Practical Magic Week Part 1: The Most Impressive Least Impressive Prediction

One of the best things you can do to connect to people with magic is to talk to them about magic. We tend to do just the opposite. We think we need to humanize the magic or make it more relatable, so we come up with some hokey presentation, "Cards have personalities too! This card changed from red to blue because it's sad." Your best case scenario when delivering patter like that is that your audience ignores it. If they pay attention they're going to feel like you're condescending to them or that you're some weirdo who can't relate to other humans on a real level. In fact, most of this type of patter would be great if you were trying to come off as an anti-social creep. If you're doing a formal close-up show and you want to be some odd Norman Bates type of loser whose deck of cards is your best friend, and the Queen of hearts is your "girlfriend" and there is a ratty, worn-out hole in the bottom of it that you've clearly been sticking your dick through, I think that would be perfectly fine. But if you want to be seen as someone who's not fucking a playing card, then maybe don't go with that type of presentation. Stop humanizing the props, and start humanizing yourself.

Magic is, by its nature, a kind of alienating thing. If you want people to connect with you through magic, then you need to break down those barriers a little bit. More on that tomorrow.

Simon Aronson's Shuffle-Bored is very close to a perfect trick. I assume most of you are familiar with it, but if you're not the effect is that one or two spectators completely shuffle a deck of cards, mixing them face up and face-down, and in the end you can show that you predicted the state the cards would end up in (the number face-up and face-down, the distribution of reds and blacks and the suits). The mixing process feels very legit because in one sense they really are mixing the cards, but certain aspects of the deck aren't being affected. Go learn it, it's a great trick. 

I prefer John Bannon's presentation of the trick where it's not a series of predictions but rather you act as if you're sensing the condition of the deck in real time. Check out "Wait Until Dark" in his book Dear Mr. Fantasy.

What I've added is a different presentation getting into the effect which I think brings up an interesting question to the spectators and allows for the ending of the effect to be a strange, self-referential, recursive moment. 

Here's a typical way it plays out for me.

I talk with my friend about predictions and the different types of predictions there are and how these are all different skills to learn. "Predicting what someone will think or do is different than predicting something random like the spin of a roulette wheel and both those are different than predicting what a headline will be three days from now." I ask her which of these things she thinks would be most difficult to predict, then we talk about that for a little bit and whether I agree or disagree with her. (I usually agree regardless of what she says.) 

Then I ask this question, "What do you think would be the least impressive thing I could predict?"

"Hmmm... I don't know... How about...that there will be violence in the Middle East this year."

"Yes," I say, "that would be pretty unimpressive. But there's still a chance I could be wrong about it. There could be a big peace movement that spontaneously arises tomorrow and sweeps through that area. It's possible. So what would be less impressive than that?"

"Okay... If you predicted the sun will rise tomorrow."

"So you wouldn't be impressed if I predicted the sun will rise tomorrow? That's valid. But still... I think there's some way it might not happen. Like, couldn't we get knocked out of the sun's orbit by some catastrophic something or other? Yes, it wouldn't be very impressive, but it's still something of a prediction because it's not under my control. Do you want to know what I think would be the least impressive thing to predict? "


"I think the least impressive thing would be to predict something I'm going to say. That's something that's completely in my power. Like it would be one thing to predict that you're going to say, 'foot-long hotdog,' and then have it come true. But if I predict that I'm going to say 'foot-long hotdog' and I do, that has to be the least impressive prediction ever." She agrees. "I was thinking about this the other day, just before we talked about meeting up tonight. And I was thinking that I wanted to try and impress you with the least impressive prediction ever. So I'm going to try and impress you by predicting something I'm going to say. Can I try it?"

I take out a piece of paper or business card and write something on it and set it aside.

She shuffles up the deck of cards, first normally, then face-up into face down. She holds the deck between her hands and I do a Mr. Miyagi-style hand rub and place my hands near hers as if I'm doing this to sense something about the deck. 

"There are 20 face-down cards in the deck," I say.

I turn my head away as she counts them out and finds this to be true. She holds the face down cards between her palms, and I Mr. Miyagi it again. "There are 12 red cards and 8 black cards." I turn away from her while she counts them out and find this to be true. "Hold those 8 black cards in your hand," I say. "I'm going to sense how many are clubs and how many are spades." I hold out my hands in the manner I did before. This time it takes a little longer. I furrow my brow a little like I'm confused. Then it dawns on me, "Oh... actually I think they're all the same suit. I think they're all... clubs. Take a look." She spreads through the cards to find seven of them are clubs, but the eighth card is the 2 of spades.

"I was right. They're all clubs," I say.

She points to the 2 of spades.

"Oh shit... except the 2 of spades."

I wait a moment. Then I point to my prediction from earlier. She turns it over.