For Connecting

If you're an amateur magician who performs in casual situations, then this post is one of those "price of the subscription" ideas. What? There is no subscription price? I'm writing this for free? Well... that just means it's really easy for this to clear the bar of being worth the "price of the subscription." In fact, in that case, all my ideas are worth that price no matter how dumb they are. Like... let me think of something truly dumb... Okay, go to this etsy store and get the guy to engrave a playing card into one side of one of his spanking paddles. Then, when you're with your sex slave, show the paddle to him/her and show that it's normal on both sides (via the paddle move). Then smack their fat-ass with it leaving an impression of a card. Then later force that card on them and reveal it on their own bare ass. As they say, magic that happens on the spectator's own ass is the strongest magic you can perform.

In all seriousness, what comes next is one of the more powerful concepts I've come up with in regards to magic (although I would not be surprised at all if it has been explored by other people as well). The ideas is this: To increase the power of a prediction effect, remove the prediction from the effect. Or, more broadly: To increase the power of your magic, remove yourself from the magic.

A few years ago, one of the other Andys who helps out on this site created an effect where he could predict the outcome of a game of Connect Four. (The link is just in case Connect Four isn't the universal game I assume it to be.)

Now, because I like thinking about magic in a certain way and I love testing different approaches, I asked him to try it out in the following ways:

Approach No. 1 - Say to the spectator before the effect, "I want to play a quick game of Connect Four with you. In this envelope I've made a prediction, it's a drawing of how this game will end. You can play however you want, the only thing I ask is that you try to win the game, don't just let me beat you." And after the game you reveal the prediction

Approach No. 2 - Just play the game of Connect Four with no preamble. Then, when it's over say, "Before the game I made a prediction. It's a drawing of how the game would end." Then you direct the person to open the envelope and reveal your prediction.

Which do you think would work better? Well, he didn't do 100s of trials, just a few each way and he felt like there wasn't much difference in reaction between the two. But ultimately he decided approach number 1 was better. He felt the tension that built during the game made the whole thing more exciting. That makes sense, I think.

Then, as we were sitting around, another friend said, "What if you didn't predict the result of the game at all? What if the game ended and then you go to put it away and you see the game played out identically to the cover of the Connect Four box."

This should have been my idea, because it's similar to some other things I've worked on, but it wasn't. But all of us who were present immediately thought it was the best way to go and we encouraged Andy to try it out soon and report back to us. What do you think the response was? Well, it was significantly stronger than when the trick was a prediction. It wasn't just a strong moment of magic. Instead it was a strong moment of magic that continued to reverberate as the night went on. People didn't want to drop the checkers out of the game, they wanted to freeze the moment in time. They would take pictures of it. They'd post photos on facebook and instagram with them holding the box up next to the actual game, their mouth wide open to express their stupefaction. And hours after the game, they would stop whatever they were doing and shake their head and be like, "I still can't believe that happened."

Taking yourself out of the magic is something I'm a big proponent of. In fact, that may be the heart of my style. (Either not taking credit OR claiming to have done something so unbelievable that it's clear you aren't intending to get actual credit for it.) This is a subject that is part of a lot of the projects I'm currently working on. There are a number of effects in the forthcoming Jerx Book that are about removing the predictions and the magician's fingerprints from the effect; part of The Amateur At The Kitchen Table focuses on eliminating the feeling of a performance by not taking the role of a performer; and in one of the future posts in Project: Slay Them, I'll be writing about how getting back into showing people magic is much easier when you're not demonstrating some supposed "power" but just creating moments where something amazing happens (without you taking credit for it).

I started down this path when I realized that many of my favorite effects to perform were prediction effects. And even if you're using different objects, the effects can feel the same to the spectator, i.e. they make a lot of free or random choices or actions and in the end you've predicted the outcome of those choices and actions. Getting rid of the predictions in prediction effects will make them feel like something else entirely. They can be examples of incredible coincidences, fate, or luck. They can be echoes of something that has come before. They can indicate the guiding force of some higher power or some entity on another spiritual plane. There are dozens of ways to spin a typical prediction to remove yourself from the equation.

You might be thinking: But I want the credit. I don't want to remove myself and my "power" from the equation. I want them to think it was me who did something incredible. Really? Do you? I'm not talking to the professional performer, they have different concerns than an amateur (although I think there is merit in this style of presentation for professionals as well). If your goal is to entertain or amuse or enchant someone then you have to think how you want to approach a performance. If someone watches you do something for 5 minutes do you want them to leave having an experience that made you look incredible or having an experience that made their world seem more incredible? Which do you think will stick with them more?

You might think this is all a waste of time to think about because most people will know it's a trick regardless of your presentation. And yes, this is true. But that is not a strike against this style of presentation. In fact, it is its greatest strength. Here's why: No matter how you present an effect, you will have believers and non-believers in what you say. The vast majority are probably non-believers. And when you make a prediction or say you have some amazing power, then the non-believers will be taking credit away from you. "You didn't really predict this poker hand." "You didn't really read my mind." But if you don't claim responsibility, then the non-believers will be giving you credit. And the more you deny it, the more credit they will give you. "He says he had nothing to do with this... but he must have." And even if, in these two scenarios, the non-believers are arriving at the same destination, the direction they come from makes all the difference. [If I tell you, "You won a billion dollars in the powerball lottery," and then come back and say, "My mistake. You won $40," you're devastated. But if I say, "You lost the lottery drawing." And then come back and say, "My bad, you actually won $40." Then you're like, "Cool! Let's order a pizza."] So even if your goal is to get credit, I think you'll get more by not taking it.

Beyond that, I've found people are just more likely to play along with things when you don't claim to be the prime-mover behind the effect. And why wouldn't they? What's in it for them to deny this amazing experience that just happened? On the other hand, when you say, "I'm reading your mind," or, "I can use my mental powers to predict what cards you'll select," it makes complete sense that very few people are on board. And then magic message boards are filled with people saying, "Why do they see magic as a puzzle? Why don't they believe in my mental abilities? Why do they heckle me? Why do they try and expose the trick?" Hmm... yes... what a shock that people don't want to play along with your narcissistic fantasies about powers you don't possess. 

For Christmas I got my friend, Andy, this yellow polo shirt from Original Penguin.

He was kind of confused until he opened the second present from me with this updated Connect Four packaging.

Now, right when he's about to win, he gives a big fist pump and as he goes to drop his last checker in he pauses and says, "Oh my god," and stares directly at the game box and waits for his opponent to put it all together. The game matches, the shirt matches, the fist pump matches and eventually his opponent will slap her palm against her face like the girl on the box as well. If you don't think that this is more fun, entertaining and, yes, magical than saying, "Before the show I made a prediction..." then we're occupying different worlds. I hope you at least liked my ass-paddling card-revelation.