I think the trick in my repertoire that has had the most staying power is the Hoy Book Test. I would say a week has rarely passed and certainly a month has never gone by were I have not performed this trick in some form for the past… I don’t know… 20 something years maybe? I learned it from a Tom Mullica videotape, oddly enough. So whenever that came out.
The version I do most frequently these days is called Narrow Your Eyes and it’s in JV1. It justifies the need for a book because it’s not presented as mind reading. (If you have the book, you can use a similar justification in a drawing duplication, or when you have some write down a word they’re thinking of.)
I’ve probably tried a dozen other ungimmicked book tests, but have always come back to Hoy. My conclusion from trying all those other versions is that there are probably no good book test where you have to hold the book while they are looking at the word. I’ve tried a bunch of them. Some seem clever, but when I break it down with people afterwards they almost always say, “Well… I guess you must have got a look at the word at some point. Maybe you put your finger in the book? Or you looked when I looked?” The nice thing about the Hoy Book Test is they peek the word with the book in their hands on the other side of the room. Yes, there are still things that need to be justified with Hoy (why you’re using books at all, why two books, why can’t they just open to a random page, etc.) but I feel I can talk my way around those things. I can’t come up with a good justification for why I—the person we’re trying to keep the word a secret from—needs to hold onto the book other than the fact that it gives me the opportunity to take a quick looksy-poo at the word.
So that’s why I’ve stick with Hoy. I like my book tests like I like my barbecue sauce. Bold.
For the amateur/social magician there are even more benefits to the Hoy book test than many other others because you can do what I think of as the Delayed Hoy.
Traditionally, with the Hoy book test you’re limited to naming the first word or two on the page because you have to pick up that information very quickly. With the Delayed Hoy you can have someone read the page until they get to some imagery they can easily picture in their mind and you can reveal that instead of just a word.
The Delayed Hoy is an amateur magic technique because you’re not doing the method in real time.
I used to do it in the early-mid 2000s on the subway all the time. Back then, so many people were reading books because cell phones were still pretty useless.
So I would see someone, often an attractive female because I’m a typically shallow male, and we’d get to talking and I would be able to read her mind and tell her what she was thinking of from a random page in a book. And I could do this without ever touching her book at all.
How? Well, the day before I saw her reading that book on the train, and I just went to the bookstore after work, looked at a copy of the book and picked out the first compelling visual concept on page 183. The next time I see that person, I’m all set. (If you’ve never lived in a city with mass transit system like NYC, you might not realize that if you have a regular commute you’ll often end up seeing the same people, in the same subway cars, at the same time each day.)
I do something similar today. The last major book chain in the U.S. is Barnes and Noble. Almost all of them have a Starbucks inside of them. I’ll meander though the Starbucks until I see someone interesting. Get a look at the books on their table. Go into the main store, find those books, see what’s on page 183 and memorize the first easily pictured concept on that page. Then I can go back, sit at a table nearby, strike up a conversation, and go into a version of the effect where they can choose any of the books in front of them and I can read their mind. Again, without ever touching the book.
Another thing I used to do is this… I read a lot of shitty horror and mystery paperbacks, because yes, I’m dumb. Go read Dostoyevsky you fucking smarty-pants. Anyway, once a week i would go to the bookstore near where I worked and I would go through the bestsellers and note the first interesting thing on page 183 of each book and make a note of it on the blank pages at the end of the book I was reading. Now, anytime I run into someone reading a best seller, I can look at my crib in the back of my book and go into the trick. I would also trim down the page next to my force page in my book. That way I wouldn’t have to do a miscall. I could flip to the page and legitimately show the page number.
Ultimately that was maybe not worth the investment of time. I’d probably only use my best seller crib a couple times a year just by fate (I mean, just by stumbling across someone with a copy of one of those books). I would sometimes use it more directly, if I was in a bookstore cafe with someone I’d tell them to “grab any book on the best seller shelf.” If they asked why just the best seller shelf, I’d say, “It’s easier if it’s something in the zeitgeist.” But it really didn’t matter either way. If they picked a book that wasn’t in my crib, I’d just do the standard Hoy. I probably wouldn’t recommend someone put the effort into maintaining a best seller crib unless you, like me, would find it soothing to have this little weekly ritual where you go and get a coffee and peruse through the few new books on the bestseller list that week and jot down what’s on page 183 of each. (For anyone not familiar with the Hoy book test, no, there’s nothing special about page 183. I’m just using it as an example here.)
My point is simply that, for the amateur magician, you should keep your eyes open for opportunities where you can find out what someone is reading and do the prep for the Hoy Book Test not in real time.
There is an added bonus to doing it this way. When I would ask people about the trick later on (a week or so later), they almost universally forget about the second book. They would mention taking their book and flipping to a random page and that was the extent of the process in their mind. Which, of course, makes it almost a miracle. With the traditional Hoy book test, an equal amount of weight is put on both books at the beginning, so it’s maybe a little harder to make that page selection part fade into the background. With the Delayed Hoy all the focus is on their one book which I never go near. My book is only in play for less than 10 seconds and is used in a fairly off-handed casual way, so I think it becomes easier to forget.
I’m certainly not suggesting the original Hoy test needs any improving. I still love being able to walk into a huge library with someone and telling them to get me two books from anywhere and let’s try something. But the Delayed Hoy is, I think, a good example of taking advantage of opportunities we have in amateur performing situations that we often overlook just because, historically, magic books haven’t really looked at effects from that perspective.