The Trajectory of Expectations

Take a look at the demo for Rip and Fold by Rick Lax.

What is the problem with this trick?

If you don't see it immediately, then I bet you spend a lot of time with other magicians. I don't mean that in a bad way. I just mean that it can cause a sort of magic tunnel vision. This tunnel vision causes us to examine routines based largely on their appeal to other magicians, and not how they reverberate with regular people. The whole clamor for "propless" mentalism, for example, is part of a desire to be jacked-off by other mentalists -- it has nothing to do with appealing to real humans. (I hate to break it to you, but a convoluted mental process is a more obvious "prop" than a pencil to laypeople.)

If I can offer something with this blog it's that it's written by someone with a fairly extensive understanding of the workings of magic, and someone who performs magic a lot, but someone who exists almost completely outside of that subculture. I'm like a spy for magicians, living amongst the laymen. So I don't develop that tunnel-vision.

So going back, what is the problem with that Rick Lax trick?

Here's a hypothetical. Imagine I was your boyfriend. Yes. We're gay in this hypothetical. Deal with it, you homophobe. (Unless you're one of the three ladies who read this site, in which case... Enchanté. And feel free to view this hypothetical as a completely hetero flight of fancy. Which you would have had no problem doing had I not used the very gay phrase, "flight of fancy.") So you're my boyfriend (or girlfriend) and your birthday is coming up, and on the day of your birthday I say. "I have something very special for you. I got you... a new car!" And you are flipping out because your previous car was about 6 years old and a little beat-up and you were thinking of getting a new one but weren't sure if you could afford it. Then we go outside and in the driveway is... your old car. But it has a new coat of paint and I had some dents removed and had it professionally cleaned. "It's practically like a new car," I exclaim. You can't help but be let down, at least initially, no matter how appreciative a person you are in general. On the other hand, if I had said that I wasn't really in a position financially to get you a gift this year, and then you stepped outside to find your car had been cleaned, repaired, and repainted, you would be thrilled. And we would spend the night slapping our dicks together, or whatever gay guys do.

The problem with Rick Lax's trick -- or at least the presentation of his trick is -- as one of the people I correspond with regularly put it:

"The specs are hoping the fold and tear change places and they get something sub-par... A signature transposition."

The reason the spectators are hoping for the fold and tear to change places is because Rick implies that's what's going to happen. I'm not sure why he tells them this. I think it's because he was happy to have come up with what he feels is an interesting and clever method, and he became blind to how presenting it this way will come across to the spectator. The tunnel vision I talked about above. 

Another example of this: In the Penguin Live lecture by Lincoln, he does a trick where he vanishes a coin and tells a spectator it will re-appear in his (the spectator's) clenched fist. It doesn't. It reappears on his shoulder. And that's nice and all, but it's definitely less impossible to sneak something onto someone's shoulder than it is to sneak it into the empty hand they just clenched into a fist. So why suggest you're going to do the former? I think it's likely because he didn't consider that it was less impressive. He was just concentrating on the boldness and fun of loading a coin onto someone's shoulder. He was thinking like a magician for magicians, rather than thinking like a magician for real people.*

There is nothing to be gained by implying something impossible is going to happen, and then doing something less impressive. People's reactions will naturally follow the trajectory of their expectations. So if the climax of the trick is less than their expectations then their initial (internal) reaction will be, "Oh, that's not what he said would happen. I wanted to see what he said was going to happen." That doesn't mean they won't come around to being impressed by what you actually did, but you're forcing them to go backwards first. Rick gets a decent reaction from his trick (and you can almost see the thought process mentioned above play out on the one guy's face), but the reaction is significantly less strong than you see in Wayne Houchin's French Kiss, even though they're similar effects. I think that is partly due to the fact that Wayne's is more straightforward, there is no inhale of astonishment. That's not to say Rick's trick is inferior. I've used it and have gotten a great reaction. I just do a variation on it that I think is much stronger. **

Of course there are times when you want to misdirect the audience from what the actual climax of the effect is. I get that. I'm just suggesting that you take advantage of the inverse of this idea, and suggest that what you're about to do is less impressive. Then their momentum, when you come to the climax, is towards amazement, rather than away from it. 

* For Lincoln's trick I would vanish the coin a couple of times and make it reappear at my elbow, like that dumb move I never liked in people's coin flurry routines. Then I would say, "You can also make it vanish and come out of your shoulder." And I would make it vanish (completely) and then reach towards my shoulder -- one then the other. When it's not there I would say, "Oh, I guess I said YOUR shoulder," and I would point to them and they would find the coin on their shoulder from many feet away.
** For Rick's trick, I don't imply the cards are going to switch places. In fact I say that the reason we ripped one and folded the other is to PREVENT me from switching them, because it would be obvious if I did. "That way, the only way for the cards to change..." I say, and take the folded card from the person on my right, and the ripped card from the person on my left, and I push them together into a pile on the table and stir them with my index finger. Then I push the ripped pieces over to the person on my right and the folded card to the person on my left (i.e. I've openly exchanged them.) I then finish my sentence, "... is not for them to swap positions or for the ink on the faces to change. It's for the CONDITION of the cards themselves to exchange. So your card that was folded is now... [The person on my right turns over the ripped pieces to see her previously folded card] and your card that was ripped is now... [The person on my left unfolds her card to find her previously ripped card.]"
You see what this does, yes? Each person starts and ends with their own card (or so they think). There IS no card transposition. It's a STATE transposition. Which I think is a more straightforward and better effect.
Think of it from the spectator's perspective. How would they describe the effect?
Rick's effect is: The folded card that I had signed changed into a folded version of your card that had previously been ripped. And your ripped card that you were holding changed into a ripped version of my card that had previously been folded.
My effect is: My card transformed from folded to ripped. And your card transformed from ripped to folded.