Presenting Coincidences

I really love this one. This is a model for a lot of what I believe—and what I espouse—in regards to how magic should be incorporated into the day-to-day existence of a social magician. It is an amalgamation of a lot of the concepts I've talked about here: imps, hooks, smear technique, shifting the power away from yourself, etc. And it's a way to extend a trick so the magic is not just one instant, but instead a thread that is woven through your interactions with someone over time. 

There are a number of tricks in the literature that are presented as an example of an incredible coincidence. And there are hundreds more than that when you realize that most any prediction effect can be rejiggered to come off as a coincidence. I love the concept of coincidence as a theme, but the truth is that none of these effects really come off as a coincidence. How could they when we're sitting here and counting and dealing cards on a close-up mat and so on. Oh, sure, these cards matched those other cards over there, but that doesn't feel like a coincidence. Not when you were telling me how to count and cut the cards, that just feels like a trick. We wouldn't have even started this process if you didn't know where it was going—and if you know where it's going... then it ain't a coincidence.

So how do you present coincidence effects in a way that the coincidence aspect doesn't just feel like a cheap pretense for a trick? I've thought about this a lot and have come up with a number of ideas I really like, but this is one of my favorites.

The best way to present a coincidence effect is to wait for a coincidence to occur.

I'll explain.

I've moved around quite a bit for the past few years. And anytime I know I'll be staying somewhere more than a few months, I install a plank shelf by ILOVEHANDLES near the front door. It's a small "floating" shelf with a magnet inset in the bottom so you can just touch your keychain to it and your keys will stick underneath. On top of mine I keep a deck of cards.


So let's imagine you come visit me. You walk in the front door and I say, "Can you do me a favor? Mix up that deck of cards." You do. "Now name any card," I say. You say the two of diamonds. "Now turn over the top card," I say. You do... and it's the nine of spades.

"Ah...," I say. "So do you want to order food now or do you want to wait until the game starts?"

If you're like most people you will say, "Was that supposed to be a trick or...what was that?"

"Oh, no. It's nothing. I used to have this science teacher in high school and every day he'd walk in the classroom and throw a piece of chalk against the chalkboard. And he said the reason he did it is because all physical objects are made of atoms and atoms are mostly empty space or whatever. So, his theory was that one day, all that empty space in the chalk and the chalkboard would line up perfectly and then the chalk would just GLORP! right into the chalkboard."

"I don't know if that's really possible or not. I think probably not. It was probably just his way of waking us up at the start of class. But I've been doing a similar thing for a while now. I'm kind of fascinated by coincidences. And there's a theory that suggests that coincidences aren't just these random occurrences, but they're the result of an alignment of energy. The energy between people and the room they're in and the objects in the room. That sort of thing. So the thing with the cards is sort of my version of throwing chalk against the chalkboard. Just trying to see if things are potentially lined up in perfectly. And if that ever does happen, then I'll know the situation is right to try and induce even bigger coincidences."

And that's it. That's the set up. (And, of course, it's not quite a monologue in real life.)

Now every time you come over I ask you to shuffle the deck, name a card, and turn over the top card.

After a few times, it's just something you do without prompting. You come in. Take off your shoes. Grab the deck. Name a card. Shuffle, cut, turn-over a card. 

And then, months down the road, you come in, name the 7 of spades, shuffle the deck, cut, and turn over... the 7 of spades! I stumble over the coffee table, to check and see if you really named it correctly. You did! We celebrate like something actually exciting has happened. 

I'm looking around. We need to try something else. "How much change do you have in your pocket?" You have 12 cents. So do I!

"Wait. Hold on. Let's try something really impossible." And now we grab the cards and we're shuffling and dealing and things are matching or whatever. But now it doesn't feel like "coincidence" was just a tacked on pretense to a magic trick. Now it feels like we're in some sort of weird state—a coincidence-saturated environment—and it's crazy how things are falling into place.

And when it's over your mind is kind of racing trying to process it all. Did that really happen? It happened, yes, but did it really happen? It had to be some kind of trick. Maybe you're a little spacey and you truly believe you just experienced something crazy. Or maybe you're hyper-rational, so you know it was a trick. But it doesn't matter because someone planting a seed and then waiting 8 months for it to sprout in order to give you this fun, fascinating encounter, unlike anything you've ever experienced, that's really great too. It's something you'll never forget. 

I've been doing this for years, and I do it to everyone. So multiple times a year—and there's no way to know when it will happen—I get to enjoy this crazy experience of coincidence with someone.

Here are 5 non-obvious benefits to this:

1. No one ever seems to forget the story—and it's a true story—of my teacher throwing the chalk at the chalkboard. So that concept of testing something that's unlikely to happen on the off chance it does (and then taking that and running with it) stays with them. And I don't have to justify why they're doing it again each time.

2. As a performer/social magician, this keeps you very engaged. It's fun to not know when you'll get the chance to perform this in full. (You have to always have a couple follow-up effects chambered for when this hits.) And it's genuinely exciting when it does happen. I think the participants pick up on that excitement. 

3. It's true that 51 out of 52 times you won't be able to perform this. But the fact that they're coming in your place and immediately grabbing a deck of cards is going to present you with many unobtrusive ways to transition into some other trick if you want to.

4. This presentation creates a sense of continuity over a very long period of time that you can only get in non-professional performing situations. Last month this finally "hit" on a friend of mine who had been visiting me for years, all over the northeast. And later in the evening she was reminiscing about all the different places where she'd come to see me and gone through the process of naming and turning over a card. It was a real travelogue of apartments and hotel rooms and rented cabins and this trick/presentation kind of tied all of that together in a very cool way.

5. It happens... and it seems to happen more often than you'd imagine... that I meet someone new, or they're visiting me for the first time. They come to my place, I ask them to name a card, shuffle the deck and turn one over... and they nail it the very first time. I do not do anything more when this happens. I don't play it off as a coincidence. No. When this happens I fully accept the role of the world's greatest (and cockiest) magician. This is the rare occasion where I do take complete ownership of the miracle. They stand there with their mouth agape and I just kind of sniff and smirk a little, run my fingers through my hair then polish my nails with my shirt. "You like that? Just a little something I'm working on. If you're good maybe I'll show you another trick sometime."

There you go. I hope some of you will find value in this. I would resist the urge to do something to the deck (put in duplicates or add a breather crimp to commonly named cards) let the universe dictate when you perform this. 

If you want to know my favorite coincidence effects, I think I'll write an article on that for the Summer X-Communication. And if you want to know my other favorite way of presenting coincidences, it's going to be in Magic For Young Lovers. It requires a little prop that will be included with the book. It's got a similar feel to this, but it's the version I use when I know I want to do a coincidence type routine on a specific time/day.