Posts in method
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
What is Magic, cont’d — H.B.’s later thoughts on a text conversation

       Previously published on this blog was a text conversation between me and J.R. Concerning what exactly magic is. His answer, “ARTFUL DECEPTION,” has stuck with me. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it at the time, but I think now I’d have to disagree. That’s not to say he’s entirely wrong; on the face of it, magic seems like clever lying.

          Yet even as J.R. and I had that conversation, I doubted the definition he gave — I had just read Paul Harris’ essay on astonishment, and there seemed to be something more to this whole magic thing. I’m not very old in magic, of course — indeed, this is my first contribution — but what’s kept me in it is an abiding sense of magic’s profundity. If magic is just artful deception, then the objective is merely to fool people. This mentality encourages magicians to think of magic as a game, where the objective is to outsmart the spectator.

          However, merely fooling people is not enough to keep me practicing magic, nor should it be enough for anyone else. Paul Harris gave me a utopian vision of magic serving a vital role: astonishment, to him, is a tool to discover who we really are. Magic has the power, by giving us something inexplicable, to force us out of the delusions society requires of us to experience something real. But what the real thing Paul Harris wants audiences to experience remains elusive.

          The final pieces of this puzzle, for me, come from John Wilson’s episode of Magical Thinking, and an essay on the definition of magic by Charles Reynolds (it comes to me in Vanishing inc’s free ebook, “Magic in Mind”). I’ll not quote them here, but I highly recommend them both — the gist of the matter is that magic need not be about deception, but about manipulation (Wilson talks about symbols and Reynolds talks about perception as the objects of manipulation). The aim doesn’t need to be to fool, but to create a moment — for Wilson, the moment can be as simple as picking up a tarot card and turning it over, no deception required.

          Magic is about creating moments that are real — moments other people experience consciously. Fooling people is a path to this, but there are others. Wilson’s Tarot card is a wonderful example of a deceptionless real moment.

          As to why creating such moments is necessary, that may be the subject of another blog post entirely. In the meantime, I refer you to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” It’s about, as the publisher puts it, “reclaiming the richness” of moments in life. That’s the power Magic has; use it.

-- H.B.

method, performancesFour Suits
Rediscovering Cagigal

    In my (all of our) never ending search to decide how best to present magic, I recently stumbled back across a video I saw quite some time ago. It was of Christian Cagigal performing at the Magic Caste. When I first saw this video I was relatively new to magic, but I knew there was something there that I liked, something that hooked me and wouldn’t let go. At the time I didn’t know what it was, but now I think I have an inkling.

    What this video is to me, is an incredible example of Old Fashioned Storytelling. This is how tales, fables, and myths were told, in little rooms in the dead of winter when the days were short and there was nothing to do but tell stories. They are simple and easy to understand, but also universal and involve larger themes. (This is not to say they are profound, exactly, just that they deal with existing, powerful symbols.) He cleaves fast to the Rule of Three and his strict structure (always closing the music box on the same refrain), literally takes most of his props out of a book and titles them like chapters, and everything he touches looks old, tattered, and dear. Because of this I love it. I grew up listening to Old Stories, and being told about their power and how important they were, and I still firmly believe this.

    But none of this really addresses his magic, which is, after all, why we are here. Since his style of storytelling pulls you into that fairytale mindset and leads you through each beat so clearly, the magic hits you in a different way. In a world where fine nobles ride into your town in carriages and mysterious strangers offer you unimaginable wagers, of course wishes come true and cards transform. Now let me be clear: this is not a bad thing. This magic highlights the stories in enjoyable and fun ways and adds a depth of field to an otherwise two-dimensional fantasy. This is highlighted in perhaps the only awkward moment of the show, during the Gambler and the Stranger where he asks an audience member where to put the coin. This is the only overtly ‘magician-y’ thing he does, and it shows. The audience is suddenly left without the flow of the story to guide them, and is torn between trusting the storyteller and distrusting the magician.

    So in that sense I think I love his storytelling, and inasmuch as his magic serves that end I love it too. That said, I don’t think that show contains any “magical moments”. It certainly has moments of surprise, but they are all in service to, or acting as a satisfying conclusion to, the story, which is great, just different. Because of this, I’d say his Search for Truth (warp card) is the weakest segment. Despite containing what might classically be the “strongest” magic (it is straightforward, visual, and quick), it has the weakest story, and the story seems more like a prop to justify the magic, as opposed to vice versa (magic used to illustrate the story). (Also, incidentally, this is the only portion done with normal playing cards, yes because he destroys them, but the fact remains. This is also why some of Christian’s other work, with a less intense storyline, falls a little flatter for me.)

    In sum, I’d say Christian reminds us all that sometimes magic can simply be the beautiful accents that deepen an enjoyable story, and can still be fun and surprising without being the center of attention.

    (To see how an approach like this can re-center the magic without losing the story aspect, look at the Jerx’s Romantic Adventure style or the seance style of magic. Both tend to be about taking a story we all - to some extent - already know, and then poking around that story until something from the story pokes back, usually in an impossible and surprising way.)

-- Z.Y.

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.



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.


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

Photo Jun 09, 20 35 32.jpg

- 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.)

Photo Jun 09, 20 35 03.jpg

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.