Mailbag #4


I loved your experiment on the classic force [See the posts The Force Awakens and The Force Unleashed], and found the results fascinating, however I think you may be slightly off with your conclusions.

 Your participants were rating the various forces not in the context of a routine, but in a vacuum. It's true that the classic force doesn't cope too well with too much heat or scrutiny put on it, mostly as you mention in the article because it's over quickly, they can't change their minds, and also because it doesn't really stick in the memory. 

But to me these are also its greatest strengths. Let me explain:

There are lots of very different contexts where we might need to force a card. For some, the selection procedure is pivotal to the overall strength of the effect. […]

But let's say you're forcing an odd-backed card which will be signed by the spectator. When their signed card changes colour, the question of "how the fuck did my card turn red" doesn't lead them directly to the real secret. In this instance the more forgettable the selection process the better. Imagine that same trick with an elaborate, 5-minute selection procedure involving card eliminations, dice rolling etc. It would only help point the spectator in the direction of a force.

The classic force is also brilliant for not getting in the way of the story of the trick. As you're talking, casually telling someone "grab one of these cards" allows you to keep the spectator in the fiction of the effect, since it requires the absolute minimum of effort and concentration from the spectator. A cross-cut force, on the other hand, forces you to pause the action while the spectator is sent crashing back to reality for a moment before you can pick up where you left off.

I still think it's a brilliant piece of research, and am looking forward to seeing more of these experiments in the future, but I just wanted to say that the results don't tell the whole story, and that the classic force has more going for it than the naked numbers suggest. —BD

First, just to be clear, I’m not trying to talk anyone out of the classic force.

That being said, I’m not sure I agree with your logic. Your email presupposes that there are a good number of tricks in magic that involve a selection, where the selection itself isn’t that important. I don’t think there are many tricks that fall into that category. The example you used, forcing an odd-backed playing card, doesn’t really track in that context. It’s one of the few things you definitely can’t do with a classic force. Unless you do it face-up, in which case it becomes an even more rushed procedure and feels even less like a choice because you’re showing them the faces of the cards but not enough to let them pick a particular one they like.

One other thing to think of is that even if a selection isn’t pivotal to the strength of a trick, the spectator probably doesn’t know that. To them it’s almost always important in that moment.

I agree there are some tricks where the selection isn’t important, in which case, maybe it’s best to just drop the selection altogether and just pluck a card off the top of the deck and say, “Here, sign this.” That seems perfectly reasonable for a torn and restored card, for example. David Copperfield didn’t have to a say, “Here, Gretzky, choose any one of these 52 Honus Wagner cards for me to tear and restore.”

Another thing about the classic force is—even with perfect execution—it can fail, or at least become obvious, if the spectator has an agenda. If they’re thinking, “I think I’ll pick a card near the top,” or, “I’m going to make him wait until he’s almost out of cards,” or, “I’m going to pick a card I’m really drawn to,” then the classic force feels exactly like what it is. (Yes, I know there are techniques to deal with those situations. But I wouldn’t say they’re great.)

To your point, BD, I’m sure there are some circumstances where the classic force is best. For example, when you want to keep your table-hopping set moving, or when you want to demonstrate how good you are at forcing a card. I’ve seen people delighted to have the same card classic forced on them over and over again. It’s impressive.

But generally I think it’s less useful than I had always assumed for the first three decades in my magic life. The impression I always had from the magic literature was, “If you can do a classic force, do that, of course. If not, use some other, lesser, force.” It wasn’t until testing the forces that I really understood some of the inherent flaws of the technique from the spectator’s perspective.

We’ve done some further testing on forces since those original posts were written. In this round of testing we did use them in the context of a trick. We also included, what I consider to be, a genuinely awful force for comparison, which was interesting. More details on that in the Testing Results Annual (or something more cleverly named) that will go out to supporters later this season.

At the beginning of this year you mentioned having shorter posts. I’m not complaining, but I don’t think they’ve gotten any shorter. —AL

Yeah, I know. I need to figure that out, because ultimately it’s probably not sustainable. Between the site, the newsletter and the next book (which looks like it will be 80%+ brand new material), that’s like 1200 pages of magic content this year. And I’m not someone who can sit with a deck of cards and come up with ideas. I really only get ideas in the process of coming up with something to actually show someone. Most of the content for this site and the books and newsletter come directly from performing for people and getting their feedback. So it’s not only the hours involved in the writing, but even more hours involved in trying out different tricks or ideas.

“Oh, poor Andy, he has to find time to perform magic for people and write about it for money. Boo hoo. So sad. Well, I’m off to my job: tarring a roof in 95 degree heat for $12 an hour. Take care, Andy. You’ll be in my thoughts. Try not to get injured at work. Like, maybe you’re having too much fun with your friends while showing them a trick and you laugh too hard and throw your back out. That would be terrible.”

Okay, I get it. I know I’m lucky. I’m just saying it’s more time consuming than you’d imagine, and I need to get better at managing that time. Shorter posts are still coming. I think.

Sometimes people write with non-magic issues. I’m including this one here because it’s pretty much the standard advice I give everyone dealing with any issue: Get on with it, and find a way to turn it into a positive.

Yesterday was one of the worst days of my life. My girlfriend that I’d email you about broke up with me. Turns out she didn’t want to talk to me about anything after 5 years and then told me she had already been seeing another guy. So I’m fucking destroyed. -GC

Give yourself five more minutes to be sad about it then move on. 

Then, going forward, every time you think of it and it's affecting you negatively, you take that as a cue to do something positive to make yourself a better person (whatever that may be--take a walk, read a chapter of a self-help book, go to the gym, do some work on a business you want to start or whatever). Now you're using the thing that "destroyed" your life as the stimulus to build a better version of yourself.

Use this same technique anytime anything "bad" happens to you and you will soon realize that nothing bad can happen to you. The more difficult the situation, the more it inspires you to work on yourself, the more profound your positive growth, and the better off you'll be. Problem solved.