An Example of 3rd Wave Equivoque

My friend was showing me a Russian Roulette style effect where he held his hands over styrofoam cups and there was a nail or a knife or something under one of them. I was encouraging him to do the effect with one upright dildo in a series of brown paper bags that he would violently sit on with his bare bottom. "Just think of how many hits you'll get on youtube when you inevitably fuck the trick up!" I said, in the spirit of genial goodfellowship. Despite my encouragement to consider this Russian Poo-lette, he wasn't having it. [Edit: According to Denis Behr, this exact routine was done in a German magic competition in 2008. Germany, you sick fucks. Prior to this I've had no issue with anything you've done as a country. But this is taking things a little too far.]

He started with 6 or 7 cups but was now down to two. The cups had been mixed by a third party so neither of us knew where the knife was. Well, at least I didn't. He held his right hand over one cup and his left hand over another. I knew this last move was magician's choice. He would ask me to point to a hand and then he would take that as me eliminating that hand or me saying that's the one he should slam onto the cup.

But he didn't do that. Instead he said, "I'm going to slam down one of these hands. And you're going to make the decision as to which hand I do. So which hand is safe?" he asked. I perked up a little because this isn't where I thought he was going. 

"The left one," I said.

"My left hand? Or the one on your left side? I want to be very clear about this," he said. I was thrown again by this. I thought maybe he was going to try and take advantage of the left/right ambiguity.

"Your left hand," I said.

"My left hand is safe?" he said, raising the hand slowly. I again found this odd. The slow, deliberate way he was allowing me to make the choice. 

"You have one chance to change your mind," he said.

"Okay, your right hand is safe," I said, casually, because he seemed too content with me saying the left hand. 

"Okay, I hope you're correct," he said, raising his right hand and slamming it down on the cup. It was empty. He tipped the left-hand cup over to reveal the gleaming knife standing upright. "Thanks for changing your mind."

I was confused at first. I thought maybe he was using rubber knives or something that allowed me a free choice at the end. But he assured me it was equivoque. I didn't immediately get it. I did quite a bit of equivoque work, but it always felt very different -- done at a rapid pace and without clear choices being made. "We're going to do this by process of elimination. Point to a hand. Okay, that's your selection." Or, "We're going to do this by process of elimination. Point to a hand. Okay, that's eliminated." And then move on quickly. I was tripped up by the deliberate way in which he asked the question.

"Show me the other outcome," I said.

He held his left hand over the knife and his right hand over the empty cup.

"I'm going to slam down one of these hands. And you're going to make the decision as to which hand I do. So which hand is safe?" he said for a second time.

"The left hand," I said, as it rested above the upturned knife. 

"You're sure?" he asked, raising that hand slowly. 


"Okay," he said, continuing to raise the hand away from the table and then in the same motion shift it behind his back. "You've decided the left hand should be safe. But this one," he said, motioning to his right hand, "is still in danger. That was your choice. I hope you're correct." And he slammed his hand down on the empty cup. 

For a moment I was still seduced by the cleanliness and freedom of the choice that I almost forgot how we got to that point. And then everything came into focus in regards to what he was doing and that is what set me on a path of working to make all my equivoque this strong.

I received a couple emails asking me to explain what I mean by 3rd Wave Equivoque. It will be explained in full in the upcoming book, but the example above was the first time I saw it in a performance. Or at least the first time I recognized it as something slightly different than standard equivoque. Here's what makes it different:

1. It can be done slowly.

2. The choices seem to have some value. Saying something is "safe" seems to be a statement that carries some meaning. Whereas, "Point to a hand," does not.

3. You can reiterate the choice and give them a chance to change their mind after they know the apparent ramifications of their choice. In this case he could ask me if I was sure that was the hand I wanted to be "safe." In traditional equivoque they can only change their mind before you tell them what their choice means. That's a huge difference.

4. And finally, what makes it so deceptive is that the two choices are not complementary to each other. When you say, "We're going to flip one of these two coins. Hand me one. Okay, we'll eliminate it." It's not that difficult to realize that, "We're going to flip one of these two coins. Hand me one. Okay, that's the one we'll flip," is a complementary phrase that could be used if the person gave you the other coin. This is especially true in a long series of equivoque where the person soon recognizes that the result of their choices isn't necessarily what they thought they would be.

In this case we're relying on the richness of what it means to designate a hand as "safe." 

It means there is no knife under that hand. 

That makes perfect sense.

It means that's not the hand you're going to slam down.

That too makes perfect sense. And neither phrase automatically suggests the other (as happens with complementary phrases.) 

To put it another way, both statements are logically true. "There is no knife under that hand, so that hand is safe." And, "You're not going to slam that hand on a cup, so that hand is safe." Either statement will be accepted 100% because they're 100% logical. "You turned that card face-down, so that's your selection," is not a logical sentence in the sense that the second part of the sentence doesn't necessarily follow from the first part.

I don't know if I'm over-explaining this or not explaining it enough.

I'm not claiming to have invented these types of equivoque questions. Many of the ones I use I have stolen from other, longer, equivoque routines. The problem I had with those routines is that they'll have one really strong phase that is almost always followed by more traditional equivoque options ("hand me," "turn over," "point to") that I think undermine the strength of the style I'm writing about here. In the book I give a couple more examples of this style, including a way to equivoque down to one card from an imaginary full deck with no unclear decisions made along the way. (And I teach this in a manner that I think is going to make you cream your jeans. I'm legitimately excited for you people who have ordered the book. I'm seriously going to ruin you for other magic books.)