Examination Judo Part One: Malingering

Building on last Friday’s post about the examination of gimmicked objects, I have a couple techniques that use a spectator’s suspicion of an object, or their inclination to examine it, as a tool to further fool them. The techniques are related, but today I’m just going to discuss the first one…


This is a technique you can use with many different effects. It’s similar to some other ideas I’ve discussed in the past. The basic concept is that you’re going to state outright, or suggest with your actions, that something isn’t examinable, when really it is. I’m sure you can see how this might play out. You do a coin trick and someone says, “Hey, can I see that coin?” And you say, somewhat sheepishly, “Uhmmm… noooo…that would be a bad idea.” You give a little smile to suggest that yes, they busted you, they can’t look at the coin. They obviously think, “Ah, it’s a trick coin.” Now if you set the coin aside and they get a chance to sneak a look at it later “without you knowing” and all they find is a perfectly normal coin, this sort of doubly screws with their mind.

That’s the general idea. Below is a broader description and the way I’ve used it most often.

I’ll frequently do it with Joshua Jay’s Prism Deck or Paul Harris’, Son of Stunner effect from the True Astonishments DVDs. These are both color changing deck effects and they’re both examinable at the end. But for the purposes of messing with people, I’m going to suggest the deck is not examinable. I’ll do this by stating it flat out from the beginning.

“I have something I want to show you, but don’t bother asking me to look at the deck at the end. I’ll just be upfront with you, you can’t. It’s a trick a deck. But regardless, it’s still kind of a cool effect. Check it out….”

The nice thing about this is that no one will ever question it. People can’t conceive of a magician taking less credit for a trick than he deserves (this is something I try to capitalize on a lot in my presentations). And saying, “I’m using a trick deck,” is about the least amount of credit you can take, so it’s very believable.

So I’ll perform the trick and at the end I’ll set the cards somewhere in my personal space, but still within their sight. So, for example, on the coffee table in front of me, if I’m performing in someone’s home. And I will also bevel the deck slightly. Then, a short while later, I’ll excuse myself to take a shit or, even better, go get something from my car or even take a quick trip to the store. I want them to know they have a few minutes of freedom.

In my experience, about 40% of the time, when I come back they’ll say something about the cards, (“I thought this was a trick deck,” or, “Sorry, I had to look. I don’t see how this is a trick deck,” or something along those lines) or they may still have the cards in their hands looking through them, if they have no shame.

Another 40% of the time they won’t say anything, but the slight bevel is gone, so I know they’ve looked through the deck.

The final 20% of the time it’s clear they haven’t looked at the deck. (Although this “20%” for me has been shrinking as I now choose to use this technique only on handsy and/or overly-curious “need to know” type people. It’s not as fun with someone who is respectful of your stuff.)

If the deck hasn’t been moved, or if they’re pretending they didn’t look at the deck while I was gone, I’ll bring the deck back into play and start talking about it, but not in regards to the trick. Since I use a rainbow deck (all different backs) for both these effects, I can spread through them and make some comments on some of my favorite backs. If I wasn’t using a rainbow deck, I’d use some other rationale to bring the cards back. Maybe that old “a deck of cards is like a calendar” horseshit. So now I’m spreading through the cards, giving some to the other person to look at and talking about something boring like my favorite backs or how there are four seasons and four suits. And they’re looking at the cards wondering how this is a gimmicked deck, and eventually they’ll say that.

So, one way or the other, we are at the point where the spectator is questioning how exactly this is a trick deck.

Then we have a conversation along these lines with me playing dumb the whole time.

Them: I thought this was a trick deck?

Me: It is.

Them: How? I don’t see anything. How does it work?

Me:  Oh, I’m not sure. Do you know? I mean, do you know the sort of things to look for?

Them: What? I’m confused. You’re the one who said it was a trick deck.

Me: Right. Remember when it changed color?

Them: Yes.

Me: Yeah. So… it’s gotta be some kind of trick deck or something, right? I mean, normal decks don’t do that.

Them: Wait… what? Why did you tell me not to look at it?

Me: Oh, that’s like a rule of magic. You’re not supposed to let people look at trick decks.

I can understand there are people who won’t “get” this approach. Why do this when you could just hit them with the effect and then immediately show them it’s an examinable deck? Often I will do it that way. Especially if it’s someone I’m seeing once and won’t be seeing again. But if this is someone who is part of my long-term audience—someone who will be seeing tricks for potentially years to come—then I’m more interested in using this effect to not just fool them, but also mess with them a little and chisel away at their desire to just know “how it works.” 

I’m always interested in less linear ways of fooling people. If I show you a deck and it changes color and I give it to you to examine, that’s a very “straight line” effect. And it can be a very strong one. But if I show you a deck and it changes color and you don’t get to see it, you are at first fooled by the visual nature of the effect. But within a few seconds your mind will cling to this idea, “Okay… I don’t know how that happened. But I’m sure if I got a look at that deck I would know.” And I’m encouraging you to put stock in this idea by implicitly or explicitly stating that it’s true. So you will come to the point where you have 100% faith in the notion that if you could just see the deck, you’d have a good idea how it all worked. So you end up getting fooled twice with the same trick.

First Time

You think: That seems to be a blue-backed deck of cards
Revelation: The cards now have all different colored backs.

Second Time

You think: I’m positive that’s a gimmicked deck of cards.
Revelation: It’s not.

And you’re fooled in two “dimensions.” The first time you’re fooled, you feel that brief moment of astonishment. The second time you’re fooled, you get the slow building, lasting feeling of mystery. (See this post for discussion on Astonishment vs Mystery.)

Now, I think it’s important not to play this like a sucker trick. There’s no joy in that. That’s why I play it the way I do at the end. It’s not that I lied to them about it being a “trick deck” to fool them. It’s that we had different notions of what a “trick deck” is. Playing dumb (even when the audience knows you’re just “playing”) is incredibly disarming. I’ll tackle this more in an upcoming post on that subject.

Tomorrow I’ll post the second half of this series which is a related technique you can use with genuinely gimmicked items in a post called, Examination Judo Part Two: Munchausen.