From the place where bad audio goes to die.
Victor Sullenberg asks: “whats in your opinion the best triumph?”
Well Victor, I’ll start off by calling bullshit on your name. Did your parents seriously name you that?
The short answer to your question would be one where the participant loses her own card, mixes the cards herself, finds the card and the pack is righted. I have no idea where this is in print. Good luck finding that.
The longer answer is that while I’d be hard-pressed to say that there is such a thing as a “best” triumph,” I’ve been working on a solution addresses the major issues I have with the way the trick is usually done.
I was recently at a grad-student bar in Baltimore for reasons so inscrutable I outright refuse to describe them. While in said bar, I heard something that few New Orleanians have ever heard: Last Call.
Last call is something I’ve heard about, like in fairy tales and shit, but never before had I experienced it firsthand. The idea that a bar should close before sunset makes very little sense to me. I mean, the business model depends on the fact that people want to stay in the place forever and not go the fuck home.
I’m a young guy, I’ve only been going to bars for a few year and as it stands, I’m not a big drinker, but not being a big drinker in the House of the Rising Sun apparently equates to “we need to have an intervention” in most of the dry midwest. Basically, I live in a place where there are a lot of bars and a lot of different kinds of bars that serve a wide range of clientele from tourists to swamp people to Tulane bitties to Wendell Fucking Pierce. Bars here are like Starbucks everywhere else. So the mantra goes: it’s always five o’clock somewhere.
So Maybe I’ve been going to all the wrong places, but at this point in my admittedly brief time on earth, not once have I ever had a drunken spectator shuffle my cards face-up and face-down. This would, of course, require me to actually perform for a person, but that aside, if I were to perform an effect during which the cards were shuffled together face-up and face-down, it would be because I did it on purpose.
Triumph is usually accompanied by the “inebriated spectator story.” I hate that fucking story. Not only do I feel like a big fat phony every time I tell it, it also just lacks the immediacy that I feel the triumph effect should have. That’s the thing about true story tricks—Tony Soprano said it best: Remember-when is the lowest form of conversation. If you weren’t there, the effect is meaningless.
This stunning supernatural occurrence, done with playing cards, no less, shouldn’t be an allusion to this thing that happened this one time. It should actually be the thing, right there in front of the spectator. The only way to ensure this is either to have a stooge play the drunk spectator who turns half your cards face up before you accidentally shuffle them together; OR to go with a different presentation.
Since all of my friends are too well-adjusted to ever believably fuck with a card trick, I prefer to go with the latter approach.
What triumph the trick seems to suggest, from the participant’s perspective, is a self-correcting universe. The way it’s usually presented, finding a selected card is a pretense—It focuses the audience’s attention on a distinct effect, and the anticipation is intensified by the induction of the additional of the topsy-turvy condition of the cards. However, it’s never specified exactly how this is supposed to make it more difficult for the performer. The motivation for the action seems obfuscated.
If a card is lost in a particular portion of the pack already reversed, then it makes more sense that one would shuffle additional cards into said portion to, in effect, camouflage the selection making it ostensibly more strenuous to locate the selection. Steve Reynolds has some great work on this, insofar as using the construction of the effect to motivate the face-up face-down shuffle.
The next fundamental problem with most debugs of Triumph is that there are two separate effects mashed together. The climax then becomes self-defeating, distorting what, to the audience, should appear to be two well-defined effects.
It was Marlo’s discovery that one could separate the double-climax of Triumph by using the Nyquist ribbon spread hideout to reveal all the cards having been righted, and then spreading again to show an inverted selection, getting both effects, in succession.
Roy Walton’s overworked card takes a novel approach and I think makes a good case for separating the effects but, to me, the effect is muddied by the ambitious card sequence. I mean, I get it—it’s an overworked card that makes all the card straighten out, but I’d much rather have it be a previous selection, rather than just whatever card happened to be on top. That way, it feels less like I’m cleaning up the extra reversed cards and more like I’m accomplishing a magical feat. And, to be perfectly honest, I think there are too many unnecessary sleights.
The objective of this experiment is to invert the order of climaxes, thereby finding the card in a direct and deceptive manner, and only then revealing that the chaotic state of the cards has been put into order. The underlying logic being that an entire mixed deck suddenly put into order is substantially more impossible (and impressive) than finding your card.
This triumph accomplishes a great deal with very little. There is one move employed, the diagonal palm shift, because it is the most economical way to achieve the desired position.
There is no preparation. Borrow a shuffled deck and have a willing participant nominate a card as the selection. Place the card face up, out-jogged, in the center of the upper half of the deck (or if continuing from the previous effect, cut the cards so the face up selection is in this position) and make some cutesy remark like: “It would be pretty easy for me to find a face up card in a face down deck.” While the audience is laughing at your funny joke, in squaring the selection into the deck, execute a diagonal palm shift and replace the palmed selection on bottom.
Okay, sidebar: I use the the diagonal palm shift because it is, mechanically, a very direct way to get into the position I need to be in, that is, with the selection face up on bottom of the face down pack. There is no additional shuffling or cutting, and after the replacement, the hands are already in position to split the cards for the faro. However, if there’s a better, more natural, more direct way to get to the above position, by all means let me know about it.
Now say something like “but if I were to mix the face up cards into face down cards, it would make it far more challenging…” Slowly (read again: slowly) do the Tenkai optical revolve as you prepare to faro the face up cards into the ostensibly face down portion. Continue, “effectively camouflaging your card.” Faro the face up portion in the right hand into the apparently face down portion in the left. Shuffle the halves together by bridging the cards—simply reposition the right hand to where the thumb rests on top of the interlaced section of its in-faroed cards, and the fingers come below the pack to form a cage for the shuffled cards to fall into. Allow the cards land in a messy heap.
Again, very slowly square up the cards, showing it to have been a true shuffle. There will be no display sequence. Because people who do that think their audience is stupid, and I don’t perform for stupid people. The audience should theoretically see the face down card on top and the messy face-up cards below and (get this) figure out for themselves that the cards are in the about-facing state. If you have to try to convince them of it, they may have very good reason to believe you’re full of shit.
So all the heavy lifting is done. Ask if they think their card is face up or face down. Regardless of their answer, reveal that the top card is the selection which is an arresting moment since it previously felt very lost in the participant’s mind. The way this is handled is very important, though.
To sharpen the moment of the appearance of the card face down, tilt the deck at a 45 degrees (or .79 radians if we want to get technical), then using the lower joint of left thumb, pull the top card to the left so that it rides up over left edge and onto the side of the pack, parallel to the ground. Accompany this with a snap or something, so that the card appears to pop into its veritable existence. Just don’t make any noises with your mouth. People will think you have Asperger’s Syndrome. And if you have Asperger’s, I hereby give you permission to do this.
Drop the selection face up on the pack and then make another fruity magical gesture or whatever and fan the cards (this is an in-the-hands trick, right?) to show that they’re all facing the same direction. Also, I recommend wearing a helmet and possibly some padding because at this point your audience should be hurling bricks of gold and their virgin daughters at you.
Actually, they’ll probably be like: “Hey nice trick. Can you do the one with the sponge balls?”
As with any effect of such stunning magnitude, I find it best to lead into it with a preliminary effect of a similar flavor, basically setting the stage. I like to do a short inversion trick that has a cool and apparently visible moment of the card reversing itself.
Briefly, A card is selected using Simon Aaronson’s Head Over Heels, so that it becomes reversed 2nd from the top of the pack. A packet is cut (packet means somewhere between 6-13 cards) from the bottom to the top to get the selection a little bit further down in the pack. Say something like, “I want your card a little closer to the center,” to justify this action.
Now the fun part, Cut off a little less than half of the cards from the top and in-faro them into the lower portion, so they’re sticking out for 3/4 of their length. Push the out-jogged cards inwards, towards the body, holding the top and bottom cards in place so that the lower portion juts out from the back. Then push the in-jogged lower portion forward, away from the body. This action is similar to one used by Paul Harris in his effect Unshuffling Rebecca. Basically it’s the plunger principle put into action with the entire deck.
Repeat the backwards-forwards motion—one will notice that the outer cards of the in-faroed portion get sloughed off into the lower portion after each cycle—until the face up selection comes into view. It helps to do this rapidly, as if the deck is oscillating. The appearance of the card should be very visually stunning. Once it’s clear that there’s a face up card in the mix, push the cards flush and spread through, out-jogging the selection. You are now in position to perform the diagonal palm shift and continue with the triumph as written above.
So there that is. The thing I like the best is that most people will stop reading before they get to the part with the trick.
Also, apologies to Mr. Sullenberg, if your parents really did name you that. And if you have Asperger’s.
I don’t know. It’s been a while I guess. They got all kinds of serious shit going on this month. Motherfuckers be dying, shit be exploding…
Tornado watch in Kenner, right by me last week. We got tropical storm force gusts, rain coming in my windows where the sealant had cracked, plants on the windowsill got the first real rain they ever drank. Wetness kinda seeps into the houses here, so even though I got this fancy ass climate control, it’s still humid as Mexican Joe’s ass crack.
This is when cards bloat, swollen with the steamy vapor. Set the engines to warp nine, it’s going to be a sticky ride. Your fancy new deck of custom-designed gritty-graphique pasteboards twist up into a diagonal corner-to-corner taco shape. While some shy away to more arid temperaments, I embrace the taco, full-heartedly. The parabolic shape seems to invoke some Thalean-Euclidian card-god. Not only are faro shuffles more exciting to execute, but thanks to clump factor, instant (and unexpected) 14-card turnovers are just that much easier.
Want the secret to unfathomable amazing self-working card sleights? It’s the click bend. Chew on that shit. Rule one of the click bend: don’t touch the cards; they’re sensitive, easy to sway from convex to concave. Trust them to do their job. Breaks will hold themselves. Side-stolen selections will self-extricate, and basically do everything, up to putting themselves into your wallet.
A deck’s lifespan has elasticity; it is organic to behold, the cards cells in the living, breathing talon. This weird object lives its life and is retired in the practitioner’s hands. He is an active participant in the object’s demise. Maybe I’m crazy, but I’ve never found any pack of cards, even of the same exact brand, to feel and handle identically. They are all products of their environment.
If I had to, I could probably group these characteristics in to some sort of legible taxonomy, but the use of such, seems to me at this point, limited in its reach.
Why cards? Marlo had it right (as usual). Because they’re fucking cheap (though perhaps he said it more eloquently). They’re something that everyone has. They’re toys, for playing games with. Magic, if anything, is not a study of wonderment and astonishment. These are aspects of what the study of this area reveals. Really, magic is a tool for mapping the processes of the mind. It reveals human limitation and indicates that there is far more that we don’t know, than what we do know.
How, as flesh-and-blood organisms, subject to the usual forces of gravity, motion and constancy, can we reckon a sub-atomic universe that plays by different rules altogether? Magic helps us link the two seemingly disparate worlds of known and unknown. Like 2-dimensional creatures trying to reconcile a three-dimensional world, visions of the impossible allow us to navigate the landscape of the unknown. It is therefore very important that magic present a broader picture of the true state of things, than simply as mystifying entertainment.
A deck of cards is the closest thing to a holdable computer that the world has had since the abacus. It has several discrete features that can be quantified, separated, and re-composited. People probably didn’t know it at first, but the proliferation of such a simple object has opened computational doors that would even impress Alan Turing. Arrangement, permutation, mutation, orientation—all are inherent qualities of a deck of cards. Information can be coded and decoded, a given set of inputs will provide specific outputs. Or at least that is how things appear. When under the right influence, the concreteness of the card pack belies a certain malleability.
The deck, like the proverbial river, remains the same, whilst ever-changing. It is, in its true form, an unbroken chain of position and value, onto which we place the bounds of our three dimensions. But a deck extends forwards and backward in time as a record of all possible positions it has ever and will ever be shuffled into. The practitioner’s ability to move seamlessly between different positions (especially without seeming to have done so) is the key to his apparent control over the physical object that is the pack.
There are two ways (as far as I can tell) to navigate between these different positions. The first is through the physical manipulation of the apparatus, which produces physical data for the audience to interpret and internalize. If the use of sleights is analogous to drawing a straight line between the two positions, then subtlety is like bending space-time and traveling through a wormhole. Arguably more direct, subtleties uses preconceived or situationally implied data to supersede interpretation and go directly to internalization. The challenge that then arises is in figuring out how to combine these two methods of navigation in a way that is both convincing and direct.
Individual cards have a limited quantity of physical states, but in combination with one-another, produce endless possibilities of states, and therefore can produce as much implied data. If one assumes that the gap between any two possible possible positions can be bridged, then anything one can imagine (computationally) with a deck of cards is possible. Which is a pretty exciting prospect.
Now, as a reward for reading through all that, here is a packet trick that doesn’t exemplify any of the qualities I discussed above. Don’t tell anybody it’s here, though. It’s the crappiest packet trick I’ve ever come up with. Thought as luck would have it, Steve Reynolds figured out how to make it an actual coherent effect. And then I figured out how to do it in the hands, with no duplicates. Basically, it would look really good on vimeo or something, but I would never perform this.* I call it, the incredible sinking ace trick. It has lots of sleights, so if you’re into that kind of thing… Also, I’m going to write it like it’s out of Erdnase. Because fuck you.
Hereforthwith, I shall endeavor to describe a feat of conjuring during which, one at a time, the premier ace of spades mystically sinks down, like a lead haddock, one-at-a-time, through three other cards, each descent more visibly striking than the last. Primarily, the order of the packet of cards from the top down shall be as henceforth: the two of spades, the ace of spades, the three of spades, any stranger card, and finally the four of spades. This arrangement may be arrived at while the cards are removed from the deck, with no suspicion being aroused. Hold this packet of five-posing-as-four cards face down in the palm-up left hand in the manner commonly known as mechanic’s grip. And now I’m officially tired of writing this way.
Perform a simple spread, five cards as four, with the top two cards (the two followed with an ace below) going into the right hand, the three cards (the three, followed by the x-card and the four, held together as one) in the left hand. Turn the right hand palm down flashing the face of the two and the ace. Using the left-hand cards, tap the ace and the two, audibly counting, “ace, two…” Turn the right hand palm up, bring the backs into view, simultaneously, turning the left hand palm down to show the three and four. Tap the three and then the four with the face down right hand cards and again audibly count, “three, and four.”
Square up the cards in to the left hand (in the same order as before) taking the opportunity to get a break beneath the top two cards (the two and the ace). do a double lift to show the apparent single ace of spades (taking advantage of Marlo’s Buffaloed principle) and at the same time, spread the three left hand cards, to subconsciously underscore the number of cards and relative positions. Flip the double card face down on to the left hand cards and square up.
Make a magical gesture (not that gesture) and pull the top card vertically, keeping it flat, and being sure to make use of all that glorious three dimensional space. Use the left fingers to flip the ace of spade face up on the left hand packet. At the same time as the ace is revealed, secure a pinky break below the three, directly beneath the ace. Only afterwards, flash the face down two in the right hand and drop it back onto the face up ace, side-jogged to the right.
Pick up all the cards above the break and use the left fingers to slip the three aligned underneath the two, under the cover of turning the ace face down on to the left hand cards. As an afterthought, turn the ace back face up and say something novel like, “actually, we’ll keep the ace face up this time.” Drop the face down two (with the three hidden underneath) onto the face up ace and perform your gesture (as wildly as possible). immediately perform a simple spread (with the last two cards held as one) to show the ace has sunk again. A miracle worthy of Odin himself. At this point, you can show all sides of the spread and the positions of the cards. Everything is copacetic**.
For the final phase, the objective is the get the four (currently on bottom) to directly above the ace. This can be accomplished several ways, each one more unnatural than the last. The easiest way is probably to use biddle grip to hold spread cards from above, horizontally aligned (still in proper position from the simple spread) while the left hand fingers slide the four beneath the spread to in line with the three. The hands then separate briefly, the ace and x-card beneath it going to the left, the two and three with the four hidden underneath to the right. This separation is covered by emphasizing that the ace will pass through the four before the participant’s very eves.
The spread is reassembled in the left hand, but in position for a unique application of Guy Hollingworth’s hot chicken optical alignment. Briefly, the lowermost card of the spread rests in the thumb crotch, the index finger at the top (keeping the cards aligned), the thumb tip contacting the backs of the two and the three. Underneath the packet, the second and third fingers contact the four beneath the three and both rest against the right edge of the face up ace. Under the cover of a waving motion from the left wrist, the thumb pushes to the right, spreading the cards, while the left second and third fingers simultaneously pull to the left, squaring the ace above the x-card beneath it.
For all appearances, it is though the ace of spades has permeated the the four. As this happens, slowly move the left hand downward as the right hand grips the two, three, and four at the inner right corner and tilts back to show their faces. If you’re not too much of a pussy, cop the x-card hidden beneath the ace, drop everything else into the participant’s hands, curl into a fetal position, and sob silently to yourself because there is no participant. It’s just you alone in your room with your webcam.
Do not follow this up with a kicker. The cards do not all turn blank at the end. The ace doesn’t appear back on top. The trick is over.
So all in all, it’s a pretty middle-of-the-road effect. The weakest point is definitely at the end, though. After the ace has penetrated the three in such an orgasmic fashion, it really reeks of foul play that the right hand needs to come over to re-asjust the cards before the final penetration. One presentational ploy to cover this would be to treat the spread condition as an afterthought. The spread is closed as if to repeat the effect as in the second phase, but is then re-spread to emphasize fairness.
Ideally, however, one would want to reach the position for the hot chicken alignment immediately after spreading to show the descent of the ace through the three. The actual position, in that case, might be represented by [2*3*A*X4] (symbols representing the top-down position of the cards as from the performer’s perspective, “*” represents spread condition) and the audience’s interpretation would be [2*3*A*4]. The position the magician needs to arrive at is [2*34*A*X] (the three and four posing as one card) from which he can switch the audience’s interpretation from [2*3*A*4] to [2*3*4*A]. So we need to get from [2*3*A*X4] to [2*34*A*X].
Now, before I go any further, I should state that this is purely theoretical. Obviously, the most straightforward way would be to use a duplicate four of spades so that even though you’d still have to do that awkward readjustment, you can cleanly show the bottom card just before doing the optical alignment, again, just to re-emphasize the condition. But then you can’t really do it with a borrowed deck. In origami one is not allowed to make cuts, use multiple pieces of paper, or adhesive of any kind. I want a spectator-less, in-the-hands, gaff-less, dupe-less piece of photo booth perfection with fewer moves than phases that allows for the visible passage of one card through another as the third and final phase. You see, every trick I ever work on owes me a debit. One hundred Nazi scalps. And I want my scalps.
The problem with this problem is, of course, its very strict parameters. Mechanically, there is no way to accomplish this that I have found without sacrificing the visible integrity of a previous phase. I’ve tried color monte alignments, holding out. The pieces just aren’t there to put the thing together, which in my mind is a good indicator of the validity of the problem—it does seem inherently impossible. So the only option is to look for a subtlety, or ambiguity—try to find some lapse in the spectator’s interpretation of things, where we can fold the space-time of the effect.
We know what the participant needs to think to get that the effect has taken place. So then the question posed seems to ask if its possible to reverse-engineer the participant’s conclusion-reaching faculties to imply conditions that place the performer a step or multiple steps ahead. The extra card is needed, because it helps to simulate a false condition. Is there, then, some way we might be able to doubly-rely on this same ruse in an earlier position?
These really are open questions. I don’t know. I’ve been at it for a while. Ultimately I envision some formal method of drawing parallels between different states of a deck of cards. Perhaps some mutation of symbolic logic, with its own grammar, derivations, and proofs, or perhaps something more akin to Feynman’s diagrams.
For the past 500 or so years, card men have been blindly shooting lasers into the vast ether, occasionally striking some invisible target. The very nature of the practice undermines proliferation of ideas and progress—a paradoxical stunting of progress in this field. There have been few paradigm shifts over the course of card magic’s history, but I expect that a new one may be upon us.
On an unrelated note: I shit you not, we just had marble-sized hail coming down outside. Which will happen first? We will develop a formal symbolic system of notation for card magic that will allow us to draw parallels we could ever have envisioned, or will global warming cause rising ocean levels to flood New Orleans and destroy the Action Palm forever?
* Or any other trick, for that matter.
Watch in HD on Vimeo.
Or don’t. It’s your life, man.
These days, in between smoking pot and thinking to myself “wow, my Zarrow shuffle really looks good in the webcam,” I occasionally have to step outside the shotgun house that I bum around in and go make some actual fucking money. Though I do not really consider myself an artiste in the strictest sense, I have certain artistically inclined sensibilities when it comes to video work (this is not to say that I won’t sell out the first chance I get*). Composition, lighting, and especially good sound quality (which I believe to be the most underrated and yet most important parts of filmmaking) must all be just so, meeting my never lagging standards.
When filming interviews, a habit I have picked up from working with people who know what they’re doing when it comes to sound recording, is to ask my subject to tell me what they had for breakfast while getting sound levels. I find this a good question to ask for several reasons: 1st, because it is specific—far better than saying “hey asshole, talk about something for a minute,” 2nd, because unless I’m conducting an interview in sub-Saharan Africa, pretty much everybody had breakfast this morning and will remember what it was. I also realize how offensive that last line was. My apologies if you’re from sub-Saharan Africa.
So, for example, this morning (actually more like 1pm) I made some bacon and eggy-in-the-basket. It was fucking good. Now, I could be more specific and describe how I saved the bacon renderings and cooked the egg in a piece of texas toast and then put the bacon back on top and covered the whole thing in swiss cheese and butter. More detail. It happened to me, I ate it, so I remember it pretty well. Also it was around five hours ago as of this writing, so it’s not too much of a stretch for the details.
If you ask me what I had for breakfast yesterday, it was some Eggo waffles with butter (beginning to see a trend?) and honey and a cup of hot cocoa. Again, not too much of a stretch of the memory. But let’s say you ask me what I had for breakfast a month ago today, November the 25th. I have no fucking clue. I could look at a calendar, maybe and figure out what I did that day, maybe figure out what I likely had for breakfast (probably bacon), but the 25th of November is just another day that blends into a lot of other days just like it.
Now, say I ask you what you did for your birthday three years ago. It might take a little bit, but I assume one could recall more or less what he or she did that day. Most people have a certain feeling of birthday-ness that they associate with the going-ons of those particular waking hours. Even if you don’t remember what kind of cake it was, you know there was a cake, maybe you drank too much, took a shit on a table—I don’t know (or particularly care), but some memory of what that day felt like exists.
But what if I asked about the day six days before your birthday three years ago? Unless you’re one of those super-memory savant types (in which case, fuck off, this article is not for you), you may be hard-pressed to come up with anything. Maybe you went to class, but the people you saw, the conversations you held, let alone what you ate for breakfast, are all indistinct.
I’ll get back to all that momentarily. My primary concern is the shortcomings of memory and empiricism. An excellent documentary that deals with the subject thematically is Errol Morris’ Thin Blue Line. First a disclaimer: when you watch it, you will lose all faith in law enforcement and the legal system (as if you had any left). Let me go on the record and say, fuck cops, fuck DAs, and fuck Dallas County.
Thin Blue Line details a murder case in November 1979 in Texas. Morris conducts interviews with the convicts, the lawyers, judges, witnesses, and policemen. It becomes clear during the course of the film that the facts, are not, the facts, that through whatever human error and the fact that Texas is fucked up (apologies to my one friend from Texas), reality becomes distorted.
The empirical data does not match up with itself and as such, the truth becomes amorphous, eventually to the point of irrelevancy. Whatever actually occurred is clouded by the misinterpretation of events (and perhaps, it is implied, some legal meddling). In short, everyone interviewed is sure of their own interpretation, despite contradictory evidence.
See, human perception is not as accurate as we may like to believe. Our picture of the world is stitched together by our brains. Consciousness, in a sense, is purely chemical. We see something and, influenced by our personal biases built from prior experience, we ascribe a unique classification to it in out minds. This is not a new idea by any means—it is the reason symbols carry meaning swastika equals bad, dove equals peace, and all that shit. Of course we interpret things we see with bias—it’s a fucking survival mechanism: red plump berries are good to eat, small green ones are bad.
It is through the combinations of these biases, through this stitching process that our brain does, where discrepancies arise. Each of us, we see a seamless picture—our own personal composited reality; ergo we believe that there is always an concrete, objective truth of the matter. What happens happened exactly as we interpret it.
But the rough stitched edges are revealed in our recalling of events—we first and foremost recall the feeling, because this is the most visceral part of the memory. If you’ve ever been in a car accident you’ll likely first remember that it was loud, you felt the shock. And trying to piece it back together, what you felt will inform what you remember.
In the performance of a magic effect, a strict emphasis is often placed on the mechanical sleight, uniformity of action. By no means should this be undermined, however, it should not be the primary concern. With the execution of a secret action, attention should be placed on the audience’s empirical interpretation of the visible action.
Naturalness is, as many magicians will forget, primarily a question of attitude. The act of de-emphasizing a moment in a routine hinges not just on one’s ability to cover it with some physical movement, but on honestly and truly not giving the moment any importance. What is the audience feeling at that very moment? The execution of false shuffles, for example, should not invite scrutiny.
If you can do the Zarrow with the audience placing their head down on the table, parallel to the cards and still being unable to see any hint of the riding block, then wonderful. The easy part is over, because guess what? Anybody can fucking do that! Remember that whole thing about the audience not detecting let alone suspecting that a secret action has been made (I think it was that Brad Christian guy who said that…)? Achieving that is not simply a function of the hands. One achieves it though body language, mannerism, eye contact. You know. Being a normal human being.
Here’s a little secret. You can do a strip out shuffle that flies by everybody in which you only telescope the cards halfway and then pull them back out. All because the action isn’t studied. What people will remember is the feeling of the action. If you look at something, the audience will look at it. It then follows that if you care about something, the audience will care about it.
The same thing that can put an innocent man on death row can make an effect stronger.
Also, if anyone posts a comment or reblog (or however the fuck tumblr works) about what they had for breakfast three years and six days ago, fuck you.
I am not a rich man. This is due to several factors, not the least of which is a conscious decision to become financially independent from my dear sweet parents. This—conventional wisdom informs me—is one of several steps on the road to manhood, right up there with being Bar-Mitzvahed and getting too much hair in my ass crack. Not to imply that if offered a free meal at the parental domicile I would not accept. Quite the contrary. As strange as it may sound, Ramen noodles tend to lose their novelty after three straight months.
There are other little indulgences I find myself taking, doing my laundry for free, storing my film equipment in my old room, and of course sharing a Netflix instant-watch account with my dear sweet mother. Netflix is a strange beast. The fact that we share the same account (or rather that I leech off of hers) has caused Netflix to produce some very interesting suggestions of movies to watch, which is understandable, given the website thinks that the same person watched a Ryan Reynolds rom-com and Workaholics back to back. But as is wont to happen, I digress (bad habit of mine).
The other night, I watched a documentary entitled “Freakonomics,” based on a book by the same name. I vaguely remember reading the book during high school (much of those days have been erased from my memory) and really only recall that the thesis was something along the lines of: “the stuff you think you know isn’t really true.” Okay. I can accept that. But the movie piqued my curiosity and I figured it’d be a good refresher or something like that.
Let me back up a little bit, first. What interest should a student of magic have in economics? As many people understand it, economics deals with the transfer of wealth between entities, plain and simple. That’s largely the picture I had of it until I read a book by an Israeli guy named Dan Ariely. He has a few TED talks, all of which are excellent. Ariely is a Behavioral Economist, which means he studies why people make the decisions they make.
Ariely’s first book, “Predictably Irrational,” explains how economics has far larger implications for humanity than just the transfer of wealth. What economics really is, at its core, is a way to quantify human behavior and track decision making. Ariely theorizes (in the scientific sense of the word) that peoples’ decisions are actually very predictable, depending on the given circumstances (even what may be considered irrational decisions). Using the data of decision-making, we are able to see patterns emerge that have deep and far-reaching sociological implications.
This is basically what “Freakonomics” is about, that is, these implications, and more specifically, how we can read in to these implications and mis-read into them. What do they actually mean? What do the numbers actually represent.
So in “Freakonomics” (the motherfucking movie!), there is a section on cheating and corruption and why and how it occurs. The postulate is that given a good-enough incentive, anyone will cheat. The example discussed in the movie is from Sumo Wrestling. Sumo is one of those “honorable” sports; on the surface it is about honor and pleasing the gods and all that hokey shit.
Several years ago, allegations surfaced that the Sumo Association (That’s right, a consortium of fat butt-ass-naked Japanese men) was involved in a corruption scandal in which wrestlers would throw matches and large sums of money would exchange hands. The idea being that cheating is a very good business decision, as long as it’s kept to a few people and nobody else finds out (and this can help explain Enron, Madoff, Martha Stewart*, etc).
That’s all peachy, but what really interests me are two Japanese words that one of the interviewees used. They are Honne and Tatemae. Honne refers to the hidden truth—the way things actually are, whereas tatemae is the “facade of propriety,” or what people see on the surface. These concepts are of interest because there exists a certain emblematic distance between the two; a varying conceptual distance.
On one end, we have total transparency, where the hidden is the overt—one can clearly distinguish the internal processes of something. On the other end is total obfuscation. Insofar as corruption and cheating go, the distance between honne and tatemae has a certain sinister flavor to it. These concepts, however, exist in all fields, I suppose, as a sort of developmental barrier.
This is to say, there is an apparent reality that is stripped away the deeper one delves. One’s ultimate goal in the study of any subject is the close this conceptual distance, to seek the hidden truth underneath the facade.
As magicians, this distance is far more critical to our success as artists—we strive to obfuscate the honne and present an apparently transparent tatemae. The larger the distance we create for our audience, (in theory) the more baffling the effect. As such, in any given effect, we must investigate every aspect to see if this distance exists.
I’ve harped on this many times before, but what bothers me about most “visual” magic is that there is generally very little distance between method and effect. This is not to say that there should not be visual clarity, but rather when the sleight is the effect, the constructed facade suffers. In the construction of a trick, we want to create a well-defined gestalt; that is, what appears to be happening should be greater than the combined components: 2+2 needs to equal 5, not 4.
I think this can be connected to why the most mechanically direct way of accomplishing a method is not necessarily going to produce the best possible effect. A (strictly) mechanically direct method can, in fact, shorten the distance between honne and tatemae. So the challenge is how does one lengthen the distance while at the same time preserving an outward clarity?
The answer lies with the audience. We should spend less time on moves and more time studying them. What do they see? What do they sense? Inevitably I’ve got to connect this back to Marlo: method affects the effect. The hidden aspects will always be intrinsically tied to the apparent reality. To separate them would be actual magic.
So before I accidentally devolve into a discussion of causality, I should probably go make some Ramen for breakfast. Stay classy, internet.
*On a completely unrelated note, I recently had an idea (for like a sketch or something) where someone commits a crime in Sweden and gets sent to one of their fuckin super-fancy prisons. You are very excited about this, even more so when you learn that your cellmate will be none other than Martha Stewart. But it turns out that she’s the biggest hard-ass in the world, making tattoo guns out of pens and shanks out of toothbrushes and all that shit. At one point, you end up in the shower and you drop the soap. And Martha’s there. In the shower. Staring at you. Fully clothed with an apron and rubber gloves. And wearing a big black strap-on dildo. And she fucks you in the ass in the shower with the big black dildo. In the ass. In the ass with the big black dildo strap-on. Sweet dreams.