There are a number of ideas I have for magic effects that I don't have the know-how or the inclination to follow-thru on and actually make. I'm going to start putting these on the site from time to time and anyone who wants is free to take the idea and run with it. Build it. Sell it. I don't give a shit. I've got more ideas than I need.
Project Name: Fuxpin
Required Skills: Knowledge of computers and electronics. Perhaps some Home-Ec level sewing.
The Idea: So there's this thing called the cassette prediction.
Wait... hold on... so there used to be these things called cassettes.
They were an audio storage medium. Pre-CDs, post vinyl albums.
Ok? Are we on the same page?
So at some point someone came up with a way to do an audio cassette prediction. Now, you might think, "Oh, cool. So someone would think of a song and then it would be predicted on this audio cassette? Or the magician would pretend the tape went along with an old film-strip, but it eerily predicted something that happened that day?"
Usually it was used as a way to do a headline prediction.
"But Andy, why would they do an audio prediction of something visual? It doesn't make sense that that's the way you would choose to deliver your prediction. Especially now that audio cassettes are such a rarity. And even perhaps 20 years ago when they were more common it must have seemed weird. This guy is sending out audio cassettes and lugging around a boombox when he just could have mailed a letter?"
Hey, look, I don't know. Don't blame me.
The way the cassette prediction works is... well... I'm not 100% sure. But my understanding is that you would mail a cassette "prediction" to someone and tell them not to open it. Then, on the day of the show, you would play the cassette in the boombox you dragged there with you, but it wasn't really playing the tape. Instead it was recording to the tape from some other audio source inside the unit. That way you could seemingly play the tape and then leave the prediction with the participants when you were done.
What I'd like someone to make is a cassette prediction built into an old Teddy Ruxpin. (For those of you who are too young, or live in a country where this wasn't a thing, Teddy Ruxpin was a teddybear you would put cassettes into and then his mouth would move with the audio.)
And it should have the capacity that you can broadcast to it live via bluetooth or something, so you wouldn't need to make the prediction in advance. There should probably be some type of app compatibility as well, so that you could send some pre-made prediction to it on the fly.
I have some ideas about how I would use this in a non-professional setting, but I'll explain it as one might use it in a show, as that will be more straightforward.
You come onstage. (Then you mop it up and continue with your performance. Ahhh... jokes.)
You walk onstage. There are two cardboard boxes on a table.
You toss a room temperature burrito into the crowd and have it thrown a few times to locate a random volunteer. Once the burrito stops you say, "Okay, sir, I'd like to use you as part of this next effect, but I have a couple questions first. Would you say you have an exotic first name or something fairly common."
He replies that it's fairly common. His name is Bill.
"That's perfect. Here's a bit of an odd question, but it will help me in accessing the part of your brain that keeps secrets. Is there something from your childhood that you did that was bad in some way that you always kept a secret? I'm not talking about anything too significant. I don't want to hear you set a drifter on fire. But some small transgression that you kept secret for a long time. Can you think of something?"
He indicates that he can. "Great, you'll be perfect," you say.
You ask him to write this deed on a sheet of paper and fold it up and put it in his pocket. "As I said, this little secret of yours is like a key that unlocks a door in part of your brain. Exposing the secret—even if only to yourself on paper—makes it easier to peek inside that area of your mind."
"We're going to create a new secret for you to try and keep. A secret playing card." You then go on to perform a moderately deceptive card force. Say the four of spades.
"Now, Bill, you have a secret in mind. Something no one here could know. I could try and read your mind, and I might even get it right. But I want to try something more interesting."
You walk over to your table with the cardboard boxes on it. "A couple weeks ago I bought two items on ebay. The first is this." You open up one of the boxes and remove a Teddy Ruxpin. "Does anyone remember this guy?"
You talk a little bit about ol' Teddy Ruxpin.
"One thing I think people don't remember very well is that while you could buy official Teddy Ruxpin merchandise, you could also buy third-party cassettes that you could play inside of him. Most of these were just additional children's stories, but some of these cassettes were bizarre. Some companies made tapes where it was a sound-alike celebrity voice, in case you wanted a bear that talked like John Travolta. There was a company that made, like, romantic cassettes for adults who wanted Teddy to be their boyfriend. There was even legitimate x-rated cassettes made for people who got off on hearing a bear say he was going to suck their balls or something."
"There was one company though, called Fuxpin. [You wouldn't actually use that name. Make up another company's name. I'm just using it as an example.] And Fuxpin had a pretty odd niche. You see, while the toy was designed to be a friend to children, there were some parents who realized it could be used to keep their children in line, as something like a surrogate adult who was 'watching' the child. And that they could perhaps scare the child into being good with this Teddy Ruxpin toy."
"So Fuxpin came along and made these cassettes for the bear where he would say stuff like. 'I've got my eye on you,' and, 'Don't be a bad boy or I'll tell your parents what you do. Don't make me tell.' It's actually kind of creepy. And they put out this line of cassettes that were personalized with the top 50 most popular boys and girls names. And at first there was a mild uproar because some parents thought it was inappropriate to do this to a kid. Some kids were getting really freaked out by the tapes. And when the adults started listening to the tapes they were getting scared too. It was pretty dark and scary stuff. Some of the parents claimed when they'd play the cassette it would say something like, "What are you doing, Mom? This tape isn't for you. It's for Billy. When will you learn to mind your business?"
"Now, of course, that's just urban legend type stuff, but it's still a creepy idea."
"That brings me to the other box. While searching around on ebay recently I found a listing for a box of deadstock tapes by the Fuxpin corporation. All 50 of the top male and female names in the US in the 1980s."
You remove a box of cassettes from the cardboard box.
"Bill, will you find the tape for your name? They're in alphabetical order."
He find the tape and you ask him to put it in the bear and press play.
Calliope music plays and then the bear's eyes open and he comes to life. A voice comes from the bear. It's not quite the same as the Teddy Ruxpin from the commercials. There's a breathier quality to it. It sound a little like Goofy but mixed with a heavy dose of "southern pedophile."
"Hi Billy! My name is Teddy Ruxpin... can you and I be friends? We sure can, just so long as you're always honest with me. Don't keep secrets from me, Billy, because then I will not be your friend. Not at all."
Calliope music starts again
You press stop on the tape. "See? Now, here's the really weird part. You have a card in your pocket, Bill. A card that no one here can know. A 'secret,' if you will. And it's like the bear can sense it. This is the type of thing that was freaking people out with these tapes back in the 80s."
You press play again. The music rolls for a little and then stops.
"Hi Billy. I'm Teddy Ruxpin. I know what you're thinking, Billy. I always know. Why would you keep something from me? I guess you don't want to be friends. You'd rather be a brat with a secret. I know the card you chose. You picked the four of spades, Billy."
Calliope music starts. You press stop.
"He got it right, didn't he?" Bill agrees and removes the card. You show it to the audience and send Bill back to his seat.
You start putting stuff away. "This thing is genuinely weird," you say, and press play again in a "let's just listen to one more" sort of way.
"Hi, I'm Teddy Ruxpin...and I know what you did, Billy." In the midst of that sentence, most of the "character" aspects drop away from the voice. Now it's 80% just a creepy man's voice. "I'm always watching. Don't fuck with me, Billy. I saw you break that window. You think I wouldn't know. I know everything, you little prick."
My head cocks back to the audience. "What did he say?" I rewind the tape a little. I go over to Bill. "Bill, before we started your wrote a secret from your past on a piece of paper and put it in your pocket. Can I see that paper."
Bill hands me the paper. I press play on the tape player. When it gets to the "I saw you break that window" part, I unfold the paper and show it to the audience. It reads, "I broke a window."
I stop the tape, fold up the paper and give it back to Bill along with the cassette from the back of the bear as a souvenir.
Okay, so you'd need a way to get the information from whatever was written down to your assistant in the back. You could do that with an electronic clipboard, or just a normal impression pad that you casually toss offstage.
Your confederate would then broadcast his message to the bear so that it lasts a specific length of time between calliope music. Ideally the rest of the tape would be filled with content so it would seem like this 'prediction' was buried in amongst a bunch of other messages from the bear.
Okay, okay. So while I'd like someone to build me this thing so I can use it myself with all the bluetooth and the sophistication and stuff like that, the truth is you can do the routine above almost identically with no new technology at all.
Get a real Teddy Ruxpin off ebay. Have a box of cassette tapes. The only difference in this version is that the spectator doesn't remove the tape from the box himself, you do it.
You have your secret assistant backstage, the person who did the voice on the rest of the tape. They have a cassette in front of them that is full of messages with the exception of the prediction. When the audience member is selected, your assistant chooses the correct label for the tape with the kid's name on it and applies that label to the blank tape. The tape should be queued up to where the "prediction" starts. Once the information the spectator wrote down is delivered backstage, your assistant will have a couple minutes to record the 15 seconds of audio in the space between two calliope music segments. (The purpose of the calliope music is to have something that breaks up the tape into different portions, so you don't have to fit a prediction in the middle of other talking. Plus I think the music would seem creepy amidst the weird messages.)
Then you just need to come up with a way to get that tape to your pocket, and then pretend to remove it from the box on stage. You can come up with a clever or stupid way to do this, I don't think it matters that much.
There you have it. I don't think the method is any dumber than many methods in stage/parlor performing. And the trick is way better than most. (Unless you're really into egg bags. Or saying, "Set a time on this watch.... Hey! That's the time I wrote down on this paper!")