The Fail-Safe

This is an idea I came up with for a friend of mine for a very particular situation. He was performing a trick with mis-pipped cards. We'll say it was Michael Skinner's 3 Card Monte. It wasn't, but we'll say it was so you can follow along. (The actual trick isn't one you know because it's his own effect.) His concern was this, he had found that in workshopping this trick that if he was to put the cards away right after the effect, people would become suspicious about the cards. On the other hand, if he just tossed the cards on the table at the end, people almost never reached for them. But... on the third hand, on the rare occasion someone does go for the cards, there's really no way of talking yourself out of that situation. You're completely busted.

So what do you do? Typically, the course of action magicians seem to take is that you should put the gimmicked items away and then move onto another trick. They've convinced themselves that this is going to fool people. It doesn't. People know what's up. Outside of a formal show there's no real reason to rush along to another effect and hide everything you just used other than that they're suspect. I think it's a bit of a puss move. I'm not sure it's worth salvaging one performance in 20 if the other 19 are diminished in some way (which I believe they are when you squirrel away the props right after an effect).

No one likes getting busted on a trick, I get that. Even if you don't have your ego wrapped up too much in the performance, it's still a waste of an effect and of people's time. 

So my friend had a performance for an important individual for whom he wanted to make a strong impression. He had this trick he wanted to perform and he didn't want to come off as the scared magician, immediately putting the deck away after a trick. But he knew if he set it down confidently there was maybe a 5-10% chance the other person would pick it up and bust him on it. You could say, just don't do that trick. But he really wanted to do that trick.

Here was my idea...

Imagine this from the spectator's perspective. You have this person over your house who you know performs magic. At some point you ask to see a trick. He shows you this really mind-blowing card trick where cards are transforming and transporting all over the place. When he's done he just sets the deck on the table and goes back into conversation. Your curiosity gets the best of you and you pick up the deck and start looking at it. "Hey," you say, "all these cards have two different values on each card." And this great trick you saw just crumbles.

At this point, the magician just sits there, stone-faced and says in a cartoonishly sad, monotone voice. "Oh... gee. I'm so embarrassed. You busted me. Who could have guessed you would figure out my trick at," he looks at the clock, "7:19 pm." Silently, he reaches into his wallet and pulls out a business card and slides it to you on the table. He indicates you should turn it over. You do, and on the back it says, "Oh... gee. I'm so embarrassed. You busted me. Who could have guessed you would figure out my trick at 7:19 pm."

Now the whole scenario shifts. You were set up! But how could he know when you'd ask to see a trick. How could he know you'd reach for the deck of cards? How could he have seen how everything would play out? 

Well, he didn't. He just owns a nail-writer and a wallet that allows for nail-writing. But you don't know that. You're an entertainment lawyer, for chrissake. 

So that's the idea behind The Fail-Safe: Having a way to predict the exact time you got busted on a trick. 

It's not something you'll need every time you perform, but it may be something you can use for confidence and peace of mind during an important performance opportunity. As it turned out, my friend didn't need to employ the fail-safe. But I've used it a couple times and it's really very strong. I don't think it feels like you "salvaged" a trick that was busted. I think it feels like you anticipated how everything would play out and the first part was just an entertaining "sucker" effect, in some way. 

I'm not suggesting you use this in situations where you know the person is going to get handsy and grab something they're not supposed to. This is more for those times when you think there's a small chance someone might take a look at something that blows the trick, and you just want to have an insurance policy in place. 

You can use any secret writing technique you want. I use the set-up from the trick Millinta in the JAMM #10. This allows me to nail-write on the inside of a folded piece of card in an apparently sealed envelope. I have one in an end-table near my couch and another in my messenger bag. 

The funny thing is, because I've been wanting to test this out, I've been very cavalier about just tossing gimmicked items onto the table when I'm done. Most of the time, that seems to be all it takes to make people assume there's nothing to be found. What's even been more enjoyable to me is watching people pick up gimmicked items, examine them and then replace them having found nothing. I've had people pick up gimmicked coins and gaffed notebooks and not find anything. I had someone pick up and spread through an invisible deck and not realize it.

And for the people who ended up looking at the items or even just feeling like they could, I would assume the trick had a greater level of impossibility than if I had just turned and put the items in a drawer somewhere. In that way, the Fail-Safe may not only be a useful ploy for salvaging a trick that gets busted, but just having it in your back pocket may affect the openness with which you perform in a way that makes your tricks stronger across the board.