The Five Causes: Prom Dress Edition

Last week, in the post, “Causes and Effect,” I said: “I'll expand on this idea in a post next week where I'll look at one effect through the lens of the five different causes.”

Well, as the passage of time dictates, “next week” is now “this week.” So let’s do this.

The effect we’re going to look at is the revelation of the color of your spectator’s prom dress.

Let’s say the method for the effect is an impression pad or a peek.

“But Andy, how do I justify asking them to write down the color of their prom dress?”

You don’t. You say, “Do you remember the color of your prom dress? Or some other memorable dress you wore for some special occasion? Let’s try something. Write it down on that pad, then take that sheet and fold it and put it in your pocket. We’ll get back to it later.”

No justification is needed because they don’t know what you’re going to do. If you say, “I’m going to read your mind. Write down the color of your prom dress.” Then the question becomes “Why do I need to write it down?” But here they don’t know to question it because they don’t know what’s going to happen. If after reading their mind they say, “Why did you have me write it down?” Then you can use your justifications. (“It cements it in your mind.” “So I’d have proof I got it right and you weren’t just being nice.” (A better thing to say than, “So you wouldn’t lie and say I got it wrong to make me look bad.”))

Okay. So you know the color of the dress she wore. Now let’s plug that into the five causes.

No Cause

“I have a little stick here with six gemstones on it. Is the color of your dress represented by one of these stones? Great. Now I just snap my finger and all the stones become the color of your dress.”

Snapping fingers = No Cause

Now, “No Cause” doesn’t necessarily mean bad. This would be a fine trick as it is. (Although it would require you to have a secret bandoleer of Hot Rods that you have access to.) The problem with “No Cause” effects is that there is nothing beyond the effect itself to really connect with a spectator.

No Cause effects are like a one-night-stand: fun, but not meaningful, and often forgettable.

Lip-Service Cause

Type One - Non-Sequitur Cause and Effect

[Unwrapping a candy cane.] “When I smell mint I can tell people what color their prom dress was.”

This is just nonsense, and will be ignored as such.

Type Two - Unfulfilled Cause and Effect

[Said to someone you just met.] “I think you and I have a strong connection. And because of that, I believe I can guess what color dress you wore to your prom.”

This is “unfulfilled,” because you’re saying the cause is your “strong connection.” But you’ve done nothing that would imply you established that connection or suggest why you and the other person might have such a connection (are you from the same town? do you like the same movies? were you born on the same day?). “We have a strong connection,” is meaningless without establishing or justifying that connection.

Believable Cause and Effect

  1. Pseudo-Psycho Analysis - “Well, I know you like to stand out in a crowd, so I don’t think you’d wear black. But I also know you like to stand-out because of your personality more-so than just how you physically present yourself. So I don’t think you’d wear anything outlandish. So…hmmm… I think it would be a bright color, but not too flashy. There was probably something unusual about the dress. Maybe it was vintage? I’m not sure. Okay…I’m going to commit myself. I think it was a yellow dress.

  2. Pseudo-Face Reading (I don’t know what you’d call it.. micro-expressions, micro-movements?) - “I want you to say the color of your dress to me, but only say it in your mind. Scream it to me. Okay, I can tell by the slight jolt of your head that it’s just one syllable. Do it again? Ah… yes. Your lips pursed together. There’s a plosive sound there. So… one syllable, with a B or a P maybe. It’s got to be blue, right?”

  3. Pseudo-Muscle Reading - “Give me your hand. I want you to imagine a rainbow spectrum floating in the air between us. It goes from red on this end to violet on this end. I’m going to move your hand through that spectrum. Try not to give anything away. Red. Orange. Yellow. Green. Blue. Indigo. Violet. Okay… it’s definitely on the warmer end of the spectrum. Let’s try again. Red. Orange. Yellow. Red. Orange. Yellow. It was definitely yellow.”

Unbelievable Cause and Effect

(This is the only version of this effect I’ve actually done.)

“You asked me how I’m liking this new apartment. It’s pretty great actually. I’ve never had a garbage disposal before. It’s nice. One thing that’s kind of weird is that the closet over there is a time machine. And I’m pretty sure they’re supposed to disclose that kind of thing. I know it sounds crazy, but I swear on the life of everyone you love that I’m not lying.” [That’s my favorite thing to say when I’m obviously lying.]

“I’ll prove it. I’ll go back to your prom and figure out what color dress you were wearing.”

I hop in the closet and pop out three seconds later. My shirt has changed from a plain grey t-shirt to a “Where’s the Beef” shirt. I’m wearing 80s sunglasses. And drinking from an old can of Jolt cola.


“Radical!” I say.

My friend is dying . Both because I look like an idiot and because of the insanity of the mini quick-change. It’s not quite America’s Got Talent level quick-changing, but it’s still pretty impressive. W

“Oh my god,” I say. “That was so bodacious. Time travel is so gnarly.”

My friend is laughing. “My prom was in 2004!”

“Well, yeah,” I say. “You think I’m just going to time travel back to 2004? And do what… watch the finale of Friends? Fuck that noise. I want to go somewhere cool. I went to 2004, visited your prom. Then I went back to ‘85 and had a fucking blast at the arcade.”

“Oh wait… your dress. Right. Your dress was… [I pause as if searching my memory, building tension] gold.”

She smiles and throws her head back.

“And can I say something with total sincerity? I know we’re having some fun here, but I want to say something from the heart.” I take her hands in mine and get super serious and say in a quiet voice. “That night… your prom… you looked…totally tubular.”

The “unbelievable cause”—which here is time travel—is the foundation of the Romantic Adventure style. This style is based on an interactive fiction you engage in with the spectator.

It’s the style that, in my experience, people find the most enjoyable and memorable. And yet it often puts the least amount of emphasis on the trick itself.

(The method here is Calen Morelli’s Dresscode to change the shirt. And then the sunglasses and soda were just on the shelf in the closet waiting for me to grab them.)

Mystery Cause and Effect

“Want to see something weird? Have you ever seen one of these? It’s called a Memory Crystal.”

You place in your spectator’s hand a small, smooth, cloudy white crystal.

“My friend’s uncle is a travel writer for National Geographic and he brought a bagful of them back from this island in the Bay of Bengal. Check this out.”

You have her hold the crystal between her hands.

“You need a color that’s associated with a strong memory. It can’t just be, like, ‘think of any color.’ So that’s why I asked you to remember the color of your prom dress. So think about that color, and of that dress, and that night.”

“This works better with some people than others.”

With your hands, you start “brushing” energy from her head, down her neck, down her arms and into her hands.

“Where is the paper you wrote down the color on? In your pocket? No… don’t worry about it. But what was the color? Actually, don’t tell me yet. It’s called a memory crystal because apparently it can absorb the color associated with a memory if it’s strong enough. I don’t really know how it works. It never really works when I do it myself, but I’ve seen it work for other people. Let me peek in our hands.”

You do and look up with a bit of a smile. “Was your dress green?” you ask.

She opens her hands and now the crystal is a pale green.

“That’s so crazy,” you say, shaking your head.

The idea behind the Mystery Cause is that you are either not spelling out the nature of how this effect is happening, or claiming you don’t really understand it completely yourself—there’s some mysterious element to it. And rather than give them a Cause that is believable or unbelievable, you are presenting a void for them to fill in whatever way makes them happiest. They can choose to believe it’s a trick and you’re screwing around, or it’s a real mystery, or somewhere in-between.

The method here would just amount to having 4 or 5 crystals of different colors that you could switch in for a clear crystal as you put it in someone’s hand (using any type of coin-switch that might work with the crystals).

If you peek the color and you realize you don’t have a matching crystal, then you just do something else with the information (you don’t commit yourself to the presentation until you’ve peeked the color).


Okay, so that’s how one effect can look after being run through these different “Cause” filters. This should give you some idea of what type of Causes you’re drawn to, and help you in coming up with presentations that fit the type of magic you want to perform. At least it does for me. And that’s ultimately the first step in coming up with your own presentations.

I’ll have some final thoughts on this concept (final for now, that is) next week.