Magic For Dummies
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Learning and practicing magic is fun and challenging and to keep it as stress-free as possible be prepared to coolly answer questions about your tricks and make a quick recovery when a trick goes wrong. Know the different types of people in your audience so you can deal with their sometimes offbeat behavior and study some key words you will use repeatedly as you continue on your magic career.

A magician's answers for 'how’d you do that?'

So you don’t look like an amateur, never reveal how you perform a magic trick. When someone asks you how you did your trick you need to say something, so try one of these snappy answers:

  • “Quite well, don’t you think?”

  • “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”

  • “I’m a genetic freak.”

  • “The question isn’t how — it’s why.”

  • “What are you, from 60 Minutes?”

  • “Pure luck.”

  • “Can you keep a secret? Well, so can I.”

  • “Witchcraft. Didn’t you see me wiggle my nose?”

  • “Through years of tedious practice and self-denial.”

  • “What do I look like — the Masked Magician?”

  • “Camera tricks.”

How to recover from a flubbed magic trick

Ideally, you would never make a mistake when performing a magic trick. Unfortunately, life isn’t like that and circumstance and bad luck can rear their ugly heads. When a trick goes wrong, graceful performers shrug it off with humor and recover if they can. Try these lines when you mess up a magic trick:

  • “I forgot to compensate for the rotational effect of the Earth.”

  • “Hmm. It worked in the magic store!”

  • “It’s all part of the show, folks — the part that hasn’t been rehearsed.”

  • “That’s the first time that ever happened, again.”

  • “It doesn’t look as bad from my side.”

  • “The real magician will be here shortly.”

  • “I’m curious to see how I get out of this myself!”

  • “Wow, it’s so quiet in here, you could hear a career drop.”

A guide to the magic show audience

Most audience members enjoy the entertainment and mystery of a magic show. But magic is an assault on every law of nature we’ve learned — making some people’s brains squirm. As you’re working through your magical career, here are some of the rarer magic spectators to watch out for:

  • The Yellow-Bellied Grabber: This spectator can’t resist grabbing your props. Before you perform, you’ll find them circling you like a vulture, trying to peek into your stuff; after each trick, they’re the first to snatch your props away in hopes of finding out how you did it. Turn the grabber into your ally by choosing them to help with a trick that makes them look good.

  • The Ruby-Throated Guesser: Immediately after you’ve created some moment of impeccable, poetic magic, this species shouts out their theory for how you did it. (“You switched it when we weren’t looking!”) That can rattle you if you’re not used to it; have a clever line (or another trick) ready to go, just in case.

  • The Far-fetched Guesser: This subclass of spectator also likes to shout out guesses — but this variety comes up with incredibly ridiculous theories. They’ll accuse you of writing down a prediction in your pocket during the tenth of a second when you were reaching for a pen, or of having magnets installed in your hands, or of having made a secret agreement with everyone else in the audience before the show started. Although most people recognize the absurdity of these guesses, the outbursts can still detract from the delicious final moment of a trick.

  • The Long-Billed Believer: In this age of psychic hotlines, X-Files, and alien-abduction theories, an increasing number of audiences actually believe in magic. Do a mind-reading trick for this kind, and you get almost no reaction at all — just a small, knowing smile and some nodding. It can be hard to impress one of these onlookers, since they’ve quietly believed all along that reality is a government conspiracy.

  • The Clueless Dodo Bird: Somebody who forgets his card, making your trick worthless — or, worse, doesn’t follow instructions.

  • The Puff-Chested Boyfriend: In the presence of a girlfriend, a funny thing happens to this ordinarily easygoing species: He becomes surprisingly defensive, remarkably unreceptive to being entertained by the magic. He doesn’t like her to see that he can be fooled.

  • The Fuzzy-Tummied Hatchling: Performing for children — or the childlike — can be one of the most rewarding experiences for a magician. A child doesn’t yet have the ego of a Guesser or a Puff-Chested Boyfriend, and therefore isn’t threatened by your magic. As a result, you can relax, focusing on what you’re saying, on creating a feeling of mystery, on your delivery — and then bask in a young child’s reaction of pure wonder and delight.

Important magic words

The field of magic — videos, lectures, and books — is filled with jargon you should know in order to learn and practice magic tricks. Here’s a guide to some of the magic terms you’ll hear most often:

  • Burn — To watch a trick intensely, with an unblinking stare, immobile head, and general resistance to conventional misdirection. A spectator who’s burning you clearly isn’t there to be entertained.

  • Clean — The blissful state when a magician’s hands and props can be examined because they’re not rigged in any way. The audience can inspect the props from now until doomsday without learning how you did the trick.

  • Confederate — A secret assistant pretending to be an audience member. The confederate may, for example, subtly feed the magician information. Confederates should be used infrequently, and rarely as the primary “spectator” in an audience-participation trick (otherwise, their assistance will be too obvious).

  • False shuffle — To simulate shuffling the deck without actually altering the position of certain cards. Some false shuffles are designed to keep all 52 cards in their original locations. Other false shuffles keep only some cards — such as the top or bottom one — in their original locations.

  • Force — A standard magic procedure in which an audience member is offered what seems to be a fair and free choice (usually of cards) — but, in fact, the magician has predetermined the outcome.

  • French drop — A sleight usually used to vanish a coin held at the fingertips. Magicians today rarely use the French drop because of its unnatural appearance.

  • Gimmick — A piece of equipment, unseen by the spectator, that helps the magician accomplish the effect. (You may also hear the adjective form, used to describe a prop that’s been specially rigged: “You probably have a gimmicked pretzel.”)

  • Impromptu — Without advance preparation, using the materials at hand.

  • Lap — To secretly drop something into your lap (when seated at a table) — or to retrieve an object already there. Never lap anything that has an open flame.

  • Misdirection — An audience distraction. Misdirection is an essential magic skill — probably the most important one. By directing the audience’s attention, you create opportunities to do tricky maneuvers where the audience isn’t looking.

  • Palm — A tricky move in which a card, coin, or other object is concealed in what’s supposed to be your empty hand — for example, by pinching it between opposite sides of your cupped hand. There are many forms of palming: finger palms, thumb palms, back palms, and so on.

  • Patter — What a magician says while performing.

  • Play — To work as rehearsed (and to be enthusiastically accepted by the audience). Professionals often recommend tricks or presentations by saying, “This definitely plays.”

  • Riffle shuffle — The most common way to shuffle a deck of cards. The two halves of the deck are butted against each other, their ends interlaced by riffling, and finally mixed by pushing the two halves together.

  • Routine — A series of tricks performed in a logical sequence.

  • Sleight of hand — The secret manipulation of props (usually by the fingers) to generate a miraculous effect. When magicians speak, they drop the last two words: “He did a version of the trick involving sleights.”

  • Stacked deck — Also known as a “set-up” or “prearranged” deck. A deck whose cards the magician has prearranged, unbeknownst to the audience.

  • Stage illusion — A trick that’s big enough to be performed in a large auditorium. Examples of famous stage illusions: The Levitation; Sawing a Woman in Half; The Water Torture; Vanishing an Elephant.

  • Sucker trick — A trick in which you let the spectators believe that they understand how a trick is done, only to have their “understanding” dashed.

  • Vanish — (a verb, oddly enough) To make something disappear. “He vanished my wallet!”

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

About David Pogue David Pogue is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and has performed magic at parties, special events, on TV, and even over the radio for 25 years. He created and taught the beginning magic programs at the New School for Social Research and the Learning Annex. He has been known to mesmerize audiences with his magic tricks while on tour promoting his many bestselling books, including Macs?? For Dummies??, 5th Edition, Opera For Dummies??, and Classical Music For Dummies??. Contributor Mark Levy, magic consultant, has levitated and read spectators' minds for nearly 30 years. His writings have appeared in some of magic's most revered literary sources, including Richard Kaufman's CardMagic, Apocalypse magazine, and Magic.

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