In The Beginning: The Pre-Sliced Banana Trick

I collect beginner's cookbooks. Ideally from the mid-20th century. And ideally reproductions because I'm not a huge fan of 60-year old mayonnaise stains.

Here's a sampling of my collection.

I don't cook too much from these books. I just read them like literature. I prefer mid-century cookbooks because the art is generally more interesting, the language has more character, and you get stuff you just don't get in modern cookbooks. Like racist cereal.

And I particularly like beginner's cookbooks -- even though I am at the very least an intermediate cook -- because I like reintroducing myself to my hobbies every few years. It's good to be reminded of stuff, or to look at stuff you're already familiar with from someone else's perspective. 

I like to do this with magic as well.

If your goal is to come up with more interesting or engaging presentations for your magic, go get Magic for Dummies, Mark Wilson's Complete Course in Magic, or Joshua Jay's Magic: The Complete Course. (Hmmm.... I just noticed that. Super original name there, Joshua. Couldn't be bothered to crack a thesaurus? Magic: The Entire Curriculum, not good enough?) Now work your way through the book and try to put the effects in a more interesting context. It won't be easy. With some tricks (beginner's or not) the magic just isn't strong enough to support a particularly compelling performance. But if you're someone who values presentations, then it should be somewhat fun, even if the end result isn't really something you'd ever do.

I've gone through a couple of books this way. I don't have them with me where I am at the moment, but I remember a few ideas well enough that I will write them up in the future.

Today I want to talk about the pre-sliced banana trick. I've always liked this trick since I was a kid. I like the history behind it. Originally the books would recommend using a needle and thread to go around 5 or 6 points on the circumference of a banana and then pulling the thread through the banana to create one slice. And then you had to repeat it again for each slice you wanted to do.

Then one night, some dude (and I would love to meet this guy), was probably sitting near a lamp with his glasses on the end of his nose, trying to line up his next needle insertion, when it dawned on him, "What the fuck am I doing here sewing a banana?" And he realized he could just poke the needle in and wiggle it back and forth to create a slice. 

Generally, I would probably do this as a non-presentation. I would take Joshua Jay's idea (or at least the one he presents in his book) of acting like you're taking the "soul" out of the banana and then slicing it with an invisible knife, then acting as if you're putting the soul back into the banana. Then I'd peel it and put it on my cereal. (As part of some racist portrait.) I wouldn't comment on it. I'd just make sure someone was paying attention to me. I wouldn't respond to anything they say until the banana was on the cereal. I'd act like I was in a fugue state. Then I'd snap out of it. Then I'd deny everything they said happened and claim I got a knife, peeled the banana and cut it. When they give their impression of what happened I'd be like, "Look, Occam's Razor, what's more likely: that you didn't see what happened clearly or that I went into a trance and... what exactly?... cut a banana when it was inside its peel with an invisible knife?"

This is actually an example of an extension of my Distracted Artist Presentation style, that I simply think of as the Denial Presentation. There is nothing more fun than getting someone to argue that something impossible happened. Eventually you just act like you're conceding to what they said, and say in a real jerky way, "Ok. Sure. Whatever you say. I cut a banana while it was still in the peel. You got me pegged. Can we move on now?" It's a complete reversal of the standard magician/spectator interaction.

Here's another way to present this trick. I did it this way this summer while staying at a my friend's beach-house. Well, my friend's parent's beach-house. 

Here's what you do. Buy a bunch of bananas and prep all of them. But before you do that, stamp the name of any candy that comes in fruit flavors and in multiple pieces to a pack, on the side of the banana. I stamped "Mentos" on mine. I had planned to stamp Starburst, but it wouldn't fit. 

This is not just a presentational ploy, but it also helps the method. You see, you do the prep where the letters are. This hides the set-up completely. In the old way the needle dots would become brown after a short while and could sometimes look a little odd on an otherwise perfectly yellow banana. With this prep, everything is completely camouflaged. 

Now you put them in a fruit bowl.

Ideally someone will take a banana and notice this weirdness for themselves. You can feed the fire by being like, "Oh right, I think I heard that Mentos is getting into the fresh fruit game because the price of sugar is getting so goddamned high. Thanks a lot, Barack Hussain Obama!" If you're performing for someone particularly conservative, that line will work really well. You can talk further about something you read about how they're trying to maintain their "brand" by having the banana in individual pieces. "I think they cross-breed them with oranges or something to get them to be pre-sliced."

They will open at least a couple more bananas because they want to show everyone in the house. Try to stop them from opening all of them. 

The next morning they will come down the stairs. At some point they will notice the bananas in the fruit bowl. 

"What happened to the Mentos bananas?" they ask.

"The...Mentos...Bananas?" you say slowly, as if you're trying to interpret this phrase. "What do you mean? Did someone have banana Mentos or something?"

"The bananas we had yesterday. The Mentos ones."

"Yeah I had a banana yesterday, but what do you mean, 'The Mentos ones'?"

Let him explain to you what he's talking about. Just act super confused. "No, I wasn't here for that," you say. When he insists you were there the whole time you say, "Uhm, I think I'd remember that. Honestly, this sounds more like a dream or something. Could you have dreamed it?"

He'll take a look at the bananas that are in the fruit bowl and maybe peel one. It's normal. (You switched them out overnight.) You keep denying, and keep saying it was probably a dream he had. He'll swear it wasn't. Eventually he may be frustrated enough to root through the garbage looking for yesterday's peels. He finds them. They're normal banana peels. (You switched those out last night too.)

When I did this a couple months ago, it worked almost too well. I knew my friends would all be onto me if I tried it with them. Even if they didn't know me for trying shit like this, people my age will just immediately google anything they don't know about. Instead we targeted my friend's sweet parents who are in their mid-60s and were staying at the house too. So it was six against two. And on Saturday there were six of us all talking about how we'd read about these new Mentos bananas and how convenient they were and all that. Then on Sunday there were six of us all saying, "No. That never happened." And trying to convince them that they both shared the same weird dream. "That's actually kind of sweet," one of my friends told them. "You two must be really close to share a dream like that." Every condescending attempt to comfort them about the situation just riled them up even more.

"Don't be embarrassed," I said. "I once had a dream that everyone I loved died, and when I woke up after that I remember being said for a couple moments. So this is kind of the same thing."

"It wasn't a dream!" they both snapped.


Before we left I had my friend, whose parents we were messing with, open two windows on their web browser with the following google searches in them, as if she had just forgotten to close the tabs before we left. 

First window:

Second window:

Yes, it's a little mean. But if I thought they were really upset or disturbed in any way, I would have come clean immediately. I've always been good around friends' parents. And even now that most of my friends are mid-20s to late-40s, I still try and make a good impression on their parents. You might say this trick was disrespectful, but it was all in good fun. They're just in their 60s for god's sake. I enjoy spending time with people older than myself. And from doing so I've learned that the least respectful thing you can do is to treat people with a few years on you like they're faberge eggs. So I've always fucked around with my friends' parents the same way I do with my friends, and they generally love me for it.