Mailbag #3


Did you mention you were going to review Tenyo’s new releases? —DM

I think I may have, but I decided against it as I didn’t have much to say.

Here’s the thing… up until recently, I was not someone who followed the Tenyo releases every year. I knew of them, but they weren’t really “my thing” so I didn’t pay that much attention. Only in recent years have I found some ways to perform them in a manner that suited my style. So when I came to Tenyo, I was coming to their extensive back catalog, which includes a number of ingenious and classic tricks. And discovering those tricks en masse was great, but it probably leads the annual releases to feel like a bit of a letdown to me. It would be like discovering a band via a “Best Of” album that spanned their 40 year career and then expecting their new releases to live up to that Best Of album.

All of that is to say, I didn’t really love any of the new releases. And when it comes to magic props/gimmicks—physical objects that I need to hold onto in order to perform a trick—I’m just not going to hang onto them unless I’m 100% in love with performing them for real people. I’m a minimalist. If it’s a clever method but isn’t something I’d perform, then it’s not for me, because I’m not that kind of collector. So I’m probably the wrong person to review Tenyo because I don’t think they’re intended to be the most practical and performable stuff.

So, let’s have a contest. I’m going to give away a box of Tenyo tricks that I don’t use, including the full 2019 Tenyo line of tricks.

The contest?

The Exaltation of Joshua Jay Contest

Similar to “tableaux vivants” where people re-enact classic paintings…


In this contest you will be re-enacting an image of Joshua Jay.

The Rules:

1. To enter this contest, just find any picture of Joshua Jay and do your best to recreate the photo with yourself in Josh’s place.

2. No photoshop allowed.

3. Must be the magician Joshua Jay, we’re not here to glorify some random guy with the same name

Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 5.16.51 PM.png

4. Send me your recreation and the original it was by two weeks from today with the subject line JJ Contest.

5. The winner will be picked by me. Points will be awarded for attention to detail and if it makes me laugh.

6. Win or lose, your entry may be posted on the site.

7. The prize will be a couple hundred dollars worth of open, but unused Tenyo items from the past couple of years. And some special bonus items not pictured below.


This is legit, so if you’re at all interested, definitely submit a pic by the deadline.

I really like your new presentation for Miraskill, which I think solves a problem with the effect […] Playing cards tend to get spectators, particularly family and close friends of a magician, thinking about math. I think you've written about this too, how getting away from cards is always a good idea with self-working methods. […} Predicting the breakdown of laundry types, on the other hand, is not the sort of thing spectators would attempt to do on their own, the "skill" looks too specific to be practical; and non-mathematical methods are likely to be assumed. That there is no such thing as standard sets of laundry with, say, 26 pieces of each type, I think further hides the method. —CZ

Thanks. That presentation does add a weakness though, in that I think dealing through cards in pairs can probably be justified more easily (as part of a game or procedure) than pulling out clothes in pairs. That’s why, in keeping with Monday’s post, I would keep them in the dark about what’s going to happen until past the point that the laundry has been divvied up.

I guess if one was really into the idea, they could come up with something where they had a bag of laundry with just pants and shirts and the person would remove one pair of pants and one shirt blindly and if they matched (in some manner) they would go in the dryer and if they didn't match they'd go in the washer. Then the removing of pairs would make more sense, because they are “putting together outfits.” Or something like that. But that's way too much work. 

The nice thing about this is, if you understand the workings of Miraskill well enough, it's something that you can have in the back of your mind, and if you're ever staying at a friend or relatives house it's something you can show them with their socks or underwear or laundry pretty much at a moment's notice without much set-up (other than determining the breakdown of the items involved) and it's not going to feel like any other trick you or anyone else has ever shown them. And that's even if they've seen Miraskill at some point.

I'm compelled by your desire for anonymity.  Most magicians want the opposite, and in spades. […] You certainly have earned the appreciation of many respectable people in the field. Do you ever wish you could accept some of that praise in a conventional way?  Or toy with the idea of making your identity public? — BS


For whatever reason, I don’t get much from that kind of validation. I appreciate it that people like the site, and it’s cool when people I admire have something nice to say about it, and I love hearing about or seeing people performing something I created, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about myself (I’m already pretty delighted with myself).

It’s not just with magic. In most of my freelance writing work outside of magic I’m uncredited, or credited as part of a group, and that’s perfectly fine with me. In fact, I prefer it.

I’ve always been this way. I think when I was writing the Magic Circle Jerk and calling Steve Brooks a fat slob, people assumed, “Oh, he’s anonymous so he can say these awful things without fear of retribution,” but that wasn’t the case. Now I’m writing a site that is, I think, exceedingly positive (Look, I don’t care, I’ll say it. I was wrong. Steve Brooks has the most beautiful body I’ve ever seen.) and I still prefer to keep it anonymous.

In fact, now it’s more important to me, because I want to be able to write about these interactions I have with real people in my real life and I wouldn’t be able to do that freely if I wasn’t doing it anonymously. The people in my life know I have an interest in magic, and some know I do some work related to it, but they don’t know to the extent that I do. Which is good because it allows me to have some genuine interactions with them without them saying or thinking, “Oh, is this something for your magic blog?”

Believe me, if there was a way around that part of it, I probably wouldn’t be anonymous. It’s a bit of pain in the ass. Originally it was kind of fun. I laid some misdirection seeds about my identity back in the MCJ days and even in the years between the two sites. But it was easier then because I just had to account for the blog and emails. Now, in addition to doing that stuff through a proxy: all the business dealings for the publishers and printers are done through someone else, the phone I use for Jerx stuff isn’t in my name, all incoming and outgoing physical mail is handled by other people. (If you swabbed an envelope I sent you for DNA, it wouldn’t come back to me. (That’s not to say you won’t find my DNA on some of the things I send you… but ♪that’s not saliva!♪ (I wish there was a font that meant, “I’m saying this in a sing-songy voice.”)))

The truth is almost nobody really cares. In fact, I think the overwhelming majority of readers prefer I stay anonymous. It’s just more interesting that way. I’m not trying to create a mystery here. I’m trying to deflate one. It doesn’t matter who I am. Does it really make a difference if you credit my work/thoughts to Andy at The Jerx or to my real name: Chauncey von Bassermann-Jordan? [Oh FUCK! Dammit! Great job, Chauncey, you fucking moron. Now everyone is going to know! Why isn’t my backspace key working? Siri, delete name. Siri, listen to me, DELETE NAME. Uuggghhh.]

The final point I’ll make on this—and the main reason why it’s nothing anyone should be concerned with—is that it’s not really a mystery that can be solved. There is an element to the situation that you don’t know about, so you can’t really put the pieces together even if you were inclined to. It’s like… you know how Kreskin will have his check hidden in the theater and he’ll use muscle reading to find it? Well, imagine he searched all over the theater and couldn’t find the check and then said, “Okay, I give up, where did you hide it?” And the person said, “Oh, at the Wetzel’s Pretzels in the mall.” Saying, “Who is the Jerx?” is like asking, “Where in the theater is the check hidden?” It can’t be answered because it’s the wrong question.

I understand why you never use playing cards to “represent” something else. I also understand why you’re not a fan of Sam the Bellhop or Vernon Triumph stories of events that happened in the past being recreated for the trick. We want to perform magic that is happening in the present moment. Makes sense. 

That said, I’m sure you have some fantastic true, real life stories that your friends would enjoy. Do you prefer to just tell good stories and not complicate them with a trick, or has there ever been a story that you’ve wanted to elevate with an accompanying magic trick?

I’ve always been jealous of how music can tell a story. Magic seems to fall short and, at best, appears like a Broadway play with the magician talking about when he first saw snow.

Perhaps magic isn’t the medium to TELL stories but to CREATE them. —JF

Yes, your last line gets it, I think. Somewhere else, I can't remember where, I wrote that I see magic less as a way to tell people stories, and more as a way of giving them stories to tell.

Music, books, movies, etc. they can all take your conscious mind and project it somewhere else. You're sitting in your living room, but the song brings you to a honky-tonk bar approaching a pretty lady, or the book projects you to a place where you're trapped in a car with a rabid dog outside the door, or the movie puts you on a spacecraft with your oxygen supply rapidly decreasing. 

Those storytelling vehicles are great at taking you somewhere else. But magic is at its strongest when it pulls you into the present moment (because that's when the magic is taking place). So trying to tell a story about another place or time has you working at cross-purposes to what magic does best.

That's why I feel the best stories you can tell with magic are "present tense" stories. (More about that in this post.) 

What you can do—and something I do frequently—is tell a story that sets up a trick, finish it, and then go into the trick. Do one after the other, not the two in parallel. That way you're not splitting their focus between something that happened and something that is happening.

(The way theatrical magic relates to storytelling is different. I'm really just speaking from the perspective of the social performer.)

It's another way where I think magic is like sex. Could you use a sexual encounter to tell a story about something that happened at some other point in time in some other place with other people? I suppose you could. ("And then the scout master got behind me like this....") But it's really not what the act is best suited for. Sex and magic are all about pulling your focus into the here and now and sharing this moment, not talking about some other one.