The Amateur/Stooge Relationship ft. The Confederate and the Pea

I don't really understand the use of stooges in professional magic. 

In the case of the "instant stooge," I have bad news for those of you who use this technique: it sucks and doesn't fool people. There's always too much of a disparity between the stooge's reaction and the supposed effect. The magician is able to pluck a thought out of nowhere from the spectator's mind (supposedly) and the stooge just gives a half-hearted smile or mumbles, "huh, yeah, that's it." His reaction comes across as suspicious and incongruous. If you don't think instant stooges generally give shit reactions, then I feel bad for you, because that means you're used to getting half-hearted smiles and mumbles from your legitimate spectators.

The traditional stooge is something I understand a little better. I mean, I understand why you might use one as part of the methodology behind an effect. But are there people who use stooges as the full method of an effect? As in, "Excuse me, sir. Please think of any word in the english language. Hmm... you're thinking of parakeet aren't you?" And the guy freaks out? Is anyone using it that baldly? If so, that seems a little bullshit-y. You may say that as a magician/mentalist that anything is on the table method-wise, but I think you still have to stay within the implied agreement between performer an audience. And that agreement is, "I am going to use deception in such a way that I will be able to simulate mind reading [for example]." The agreement is not, "I'm going to put on a little pre-written skit where I will play a guy who can use deception in such a way that it simulates mind reading." 

It just wouldn't be fair to the audience. Look at it this way, if you said, "Would you like free tickets to the mentalism show? I have to warn you though, he can't really read minds." You would still get an audience, because most people already know it's not real in the first place. But if you said, "Would you like free tickets to the mentalism show? I have to warn you though, he can't really read minds. And all the participants on stage are paid actors playing along with it." No one would see that show. 

But I'm not here to lecture professionals. 

I want to make a quick point about amateurs and the use of stooges. 

When it comes to the amateur magician, I fully support the idea of using stooges every now and then. Particularly stooges who are friends and non-magicians. And the reason is this: when it comes to using stooges in the performance of amateur magic, the stooge is not just a part of the method, he's a part of your audience. Part of the reason for doing that trick should be to give the stooge that experience. That's not true in professional magic, where the stooge is just a tool to make the trick work and allow the performer to look good. But in amateur magic—if you adhere to the audience-centric approach—then the experience you're creating should be for both parties, the stooge and your spectator. 

If you look at magic not as a method of self-aggrandizement, but rather as a means to entertain, mystify, and stave off the dull routine of the everyday for those who you encounter as you go through life, then you can see how giving your friend a "stooge" role can be part of that. They're seeing the inner workings of a trick, they get some of the glory (ideally), and maybe they're walking away with a greater appreciation for magic. At the very least they played a role in staging some fun and likely had a good time.

A good rule of thumb to know if you're using a stooge in an audience(& stooge)-centric manner or in a magician-centric manner is to ask yourself how you would feel if your audience found out you were using a stooge. If you're shitting your pants because you don't want anyone to know, then it's probably a magician-centric usage. If it almost goes without saying you were working together or you're tempted to tell people you were, then it's audience-centric.

Here's an example of a stupidly enjoyable trick that uses a second party. You could have your stooge/friend set you up for this, but I prefer to play the straight-man role and let my friend take the starring role. This grew out of the effect I posted on Monday, Senses Working Overtime.

The Confederate and the Pea

You're hanging out with your friend Carrie. Another friend, Steve, is on his way over.

"Did you ever notice how sensitive Steve is? He's such a baby. He came over here the other day and was whining about how uncomfortable he was on my couch. He feels every imperfection. It's honestly a real Princess and the Pea situation with that guy. You haven't noticed that? I'll show you."

You take a deck of cards that's in its case from the table. You lift up a couch cushion and toss it under. 

When Steve arrives he sits on that part of the couch and immediately jumps up, rubbing his ass. He lifts up the cushion and pulls out the deck of cards. 

"Goddammit, man! Are you trying to destroy my tender bottom?"

A little while later Steve goes to the kitchen to get something to eat.

"Quick," you say, "it doesn't even have to be a whole deck." You take the cards out and tell her to grab some and toss them underneath the couch cushion. You quickly case the deck and put it on the table before Steve comes back and sits down.

Steve comes back in the room. "The elevator at work broke down when I was trying to get to the fitness center. And I didn't know if I should take the stairs, but if I did I wouldn't need to use the fitness center. But if I didn't---" He sits and pauses mid-sentence. He scrunches his face up. "What the hell? Did someone seriously put 19 cards under this couch cushion? What is wrong with you guys?"

Carrie looks at you. Were their 19 cards? Who knows, she just tossed some under the cushion. No one counted. And the rest of the deck was put away in the card case. Now she pulls out the cards and counts them.

There are 19.

Later still, Steve goes to the bathroom. "I've got to try this again," you say. You have Carrie choose one measly card out of the deck and put it under the cushion. You case the deck and set it on the table.

Steve comes back and sits down. After a moment or two he starts shifting his ass around on the couch cushion. In the same way you might move your butt around on a wobbly chair to make it go back and forth. 

"Come on guys, knock it off," he says. "I'm trying to enjoy this show but I can't get comfortable because you have to go and put a... [he shifts his butt as if to get a sense again] a three of hearts under my couch cushion? That's bullshit."

He pulls off the cushion. Carrie takes the card. It's the three of hearts.


As I mentioned, this is an outgrowth of Monday's trick and, similarly, uses a marked and stacked deck (or Nyman's Code deck). Although you don't have to use that, it's just the cleanest way. You could just use a regular stacked deck and a little more handling. Or you could use a normal deck with some key cards placed in it, i.e., the ace of spades 10 cards down, the two of spades 20 cards down, the three of spades 30 cards down, and so on. You could then determine how many cards she cuts off in phase two via a quick spread of the deck (if, for example, the two of spades is the third card from the top, you know she cut off 17 cards) and in phase three you could force a card. I like to not touch the cards during those parts of the trick, so I use the marked and stacked deck.

Now you just need a way to code a number and a playing card to a spectator. I've used the Apple watch as mentioned yesterday. But the method I prefer is the first method I ever learned. I wrote it up in one of the past issues of X-Communication and I'll include it at the end here. I assume it's decades, if not centuries old.

This is, in my opinion, an ideal usage of a secret partner for the amateur performer. It gives them a chance to screw around and act out. You can teach it to someone in 5 minutes. And it's genuinely a dramatically sound trick. It gets progressively more incredible. Someone could possibly feel a deck of cards under a cushion. The idea that someone could discern the number of cards is incredibly unlikely. And the notion that he could differentiate the ink on the card to the point he could identify it by sitting on it is just impossible. There's also a nice bit of a misdirect at the end because your spectator will assume your friend is just going to be able to recognize there's a card under there. They don't conceive that he will know the value of the card by sitting on it. 

It's some good absurdist fun.

How to code a card to someone. 

This is only slightly complicated, I've found it's pretty easy for people to pick up after a few minutes. Remembering the order of the suits is the hardest part. So teach them the concept of CHaSeD. I've taught this to a lot of people and they genuinely enjoy learning it and the idea that a card can be transmitted to someone else just by how you set the card case on the table. 

In order to send a number (under 50), as in the second part of this effect, instead of coding the suit via the direction of the card case, you will code the first digit that way. It just goes around in a circle: 1, 2, 3, 4. If the spectator cut off less than 10 cards then you place the box on the table with the back of the card box facing up. It will make more sense when you read below.

From X-Communication #6

Here’s how it works. When you put the cards away and set the card case down your partner can come in and immediately name the card.

That would be the two of clubs.

This is simply done by imaging your surface is a clock face. You place the deck in any clock location to indicate a value A-Q. For a king you place it in the middle. The suit is indicated by the direction the card case is pointing.

So this is the nine of diamonds.

[Note: Remember, in The Confederate and the Pea you're coding information the spectator doesn't even know yet so there's no suspicion if you put the deck down at "three o'clock" and the spectator chose a three.]


It seems like it would be hard to tell the difference between, say, a four and a five. 
This is why you don’t shoot for equal spacing between the numbers. 12, 3, 6, and 9 are very easy to differentiate because they’re all at right angles from the center of the table or mat. A “four” should be on the right-hand side, but slightly lower than a three. A “five” should be on the bottom, but slightly ahead of a six. With almost no practice it becomes very easy to tell the difference.

I’m performing on a big table, there’s no way to delineate edges and things like that. 
With practice you don’t need anything other than you and your partner’s ability to imagine a 2-foot square in front of you. But don’t fret if you’re not at that point. Simply place anything on the table as a central point of your clock. A coin, a glass, your cell phone. Then imagine your clock around that point.