Posts in effect
Let Go

A soft echo of “Let go.” is all I heard as I performed a “floating table” effect for a bunch of kids the other day. It was extremely disturbing, because it’s not like they were all trying to “expose” how the table was “floating”, these were super young kids, but I think they sincerely wanted to see what would happen if I let the tablecloth go. It was genuine desire to see something that went up next level insane. Like, this table is already floating with me holding it, but what will happen when I let it go? Does it fly over everyone’s heads? Does it fall to the ground?

This is something to consider when adults ask to “shuffle the deck” or seemingly attempt to goof up your “tricks” (if you’re a magician reading this), because this response proves that most times, in my humble opinion, you shouldn’t consider performing magic as a series of oppositions between you and the participants/audience members (as some magicians I know do). You should view it as being a tour guide of the impossible. And just like people in a brand new place of impossibility, they just want to see how far this strange new land goes back, they’re just doing their jobs as curious people.

They don’t really want you to fail when you let go. They don’t want you to mess everything up when the deck gets shuffled or they put something where they shouldn’t. They want it to succeed. Because if it succeeds, then the curtain just gets pushed back farther and farther until there’s nothing to “find” anymore, because then there’s no “trick”, then the feeling of magic is really being realized for them.

Honestly, I wondered if it would’ve been better for me to let go of the table and just let it drop to the ground. We would have witnessed a boundary, and we would’ve witnessed something fantastic, a table floating above everyone’s heads, and then we would’ve witnessed something real, something crashing to the ground.

I think about some of the ways I can give the audience even more from my magic performances. I think about letting the magic exist beyond myself. I think about letting go.

-- J.R.

David Copperfield (Magician) Dad-Dicks Government Employee

You liked that title, didn't you?

In this "This American Life" podcast, Ira Glass and David Kestenbaum discuss some of the methodology behind effect creation, with a discussion of Penn & Teller's Red Ball effect, and David Copperfield's Statue of Liberty effect, during which a tale is told about David pulling off some dope ass silver-tongued social-engineering -- it's amazing. 

If you have an hour to spare, listen to this episode. If you don't have time to spare, you'll just have to imagine what happened.

-- J.R.

Down Memory Lane - Release

     Four Suits Magic is very pleased to announce the release of our first PDF download: Down Memory Lane.

     Here's the description: 
     "A new release from Zac Young, Down Memory Lane presents three different approaches to how mentalism could work, providing effects based on memory manipulation as well as classic mind reading. Capable of playing to anything from a casual gathering with friends all the way to a formal parlor performance, each of these effects is designed to amaze. Almost totally propless, these effects assume some existing mentalism experience and skills, but put them to use in new and clever ways."


     ...So, if you too would like to demonstrate the wild mental abilities you learned as a top-secret government lab rat, or experiment with your friends with memory erasure (all the COOL kids are doing it these days, don't you wanna be COOL?) -- "It's MEMORY ERASING MADNESS!" -- you should definitely make a visit to our shop and take your audiences on a trip down memory lane with you.

-- J.R.

How Good is Your Shuffle

          Here is a fun tidbit for all the degenerates out there like us that spend every day just sitting there shuffling cards, and occasionally hanging out with other people who shuffle cards.

          How good do you think your shuffles are? How much do they really mix the deck? I know we have all heard some version of Persi Diaconis’ admonition that we have to shuffle seven to twelve times to achieve real randomness, but what does that actually mean for us in the day-to-day?

          Well, thanks to a handy chart in Professional Blackjack by Stanford Wong, now I can give you a rough idea. Here is a challenge: take an ordinary deck of cards and look at any two adjacent cards. Now do a casino style riffle-riffle-strip cut (6 - 10 packet running cut)-riffle sequence. Spread the deck again and find those two cards. About half of you are now finding that after all that shuffling and cutting, those two cards have no more than 5 cards between them. About a third of you are finding that there are in fact only three or fewer cards separating them!

          While I’m still not sure this has a magical application, it does open up an interesting bet possibility. Betting someone that if they pick two adjacent cards, give the deck a fair shuffle, and the cards will still be near (if not next to) each other seems good. So as long as you have the payouts at least 2-1 in your favor (think “If you win I’ll give you a dollar, if I win, you know what, why don’t you buy my next drink since this is so impossible?”) you have a pretty reliable bar bet. You won’t win every time, but on the whole you’ll come out ahead.

          (For those interested the exact odds are 46% of the time those cards will end up with 5 or fewer cards between them and 32% for three or fewer cards. I can’t find the book right now to give you a page number in Professional Blackjack but I’ll try and update this when I find it.)

-- Z.Y.

method, effectFour Suits
This is for You

    This is for you. Yes, you. I’ve been watching the traffic on our site, and I know that you'll visit the Blog section at about this time, well, not exactly when I publish this of course, but I know that you’ll be here, reading this right now, and believe it or not, I’ve come up with a very clever server-side script to execute and only show you this copy I’ve written, especially for you. It’s going to come across a bit rambly, but bear with me here.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about mind reading lately, why do we, as a society, enjoy mind readers? I feel like the idea is preposterous. Now, maybe all I feel is the incredulity of it’s impossibility, the same incredulity that people must feel when I say I’m a magician, but I think this is something you empathize with. This kind of crazy self-realization, that maybe you, too, are, well, not a fake, but maybe a little bit less than genuine all the time, sometimes (scarily) even to people you care about deeply. Maybe, just like me, you want to make people happy, but at the same time, value your own principles over what someone else asks of you. But it’s the little harmless moments like these that makes the world go ‘round.

    It’s amazing what one can come up with when one simply looks at patterns. I know, for a fact, you have a, is that a scar, on your left knee? It’s hard to see all the way from over here, through your device. You’ve come across this post now after you’ve already finished the majority of your work today, and were looking forward to some strange ideas, and instead, you’re being given, what is this, a sort of psychic mind reading from afar? I’ve never heard of anything like this exact thing before. But it calls to me.

    Numbers are coming to me now, I’m getting something regarding the last receipt you had crumpled up in your pocket. Do you remember when that was? Can you fetch it and take it out? I’m not getting much information, except, no, no odd numbers, even numbers. Can you look at the tax figure from your receipt? It ends with an even number, doesn’t it? But now, more numbers, numbers from your location are coming through, it’s all still kind of fuzzy, but I’m seeing, a 2? But it’s so close to 1 and 3. Your population of… Do me a favor, look up the population of your location? The population digits of where you live starts with those numbers, it’s hard to put them in order, but one of those is definitely the first.

    Sorry, that’s all I have for now. Next time, we’ll actually look more into mind readers. Until then, enjoy this reading.

-- J.R.

Sometimes "Cheating" is OK

     A few days back I was watching Nate Staniforth on Scam School. (For those that don’t know Scam School, it was one of my first real exposures to magic, and, despite its certain flaws, will always be one of my favorites. Fight me.) Now Nate has a reputation as a talented creator and performer, with some devastatingly clever methods to his name. So when I watched the coin effect he did in the episode, I was a little surprised. Basically, he taped a coin to his hand, allowing him to do the slowest, cleanest false transfer ever.

Brian’s admirable response to anyone who thinks this method is “cheating”.

Brian’s admirable response to anyone who thinks this method is “cheating”.

     Now there are a couple things about this that I like, and that I want to talk about. The first is that, method aside, he does a really good job of making the vanish magical. He talks about how he uses the spectators hands to frame the space, and how to choreograph them in subtle ways to increase their conviction that the coin is in fact in that hand. The second is that a lot of magicians would call this “cheating.” Nate addresses this in an interesting way. He says “It is cheating. But it’s better; it’s cleaner.” And that makes you step back and think about what’s actually happening. What does it mean he’s “cheating”? Magical is all about cheating the spectors' senses. Sure, we don’t (and shouldn’t) present it that way, but as some point we “cheat” and steal the coin, peak the word, etc. So why would using this simple, simple gimmick be any worse?

     The last point is that, as magicians we do often get caught up in the beauty of the method over the power of the effect. Now this is not always a bad thing. Those beautiful methods often have advantages (say, when you want to perform but didn’t remember to bring your poster tape), and are often important steps on the path to better, simpler methods. But they don’t always translate into better magic, and at the ends of the day that’s what matters most. This hit home today when J.R. and I were playing around with a new book test method we had been developing. We had it to a workable point, but something about it just didn’t seem right. Finally we realized we were too caught up in the beautiful method, and needed to accept that if that methodological road was the one we wanted to take, we should go all out to make it as good and clean as possible for the spectator, even if that meant “cheating” on our end.

-- Z.Y.



In Defense of the 21 Card Trick

     As a disclaimer, I should note that not only did I never learn the 21 Card Trick, I can’t actually even remember ever seeing it performed.

     A couple of weeks ago I was jamming with a few magician friends (almost all card and coin guys), and one of them had brought a friend who had just started practising magic. As I chatted with him I asked him what he was working on and he told me about some moves. I asked what kind of magic he wanted to perform and he said he wasn’t sure. I asked him if he had any effects he was working on that he wanted to show me, and he said he didn’t actually know any tricks, just the moves he had mentioned earlier. Now, let me be clear, for someone who had been practicing for only a few months, he had made incredible progress. He was working on advanced sleights, and he was performing them well. The friend who had brought him and another very talented magician had been mentoring him (and these are some of the most technically gifted guys I’ve ever met, both with published material). Yet somehow in his search to learn he had skipped all the magic, and moved right on to the technical behind the scenes stuff.

     Now this happened for a couple of different reasons: his mentors were also serious cardists, both performed predominantly for instagram, that group was pretty filled with move-monkeys, etc. I know that each of those could use a whole post on their relation to magic and performance (and maybe one of these days I’ll write them…), but the thing that jumped out at me most was that, since he had stepped straight into learning moves (even useful ones like controls, changes, additions, etc) he had missed something that I think we undervalue, and that is the performative experience one gets from doing self-working effects.

     I think just about every magician I know learned some self-working card trick very early on. The 21 Card Trick is the classic punching bag, but there are many. I think mine was naming the top cards from three cut piles using the one-ahead principle. While these effects are rarely the greatest (though I have been getting back into self-workers and man are there some good ones), since they are essentially move-less they allow you to focus entirely on presentation, which is as important a lesson as 100 pointers about where your second finger goes for a certain palm. While we look back on those performances as cringe-worthy, painful, and embarrassing (and I’m sure they were), we forget that they forced us to immediately begin learning how to make people care about the effect (since it would not have flashy visuals to pull them in), and how to invest each part with some meaning (since there was often a lot of procedure), and how to dress up a simple effect with perhaps the least practised but most useful magic sleight there is: acting.

-- Z.Y.

An Open Question:

     One of the things I have always loved most as a magician is hanging out with other likeminded magicians and jamming. That is, improvising and playing with effects on each other where none of us know where it is going. Maybe one of us forces a card, but the person selecting it had already palmed out a card and switched it in for their selection. They then pass off the forced card to another friend who loads it into the forcing magician’s bag without their knowledge to be used later in the effect or simply found minutes, hours, or days later with a confused grin. Meanwhile someone else has stolen the rest of the deck and replaced it with a different backed deck, but with a cover card to hide the switch. The effects end up being elaborate, confusing, silly, and most of all surprising because no one can ever keep track of everything that happened. This has always been the most fun since it is magic at its most organic and honest. It’s kind of like a jazz ensemble improvising together: incredible in the moment, but impossible to recreate or bottle, and very hard to share with anyone not taking part.

     This post unfortunately does not end with a clever idea, but instead an open question: how we take this more honest, spontaneous, and relaxed experience of magic to non-practitioners?

-- Z.Y.

The Dangers of Mentalism: On the Fringe but not Of it

     This is part three of a short series, so make sure to check out The Dangers of Mentalism: An Introduction and The Dangers of Mentalism: Walking a Line by Necessity

     The best magic presentations draw on something known outside the effect, something the spectator is already familiar with (or at least aware of). This allows them to put the effect in context and places the experience not as an isolated incident of “magic”, but as a experience woven into an existing thread of thought.

     Some traditional (read: trite and overdone) magic presentations make no pretense towards this, such as those centered on woofle dust or magic wands. No layperson has ever authentically encountered those concepts in any context other than in other magic shows or children's books. Others, however, did at least make an attempt. For example ones that centered on the power of imagination or memory at least tried to connect the effects to externally valid ideas and experiences. Obviously, as external anchors for magic these are vague at best, but are a step in the right direction. The question, then, is what kinds of real-world concepts are best to connect to.

     This is where the idea of Fringe Spaces enters play. For a concept to be a good anchor for a magic presentation it needs to be both familiar, or instantly recognizable, but also not fully understood. The fact that it is familiar ensures that the experience will have something existing to weave itself into. The fact that it is not fully understood allows the actual “magic” to happen in that interplay between what clearly isn’t, and what might just be.

     Fringe spaces obviously change with time and culture. Where once electricity itself was a Fringe Space and performers could make entire shows out of passing current through their bodies, now something like quantum physics takes it place. Where once Spiritualism was the cultural craze, now its psychological readings (see shows like Sherlock, Psych, Lie to Me, The Mentalist, or the spread of NLP). Like these trends, the best magic presentations will come and go with the times, always connecting themselves to something known but not understood.

     The wide spread, but changeable, nature of these fads, when thought about with the criteria from the previous post, help explain what is a bad presentation, what is a good presentation, and what is a dangerous presentation. A bad presentation is hard to connect to existing experiences and clearly doesn’t even pretend to explain what occurred. A good presentational frame is one the audience member recognizes and that could perhaps (but of course in truth does not) explain what happened. A dangerous presentational frame can be the same as a good one, but with the addition of the fact that it changes or affects the way the audience makes meaningful decisions. This can be a change in their views on ESP,which causes them to lose thousands to fraudulent psychics, it could be that they believe this miraculous procedure turns black paper into hundred dollar bills, that they believe NPL will solve all their problems and spend money they do not have on hucksterish ‘success seminars,’ and so on. These presentations can make very exciting and entertaining effects to watch, but can have very real and negative consequences for the spectators.

     While you are not responsible for every poor decision your audience makes after your show, do realise that you are spending an immense amount of time and energy to make them see something impossible, and, if you are doing your job well, then intentionally or not some of them are going to believe it, and walk away slightly changed. While you know the edge of your abilities is the theater door, they do not.

     To ensure that you are always using the Fringe Space, and that it is not using you, try to match the unbelievability of the effect to the believability of the presentation frame. If the presentational frame is believable, use it to explain something so unbelievable that even if they think the frame is real they couldn’t possibly believe it explained that effect. This is not to say magic should never change the audience, but we should recognize that whenever man’s reach exceeds his grasp, there’s a huckster waiting to sell him the next handhold.

-- Z.Y.

effectJax Riddmentalism
Review: Xeno by Marc Kerstein
Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 14.39.01.png

     I almost feel sad sharing this secret, but let it be known that Marc Kerstein is changing/has changed the game of app magic. The reason why? IT DOESN’T FEEL LIKE APP MAGIC. We all (some of us in reality, but “all” sounds better, and makes you search it if you didn’t know it already) remember the days of having that little folded playing card, or silver dollar bouncing on our home screen, to shake it out and have a physical version land on our hand. Xeno is probably the opposite of this type of an app. It’s pretty much invisible with the correct implementation.

     You can look up the official description of the app on his site, but if I were to describe my use of the app to someone, I’d describe it this way: You’re chilling at a bar/cafe with your friends. They have their phones out (2017, folks, the future is here), you ask to borrow their phone after they open their web browser and navigate away from porn (future, again). You ask them if they’re a big movie person, and then you type in a movie ratings site. You ask them to scroll to their favorite movie and then familiarize themselves with the plot, director, year of release, etc. They put their phone away. Then you have them place their hands on yours, look into your eyes, and while you make out with them, you divine the movie they were thinking of (secret of tongues).

     Isn’t that crazy? Yes. With Xeno, you can too make out with complete strangers (don’t do this). Seriously though, huge fan of this effect. Good on you Marc. You’re crushin’ it. Xeno is simple, direct, and if you hang out with the smartphone crowd, you’re looking for a clever addition into your mentalism repertoire, want an effect that can be performed in a multitude of situations (dope-ass pre-show, anyone?) all for less than $20? Purchase this effect. 

-- J.R.

The Dangers of Mentalism: Walking the Line by Necessity

     This is part two of a short series, so make sure to check out Part One: The Dangers of Mentalism: An Introduction a couple posts back.

     Magic is necessarily about presenting something impossible as possible. Within the context of the magic trick this is fun and exciting, and it is accepted that different magicians ask different levels of credulity from their spectators when they perform. While that is all well and good while the effect is being performed, I think it is important to think about the longer-term consequences of our presentational choices. This is partially because the drama which the spectator remembers is just as important as that which they witness, but also because, if we are going to spend immense amounts of time carefully constructing effects that convince, or seem to convince, someone something is real, we should be cognizant of what that belief (honestly intended or not) could lead to.

     While this applies to almost every branch of magic, mentalism stands out as the clearest example because of its long and fraught connection with spiritualism and occultism (and the charlatanism that goes with it; this is not supposed to be a put-down of spiritualism, simply a statement that theatrically intended mentalism should not be conflated with it). The most common modern way of avoiding this confusion is to present mentalism as psychological reading of tells, eye movements, Neuro Linguistic Programing (NLP) word associations, and the like (thanks Derren). This neatly sidesteps the problem, correct? Wrong.

     To understand why, we have to step back and think about why it is so important that mentalism try to get away from spiritualism. It’s not that spiritualism is more or less real than other magic presentations (which include everything on the spectrum from Woofle Dust to quantum mechanics). And (I hope) it’s not just that many magicians think spiritualism is a weak presentation (because if I have to hear one more time about how “the power of your imagination” makes the card change I swear to god…). What I would say, though, is that spiritualism is a significantly more nuanced presentational frame than most, it has a more direct bearing on many people’s lives (more, I think, than many magicians think) than other frames, and it has more potential to be misused and abused than most. So for example, though quantum mechanics is incredibly complicated and nuanced in terms of what it actually does and does not explain, very few people encounter it directly in their daily lives, so a magician fudging the truth about it won't really change any choices they make in the day to day, and there are established credentials that indicate who is actually an authority on it (do they have a PhD after their name?). Alternatively, Woofle Dust has no nuance (there is no grain of truth, and the audience knows it), and rarely occurs in people’s lives.

     If we look at NLP, micro expression reading, body language mirroring, etc, we see that they fit these criteria as neatly as spiritualism does. These concepts come up in, and therefore influence, people’s everyday lives quite regularly, as they are simply methods of talking and interacting with people, something we are all doing constantly. Additionally, they are nuanced in that, while all built on grains of truth and elements of reality, they are often blown out of proportion and exaggerate, either by over eager media, or by hucksters hoping to make a quick buck off of them. This then also explains why they are dangerous: they are easily exploitable by those seeking to profit from those unclear on what and how these ideas actually work. And therefore magicians blithely bolstering their credibility can be doing real harm as well.

     But was it by accident that mentalism stumbled directly from one moral grey area to another? I would say no. I think magic needs these “fuzzy spaces” between what is known and accepted, and what is actually understood. Magic has always, and always will, draw on these fringe spaces to operate and give its effects backdrop and meaning.

    More on what I mean by “fringe spaces”, and how to use them without letting them use you, next time.

-- Z.Y. 

Movement vs. Amazement
"If people have even a little understanding, it is better to move them than to amaze them." - Andres Segovia

Special moments aren’t made in the what, they’re made in the how. When it comes to magic, I frequently hear fellow practitioners claiming that people see a deck of cards come out, and a person will say “Oh, I’ve seen that one before.” A clamoring of agreement comes from the room. “Yeah, hate it when that happens.” etc. Card-workers also dislike that spectators don’t remember the specific effects that are occurring, and instead link the effects to the general category of “card tricks”.

Here’s my opinion: it’s because, while these various tricks may be wildly different for those of us who have an extraordinary amount of understanding, to those who only have a little understanding, all these card tricks are indeed the same. There’s an ounce of truth when the spectators announce “Oh, I’ve seen that before.” because they essentially have seen the same exact plot before. Whether their card is found in your wallet, between two others, or from a face-up/face-down shuffle, it’s all generally the same effect.

I was reading JAMM #08, by The Jerx, today, and was again reminded of this notion when he spoke about a modern dance metaphor of watching a magic effect. For those who understand modern dance or perhaps perform it themselves, they will be able to watch two seemingly similar performances and find a wide range of differences, all the different dance moves, etc. For an outsider to that circle of knowledge, it’s all modern dance.

To take another idea away from Magic Live 2017, Josh Jay shared the results of a study which examined various magic plots, and generally, card effects were the least memorable to the average audience. However, once the card effect distinctly morphed into a completely new plot (such as card through window, or Cyril’s fantastic Card Into Aquarium), then recall of that event shot through the roof. This is because the plot is now so far removed from whatever card effect your audience has previously seen.

To some degree, we’re on a constant race of innovation, to make magic more exciting and unique for our audiences. We’re in a wild time, especially with the leaps of technological methodology for magic expanding at an alarming rate. So, let’s show more than card tricks to our audience -- Let’s move them.

-- J.R.

The Dangers of Mentalism: an Introduction

     A week or so ago I had a jarring experience that made me revisit how I present mentalism effects. While I originally intended to write a quick post about how magicians need to be careful in how they use the “psychological reading” pseudo method, the more I thought about it the more complex the topic became, and the more it seemed to connect to the history and evolution of mentalism. So instead of a single post, this will be the first in a short series about mentalism presentations, how they connect with real world tropes, and the dangers of the audience lending a bit too much credence to our presentational frames.

     Before I get into all that, though, let me explain what happened. I was hanging out with an old friend, and since they always enjoyed my magic, and usually requested to see some, I had prepared a few mentalism effects. Just as the topic came up and I began to perform, a few of their friends that I didn’t know started to watch. The final effect (performed one on one of the newcomers) was a billet effect presented as psychological reading of a childhood nickname. For the first letter I had swept my hand across the air telling them one side was A and the other Z, and supposedly reading their eyes to determine the letter. I had named it, and was concentrating on their face when suddenly I let my eyes go blank, started slightly, and abruptly stated the last letter, finally filling in the name. They were duly surprised and intrigued, and began discussing what had happened, and how.

     Now though I have been creating and performing mentalism effects for a while, most are in the context of larger, more formal performances, so only rarely do I get that kind of direct access into the audience's immediate thoughts. It shocked me, then, how fully they bought into the pseudo method, discussing how clear it was for the first letter, and trying to figure out what subtle tell had given away the last letter in such a manner.

     One common refrain when discussing mentalism is that care must be taken to ensure the performer does not, intentionally or otherwise, bolster the audience's belief in the supernatural. While many come to think that presenting these particular effects as feats of psychology, body reading, NLP, and the like elides this issue, I have come to wonder if these pseudo methods are perhaps more dangerous. In later posts I’ll talk about why, in many ways, NLP and its ilk are the modern equivalents of palm reading and fortune telling, why and how magic gravitates towards whatever the current popular tropes are as presentational frames, why that’s both dangerous and necessary, and how carefully you have to matching the believability of the pseudo method to the unbelievability of the effect.

-- Z.Y.

Blindfolded Solitaire​​​​​​​

A draft of a mnemonic for the routine.

     A couple months back J.R. and I were at our favorite little coffee shop brainstorming ideas and just messing around. As we were talking, an image appeared in my head that I couldn’t shake, and it was of someone sitting at a little corner table, cup of tea steeping next to them, playing solitaire blindfolded. Instantly I knew I wanted to figure out how this could be done. Although a fake blindfold was the obvious answer, since this isn’t, and basically never could be, an effect for a show but instead one for fun (or for any distracted artists out there), I decided it should have an equally fun method. So, having recently learned Mnemonica and being a general puzzle-head, I figured there was must be a way to do it using that, and voila!

     I’m going to be honest, this effect is a lot of work and requires a lot of memorization. And since you are blindfolded you never get to see the reactions, and the viewers are always strangers since it really only stands up as an impromptu visual puzzle for random passers-by, and it is probably not worth it. But, after performing it myself a few times, I enjoyed it enough to want to share it with all you out there who enjoy flexing your mental muscles and adding a little dash of the surreal to strangers’ lives.

    What follows is an annotated game of solitaire dealt from mnemonica, starting with the 27th card (so the Two of Clubs is the first card dealt, then the Three of Hearts face down next to it as the bottom of pile two, and so on). The first column tells what number move it is, the second says what pile the card is moved from (with 0 being the dealing pile), and d# meaning to deal # sets of three cards (so d3 would mean dealing three sets of three, or nine total). The third column indicates what pile the card is moved to, with the first letter of the suits indicating the card is removed to its ace pile. The fourth column indicates the number of cards to be moved (and if blank is assumed to be one). The fifth column indicates whether or not you must turn the new top card of the pile from column two over or not; if it is blank then after moving the appropriate cards you must turn the new top card over, unless the card is coming from the dealing pile (pile zero). If it has an x then don’t turn the new top card over. Also, after move 78, only four piles remain, and they are re-numbered one through four from left to right for ease of memorization. This all sounds very confusing but, after you play through once (hopefully with your eyes open) it will make sense, and you can tweak the notation to suit your brain.

    As for memorization, I converted each row of data (not including the move number, so anywhere from two to four numbers and possibly an X) into Major memory system words (slightly adapted to allow for the format and the greater number of bit) and then made a story from the words. Then by telling the story in my head I could backtrack to the numbers and play the game. This worked reasonably well for me, but different people’s brains work in different ways, so I’d love to hear what you come up with, or if you have any questions. But more than that, one day I’d like to walk into a coffee shop, look into the corner, and see one of you blindfolded, playing away.


Misdirection: Can I Play with Your Frank?

     Anyone who performs magic inevitably gets asked about the concept of misdirection. At first when I got this question I would vaguely talk about making someone look one place while doing something elsewhere, but this always felt incomplete and only partially accurate. Then I stumbled on Apollo Robbins’ excellent TED talk. If you haven’t watched it before, or have forgotten it, go watch it. It’s lots of fun, very clever, and the rest of this won’t make much sense without it:

     Now, although Robbins is technically a stage pickpocket and not a magician, the overlap is obvious, especially on this topic. Although his explanations of attention models were, to me, a little confusing, I thought the procedure he had the audience goes through with their phones was pure gold, and it’s here that I want to focus our Frank -- er, I mean, our attention. It perfectly illustrates that often misdirection isn’t about making someone look at the wrong place, it’s about making them pay attention to, or value, the wrong pieces of information. That way, despite looking at the right place, and having what feels like a complete memory of what happened, they still managed to miss the crucial pieces.

     Once you see misdirection in this larger light, that of controlling how they value information they have received, you see how it applies to effects not based on physical misdirection. For example, in mentalism effects that use some anagram systems, or restricted-choice fishing, often the magician gains important information from misses, which (performed properly) are the mental equivalent of skipping right by the lock screen to see the thought of icon. Obviously I’m not saying spectators will forget your every miss, but neither is anyone saying the audience in Robbins’ talk “forgot” they looked at a screen with a clock in it. Instead, they simply didn’t even realize it was a moment worth remembering.

     “Attention is what steers your perception” -Apollo Robbins

     -- Z.Y.


Divination Rites and Sleight-of-Hand, or: Mixing Magic with Magic

Precursory Research:

   I used to perform/work at a bar in Manhattan. At the time, I was playing around with an effect called Imagination Coins by Garrett Thomas. The effect, as sold, is essentially a clever coins across routine. While it uses quarters, and these are more normal than using half or silver dollars, I never liked the idea of bringing out my own four quarters to perform this effect. At the same time, people these days don’t consistently carry change on them, so asking to borrow four quarters (that look relatively the same) was out of the question, and changing them in the register was unlikely since we never kept loose change.

   I thought about a way to normalize my quarters, and was drawn back to the I-Ching. The I-Ching is an ancient Chinese divination text and ritual, used to provide insight into your life. One of the casting methods of the ritual is accomplished with the use of 3 coins. I decided I could introduce these quarters as my casting coins (at the same time normalizing them by introducing an even more foreign object in comparison: an I-Ching booklet), administer an I-Ching divination with the participant, and then follow-up with the Imagination Coins routine. Conceptually, the effect fit with the I-Ching’s focus on self-actualization and the power of visualization or imagination, and the idea of balancing and contrasting sleight-of-hand magic with more individual ritual and divination had been exploring for some time.

   However, after performing this series numerous times, I quickly found that even though these performances were conceptually linked, the magic that both of them represented were entirely different, and my participants exhibited confused reactions after the whole experience. Either they identified with the more occult magic of the I-Ching and followed up with the fortunes the ritual told, quickly moving on from the sleight-of-hand, or they were extremely responsive to the sleight-of-hand, and diminished the reading of the fortunes.

   Performed independently, both ‘effects’ received stronger reactions than when performed in tandem. To some degree, this response represents a cultural marker, a certain point in time for magic, in both occult and entertainment forms. I feel that one’s perception of magic is rooted so deeply in personal experience, has been cultivated and delineated over time, that at the moment of witnessing anything magical, one’s reaction, or belief structure towards it, has inevitably already been set.

   At the same time, I believe that there is some way to harmonize these various degrees of and approaches to magic, both for pure entertainment and for personal change and occultism, combining them into a greater effect than either of them could have enacted on their own. However, I have not yet found that way.

-- J.R. 

Wiccan Breakfast

     Here’s an idea that we’ve probably thought too much about, considering how nonsensical it is and how impossible it would be to implement.

    While cooking breakfast one morning for your previously overnight guest, you claim to have the best remedy for a hungover morning of liquor breath mixed with regret (which is perfect because that’s exactly what both of you have right now). You heat up a frying pan, throw some butter in, crack some eggs, maybe some pepper, so far so good. However, then you sneeze right into the pan.
     “Oops, that darn pepper,” you say. “Can you hand me that napkin?”
     Your confused and slightly grossed out partner hands you a napkin.
     You wipe your nose and toss it into the pan along with the eggs.
     “Bear with me here,” you say “This is going to be so delicious.”
     If they haven’t left yet, you should probably be concerned.    
     You then ask for some dirt from your potted plants, some mayonnaise, crow’s foot, eye of newt, and a used condom, perhaps from the night before, “Amazing source of protein” you mutter under your breath. Toss them all in the pan and fry em up. Swirl this concoction like a witch would their cauldron.
     You ask them for one final item to fetch, then you cover up your vile creation with a lid to let it really stew. Five minutes later, if your partner is still there, you lift up the lid of the pan to reveal a perfectly normal, wholesome omelette, containing none of the elements you have placed in it just moments ago.

     Alright, this is where this really falls flat. You need to build a holdout in the back of your stove top so that you can hot-swap two pans while your partner is turned away gathering your last ingredient. Sorry, but not sorry. You know you love this.

--  J.R. & Z.Y.

Konami @ The Dinner Table

Prerequisite Reading:
Hey all, we are going to be discussing an effect based off work by Andy @ The Jerx and Tomas Blomberg (read those referenced pages above or this won’t make much sense). Thank you both/all for sharing your work, in turn we offer our variation on your effects.
While developing a show for a small dinner party in a New England home, we thought a fun effect would be a group game everyone could play after the meal with an unexpected reveal to kick things off and segue into the magical portion of the evening. Our minds immediately jumped to the Kurtnami Code by Andy, which itself was based off a methodology from Tomas, where cards can be randomly played and us making a prediction on where the last card would ended up. After thinking about various ways to tweak this effect for our specific crowd, we came up with:

Konami @ the Dinner Table

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- One stone or other game token
- Approx. forty cards (exact number will vary depending on the number of participants, but noticeably more cards than you would want to play with) with various directions on them: pass stone left, pass stone right, pass stone left x2, pass stone across, etc. (We chose to draw the instructions on index cards that we found around the house, but you could make up a nice set on double blanks or card stock if you wanted them to last.)

A group gathers to play a card game where the objective is to collaborate and pass around an object (in this case, a stone) and have it land on a selected person once all the cards have been played. A packet of cards to be used is cut off the large deck, and they are mixed and then dealt out randomly to each player (the magician does not play). The token is set before someone using any standard method of deciding who begins a game (this can be whatever the house favorite is, such as oldest or youngest player, the head of the table, left of the dealer, etc) and the magician asks the group where they want the stone to land.

The participants then play through the game, with the stone landing on one person after all the cards have been played (Stone Person 1). A few more cards are cut off and added to the packet, which is reshuffled and the game is then played again, with the stone starting where it left off, and ending with a new person (Stone Person 2). After calling attention to the two people the stone ended up at after each round, and how it could have ended almost anywhere depending on the number of cards cut, the order they were shuffled, whom they were dealt to, and when they were played, Stone Person 1 and 2 look under their seats and find a prediction marking them both as the only recipients of the stone. (An alternative prediction, depending on your access to the chairs before the performance, is a drawing of the table [see example below], which also allows you to name the recipients.)

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While we won’t go into detail on the method (after reading Andy and Tomas’s work most of it should be relatively straightforward), we thought it may be more interesting to discuss some of the presentational aspects which differentiate this from their previous versions.
As some of Andy’s readers might have noticed this kind of presentation falls into his “engagement ceremony” style []. Tomas’s original Konami code is a process-heavy effect, and essentially anything based off of it will be as well. While thinking of how to present this we stumbled on the idea of it being a game, which not only helped invest everyone in the process but also gave the process itself a goal that everyone could grasp and focus on without revealing the magical purpose. Once in this context it was important that the game itself be fun as well, since although we knew it was leading up to a worthwhile magical payoff, we wanted everyone to think back on the entire event as an enjoyable procedure, not simply being justified by the revelation.
Another fun presentational angle this opened was the origins of the game being played. Although the options for this are almost endless we thought it reminded us particularly of the camp games we played as a kids, which the counselors would have us play to get to know each other. Since a number of the following effects that evening were group mentalism demonstrations we decided to play up that angle, and say that the game was designed to help build rapport and get everyone in the same headspace.
This lead us to one final presentational subtly, which is that we wanted the game to be cooperative and not competitive. This was partially so we could lean into the “rapport” angle, but also because in the spirit of everyone enjoying the game we didn’t really want there to be any ‘losers’ or people upset by the outcome.
We found this variation successful because it made the process into something people authentically enjoyed, left the entire trick in the spectator's hands to perform (if you can even call it that), and, as the (literal) cry of “no fucking way” attested, was genuinely baffling. We hope you have as much success with it, or that the idea at least gives you something to mull over for an inspiration of your own.
— J.R. & Z.Y.