And Then There Were None

A lot of the movies I like are pretty dumb. And one of my favorite types of dumb movies are the ones where a group of people, usually strangers, find themselves at a location and then they need to figure out why they're all there and what they have in common. (And usually they're being killed over the course of this.) So it's like, "Oh, I just came to this dinner party of strangers at this fancy mansion because I got an invitation in the mail. Because that's what a rational human would do, right? Just show up to a random dinner party of people they don't know? Well, anyway, now I'm being stabbed to death." This is Ten Little Indians, And Then There Were None, Saw 2, Identity, and about 400 low-budget movies on Netflix at the moment.

I always thought it would be fun to bring that dynamic into a real-life moment, and I recently came up with a way I'm going to try and do so in the future. Perhaps this will inspire you to do something similar.

Imagine you're in some situation where you're in a group with people you don't know well (you could just as easily do this with friends, but I think it's more fun if they're strangers). Maybe you're at a wedding reception but it's not someone you're super close with and you end up at the table of mix n' match leftover people who don't really fit at any other table. Or maybe it's a business conference, and you're at a table with people you haven't met before. Any situation where you're waiting around with a small group of people. 

You want to get four people to give you a dollar. This idea came to me this weekend when I was at a wedding reception and I was teaching this young girl seated next to me how to fold an origami dollar flower and then other people at the table pulled out their own dollars and wanted to learn. So your goal is to create this type of situation. It's not difficult to do at a table full of strangers. They're looking for someone to take the lead and keep them entertained. So maybe you show a simple magic trick with a bill and offer to teach them how to do it. Or you can say, "My brother-in-law works for the treasury and he showed me this way to tell if a one is counterfeit. I didn't even know people counterfeited ones. Do any of you have a dollar?" Or you can say, "I have an interesting logic puzzle with a few dollar bills. Can I get a bill from a few of you?" Or you can offer to show people some of the "secret images" on a dollar bill. (Google it, and prepare to be underwhelmed.)

Whatever the situation, some people are pulling out dollar bills and you remove one from your pocket as well. You take the first bill from someone and look at the back and say, "Hmm... that's strange," as you place it on top of the bill in you hand. You take three other bills as well and with each one you act a little more confused. You spread the bills in your hands, portrait side up. Everyone is waiting for you to show them your little stunt. "This is weird," you say. "Did you all get these bills here? From the bar or something?" You look at the bills then talk to yourself. "No... I think this was part of my change at the Exxon on Route 12. Did any of you recently go to the Exxon on Route 12?" People are looking at you and wondering what the hell is up.

"Look," you say and turn the bills over. "All of our bills have these little markings on one edge. What is that?" You spread out the bills to show random lines on the back of the bills. You hand a couple out and then toss the rest on the table. "That's weird, right?" You look at the bills with everyone. "Is that supposed to be football lacing? Or a train track or something?"

Eventually someone will start putting the bills together like puzzle pieces. If not, you kind of nudge them in that direction. When they're done, they'll have this:

"That can't be good," you say.

Spend the next few minutes trying to break it all down. How did you each end up with a piece of this picture? You're strangers. No one could have known you were going to be sitting together today, could they? Did you all shop at the same place and get change from there? Could someone have been following you around in the days before this event? Or maybe they snuck the bills into your wallet/purse somehow? And what does it all mean?

At some point, people will examine the bills more closely, or you pick them up to look at them again, and you notice a message written in small letters on the portrait side of each bill. 

"Tonight. All but one will die. Choose who lives."

You pick your butter knife up off the table and stare at everyone. "I'm not going to have this decision made for me," you say, pointing your knife menacingly.

The End?

Now look, I know a lot of the effects I write up don't read like "tricks" in the traditional way. But fooling people is not the only way of giving people a magical experience. I love performing tricks and working on tricks, but that is just one aspect of creating magic.

If you google "magical," the second definition is the one that guides my relationship with magic:

mag·i·cal - beautiful or delightful in such a way as to seem removed from everyday life.

Or, from Magical = mysteriously enchanting.

When someone sees a performance of Cups and Balls, or 3-Fly, I don't think they're being delighted in a way which seems "removed from everyday life." They may be fooled and entertained and amazed, but they know they're watching a performance as opposed to taking part in an experience. There is nothing wrong with that, but it's a distinction you may want to make if you're interested in giving people a different type of "magical" moment. 

A personal experience is generally more affecting than a performance, even if the performance is stronger. A woman buck-naked and spread-eagle on a stage, fucking herself with an eggplant is less sexually charged than that same woman sitting next to you and resting her hand on your leg, even though that's less sexually explicit. And it's true with magic too. Something personal will often seem more magical than something more amazing but less personal. 

The purpose of this trick is not to convince people that you were really all singled out by some mysterious madman to be murdered that evening. On some level they will realize the situation is orchestrated by you and it's a little production that they're taking part in. That's 100% okay. It's not about convincing people of the reality of the situation, it's about having them engrossed and intrigued in this brief interlude while you wait for your food to come or whatever. There is a magic trick (borrowed bills all have secret markings on them), but that's not what makes this magical. It's the way the situation unfolds and the implication of a broader connection between strangers that makes it "magical." 

The method is Richard Sanders' Extreme Burn 2: Locked and Loaded. You pull out the gimmick as your bill and take the other bills on top. The switch now becomes an invisible switch and there is absolutely no heat on your bill, the switch, or the handing out of the bills because, as far as they know, nothing has happened yet. The bills you switch for should include at least one new-ish bill, and one old bill. That way you're covered no matter what types of bills you borrow. It's like the Tossed Out Deck principle. Anyone who remembers giving you a new bill will assume the new one is theirs, and anyone who remembers giving you an old bill will assume the old one is theirs. Make sure to draw their attention as you collect their bills. The switch is so invisible that you want them to remember that you simply gathered up the dollars, noticed something weird, and then handed them back out. As I said, there's no heat on the switch, and the markings on the bills are ten times the misdirection you need to ditch the gimmick.

A lot of you have had enough experiences with disengaged spectators that you think this type of thing will never connect with people, but I've done similar things frequently enough that I can tell you it does. I've found the more you can remove yourself as the magician from the experience, the more on board people will be. In this presentation you are not "the magician." You are not looking for acclaim or appreciation. You're just facilitating this magical experience.

People want to play. They just don't want to be forced to play, like in some corporate team-building exercise. This presentation allows people to play along if they want, or sit back and let the situation unfold without their input. Either way, I think they'll see it as a welcome break from the potentially awkward and dull chit-chat that they may have been dreading at a table full of strangers.

Tomorrow is halloween, everybody! Make sure to eat some candy. It's good for the soul.

Also egg and TP some deserving a-hole's house tonight. That too is good for the soul. Where I'm from, October 30th is called Devil's Night. I guess in some places it's called "Mischief Night." That seems like a big fall off in intent. Like around me you were expected to be inspired by the Devil himself in your antics. But those of you who celebrate Mischief Night? Who are you emulating there? Pippi Longstocking or some shit? No, it will always be Devil's Night for me. Although I heard in some places it's called Cabbage Night which is so stupid it almost comes out the other side to being great again. 

At any rate, enjoy the holiday, and I'll see you soon.