Time After Time

More thoughts on the Timeless effect mentioned in Monday’s post…

One person wrote in to ask,

I was just wondering: For sure if you're framing it as a "performance," it's a poor choice of object to impossible location. And probably even in Jerxland, a Romantic Adventure that's based on a ring to watch is pretty strange. But is there any reason the "Distracted Artist" couldn't be ok for this? (As you write in this post in regards to ring and key).

You're totally right that a huge problem is that a watch is not a "container," but does that even matter for a Distracted Artist who has strange things happen to him that he wasn't calling attention to and trying to do necessarily, but its just the result of his constantly playing around with things and dabbling in magic and interesting concepts?

In theory, this makes some sense. If I can play off a ring becoming a key and the ring being found on my keychain as a moment of weirdness, then I should also be able to play off a ring turning into a watch battery and the ring being found in my watch as a similar type of moment.

But here’s the thing, the Distracted Artist is meant to be an absurdist style of presentation. It’s designed to evoke a feeling of it being unplanned. You can’t have that feeling when you’re bringing out a watch inside of a box inside of another box. You can’t even evoke that feeling by wearing a watch with a special compartment in the back. You’re clearly “set up” for what’s about to happen.

So, yes, the same basic effect (of a ring appearing in your watch) could be a random moment of some sort of blip in the universe, but that couldn’t be done with this particular effect.

Another person wrote in to ask:

Food for thought: is a "logic" required in an amateur performance?

Some of the most logical (and professional, so I completely understand that this is not a perfect simile, but hear me out) magical thinkers are Penn and Teller. They do an effect called "Cellfish" where a borrowed cellphone ends up in a Tilapia. Completely absurd--completely devoid of logic. And that’s kind of the joke, yeah? But it’s still amazing without having a cause/effect logic to it. 

I don't really have a point here--and you may have even addressed this already in an earlier blog post-- but do you agree that, with the understanding that 99.999% of hobbyists can't act/patter/perform/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, doing something completely nonsensical still can be a valid performance technique for an amateur? An amateur version of what P&T can accomplish with Cellfish?

Kind of Paul Harris' idea of a "piece of strange". Something that just "is.”

Honestly, I kind of think it’s the opposite.

As an amateur, your tricks need to have more meaning (more logic) than a professional’s.

Now, to be clear, in my opinion the difference between professional and amateur magic is this: professional magic is a performance and amateur magic is an interaction that’s woven into everyday life. This distinction between professional and amateur is 1000 times more useful than “was the person paid for the trick?”

So, to your point, yes, as a non-professional you can still put on a “performance” and you don’t really need to have much logic to that performance and it can still be impressive (a la Penn and Teller’s Cellfish). But that would be more of a non-professional performing in a professional style.

When it comes to amateur magic—unless it is something that is over in a few moments—I am pretty anti the sort of random, weird, “completely nonsensical,” “piece of strange” model, because, by definition, it’s disconnected from the world and from the spectator.

When we see Penn and Teller or any professional show, we expect something theatrical and relatively impersonal. That’s the nature of the professional show.

For centuries, that’s how amateur magic has mostly been presented too.

But, from my experience, that tends to be the least affecting type of amateur magic. A presentation that feels “logical” or meaningful to their life, or their relationship with you, or their understanding of you and your interests, or to the real world, is almost always stronger than “random impossibility.” (This, by the way, is now why I emphasize my interest in magic, as mentioned in this post. It allows me to make many more things feel like a natural part of my world, and therefore a natural part of the world I share with the spectator.)

Either way, my main issue with the trick is not the meaninglessness of putting a ring inside a watch. My main issue is that it’s obviously a fake watch. Watches don’t have storage spaces built into the back. In fact, watches are built to minimize any space in the back. As soon as they see that, you lose any sense of verisimilitude you might be going for.

We have this understanding in magic that doing tricks with “everyday objects” gets much better reactions than doing tricks with some strange object.

This is true. Doing a trick with an everyday object is generally better than doing it with a strange object. But doing a trick with a strange object is much better than doing it with an obviously bogus “everyday object.”

If you pulled the straps off the watch, gutted out the contents, and painted it purple, you might have a strong “ring to strange container” effect. “Ring to strange container” is something I can come up with some sort of intriguing presentation for. “Ring to fake watch,” is not.

Or maybe I could. The only answer might be to highlight the weird watch.

Maybe you tell the story of a great-uncle of yours who was also a magician. And a crook. He spent 40 years of his life in prison between 1950 and 1990. He recently passed away and you just received what you were left from his estate. “It’s a little strange, but also kind of ingenious. And I’m not 100% sure quite how it works….”

You now tell them a story about how in prison your great-uncle became known for being able to sneak in small items of sentimental or financial value for the other prisoners. Maybe a gold coin, or a ring, or a jewel, or a note from the outside, or something. The prison was really strict. Prisoners weren’t allowed any outside items. Other than standard clothing items the only thing they could keep in their cell was a hat, watch, belt, and shoes. Nothing else was permitted.

But, somehow, items kept being shuttled into the jail from beyond the gates, even though the prisoners were strip searched after every visit they had with someone from the outside. “I’ll show you how he did it. What do you want to sneak in a coin, a ring, a note? Whatever you want.”

So they give you their ring or mark a coin or write a little note and you fold it up small. Now you place the item in a little box or in a bag or in an envelope. Somewhere where you can steal it out.

Let’s say it’s a ring. You put the ring in the envelope and steal it out through a slit or whatever.

The purpose of the envelope (or box, or bag) is to delay the vanish. I think the load in this trick is a little fishy. There’s definitely some noise if you’re loading a ring or a coin, and you don’t want them to associate that noise with their missing item. So load the box before they know their item is missing as you bring it out of a bag or something.

“You see, what would happen is, my uncle would have a visit with someone from the outside. They’d give him the small piece of contraband in an envelope like this or a little box or something along those lines. After the visit he’d go to be searched by the guards. They’d see the envelope and be like, ‘You can’t have that.’ And he would just be like, ‘Ah, yes, of course. What was I thinking.”

You rip up the envelope. The ring is gone.

“The envelope was just a ploy. The envelope was misdirection. He already had the item hidden somewhere else.”

Now you start to open the boxes…

“Next, the guards would strip search him, hose him down, pick through his hair, shine a flashlight in his mouth and up his asshole, but they’d find nothing. Then they’d give him back his clothes, his shoes, his belt… and his watch.” You time this so you say “his watch” when you reveal that’s what’s inside the final box. “But it was no ordinary watch. It was made with a secret compartment. A secret compartment that could hold little notes, coins, jewels, or….” The back of the watch is opened and their ring is found.

Is this any good? Well… it’s something. At least they won’t be asking why this watch has a compartment in the back, because that’s the whole point of the trick.

Watch me talk myself into buying this dumb thing.