Here’s a trick I did with a wingman friend of mine when we were out with a couple non-magician friends last week.
If you were to do it the way I did it, it requires you and the person you’re performing with to have a particular learned skill, but there is an easier way to do it as well that I’ll give at the end.
Here’s what it looks like. We were at a Cafe to get lunch and we had brought our laptops along to get some work done afterwards. We’re all freelance/self-employed, so this is a pretty regular occurrence for us. I was there with my “wingman” Jeff and our friends Emily and Charles.
Jeff is not really a magician—he doesn’t read up on magic or follow it online—but he likes learning two-person code tricks. I’ve taught him probably a dozen different systems over the years. And while the majority of them have been forgotten, we have a few different things that we perform regularly enough and are simple enough that we can easily go into them with no preparation.
It’s not hard to find a person like Jeff in your life. Just look for someone who appreciates cleverness and likes a little attention. Your wingmen don’t have to have the same level of investment in magic as you do.
I tell Charles and Emily that I’m working on a new trick with Jeff and we send him to the other side of the Cafe for a minute. I ask Emily to name a one-syllable word. She says, “Lump.” I have a deck of cards with me and ask her to shuffle it.. I take the deck back and one-by-one I take cards from the top of the deck and hold them out towards Emily as if I’m feeling for some kind of vibration. Some of those cards are dealt in a row in front of her face-up, others face-down, and some are discarded altogether.
I beckon Jeff to come back over and he waves his hand over the spread of cards. He looks at Emily and says, ‘You’re thinking of the word ‘Lump.’”
They found this modestly impressive. Obviously I had coded the word in the cards, but how?
I showed them that I’d used Morse code. The red cards were “dots,” the black cards were “dashes” and the face-down cards indicated the end of a letter.
Here is “Lump” coded in that way.
I reset the deck to its normal condition.
“That’s sort of the ‘training wheels’ version. We’ve been practicing to get a lot faster.” I ask Emily to whisper another word to me.
I take the deck and flip one half face-up and shuffle it into the other half. Not quite as fast as a normal shuffle, but relatively briskly. I bring my face down so I can study the sides of the deck as I shuffle. As you might if you were learning riffle-stacking. I then give it a few overhand shuffle chops, cut it into a few packets and reassemble. I take the deck and hold it at one end and flip the other end like a flip-book for Jeff as he looks into the deck.
This all happens very quickly. Far too quickly for me to have actually stacked the cards. And even if I had, there would be no way for Jeff to actually decipher the pattern in a quick riffle of the end of the packet. Right?
And yet, after a couple moments of thought, he says, “Were you thinking of the word Dance?”
I’ve already started resetting the deck when they ask to see it again.
Emily gives me another word. I split the deck and shuffle it face-up into face down. Even faster this time. Some overhand shuffling and then I cut a few packets around the table and quickly reassemble the jumbled mess.
I flip the cards towards Jeff. He squints. “I missed it,” he says. “One more time.”
I do it again. He shakes his head. “Sorry, I’m not getting anything.”
I spread the deck on the table. All the cards are facing the same way. “Shoot. The deck broke,” I say.
I particularly like the structure of this trick. Tonally it’s all over the place, but at the same time, each phase naturally follows the one that precedes it.
Phase One: You show them a minor effect and expose it for real.
Phase Two: You then do the same effect but in a much more impossible way.
Phase Three: You supposedly are going to repeat phase two, but it veers off into a magical/absurdist direction.
Depending on your point of view, you could see this as an elaborate way to get into Triumph. Or you could see the Triumph part as an out-of-left-field kicker ending.
To do this as I did it, you and your wingman need to know Morse code. It’s easy. It takes under a half hour to learn. Invite your friend over, get some food, and make it your goal to learn it in an evening. I find having a visual guide helpful in learning it, so you can associate the dots and dashes with the shape of the letter.
What makes Morse Code so useful is that it’s a code that can be “read” through sight, sound, or by touch. (You could even code a word by taste or smell, in theory.) As long as you can put something in two different states, you can use it to code with.
So, Phase One, you just do for real.
With Phase Two, you’re going to actually use Morse Code as a method where you pretend to use Morse Code. As you shuffle the deck you tap the word on your partners foot with your foot.
Phase Three is just any Triumph handling you want that comes close to mimicking what you did in Phase Two.
Alternate ending: If you want you could have your wingman successfully receive the word in the third phase. Then you could say something like, “This was a method prisoners of war used to send messages to other prisoners during World War II. Passing a note to another prisoner could get you in trouble, but passing them a deck of cards was perfectly innocent. Unless a guard was to grab it and spread through it and notice the arrangement of the cards. Then you’d have to come up with a way to ‘erase’ the message.” At that point you could focus on the just-mixed deck and do some magical action that apparently resets the deck to normal.
Okay, you don’t want to learn Morse Code. You could use something like the Thought Transmitter Pro or another type of peek device. Your spectator writes the word down (while you watch—you’re supposed to know the word) and at some point you deliver the peek to your partner. Then all the Morse Code stuff is just completely fake instead of only partially fake.
Being able to tap out words in Morse code is a surprisingly powerful tool. And having someone (or being someone) who doesn’t always need to take credit for the trick, is also very powerful. And combining those two tools is particularly satisfying. There’s a little bit of a dance to the methodology that feels extra good to pull off.
For example, picture this… There is an envelope on the table. A spectator secretly writes down any word. You open up the envelope and dump out a folded piece of paper and it has the word they wrote down.
The method? You peek the word. You tap it to your accomplice across the table. They write the word down on a card in their lap as all attention is on you and the spectator. They fold the card and toss it under the table into your lap. As you reach for the envelope with one hand, the other snags the card from your lap. You then apparently dump the card from the envelope, either by pulling it out from behind it or in a shuttle pass type of dump.
You can also tap the letters with your index and middle finger on the table top (index for dot, middle for dash). It will look like you’re just randomly drumming your fingers if anyone notices it all but. But now you can signal words to someone a few seats away at the bar. Someone who your spectator might not even realize is someone you know. So they think they’ve written down a word in secret, but in actuality you do know the word as does a third party they don’t know about. And your friend can be writing it on the bathroom wall or out in front of the bar in sidewalk chalk, or keying it into your car door or whatever.
This effect grew out of a much more difficult effect that fooled people intensely but didn’t have the other elements I look for in a trick.
A spectator freely shuffles a deck of cards. You spread the cards in front of them and ask them to look at the cards as they go by and to allow a one syllable word to come to their mind while they look at cards. They either say the word out loud or write it down and you peek it.
You deal the cards onto the table and ask them to stop you whenever they want.
You spread those dealt cards face up. Your friend comes in. He doesn’t need to get close to you or look at you. You could even leave the room before he returns. He looks at the spread of cards (from the deck the spectator freely shuffled and the number of cards they freely stopped at (no timing force)) and he can immediately name the word the spectator thought of.
The spectator shuffles the deck.
As you spread the cards for them, you cull out the red cards during the first half of the spread. You don’t need to do it through the whole spread. When you’re done and you push the cards together and turn the deck over, you’ll have a bunch of red cards on top, a bunch of mixed cards, and a bunch of black cards on the bottom.
They name the word they’re thinking of (or you peek it).
Here’s where it gets difficult, but doable. The spectator is thinking of a one syllable word. Most of those are going to be 5 letters or less. You are going to deal the cards onto the table by dealing from the top and bottom of the deck and you are going to stack them in red/black Morse Code as you do. Here is my best tip to make this doable: Don’t think of “dot/dash” and don’t think of “red/black.” Think of “up/down.” Up = short/red/normal deal. Down = long/black/bottom deal
Break up the dealing of the letters with some talking. Deal one or two letters at a time. So if they say the word FLAT. You would deal out an F (Up, Up, Down, Up)
“I’m going to deal through deck in a pile.”
Deal an L (Up, Down, Up, Up)
“Just one at a time like this.”
Knowing A and T are short (the most used letters in Morse Code are the easiest to signal). I would deal them together.
Deal an A and a T (Up, Down, Down)
“And you stop me at any point.” Or you can give the deck to them and have them continue dealing.
When they’re done, you take the pile and flip it over and spread it. You want to have a fairly even spread initially. But then, in the process of making sure all the cards are showing, you’re going to put a little extra gap between the cards that represent the start of one letter and the beginning of another.
When your friend comes in, he just ignores any cards after the last letter.
This fooled people badly, but I couldn’t come up with a really great presentation for it. What I tried going with was the idea that a shuffled deck is like tossed tea leaves and that the way the cards are distributed can tell us things. The idea being that the spectator was somehow able to intuit this word that was baked into this particular order in which they shuffled the deck and that my friend could then look at the spread and recognize the word as well.
It was okay, but not worth it for the effort required and the need of someone else to be involved.
So then I started doing a solo version. They think of a word and again, they name it out loud or write it down and I peek it. They shuffle the deck. I spread the cards and ask them if they see a pattern. They say “No.” I deal some cards into a pile on the table. “I think I may have seen a pattern.” Pause. Deal a few more cards. “I’m not 100% sure.” Deal a few more. “That should probably be enough.”
I spread the cards face up and then tell them about Morse Code and I bring up a translation page on my computer or phone.
“Here we have a red card, a black card, another red and a black. If red is short and black is long we have short-long-short-long. That would be a P in Morse Code. See? Did your word start with a P?”
I then go on to show them that the rest of their word is spelled out in the cards. So here the trick is they thought of a word, shuffled a deck of cards, and somehow managed to shuffle the cards into a Morse Code representation of the word they were thinking of. And they don’t even know Morse Code.
This too felt impossible to people, but didn’t really connect as I would want it to. I think it’s a little too dense as a subject matter for a trick.
But you may find a way to streamline it, or find the right audience for it.