A week or so ago we had the first warm spring-esque days in the northeast (it didn’t last long, but that’s okay).
So I’m at a little get-together of eight people at my friend’s house in the suburbs of upstate New York. We’re hanging out on the deck in his backyard, overlooking a little forest area and a creek. As the sun sets and the air chills, most everyone heads back into the house except myself and a girl (woman? whatever… don’t get uptight about this shit) ok… everyone heads back into the house except myself and a strong capable female individual named Laura.
I just met Laura this evening. She’s a short, slim woman, half-Chinese/half-English, and is a practicing lawyer (but the boring kind that works with corporations, not the fun kind that works with murderers) She’s in her early 40s, but tonight she’s in skinny jeans and a pink hoodie and could easily pass for 20 years younger.
We were talking about age and I mentioned how youthful she looked. “I have that natural preservative from the Chinese side of my family. Whatever it is that keeps Asian women looking young,” she said.
“I wish I had a dash of that. I’m just pure pasty white.”
“What’s your ethnicity on your mom’s side?” she asks. I tell her my mom is part Italian, part Austrian and a mix of other things that are pretty white.
“And your dad?”
“He was the Pillsbury Doughboy,” I say.
“Oh yeah,” she says. “That’s really white. That complexion doesn’t hold up over time.”
It’s going well. She’s fun.
“Honestly though, if I had guessed your age I would have said 29,” she says.
“That’s a weirdly specific number,” I say. She shrugs.
I’m momentarily pleased that someone thought I looked a decade plus younger than I am. Then I kind of pieced it together in my head that I pretty much look my age, but I have the attitude and disposition of a 14-year-old. Her guess was probably just an average of those figures.
At one point I start chewing a piece of gum, and after a few seconds she leans in towards me. “Oh wow,” she says, “I haven’t smelled that in ages she says.”
She’s referring to the fact that I’m not chewing “adult” gum. Not like a sensible small, minty nugget of Dentyne. I’m chewing grape Bubblicious. Kid’s gum.
I chew grape and watermelon Bubblicious a lot. I love that shit. And the smell is so strong and evocative—at least to people of a similar age—that someone almost always comments on it. When you find something that people comment on regularly—something you do, wear, drive, or whatever—try to come up with a way to turn that into a Hook.
I offer her a piece of gum and she gleefully takes it, unwraps it, and pops it in her mouth.
“Did you ever play that game with the wrapper?” I ask.
“Whub gamb?” she says, through a mouthful of gum.
“Oh, you know…,” I say, “I don’t know if it had a name. Hold on.” I jump up and run inside and grab a pen.
I come outside and draw a heart in the center of the empty wrapper.
“Don’t let me see, this has to be a secret. I want you to think of someone you had a crush on when you were young. Like middle school age. Someone you never told anyone about. Got someone?”
She nods. She’s on the edge of her chair. Girls love this junk. So do strong capable females. And so do a lot of guys, for that matter.
“Okay, write their initials in the middle of the heart. I’m going to stand over here, because if I see it, it won’t work.”
She writes down the initials. I tell her to fold it in half from top to bottom, then from left to right, and again from left to right. “The initials are hidden, yes? So I can come back?”
Man, this sort of thing is a tight-rope. You know, because you’re reading a magic blog, what’s going to happen with those initials. However, I don’t want to telegraph that. And at the same time I need her to remember that there’s no way I could see the initials. At the end I don’t want her thinking, “Wait… could he have read the initials when I wrote them? Was he looking? I wasn’t paying attention.”
In this instance, it’s slightly easier because she doesn’t know a trick is coming. So I’m emphasizing that I need to not be able to see the initials, but she can’t really get ahead of me as to why.
I come back to the table and take the pen and draw an X on one side of the folded gum-wrapper.
“Okay,” I say, “this is a fortune telling game. You probably played it when you were a kid. Whoever’s initials you wrote on the inside, that’s who you’re going to marry. And this game will tell you how your marriage will go. You take the wrapper and shake it up like dice and drop it on the table.” I demonstrate this. “If it lands X-side up, your fortune is the worst option of the three. If it lands X-side down, it’s the middle option. If it lands on the edge like this, then it’s the best option.”
I show her what I mean by putting the wrapper in the three positions.
I then give her categories with three different options for each and she tosses the wrapper to see which one she gets. For example:
Where they’ll live (apartment, house, or mansion)
What type of car they’ll have (used Toyota, new Lexus, or chauffeured around in a limousine).
What their offspring will be (one average child, three perfect children, two braindead conjoined twins)
Finally we end by asking the wrapper how long their marriage will last (1 year, 20 years, or forever).
Obviously this is stupid nonsense. But it’s mildly amusing fun as the story comes together… “Ah, you’ll live in a mansion, but drive your braindead twins around in your used Toyota.”
I’m taking my cues for this fake fortune telling game from a real one that was played around me growing up called MASH (Mansion Apartment Shack House).
At the end of the game I said, “Oh, there’s something else we can try. We used to do this at camp. Take the wrapper. Don’t unfold it, I don’t want to see. Hold it in your fist. Think of the person whose initials you wrote down and concentrate while chewing the gum. I’ll be right back.”
I go in the house and come back with a lighter.
I tell her to place the wrapper on an overturned bottle cap and I light it on fire. I ask her for the gum from her mouth and I take it and hold it over the flame, in the smoke from the wrapper. After a couple seconds I pop her gum in my mouth.
“Ew, gross!” Okay, nerd, beat it. Look, I come from a time where chewing gum that had been in someone else’s mouth was a kind of an adolescent form of flirting. Like it was a gateway to french kissing. And the whole point of this presentation was to evoke that kind of youthful, carefree foolishness. In this case I was performing for someone whose tongue I hoped to have in my mouth later in the evening, so I sure as shit had no problem chewing her gum. You could come up with another option, of course. I’ll mention another at the end.
As I chewed her gum, my eyes looked up and scanned back and forth as if I was mentally processing some information I was receiving from the smoke-infused gum.
“Okay… this doesn’t always work… was the guy’s name….J-John? Or Jim? Am I close?”
She had a lovely, expectant, puzzled smile on her face. “Yesssss… kind of,” she said.
“Jason?” I asked.
“Oh. My. God!” she said.
“It’s Jason? Ok. I’m not sure about the last initial.”
I trace with my index finger in the air as if I’m figuring something out as I stare off in the distance. “Is it an L? No. It’s a K.”
“What!” she says. The look on her face shifting from amazement to confusion and back a few times. She sinks down in her seat, put her head back and says, “Aggghhhh!” while stomping her small feet alternately, back and forth like a drumroll. “That’s crazy!”
“Well,” I say, “if the gum wrapper is accurate, you have a nice 20 year relationship with Jason still to come.”
“Ooh!” she says, and her expression changes to one of child-like delight as she plays along, but she quickly drops it. “Wait… I think he’s gay now,” she says.
“Hmmm… well that’s not what the wrapper seemed to suggest,” I mumble.
Okay, this is 100% social magic. The style of the performance, the nature of the interaction, the pacing of the trick, and the method are all firmly in the social magic camp. If you don’t see the appeal of this—if you’d rather bring out a business card, have them write down a three digit number, and then reveal it—then we’re probably on different paths performance-wise, so don’t be surprised if much of the content on this site doesn’t speak to you.
What this is, essentially, is a holistic, social, billet routine.
It started with me noticing that when I would chew Bubblicious gum, people would often comment about the smell and how they hadn’t smelled it in forever or how it brought them back to when they were young. Using that as a “hook” was then obvious. And I particularly like the idea of using scent as a stimulus to get into an effect.
From there I realized that when you chew a piece of gum you’re left with a natural billet.
And since I often present things as a childhood game or ritual, everything just clicked together. Click. Click. Click.
In a traditional billet effect, the spectator might think: Why is he asking for this particular piece of information? Why am I writing it down? Why can’t I just think of it? Those issues don’t exist here. It wouldn’t make sense to ask any of those questions. All of those actions are perfectly justified by the presentation.
As for the actual method of the method, here’s what I did. On this particular night I hadn’t planned on getting into this trick, I was legitimately just chewing a piece of gum. But when she commented on it, she opened the door. I gave her a piece and then suggested we play the old “fortune telling game.” When I went to get the pen, I unwrapped another piece of gum, folded a duplicate billet from the wrapper, and put an X on one side.
When I got back, I performed the billet switch in the process of demonstrating how to shake and “roll” the wrapper. There wasn’t much technique involved. I had the dupe billet finger palmed in my left hand. I took the wrapper she had written on with my right hand. I brought the two hands together, shook them, and then dropped out the dupe instead of the original which remained in right finger-palm. I could have done something slicker, but there was no reason to. The demonstration of how to “roll” the wrapper is 1000% justified. They haven’t played this game before, so of course you’d demonstrate that part. They don’t even know a trick is coming at this point.
After that I just pocketed the real billet and popped it open and read it when I went to get the lighter, like 10 minutes later.
Doing the dirty work when you leave the room may seem bold, but keep in mind that in this situation the method is done before they know a magic trick is coming. So it’s not like they’re going to get suspicious. You need a pen. Then you need a lighter. It makes sense you’d go and get those things. If you prefer, of course, you can be prepped before the effect with a dupe, and you can get your peek of the initials during the routine itself. It’s up to you.
If you don’t want to chew the gum then maybe you could stretch it between your hands and act as if you’re looking for the information embedded in the gum in some manner. Yes, that’s still a little gross, but if you’re worried about that, then just don’t do a trick along these lines.
When it comes time to reveal the name I just guess the first two names that come to mind with that initial. If neither of those are correct, I suggest one more. I’ve only done this a few times, but I believe each time I got the name in the first three guesses. If I didn’t, I would just skip to naming both initials. It would be something like, “Is it John or James? Hmmm… maybe Jason? No? Hm, I must be way off. I could have sworn it was a ‘J’ name. Oh… it is? Oh good, I thought so. It feels like J… J.K?”
Now, again, I’m not expecting the majority of you to have the desire to perform this effect exactly as written. But there may be elements you can strip from it. Perhaps the use of a gum wrapper as a “natural” billet. Or using scent or taste as a sensory cue to send someone back to a particular moment in their life and then you can some how “pick up” on a thought while they’re in this regressed state. Or, if nothing else, I hope it’s an example of the concept of social magic (at least my definition of it) which is not just a trick done in a social setting, but a trick that is built on a social interaction and could really only exist in that context (as opposed to in a professional setting).