Final Exam: Part I

I was in New York City about a month ago for another round of focus group testing and I wasn't quite feeling it. The previous round had been something of a flop, at least in regards to producing any results that I found enlightening or interesting. So I wasn't as enthused going into this session as I usually am. Then, as I was walking down 7th Avenue the night before the testing, I saw this...

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And I thought to myself, "That's a sign!" Yeah, no shit it's a sign, Andy. No, I mean it's a sign. Why else put this dull fact on one of these phone charging stations unless it was to inspire me? There's no reason such a humdrum piece of information should be broadcast otherwise. I'm sure the guy who collated the #LinkNYCfacts would argue, "Hey, we never said these were fun facts." He's got a point, but I still chose to see it as a sign. Life is more fun that way.

So it was with renewed vigor I went into the testing.


I've long wondered about the impact examinability has on the strength of an effect. In my experience it seems to make tricks significantly more powerful, and yet you hear from very well established magicians that it's not an issue. Have a trick that can't be examined? Their advice is, "When you're done with the trick, put it away and pull out another trick." They call this "audience management." 

This is such a magician's way of thinking. "They want to look at this coin that just changed into a different coin? Well, if I put it in my pocket and go on to another trick, then they can't look at it. Problem solved. I've just managed my audience." 

How does putting something in your pocket and moving on quell someone's instinct to want to look at it? It doesn't. The hope is just that you make the situation too awkward for them to say, "Hey wait, I wanted to see the coin." So "audience management" in this case is running away like a bitch and winning on a technicality. You don't actually make them not want to examine the object, you just put obstacles in their place so they can't. If that qualifies as audience management then so does this: When the trick is over, throw the coin off a fucking cliff.

Getting rid of something—the "something" that just seconds ago you were begging people to pay attention to—doesn't allay suspicion, it only increases it.

The other thing you'll hear is that if people want to examine something then you just need to work on your presentation. Somehow—and no one has ever really explained how this works—but somehow the presentation will just be so good that people won't have any desire to examine the object of the effect. Does anyone have an example of this mythical type of presentation? Because my experience has been just the opposite. The more engaged someone is with the experience, the more wrapped up in it they get, and the more they're likely to say, "Wait... hold on... let me see that!"

This shouldn't be surprising that the more someone is captivated by your magic, the more they want to touch, see and engage with it, because this is how it works with every other thing in the known universe

Of course, the extreme example of this type of thinking is when people go full on delusional and say, "People don't ask to examine my props because they think I'm a real magician." Uhmmm... no. No they don't. They just don't care. (See this post for more on this sort of thing.) 

As the world evolves, the need for examinability grows. 150 years ago, if you changed one bill to another, the spectator might think, "That bill must have a secret flap so it can look like another bill." And if you could demonstrate there was no secret flap in some way, then maybe you didn't have to hand out the bill, because you've just disproved the one known possibility in 1870.

See, this is part of a theory I had.... In 1870, you probably felt like you had a pretty good grasp on the world around you, and when you saw something you couldn't explain, it undoubtedly felt pretty magical. But these days, we see things we can't explain all the time. We use technology we can't explain on a daily basis, and we know there is much more out there that we're not tuned into. So now if someone sees one bill change to another, they might think, "Is it a flap? Color-changing ink? Digital ink? Some other technology I don't even know about?" And it's not until the bill is in their hands, and they see it's just an ordinary bill, that it goes from looking magical to really feeling magical. 

But that was just a theory I had. And while I disagreed with most of the stuff I'd read about the subject of examinability, I still didn't really know how much of a difference it makes to the overall impact of a routine.  Is it a little or a lot? Is it enough that it makes sense to restructure an effect in order to make it examinable? It seemed to make a significant difference to me in my experience, but maybe I was just imagining it. 

So that's what we were in NYC doing: trying to quantify—at least to some degree—the affect that being able to examine the object that just went through some kind of magical transformation has on the impact of the effect.

More details and the results of the testing on Wednesday.