Another Thought Experiment

Two performers.

Performer #1 - Shows the audience a quarter. He places it on the center of a circular table. It is heads-side up and the face is pointing directly to the left. He covers the coin with a small brass cup and waits 30 seconds, then he lifts the cup and shows that the quarter has rotated slightly.

"Thank you," he says.

Performer #2 - Shows the audience a quarter. He places it on the center of a circular table. It is heads-side up and the face is pointing directly to the left. He covers the coin with a small brass cup and waits 30 seconds, then he lifts the cup and shows that the quarter has rotated slightly.

Then he invites the audience up on stage to show them how it's done.

The table, you see, is not just a table. It's a shell of a table built on top of another table. And the top shell that the cup rests on has a hole in it that allows you to see the coin that's on the bottom table (this is all disguised by the wood grain). 

There is also an elaborate series of mirrors that makes it seem like you're seeing under the table when you're really not.

When the magician sets the brass cup over the coin, the bottom table under the shell table, slides down on a pole, behind the series of mirrors, into a basement below the stage. But not just a regular basement. This one is easily 100 feet below the stage and it sparkles with gold and jeweled decorations. As the audience gathers around the hole to look in, they see a gorgeous blond woman in a flowing baby-blue gown giggling and running in circles around where the table will ultimately come to rest once it has been fully retracted down into the basement. Behind the laughing woman is a short, elfin, man with olive skin on the back of a small horse chasing the woman in circles around the table.

The magician says, "On the horse is Quinn. He is in love with the princess. And she is in love with him if she would ever admit it. Instead she runs in circles all day so he will chase her. He can only keep up with her on the back of that pony." You look down the hole and you can see all of this play out, 100 feet blow your eyes as the princess runs around the table with Quinn on a pony following her. 

The magician hands out some small brass telescopes and tells you to look at the coin on the table at the bottom of the hole. Everyone peers in and you finally locate the coin and you notice that after a few moments it turns slightly, then a few moments later it turns again, and again. "How is that happening?" you ask. The magician tells you to focus your telescope on the pony's tail. "The pony's tail is braided with gold thread," he tells you. "One piece of that thread is longer than all the others. In fact the length of that thread is the exact length of the radius of the circle from where the coin lays in the center of that table to the arc the horse is running along. You might be able to find that thread if you look close enough. At the very end of that thread you will see a spider hanging on for dear life, his back legs kicking in the breeze." You are able to look down the hole and see all of this through your telescope.

"The way the trick works," the magician says, "is that the table is lowered down that hole to the bottom of the basement floor, all the way down there. As the princess runs around the table, Quinn chases her on the pony. The pony's tail is at the exact same height as the top of the table. As the pony runs in circles its tail swings back and forth, slinging the gold thread from side to side. When the thread is slung inside the circle, towards the table, the little spider who is hanging on to the thread kicks its legs behind him, and those legs knock the coin into a new orientation. Then we raise the table back up under the shell table, I lift the cup, and you see that the coin has shifted slightly."

"Thank you," he says.

Who is the better magician?

I think it's number 1, right? I mean, because he didn't expose the trick.

But perhaps you think number 2 is the better magician. I think maybe I might agree with you. Number 2 obviously brought more happiness and awe to his audience and gave them a better experience by exposing the trick. Now you might say that's an unfair example because I chose a deliberately mundane trick with a fantastical method. And yes, that's true, but it was just to establish that it is possible to give the audience a better experience through exposing the mystery.

I said the other day that the way Penn and Teller used to sometimes be denounced as "exposers" is embarrassing to magic. It's embarrassing because there is a fairly significant population of magicians who do not understand the difference between "exposure" and the artistic revelation of magic methods for an esthetic purpose. And that's because, for those people, all that matters is the secret -- the entertainment or experience of the audience is a non issue. So for them, some dipshit giving out secrets on youtube because he has nothing worthwhile to post is the same as Penn and Teller doing the cups and balls with clear cups. 

I'm bringing this up now to set the groundwork for future posts. I think "exposure" can be used to entertain an audience, enrich their understanding for and appreciation of magic, and to create stronger effects. Exposure is a tool in your toolbox. And if you use it correctly you can captivate people with this type of knowledge and you can use it to devastate them with an even more clever method on top of the one you expose. Now please kick me out of whatever corny club it is that pees their pants whenever Mac King teaches you how to pull your thumb off before the commercial break on World's Greatest Magic.