This is the final post before my summer break. Regular posting will begin again on Friday the 13th. (Spooky.)
The Summer edition of the X-Communication newsletter will be sent to subscribers on the 17th.
I'll always remember how much fun we had in Mr. Mitchell's class.
One more year! Class of '19. Next year we RULE THE SCHOOL!
Have a bitchin' summer.
In the last post, I wrote about how inconceivable improbabilities can sometimes cause some spectators to disengage from the trick. In recent years, the most popular trick that falls into the "inconceivable improbability" category is the Rubik's Cube matching effect. There are a bunch of different ones on the market. The one I use is Perfect Square by JB Dumas and Michael Lam. Why that one? Well, because they gave me one for free when it first came out. (Otherwise I probably never would have done the effect as it's not the sort of thing that immediately appeals to me.)
For the most part, everyone's presentation for a Rubik's matching trick is the same. "Did you know there are 43 quintillion different combinations a cube can be mixed up in?" Then they go on to try and break that number down in a way that is equally inconceivable. "If every star in the sky was a human, and those humans had as many hands as there are grains of sand on the beach, and if each hand mixed up a Rubik's cube into a different combination once per second for as long as the universe has existed... you still would be 118 combinations short of 43 quintillion."
It's like, ok dude, we get it. There are a lot of combinations. Get to the trick.
I wanted a way to perform the trick that was less of a math lecture and more of a profound weirdness. I also didn't want to tip the ending too much by emphasizing how many different combinations there were. And I wanted a way to naturally "fall" into the trick. When you bring out two Rubik's cube and start giving a dissertation on combinatorics, you're doing a lot to strip away the "magic" of the whole thing. When the interaction feels completely pre-planned you weaken the strength of the magic moment.
What follows is the presentation I've been using for over six months. It uses a Hook to make the encounter feel more spontaneous. I don't go into this effect if they don't notice and comment on the hook. (But, there are a number of different hooks in my home, so even if they don't pick up on this one, they're likely to find another one that will allow me to roll into a different effect in a very organic way.)
My friend Jessica is visiting my place for the first time and I'm giving her a quick tour. She doesn't mention the book titled How To Converse With Spirit Friends on my end table. She doesn't mention the old Polaroid camera on my dresser. But as we settle back into my living room, one of my Hooks does catch when she points at something on a shelf opposite us.
"What's that?" she asks. "Did you win a trophy for doing the Rubik's cube?"
I give an embarrassed laugh. "Ah... no not quite. I found that in some old stuff at my mom's house. I was in a Rubik's cube solving competition at the mall in the mid-80s when I was little. I didn't come close to winning it. But everyone ended up getting a trophy for some made-up reason so no one felt bad. I can't even remember what mine was for. Something bizarre. But it was just like...you know... a participation trophy ultimately. I thought it would be funny to put it up like I was really proud of it."
"Can you solve one?" she asks.
"Uhm, yeah, sure. I still play around with them. I'm not super fast. But I can solve it in a couple minutes. Want to see?"
I open the drawer on the end-table next to my side of the couch and dig around for a moment and pull out a solved Rubik's cube.
"Here, mix this up," I say and toss her the cube.
We talk a bit more and then I ask for the cube back and she holds it out to me.
I go to take it from her and then freeze. "What the...."
I look at her cube a little more, then I turn and look at the one resting on the trophy on the shelf across the room. "You've got to be shitting me," I say. I walk across the room and return with the trophy and cube. I take the cube off the top and put the trophy on the coffee table. "Let me see," I say, and extend my hand for the cube she's holding. I take it with my left hand and put it side by side with the other cube.
"You're not going to believe this," I say. "So, there are like... I don't know... billions and billions of combinations a cube can be mixed up in. But check this out... This side matches. And so does this one. And this one. And this one. And... they all match." I give her the cube from the top of the trophy.
"Oh waaaaiiit," I say, and stare off into the distance a bit. "Shit! Now this thing makes sense!" I set my cube off to the side and pick up the trophy and spin it around to reveal the inscription.
In Recognition of the World's Greatest Coincidence.
Okay, the method has already been stated but let me point out some other details about what's going on here and what I love about this trick.
A Perfect Hook - The best hooks are those that are unusual enough to encourage your spectator to comment on them, but also things that aren't so odd that they scream, "This is for a magic trick." If you leave out a Tenyo trick, that might cause someone to ask about it and get you into the trick, but it's also obvious that that's why you left it out. A trophy off on a shelf somewhere isn't an obvious set-up, but at the same time, it's something many people will notice and comment on.
The Real vs The Feel - Bringing out two Rubik's cubes and talking about probabilities feels pre-planned and set-up and the boundaries of the effect are well established. The fact that you're talking about all the different combinations shows that you already know where things are going. This presentation, on the other hand, feels much more spontaneous and natural. The boundaries are blurred. At the end they will surely understand on some level that you choreographed this interaction. And that's fine because it still felt like an organic amazing experience. When did the trick start? When they themselves brought up the trophy on the shelf? As a spectator, if you feel like you instigated the action to come, it's going to feel very authentic, even when you know certain elements of it are theater.
Presentation - Talking about being at a Rubik's cube solving contest at a mall in the mid-80s is 43 quintillion times more interesting than talking about the mathematics behind the cube. In real life, when performing this, I flesh out that image a little and give some more details about how KB Toys had put on this event and there were dozens of kids there and it was out near the fountain by the food court. Or whatever. Paint a picture. If you're too young to go with that exact patter, well, I feel sorry for you. Being a kid in the 80s/90s was sweet. You could say it's your dad's trophy, or come up with a contest in a time that would be more era appropriate for you. But seriously, you missed out. The mall used to be real dope.
The Move - The nice thing about the Perfect Square move is that it's very quick and smooth. Yes, you can see something unusual if you know what you're looking for and you're staring directly at it when it happens. But under real circumstances, it's imperceptible.
And it's particularly deceptive in this case for two main reasons. The first is that you do the move when they're not looking at the cubes. The second, and more important reason is, at this point they don't even know they're seeing a trick.
So I grab the gimmicked cube off the trophy, take the mixed up cube from the spectator and place them side by side. It's at the point where I say, "So there are like... billions and billions of combinations the cube can be mixed in,"—and my friend is looking at my face, and not the cubes—that I do the move. It's invisible.
The Clean-Up: You never really know how things are going to go in a casual performance situation. It's not like a professional magic show where you're expected to control the audience. In social magic, the minute you start "managing your audience," you're forfeiting the whole casual feeling of the interaction. And that "casual feeling" is the element that makes social magic so powerful.
When I came up with this idea I wondered if the other person would immediately reach for the cubes so they could see for themselves if they matched up. I didn't want to say, "No! You can't look at these!" So here is how I routined it so that doesn't happen
- When I'm showing the sides of the cubes as matching, I don't rush the first few sides. I want it to be completely clear what they're seeing.
- After showing the sides matching, I hand them the cube that was on top of the trophy. They've already handled the initial cube, so they know that's normal. Now they get to handle this one and see it's normal too.
- At that point they might be inclined to grab my cube so they can compare for themselves, but just at this moment I draw their attention to the trophy, and I set the cube I'm holding to my side on the couch. The trophy now becomes the focus of attention.
- After the reveal on the trophy I bring back the Rubik's cube from my side, minus the gimmick. (I stuff that back behind a pillow when I get a chance.) Now they have two normal Rubik's cubes to look at.
I know what you're thinking: "Wait... they can examine the cubes, but the cubes don't match anymore." True, but my theory was that if you initially showed that a few sides matched very slowly and cleanly, then you could speed up for the final few sides. I don't mean you rush through them, but you go at a pace that says, "Yes, of course the sides match too." At this point I don't think there is an intense desire for the participant to look at the cubes for themselves. At least not to see if they match. The "matching" aspect has already been proven. And given that there are six sides and four orientations for each side, it's not immediately apparent they don't still match. So if there's suspicion about the cubes, I think the suspicion is that maybe the one on the trophy wasn't normal (but that's the one they were given to look at right after). And now the other cube is out to be examined too. So everything seems very clean at this point.
I've shown this trick to 7 or 8 people and while they've all looked over the cubes at the end, only two have said, "Hey, these don't match." But I'm not bothered when they do. It's actually a good thing, because then I get to extend the trick with another magical moment.
I take the cubes back from them and say, "What do you mean? We just saw they matched." So imagine I'm sitting to their right on the couch. I take the cubes from them. My left hand holds the cube they originally mixed. My right hand holds the pre-set cube that was in the gimmick. I compare the two cubes together then start rotating the cubes in my hands to find the matching sides. But then, out of nowhere, one of the cubes is perfectly solved.
Of course, what happens is that while my left hand rotates its cube, my right hand is doing the one-handed solve. But it doesn't come off as a one-handed solve. The right hand is obscured by the left. So it looks like I was just turning the cubes in my hand, looking for matching sides and one cube just became solved.
"Wait...,"I say. "This wasn't like this before, was it?" And I hand both cubes to the other person. "This is some weird shit, right?"
Again, it's not a demonstration of your ability to solve a cube with one hand. It's just supposed to be this bizarre transformation that occurs out of nowhere. This is a strong magical moment. The reason I don't do it every time (and only do it when they notice the cubes no longer match) is because I believe that structurally it's better to end with the trophy.
Happy 4th of July to my fellow Americans.