In 'Workers Vol. 5', Michael Close has an essay on the power of analysing hidden assumptions that the spectator makes when witnessing a magic trick. He talks about how we can make use of these assumptions to strengthen our magic. It is well worth checking out, and I consider it the best essay I have read in magic. I was thinking about this topic last night and have thought of a few more assumptions that can be added to the list that Michael provides. I don't have the book in front of me, so I am unsure if I have duplicated any from Michael's list. This is a partly academic list, so one or two of the suggestions may seem a bit dumb (but are included for the sake of completion). I want to thank Michael for this wonderful essay and I want to thank another Michael (Michael Vincent) whose DVD I watched last night, which led to this list of assumptions (he briefly touched on this subject). The list is an attempt to include ideas not originally mentioned in 'Workers Vol.5' (although I am going from memory). So, to get a better overview of the subject it is well worth tracking down the original essay...
1) THE METHOD FOR THE TRICK IS COMPLETED BEFORE THE TRICK IS COMPLETED. [this one is the one that Michael Vincent touches on]
- Think about a trick like the Francis Carlye 'Card To Pocket'. The card is produced from a pocket (the spectator assumes it is his card). The trick seems to be over. However, at the same time the magician secretly palms the selection from the deck and then produces it from the pocket (thus switching the card on display for the spectator's selection). Another example would be from Michael Vincent's 'The Classical Magic Of Michael Vincent Vol. 1' which details a sleight-of-hand method for Brainwave in which the method is completed AFTER the climax of the trick.
2) DUAL REALITY
- Spectators assume that everybody witnessing the same performace are witnessing the same effect.
3) THERE IS NO METHOD
- Sometimes an effect will rely on luck to work - as such there is no method to try and figure out. This could be the magician who is prepared to openly risk failure and just hope for the best eg. Lay a playing card on the table and ask the spectator to name any card (and hope that your 1 in 52 chance pays off). Another example is in effects which have more tha one out. Euan Bingham has a brilliant approach for doing 'The Smiling Mule' by Roy Walton. Before the trick takes place he loads 4 or 5 cards into different locations (eg both pockets, the card-case, inside both shoes). When the effect takes place, he has the spectator name any card. Should it be one of the cards that is pre-loaded, he ditches the Roy Walton effect and just shows that the card has vanished from the deck and re-produces it from one of his prepared locations. If such a card is not named, he then just continues with the original Walton trick (which is a great trick by the way). About ten percent of the time such an effect will have a stunning conclusion in which luck is the only method.
4) INSTANT STOOGE
- A spectator assumes that even if a stooge is involved in the method, then the stooge must have being prepared by the magician before the show even starts.
5) NUMBER OF PEOPLE WATCHING AN EFFECT IS GREATER THAN THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE 'IN ON THE SECRET'
- The above is my way of summarising an idea associated with Joseph Dunninger. The idea that is worth having 99 stooges in an audience in order to fool the 1 spectator.
6) ANY MONEY APPARENTLY BURNED/DESTROYED IN A TRICK ISN'T REALLY DAMAGED
- In their book for the general public ('Penn And Teller's How To Play In Traffic'), P&T explain a destroyed and reproduced bank note. The mthod actually involves (genuinely) destroyed a borrowed bank note. Such a trick costs the magician money to perform and P&T encourage the reader to destroy as large an amount of money so as to strengthen the illusion that the magician wouldn't actually destroy such a large bill.
7) THE MAGICIAN IS UNPREPARED FOR A SPONTANEOUS CHALLENGE FROM THE AUDIENCE
- Pit Hartling has a brilliant essay in his book 'Card Fictions'. He talks about trying to induce challenges from the spectator (which the magician is secretly prepared to tackle). Imagine you had a trick where the spectator could shuffle the deck before the trick starts. Instead of allowing them to just shuffle the deck - it might be more effective to try and act suspiciously with the deck in the hopes that they will challenge the magician to let the spectator shuffle the deck (which of course they can).
8) A SPECTATOR'S SHUFFLE WILL DESTROY ANY ORDER IN THE DECK
- Tricks such as those using The Gilbreath Principle makes use of this assumption. An even better example of this kind of thinking is 'Carter's Fooler' by Peter Duffie.
9) WHEN A TRICK IS REPEATED THE SAME METHOD IS USED
- A magician may repeat the trick under challenge conditions (but switch methods) and apparently rule out various methods. 'The Tuned Deck' by R.W. Hull is a good example of this.
10) A STOOGE INVOLVED IN A TRICK WILL ASSUME HE IS THE ONLY STOOGE TAKING PART
- In '52 Memories', Jack Parker details a wildly ingenious magician fooler which makes use of this assumption.
11) A VOLUNTEER WILL NOT CONFIRM INCORRECT STATEMENTS
- Some of the recent work in mentalism (think Luke Jermay) involves subtly pressurising a volunteer to agree to statements which whilst they are in front of an audience and under the spotlights they may feel shy about contradicting. A more subtle approach to this is one involving Max Maven on a TV Show many years ago (I read about it in a UK magic magazine). At the end of an effect he asks a spectator to confirm that the liquid involved in the trick now smells of peppermint. This is quite subtle since the spectator will feel unsure as to how strong the smell should be, how strong their own sense of smell is and will have had little experience of sniffing for a peppermint smell. As such, on the spur of the moment, they will confirm that a glass of water now smells of peppermint.
12) THE METHOD EXPOSED IS THE SAME AS THE ONE USED
- I remember Penn and Teller doing a wonderful stunt. It was on a UK TV show and was an attempt at the world's most expensive card trick. Penn stopped a spectator on the street in Leicester Square, London. He had a card selected and whilst the card was removed he fanned the deck of cards (now missing a card) to the camera. Back in the TV Studio, Teller used a computer program to scan through the image of the 51 card fan. It quickly found the missing card which he then typed into a computer. This then sent the message to a giant electronic advertising board behind the spectator. Penn then glanced at this board to find what the chosen card was. He then told the spectator what his card was. The spectator was impressed and had no idea of the technology and thousands of pounds involved. A very amusing stunt for the viewer at home. However - in a later interview - P&T said they just used a stooge to achieve the effect. So, the expensive and involved method involved was just for the amusement of the people watching at home and wasn't the true method involved.
13) VERY EXPENSIVE METHODS WON'T BE IN USE
- This touches on the example above. Surely - a spectator would discount the possibility that thousands (millions?) of pounds are involved in the successful carrying off of a magic trick. Imagine how badly Bill Gates could fool you if he decided to blow a billion pounds on an incredible "pick a card, any card" trick...
14) THE METHOD WON'T INVOLVE AN IMPORTANT NEW SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY THAT HAS BEING KEPT SECRET FOR THE SAKE OF IT'S USE IN MAGIC
- Robert Houdin used the principle of electro-magnets (then a recent scientific invention) to fool people in the nineteenth century. Imagine how much more impossible these tricks would have being if the scientist who made the discovery decided not to release his results to the scientific community, and instead decided to use them as a new method for magic tricks. Fe people would imagine that a scientist would forego academic aclaim and prizes (eg The Nobel Prize) for the sake of being able to fool people with an unknown scientific principle.
15) THE METHOD WON'T INVOLVE ACTUAL MAGIC POWERS
- I once knew a guy at a magic club. He told me had actual magic powers (he was quite serious about this) and planned to use these supernatural powers to achieve ordinary magic tricks. Instead of using sleight-of-hand as the method for an Ambitious Card Routine, he would use actual magic powers and then take the credit for his clever use of sleight-of-hand. The guy could probably be described as mad (although his ambitious card routine was mighty clean!) - however, it is can still be classed as a hidden assumption that spectator's make.
16) IF A DECK IS SHUFFLED THE DECK MUST CONTAIN DIFFERENT PLAYING CARDS
- A great way leading spectator's minds away from the idea that you are using a deck that contains 52 identical playing cards (ie a one-way forcing deck) is to casually shuffle it. Alternatively - you could do a bad false shuffle in order to give the appearance you are trying to preserve a stack of cards. Or you could insist they can cut the cards as many times as possible (but not shuffle it). All these stratagems plant the idea that the deck in use is not one in which every card is the same.
17) A TRICK INVOLVING A CELEBRITY WON'T MAKE USE OF IDENTICAL TWINS.
- What if a famous celebrity had an identical twin that either few people knew about, or was deliberately kept secret. Such a twin (or celebrity lookalike?) could be used to good effect in any stage illusions involving identical twins.
18) THE METHOD INVOLVED FOR A TRICK INVOLVING AN ANIMAL/HUMAN WON'T RESULT IN THE DEATH OF THE ANIMAL/HUMAN
- I remember reading that 40/50 years ago, some of the dove workers would use methods for the disappearance of doves that involved the killing or injuring (ie. broken legs) of the bird. In theory this could be extended to other animals - ie making a rabbit disappear from a box by using a hidden compartment which crushes the animal out of view (alot of mechanical force may be required). This is an example of what could be achieved if you had no morals for the welfare of animals (which I abhore, but may have being an attidue that existed the fringes of magic a few decades ago). This idea can be extended to humans. Surely no-onw would assume the murder of a human being was the secret to an effect, but I note that this is an assumption that Ricky Jay played with when he guest-starred in an episode of the 'X-Files' ('The Great Maleeni'). A combination of this assumption and the assumption involving the use of luck as a method could be used for a version of 'Russian Roulette'. Imagine if a lunatic decided to genuinely perform 'Russian Roulette' in the middle of a magic act. If he were lucky, he would get the cedit for an impossibly clean effect. Equally, evil regimes (like Nazi Germany) with an utter disregard for human life could use inhumane methods in the creation of impossible seeming illusions...
Well - that should do for now. I am going to include a link to a discussion on 'The Magic Cafe'. It discusses Michael Close's essay and has some interesting contributions. However, I think the link may only work for members of 'The Magic Cafe' who have made over 50 posts. I am not 100% sure though...
Hidden Assumptions - The Magic Cafe
All the best,