It's wrong to teach kids Prof's Nightmare

Discuss the views of your favorite Genii columnists.

Postby Guest » 01/18/04 10:45 PM

I just read "Pediatrix" in the Feb. 2004 issue of Genii, and I couldn't believe that the writer was teaching Professor's Nightmare to children. This is just wrong.

Professor's Nightmare is too good of a trick to teach to laymen, and the vast majority of the children in his class will turn out to be laymen. I use an abbreviated Prof's Nightmare at the end of my extended rope routine, and I know lots of magicians who include this trick in one way or another in their show.

I taught magic to elementary-schoolchildren for three years, and I always taught them material that professionals weren't using. There was a lot of work with key cards, even if I did add some clever variations. I brought a handful of pennies and taught them tricks with those, too.

Anybody agree? Disagree?

Postby M. Sibbernsen » 01/19/04 01:45 AM

I absolutely agree with you David.

A little background.

Each summer for the last 4, I have taught multi 100's of young students magic. Each class is 50 min long, 30 identical classes a week, each week a new topic for a total of 2 months a Summer. Each year has been an entirely new set of effects / lessons. To make a long story short- (too late), I have taught a great deal of magic. There is absolutely no need to teach the Professor's Nightmare, nor any material used by performing magicians on a regular basis.

In addition, I have developed 3 other self-imposed rules to what I teach...

1) Easy with little to no sleight of hand.
2) In the public domain (Each piece of magic should be found in at least 3 general-public available magic texts)
3) Indicative of what "good magic" is (in my mind).

and the aforementioned 4th.

4) Not used on a regular basis by performing magicians.

One would think that following these rules would limit greatly what I could teach, and this is true. Luckily however, with a great deal of work and research, it is not impossible.

Perhaps in the future, I may release my many lesson plans on DVD. In the meantime, I have a compilation of some of this material, including my thoughts on teaching magic to the young novice, available to anyone interested. Drop me an email

Best in Magic,

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Postby Andrew Martin Portala » 01/19/04 06:19 AM

Yep,me too!
It's too good of a trick.
It's one of the best rope tricks in the world.
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Postby Brad Henderson » 01/19/04 09:36 AM

"1) Easy with little to no sleight of hand.
2) In the public domain (Each piece of magic should be found in at least 3 general-public available magic texts)
3) Indicative of what "good magic" is (in my mind)."

All of the above quite nicely describe the professor's nightmare. I learned it from a magic kit at age 7.

I have been teaching magic for over 15 years. While I do not teach the night mare all of the time, I have no compunction doing so. (I would add that kids love to be challenged and have no problem teaching sleight of hand. One course I taught at my venue had 5 of my better students working their way through Erdnase.)

As to the 4th criteria, I think magicians should heed some advice shared with me by Del Rey. Magic should be special. If you see other magicians doing the same tricks, it ceases to be special. Hence Del strived for the unusual and original.

Regardless of how great the tricks are, when our reperatoire consists of Invisible Deck (with standard lines), Professor's Nightmare, Crazy MAn's Handcuffs, and even the sponge balls we are automatically inviting comparison to other magicians; and most performers are not different enough to withstand that comparison.

I think there is more danger in other magicians learning the secret of a good trick than laypeople. A layperson might remember it. But if the secret to a killer trick leaks out into the magic world, then everyone starts doing it and it ceases to be special for those who have mined the gold for themselves. (Particularly since, as a field, we seem loathe to make any substantial changes from that which we are copying.)

Perhaps the problem isn't with teaching the Nightmare, but that too many magicians do the same damn tricks and most of them in the exact same manner as was published in the instructions to a magic kit bought by 7 year olds.
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Postby Guest » 01/19/04 10:24 AM

In this case, I agree (with Brad):

First, Professor's Nightmare is included in a number of children's magic kits already.

Second, if one wants to stimulate a real, sustainable interest in magic, then one needs to teach real, magical tricks. If all a child learns is junk, then why develop an interest in the art. Moreover, mediocrity is then propagated one child at a time.

Third, there are plenty of outstanding twists and variations on the original trick (my preference is Professor's Math by Aldo Colombini). With these available to the diligent professional, no harm will arise and the effect may in fact be heightened by the "garden path" that those who learned the original handling walk down.


Postby Guest » 01/19/04 11:09 AM


If you think it's okay to teach the inner secrets to kids, do you think it's okay to sell invisible thread tricks at Las Vegas magic shops, as Houdini's does in LVegas? That's the main thing that's making it impossible to do invisible-thread tricks these days, isn't it?

Postby Brad Henderson » 01/19/04 12:09 PM

No David, it isn't.

There is no problem teaching anything to anyone, assuming that they have a respect for the material they are learning. If you teach them in context to respect magic as an art, then you have no worry about what they will do with that information. Other arts do not suffer from people understanding the technical aspects of their craft, magic could be the same if the student were brought to a respect for the craft, as opposed to "see how easy it is to do." IT being pitched in Las Vegas does not teach that respect, but then again neither does buying a DVD or book over the internet, but no one seems to be complaining too much about that.

Further, I do not think anyone can consider the Prof. Nightmare an inner secret. However, when one watches Paul Daniels perform it, you do see the inner secret, that of transforming a simple trick into something charming. If the student is brought up with an appreciation of magic, then the technique becomes irrelevant to a point.

Now this is not to say we should tip all of our secrets and hope the audience suspends their disbelief. However, you can take a roomful of people who have learned the Professor's Nightmare and still provide them with a magical moment (deceptive at that) using the same effect. As was pointed out earlier, there are many other ways to skin a cat. Further consider the number of rope tricks which can be affected with the same principle, but would still deceive those who know the original. (IT work can still be done. You just can't spin a card around your head. There remain very powerful pieces of magic that use IT as a method that you can still perform just as effectively.)

Of course, that would take research, thought, and diligence on the part of the performer. And why do that when we have tons of lovely rationalizations we use to keep ourselves from having to grow in our art.

As to the invisible thread problem. It's not Houdini's fault.

The fault is that this amazing secret was marketed first to magicians. When Wonderbar and Esoteric came out, both were still uncommon tricks. Then the variations started rolling in. Michael did it on the Carson show and everybody had to have one. (Including me.) Then ITR's, etc. etc. We all wanted to do what we saw on TV, when the trick was always laying there before out eyes for anyone who wanted to look (in the right lighting of course.)

Only then when IT work was in the mainstream magician's consciousness did it make the jump to slum magic item. But it was OUR fault for letting the secret become so commonplace. By the time Houdini's picked up the mantle, the damage was done. You could go into most any magic shop and buy the trick. (Which is what I did, all I needed was ask. I had money, they had the trick. Match made in heaven.) Houdini's did what every magic shop was doing anyway, just a hell of a lot more successfully. So we wrongfully put the blame on Geno.

As long as there is a marketplace among magicians for the commercial exchange of ideas and as long as that market is open to anyone with a credit card number, we have no right to complain when somebody does what we were doing all along better.

Would I rather IT not be sold to anyone walking by a casino. Of course. But until there is some regulation for who can buy every book, video, etc. with their wonderful secrets within, there is nothing we can say. Any believe me, you try to "limit" who can buy a magic item and you will have an uproar on your hands. Look at the brouhaha over the Holdout systems and all they want is a signed document which holds you accountable for the information you are acquiring. Nobody bitches when Microsoft has you do the same thing when opening a software package, but we cry when Kohler tries to reinvest ideas with value. (Remember the furor of Max MAven's piece on the relationship between professional and amateur clowns and by extension magicians?)

You may be upset that a kid can now do your act. Maybe, that should be a wake up call.

But more importantly we must not loose sight that as teachers we can expose or instruct. If we just show them how its done, that is always bad. However, when we teach, we empower. The student makes an investment, one of time, attention, and practice. How is this any different than when you plunk down $30 for a magic lecture, book, or DVD? (In fact, I've had many students whose Nightmare switches, paddles moves, and double lifts - and in one notable case double dukes, would outshine that of many magicians I've seen performing at magic clubs and convention contests throughout the nation.)

If the teacher is a good one, not only will the student learn a great trick - well; but they might even gain an appreciation for magic as an art.

When one sees the amount of uncredited material being offered by some of todays young "stars," minor personal variations sold just to make a buck, books on topics that the author really has very little experience in when truly qualified experts have penned better; and "professional performances" which bore the audience to tears and neither entertain nor deceive; one wishes perhaps they had someone to instill that appreciation in them.

Magic would be a better place.
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Postby Guest » 01/19/04 12:13 PM

I have always viewed any exposure,(even when disguised as debunking) or gratituous teaching (where the motive is in revealing, rather than instructing), as wrong.
I say this because the "PN", has been performed, sold, and even used as a pitch item, already...and I think, done to death. I have seen well-known career pitchman, pitch "PN", when not pitching their svengali decks.
Looking at the criteria listed in above posts, one of the main reasons it has/is done by so many is that it is easier to do, for many, requires little set-up and many can delude themselves, into thinking their patter is original or entertaining, while doing it.
I can remember one night at The Magic Castle, in ALL three rooms, Close-up, Parlour, and Palace, 3 different magicians all doing "PN" in their shows. (what must of the lay audiences that night thought of that?!) Go back a century and the complaints from agents and others, are that all the magicians are doing the same cut and restored rope tricks.
I do not like it when various effects have to be discarded because they are too familiar with the public, and the feeling being, "OK drop it, find something new." BUT unfortunately, I do feel this effect has been pushed into that catagory already, and many may want to let the pitch artists and magic sets have it and do something the audiences haven't seen _____magicians or their grandchildren do for them already.
I do not enjoy posting this,(and easier as I've never performed it) but it is a reality,
others many want to consider.

Postby Guest » 01/19/04 04:25 PM

Teaching is NOT exposure, and I don't believe that the tone of the original article was promoting gratuitous teaching, but rather trying to engender in children a love of magic and the confidence to continue its pursuit.


Postby Guest » 01/20/04 01:19 AM

everyone's got to start somewhere. All of you learned your first tricks somewhere, and if you were lucky you learned them from a real live teacher. I myself was not so lucky and my first magic tricks were leaned from a children's book in the children's section of the library. My first trricks were in fact a cut and restored rope, and the professor's nightmare, learned out of a book without the aid of a teacher. These are hardly inner secrets.


Postby NCMarsh » 01/20/04 11:54 AM

Last summer I had the pleasure of teaching magic alongside Brad at a summer camp in the Pocono Mountains. When Brad talks about students coming away from a class with a respect for magic -- he means it.

His classes give those students who have an authentic desire to continue in magic the toolbox they need to develop and avoid the pitfalls that a lot of us have fallen into. More importantly, however, those students who leave his class without any interest in further working on magic leave it with a real respect for magic as a performing art and, I think, are likely to patronize quality magical performers as adults (the camp draws from a very prosperous demographic). These kids, in my experience, are not going to use their knowledge to embarrass a performer, the only real threat they pose to magicians (myself unfortunately included at times) is that they can tell the difference between a thoughtful and interesting performance and schlock.


Brad's success is a direct result of his talent and hard work. In my experience many magicians (myself included at the time I first began teaching magic) use teaching as a way to generate additional income from their knowledge without giving much thought to the consequences of the class...without any real vision of the aims the class should serve. This is hardly a surprise as so few of us give much thought to the intended aims of our performances, so few have any coherent artistic vision (myself again included; but only because its a long and ongoing process and has yet to really yield fruit).

Bottom line: if you're going to teach kids about magic think about your intentions and ways to translate these intentions into reality. I would strongly reccomend that you get in touch with Brad and seek his advice -- he knows wherof he speaks.

As to the original issue of teaching Prof's Nightmare:

I was the victim of the worst-case scenario. I performed a George Sands-esque rope routine at camp -- The professor's nightmare was one phase. The camp had a carnival and they were giving slum magic items away as prizes on midway ..sure enough some kids who had seen me do the ropes got three strings and some decades old mimeographed instructions to the nightmare. It was not an enjoyable situation for me; but it was also not a disaster. My other material was sufficiently strong that I still had their respect, but i did learn a lesson:

If I really want to distinguish my work I should only choose material that is extremely strong and unlikely to be in the public domain. Or, if it is in the public domain, then I should put thought into how to use the effect in a more subtle and devious way -- when folks like Ed Marlo and Micheal Skinner used public domain material they did exactly this. Is it the fault of the company hawking the cheap prof's nightmare set that some of my material was in the public domain?

We fear the teaching of routines like the Nightmare to children -- more so than we would fear it being taught to adults -- in part because our status as serious performers would be gravely threatened if we are perceived as performing material that is taught as a passing amusement to kids. There can be tremendous hurt to grown egos by the smug superiority of a child -- and if a child thinks we're doing what they've learned, it brings us to their level. We are no longer the possessors of mysterious knowledge dreamed about, but we're doing the same dumb tricks that they are -- and we seem all the more pathetic (and hilarious) because we take them seriously. I wonder if this is, perhaps, not deserved...

Brad makes the point about proprietary material that (quoting a private online conversation):
"if you are performing at a live venue, that is the sort of venue that would have a magician. clearly. Now, the type of people that would go that that kind of venue are the type of people who go to those kinds of venues, so its not unreasonable to suspect they have seen a magician before
even if they only see TWO magicians in their whole life. How sad is it that they leave witht he impression that all magicians do the same silly tricks, which is not an unlikely thing to occur"
Imagine Brad's scenario, but instead of seeing two magicians doing the same material -- our spectator sees a magician and a CHILD doing the same material. Now, not only do all magi do the same "silly tricks," but they're the same "silly tricks" that even children do!

David Groves (whose book on street performing I greatly enjoyed) is right: kids doing the prof's nightmare injure serious performers who do the same material -- but it isn't the fault of the guy who taught the kids!

As a sidenote, I hope that no one gets the impression from Brad's posts that he is teaching worker material -- he discouraged me from teaching the hoary Criss-Cross force in my classes because it can be used in extremely interesting and subtle ways.


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Postby mrgoat » 02/27/04 07:41 AM

Surely any tricks you can find in a public library are fair game to be taught.

In fact, shouldn't ANY tricks be OK to be taught?

Someone wants to learn, so teach em. It's not like a guy in a bar begging the secret for a routine is it?
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Postby Guest » 02/27/04 11:17 AM

I want to avoid situations like the one I ran into on Tuesday afternoon.

I had an appointment at a restaurant to pitch them to start up table magic. The general manager listened to my pitch, and then called over a few of his employees to see a few tricks. I wanted to show her how delightful magic can be, not just for kids, but for adults, as well. The regional manager was listening, too, and he was in charge of a number of other stores.

On the first trick, I was performing for Simon, a 19-year-old guy with an earring. In the middle of it, he made some comment that I didn't really catch, which indicated that he knew how the trick was done ("Oh, funny how that card changed blue already, huh?" or something else that didn't make sense, but indicated that he had experience with magic).

This punk with an earring was trying to mess up my trick.

He didn't, of course. Didn't really know the sleights I was doing. Then I asked him to shuffle the deck, and he did a one-handed cut and some other fancy moves.

He knew the flourishes, but didn't have any respect for the secrets. I don't know for sure, but he may have been taught magic as a kid.

When you teach all magic tricks indiscriminately to everyone, you're going to get people who, by character, cannot keep a secret, indeed, who must ruin other magicians' tricks. Those people should either be taught not to expose, or should not be taught tricks at all.

Fortunately, I knew what to do. I went directly to the tricks that would fool other magicians. I avoided beginning sleights. I involved him directly in shuffling and helping, and in that way, was able to handily misdirect him.

I walked out of the restaurant having impressed the owner, which was my goal. And I whipped the punk 19-year-old, which delighted his co-workers, as well.

Postby NCMarsh » 02/27/04 10:56 PM

Don't know a lot of folks teaching card flourishes at the local library -- my bet is that Simon is a part of the Handlordz/Kard Klub crowd.
Wish you could see Brad teach, and get to perform for his students (as I have)...there's no way to convey in print what a wonderful service it is to magic to have young people leave the camps he works at with a real love for watching quality conjuring.
I may have made this point before, but these are fairly affluent kids -- these are kids who, instead of seeing magic as a mediocre variety entertainment, see it as a discipline on par with the legitimate performing arts (though so few of its practitioners treat it as such) such they are much more likely to patronize quality magic as adults -- to seek out interesting magicians for their cocktail parties instead of worrying if a magician will make an adult event seem trite. Students of Brad's are not only attentive, respectful, and appreciative audience members (assuming that your job is done well...) but they are far more likely to hire you b/c of a longstanding respect for magic that was nurtured by Brad, than they are to try to tear you apart like those -- such as Simon -- who have been given secrets without context.
I'm being flown in to NJ and getting a very nice fee to work the Bar Mitzvah of one of Brad's students...I think this is the more likely result of his work for most performers.


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Postby Guest » 03/07/04 12:07 PM

Originally posted by David Groves:

If you think it's okay to teach the inner secrets to kids, do you think it's okay to sell invisible thread tricks at Las Vegas magic shops, as Houdini's does in LVegas? That's the main thing that's making it impossible to do invisible-thread tricks these days, isn't it?
I think the point was that the original poster said he wouldn't teach any magic that didn't fit these three qualifications and Brad showed the Professor's Nightmare did in fact fit those three qualifications perfectly.

Postby Guest » 03/07/04 12:12 PM

Originally posted by jiggyjer:
everyone's got to start somewhere. All of you learned your first tricks somewhere, and if you were lucky you learned them from a real live teacher. I myself was not so lucky and my first magic tricks were leaned from a children's book in the children's section of the library. My first trricks were in fact a cut and restored rope, and the professor's nightmare, learned out of a book without the aid of a teacher. These are hardly inner secrets.

My first tricks were learned from an "Adams Magic Kit" my Uncle Bob bought me. He didn't actually teach me anything, but he did spark my interest in magic... the swine!

Postby John McDonald » 03/10/04 01:37 PM

My first magic set was called Hocus Pocus and was bought at Hamley's (a famous toy shop) in London. I learned this and loved it. I would say that it is one of my favourite tricks. I used to use (before I knew better not to steal others routines) the Paul Daniels patter that I had seen on his show about Goldilocks and the three bears (Sorry Paul!) I very much enjoyed this trick and would say it is part of the reason I got hookled by the magic bug. I guarded that secret well.

and still do!!!!!!
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Postby Guest » 04/12/04 10:18 PM

I think the first and second posts sum this all up.. "and I know lots of magicians who include this trick in one way or another in their show." Hmmm this is interesting.. "too good of a trick to be taught in kids shows" come on.. Who cares guys.. seriously. If magicians would do different things in their acts, be original and creative, no one would get mad in a forum for showing the professors nightmare to kids in a show. Why are you doing the trick if "everyones doing it"??

If a child really wants to learn magic for real they will open a book or go in a store and find the "trick with the 3 ropes" behind the counter for 5$.

And if you are afraid of children saying "i know how you do that" in a show well chances are you dont really have them on your side to start with. We should concentrate on coming up with new things people in our area aren't doing instead of saying showing this trick to kids is "just wrong" ... Thats my opinion.. and my first official post on the genii forum!!

Postby Guest » 04/21/04 11:52 AM

I teach magic 4 times a week at both public and private schools and have been doing now for quite some time. I think the Prof Nightmare is a great trick but has been done 1000's of times. If a child wants to learn magic, just like Eric said, they will buy it for $5, why not actually teach them the trick and some great jokes that go with it and not just have them read these instructions that have been reproduced over the decades. I think that thumb tips, and mentalism tricks should be kept a secret unless these kids take magic up SERIOUSLY. There are great magic tricks put out by S S adams that have been long forgotten. I use a lot of OLD books in where the tricks have been forgotten so these kids have a new love for magic not just "I saw a guy levitate on TV - can you teach us that!?"
These kids are the future of magic, teach them anything you liked as a kid...

Postby Guest » 04/22/04 05:54 AM

I hate to tell you all this but the Professor's nightmare is now a magic pitch item demonstrated at carnivals and fairs along with the magic mouse and svengali deck.

I personally don't sell it but I can see why people do. The profit margin must be great.3 bits of rope and a sheet of instructions.

I am holding off on selling it for the moment. I like the trick too much.

Postby Brisbin » 05/05/04 11:21 PM

Several wrote that the "Professor's Nightmare" is available in public library books, and therefore "public domain." According to "Gene Gordon's Magical Legacy," the rights to the effect belong to Karl Norman. I would bet that if Mr. Norman had a nickel for every time this trick has been sold or given away, he would have quite a pile of nickels.

By the way, it's usually not done very well by those who rip it off. I purchased mine from a magic shop in Salt Lake on a trip as a kid. My guess is that the trick was ripped off then, too.

In this information age, many seem to feel that magic "secrets" should be given freely, for the asking, or if the purchaser has money. One strategy against the slum magic is to mystify those who have the "three rope trick," "Svengali Deck," ball vase, etc. Marlo had some great routines along this line (including a handling for the color vision box that made it amazing). Michael Skinner's routine with the ball vase knocked out everyone who ever received the trick as a prize in a box of breakfast cereal. Guy Jarrett reportedly sold a ton of stripper decks to magicians who already owned them, because he fooled them. I'm sure Mark Lewis has had the same experience with the Svengali and other pitch items. Maybe it's a non-issue, but if we as performers value magical secrets, it's more likely that our audiences give Magic a little more respect too. :rolleyes:
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Postby Nicholas Carifo » 05/06/04 04:17 AM

My first "professional" magic set was an adams magic set bought through the toy section of the Sears catalog. It was "professional" in the sense that the tricks in this set were added to my first "professional" shows beign paid to perform for birthday parties as a kid.

That set included The Linking Rings, The Professors Nightmare, Cut and Restored Rope, A Coin Tray, A Drawer Box, A Cardboard Tube Production (ala square circle), The Chinese Sticks, A Milk Pitcher, Spikes Thru Balloon Tube, and a Mirror Production Box (cardboard) among others.

Flash forward all these years, and currently in my professional act I still perform a Linking Ring Routine, The Professors Nightmare, A Pom Pom Stick (very similar to those chinese sticks), and on occasion use a square circle when I need to produce something for a client.

Those professional-level tricks went a long way to ensuring my level of interest in magic as a kid, and as a result I am still in the art of magic today.

Hey... now that I think about it, if I had not bought that damn magic kit, I never would have performed those parties, never met the local magic clubs, never learned of the magic shops, never met other magicians who taught me how to sell my show and improve my act, and today.... i might have been a doctor, or stock broker, or an attorney instead of a magician and actor chasing the hollywood lights.... Damn You Sears! :)

So in conclusion... stop teaching kids any magic. Save those kids from the inevitable future that we are stuck with ourselves!!!!!! :) lol.

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Postby Guest » 05/07/04 12:58 AM

Just to say I too learnt the Professor's Nightmare from a Magic Kit I had at the age of 10.

And it still remains one of my most entertaining magic effects after 17 years (11 years of professional performing) liked by ALL ages!

Teaching magical effects to like-minded (read: those interested in learning to perform magic) is not, and does not, amount to exposure. However, "teaching" the same over a mass media (read: TV) will and does amount to exposure.

The greatness of the Professor's Nightmare, like many of the other classics of magic, lies in their ability to withstand certain amounts of exposure, and still mystify and entertain in the hands of a good performer.

But then, what about the numerous others not so talented in addons like story-telling, acting, et al. They will, and do have problems arising out of this exposure.

Just my two paisa...

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