Two-Card Transmogrification

A couple years ago I was on a short road trip for work and the stereo in the rental car I was in fizzled out. Soon after that, my phone started running low and I needed to conserve the battery so I could use it to navigate once I got closer to my destination.

So I was sitting alone in a car with nothing to keep me entertained other than my own thoughts. Now, I know it’s probably a criticism of the modern age that we’re constantly “entertaining” ourselves to death and “why must you always be listening to podcasts and music, why can’t you be content listening to the simple trill of a sparrow?” I get all that. And I do think I would benefit from carving out time in my life where my brain is being less stimulated. But in that particular moment, with nothing to listen to, no one to talk to, and driving through dull terrain with not a single interesting thing to look at between me and the earth’s fucking curvature on the horizon, I was pretty miserable.

To entertain myself, I decided to play a game where I would try and come up with as many different ways as I could to present a two-card transposition. So a card is shown, set on the table, another card is shown, and then you reveal those cards switched places. How many ways can you present that? The rules I established were that I could build up the presentation in any way I wanted, but the handling would be the same for each trick. So, it wouldn’t be about adding more phases or different techniques. It would just be ways to present that one switch.

This is similar to another game I play where I try and think up ways to reveal a peeked word, as discussed many moons ago here.

So what are some ways to present a two-card transposition?

The first one comes easily.

1. Present it as two cards switching by MAGIC!

Boom. That was simple. And, of course, that’s where most people stop thinking. Despite the fact that when you look at it isolated in that way, it’s really kind of a dumb way to present it. “I am a great and powerful Magician! Behold my awesome powers as I… make this little piece of paper switch places with this little piece of paper a few inches away.”

So what else?

2. Present it as a demonstration of a secret gambling move.

3. Present it as a demonstration of suggestion or hypnosis, i.e., “You only thought I put the Ace of Spades on the table because I said that with such conviction. In reality it was the 2 of hearts all along.” Blah, blah, etc. etc.

4. Some dumb “story from your past” type of presentation. “One time, this guy came into a bar and showed me the Ace of Spades on top of the deck and dealt it onto the table…,” and so on.

This is far and away the least interesting type of presentation in my opinion, based on the feedback I get from audiences, and it boggles my mind that it’s so common with magicians.

Ok, where else can we go with this trick…

5. Maybe some sort of pseudo magical history type of presentation. You tell them a little about Dai Vernon and you mention that he said the most magical thing you can do with a deck of cards is to make two cards switch places because it’s such a simple, uncomplicated effect, but most people never get to witness it. So now you’re going to give them the opportunity to see something that one of the greatest magical minds thought was the most amazing thing you could do. (I don’t think he actually said that. I think he might have said something similar about a color change. I don’t really know. Or care. For the sake of engaging the audience it doesn’t really have to be true.)

If you’re familiar with my style, then it’s not hard to imagine some more “meta” presentational ides in line with that sort of thing. Such as…

6. A presentation where you say you’re working on this classic trick and could you get their help with it. You go through the motions a couple times but don’t do the actual mechanics of the switch (so the cards just end up where you would expect them to be). You scratch your head as if you can’t understand why it’s not working. You consult a book briefly. Then say, “This says I should use a blue deck, but I don’t see why that would make a difference..” And you swap your red deck for a blue deck. This time it works. You’re happy but also mildly annoyed/confused because you can’t wrap your head around why it didn’t work with the other deck. Maybe you try it another time with the red deck and it doesn’t work again.

That’s a combination of a few different things I’ve written about here. It’s sort of the Peek Backstage style along with the idea of intentionally complicating your spectator’s understanding of magic methodology. They think in terms of sleight-of-hand, and that’s it’s a mechanical technique that just works if you do it right. I never deny that sleight-of-hand is used in magic, but I will confuse the issue by implying that there are other aspects to the methods that are less straight-forward and not as easy to comprehend

Now, as I drove the presentations became more ridiculous, of course, because the “normal” ones were taken.

7. A presentation “exposing” this awesome new trick deck you got. You remove the deck from the freezer. “Every card has one face when it’s cold and another when it’s at room temperature. Some cards are paired up in a way so you can do this trick.” You show them the Ace of Spades and set it face-down in front of them, and the 2 of Hearts in front of you. You wait five minutes. “That should be about enough time,” you say, and flip them over to see that they’ve “changed.” Offer to sell this gimmicked deck to your friend for $40.

By the time I reached my destination, I had come up with a couple dozen presentations. A lot of them were kind of stupid, of course. And many of them I didn’t remember by the time I was in a position to write them down. I’ve continued to play this game since and I now have a document with 65 presentations for a two-card transposition. My goal is to get it up to 100.

What’s the point? Well, I think this sort of think is a valuable creative exercise if you want create your own presentations. While maybe only 1/4th of the presentations I’ve come up with are something I would consider good to great, that’s still 15+ good to great presentations for a two-card transposition, which is pretty valuable to have. And almost all of the 65 are more interesting than just “I did this with my magic powers!”

The other benefit of this sort of exercise is that it will keep you on guard to identify other tricks that are, what I think of as, “blank slate effects.” I’ll have more to say on this in a post in the near future. The two-card transposition is more than a trick, it’s a building block that you can create all sorts of effects around. As mentioned, the peek of a word is a similar building block. But we often use these things in the blandest way possible because we think of them as complete tricks rather than elements of a trick. “How will I reveal this word I peeked? I know. I’ll pretend to think real hard and then say it with my mouth.” There are literally 1000 more interesting/entertaining things to do with a peeked word than that. And while not every blank slate effect will spawn that many iterations, there are many tricks that I feel we can wring a lot more out of. More to come on that.

[I mentioned posts will be getting shorter. They will. I’m working on that.]