"too perfect" theory

Discuss your favorite close-up tricks and methods.
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erdnasephile
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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby erdnasephile » October 23rd, 2012, 10:24 am

I appreciate the thoughtful, interesting discussion. Good arguments on all sides. I'd like to respectfully add the following notes.

Jamy Ian Swiss in "Shattering Illusions" discusses Tommy Wonder's take on the Too-Perfect Theory (pg 188-189; Reprinted from Genii, Aug 2001). After describing the issues involved with handing the spectator the ring box, the essay reads in part (edited for space):

"And how does Tommy Wonder handle this? He decidedly does not hand out the box! Ask him why not and he will tell you that this method cannot withstand those conditions...When I confronted my friend, Tommy, with this example...he sputtered, laughed, and said, 'Well, yes, it's the Too-Perfect Theory--but I still don't like it--and in a perfect world, we wouldn't have to use it, so I don't stop there, I strive for something better, something higher, something beyond it.' And who can argue with that?"

Jamy goes on to commend Tom Stone's commentary on the issue in the October 2001 issue of Genii (Too Perfect Imperfect, pg 71-72), where he discusses the concept of the importance of balance within a routine, and why the Too-Perfect Theory may only be part of a yet undiscovered unifying theory of "magical effectiveness."

If you haven't yet read this, I'd highly recommend it. Very thought provoking and practical.

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Jonathan Townsend » October 23rd, 2012, 10:46 am

Getting back to Bloom's Intercessor and the implied problem of "how else but..."
At what point does the effect announce the method?

When does the "spell" break under scrutiny by elicited discomfort?

IE - what prompts the audience to reframe their experience from 'how nice that' into 'what permitted that' ?
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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Jon Racherbaumer » October 23rd, 2012, 1:21 pm

I'm surprised that no one has at least raised an eyebrow regarding the word "too," which usually acts as an adverb. If something is "perfect" the claim or suggestion is that this "something" is absolute, without flaws, correct in every way, etc. If something is perfect, what more needs to be added to intensify or modify that state? Are there degrees of perfection? Can something be excessively perfect or too perfect?
I suppose many will consider this a niggling point, but words matter...and who is prepared to say that the primary tools on this forum are anything but words?

Would it have made a difference if Rick Johnsson had called his paper "The Less-Perfect Theory"?

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby John Lovick » October 23rd, 2012, 1:37 pm

"Too perfect" overlaps often with "too impossible", and discussions of too impossible are amusing for the same reasons. Can there be degrees of impossibility? Isn't it a binary proposition?

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Jonathan Townsend » October 23rd, 2012, 1:52 pm

@JL agreed the issue is one of credulity (see above) collapse.

@JR pat -> too pat signaling old school irony?

Edward Pungot wrote:...-delusion is the greatest trick in many a magician's repertoire.


At some point they can't not see the elephant in the room.
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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Edward Pungot » October 23rd, 2012, 3:04 pm

It all depends on what the definition of 'is' is
--Bill Clinton

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Pete McCabe » October 23rd, 2012, 3:06 pm

There are many reasons why I think the TPC sucks, and most of them have been addressed before. But there is one that I never see mentioned:

TPC would have you make sure you give the spectator a possible method which is not the actual method. So if your method is X, you want the spectator to think your method is Y.

But the spectator does not know that Y is not the real method. So to the spectator the end result is exactly the same as if they think the method is X. In both cases they think they know how it was done, and they do not know whether their theory is right or wrong.

If it's bad for the spectator to think you did X when you actually did X, why is it good for the spectator to think you did X when you actually did Y?

It seems to me that the only benefit of the TPC is that the magician can feel smug that the spectators have a wrong theory of how the trick was done. To the spectators both outcomes are the samethey saw a trick, and they think they know how it was done.

So the TPC would have the magician sacrifice the audience's experience of wonder, just so the magician can feel superior. No wonder the theory is so popular.

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby El Mystico » October 23rd, 2012, 3:28 pm

I completely agree with Pete.
And feel the best way of directing attention away from the method is through a strong presentation.
That's assuming you've got a decent trick in the first place.

(I'm also reminded of a line from Ali Bongo - "If you can't hide it, paint it red!")

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby erdnasephile » October 23rd, 2012, 5:15 pm

Pete McCabe wrote:There are many reasons why I think the TPC sucks, and most of them have been addressed before. But there is one that I never see mentioned:

TPC would have you make sure you give the spectator a possible method which is not the actual method. So if your method is X, you want the spectator to think your method is Y.

But the spectator does not know that Y is not the real method. So to the spectator the end result is exactly the same as if they think the method is X. In both cases they think they know how it was done, and they do not know whether their theory is right or wrong.

If it's bad for the spectator to think you did X when you actually did X, why is it good for the spectator to think you did X when you actually did Y?



Brother John Hamman was lauded for leading spectators down the garden path and then turning the hose on them. Senor Tamariz' writings on multiple solutions and Daryl's canceling theory are somewhat related notions.

Recognizing that the TPC is flawed (? incomplete) as described by Pete above, is it better to offer a false method(s) if you in turn strike them down (i.e. turn the hose on them) during the course of the routine?

Will that lead one closer to the sensation of magic as all possible solutions are eliminated in the spectators mind?

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby mrgoat » October 23rd, 2012, 6:17 pm

I think giving a spec a possible solution for a trick is bad. Even if gpyounturn the hose on them, it will still resonate with them as a possibility

Once they think they know how something is done, doesn't really matter if its right or not, the magic is over.

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Tom Stone » October 23rd, 2012, 6:39 pm

mrgoat wrote:I think giving a spec a possible solution for a trick is bad. Even if gpyounturn the hose on them, it will still resonate with them as a possibility

Once they think they know how something is done, doesn't really matter if its right or not, the magic is over.

You mean that the Chinese Sticks doesn't work?

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Eric Fry » October 23rd, 2012, 6:41 pm

Some language mavens will accept degrees of perfection under the principle that nothing is truly perfect. Jefferson referred to a "more perfect union."

Also, they'll accept the human tendency to hyperbole and emotional expression. "That looks so perfect on you," for example, has a slightly different tone (gushing) than "that looks perfect on you."

The term "too perfect" could be used ironically, sarcastically, or to point out that there are different measures of flawlessness.

For example: "His performance was flawless."
"Yes, that was its flaw. It was inhuman."

That's all part of the expressiveness of language.

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Jonathan Townsend » October 23rd, 2012, 8:54 pm

The term "too perfect" could be used ironically, sarcastically, or to point out that there are different measures of flawlessness.


There is a sentimental component conveyed in claiming a work complete. Qualifying such a statement adds a layer to the sentiment conveyed.

For example, what does it mean to describe a thing as perfect at its conception and then marred by adequate efforts directed by the best of intentions?

This post must be perfect as I have finished with it

:D .

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Pete McCabe » October 23rd, 2012, 10:51 pm

The TPC promotes leaving the spectator with a solution. That seems different than hinting at one before eliminating it.

Still, I'm with the Goat. Magic is about an emotional experience of wonder. It seems to me that most presentations that focus on method, whether to eliminate them or to leave the audience with one, are starting at a huge disadvantage.

Doesn't mean it couldn't work. I can see you telling the audience of watching a psychic who claimed to have magical powers, andbecause of your knowledge of magicyou went to great lengths to eliminate all the possible magic-trick methods. Then when the psychic succeeded, you were absolutely astonished. At the same time as you are telling this, you are recreating the psychic's performance.

This could definitely play. But not, I think, if you leave the audience with any sensation that they know how you did it.

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Leonard Hevia » October 24th, 2012, 12:15 am

I don't believe that the Too Perfect Theory is supposed to leave the spectators with a red herring false solution. It is more like something small for them to gnaw on that offers no genuinely tenable solution, and it should be just enough to distract their minds from the true method.

In the "Last Trick of Dr. Daley" what if you lightly tapped the aces in the spectator's hand before you reached for your aces on the table to reveal the transposition? It would be just a light tap with one hand and not enough to provoke suspicion, but just enough to distract the spectator from the line of reasoning that leads to the solution of a switch before the red? aces were deposited in her hands.

So instead of hearing this: "He couldn't have switched the aces while the red ones were in my hand, so he must have switched them before." You might hear this: "How did he manage to switch out the red aces while they were in my hand? I saw him tap my aces for a brief moment--was that when he switched them? That doesn't seem possible. His hand was on my aces for only a second. Was it before he placed the red aces in my hand? I can't be sure!!!"

"I can't be sure how he did that!!!" Is music to a magician's ears.

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Denis Behr » October 24th, 2012, 4:49 am

Leonard Hevia wrote:"I can't be sure how he did that!!!" Is music to a magician's ears.


Well, perhaps, but it's very dissonant music for sure. Remember Simon Aronson: "There is a world of difference between a spectator's not knowing how something's done versus his knowing that it can't be done."
The latter should be the goal.

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby mrgoat » October 24th, 2012, 8:09 am

Tom Stone wrote:
mrgoat wrote:I think giving a spec a possible solution for a trick is bad. Even if gpyounturn the hose on them, it will still resonate with them as a possibility

Once they think they know how something is done, doesn't really matter if its right or not, the magic is over.

You mean that the Chinese Sticks doesn't work?


I'm not sure that is a good trick, no. Certainly not one I would do. I find it hard to get away from the "HAHAHA YOU IDIOTFACE" part of the routine. More than likely my failing, but there you go .

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby El Mystico » October 24th, 2012, 9:08 am

Oh, I love the Chinese sticks; I remember being as mystified as hell when I was a teenager.

Actually, I think the Chinese sticks is a good example of Tamariz's theory of false solutions....lead the spectator to a false solution - but THEN DEMONSTRATE IT ISN'T A POSSIBLE SOLUTION. (But not in an in-your-face HAHAHA YOU IDIOTFACE way).
In some ways it is akin to the "Too Perfect" recommendation; but really is vastly superior.
I'm not sure it is always applicable though.

But, I agree with mrgoat; it isn't likely too be good to leave them with the suspicion of a method. Was it Vernon who said something about suspicion being as good as a method in the spectator's mind?

I guess an exception could be mind reading effects - where you want them to believe the only explanation is that you read their mind.

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby mrgoat » October 24th, 2012, 9:30 am

El Mystico wrote:Oh, I love the Chinese sticks; I remember being as mystified as hell when I was a teenager.

Actually, I think the Chinese sticks is a good example of Tamariz's theory of false solutions....lead the spectator to a false solution - but THEN DEMONSTRATE IT ISN'T A POSSIBLE SOLUTION. (But not in an in-your-face HAHAHA YOU IDIOTFACE way).
In some ways it is akin to the "Too Perfect" recommendation; but really is vastly superior.
I'm not sure it is always applicable though.

But, I agree with mrgoat; it isn't likely too be good to leave them with the suspicion of a method. Was it Vernon who said something about suspicion being as good as a method in the spectator's mind?

I guess an exception could be mind reading effects - where you want them to believe the only explanation is that you read their mind.


I guess it also depends what you are trying to achieve with your magic. There are lots of valid approaches to performing magic, but I strive to make what I do look like it was real magic. I don't do a single clever thing with my hands. Not even a Le Paul fan nor a riffle shuffle. I just simply spread the cards, and do an overhand shuffle (this is the most commonly used shuffle in the UK, so I do what my audience would do when I shuffle). I hope these leads people to not think I am, in anyway, clever with my hands.

Then when I do a trick, any thoughts of sleights or skill are not there.

Of course, different approaches such as manipulation/flourish based stuff, or comedy stuff are perfectly valid, just not the impression I wish to leave my audience with.

Therefore if they think for a second about any possible solution, it's not magic so has failed. For me. YMMV.

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Pete McCabe » October 24th, 2012, 10:15 am

From the Too Perfect Theory itself:

"You want him to think: I didn't see that sly, old fox do a darned thing, but he had ample opportunity to do something sneaky. Gee! What a clever guy!"

This is never what I want my audience to think.

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Jonathan Townsend » October 24th, 2012, 10:43 am

I like the fox part. Not sure I'm ready to own up to old yet. As to do something or clever... meh
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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby erdnasephile » October 24th, 2012, 1:13 pm

Agree with Pete.

I'd much rather shoot for Whit Hadyn's: "I know there is no such thing as magic/There is no other explanation."

However, I think in order to accomplish that, a performer really does have to analyze the structure/procedure/presentation of the routine to apparently eliminate the potential solutions most in the audience will be thinking about during the routine. (Maybe somewhere out there, there are groups of spectators whose first thought is "magical powers", but either I haven't achieved that level of performance skill yet or haven't found them.).

That's why I think doing an ambitious card with a one-way deck is a better solution for magicians than it would be for laypersons. The first most obvious solution to the ambitious card is "duplicate card", which is why so many have the card signed. (I think an impromptu duplicate card AC phase work best early on in an AC routine, which allows the performer to cancel that solution for those very clean rises by having the card subsequently signed.).

Magicians, on the other hand, get taken in by the one-way deck solution because they are making different assumptions than laypersons.

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Bob Farmer » October 25th, 2012, 9:00 am

I never bought into the "too perfect theory" -- to me it was really the "non-deceptive method theory." If the solution would occur to a laymen and he's right, you need a better method.

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Jonathan Townsend » October 25th, 2012, 9:33 am

If a solution occurs to the audience and it's valid and viable - maybe you need a better trick.
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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Jonathan Townsend » October 25th, 2012, 9:33 am

If a solution occurs to the audience and it's valid and viable - maybe you need a better trick.
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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby JHostler » November 5th, 2012, 6:03 pm

Bob Farmer wrote:I never bought into the "too perfect theory" -- to me it was really the "non-deceptive method theory." If the solution would occur to a laymen and he's right, you need a better method.


To extend that thought: If an audience is left with *any* viable solution (correct or otherwise), you need a better method. This alone is a good reason to dump - for example - almost any effect wherein something floats or levitates. I realize that may sound ridiculous, but when would any halfway intelligent spectator *not* suspect [and correctly so] a mode of support? Perhaps earlier last century, but not today.

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Pete McCabe » November 5th, 2012, 6:33 pm

When David Copperfield's "Flying" special hit, I had several people come up to me and ask how he did it. These were all, by the way, people who thought it was a great trick.

How do you think he did it, I asked. I don't knowwires, maybe, was invariably the reply.

It doesn't matter if the audience is able to figure out later what was probably the method. What matters is what they feel at the moment the object levitates. No amount of post-hoc analysis will take away that feeling.

"My main goal is to fascinate the audience into thinking that they are dreaming, even if this is only for a few seconds."
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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby Richard Kaufman » November 5th, 2012, 7:18 pm

Good magic cancels out its most obvious method because what you're seeing is impossible.
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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby JHostler » November 5th, 2012, 8:37 pm

Pete McCabe wrote:When David Copperfield's "Flying" special hit, I had several people come up to me and ask how he did it. These were all, by the way, people who thought it was a great trick.

How do you think he did it, I asked. I don't knowwires, maybe, was invariably the reply.

It doesn't matter if the audience is able to figure out later what was probably the method. What matters is what they feel at the moment the object levitates. No amount of post-hoc analysis will take away that feeling.


I would argue that, with regard to levitations, there really is only one explanation: an external mode of support. And even if unsure of the exact mode, most spectators are acutely aware of this during the presentation - not just after. To make matters worse, even when "threads or wires" aren't responsible, they often could be - which is just as bad.

The larger point was/is that such effects can be relatively easily explained away. While they might make decent (even wonderful) theater, they don't generally make great magic.
"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: "too perfect" theory

Postby Richard Kaufman » November 5th, 2012, 8:52 pm

Copperfield's flying was great magic precisely because you couldn't see any wires. No matter how closely you looked, there was no explanation for what you were seeing. You could not see any external mode of support. Did most laymen then jump to the conclusion that there were wires they couldn't see? No. I heard wild conjectures from laymen like giant wind machines and magnetism. In other words, they were fooled. And that's the point.
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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby erdnasephile » November 5th, 2012, 9:51 pm

I think a large part of the success of "Flying" is due to the strong presentation. The fantasy of flying is so common, and David plays that theme so well that the audience is already half way there before the flying commences. The audible "gasp" you hear when the audience realizes he's actually going to fly with the spectator indicates to me that they have completely bought the premise.

IMHO, the incredible strength of the illusion is that the strong method is balanced with an equally strong presentation. It's the two together in balance that makes strong magic, IMHO.

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Re: "too perfect" theory

Postby JHostler » November 5th, 2012, 10:28 pm

Richard Kaufman wrote:Copperfield's flying was great magic precisely because you couldn't see any wires. No matter how closely you looked, there was no explanation for what you were seeing. You could not see any external mode of support. Did most laymen then jump to the conclusion that there were wires they couldn't see? No. I heard wild conjectures from laymen like giant wind machines and magnetism. In other words, they were fooled. And that's the point.


I'm not arguing that the methodology can be seen - only that it is often known or suspected. Personally, I don't know a soul who didn't suspect the core method (minus a few technical details) used in "Flying." Two of these non-magicians even deconstructed the hoop pass. But I'd rather not dwell on a single example. I think we tend to get lost in a forest of clever hookups, harnesses, etc. and lose sight of the fact that - as implicit in TPT - none of that matters to a layperson. When they think they've "got it," they've "got it."
"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: "too perfect" theory

Postby Richard Kaufman » November 5th, 2012, 11:00 pm

I would disagree, John. They may think for a moment, "I've got it," but the fact that they continue to see no method makes them doubt the strength of their belief, until they give up on the method they think is being used.
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