The Force Awakens


On Saturday, September 30th, in a rehearsal studio space in New York City, 22 men and women of various ages, races, and—I can only assume, because we didn't have any reason to ask—sexual orientations, joined me and two friends as we tested card forces for 12 hours. (They weren't there for 12 hours. We were. The subjects came in individually for about 20 minutes each.)

Why Test Forces? 

Well, a couple of reasons. The first is because I've recently come up with a technique that can be added to essentially any force to make it significantly stronger, and seemingly remove the possibility of it being a force. The code name for this technique is Damsel. I want to do a lot more testing with it, as I think it has value beyond card forcing, but that was the impetus for getting me to think about testing card forces.

The second reason I wanted to test forces is because I had found myself relying on an under-the-spread force and the occasional riffle force and I was wondering if maybe it was worth the effort to really dig in and perfect a classic force (or some other force). If a classic force is only a little stronger than a riffle force, then probably not. But what if it's twice as strong? Or ten times as strong?

The Forces Tested

  • Classic Force
  • Under-the-Spread Force
  • Cross-cut Force
  • Riffle Force
  • Second deal Force
  • Dribble Force

(Only half the participants saw a traditional Dribble Force, the other half saw it with the Damsel technique I mentioned above. For the purposes of comparison, only the ones who saw a traditional dribble force will be used when analyzing the data to come.)


How would you test which force is the best? If your first instinct is like mine, you'd probably want to use the force in the context of a trick and have someone rate the trick. But there's a problem with this method. If I show you a trick where I force a card and it appears in my wallet, then another trick where I force a card (a different way) and it's tattooed on my chest. And then I ask you to rate which one you liked better, you wouldn't be judging the force, you'd be judging the trick. (And obviously you're going to like the one where I expose my rippling pectorals. Cause you thirsty AF.)

So then the obvious suggestion would be: Show each person just one trick. Show each person the same trick. And just split up the participants by the number of forces you want to test. So 1/6th of them see the trick with a classic force. 1/6th see the trick with a riffle force. And so on. That's a fine idea, Mr. Moneybags, but let me explain the finances of how something like this works. To do such a test with enough people to draw some conclusions we'd probably need about 20 people per force. Test six forces and that means 120 people. Times $40 per person. Plus the fee to the people who find us 120 individuals. Plus the fee to rent the space for the testing. Plus lunch and dinner for my friends who helped out, and suddenly I'm in for $6500 because I had a bug up my ass to test something out which no one in magic has given a second thought to since Grayson Kingsley VonCrosscut invented forcing. (Look, I don't know the history, okay? Get off my back.) So, financially that was a no-go. 

In order to test the forces we figured we had to pull back the curtain a little bit and not do them in the context of a trick. And to do that we needed to understand what we meant by a "strong" card force. This may seem beyond obvious, but what makes for a good force is that it feels like it was a free selection. So rather than try to hide what information we were trying to glean from our participants, we asked them straight out what we were looking for.

We introduced ourselves as part of a consulting company that was working with magicians (which is almost true). We said magician's audiences are often skeptical of the actions of magicians and the words they use and we just wanted to test some things with them to see what felt the most fair. 

We had a couple of preliminary questions to establish the type of feedback we were looking for from them. Then we moved into the card selection portion. We didn't bring up the concept of "forcing" at this point in time. Instead we said, "There are a number of different ways a person can physically select a card from the deck. We're trying to establish which way feels the most free and fair because we want the the people who experience the trick to know everything is above board. So we're going to show you a few different ways a card can be selected and we're going to have you rate each one on a scale of 0 to 100 in regards to what feels the most fair to you. So if I just gave you one card and said, 'Here take this,' that would be a zero, because you don't have a free selection. On the other hand, if I gave you a deck of cards and told you to go in the other room, far away from me and my influence, and randomly choose any card, that might be a 100 on your scale if that feels very fair to you."

That was our intro to the card forcing testing. The purpose of this intro is that we didn't want them to feel like we were asking them to "spot the deception" or something like that. What we were proposing is that all of these procedures are fair ways to select a random card, but we were trying to find the way that felt the most fair and on the level.

And then we went through each selection procedure with them and they would rate them on a scale of 1 to 100. 

When it was over we would ask about the one or two that they scored highest and lowest.

We would then ask if they had heard of "forcing a card." If so we would ask them what that meant to them. 

The Twist

Now, here's the twist. With all these people, and during this entire time that was devoted to testing card forces, we didn't actually force any cards.

You see, I didn't want someone to question the results based on the technique of the person doing the forcing. It would be too easy to say, "Sure, this force was rated more highly than this other one, but that's because the other one is more difficult and you probably botched it." 

So, for the sake of the testing we said, "Well, let's just assume every force was executed with flawless technique." So, for example, with the second deal force (where the force card is on top and you just do seconds until someone tells you to stop, then you give them the top card) instead of actually doing the force, we did what the force was intended to look like. We just dealt cards off the top of the deck until the person said stop, then gave them the next card.

If this seems odd to you, just realize that we weren't trying to test the reliability of the covert action of a force. That would all depend on the person executing the force. Instead, what we were trying to test is which overt actions felt the most fair. For a spectator, does pulling a card from a spread feel more fair than cutting the deck to select a card? And if so, does it feel significantly more fair? What about riffling down the edge of the deck? Or dribbling the cards from hand to hand? Do spectators question any of these actions or do they all seem legitimate to them?

This is why we didn't have to test both the riffle force and the slip force because they should (ideally) look fairly similar.

So why test both the classic force and the under-the-spread force? Well, despite the fact they're both selections from a spread, they have different rhythms to them. With the classic force the cards are pretty much constantly moving from one hand to the other until the selection is made. The under-the-spread force can be done slower and more deliberately and the cards can be held in a static spread.  In one the card is removed, in the other it's (usually) left in the deck. Again, while we didn't actually force the cards during these selections, we kept the same rhythm and look to the selection.

The only time a card was actually forced was during the Cross Cut Force. With that force there is no covert action. So just by performing the actions of what it looked like, we were, in fact, performing the force.

On Wednesday I will reveal the findings from this testing. I think there is a lot to be taken from the results, there was for me at least. The top performing forces scored almost twice as high as the lower performing ones. And all the ones in upper half had something in common that you can look for in forces you utilize in the future. It has definitely had a big impact on the forces I will choose going forward. 

See you then.