This is a premise that I have worked on a number of times and presented in a few different ways. It's based on an effect called Voodoo by Arthur Monroe in Annemann's Practical Mental Effects. I think people who are familiar with that book and this site will not be surprised to find I'm a big fan of that trick. But while the skeleton of the idea remains, this trick has evolved into something different in a macro and micro sense from Voodoo. I always wanted to perform Voodoo but it required some props that I didn't have easy access to. I still hope to perform it someday because I think it's a great effect.
Originally this was going to be in the book, but it got nudged out, mainly because I'd only performed it a few times, and it requires some marketed items the way I currently do it.
This effect could pretty easily be re-worked to be done on stage or in a parlor setting as well.
I'm hanging around with a small group of friends. I've performed a trick or two.
"Do you guys want to know how I do a lot of these tricks?" I ask. "My twin helps me out. He's actually visiting town right now, he's in the other room as we speak. We don't really get along. In fact we refuse to spend time in the same room together, but we both had an interest in magic when we were growing up and that's the one area where we come together in order to help each other out. I'll show you. I'll walk you through how we might perform a trick together and you'll see the machinations happening behind the scenes."
Everyone in the room is a good friend or family member. They know I don't have a twin.
I pull out a stack of business cards and a marker. "I want you to think of something you love, Eric. Something that gives you joy. But don't pick your family or your pet or something we all know. Maybe something you haven't really expressed to anyone —a place you love to visit or an object you cherish. We may not find out what it is, but we might, so make sure it's something you're willing to share. Got it?" He does. With the cards held vertically I write I love in the top half of one of the cards, then I hand the stack to Eric and ask him to fill in what he loves on a line I've drawn on the bottom. "When you're done, place the whole stack writing-side down on the table." As he does this I remove a matchbox and some rubber bands from my pocket and toss them on the table.
When he's finished I turn my head the other direction, slide out the card from the bottom of the stack and fold it in quarters. Once the writing is concealed, I turn back and have the card placed in the matchbox and bound with rubber bands.
"Eric, I want you to take this matchbox, leave the room and go hide it somewhere in the house or even leave the house and hide it somewhere outside. We will all stay here, and they'll all make sure I don't look and try and see where you're going. But you should also take a look around at all times and make sure there's nobody following you. Then come back when you're done."
Eric leaves, we all make small-talk for a couple minutes, then he returns.
"It's hidden somewhere? And nobody followed you, right?"
"Okay," I say, "here's where I'm going to kind of expose what's really happening. You were followed, Eric. You were followed by my twin, Randy. I know you don't believe you were, but that's why I use my twin for this. He's the only one it would work with. Did you notice a bunch of pictures of me around the house? You didn't? Haha, wow, it's crazy how psychologically invisible these things are."
"Here's what happened: as you went to hide the matchbox, my brother followed you. He was carrying a large empty picture frame. Every time you turned around to make sure no one was following you, he just held it up to his face." I mime doing this. "You—knowing I'm in the other room—just assume it's a photo of me. And because there's nothing unusual about a photo of someone, it slips your mind entirely. This is like, top tier CIA mind-control stuff. Also perhaps familiar from Scooby Doo."
"So yeah, he followed you, and saw where you hid the matchbox and now he's going to get it and bring it back here. Normally I wouldn't be telling you all this, he would just be doing it secretly, but I wanted to explain the inner workings. In fact... let me go get him."
I go to leave the room but then pause and turn back to them. I draw attention to my outfit, a hoodie, jeans, and a t-shirt. "I want to make it clear that Randy... well... Randy is an evil twin. And that's really why we don't get along. We're pretty much identical so when we're in the same area I always wear this shirt to identify myself as Andy. I want people to know I'm the good twin."
"Don't worry, you'll be able to tell us apart by our shirts. And the fact that I don't say such awful things. I wish I could stick around to keep him in line, but we're just too incompatible. It's almost like it's physically impossible for us to be in the same room together." I shake my head. "I'll just get him."
I exit until I'm out of view in an adjacent room. Everyone can hear me rustling around, making a bunch of noise and a commotion. 45 seconds later "Randy" walks back into the room. He is rattling the matchbox in his hand, has an obviously fake goatee on, and is dressed identically to me except he's wearing this shirt.
"Whatup, whatup, shitheads? Hey, nice hiding spot dude. A real brainbuster. Here's you: 'Uh, duhr, duhr... is there someone behind me?' That's totally you. That's so you dude. Hey lady, what a set of titties you got! Yummy. Me likey! You find me later and we'll make some magic of our own."
"Okay, normally you'd never even see me. I would just go, open the matchbox, read your word, maybe mess around with it, and then I'd call Andy and tell him where the matchbox was and what the word is. Then he acts like he's having a psychic vision and POW he can read your mind. So there's your peek behind the curtain."
"Let's see what we have here." Randy opens the matchbox, takes out the business card that's inside, unfolds it, reads it, and says, "Oh, my god. What a loser." He takes a red sharpie out of his pocket and writes something on the card, folds it back up and puts it in the box. Then he grabs a sheet of paper, writes something on it, turns it over and leaves it on the table."
"In the normal trick I would put this box back where I found it. So I'll go do that. Plus it will let that little pussy Andy feel free to come back into the room that he's unwilling to share with his big brother! Two minutes older. I just bust his balls about it. It's fun. Alright, you turds. Catch you on the flip-flop. I'm out."
Randy exits the room and immediately—seconds later—I return. No goatee, and the shirt under my hoodie has changed back to the GOOD shirt.
"Sorry about that," I say. "I heard everything he said from the other room. I apologize."
"So normally my brother, after grabbing the matchbox from your hiding spot, would then signal me the information. Maybe he'd call me or do sign language from outside a window or something. This time, because we're explaining it, he was just able to write the word you were thinking of down on this sheet of paper. And, if you didn't know I had a twin helping me, it would be impossible for me to know this word, because nobody saw what you wrote and as far as you would know it's hidden somewhere far away from this room. But with the secret assist from my twin I can tell you that what you wrote down is...." I turn the piece of paper over.
"Glabenshortz? Did you write.... Oh, goddammit... he wrote it in our secret twin language from when we were kids. Glabenshortz... what is that, what is that. Oh... did you write down library? Did you say you loved the library."
"Are you shitting me?" Eric says. "How?"
"Uhm, Eric, we've been explaining the whole thing all along. What do you mean, 'how,' you goofball."
"So now what I would do is have you go grab the matchbox from your secret hiding place, so you could see it wasn't disturbed and there would be no way for me to know your word. So go do that. Actually... I don't know where you hid it, so would Randy have had time to return it yet?"
Eric says yes, as if there's really a Randy somewhere returning the matchbox to where he hid it.
"Ok," I say, "go get it and bring it back to us."
Eric brings it back, opens it up, unfolds the card, and finds the message Randy wrote on it a few minutes earlier.
Okay, so there's a lot going on here, but I think much of it is clear to most of you so I don't have to dwell on the method.
You need to plan to do this somewhere where there's an interior doorway in your house. On the side of the doorway that isn't where you're gathered, there should be an area where you can ditch some stuff. Maybe a china cabinet you can throw things on top of or a vase you can toss stuff in or a piece of furniture you can throw something behind. That's really the only requirement.
The Word Reveal and Writing Appearance
Your stack of business cards is doubly gaffed. You're set up to do Out-to-Lunch with it, and the writing area is set up with a Psypher type impression surface.
OTL gets a bad rap, but I use it quite frequently with no issue. The problem is, as magicians, when we see a rubber-banded stack of cards, we immediately know whats up. But the overwhelming majority of people have never been introduced to this concept. If you want to avoid it, there are certainly other ways to do this same effect, but for me this is the most expedient and casual way. A stack of cards with a rubber band around them is not suspicious in any way. This is how many people have index cards or business cards in their junk-drawer at home. I have a no rubber band version that I use (that I'm assuming can't be original to me) that requires you to hold the stack when they write on it, but I like the freedom of being able to toss the stack to a person very casually. Toss them the marker. And have them write a word and set the stack down.
Once they set down the stack, I slide out the card and fold it into quarters with my head turned the complete opposite direction of my hands. (I know which direction to slide the card because the printed surface of the business cards is face up.) Then I set the folded card on the table and pocket the stack.
You can do the math on the rest of this, yes?
This is Calen Morelli's Dresscode. You want to be set up to go from Evil to Good, although you'll be in GOOD at the start.
The time it takes to do the quick change is the time it takes to rip off the goatee, toss it and the duplicate matchbox somewhere to hide them, then do the Dresscode switch which just takes a second or two.
The rest is pretty straightforward, I think.
The first time you go out to "get your evil twin," you should be in no rush. They will understand that you must be changing into your twin getup, and you want to establish that it takes a bit of time to go out, remove your hoodie, remove your t-shirt, put on a different t-shirt, put your hoodie back on and return. You want to establish this because later you will apparently do all that in a matter of seconds. It's going to take you some time anyway, because you're setting up the shirt and putting on the goatee and getting a peek at the word on the impression part of your stack of cards. My point is there's no need to rush it.
During this time make sure it's clear that you never go anywhere other than just out of view on the direct opposite side of the doorway. Feel free to put on a fake dialogue with your twin and flash your limbs every now and again. You want to make it clear that you didn't actually go anywhere which could confuse things later on.
I used to have some convincers that the matchbox the evil twin returns with is the same one as the one that was hidden, but that's the wrong way to go, I think. You actually want them to think it's a duplicate. I think you want to pile the climaxes on at the end, rather than have this one in the middle where you've somehow magically acquired the matchbox. Instead, you beat them senseless with climaxes at the end.
BOOM - He changes outfits in seconds.
BOOM - How did he know the word? I just assumed he was looking at a duplicate matchbox. Maybe he wasn't.
BOOM - But no, it must have been a duplicate. How else would the matchbox end up back in the hiding space.
BOOM - But it must have been the same one because it had the writing he wrote later in the trick on it.
One thing I've tried is, when "Randy" is writing something on the card, I fold the bottom of the card up and back, so that part can't be seen, then I hold the card in my left palm and invite someone to watch what I write on it. And then I write "What a homo" (or words to that effect) and laugh like a big jackass, and put my hand on the shoulder of whoever is watching what I write, really conspiratorially, and continue laughing and pointing at the guy who wrote the word on the card originally. In that way, not only do the words appear on the card in the box at the end, but someone saw exactly what you wrote, apparently. I'm not sure if it's better, worse, or the same. But it's something to consider.
Don't leave out the part where the Evil Twin writes the word in gibberish first. It gets a better reaction that way.
This trick gets really strong reactions, but it's also something of a grower, not a shower. The reactions build over time. This will sound like bullshit, but I think in the midst of the trick, people almost forget that there really isn't another entity helping with the trick. And it's only after the trick that they chew it over and realize the impossibility of it all. It's a trick that seems to extend some distance beyond the bounds of the room you're in and I've found it takes a little bit for people to remember you never actually left their sight. And when they do, that amps up the power of the effect.
But the true beauty of the trick is playing your own evil twin. If you're not going to really get into that, then don't even bother.