Six Uses of a Less-Secret Assistant

In this post on Wingmen, I introduced the concept of a Less-Secret Assistant. Unlike a Secret Assistant, whose presence is not noticed, the Less-Secret Assistant is someone who is clearly a part of the interaction, but the other people there don't realize this person is working with you. 

But Andy, why are you using the words "wingman" and "less-secret assistant" and this sort of thing? Why not use the terms that are already part of the magic vernacular like "stooge" and "confederate"?

Here's why. I want to veer off in a slightly different direction with these topics. And if I say, "Here are some uses for a stooge or confederate," you may have some predetermined feelings on those topics that aren't beneficial to the direction I want to go with these ideas. 

You see, a wingman is a reciprocal relationship, between two or more magicians to be exploited in social situations. This isn't about putting a plant in the audience to make you look good. The idea of having and being a wingman is about the relationship you two create, and using it to really mess with people. 

Now, as I said in my original post, you don't have to hide the fact that your Less-Secret Assistant is also interested in magic. Perhaps if you overuse this technique on the same group of people, they might suspect you're working together, but you'd really have to be pretty obvious about it. In a way we're going to take advantage of the stereotype of a magician being somewhat egocentric or narcissistic. Magic is considered something of a "show-off" hobby. So the idea that someone who is in your social circle and an equal to you might be secretly helping you just for the sake of making you look better or making an interesting experience for the others without getting any of the acclaim for him or herself, that's not a concept that is immediately going to spring to mind for your target audience. Audiences tend to look at the smaller picture; the thing that just happened in this moment. The notion that you might have a long-term relationship with one or more of the people there, built on helping each other out, that's not an obvious solution many spectators will leap to.

Six Uses for a Less-Secret Assistant

You're out with a group of people. One or more of them is in your crew of wingmen. Here are some examples of ways you might used them as a Less-Secret Assistant. (Or vice-versa.)

Examine the Unexaminable

Many tricks start unexaminable, but end in an examinable state. A great use for an LSA is to hand the gimmicked deck or the gimmicked coins or whatever to them at the start and ask them to give them a look. They give a fake look over the objects and hand them back. This is a subtle, but valuable, use of an LSA. And it's especially convincing when you can hand the objects back out for general examination to everyone at the end.

If the trick doesn't end examinable you could still use this ruse by handing the objects to be examined at the end just to your LSA to give a fake once-over. But you run the risk of the other people there wanting to take a look too. 

One thing I've considered, but never actually done, is to take a highly gimmicked deck, like a Mental Photography Deck, do a trick with it and then put it in my messenger bag or coat pocket at the end and then have my LSA be like, "What the fuck... there's no way. That's a trick deck or something." And they reach in and grab the deck to take a look at it. Of course, they're removing an ungimmicked deck in the process. So it's like a pocket switch but done by two people. 

Foot Tapping

All sorts of information can be transmitted by tapping each other's feet under a table. You can do very simple stuff like you leave the room and an object is hidden under one of four bowls, you come back and wave your hand over each bowl and you know which one has the hidden object. 

Or you can do a card divination where a card you never see is selected from wan ordinary deck of cards. You then learn what the card is either by breaking it down into its attributes.  "Okay, think... was it a red card... or a black card [foot tap]." And so on.

But the real value of having wingmen is to work on things you couldn't just do with any ordinary stooge. You can teach your ditzy boyfriend or girlfriend to tap on your foot when you point at the bowl with the object under it. But with wingmen you can get together some night and just order a couple of pizzas and put your heads down and commit to learning morse code. It can be done in a night. And with other people, it's fun to practice. 

Now you can secretly transmit actual words to each other at a table. So, perhaps, one spectator brings any book, a second flips to any page, and a third points to any word on the page and you're able to name what it is with your eyes tightly closed and facing away from everyone. Or, what I like, is to do the sort of thing where your eyes are clearly covered, but you can continually name objects that are held up by someone else at the table. Most often you can figure out the object with just the first three or four letters tapped on your foot.

False Shuffling

"Give these cards a quick mix," you say, and hand the deck to your LSA.

You continue talking to your target audience and your LSA false shuffles and hands the deck back.

Here's the thing, it doesn't matter if they are the world's worst false shuffler. They just have to make some riffling noises while you are occupying people's attention and everyone will assume the deck has been shuffled.

Spoon Bending

I'm not much of a spoon bender myself, but I've watched friends do this routine. It works best if no one knows your LSA is into magic.

It's you, your LSA and your TA (Target Audience) at the table. 

You ask your LSA to grab three spoons. One spoon is examined and put into a little bag formed by holding a cloth napkin or bandana by the four corners. This is given to the TA to hold by the corners. The other two spoons are examined and one is given to the performer and one is kept by LSA. 

You concentrate and bend your spoon with your mind (apparently). The spoon is compared to the LSA's spoon to show how much it bent. 

"But maybe I just secretly bent it with my hands or something. Here, [LSA], you hold onto this spoon like this." They hold onto the spoon and it visually starts to melt in their hands at your command. 

"Okay, but still, he was touching the spoon. Maybe it's a fancy spoon that melts from human body heat. I don't know. But there's one spoon no one has touched, in the little bag you're holding." You make some gesture and the TA removes the spoon to find it bent. 

So, obviously, you and the LSA both need some spoon bending abilities. The LSA should probably be the better of the two at spoon bending because that's going to be the follow-up to the original bend, so there may be more heat on it. The spoon that's placed in the napkin can be placed in straight and just bent from the outside of the napkin as the corners are being gathered up. 

I don't think you can present spoon bending in a much stronger way than this.

One Ahead

You'll almost be embarrassed to do this because it's too good and too easy. Just use your LSA for the last choice in a one-ahead routine. Unlike many one-ahead routines that have a kind of wonky progression—"think of any place in the world, now any number, now pick a card"—this allows you to perform some very straight-forward and cohesive effects. "I want everyone here to think of an embarrassing childhood celebrity crush and I'm going to try and guess them." I think the consistency of the question and the process actually makes the method stronger than traditional uses of one-ahead where things change along the way, which perhaps points to the method.

Less-Secret APPsistant

A lot of the magic apps on the market can go from great to miracle with when you have an LSA on your side. I'm not going to go into all these because I don't want to get into methods too much. But often you need to do some secret inputting of information into your phone. If the inputting is done by one of the apparent spectators, then it seems all the more cleaner. 

Think about the use of an LSA with an app like Digital Force Bag. This makes that app even more valuable because you can perform tricks without you knowing the number selected by the audience. The group of spectators can secretly agree on a number. You say, "Someone grab my phone and go to my notes app." Your phone just happens to be closest to your LSA. Miracles ensue. 

Combine some of these ideas and things become even more astounding. Think of doing Wikitest with your eyes genuinely closed and covered. Your Target Audience thinks of any word and looks it up on Wikipedia on her own phone. She is to make sure no one else in the group sees the word. Your LSA gets the peek and then transmits the word to you with foot taps. 

Is this gilding the lily? Yes. I'm not sure it's significantly more impressive than Wikitest as it's performed normally. But part of this is about increasing the bond between your group of wingmen, and executing some more outlandish methodologies is going to build that connection. It's just fun to plan this stuff and take advantage of people's special skills and pull off a crazy trick. It's a little like what I imagine planning a bank heist feels like.

You see, the "wingman" concept is not just about creating experiences for your spectators, it's also about creating experiences for you as a small group of performers. This is really where the idea differs from the traditional notions of stooges, plants, and confederates. 

For the first 20 years that I practiced magic, it often felt very isolating as a hobby. Performing for others wasn't something I loved doing because I didn't like the magician-centric approach that was modeled for me in magic. And for every time I performed something and felt like it brought people closer to me, I felt just as often that it kept people at a distance. And the part of the hobby devoted to the inner-workings of the effects was also something that was designed to be kept to myself, except on rare occasions when I'd interact with other magicians. 

During the first three years of this site I've explored a lot of ideas about the presentation of magic which have helped get me out and performing more (as much as any non-professional in the world, I would imagine) by making it more communal and experiential and less about me.

The wingmen concept is about taking that same esthetic and applying it to the secret workings of effects. It's about making magic more of a collaborative and social experience, but not in just a "let's get together and talk secrets way," but in a way that's actually about creating magical experiences for others.

I'm often asked why there isn't a Jerx message board or facebook page. It's because you don't need another place online to talk magic. If anything, all these places online are likely keeping you from getting out there and performing. If you want another group to talk about magic and the concepts that I explore here, make that a group you create in the real world.