The Clips and The Cast

This post goes on a couple diversions before introducing a concept I plan to talk about in future posts. If the initial details of the trick I'm about to describe seem confusing, just power through, it will make sense enough in the end.

It all began with a kind of a half-baked idea for a trick that evolved over email in a brainstorming session with JM Beckers and Tomas Blomberg. You may decide there's something interesting here that you want to fully bake. Feel free.

It started when JM brought nitinol paperclips to our attention. These are made of a metal that "remembers" its previous shape. So you can deform the paperclip, then heat it up, and it will go back to its original condition.

Here's a video where a guy demonstrates this. (He also claims that magicians use nitinol spoons when they do spoon bending. I know such things exist, but if that's how you're doing your spoon bending I have a feeling it's not the most convincing thing in the world. "Hold on, everybody! I'm going to go get my special spoon to bend!")

JM wrote about the paperclips:

"Nice little tool for the distracted artist approach while working on papers and drinking tea from a glass.

You can deform the paperclip as one does when working on something else and once you realize what you did with it, instead of throwing it away, you put it into your hot water and it comes back into form."

I liked that idea. It's nice and simple. I think the problem is you would need particularly hot water, so you'd have to do it right when you got your tea. And when doing a super casual effect, I don't love being tied to something so fleeting as the heat of my beverage.

Then Tomas came up with an interesting idea using a few of these clips. And it's based on the notion that you can re-set the set-point for this metal. So instead of having them revert to the paperclip form, you can have them revert to whatever form you've "baked" into the metal.

Here was how Tomas explained his idea, briefly.

"Ok, now I know what would be cool: three paperclips needed. One works in reverse so it gets deformed by heat. One is ordinary. Show them all in the shape of clips and deform one that will turn back when heated to "provide the energy needed" and drop in an empty cup. Cleanly drop the real clip inside so it hooks a leg of the first one. Let someone drop the last clip inside. When heated, two will link and one turns into looking like the first one you dropped inside."

So what he's suggesting is you take one of these paper-clips and change it's set-point so it looks like this when heated.


Then you bend it back into the normal clip shape.

So in performance you'd see three paperclips on the table. In reality you have two of the clips that will return to the normal clip shape when heated (we'll call those the A-clips), and one that will go to the deformed shape when heated (we'll call that the B-clip).

In presentation, you take one of the A-clips and openly bend it into the shape the B-clip forms after heating. You drop that in a bowl, then you put a normal clip in the bowl in such a way that it hooks onto a leg of the deformed clip already in the bowl. (You don't let your spectator look directly into the bowl to see this.)


Then you have your spectator drop the B-clip in the bowl. Now you heat them in some way and dump the clips out of the bowl. It looks like the 2nd and 3rd paperclip that were dropped in the bowl have linked. But really the 1st re-formed into the normal clip shape and linked with #2, and then #3 de-formed itself and now seems to be the first clip that was dropped in. So from the spectator's perspective, two normal clips and a deformed clip are dropped into a bowl, and then the two normal clips come out linked, along with the deformed clip.

Does that make sense? That's kind of the problem, it's clever but it doesn't really mean anything. And the bent clip isn't really too justified. 

Then I noticed the bent clip kind of looks like a heart. If you squint enough. Hell, just go ahead and close your eyes altogether. See? It kind of looks like a heart. So that gave me this idea which I wrote to Tomas and JM.

Maybe call it an office supply love ritual (because paper clips are designed to hold things together). One paperclip is bent into the rough shape of a heart and tossed in the bowl. The other represents your spectator, that goes in the bowl. They hold the third clip and imagine someone they'd like to be with and toss that in the bowl. Then "if it works" the paperclips will be brought together. (And it would, of course, with the two paperclips coming out linked.)

Then Tomas made it even simpler. No need for a bowl or any weird heating elements. If this is an office love ritual you just use a coffee cup. The heart gets formed and dropped in the cup, then the paperclip that represents the spectator. Coffee is poured over them, and then the spectator gets to toss the final paperclip in. 

And that's perfect, of course, because coffee plays right into a ritual with things you would find in an office. 

I fleshed out the backstory. I would tell people I used to work in an office with this guy who considered himself a "male witch." For much of his life he had a little shop in Salem, Massachusetts where he would read palms and help people cast spells for good fortune. When he was in his late 40s, he met a woman and fell in love with her, but she would only consent to marry him if he got a "real" job. So he closed up his shop and ended up working in accounting at the company I worked at (which was what his parents had made him go to school for when he was younger). He tried to stay on the straight and narrow, but over time he slipped back into his rituals using stuff that was around the office. And this love ritual is one of the ones he taught me. Back in Salem he did it with a little cauldron and some voodoo doll type things. But once he was in the office he was just using a cup of coffee and some paperclips. He claimed it still worked.

So the "heart" clip, and the first normal clip are dropped in the cup. Coffee is poured on top (representing the murky darkness their heart currently reside in, or whatever the hell you want to say). The spectator then drops her clip in the cup (the one that represents the person she's interested in). A plastic lid is placed on top and the coffee is poured out. I tell the spectator to remove the lid and dump the paperclips on the table. "It's like tea leaves," I tell them. "Depending on how close the two clips are to each other and the heart, that tells us how good a match you are with the person." They dump them out and somehow the clips are now linked. "Oh wow," I say. "I hope you weren't just hoping for a quick booty call with this person. This suggest you two are soulmates."

I thought that would be a fun presentation. And it's a pretty good trick too. The spectator drops the final clip into coffee while it's in their hands. Moments later, without you coming near it, the clip is now linked on to another clip.

Okay... Here's a little aside for a variation on another idea JM Beckers thought up using these clips. You give your friend a paperclip and ask him to bend it into any one of 8 "power shapes" that you've drawn on a card. You take out a clip for yourself and bend it into another one of the shapes. You both stir your coffees, creating a vortex, and you each drop your paperclip in your cup of coffee while standing a few feet apart. When the coffee settles you spoon your clip out and find you are now holding the other person's clip. You've created a worm-hole and the paperclips somehow passed through the vortex from cup to cup. Cool, yeah? 

The method: You give him a clip that will turn into, say, a square, once dumped in the coffee. You ask him to bend it into any of the "power shapes" you've drawn on a card. Once he starts you remove an index card with other paperclips on it (each one that will form one of the power shapes when heated) and you remove the correct one that will form the shape he chose for his paperclip. (An index drawn on the back of the card will point you to which one to choose. Or you could do this all more covertly and have a hidden index which you use to pull the proper clip and switch for one already in view.) And you form that clip into a square. The rest happens by itself. Once dropped into the coffee, his clip in his chosen shape transforms into a square, and your square clip transforms into his chosen shape.

Now, both these ideas are—as I mentioned up top—somewhat half baked. And that's because I was never able to get my hands on these nitinol paperclips to play around with them. I ordered them from a couple places but they flaked out and they never showed up. Tomas had some and experimented with them, but I think he found them to be a bit finicky. Sometimes not going back fully to the shape they're supposed to, or losing their memory altogether after being manipulated. So if someone wants to try one of these ideas, you're going to have to put in some work on your end to make sure it works consistently. I think it would be worth it because I like both effects.

Now, there is an idea in here that I ended up using a bunch of times since this exchange with JM and Tomas. And that's the idea of a former male witch who now works in the accounting department of my company (or former company, as I no longer have a regular day job). I find this idea pretty delightful. And I find other people like it too. You can almost picture him, can't you? This guy who has taken this dull day job to appease his overbearing wife, but he keeps finding himself backsliding into his old role and conducting some little rituals or fortune telling ceremonies for the fat secretaries during coffee breaks, using office supplies or things you might find in the break room in place of his old tools.

That's such a well-defined character that I found myself searching out tricks with office supplies (paper clips, Post-Its, pens) or coffee accoutrements that I could claim he taught me or demonstrated for me. 

And then I realized that ever since adopting a style that was less focused on me, I had been creating a cast of characters—some real people, some imaginary—that I was using as inroads into performing. People like Glenn (the male witch), Mr. Yento, or my magician friend in Any Man Behind Any Curtain from The JAMM #5.

The Cast is another tool, like Imps and Reps, that is available to the amateur performer and not so much to the professional. It can be used as both a way to get into effects, and also a way to make the magic bigger than the current moment by attaching it to some outside person who may or may not exist in the real world. When I show you something Glenn the male witch showed me once at work and then two months later I show you something new he demonstrated for me, it doesn't matter if you believe the person really exists or not, you still get that sense of continuity which is much more interesting than an isolated effect, completely detached from the world around it.

This concept has served me very well in performance. I find it very natural to go from talking about this interesting person I know into this weird thing they showed me or taught me.

In a future post I'll talk more about creating your Cast and different ways to utilize it.