Mailbag #10


All these questions come from the same email from supporter JC

I think one of the reasons your presentations hit so hard is because often the effect is simply being used to show proof of some other thing. So, in effect, the trick is a “Rep” of whatever premise you're using. Is that a good way to think about it?

You have the right idea but you’re mixing up the terminology. You’ve accurately characterized my position that tricks tend to be stronger (in my experience) when you present them as proof of something else. Well, let’s not say “proof” let’s say, “an example or demonstration of some phenomenon.” Now, performers are already doing this in a very general way. They are showing a trick and that trick is a demonstration of “my magic powers” or “my mental powers” or, more recently, “my powers of influence.”

Now, that’s all fine, and I certainly do plenty of effects that fall into those categories, but I don’t think we should limit ourselves to these three phenomena for a couple reasons:

  1. It’s not that interesting after a while. Demonstrating how you can read someone’s mind is great. Demonstrating general “magic powers” is also fine. If you’re working a restaurant and have a constant slew of new audiences, that will serve you well. But if you’re an amateur, performing for friends and family over months and years it can come across as the same thing over and over. “He read my mind and told me the card I was thinking. Then he read my mind and told me the city I was thinking. Then he read my mind and told me the name of the person I first kissed. Then he read my mind and told me my least favorite ethnicity. Then he read my mind and told me what I drew on the pad. Then he read my mind and told me what I believe to be my dog’s third favorite ice-cream flavor.” That’s the same phenomenon over and over. By nature it’s not going to be as interesting as if you couch the presentation as a demonstration of various phenomenon.

  2. The three phenomena mentioned above are all very magician-centric. “Look at me read minds.” “Look at me do magic.” “Look at me influence you.” In the long-run that’s going to come across as needy. Let’s assume the spectators already know you’re asking them to play along to some extent. They know you don’t really have magic powers. So if you’re going to ask them to play along with a bit of fiction, why is every bit of fiction about how special you are? Doesn’t that seem a bit desperate?

When you use your tricks to demonstrate other phenomena you can both tell a wider range of stories, and also not seem quite so pathetic.

As far as the word “rep” goes. That’s not quite the way I use it. A Rep is something you add outside the confines of the performances, to expand the boundaries of a presentation.

As an example of both parts of your question, think of the Wisdom of Crowds Word Reveal. This is taking a trick that would typically be a presentation of straight mind-reading, and then performing it in such a way that it’s a demonstration of something else: the power of the dark web, or massive data mining initiatives. Most people would still recognize this as some sort of trick, but the presentation is more compelling than saying, “I’m going to read your mind,” for the 50th time. 

Here’s how a “Rep” (Repercussion) might be used with that effect. Let’s say you performed it for a co-worker that you normally eat lunch with. For the next week or so you bring in a PB&J sandwich for lunch rather than go out to eat with everyone. When people ask you why you’re not going out you say, “Remember that data mining thing I showed you on Friday? It’s $120 each time you want to query it. I didn’t really budget for it so I need to save a little cash this week.” The “repercussion” of you performing that trick is that you need to tighten the purse strings for a few days. You’re continuing the presentation as if this seeming impossible thing (a database that can predict what random item you’d think of) is real.

What makes Reps so insidious when you want to fuck with people is that you have a magic trick that is inherently unreal, but then you have repercussions which are perfectly plausible as long as you accept the reality of the magic trick. So they’re another tool the amateur has to smudge fantasy into reality and vice versa.

2. You mentioned in a post that one of the ways you use equivoque to force a card is to let them make as many piles as they want, let them eliminate the piles fairly, palm in the force card, and then go into equivoque. Could you elaborate on this a bit? Not the palming or equivoque but the procedure before that?

Hmmm… well there’s not much of a “procedure” before that. The force card is in my lap or in my pocket. I have the spectator shuffle the deck as much as they want, and cut the cards into “a bunch of piles.” I tell them we’re going to narrow the cards down to one pile, then one card, and I have them start eliminating piles one by one. They do all this themselves. They can turn over the piles they eliminate and see that all the cards are different. So they get a real sense of seeing the potential outcomes dwindle.

Eventually we’ll be down to one pile which I push towards them while sweeping the other cards aside (and adding in the palmed card). Then I’ll equivoque to that card.

Actually, these days I’m more likely to use Phill Smith’s Quinta. With that the process is different. We’re down to one pile. If the pile has five cards, we’re set. If it has four cards, I tell them to add one “second chance card” from any of the discards. If it has three cards then I use a variation on Quinta with three cards in a triangle shape (which I’m pretty sure is also Phill’s but I can’t remember the name of it).

If there are more than five cards, it becomes even stronger. I spread the cards to see how man are in the pile. Let’s say it’s eight. I tell them to pick up the stack and deal them into a pile on the table. The top card is my force card because that was palmed on top of the stack. After they’ve dealt that first card I say, “and turn over any three as you go and set them out here to eliminate them.”

Either way, we’re left with five cards and I’ll go into Quinta from there.

You mentioned in an old post that there is a reason you use UNO cards a lot. You said you'd do a post explaining those reasons but I don't believe that post ever happened. Could you talk about those reason?

Yeah. You’re right. In this post I said, “I use Uno cards a lot. I'll write up the reasons why in a future post.” Given the fact it’s four years to the day from that original post, I guess it’s about time I get to that. Here are some of the reasons I like using Uno cards when possible.

  1. They’re smaller than playing cards, so somewhat easier to palm.

  2. You have 0s and 1s, so if you’re doing a trick where, say, someone shuffles the cards and mysteriously deals out their own phone number or something, you don’t have to do that thing where you’re like “a ten is a zero and aces are ones.” Some tricks just aren’t as pristine when you have to interpret the cards like that.

  3. There are natural duplicates in a pack of Uno cards which can prevent discrepancies that you might see in card tricks with a typical deck.

  4. There are actual “Wild” cards in an Uno deck which are naturally relevant for any trick where one or more cards transform into other cards.

  5. You don’t have the, “I’ve seen this one before” response you might get when you go into a trick with a normal deck of cards.

  6. I think people are less likely to question a deck of Uno cards. People have heard of trick decks of playing cards, but Uno cards feel somewhat above suspicion because it’s a brand name product, not just generic “playing cards.” Yes, but isn’t Bicycle a brand name product too? Not to people who don’t play cards regularly.

  7. I like performing for the ladies. Chicks dig Uno. If I have an Uno deck on my coffee table when a woman is around, there is a very good chance she’ll suggest playing it. Rarely will they pick up a normal deck and be like, “Let’s play cribbage!”