Designing Miracles: Creating the Illusion of Impossibility (Darwin Ortiz)
The sequel to Strong Magic - essential magic theory about creating impossible effects
Overview and Importance
Why should you care about a book that deals with magic theory? Designing Miracles by Darwin Ortiz, along with its companion and predecessor Strong Magic, is the kind of book that has the real potential to improve all your magic significantly, by changing the way you think about how magic effects are constructed and designed. We're not talking about constructing physical props here, but the construction of a magic trick in terms of the methods, the presentation, and all the decisions that go into putting together a trick, both as seen by your audience and the actions you actually do as magicians. Before I get further into this review, let me share some quotes from other magicians about this terrific and important book:
"This is my all time favorite magic theory book." - Rob Thompson
"Just like Strong Magic, this book is destined to be a classic and should be on the shelf of anyone who wants to improve their magic." - Adam Paul
"I've finished reading this book for the second time, and I consider myself a better man because of it. It is, without a single doubt, one of the best books I have ever read on this maddening subject." - Patrick Differ
"Books such as Strong Magic and Designing Miracles should be prerequisite reading for anyone wishing to call themselves a closeup magician. For magicians who perform for real people, this new book is priceless." - ChristopherM
"This is one of the best magic books I have read since I began my interest in magic in the 1960's ... an indispensable toolkit for effect creation, modification, and evaluation." - foolsnobody
The predecessor: Strong Magic (a book about magic showmanship)
Darwin Ortiz' earlier book Strong Magic (1994), subtitled "Creative Showmanship for the Close-Up Magician", has rightly been applauded for being an outstanding work on the subject of showmanship in magic, and is widely regarded as a modern classic on the subject. There's plenty of resources that do a good job of teaching you the mechanics of magic, but for a routine really to feel magical, it requires good presentation. With a special emphasis on card magic, which is his own field of expertise, Darwin Ortiz has done magicians everywhere a real service with this magnificent tome about showmanship, which is well-organized, comprehensive, insightful, and supported with many practical examples. I highly, highly recommend it, because it's part of a rare breed. There's a gazillion books that will teach you new tricks, but very few good books that will teach you how to perform them. It's not cheap, especially when considering shipping costs as well, but I saved up to buy my copy back in 2008, and it's the kind of book that helped my magic more than a dozen videos or books with tricks.
Another excellent title along these lines is Ken Weber's terrific Maximum Entertainment (2003), which I reviewed recently (link). Like Strong Magic, it won't teach you a single trick, but it sure will tell you how to make the tricks you already know much better. These two are arguably the very best you'll find about showmanship, and will help raise the level of your magic enormously.
The sequel: Designing Miracles (a book about magic design)
But there is another important element of magic that is overlooked even more besides showmanship and that is the design of a magical effect. It is Darwin's thesis that besides the method used to accomplish an effect and the presentation of the effect, attention needs to be given to how a magical effect is constructed. And so more than a decade since the original publication of Strong Magic, Darwin Ortiz has produced a follow-up title, called Designing Miracles (2007), subtitled "Creating the Illusion of Impossibility". With this book, Darwin has made another wonderful and important contribution to magic theory, full of practical application, and essential reading for any magician who wants to understand why some effects amaze and why others don't, and more importantly, how to design effects so that they do create astonishment.
Designing Miracles is not a cheap book, but you can consider it a valuable investment in helping you raise the level of all your magic. But the good news is that this title it is available not just as a hard copy, you can also buy a digital download of an audio version of the book from Vanishing Inc Magic, which only costs around half the price of a shipped hard copy. I wasn't in a position to buy the hard copy, so I was very glad to discover that the book is available in this cheaper form. Even better, this audio-book is read by the author himself, who does a fantastic job of reading his own material clearly and passionately. I've enjoyed listening to the audio version over the last few weeks, and it's this version that I'm reviewing in particular here, although naturally the majority of my comments apply to the printed book as well.
If you'd like to hear the author's own thoughts about this follow-up to Strong Magic, you can watch and listen to a 5 minute conversation that he has with Dan Harlan about Designing Miracles here.
What you get
The audio book features the entire text of Darwin Ortiz, read out loud by the author himself. The entire recording is just over 8 hours in total. Darwin Ortiz does an excellent job in reading his own work, with good clarity, expression, and emphasis. Sometimes an author may be a good writer but not a good reader; that is not the case here, and Ortiz is a pleasure to listen to.
There are some disadvantages to an audio book of course, not least the fact that navigation becomes more difficult, and it's not a simple matter to quickly look up and consult something. At first I wasn't thrilled to discover that it was a single massive file in M4B format, which works fine for an iPhone and even has digital bookmarks, but didn't work at all on my mp3 player. After corresponding with the Vanishing Inc team, they noted that a version in mp3 format should also have been made available, and in short order they had made a fix, enabling me to download a version with over 60 separate mp3 files. This format worked terrific for me, and also made it easy to navigate to different sections, and continue playing where I'd left off.
There are significant advantages with an audio book besides immediate delivery and cheaper cost. For one thing, you can listen to the book while on the move. This enabled me to maximize my commuting and driving, and I even enjoyed listening to sections while going for a jog or while laying in bed. The cost is another factor - while a hard copy of the book will set you back around US$45 plus shipping, the audio book costs only half that at around US$25. And you get to enjoy the download immediately as well, and there's no need to wait for it to ship to your doorstep since delivery is immediate.
Since the audio book was done a few years after the book was first published, Darwin Ortiz has also updated a few sections with additional examples, and there's an extra section at the end in which he is interviewed, and offers clarification on a number of points.
So who is Darwin Ortiz, and why should we listen to what he has to say on this subject? Most magicians will already be familiar with his name, and recognize him as a leading authority on subjects like card manipulation and gambling. He's made important contributions to the world of game protection, even serving as a consultant to major casinos.
But of particular interest to us are the important contributions he's made to the world of magic, not only as a professional magician, entertainer, and creator of card magic, but as a writer, having authored several books about gambling and magic. He's highly respected for his work, and his two books on magic theory - including the one that is the subject of this review - have both made a big splash in the magic world, and are considered landmark publications. Given his wide experience, and the fact that he is a very clear thinker and careful writer, Darwin is well placed to address us on this subject.
So what exactly does Darwin Ortiz cover in his book? As I listened to the audio recording, I made some summary notes, so what follows is my own overview and summary of the key areas and points that are covered in the book, using the chapter headings that the book itself uses.
Introduction: After a great foreword from Whit Haydn, which introduces the subject matter and its importance, Darwin Ortiz begins his book with introductory comments of his own. In his view, magic isn't just an art but a craft. And the specific element of crafting magic that is the focus of his interest has to do with designing the effect.
1. Picking the Best Method: Magicians have long made a distinction between effect and method as two important elements of good magic. To this pair Darwin has previously added presentation as another essential requirement, and it is this aspect of showmanship that he's already covered at length in Strong Magic. But what exactly is it that turns a trick into good magic - is it the cleverness, creativity, difficulty, efficiency, novelty, or fooling nature of the method? These are often reasons why magicians are attracted to particular effects, but in Darwin's view there's something else that needs attention. While effect, method, presentation are commonly accepted as ingredients of strong magic, it is Darwin Ortiz' thesis that there is a fourth essential ingredient that is typically overlooked: design.
2. The Magical Experience: In Darwin's view, successful magic is all about creating the illusion of impossibility, and accomplishing this requires paying close attention to how an effect is designed. To design magic well, Darwin wants us to think like lay-people rather than magicians (who get excited when they are fooled). Magic is not just about fooling people, because deception is simply a tool used to accomplish the greater aim of creating an impossible illusion. That is what makes something truly magical, and makes it seem like a true miracle rather than a mere puzzle: is it constructed and designed so as to appear completely impossible?
3. Causality: If an apparent miracle is presenting something that seems truly impossible, what is it that makes something seem impossible? Humankind is wired to think in terms of causality, so one of the keys to making something seem impossible is to eliminate any possible cause that could explain an effect, so that the spectator is left with no option but to say "No way!". To analyze this properly, Darwin wants us to look at tricks from two perspectives, and consider their outer reality (what the audience thinks is true) and their inner reality (what you as a magician know is actually true). This is an important way of thinking that is essential to designing miracles, and in the next four chapters Darwin will explain four ways of designing a magical effect that from the spectator's viewpoint eliminates any possible cause, thus creating the impression of what is a miracle.
4. Temporal Distance: Here Darwin introduces a concept he calls "the critical interval", which is the difference in time between the "initial condition" and the "final condition" in an effect, for example the moment you last see the apple, and the moment you first see it reappear as an orange. If you can be perceived to do nothing between this critical interval, the change appears to be a result of genuine magic. And there are ways to create this perception, especially using what Darwin calls "time displacement", in which you shorten the critical interval as perceived by the audience with the help of acting, psychological convincers (a concept described in detail in Strong Magic), magical gestures, mimicked sounds, or devices like a dummy which duplicate an object. All of these allow you to do your dirty work beforehand, falsely extend the time of the initial condition and move it forward so that it appears that nothing has happened yet when in fact the method has already been accomplished. In addition to such "forward time displacement", a similar sense of miracle can be obtained by "backward time displacement", in which the method happens after the final condition has apparently been reached; when in fact the dirty work still needs to happen, and can now happen easily because the audience has dropped its guard and thinks the effect is already done; acting plays a big role in achieving this. Don't decide on a sleight based purely on the move, but also take into consideration whether you can do the dirty work before or after the critical interval. Sometimes instead of changing the move, you can change the moment to improve an effect for the better,
5. Spatial Distance: Darwin now demonstrates that the principles about temporal distance also apply to space. By separating the method and the apparent effect in terms of place and where they occur (particularly when combined with temporal distance), you can remove evidence, which will protect the secret and conceal the method. In other words, this allows you to flee the scene of the crime after doing the dirty work. Using duplicates is a good example of this, and Designing Miracles makes some fantastic points about the kinds of requirements that are necessary to allow a duplicate to work. If you can successfully make a spectator unable to know when something happened, you are well on your way to making them unable to know how it happened. The next step is to engineer things to make them connect this with a false moment. Just like spatial distance can help hide the method, so false proximity can help even more, by making your spectator think the magic happened at a moment that is truly impossible - which is exactly the miracle of magic you are trying to create! In other words, the goal here is to use distance to conceal when a method really happens, and use proximity to falsely position the moment of the effect in the audience's mind.
6. Conceptual Distance: Another way to obscure causality is by creating a conceptual barrier, much like an apparent brick wall causes people to turn in the opposite direction. Darwin discusses ways of achieving this through physical barriers and information barriers. A physical barrier like a glass, box, card case, or sealed envelope, will typically be assumed by a spectator to be impenetrable; but all you need to do is cut a hole in a container in it in order to give yourself access to something your audience has assumed is impossible. An information barrier works in a similar way; if the magician apparently lacks certain information early in an effect, then he can't possibly have accomplished certain things later in that effect. Darwin then describes what he calls the "Veils Principle": while one single barrier might be transparent, multiple barriers in a single effect will almost certainly make an effect impossible to figure out. For example, a marked deck on its own might arouse suspicion, as might an Invisible deck, but when used together the one helps cover the tracks of the other. Darwin emphasizes the importance of thinking like lay-people rather than magicians here, because unlike magicians, lay-people will typically suspect the obvious method, and it's your job to disprove any possibility of that method being used. Laymen intuitively analyze an effect, so by eliminating their suspicions pre-emptively by creating intellectual/conceptual barriers before the magic happens, you force them to abandon analysis at the point when the magic actually happens, thereby generating the strongest emotional impact. Rather than encouraging them to think about the method, by eliminating the possibility of certain methods you get them to mentally concede that a plausible method is an impossibility, thus heightening the sense of magic. It's especially important to do this with what spectators would consider to be obvious explanations, and make it clear to spectators that you aren't using those methods.
7. The False Frame of Reference: An additional way to make it difficult for the spectator to discern the method is by creating what Ortiz calls a "false frame of reference". To explain this, as an image of the critical interval between the initial and final condition he gives the example of a tunnel. A straight tunnel is easy to figure out, but a curved or indirect one is not, and that's what you need to aim for in design. The goal is to create a gap between method and effect, ideally using a "banked shot" approach, where the method doesn't even use the direct line that the effect seems to suggest. What this does is cause the spectator to ask the wrong questions about how the effect is done, and as a result they will never even consider the true answer, so enhancing the chances of the effect seeming impossible, and thereby accomplishing your aim of a perceived miracle. This sense of impossibility won't happen when the method and effect are too closely related, but combining different methods to achieve an effect will often assist with this.
8. Visual Magic: Magicians often speak about visual magic, and Darwin describes what is meant by this as magic with a very short critical interval, and where there is very little time between the initial and final condition. But creating the illusion of impossibility requires more than just a visual element, since true magic must challenge the mind. A visual gag lacks true mystery and won't create lasting wonder, even though it entertains momentarily, because spectators realize how it is done and so there is no sense of miracle. Thus it is important to lay the groundwork in advance, disproving all explanations in advance, before the visual moment of apparent magic, because then what happens will seem truly impossible. Darwin suggests that giving thought to careful design can accomplish this. He goes through the techniques discussed previously (e.g. time displacement, conceptual barriers), and discusses how you can use visual magic to deliberately engineer an intellectual distance between the method and the effect. In other words, your goal is to use visual magic to emphasis the magic moment in a way that is separated from the actual method, making the audience think that the magic happens at a different time or place than the actual method, and thereby making it harder for the mind to track back clues and discover the method. Visual magic can also have other roles; it can also function as one phase of a larger routine to strengthen other phases that use non-visual magic. And even incidental visual magic can have a helpful role, because it helps create an atmosphere of mystery and the impression that you can do magic at any moment, thereby strengthening the overall notion that you are a miracle worker who can do the impossible.
9. Correlation: Making and Breaking Patterns: In this chapter Darwin explores how patterns, especially in a multi-phase routine, can be very important. When confronted with the final condition of an effect, the spectator's natural reaction is to question their belief about the initial condition, and it's this that often leads them to think that perhaps they were mistaken or missed something obvious, which is usually why they say "do it again". Repetition within a routine can be useful to strengthen their conviction that what they perceive as the initial condition is indeed real, thereby making the effect seem more impossible, which is why one of the strongest ways to do this is to repeat an effect. When discussing the popularly called Rule of Three, Darwin emphasizes that magic becomes boring as soon as something is repeated four times. A repetition of three times is common in other art forms, with the second occurrence creating a pattern and an expectation, and the third occurrence confirming a natural law, or in the case of magic the third occurrence confirms that you can break all laws and do the impossible. But this should never be simple repetition, but it is best when it happens under increasingly strict conditions, and ideally using different methods. In science, repetition will normally make it easier to identify cause and effect, but here you use it as a technique to hide the cause. Each method typically has a strength and a weakness, but by combining different methods within a single routine, you can emphasize the strength of each method during each phase, while in the spectator's mind they will combine these strengths, making the overall illusion seem completely watertight and thoroughly impossible. Magical gestures can also be helpful here, especially when different methods are used in different phases, because they are the single constant that remains in the mind of the spectator, and function as a form of false correlation that forces them to the inescapable conclusion: the only explanation is that the impossible happened by magic.
10. Manipulating Memory: Because your spectator's memory is not a reliable record of what actually happened, but is an interpretation of events, Darwin next covers elements of design that can take advantage of this. Ideally you want to create a psychological invisibility, where the eyes see but the mind doesn't register important elements of the method. This is accomplished by aiming to make important elements of the method seem unimportant, and vice-versa; emphasizing something that is important to the effect but not to the method. Darwin's thesis is that the key factor that spectators pay attention to is motivation. Your motivation doesn't have to be deep or logical, but rather psychological - the actions you perform simply need to make sense and have some reason attached to them, otherwise they create suspicion and attract attention. This is especially helped by telegraphing your motivation, by giving reasons for your actions in advance of them. Darwin works out this concept further by elaborating on three types of "ruses" that magicians can use: incidental actions, accidental actions, and extraneous actions. Especially if there is sound motivation for what you are doing, actions that are important and essential to the method can go completely unnoticed (e.g. you reach into a pocket to get a pen, or perhaps `accidentally' first reach into a wrong pocket - in both instances perhaps loading a palmed card), to the point that spectators won't even remember these actions afterwards. It's important to take control of the spectator's memories while they are fluid, and emphasize things that will help them recollect the effect in a way that completely leaves out the apparently incidental, accidental, or extraneous actions that were in fact key to how the effect was accomplished.
Afterword and Appendices: After a brief Afterword, there are two Appendices, which consists of ten minutes reviewing key concepts from the book. Appendix 1 contains Darwin's Laws, with 28 key summarizing statements that capture key thoughts of the book. Appendix 2 contains a Glossary, in which key terms that Darwin has used throughout the book are defined and summarized. These are very helpful overviews that really bring everything together, and highlight the main theses that the author has argued in the course of the entire book.
Bonus Interview: As a special bonus, the audio book has a 20 minute interview with Darwin, in which he's asked numerous questions regarding the book, including: How did Designing Miracles come to follow Strong Magic, and are there plans for a third book? What other books would you suggest on these topics? How would you compare magic with film-making? How do you avoid spectators don't have a negative experience of feeling fooled? How do you achieve clarity and simplicity with a complex effect? What tactics can magicians use to bring the audience to psychological surrender? How did you go about writing these books? With the benefit of six years since the first publication of the book, would you change anything about it?
Rare: Books on the subject that this title covers are very rare. That in itself makes Designing Miracles a landmark publication, and one that deserves to be widely known and read. Not only does Darwin Ortiz make an important and valuable contribution on this subject material, but he's one of the very few people doing so, and contributing to the discussion about magic design. Fortunately for us, he does such a fantastic job in doing so, that it's not a work that will need countless others to correct it.
Progressive: Darwin already made a wonderful contribution to magic theory with Strong Magic, and I found it hard to imagine that he'd be able to produce another book that was its equal, just as useful. Yet that's exactly what he's done with Designing Miracles. It's a great companion to its predecessor, and yet stands on its own as a contribution to a related but different subject.
Thorough: From the overview of the content I've already given above, you'll have some idea of the main concepts that Darwin Ortiz explores and covers. This book covers a wide range of topics that can be applied to all kinds of magic, because it concerns the principles underlying strong magic. There's some incredibly useful content here, and this is a very important book. I can't think of any aspects of magic design that he has failed to give attention to, when it concerns the underlying theoretic framework of how a trick should be constructed. The book didn't feel repetitive, and really covers the subject material thoroughly and well.
Insightful: Darwin Ortiz is an extremely clear thinker, and his insights into the theory of magic are terrific. He's superb at analyzing the principles underlying strong magic, and evaluating what makes something work and what doesn't, and this book demonstrates that he has a real understanding of what makes good magic. He's not just good at making magic good, but understands why it works.
Clear: Darwin is also very good at explaining things, and his book is written in a very logical, clear and convincing manner. His flow of argument is very carefully and persuasively developed, and I constantly found myself thoroughly convinced of his position. He's a very analytical thinker, and does a superb job of explaining his thoughts in a very organized and systematic fashion, as is evidenced by his regular use of words like "first", "second", and "third", when explaining things carefully and cogently.
Interesting: A book about magic theory sounds like it might be academic, dry, and boring. I didn't expect myself to get drawn in as much as I did; to my surprise I found it compelling and fascinating, thinking about the principles and concepts Darwin explains, and applying these to the tricks I've performed and am working on. In addition to using examples from the world of magic, he also uses colourful examples from real life to illustrate his argument. He's a very clear thinker, and the examples he uses really demonstrate that he has a real gift in explaining things, and this has the added benefit of ensuring that his content is interesting to listen to.
Practical: Another real strength of this important work is that it is extremely practical. It would be a mistake to think that because this book is about the theory of magic that it is dry, abstract, boring, and to be avoided. To the contrary, Darwin Ortiz provides constant examples to support and illustrate the principles and ideas he is discussing. Many of his examples relate to card magic, and refer to effects that magicians will be familiar with. Many are also from his own books, including Darwin Ortiz at the Card Table (1988), CardShark (1995), and Scams and Fantasies with Cards (2002). As such, it's not just a book of pure theory, but is very much about theory made practical, or theory applied to real performance. And isn't that exactly what we magicians need?
Beneficial: Like Strong Magic, Designing Miracles is the kind of book that will change your thinking about magic. While it won't teach you a single trick, it will certainly help you make all the ones you do know better. As such, this is a book that has potential benefit more than any other book you'll read on magic, and I highly recommend it for that reason alone. And don't make the mistake of thinking that this is only a book for creators of magic. This book will help you have the skill you need to decide what tricks to perform, and when there are different ways of doing a trick, to decide which ones to use. It will also help you refine the tricks you're already doing to make them even better. It won't just tell you how to do things, but will you give you the skills you need to think for yourself and understand why some tricks works better than others, and then go out and be the very best magician you can possibly be.
Time-tested: From the final interview, it is evident that Darwin Ortiz works very hard to analyze his experiences and to systematically record his thoughts and insights, and that his books are the result of lengthy and careful reflection. He reveals that Strong Magic took about 7 years to write, and that Designing Miracles took about 9 years to write. He is considering a third book with a collection of essays discussing material that doesn't really fit in either existing book, but never rushes anything to publication, and as a result he still stands behind what he's written. Six years have passed since Designing Miracles was first published, and in that time Darwin has only become more convinced of the principles he describes in the book. He has come up with a few examples that further illustrate these principles, and has included these in the audio book in the appropriate places, by overall the material of this book has been time-tested.
The audio book
Reader: As has been mentioned already, in the case of the audiobook, Darwin does a terrific job of reading his own book. He's easy to listen to, expressive, and there is something valuable and convincing in hearing the content of a book straight from the mouth of its author.
Cost: The audiobook only costs US$25, while the hard cover will set you back US$45 plus shipping. So this is basically half the price of a physical copy of the book, making it great value.
Convenient: The real advantage of the audiobook is that you can easily listen to it while on the move, whether community or walking/jogging, making it very convenient to listen to while you're doing something else at the same time. Plus you get to download it immediately when you purchase it.
Updated: The audio book also has the benefit of some additional sections and updates that Darwin has made to his original book (mostly the addition of examples), including a bonus section at the end in which he addresses numerous questions and clarifies points.
I'm not alone in singing the praises of this wonderful book. Here are a few quotes from other magicians, which I've gleaned from scattered places across the internet, that show how highly others consider Designing Miracles, and how it is an excellent companion to the highly regarded Strong Magic:
"This book, along with the other Oritz books, should be in every magicians library." - Mark Ennis
"Both Strong Magic and Designing Miracles are must read books if you want to make your performance as strong as possible." - Jordan Merrick
"I absolutely loved Strong Magic, and this book is equally amazing." - fogelka
"Even better than I hoped for. Priceless information. Thanks Darwin." - Dan LeFay
"Much better, I think, than "Strong Magic." - SWNerndase
"I have read, enjoyed, but then passed along "Our Magic", "Strong Magic", "Absolute Magic, Nelms, Fitzkee and many other theory books. IMHO, "Designing Miracles" surpasses them all by a large margin." - silverking
"Strong Magic is my favorite book on Magic Theory and Designing Miracles completes the whole picture." - Daniel Faith
"Of all the magic books I own, this one along with "Strong Magic" are my favourites that I refer to and study over and over again." - Ghost Counter
"No magician, amateur or professional can spare reading this book. It's THE book on magic routine design by one of the top professionals card magician of the present time." - Etienne M. Lorenceau
"This book forever changed my perspective on everything there is in Magic." - Steve Hendry
"I can't recommend this book strongly enough." - Joshua Jay
And here is some feedback on the audio book:
"Darwin Ortiz narrates this audio book with passion and enthusiasm. I can't think of a better way of learning these theories." - Chris Taylor
"This in my opinion is the most important book on magic theory. I have read the book a few times when it was released, and I took an immense pleasure listening to the audio format." - Jérôme Damien
"I have listened to this twice now and absolutely love it! Hearing the book is great all by itself, but hearing straight from Mr. Ortiz's mouth is like having a private session with him." - Kerry LeBlanc
"This is amazing!!! My favorite magic book and I've already listened to almost the whole thing." - Sam Lloyd
"I have a long drive to work every day and I always dreamed of finding a way to improve my magic during this otherwise "dead" time. Thanks! This is awesome." - Dan Perkins
You can also see magician Joshua Jay talk about the book in a 2 minute video clip here:
Many in the magic industry would regard Darwin Ortiz as being at the very forefront of thinkers on magic theory, and his Strong Magic is considered to be a seminal work, and one of the most significant contributions to magic theory in recent times. After such a fine work with Strong Magic, one might think that Darwin Ortiz was setting himself the impossible, because the brilliance of Strong Magic meant that it would be a very hard act to follow. Surely that modern classic could not be equalled, and a follow-up work would only be a let down. Fortunately for us, Darwin Ortiz is all about miracles and achieving the possible, and in Designing Miracles he's surpassed himself by writing another outstanding book on magic theory, one that stands besides Strong Magic as an independent work, and at the same time is a worthy equal, and will quickly be regarded as a classic alongside its predecessor.
Where Strong Magic succeeded in educating us in the key elements of showmanship, Designing Miracles succeeds in educating us about the key elements of constructing magical effects. Darwin Ortiz has a remarkable ability to think clearly and analyze why certain effects are so strong, and further to draw out the principles behind this which we can apply to our own magic. He's also a very clear communicator, and ensures that his explanations are enhanced with constant examples that illustrate well the points he's making.
Unlike most magic books, Designing Miracles is not about teaching us new tricks, nor is it about the methods and mechanics of magic. It's not even about presentation or showmanship first of all. Rather, this important book is all about teaching us how to design and construct tricks in such a way that the effects become all the more powerful and foolproof, creating the genuine impression of the truly impossible. It gives us the clear thinking we need to take the tricks we've learned and improve small aspects of them to make them even better. Building on those who have gone before him, and drawing on his own insights and experience through years of magic, this is a book that stands on the shoulders of giants, and stands head and shoulders above most magic books.
I'm very pleased that this gem hasn't only been published in book form, but has also been made available as an audio version for half the price, with some updated content and added bonus features, all read by the author Darwin Ortiz himself. I can't recommend this highly enough!
Want to learn more? See Darwin Ortiz's Designing Miracles at Vanishing Inc Magic:
Designing Miracles by Darwin Ortiz (hard copy)
Designing Miracles by Darwin Ortiz (audio book)
Designing Miracles by Darwin Ortiz (audio book - free sample chapter)
Designing Miracles at Murphy's Magic (Product Page)
Related titles mentioned in this article:
Strong Magic by Darwin Ortiz
Maximum Entertainment by Ken Weber
Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms
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I have only looked at Designing Miracles cursorily so I can't really comment on it. Mind you, I don't remember doing backward somersaults over it either. However, I have indeed read Strong Magic and despite my usual cynical and negative nature I was forced to concede that it was quite excellent. I tried to dislike it but I couldn't quite manage it. I found despite myself that I agreed with about 90% of it.