In Search of Lost Time

In Search of Lost Time is the presentation I've been working on for the Invisible Deck.

First and foremost I want to thank Cristian Scaramella for writing in with his similar presentation for a different effect. When I read it, I knew it was a great idea, but I also knew it wouldn't suit me for a couple different reasons. So I changed a couple elements and it evolved further and further into something that is quite similar to his original idea, but quite different as well. I think you will like it, and I think Cristian will like to see how it has evolved. A brief description of his original idea will be at the end of this post.

There are three variations on the effect that follow. Don't be turned off by the first version. It requires a stooge. I'm including it here because it was my first idea as far as this plot goes and I want you to be able to track the progression through the second and third version. I'm also including it because it is a fun version to perform if you have the right person with you to pull it off. 

Version One - Swann's Way


You're sitting at the table with two friends. We'll call one Mary and the other one Bob. 

You're on the subject of magic, or perception, or hypnosis, or the mind, or whatever. And you offer to show them something. 

"A lot of what we think of as 'magic tricks' are just demonstrations of hypnosis but reframed to seem like a trick. Watch... Bob, I'm going to show you a trick and Mary you'll see how it's all done."

You place your hand on Bob's forehead.

"Bob, I want you to close your eyes. And as I count back from three you're going to fall into a deep state of sleep: three, two, one. Okay, Bob, just keep breathing normally and remain in this deep state of sleep.  In your mind I want you to imagine descending a staircase. You go down step by step by step by step. You keep going down, deeper and deeper. You are now in a deep recess of your mind... you can think of it as a 'random' part of your brain. At the bottom of the staircase there is a card on the ground. You pick up the card and it is the four of hearts. Do you understand? The four of hearts. Now, if anyone ever says to you, 'I want you to name any card. The first one that comes to your mind at random.' You are going to say the four of hearts."

During this monologue you remove a deck of cards from its case, take the four of hearts from the face, turn it upside-down, and slide it into the middle of the deck, making it clear to Mary what is going on.

"In a moment I'm going to wake you from your sleep. You will not remember anything I just said to you. You will awake feeling rested and as if you had just shut your eyes a moment ago. You will remember none of the directions I have just given you on a conscious level. Only as I count up from three will you start to remember the things I say. One. Two. Three. Open your eyes. You are now fully awake."

"How do you feel?" you ask.

"Uhm... fine," Bob says.

"Was the process comfortable for you?" you ask.

"You mean the two seconds I had my eyes closed? Yeah, it was fine," Bob says, slightly confused.

"Okay, great. Now Bob, I have a deck of cards here. I'd like you to name any card in the deck. Just any random card you can think of. Just name the first one that pops into your mind."

"Uh... I don't know... the four of hearts."

You give Mary a knowing look. 

"Bob, before we met up today I put one card reversed in this deck. Would you be amazed if it was the four of hearts?"

He says he would be. You spread through the deck to reveal the four of hearts.

"Holy shit!" Bob says. "There is no way. That was a completely random choice. That's crazy."

You look at Mary. "You see?" She gleefully reacts to Bob's amazement. 

"That's just not possible," Bob says to himself as you put the deck back in the case.

Okay, let's pause this description. Bob, as I mentioned, is a stooge, his reactions are all phony. But do you see where we are here? It's a beautiful position because now you say, "Mary, let's try it with you so we can show Bob what happened. We won't use the four of hearts. We'll use something different."

You place your hand on Mary's forehead.

"Mary, I want you to close your eyes. And as I count back from three you're going to fall into a deep state of sleep: three, two, one."

You take a one second pause and immediately you say, "Two. Three. Open your eyes. You are now fully awake.

This will be a very strange moment for Mary. Did you really just do the same thing you did with Bob, or are you screwing around in some way? Now you're going to lay the hammer down and really screw with her mind.

"Now Mary, I have a deck of cards here. I'd like you to name any card in the deck. Just any random card you can think of. Just name the first one that pops into your mind."

She names a card and you show her that yes, that was the card you had reversed in the deck and hypnotically planted in her mind.

What I love about this:

  • I love that you tell them you're going to show them a "demonstration of hypnosis but reframed to seem like a trick." When really you're showing them a trick reframed to seem like hypnosis.
  • I love an explanation that is crazier than the trick itself.
  • I love the feeling it gives the spectator of actually having lost a minute or so of time, in a way more concrete than any real hypnosis ever could.
  • I love how much fun it is for the stooge. Most of the time a stooge is used to make you look better. But here a stooge is used to establish a false reality in which you expose a trick. And the people who have played that role have really enjoyed messing with the spectator in that way.

Five things:

  1. Here's how to set this up. Take your invisible deck in your hand, oriented so the first card you'll use with your stooge is face down in the deck (the four of hearts, in this case). Spread through the deck, remove that card, and place it face up on top of the deck. So it is opposite of its normal orientation in the deck and not with its rough/smooth partner card. Put the deck in the case. When you run through the effect with the stooge you will remove the deck from the case, take the top card (4H) and apparently put it face down in a face-up deck. In reality you're putting it back in its place in the invisible deck. This is all just an act so the spectator can have some sense of what happened when her eyes are closed later on.
  2. It's better if there's not a clock in direct line of sight for the spectator. You want her to not have any way of knowing how much time has truly passed.
  3. Don't do anything close to a real hypnotic induction. You want it to feel like there's no way you could have really hypnotized your spectator just by counting down from three.
  4. You have to make it clear you're going to be using an entirely different card. You don't want her to say the four of hearts too just because she thinks that's what was expected of her.
  5. If you want to add an extra little element, you can have your stooge get a sandwich or a big glass of beer or something. Then, in the two seconds your spectator has her eyes closed, your stooge quickly and quietly discards 90% of this sandwich or chugs most of his beer. So when she opens her eyes again, there is a subtle suggestion that more time has passed. At the very least have him change his position in his chair.

Version Two: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower

I love that presentation. But I wanted to be able to do it without a stooge. Not just without a stooge, but one on one with a person.

Well, you don't really need a stooge. All you need to do is establish in your spectator's mind what the baseline effect is. 

So this is how it can play out one-on-one, no stooge.

You and your spectator are talking. Perhaps you've just met. She's asking you what you do for a living or what your interests are. You throw out a bunch of jargon about psychology, influence, hypnotic suggestion—a bunch of words that might capture her attention. You tell her you study that sort of thing (as either part of your profession or a hobby).

"Would you like to see the type of stuff I do?" you ask.

She quickly says yes. Why wouldn't she? This sounds pretty interesting.

You take out your phone and show her a video. It's you and another person and you essentially have the same interaction that you do with the stooge in version 1. 

When it's over your new friend will think about what she just watched. "Hmm... that's interesting," she'll say.

"Actually," you say, searching through your bag. "I have a deck of cards here. Would you like to try that same experiment?"

In my limited experience, she will happily agree. You see, when you offered to show her what you do, she was a little excited to see something interesting. Showing her the video, instead of something in the here and now was a bit of a letdown, even if it's a somewhat interesting subject. So when you offer to do it in real life, with her as the subject, it's very intriguing.

Then you just complete the performance as in version one. 

So in this version you just need to have that video on your phone. So, I guess technically it does use a stooge. But you just need him once and you can perform this over and over.

Version Three: The Past Recaptured

This version might be my favorite. It doesn't require a stooge or a pre-recorded video on your phone.

You do need to have your phone (or something that records video), but most people have that on them at all times anyway. Other than that, all you need is an invisible deck.

What I find so delightful about this version is that the spectator plays the role of the stooge and the mark. It's almost an instant stooge trick for one person.

Here's how it works. You ask your friend if they can help you out with something.

"I'm submitting a trick to a magazine. They want to see what it looks like on video first before they know if they'll accept it. Will you be my spectator for the sake of the video?" (You could also say it's an audition video for a tv show or whatever you want.)

You then go on to tell her that you're going to need her to fake her reaction. That you're just going to pretend to hypnotize her instead of using the real hypnotic induction process you've come up with.  "If I go through the real process in the video, they'll just take it from me and not give me the credit, so I'm only going to show them part of it," you say. (Alternatively, if you say it's an audition video you could say it needs to be under 2 mins but the "real" induction technique takes 5 minutes. So you're just going to fake it for the video.)

So you stooge her and tell her what to say and do. Then you record that video.

You scan through it with her when you're done to see if it looks alright, and then you say, "Hey, can I try it with you for real?"

Now you do the second half of the trick as described in version one. She herself has taken part in establishing the false narrative of what the baseline effect is. And then she is fooled by what happens. In a way she takes part in fooling herself. It's a totally great moment.

You can even take this one step further. Imagine you do version three for someone, we'll call her Amanda. So you do version three for Amanda and she's completely amazed by it. Then at some point down the road, you show version two to a mutual friend (we'll call her Nicole) using Amanda's video for the first part of the effect. So Nicole sees a video of how the trick played out with Amanda (but she doesn't know it's a "fake" version). Then she gets fooled by the effect. So now if Nicole and Amanda talk they will both be like, "Oh my god. That was so weird!" And Amanda will be talking about the second go-around, non-video-recorded version. But Nicole will be assuming she's talking about the video she watched, the stooged-version that she has no idea is a stooged version. Which will reinforce with her that there really was a chunk of time lost when you performed it for her because the same thing happened to her friend and she saw the video of that encounter. (Or so she thinks.) And even if Amanda were to clarify things ("Oh, in the video I was acting. But then he did it after for real.") it wouldn't negate anything you did for either of them. 

I'm not sure if that makes sense. 

I want to again thank Cristian Scaramella. The original idea he sent me was to actually hypnotize someone amongst a group of friends, and to hypnotize him to name a card you had in your wallet. And that's how the group of friends would feel the trick is done. At a later date you could do some super quick, phony fake induction for a member of the group. And they would think they had been hypnotized to name a particular card when really you were just prepared to remove any card from your wallet via Kolossal Killer. I changed it up because I don't do hypnotism, I hate Kolossal Killer, and I wanted it to be more practical for my purposes. 

I can't emphasize how much fun this trick is to perform. Each version has its own benefits. It's a mixture of two of my favorite performing styles (what I define in The Jerx, Volume One as The Peek Backstage and The Romantic Adventure). And, like most of my favorite tricks, it's something that happens to and with the spectator, it's not just something that happens in front of the spectator.

As I wrote in a post a year ago...

And the trick will almost certainly be more powerful to her because she is central to the presentation and the effect, rather than just a witness to it. This is the locus of audience-centric magic. Bring them an experience that happens to them, in real time, and would not be the same without them there. "Magic is the only art form that doesn't exist without an audience," magicians are fond of saying. And then they perform for people the same way they would for a tree stump.