!” Magic, especially social magic, should be an enjoyable, communal thing that draws people to you. But the Catch-22 is this: if the primary goal of your magic is to make yourself look good, you will turn people off. You won’t be able to hide the neediness in your performance.

Imagine you knew someone who was incredibly strong. One day he proved it to you by bending a frying pan. Another time he did so by bending a steel bar. The next time he lifted an anvil. Another time he lifted a car. And so on. The first time he demonstrated his strength, you would have been like, “Damn, that’s impressive.” But each subsequent time it would be a little less so. Eventually you’d just be like, “Okay, I get it.” And you’d wonder what his need was to keep demonstrating this skill. This is what can happen if you just do tricks that come down to a demonstration of your abilities or your cleverness.

When the focus of the trick is on you, you are forced to tell the same story over and over. That story is: “Look at this thing I can do.” That’s not a story that can maintain its power over time.

When I performed in a magician-centric style, I would burn people out on tricks very easily. Unless they had an innately strong interest in magic, I would feel a slip in enthusiasm after a few times performing for them. And I used to think that was just the nature of performing magic.

But by shifting the focus off myself, and putting tricks in other narratives, a whole world of stories beyond “look what I can do” opened up. That change has allowed me to maintain people’s interest and engagement in magic for so much longer.

The other day I was with a friend who has easily seen me perform 100+ times in the last few years. I walked into her apartment, grabbed a drink and said this, like it was the most normal thing in the world…, “I went to a baby’s funeral and stole this rattle out of its coffin. Check this out….” Now, she knew it wasn’t true, but it didn’t matter. Her interest was piqued. Her eyes lit up. She adjusted her chair, leaned in a little, and said, “I can’t wait to see how this plays out.” And she was into it and engaged up to—and past—the point where the rattle began to shake on its own.

“I can’t wait to see how this plays out.” That’s exactly what I’m shooting for.

Now, if I said, “Here’s a baby rattle. I’m going to shake it with my mind.” That would have been just another trick about me. She wouldn’t think, “I want to see how this plays out,” because she would be completely used to me saying I was going to do something impossible and then doing it. It’s a story she’s already heard over and over. It would be like if the strong man came in and said, “Take a look at this wrench. It’s not possible to bend this thing, right?” You wouldn’t think, “I wonder what’s going to happen.” You’d think, “Oh, I guess he’s going to bend that wrench.”

When I was a kid performing magic, I wanted people to think, “Wow! You’re amazing!” But now I realize that you can only pull that off for a short amount of time before you look like a needy egotist performing fake miracles. Now my goal when I perform is for people to think, “that was fun, that was crazy, that was incredible.” Those positive feelings are ultimately going to flow back to me as the person responsible for creating that experience.

My point is, whether you want to just magnanimously show people a good time, or whether you’re hoping to make people like you, the route to both of these goals is to take the spotlight off of yourself.

Dustings of Woofle #7

Regarding White Monte, I was asked if that trick doesn’t violate something I’ve written about in the past: the idea that the best presentations to accompany a trick are “present tense” ones. On the surface level, I would say that yes, it doesn’t meet that standard. But I think, ultimately, it gets to a similar place. You see, the purpose of “present tense” presentations are to include the spectator and to make the magic about this moment, rather than something that happened in the past. It’s a way to infuse vitality into the presentations because the story is unfolding now. I think White Monte achieves similar goals by constructing the props in the moment and—in my favorite variation—suggesting this story from the past concluded with a picture of the person you’re with right now. That ending makes the timeline a little funky, it’s not strictly a “story about the past,” although that’s a big part of it.

I don’t usually talk about things people send me. And that’s probably why people don’t send me that much stuff.

But I wanted to make an exception for a book I was sent earlier this year, Gerald Deutsch’s Perverse Magic.


“Perverse Magic” is probably not what you’re initially thinking (unfortunately). The definition in the book for Perverse Magic is, “Magic that happens by itself, against what the magician wants to happen.”

The book collects a series of posts done on the Genii Forum by Gerald Deutsch since 2003.

I’m mentioning the book here for a couple reasons.

The first is because all the proceeds go to Open Heart Magic, a company that “provides therapeutic Bedside Magic to kids in children's hospitals.”

The second reason is because I think the concept of “Perverse Magic” is a worthy one. The idea is to take the ego out of presentations. He does this by giving presentations for a couple hundred tricks, including many classic effects, where the magician’s will is undermined over the course of the trick. The magician often ends up confused or frustrated. This is more of a “theatrical” confusion or frustration—it’s kind of impossible to play genuine confusion/frustration over the course of a 4-phase card routine, for example—but it doesn’t really matter when it comes to eliminating the ego element. Whether I think you’re actually confused or I think you’re pretending to be, you’re clearly not using the magic to boost your ego, which is something that so often is the unappealing element of magical performances.

While our final output isn’t all that similar, we definitely have some overlap in our philosophies and you may be interested in someone else’s approach to shifting the focus off the magician’s “power.”

The book is huge. It’s 470 pages. It’s a collection of message board posts, so there’s no illustrations and no real formatting, but that doesn’t prevent anything from being easily understood. The book is $50 and, as I said, the proceeds go to charity, so consider picking it up. It’s available here from

Hey, speaking of giving away things for free, here’s a brief history of the times I’ve given away a book for free.

A Brief History of the Times I’ve Given Away A Book For Free

I’ve frequently had a situation in the past where I’m interacting with a well known magician over email/text and they’ll say, “Oh, so your book is coming out, right? I’d really like to get a copy.” And I’m like, “Ok. Buy one.” And then I realize they thought I should send them one for free because they’re famous or something.

When David Blaine intimated he’d like a copy of my first book, I was like, “Hey, I’m no starfucker. He can buy it just like everyone else.”

My feeling is, the only reason someone would want one of my books is if they like the site, and if they like the site, then they are already the recipient of 100s of hours of work a year on my part for free. And if I was in their situation, I would want a way to reimburse the person responsible for that thing I liked. I wouldn’t be trying to finagle more free content from them. So I just don’t buy it when someone suggests they like me, like the site, like the content, but want a free copy of the book.

That being said, there are three times in the past where I’ve sent someone a free copy. Here they are.

Recipient: Angelo Carbone - Theoretically this one wasn’t for free. Angelo is a brilliant magic creator and wrote me expressing interest in buying my book. I knew he was working on his own book so I said, “Hey, why don’t I send you a copy of my book. Then you can just send me yours when it’s ready.” However “when it’s ready” may be years from now. He originally wrote me in February of 2016 to tell me he was expecting his book to be ready, “Later this year.” Hmmm… not quite. But that’s okay, I don’t doubt he’ll eventually come through.

Recipient: Neil Patrick Harris - A year or so ago, Neil put his PO Box address on Twitter and said, “My birthday is in a week, send me presents!” (or words to that effect). And he listed a bunch of things he liked. I think he soon realized how ridiculous it was for a multi-millionaire to be soliciting gifts from his fans, as a couple days later he tweeted that he was just joking. Now, I’m not sure how, “Send me gifts. Here’s my real mailing address and some things I want,” could be intended as a joke, but I kind of admired the tone-deaf audacity of it all so I sent him one my few remaining copies of The Jerx, Volume One. He’s a magician/fan of magic. It had won the magic book of the year. I thought he’d appreciate it, but his response was… no response. So I guess I thought wrong!

Recipient: Steve Brooks - I sent Steve (founder of the Magic Cafe) a copy of my first book a couple years ago. I noted in my inscription that this site wouldn’t exist without him. Then Steve wrote me asking if I’d send him some free decks too. Hey, sure. I’m an amiable guy and I intended to always let Steve have free copies of everything I released. I thought it was funny that he would be the only person to get things for free. But then I started receiving emails from people who had their posts removed from the Cafe for mentioning my site. And not only were their posts removed, but they were also getting PMs from the Cafe staff which made completely bullshit claims about me. (Exactly how fucking dumb are they? Did they think people posting a link to my site would not then also send me screenshots of their PMs?) Anyway, I figured these orders were coming from the top, so clearly my attempts to befriend Steve Brooks had failed. And while I still print an extra copy of everything for Steve, I don’t actually send them to him. I just keep them piled up like presents for a kidnapped child.

So, I guess the lesson of this write-up is: Don’t give people free stuff.

I want to make a public apology. A few weeks ago I had a contest where people would take a picture of themselves posing in the same manner as a photograph of Joshua Jay. It was all intended to be good fun, but even our best intentions can leave people hurt by our actions. So I want to say, “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry to everyone for holding that contest before Josh posted this picture of himself on Instagram.

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White Monte

The first trick I ever saw in a magic shop was Color Monte. If you don’t know that trick… seriously? You don’t know that trick? Go look for it on youtube. It was a magic shop standard at the time (1990-ish) and probably for a good time before and after. The guy who showed it to me was the owner of the shop: an obese, pasty-white, hairy, loser. (If you want to get an idea for what he looked like physically, first imagine a Somali pirate. Now picture the exact opposite of that.)

He fumbled through the trick with his fat, Cheeto-stained fingers, repeating the patter word-for-word from Emerson and West in his gross nasal drone. I didn’t know exactly what he was doing—I had no knowledge of any card sleights—although I could tell he was doing something abnormal. But I still remember the surprise of seeing that $14 card show up at the end. I was tuned in enough to understand his handling of the cards wasn’t really natural, but the idea that he was hiding a whole card from me during the effect didn’t occur to me at all.

So you best believe I walked out of there with Color Monte (and a Hot Rod) in my pocket. And another “hot rod” in my pants, thinking of all the chicks that were going to lose their shit when I blew them away with the story of the time the guy hustled me for $14.


A couple years after that, packet tricks seemed to go out of fashion. Or perhaps it just took me a couple years to realize they were never in fashion.

Around this time, my friend Pat went to an IBM meeting in Columbus, Ohio. As he was the new guy there, some of the regulars asked him to show them a trick to feel him out a little. He was an “Easy to Master Card Miracles”-level amateur, so he pulled out four cards to show them Brother John Hamman’s, Gemini Twins.

But before he could start, one of the hot-shot regulars said sarcastically…, “Oh great… packet tricks.”

I’ve asked Pat to give a line-reading from his memory of this incident, 25 years ago.

This became a running joke for us in the years to come, with the other person saying it whenever one of us would start a trick with anything less than a full deck of cards. And, of course, we would ramp it up over time, acting more dismissive and disgusted with “packet tricks” as the years passed. Soon we were shoe-horning other words into the phrase. Like, if my zipper got stuck I might say, “Oh, great…. jacket tricks.”

And while we were just pretending to be sickened by packet tricks, the truth is they never were the sort of thing I gravitated towards much in the ensuing years.


But I recently had a Color Monte revival in my repertoire, due to a new way of performing it that I stumbled on.

It started because I had a stack of blank cards on my coffee table that I was using for non-magic related purposes. But I would find myself practicing sleights and counts with them frequently, so they just stayed on my coffee table for a few weeks.

Then one day I was sitting around watching tv with a friend and I was thinking about Color Monte and I drew an X on a card, an O on a card, and a penis on a card. And I started telling my friend about this “weird game” I got caught up in on a marching band trip to NYC when I was a teenager.

I was just screwing around, but when I got to the finale, and the penis card appeared, the reaction was stronger than I’d ever received for Color Monte and I realized there was something here worth considering.

I refined my handling a bit more and showed it to a few more people (changing the final image and my patter pretty much each time) and it continued to surprise me with how big the reactions were.


Before I continue, let me give you my theory in regards to why it got such a good reaction, because you might be thinking, “Color Monte with hand-drawn cards? Big deal.” That would have been my thought before actually trying it. But consider these reasons for why it might have a big impact…


Color Monte has a fairly strong structure for a trick. It’s a lot of little, mediocre moments that sort of lull people into an understanding of what the trick is. And just when they think they may have some idea what you’re doing, it has a big surprise ending.


The premise of the patter isn’t actually that bad. “I went to the city and got caught in this grift,” is something you might actually tell someone.


When you pull out a packet of specially printed cards, you’re tossing out that potentially interesting storyline. You are essentially admitting, “This story I’m about to tell isn’t really true, it came with the special cards.” And when you bring out those cards you’re tacitly stating, “There’s nothing personal or special about this performance.” And, you’re even undermining the impact of the ending because it’s clearly a “magic trick” from moment one.

On the other hand…

If you decide to do it with normal cards—which is many magicians “improvement” on using the specially printed cards—you are turning something potentially unique into “just another card trick.” What the Color-Monte-with-normal-cards crowd doesn’t understand is that, yes, the specially printed cards are the greatest weakness of Color Monte, but they’re also the most interesting thing about it.


To get the best of both worlds, we will build the trick in front of them. This way it’s not “just another card trick” but also it’s not something you clearly picked up at the magic store. It feels spontaneous. It feels personal. (Because it is both of those things.)

In addition…

They get to handle the cards (seemingly) before you start, which makes the final surprise ending much stronger. So it’s a classic of magic, made personal, made stronger, made completely un-Google-able, and with an awesome souvenir at the end (if you choose to go that way—as I’ll describe further on).


I won’t go into the standard Color Monte handling, just the specifics for this version.

Switching in the Cards

Here is how I do it. I perform this seated on a couch with someone. You could easily do the switch in your pockets as you went for the marker if you were standing, or in your lap if you were seated at a table. The way I do it, it happens before they know a trick is coming.

I have this set up in the end-table drawer on my side of the couch.


The final image is pre-drawn on the underside of the top card in a stack of three which is clipped under the pen cap.

On the coffee table in front of us is a large stack of blank cards. Sometimes the person will ask about them, sometimes they don’t. I don’t over-justify them. While a stack of blank playing cards isn’t normal, they’re also not particularly suspicious. My friends know me as someone with an interest in magic, so I just tell the truth, “Oh, I use them for magic tricks. Or practicing sleight-of-hand. Or building card castles if I’m bored. Or whatever. If you’re not using cards for a game, it’s cheaper to get them unprinted.” That sounds logical, but it’s surprisingly not true.

“Those are the same type of cards that guy in NYC scammed me with. Did I tell you that story? No? Oh… uhm… here…hand me three of those cards.”

They give me three blank cards. I look around for the marker I know is somewhere nearby. I open up the end-table on my side of the couch (blocked from their view), drop in the cards that the spectator just gave me, and pull out my set-up of the three cards and the marker.

This isn’t a switch that would fly in the middle of a routine. But before a trick has started, it’s fine. It’s a non-moment at this point. Especially since they’re going to see a bunch of displays where the cards are as they expect them to be.

A Quick Display

This is probably unnecessary, but I like to do it at this point. It happens while I’m making some mundane point about the blank cards. “They make some that have blank fronts, but normal playing card backs, and those are actually more expensive than a normal deck for some reason. But because these are blank on both sides they’re cheaper.”

During this I spread the three cards, showing three blank faces. Then I do a double turnover of the top two cards as one at about the time where I say, “because these are blank on both sides.” Then I turn the entire packet over and spread all three again. This isn’t intended to be 100% proof of three completely blank cards. It’s just meant to look like I’m handling the cards casually and you’re seeing nothing but blank cards.


Creating the Cards

I start by talking about this time I was in NYC (or wherever). I can’t tell you exactly what I say. I just make it up in the moment. Maybe I’m talking about a guy I met at a party or the bus station or whatever. At this point, they genuinely don’t know if this is a true story or a trick or both.

I’m about to create the cards as I talk about them. I have to displace one of the cards so the cards in my hand are blank card; blank card; drawing card—drawing side up, in my left hand.

I bring my left hand up so I can draw on the cards with my right hand.

“He had three cards. The first had an X on it.”

I draw an X on the top card, show them the X on that card, then put it to the back of the packet with the X facing me. (Here is my perspective, with their view in the mirror.)


“The second card had an O on it.”

I draw an O on the top card, show them the O, then put it to the back of the packet with the O facing me. And I keep a pinky break between that card and the other two.


“And the third card had another X on it.”

I mime drawing an X on this card as well. Then I pull the second card out, turn it towards them and place it at the back of the pack. This all seems pretty straightforward from their perspective.


“That’s all he had. Three cards. I’m positive of that.” I take the cards writing-side down and drop them onto the table (well, couch) one at a time. The $14 card is now face-down on top of the three cards.

“He told me he wanted to play a simple game with three cards. An X, an O—the ‘money’ card—and an X.”

While saying this, I pick up the packet, turn it over and give it whatever kind of count you would call this: The cards start in my right hand. Take the X-card off into my left. Take both remaining cards, while stealing back the X card. Take the X card again.

Like this:


Very simple and clean. Everything seems as it should.

I then just go into the standard Color Monte handling. The only deviation I make is as follows… You know that part where you’re doing a double turnover of the top and bottom card and you have to do that unnatural alignment move first? Even as a kid that stood out to me when I was seeing the trick the first time. The way to make it not stand out as much is to spread the cards back like that before each display. Not just the ones where you’re doing the alignment. In other words, do this…


as if you’re displaying the options of Top, Middle, and Bottom before each “bet” where you show a card in a particular location, even when you don’t need to, like when showing the bottom card in that gif. I’m sure this is an adjustment others have made too.


So we get to the climax and obviously what I say will depend on what my final reveal image is. I have some hand-drawn $14 cards (as in the gifs above) if I want to do the traditional climax. But the final image can be anything, of course, and here is my general patter, picking up right before the climax…

“So the guy was like, ‘Look, I’ll make it easy on you,’ and he turned over two of the cards. ‘Double or nothing. Just tell me what’s not on this final card. If you can tell me what’s not on the final card, we’re even.’ And honestly, I didn’t really have any idea. I didn’t know if there was an X on there or an O. I was completely confused. But I figured I had trapped him a little. So I said, ‘I just have to tell you what’s not on that card and I get my money back.’ He told me that was the deal. ‘Ok… what’s not on that card is a picture of my dog’s dick.’”

I pause. “I really thought I’d got one over on him. But this guy was good.” I turn over the card on the table. It’s a picture of a fuzzy penis with “$14” underneath.

“‘That will be $14,’ he said.”

It doesn’t have to be something dirty. It can be anything at all. “You definitely don’t have a picture of an octopus in a yarmulke under there .” Or whatever.

Keepsake Version

This is my favorite way to do it. “So I said to the guy, ‘I just have to tell you what’s not on the card? Okay, well there’s definitely not a picture of my friend Jessica who I won’t meet for another 15 years under there!’” And you turn it over and there’s a picture of the person you’re performing for.


Or it can be a picture of your friend’s baby, or their cat, or something else meaningful to them. Just substitute that in the patter.

I just find a local artist who can bang out something like this relatively quickly and have them do maybe 20 simple pictures of friends and family I might end up showing the trick to. For a few dollars a piece, you have a totally personalized piece of magic with a memento they’ll keep forever. All from fucking Color Monte!

Final Thoughts

1. I’ve flirted with the idea of having them draw 2 Xs on two cards, and 1 O on another. Then just switch in the $14 card for one of the Xs. I haven’t done it yet, but I may try it in the future. If you do that, you should probably use a much thicker marker. You don’t want their Xs to look very different from each other or else they might notice that they’re only seeing one of their Xs throughout the trick.

2. This is a small thing, but I’ve taken to telling the story with $10 bets at each level, and a $140 card at the end. I prefer it to seem like it’s potentially a real story about getting scammed, at least up until the punchline. And betting $1 at a time is a bit too low-stakes of a story to tell. But that might just be my hang-up.

3. I’ve also considered just having the final reveal card as the third card down in the stack of blank cards on the table. That way you wouldn’t have to switch any cards at all. You would just use the person’s natural assumption that in a stack of blank cards, all the sides are blank. But this too is something I haven’t tried yet, just because I don’t want to run the risk of them exposing that final reveal card in the process of handing me the cards. But you may feel it’s worth it.

4. The first few times I did this, I didn’t have the “$14” (or $140) on the final card. I just had whatever the final picture was. I’ve decided I prefer to have it on there. I feel it makes the story more “whole.” This isn’t just a random picture that showed up at the end of this trick. It’s a picture that specifically completes—and only makes sense—in the context of this story I just told.

5. I mentioned in a previous post that I’m trying to think of other packet tricks that could be done in this manner, because I think there’s something extra fooling about constructing the cards in their presence. I haven’t really found anything yet, but I’ll let you know if i do.

Be Like Aunt Tippy - Examination In Social Magic

I want to wrap up my recent posts on examination with some final thoughts (for now) on the subject.

A couple months ago I got an email that asked:

Am I right in thinking that in social magic, cleanup is even more important? How often do people say "let me have a look at this thingy again" after an effect? And how do you handle it? Carrying an ungimmicked duplicate of everything with you? —AS

Yes, you’re right that cleanup is more important in social magic. The reason why is because social magic is meant to have the feel and rhythm of a social interaction. That’s it’s defining quality.

Traditional magic is meant to have the feel and rhythm of a performance.

In a performance, you can introduce an object of interest, and not let the audience examine it.
In a performance, you can speak in one long, prepared monologue.
In a performance, you don’t have to address the audience’s questions, concerns, and curiosity. If I stop Derek Delgaudio mid-show and say, “Wait… hold-up…tell me more about that…,” then I’m the idiot, because that is not the nature of a performance.

But social magic is just the opposite. It’s a social interaction, first and foremost, that you move along the path of the trick you’re performing.

When you ignore your spectator’s interests or concerns, or you start speaking some clearly memorized patter, it no longer feels like a normal interaction, because that’s not how normal people behave in social situations. It may still be something, but it’s not social magic.

In my experience, people love seeing magic in casual situations. What they don’t love, and what feels awkward and alienating, is a “formal presentation” done at a cafe or in the break-room at work. So even if they realize you’re going into a trick, as long as it feels natural and casual, they will go along with it in that same spirit. What you don’t want to do is anything that breaks that spell in the moment. And one of those things that breaks the spell is withholding an object of interest.


When performing social magic, don’t ask yourself, “What would Darwin Ortiz do?” Ask yourself, “What would Aunt Tippy do?”

Aunt Tippy just visited the Grand Canyon and you two are going to meet up for coffee and she’s going to tell you all about it. You and her are about to have a normal social interaction. Sure, Aunt Tippy will probably handle the bulk of the conversation. She may speak uninterrupted for minutes at a time. And when she tells the story of the snake that bit Uncle Bob’s scrotum, you may get the sense that it’s a story she’s been telling a lot of people since her return. Regardless of that, you can still have a genuine give and take with her.


If Tippy starts reciting a clearly memorized script about her trip to the Grand Canyon, or…
If you ask Tippy a question and she ignores it or only briefly addresses it, clearly intent on getting back to her pre-determined outline of how this conversation should go, or…
If Tippy has a bunch of obviously pre-written set-up/punchline jokes that she is inserting into the conversation…

You will start feeling like maybe Tippy was abducted by aliens on her Grand Canyon trip and you are now just dealing with some lizard in a Tippy-skin suit.

And getting back to the examination issue, if Tippy pulls out this “cool shot glass” she got at a gift shop and displays it at a distance and—when you reach for it—she quickly put it back in her purse, you will find that very strange. You’ll find it strange even though you have no reason to suspect anything weird about the shot glass.

So how do you think non-examination in a social situation comes across when the person you’re with does have a reason to question the object?


Let’s say you transform a one dollar bill into a twenty dollar bill. There are four reasons someone would not ask to examine the bill in a social situation:

  1. They don’t give a shit about what you just showed them.

  2. They weren’t fooled by the trick. They know they don’t need to examine the $20 because they know the original $1 is still hidden in your hand.

  3. They just assume it’s a trick bill and they like you and they don’t want to embarrass you or spoil the moment by asking to look at it.

  4. They are so convinced that you have real magic powers that they don’t need to look at the $20. Obviously it’s just a normal $20. Why would you—a genuine WIZARD—turn the bill into anything other than a real $20?

Here is how deluded most magicians are: If someone doesn’t want to examine their magically altered object … they assume the reason is number four! Seriously! This is why you get the admonition, “If the spectator wants to examine your props, then you’ve done something wrong.” This is completely lazy, wishful thinking.


Here is the rule I operate under:

If I am drawing people’s attention to an object, then I must act in a way that is consistent with that object being worthy of their interest. Therefore it must be able to be examined.

A desire to examine an object is an expression of the interest you’re trying to generate.

You can’t ask people to be somewhat interested in something you’re choosing to show them. That comes off as non-human. “Pay attention to this interesting thing! … Ok, now stop paying attention when it’s at its most interesting.”


This doesn’t mean everything has to be examinable at all times, but objects of interest should be examinable at moments of peek interest.

When I read your mind, I’m not encouraging you to take interest in the pencil and the pad of paper. If you’re demanding to examine them, then there is quite possibly an issue with my performance.

But if I’m changing one bill to another, the bill is the thing I’m asking you to express interest in. Not allowing you to look at it at the end would be bonkers.


To answer the questions from the email above:

How often do people say "let me have a look at this thingy again" after an effect?

They don’t have to say it because I always toss the item out for them to look at. How often do they take me up on my implied offer to look at it? Almost 100% of the time. In fact, if they don’t, that’s when I get concerned. The few times someone hasn’t taken at least a cursory look at some magically altered object, I’ve found—when breaking down the trick with them a little—that they already had a pretty good understanding of how the trick worked, which is what led to the disinterest in the examinable item.

And how do you handle it? Carrying an ungimmicked duplicate of everything with you?

Well, I don’t ever carry around more than one gimmicked object in the first place, so I don’t need a bunch of ungimmicked ones. But yes, if I have a gimmick that demands to be examined, I will choreograph things so I can switch it for something examinable.


Here is, I think, the only intellectually honest counterpoint to the examination argument.

Magician: I don’t let people look at my props.

Me: But then they’ll just assume there’s something fishy about them.

Magician: I know. I just don’t care.

I think that’s a fair and rational position to take. It’s at least as fair and rational as saying, “I don’t care if they know I’m using sleight-of-hand,” which is an attitude a lot of magicians have. But ultimately I think it’s an attitude that cheats the audience in a way. This is a broader concept I’ll be discussing in a post in the near future called: No Easy Answers.