2017 Superlatives

I'm on my holiday break next week which means this is the last post until 2018. As we say goodbye 2017, I wanted to list some of the things that stood out for me this year.

Best Treasure Hunt

Hidden Gems by Mark Elsdon

This is a collection of 100 routines that Mark has identified as some of his favorites ever put in print. (Not his own routines, other people's.) They're not explained. You have to go and track them down, but that's part of the fun of it. 

I like things like this. It reminds me of making mix-tapes or mix-CDs back in the day. Like you're plucking out certain things to shine a spotlight on them so they don't get lost amongst all the other songs on the album, and all the other albums that have come out.

Back in the day, on the Cafe, when a new book would come out, you would often have someone ask, "Are there any particular routines I should keep an eye out for?" And it became fashionable for someone to reply, "Just read the whole book. See what you like for yourself." I think they thought this was somehow the smart and noble response. It's not. It's corny. Highlighting the things you particularly liked about something is a normal human thing to do. Would you lecture someone who asked, "Hey, what were your favorite songs on that album?" Only if you were a socially awkward, self-righteous screwball.

So I appreciate Mark putting this together. Don't expect to find 100 tricks you're going to love as much as he does. I would say about 25% of the ones I've read have spoken to me on some level. Some are longer routines that just aren't my style. And others I just don't connect with at all. In fact, I just read one routine last night that was genuinely one of the worst tricks I've ever come across. But the difference of opinion on this sort of thing is also part of what I find interesting about it all.

Best Magic Reviewer

Well, I'm tempted to say me. Who else would devote six pages to a review for a trick about a "Smurf Dick" as I did in the JAMM #5? But I'll take myself out of the running. I'm also tempted to say Kainoa Harbottle because he gave glowing reviews to both The Jerx, Volume One and the first half year of The JAMM in Genii magazine, so he obviously knows what he's talking about. But that may be coloring my impression of his reviews a tad.

So I'm going to go with Ekaterina who does reviews on her youtube channel.

Now, I don't always agree with her assessments of things, but that's not that important. I don't think you need to find a reviewer you always agree with. You need to find someone who is thoughtful and consistent. Then you can make your own judgments relative to that person's. 

What I particularly like about her reviews are:

  1. I feel I'm getting a pretty honest assessment with her. Some reviewers really just want to bash things, others really just want to lavish praise on things. I don't think she seems to be coming at her reviews from either of those directions.
  2. She usually demos the effect.
  3. She's willing to give negative reviews to things she was given for free.
  4. I know she actually performs for people in real life. 
  5. She's not unwilling to discuss methodological aspects of an effect that may affect your decision to buy or not. She doesn't "expose" anything, really, but she puts things in a way that a knowledgeable magician can understand any potential pitfalls or considerations of the method.
  6. She seems like a normal human being. Her reviews are clear and conversational. She's not desperately trying to be funny. 
  7. She's not part of any retail magic operation, so she's not forced to give things glowing reviews so they can get them off the shelves. 
  8. Last week I said I was considering purchasing Clone from Ellusionist. She saved me $150.

Most Amazing Trick I Experienced in 2017

Seth Raphael has a trick coming out that is one of the best tricks I've ever seen. He sent me a book of mazes in the mail. It looked identical to some shitty book straight out of my childhood.

I had my friend call up Seth and he performed the trick for us over the phone. I won't give away all the details, but my friend freely chose one of the mazes in the book and attempted to solve it. Without asking any questions, Seth was able to tell him which maze he chose (they were all named) and the exact route he took in his attempt to get through the maze. Then there were a couple kickers on top of that which I won't get into now because I'm not sure how much Seth wants divulged about it. 

It was the most convincing demonstration of clairvoyance I've ever seen. So much so that I originally thought my friend was in on it, and he originally thought I was in on it. And our second thought after that was that there was a tiny camera in the package he sent us that was somehow broadcasting what was happening in the room. That's just how confused we were. 

The trick is a combination of insanely clever methods and incredibly simple methods. It's not the sort of thing that you can perform over the phone in most circumstances, because you can't really leave the book in the spectator's hands for an extended period of time after the effect as Seth did with us. But it's definitely something you could find a place for in close-up, parlor or stage, I would think. I like to bring the book to a friend's house and have them shut themselves in their bathroom so there's no way I could see. Then I do the trick by talking to them from the opposite side of the door.

I'm glad it's something I got to see performed before I had it explained to me because there are some parts of it that I might have felt wouldn't work that well had I not seen them in person. I'm not sure what the timetable is for the release, but keep an eye out for it.

Most Amazing Non-Trick I Experienced in 2017

I was reading someone's version of the Open Prediction and they mentioned that after the spectator had set aside the face-down card, they just had them turn over the rest of the cards as a block and spread through them to show the predicted card wasn't there. This seemed like a big waste of possible tension. Yes, it takes longer to deal through the cards, but that's where the build-up happens. 

I wanted to see what it felt like to deal through the cards in an open prediction. Does it really feel long and dull? So I shuffled a deck and said, "I predict you'll set aside the four of clubs." And then I dealt through the deck as if I was a spectator and I set a card aside and dealt through the rest of the cards. As the cards to be dealt dwindled and no 4 of clubs showed up, I was elated to think that I might actually have done the trick for real. And when I got to the end and turned over the face-down card that I had set aside, I realized that I had actually done it. It was amazing. I had assumed I'd just get a glimpse into what it felt like for a spectator, but I had actually given myself the true experience of getting it right.

I decided to try it again. I named a random card, the six of hearts. Shuffled the deck, then dealt through it, setting one card aside as I did. This time I got to the last few cards and I was flipping the fuck out because the six hadn't shown yet. I had done it again! A 1 in 2704 possibility had just happened!

And, while I think of myself as intensely logical, I began to think crazy thoughts. Do I have some weird gift? Is some greater power giving me a glimpse into the impossible?

I needed to try it again. I thought of the king of clubs, shuffled, and dealt.

It showed up about a third of the way through. I'm not psychic. The universe wasn't sending me a message. (Or maybe it was, and it just got pissed that I had to push it to three times. Honestly, if it had worked three times I would have kept going until it didn't. So I kind of see the universe's point.) 

But for a couple minutes I got to experience the bonkers feeling of having had something truly amazing occur. And to feel how especially strong it is when there is no "magician" taking credit for that feeling.

Best Live Lecture

I didn't watch a ton of these this year, but the one that I thought had the best material was Hanson Chien's Penguin Live Lecture.

It's almost all rubber band material, so if that's not your scene, you probably won't like it.

I don't actually love rubber band effects myself. It's hard to do anything with them other than something in a "Hey, look what I can do," style. But, that being said, rubber band magic is great for quick, visual effects with objects you can have on you at all times. So it has those benefits. 

Hanson's style is very smooth and not overly fidgety. Sometimes with rubber band magic it's clear that something is going on in the set-up phase, but his effects have as little of that sort of thing as possible. 

These are the tricks from the lecture that I already do or will be working on:

  • Ultimate Jump
  • Touch
  • Frozen Band
  • Freeze
  • CCR
  • Hanson's Linking Bands
  • Breaking Point

He teaches the material well (I often find rubber band magic unlearnable the way some people teach it). And he has a low-key natural humor that I found enjoyable. If you're into rubber band magic at all, I would pick this up.

My Favorite Effects I'm Working On At This Very Moment

Because of the backing of the people who support this site, I'm able to devote a good deal of time so I can always be working on new ideas. I have a ton of new stuff I've created in the past year that will likely see the light day in subscriber rewards in the future if this site continues.

As of this moment, these are three of my favorite tricks/concepts I've been working on in the past couple weeks.

1. A sequel to the Baby Who Knows. In this one, an infant reads her mother's mind, and then repeats the trick with her father.

2. A trick where a small sealed bag that contains a blend of dried flowers and other objects is placed under your spectator's pillow at night and ends up controlling her dreams.

3. I've been thinking a lot about different orientations for a trick. That is, the physical positioning between the performer and spectator. I think playing around with that, and not just doing everything seated at a table, can produce very memorable moments. I mentioned above the idea of doing a trick on the opposite sides of a bathroom door. Another one I'm working on is one where you and your spectator lay together in bed or on the floor. You put your cell phone between you with the flashlight on, pointed up. Then you do a trick with the shadows on the ceiling.

My Favorite E-mail This Year

I've always liked that there are barriers to entry for the material I put out. First, the site isn't advertised, so you have to have someone tell you about it or stumble onto it yourself. Then it's full of long, wordy posts that require a commitment to read. There are concepts and inside jokes that only make sense if you go back and read 30 months of posts. And then there's another level where you can support the site financially and get access to a bunch of other ideas. And beyond that, those ideas often require a leap of faith because they're not always standard types of effects with the usual performer/audience dynamic. I think there is a learning curve to the style of magic I promote here. At least there was for me. 

So to really put it all together you first have to find the site, then read through hundreds of posts, donate money, read more, and then commit to trying out a style of performing that's possibly designed to not give you the type of reactions and response you got into magic to get in the first place. It takes some work to be a fan of this site. So that's why I appreciate the people who go through the effort to actually try out the effects and explore the concepts written up here.

This year was really the first time where I received a decent amount of feedback from people who were out there performing the material from this site, JV1, and the JAMM. I received a bunch of emails with write-ups of how the effects went, pictures from the performances, and a few videos of effects being performed in casual situations and even on stage. It's cool to see people performing this stuff or being inspired by the ideas and building on them.

In that regard, I think my favorite email this year is one I got last week from a magician and supporter of this site, Kevin Blake.

For context, in the JAMM #6, I included a trick called Faith. In this trick you go outside with your spectator and give her a helium balloon with a ribbon or string tied to it. You have her take her ring and tie it to the string. She ties the ring to the string herself. She holds the string in her hand. And she, after some cajoling, lets it go. The ring can be seen on the string floating away and eventually the balloon disappears into the night sky. It's really that straightforward. 

You can then make the ring reappear in any number of ways. 

I love performing this trick. And I love the idea of it. The climax is genuinely amazing but what I really love is the moment when they are holding the string with a helium balloon on one end and their ring on the other and they have to decide if they're actually going to let it go for the chance that something amazing could happen.

I have a special place in my heart for this trick. So I was happy to receive this email from Kevin where he discussed incorporating the effect, or elements of the effect, in an upcoming show.

Currently in the writing phase of a new show, and your “Faith” trick is something I hope to include in it. I think it would be super powerful as a theatrical piece, bringing a woman outside (with cameraman so audience can watch on feed) and having her go through the process of letting it go (or just letting it go myself, not sure). And then having it reappear at the end of the show. 

I think the idea of that trick is one of the most beautiful and powerful of all the magic I’ve ever seen. 

I don’t have a live-feed capability in my venue quite yet, so going to do something different with the balloon and turn the image in the poster below into a story about hope, dreams, and loss—until I think later this year when I have time to workshop it into the show. But regardless, thought you’d enjoy seeing your ideas inspire the artwork for my next show. The show is going to be awesome. I think you’d enjoy. 


That poster is dope. It was created by Kevin and illustrator Matthew Jay Fleming (who has some really gorgeous concert posters on his site). 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone! I'll see you back here on January 1st, 2018.