The Impromptu Toolkit: Quinta by Phill Smith

My Impromptu Toolkit consists of techniques that I use regularly to create magic on the fly. It differs from my impromptu repertoire, which is made up of specific effects that I can get into in an impromptu fashion. The Toolkit is for the purpose of creating improvised impromptu effects.

Quinta by Phill Smith


Where it's available: You can get the basics of it in his Penguin Live lecture, but I would buy the ebook which is on sale here. There are a lot of great variations and subtleties in the book.

What is it? It's a way of forcing one out of five objects.

What does it look like? In its most basic form you set five objects on a row on the table. You ask for any number between one and a googolplex (theoretically, but I usually stick to 1-100). Then you count back and forth along that the row of items until you get to the named number and it is your force item.

Now, you might say, "Well, that's a needlessly complicated process to choose one item out of five. If you were a real magician (or a real mentalist) you would just have them pick an object, or, at most, name a number 1-5 and immediately count to that number. So this won't look real to your spectator and will seem less impressive."

That sounds right in theory. But I have found the exact opposite is true in practice. 

From my experience performing prediction effects with a small number of items, and talking about those tricks with people after I perform them, I've found that I can't wrestle people away from the notion that they must have just picked the one that was most likely to be picked. "I picked the item on the far right, everyone must go for that." "I chose the stapler, everyone must pick the stapler." "I chose number 2, everyone must choose number 2." 

Now, they don't truly believe everyone makes that choice, but it's enough to believe that whatever they ended up with was significantly more likely to be chosen (for some reason) and that I'm just playing the odds. This is certainly a more rational belief than the idea that I was endowed by god with the ability to predict a one in five choice.

The thing is, even if you mention this to someone, I find that doesn't help that much. What I mean is, if you say, "So you're thinking of one of these objects. Now, maybe everyone tends to think of the same object [or the same number 1-5], so I want you to change your mind a few times if you want and then settle on one the objects, that will be your choice." Even if you give that little speech, it only change their thought process from "I must have picked what everyone picks" to "I must have settled on what everyone settles on." And the only way to show that's not the case is to repeat the trick, but most of these types of tricks aren't designed to be repeated. 

Before Quinta I had pretty much given up on these tricks because I could get such better reactions with other types of effects. But I've gone back to some of these effects with Quinta and have had a lot of success with them. Even though, ultimately, outcome is the same—the outcome is still a matter of 1 in 5—it feels more difficult when you're counting to a randomly chosen number from 1 to 100. And the reason it feels more difficult is because it genuinely would be. If we had 5 items and I asked you to pick one or name a number between 1 and 5, I would have a better than 20% chance of guessing what you picked based on my knowledge of what numbers, positions, or items are more psychologically more likely to be picked. But if you just gave me a number from 1 to 100, it would be much more difficult to predict in advance what object would land at that number.

So, for me, the Quinta process of selecting an item is 100% justified. And I'll even paraphrase what I said above sometimes when presenting it. In other words, I'll say, "If I asked you to choose one of these coins, I might have good chance of knowing which one you'd pick based on where it is in the row or its value. And even by saying that, I might be pushing your towards a less-obvious coin that I want you to pick. To avoid any of that, we're going to do this randomly...."

I often have the number chosen truly randomly, perhaps the first number that pops up on a keno board. Or the last 2 digits of the next license plate that passes by. Or you can say, "I want you to count how many red cars you see on the way to my apartment" and then do it with that number (A great idea used in a different context by Mark Levy).

Or, sometimes I'll give them a free choice of a number. But, as I said, even though the eventual outcome is still 1 in 5, it seems much less likely that I could know what number they would choose, and what object it would lead to, when they have the choice of 1-100. Plus it's just more interesting theatrically, the counting back and forth, rather than just counting from 1 to 5. There's a bit of mystery. Like watching a giant prize wheel spin. Where will it land?

For me, this is a much more straightforward way of getting to a single object than a traditional 5-item equivoque. Just imagine someone coming up to the spectator after a performance and saying, "How was the item chosen?"

"I named a number and we counted to that number to determine the object."

"I pushed two towards him. Then from the three that were left, I picked up two, then I handed him one, and we used that one."

And that's a process some people feel is good equivoque.

Speaking of...the book also contains a technique called Triforce by Seamus Maguire. This is a one in three force that is very good and much better than equivoque when you get down to three items (in my opinion). Go with the advanced handling for it. The basic is too...basic (and transparent, in my mind).

I don't really do "reviews" on this site (I save those for the JAMM) but I definitely recommend picking up Quinta for these reasons:

1. It's one of the most used methods in my impromptu toolkit.
2. I'll be making a pdf available for free to Quinta owners with some small additional ideas. Including a couple deceptions that allow you to be exceedingly fair, to this level of specificity: "You're going to name any number from 10-100, we'll start counting with the first coin on the left-side of the row, '1, 2, 3...' back and forth until we get to your number." It would seem impossible to be more fair than that.
3. A friend of mine has a very tight little triple prediction type effect that I'll be writing up for the JAMM soon. It, in part, relies on Quinta and that won't be explained in the write-up.

I don't know Phill, but I'm a big admirer of his work and I think the book has a lot of great ideas. (I really like the watch idea for choosing a number.) The technique has applications that are much broader than just, "I predicted the one item out of five you would choose." And there are a lot of effects in the book to demonstrate those applications which will get you thinking beyond just the basic usage. 

The good news is, Quinta is really just limited by your own imagination. The bad news is, that's a meaningless statement because so is every other goddamn thing in the entire universe. If you're really dumb you can come up with two ideas for how to use a computer. If you're really creative you can come up with 1000 ways to use a grapefruit spoon. That's the whole relationship between "your imagination" and "things." At some point, at the limit of your imagination, you run out of ideas for everything.