Part VII: Mailbag

I really think this series is not only some of your strongest work but also some of the best modern magic theory I’ve read.

You just need to change the name because A Unified Theory of Blowing People’s Fucking Brains Out Their Buttholes is not something people are going to take seriously. —DS

Ah, dear boy, but that’s why I named it that.

You might think, “If he wants to be taken seriously, he should write in a serious manner.” But the thing is I don’t care if you take me seriously. I just wrote six blog posts that are the equivalent in length of a 50+ page essay. If I was unsure of the value of the information, I would have published it in a slim, hard-cover volume with, “A Brief Treatise on Maximizing the Potency of Magic-based Demonstrations,” embossed in gold leaf on the cover, in an attempt to convince people it was something important.

But I’m already aware of the value of the information. I don’t need validation. So if people are going to dismiss it because it’s on a blog, or because of my style of writing, or because it’s accompanied with a gif of Donald Duck poking down his boner, that’s perfectly fine.

In Part II you said the classic force is a “broken technique” because you can’t establish the condition of a free choice. Couldn’t that be said of all forces? —DT

No. Not all. Some, yes. But the Classic Force is the hardest one to ret-con as a completely free selection because it doesn’t involve any moment where they make a definitive choice.

I have a friend who was a huge proponent of the Classic Force, even after the testing on forces which he helped conduct. His position was along these lines: “When you reveal the card they selected written in the sand on the beach, it’s obviously a force, no matter what you do. If that’s the case, then why not do the quickest, most direct selection procedure, the Classic Force?"

The problem with that statement is that his premise was wrong. There are techniques you can use that seemingly eliminate the possibility of a force. (I have chapters in my first two books about such techniques, and there will be another chapter with my most streamlined way of doing that in the next book.)

There are magicians who say, “You shouldn’t reveal a forced card in skywriting or as a tattoo (or any similar type of big reveal) because then they’re going to know it was a force.” But the reason they’re thinking like that is because the force they consider the gold standard (the classic force) is terrible for establishing the condition that it wasn’t a force: it’s kinetic, the choice is quick, the choice can’t reach toward a particular area of the deck, they can’t change their mind, and the card is literally placed into their hand.

If you use techniques that happen slowly, offer people the chance to change their mind, show them other options they could or would have ended up with if they made different choices, etc., then you can remove the possibility of a force and a big reveal will be genuinely astonishing.

By the way, I ended up changing my friend’s mind by going to Tannen’s and buying a Magician’s Insurance Policy—a trick most people would probably consider average at best—and performing it for people with him later that night. The trick is dumb as hell, but—if you remove the possibility of a force—it’s still devastating (as is any reveal when a force isn’t the answer).

I’m thinking of offering this service to people. I will come to your town, and we’ll go out and I’ll perform the Magician’s Insurance Policy for people while you watch. You’ll see it’s possible to force a card and eliminate the idea in the spectator’s mind that it was a force, and you’ll see how strong the reactions are, regardless of how corny the trick (or performer) may be.

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You said we shouldn’t do tricks that suggest sleight-of-hand if we want to get people to a state of genuine astonishment where they have no clue how a trick could be done. I understand that point but I’m also someone who loves sleight-of-hand. Am I wasting my time? — KS

If you want people to think of you as a sleight-of-hand expert, then you’re definitely not wasting your time.

If you like sleight-of-hand, but don’t want that to be the explanation for everything you do, then you’re still not necessarily wasting your time. Just adopt this mindset: I’m going to do sleight-of-hand that is so smooth and invisible that the notion I’m doing sleight-of-hand will be as impossible for them to believe as whatever the trick was that I showed them.

Practice and perfect sleights that are either invisible or look like normal actions. Avoid flashy or flourishy sleights. Think of your sleights as a secret super-power, not something you’re flaunting When you feel you need some validation for all the time you’ve put into your sleight-of-hand, go to a magic convention and show off there.

Re: Getting Rid of "It's just math." easy answer

My wife is a math teacher, and every year she has me come in and do some mathematical magic for her classes. Performing for 11 to 15-year-olds, which is great because they are NEVER polite. They are smart enough to understand the magic and they don't have the social graces of older audiences that might pretend like they were fooled when they weren't. Generally, the kids leave the performance saying, "Oh, he's just really good at math". In this context that's okay. These are kids, in a school and I'm specifically performing for them to try to make math look more interesting...if it looks more interesting at the expense of the secret that's fine with me.

I've noticed different reactions for some pieces though. I use a number force. It's a fairly typical algebra thing with a phone calculator. With this particular routine, the response is usually different and the theories are typically not math related. It doesn't get rid of the theory 100% of the time but it works a lot.

So what do I do that is different? I force an ugly decimal. Something like this 14528.25347896332658741525889632148855. My theory is that process + organization = math in their heads. If something feels extra messy it helps to get rid of the idea of math.

I think Woody Aragon, Juan Tamariz, Dani Daortiz, and Lennart Green get this. A huge amount of their magic is "mathematical" card magic and I think they get rid of the theory, in part thanks to the messiness of their performance style. —JB

Yeah, that’s a great point. Most people think of math as very structured and would assume a math-based effect would be very controlled and methodical. Having a messy process or a mess outcome is an ideal way to undermine the “it’s just math” answer for the vast majority of the population.

You missed a big one on your list of presentations in your post, “Weaponizing Surprise.” You didn’t mention Influence. —JW

Oh, I didn’t miss it. My full list is much longer and grows every day.

One of the least fortunate things to happen to magic/mentalism is that someone as charismatic as Derren Brown made “influence” such a big part of his presentations/pseudo-methodology, especially early on.

It felt like a fresh approach when he came on the scent. But now it’s a completely fucked-out presentation.

Magicians like it because it makes them look powerful, but seemingly not delusional. “Oh, no, no, no. I’m not one of those charlatans who claims to have magic powers. I just influenced you to cut to the aces.”

Heres the thing…saying you “influenced” someone without suggesting how you influenced them is identical to claiming magic powers.

I say we all start calling out this lazy presentation going forward.

“I influenced you to cut to the aces!”

“Oh yeah? How?”

“What do you mean ‘how’? I influenced you.”

“Sure. But how did you exert your influence? What was the manner in which you influenced me to cut to these locations in the deck?”

“Just…. I mean… it’s my powers of Influence!!!”

Influence isn’t something that just happens. It’s the result of something you do. And if you’re suggesting you influenced people to name a particular random 3-digit number, for example, in a manner so subtle that you left no evidence of your influence and no one else picked up on it, then you might as well just say, “I’m a wizard!”