Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

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Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Brad Henderson » January 21st, 2023, 7:25 pm

Is there a ‘first place in print’ for this oft repeated axiom?

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Grippo's Wish » January 21st, 2023, 8:09 pm

Vernon mentions it in the name of Carlyle in the Vernon Touch columns

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby JHostler » January 21st, 2023, 8:52 pm

The central idea predates Vernon and Carlyle in the world of literature; "loglines" are the equivalent in film/broadcast.
"Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong." H.L. Mencken

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Roy M. McIlwee » January 21st, 2023, 9:00 pm

Stormy Daniels?

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Edward Pungot » January 21st, 2023, 9:19 pm

Steinmeyer’s forward to John Carney’s Book of Secrets gives an extended passage by Devant from Our Magic which ends with the following sentence:

“On being asked afterward what the conjurer did with a billiard ball, the spectator probably replied, ‘Oh, all sorts of things.’”

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Brad Henderson » January 21st, 2023, 9:52 pm

Thanks! I recall it associated with both Vernon and Jennings’s but was hoping to find an early published reference.

Grippo’s Wish - do you recall which column that was?

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Robert77 » January 21st, 2023, 10:03 pm

This sounds suspiciously like the mantra of an elevator pitch in the entertainment biz. Therefore it seems utterly pointless in describing an effect. Who are you pitching to? If it's really good, why would you want to degrade it by limiting your description?

Sounds like another one of those old mantras, "if you're good you can make any trick work." Dick Zimmerman however said "always start with the best magic you can."

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Tarotist » January 21st, 2023, 10:43 pm

Oddly enough I used to say that not realizing that someone said it before me. Mind you, I bet whoever said it first was never a mentalist.

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Philippe Billot » January 22nd, 2023, 3:50 am

I think this derives from the Nicolas Boileau quote:

"Whatever is well conceived is clearly said"

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Bob Farmer » January 22nd, 2023, 6:53 am

It isn't the trick that can be described, it is the effect.

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Joe Lyons » January 22nd, 2023, 7:59 am

Brad Henderson wrote:Thanks! I recall it associated with both Vernon and Jennings’s but was hoping to find an early published reference.

Grippo’s Wish - do you recall which column that was?

Vernon wrote: "As my friend Francis Carlyle says, if a fellow can’t describe what he saw, and describe the performer, he says the guy is no good, and the trick is no good. People should be able to remember what happened. That’s why the “Card On The Ceiling” is a good trick. They can describe this."

Genii October 1968.

Vernon Touch page 18.

The only "single sentence" reference i could find was a Roger Woods article in The Magic Circular February 2016:

"A magic piece or effect should be straightforward. Francis Carlyle is credited with first saying that the spectator should be able to
describe what the magician did in one sentence."

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Dave Le Fevre » January 22nd, 2023, 8:34 am

While I think that being able to describe it in a single sentence is nice, some excellent effects would result in extremely long sentences.

Remembering an excellent Ambitious Card that I saw,
I signed a card and put in back in the middle of the deck; it appeared on top of the deck; put it in the middle of the deck again; it appeared on top of the deck again; put it in the middle of the deck again; it appeared on top of the card case (which was on the table); put it in the middle of the deck again; it appeared underneath the card case; put it in the middle of the deck again; it appeared folded up inside the card case

Yes, one could say
I signed a card and put in back in the middle of the deck; it appeared on top of the deck and then in more and more impossible places
but that would dilute the description. I think that all of the spectators, conjurors and laymen alike, remembered it in the detail that I did, and would describe it in full.

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Joe Lyons » January 22nd, 2023, 8:40 am

Joe Lyons wrote:
Brad Henderson wrote:Thanks! I recall it associated with both Vernon and Jennings’s but was hoping to find an early published reference.

Grippo’s Wish - do you recall which column that was?

Vernon wrote: "As my friend Francis Carlyle says, if a fellow can’t describe what he saw, and describe the performer, he says the guy is no good, and the trick is no good. People should be able to remember what happened. That’s why the “Card On The Ceiling” is a good trick. They can describe this."

Genii October 1968.

Vernon Touch page 18.

The only "single sentence" reference i could find was a Roger Woods article in The Magic Circular February 2016:

"A magic piece or effect should be straightforward. Francis Carlyle is credited with first saying that the spectator should be able to
describe what the magician did in one sentence."

I found a few more "single sentence" references but the Vernon Touch was the earliest with the same meaning.

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Jack Shalom » January 22nd, 2023, 11:04 am

I'm not sure that from the audience point of view, everything needs to be remembered as a full sentence description of what happened.

The great theater director Peter Brook talked about what is left with the audience when a performance is over. If I recall correctly, Derren Brown used that quote as an epitaph for Absolute Magic. I'll probably mangle it, but my best paraphrase is that the audience is left with an image, a feeling. Not something that can necessarily be expressed in words.

So I think it's fine if someone goes to a performance of magic and says, "Wow that magician was amazing!"
"What did she do?"
"Just all kinds of impossible mindbending stuff. You should see her!"

Maybe better than, "She had a deck of cards and put four aces in different parts of the pack, and when she snapped her fingers, they were all together face up in the middle of the pack!"

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby MagicbyAlfred » January 22nd, 2023, 12:23 pm

Spectator describing Vernon's cups and balls to his friend in a single sentence:

"Well, he had three metal cups and he made one cup pass right through the other, then he showed how the cups were deeper on the inside than they were on the outside, and after he showed three little balls that had like wool sweaters on, he placed one ball on top of each of the cups, which were inverted, then he made each of the little balls disappear one-by-one with a magic wand, and then he made the balls reappear, one underneath each of the cups, after which he put a little ball underneath each of the cups and made the ball underneath the center cup magically travel to underneath one of the cups on the end, the very cup that I chose, joining the ball that was already under there, and then he made a ball magically travel to the cup on the other end, joining the ball that was already under there, then he made a ball penetrate right through the cups, first through one cup, then through two, and then he started putting the little balls in his pocket, one at a time, but he stopped and explained the sneaky way it was all done with palming (I didn't think magicians were supposed to tell the secret), then the balls magically traveled from his pocket back to underneath the cups...and then...and then...and then...and then...until finally, he made all four big balls appear under the cups."

A bit of a run-on sentence, perhaps? No matter, all they remember is the appearance of the big balls (or fruit) anyway.

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Brad Henderson » January 22nd, 2023, 1:44 pm

Thanks joe. That’s what I’m looking for.

For the record, I don’t agree with the maxim. But I’m referencing it and wanted to provide a source. It’s one of those things I’ve heard repeated and referenced my entire life, and always connected in some way to Vernon, but wanted to find that attribution.

Thanks again!

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Ted M » January 22nd, 2023, 2:58 pm

Jack Shalom wrote:I'm not sure that from the audience point of view, everything needs to be remembered as a full sentence description of what happened.

The great theater director Peter Brook talked about what is left with the audience when a performance is over. If I recall correctly, Derren Brown used that quote as an epitaph for Absolute Magic. I'll probably mangle it, but my best paraphrase is that the audience is left with an image, a feeling. Not something that can necessarily be expressed in words.

So I think it's fine if someone goes to a performance of magic and says, "Wow that magician was amazing!"
"What did she do?"
"Just all kinds of impossible mindbending stuff. You should see her!"

Maybe better than, "She had a deck of cards and put four aces in different parts of the pack, and when she snapped her fingers, they were all together face up in the middle of the pack!"


For Peter Brook, the audience is specifically left with an image, not a feeling:

"When a performance is over, what remains? Fun can be forgotten, but powerful emotion also disappears and good arguments lose their thread. When emotion and argument are harnessed to a wish from the audience to see more clearly into itself—then something in the mind burns. The event scorches on to the memory an outline, a taste, a trace, a smell—a picture. It is the play’s central image that remains, its silhouette, and if the elements are rightly blended this silhouette will be its meaning, this shape will be the essence of what it has to say. When years later I think of a striking theatrical experience I find a kernel engraved on my memory: two tramps under a tree, an old woman dragging a cart, a sergeant dancing, three people on a sofa in hell—or occasionally a trace deeper than any imagery. I haven’t a hope of remembering the meanings precisely, but from the kernel I can reconstruct a set of meanings. Then a purpose will have been served. A few hours could amend my thinking for life. This is almost but not quite impossible to achieve."

Gabi Pareras favors this view with his Waiter/Barman Theory, arranging the props on the table so their final image helps the audience recall the effect -- so a Cutting the Aces trick, rather than ending with the four aces on the table and the rest of the deck stacked up, leaves each ace beside the pile it was cut from.

On the other hand, the popular quote usually attributed to Maya Angelou says: "They won't remember what you said; they won't remember what you did; but they will remember how you made them feel."

Memory is a tricky thing, and does not work the same for everybody. So attention to all these various aspects of how to effectively craft a memory of the magical experience seems useful.

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Tarotist » January 22nd, 2023, 3:37 pm

Remembering YOU rather than remembering the trick is the important thing.

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Dave Le Fevre » January 22nd, 2023, 5:15 pm

Tarotist wrote:Remembering YOU rather than remembering the trick is the important thing.
Indeed.

I remember one show after which I said to my wife that I couldn't remember any of the effects that the conjuror had performed, except that he was brilliant, and hugely entertaining. And my wife agreed with me (well, there's a first for everything).

I think that the point of the quote is that if you are going to describe the effect, then etc. But that's merely my perspective.

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Jack Shalom » January 23rd, 2023, 8:43 am

Ted M wrote:
For Peter Brook, the audience is specifically left with an image, not a feeling:

"When a performance is over, what remains? Fun can be forgotten, but powerful emotion also disappears and good arguments lose their thread. When emotion and argument are harnessed to a wish from the audience to see more clearly into itself—then something in the mind burns. The event scorches on to the memory an outline, a taste, a trace, a smell—a picture. It is the play’s central image that remains, its silhouette, and if the elements are rightly blended this silhouette will be its meaning, this shape will be the essence of what it has to say. When years later I think of a striking theatrical experience I find a kernel engraved on my memory: two tramps under a tree, an old woman dragging a cart, a sergeant dancing, three people on a sofa in hell—or occasionally a trace deeper than any imagery. I haven’t a hope of remembering the meanings precisely, but from the kernel I can reconstruct a set of meanings. Then a purpose will have been served. A few hours could amend my thinking for life. This is almost but not quite impossible to achieve."


Thanks for the accurate quote, Ted. It's really something to chew over in the context of a magic show.

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Ted M » January 23rd, 2023, 11:36 pm

Here are a handful of lingering stage images that come to mind:

- A man on a stage filled with chaos, who has at last flipped a tray of spoons into a set of drinking glasses

- Two audience members, each standing at a far edge of the stage, with an invisible man in a yellow raincoat moving between them

- A large man seated at a table with audience participants, his leg extended up into the air, a card caught between his toes amid a shower of cards fluttering to the floor

Feel free to add.

I suspect Penn & Teller consciously bake this take-home image into every single trick they perform...

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Tom Moore » January 24th, 2023, 5:14 am

I fear we're mixing descriptions for "archive" purposes with descriptions for "marketing" purpose; both are valid but serve very different purposes. In the midst of a long discussion with others, when pondering ones own thoughts or when writing a review then a deeper understanding about the performance as a whole and the threads/nuances that weave through it is absolutely valid, but when initially broaching the subject the one-line-explanation is essential and any commercially employed performer should know that and ensure they give their audiences enough of those that they can relay the experience to others.

Picture the scene; you and a group of friends, all with different interests and tastes want a night out. Do you go eat at "the luxurious restaurant where a sense of whimsy weaves through the very fabric of the menu and the chef has compiled a zen mantra that underscores the metaphysical choices made when selecting the ingredients he uses in order to create a pallet of flavours and shapes that makes you question the very nature of romance itself" or "at this really great Chinese place that has the best spring rolls i've ever tasted" after that you want to see a show, do you choose "The Brechtian masterpiece that brings a low setting into high art in a surreal whirlwind of whimsey that turns the conventions of the art upon its head whilst challenging stereotypes of theatrical engineering making us question the very basis of the theatrical art" or do you choose "the one where the witch flys over the audience whilst belting out an epic showtune?"

Both forms of description are equally valid but without the one-liner in many instances you will never create scenarios where the longer descriptions can be used.
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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Tarotist » January 24th, 2023, 9:36 am

The philosophy is more or less correct with the proviso that you don't take it too seriously!

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby BarryAllen » January 24th, 2023, 11:37 am

'In a single sentence'?

This would pose quite a predicament in England, given that most younger people these days appear to have great difficulty in stringing a single sentence together.

Remove the seemingly obligatory "So", "like", "oh my god", "and I was like", "ya know wot I mean like" - and there isn't much left........like.

As for the validity of the statement - well I have my own views. I believe that it's just some spiel that Magicians like to refer to - possibly to appear somewhat wiser than they actually are. Indeed, in many ways, it probably makes some logical sense. However, it completely ignores the fact that people are individuals, with varying factors of memory retention. Let's analyse this in greater depth. We'll have Tom, Dick and Harry, providing feedback after a performance.

"What did the Magician do then guys"?

(One sentence) Tom: "Oh, errrrrm - he did some really good card tricks".

(Two sentence) Dick: "He was really skilful with a number of card tricks, making cards appear and vanish and so on. When my signed card appeared in his wallet at the end, it was marvellous".

(Three sentence) Harry: "The Magician was very good, the best card tricks I've ever seen in fact. How he kept making those Aces appear and my signed card keep coming to the top of the pack......Wow, I wouldn't like to play cards with him. Then at the end, the Aces vanished and my signed card was in a completely sealed envelope, zipped up inside his bloody wallet".

So there you go folks - whose feedback would you like to receive the most I wonder?

There's a few of these relatively pointless sayings that seem to become ingrained and shared across the fraternity - often because a 'name' has said it sometime in the past.

Here's another saying often spouted - which in my personal experience, is complete and utter codswallop:

"Learn to perform sleights with Poker Size Cards......then you'll easily be able to do the same thing if you ever have to perform with smaller Bridge Size Cards".

I think that is another of Dai Vernon's brainf@rts - but I'll be happy to be corrected?

For someone who, over the years has flipped between both sizes, that statement is pure fantasy.

If anyone doubts what I'm saying, I'd love to chuck a pack of Waddingtons (or Fox Lake's, Bicycle Bridge, etc.) into their mitts and say "OK, show me a Second Deal, a Zarrow Shuffle and a convincing Double Lift with these smaller cards then".

Al Baker (I think) - "don't run when nobody is chasing you" (or words to that effect).

Now that's a statement that I fully agree with. Some (many?) Magicians are obsessed with over-proving things. Audiences really don't care that much - they just want to be entertained.......so just get on with it!

Just my thoughts on matters anyway.

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Tarotist » January 24th, 2023, 3:08 pm

I find poker size cards a bloody nuisance! In the UK I hardly ever saw them so I worked with bridge cards most of my life. Now over here in Canada I hardly ever see bridge cards so I am forced to use poker cards. I like to do some fancy one hand cuts but they are nigh on impossible to do with poker size cards. However, I have recently been told that poker size cards are all the rage in the UK. I consider this the end of civilization as we know it.

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby BarryAllen » January 24th, 2023, 6:06 pm

Tarotist wrote:I find poker size cards a bloody nuisance! In the UK I hardly ever saw them so I worked with bridge cards most of my life. Now over here in Canada I hardly ever see bridge cards so I am forced to use poker cards. I like to do some fancy one hand cuts but they are nigh on impossible to do with poker size cards. However, I have recently been told that poker size cards are all the rage in the UK. I consider this the end of civilization as we know it.

It is indeed Mark.

I still prefer to use Waddingtons Number 1 bridge size cards that I buy at my local shop. They cost £1.99 per pack - incidentally, I leave the sticker on the card case, as a subliminal convincer (if anyone bothers to notice) that they aren't dodgy cards.

I dabbled with Poker Cards for some years - but I moved away from them when the USPCC decided to put Stevie Wonder in charge of quality control. That's when I realised that moving back from Poker to Bridge cards was anything other than as simple as that ridiculous statement above alludes to.

To put this post back on track, Joe Riding often said that it was the simple plot that people remember most. Look no further than a guy I would have loved to have seen work - Matt Schulien. Limited faffing about; no long drawn out routines. Yet Matt became famous with his customers for:

- Sticking their chosen card to a wall.
- Making their chosen card penetrate through the table cloth.
- Chosen card to shirt cuff or glass.
- One handed throw down change.
- Air pressure flip-over revelation.

In other words, if Magicians truly want people to be able to describe a trick in one sentence, then there is every likelihood that they will have to drastically change their current working repertoire.

You also wrote above:
"Remembering YOU rather than remembering the trick is the important thing."

I could not agree more with this statement. At the end of the day, the tricks themselves just come along for the ride.

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Tarotist » January 24th, 2023, 8:59 pm

BarryAllen wrote:
You also wrote above:
"Remembering YOU rather than remembering the trick is the important thing."

I could not agree more with this statement. At the end of the day, the tricks themselves just come along for the ride.


The expression I tend to use is that the tricks are just pegs to hang your personality on.

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby David Ben » January 26th, 2023, 7:27 pm

Where, of course, is Max Maven when you need him?

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Tarotist » January 26th, 2023, 9:34 pm

I wouldn't take the wording too literally. However, I think the reasoning behind it is very sound. All that it is trying to say is that an effect should be easy to follow. Simplicity of plot and easy to understand.

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Edward Pungot » February 2nd, 2023, 11:32 am

Ted M wrote:Here are a handful of lingering stage images that come to mind:
….
Feel free to add.


- The slow visual piecemeal mastication of a shuffled deck of cards with a randomly selected card; followed by sonorous guttural sounds of digestive indigestion; with the inevitable auditory flatulence and visual explosive expulsion of 51 fluttering playing cards projectiled into the air a la de Kolta and the elongated comedy card extraction for the kill.

Thaumatology has its roots in nature. Take her immersive experience to heart and she will take your breath away.

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Brad Henderson » February 2nd, 2023, 12:08 pm

David Ben wrote:Where, of course, is Max Maven when you need him?


I e had at least three questions now I wish I could ask him.

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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Richard Kaufman » February 2nd, 2023, 12:47 pm

Yeah, I've got 20 questions for Max!
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Re: Who said ‘you should be able to describe a trick in a single sentence?’

Postby Edward Pungot » February 2nd, 2023, 2:05 pm

When I try to recall Juan Tamariz live back in 2012, I don’t get any specifics on details. There are shimmers of blurry images: sausages coming out of his coat pocket, an interesting thing with a layman on stage and her cell phone, a friend, and a selected card, and some very clean and visual oil and water sequences. But what does linger seems to be housed in an altogether different part of the brain that registers the overall feeling of something wonderful and sustaining taking place. Wonderful and sustaining enough to get a room full of layman and magicians standing on their feet and hollering and cheering like we were watching a bull fighter or attending a church revival. I think Tamariz is the exemplar in this wholesome holistic immersive live experience.


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