Mailbag #9


One of the most common easy answers [Ed: See this post] you didn’t address is “He’s in on it” (stooges, plants, etc.).

After seeing shows at the Magic Castle, I listen to a lot of audience members as they’re filing out the door and or wandering around the Castle, and “Plants” is the most common answer, EVEN WHEN THAT WOULDN'T EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENED. —John Lovick

Yeah, great point. This is something I never give much thought to because I’m never performing for more than a few people at a time.

This is another reason why one-on-one magic can be so powerful. It eliminates this possibility. No one can ever think, “He’s in on it!” They would have to think, “He’s in on it! Wait… I’m ‘he.’ And I’m definitely not in on it.”

I find, even when performing for a larger group, that you seldom get, “He’s in on it,” in social situations. In fact, even when I am being a stooge or a plant for someone else, I can’t remember a time when people suggested I was in on it, even when they knew me as someone who did magic.

I think the stereotypical neediness of magicians actually helps us here. It’s not hard to imagine that a professional magician might pay someone to help him look good—and that person will keep their mouth shut because they’re being paid. But in a casual situation, the idea that someone might be secretly assisting (for free) in a trick in a way that only makes someone else look good is a less obvious conclusion. (This is something I take advantage of in the trick Any Man Behind Any Curtain from The JAMM #5. Where you act as your own stooge, but no one ever questions it because it doesn’t seem like it’s a trick designed to make you look better.)

That’s why it can be so beneficial to find some wingmen to work with. You can really do some miracles together if you find a few people who are willing to set their ego aside and help each other out. I find that sort of thing is just unexpected in the area of amateur magic.

I might be misremembering, but I think I read something you wrote where you were looking for a good psychological card force. Did you ever find one? —AM

I don’t think that was me. But to answer your question, no, I have never found a good psychological card force. The reason for that is because they don’t exist. Now, to be clear, there are many good card forces that use some psychology to make them stronger. What I’m saying doesn’t exist is a psychological force where you theoretically use some powerful combination of words and gestures to get someone to name a specific card in the deck. That’s like a mentalism urban legend. It can’t be done in a way that is A) reliable, and B) not obvious to the person.

But doesn’t Derren Brown have some in his books?

Sure. But I think you might be misremembering exactly how those forces work. Re-read those descriptions and ask yourself if you’re secretly implanting a card in their mind or subtly imploring them to engage in a mini-game of charades with you.

I’m sure you can get people to play along and pick up on the signals you send them, or you can “psychologically force” a common card like the QH or AS. Those might be fine in some circumstances. But for my purposes, I would need something reliable that left the spectator with no clue as to what was going on, and I haven’t seen or read any type of psychological force that meets those criteria.

I thought about a presentation premise I call the sorcerers apprentice. Basically you tell (or insinuate) to the spectator what you are going to do and the you screw it up, but the end result is still magical, even though you play it as a failure.

I’m on a coin magic high so I’m thinking about the “classic” coin through hand, which I hate. I would set the idea and then perform a “psychic surgery” style mojo on my hand, chicken guts included, with out the coin actual coming out. Most likely freaking out and leaving. —DRM

Yeah, this kind of structure is good. It’s similar to some ideas I’ve posted here before. The one that immediately comes to mind is where you say you’re going to vanish a coin but you only end up shrinking it a little. So you “fail,” and you blow it off, but in a way that is still magical.

I would probably do the coin through hand once successfully at first. Because it’s such a quick trick and one that people often ask to see again (because they—rightfully—think they can probably figure it out if they see it again), I’d have it get stuck the second time. I’d spend the next twenty minutes trying to carry on like everything is normal, but rubbing my palm a lot. Sort of like when you’re talking to someone who has something in their eye and they’re trying not to let it distract them from the interaction, but it clearly is.

Eventually I’d leave and later that night I’d post a picture of myself on my instagram at the ER with my hand bandaged up. Caption: “Looks like I’ll be pleasuring myself left-handed for a while. Had to have surgery to remove a coin stuck in my hand.”

This is an example of a concept I call Reps (Repercussions) where you do something afterwards to extend a trick past the initial presentation. It may seem like a lot of work, but it would really just amount to a short detour to the hospital and taking a picture. It would be great if you could talk them into letting you take a picture in one of the rooms there, but they might not buy your “magic trick” excuse. They’ll probably think it’s part of some insurance fraud. So you might have to take the pic in the waiting room or even outside with the hospital in the background. It would still work. Reps are one of the more powerful ways of messing with someone’s mind with a magic trick.