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Nicodemus

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What Makes a Good Magic Trick? [Dec. 8th, 2005|01:59 pm]
Nicodemus
[Current Mood |contemplativecontemplative]

I was just browsing through Wikipedia and reading some entries on magic. It made me think back to what has to be my all-time favorite magic trick and, in the process, why magic is appealing.

If you know me well, you may know or be able to guess that my favorite magicians are Penn and Teller. Engaging and witty presenters. But you probably can't guess what my favorite trick is...


You see, there's something about the performance of magic that is special. I'm not in it for the mystery and the "How did he do that?" factor. Conventional wisdom is that I'm in the minority, but I suspect audiences are about evenly split.

For me, you cannot "spoil" a trick be revealing the secret of it. You can only spoil the performance of a poor magician, not the tricks.

I like watching magic in the same way that I am mesmerized by juggling. (In case you're wondering, despite my reasonable juggling ability I've never been able to do anything in the magic realm; it's an entirely different type of dexterity.) It's a beautiful display of skill and precise movement. And while the technical elements of the performance are impressive by themselves (to hardcore fans such as me), it is the patter and presentation which really make them into a full show.

This realization crystalized for me when I saw the magic trick I alluded to at the beginning. By now, you may have realized that I'm not building up a flashy, fiery, dramatic illusion piece. Nope.

The best trick I've ever seen was Cups and Balls performed by Teller. Really! But it was special...

First he performed a classic Cups and Balls routine "straight". Normal patter (from Penn) and maneuvers: balls appearing and disappearing under cups, new balls emerging, etc. Then they did something amazing.

They repeated the trick with the exact same moves as the first time except that they used clear plastic cups. Penn told you what was going on as Teller ran the routine a second time. They didn't even add any twists or change the ending, because they didn't need to. Teller is such an amazingly smooth performer that you can barely follow his sleight of hand even when you know exactly what he's doing. You can see through the cups but the balls still seem to appear and disappear in his hands.

There are no hidden mechanisms. Like juggling, it's all out in the open. No deceit. Yet your eyes are disbelieving. That's magic.


I may not be able to perform magic myself but I definitely appreciate it as an art form. How about you? Any favorites?
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: twigmouse
2005-12-08 10:10 pm (UTC)
Got any links to a video of this performance? Or did you see it in person?
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[User Picture]From: nicodemusrat
2005-12-08 10:16 pm (UTC)
It was featured in the P&T special "Home Invasion". I think they also used it in one of their tours. Unfortunately, I've been unable to find any online video links.
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[User Picture]From: ysengrin
2005-12-08 10:39 pm (UTC)
Also Penn and Teller, but a demonstration they did on a talk show with the "invisible coin purse" - just the hasp & hinge. Teller put coins in and pulled them out with four cameras on him - one over his shoulder - and with a mirror under his hands. Again, just slight-of-hand, but so smooth you could hardly follow it.
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[User Picture]From: mammallamadevil
2005-12-08 11:22 pm (UTC)

slacker me can't find your email...

can you please email me at kerry@surfari.net?

I had this interesting idea that I'd like to share with you but not post in LJ....

thanks in advance!

MLD
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[User Picture]From: traveller_blues
2005-12-09 12:49 am (UTC)
I'm more fond of the physics-related tricks they do, where it's not so much a gimmick but an educational tool. Favorite examples:

1. using the parallax effect to hide in plain sight above the stage in what looks like a clear Plexiglas box (they let the TV audience know first)
2. Anti-gravity beam effect (they let the studio audience know first)
3. Run Teller over with a truck (no favorites this time)

And I first encountered Penn and Teller when they were on Letterman, playing with liquid nitrogen...

-Traveller
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[User Picture]From: vermillionfox
2005-12-09 01:13 am (UTC)
My favorite is Dan Sylvester doing a magician sleight called Inertia Pitch. Used for a few tricks of his, and insanely beautiful to watch. I have to agree, watching them is much more fun than knowing how it was done. Kind of like the old Elmsley ghost count if you're familiar with it =^.^=
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[User Picture]From: nicodemusrat
2005-12-09 04:54 pm (UTC)
I'm not familiar with the term, there. (As I said, I never got on too well at magic, however much I like to watch it, so I don't know a lot of the jargon.) Is that where you appear to throw an object away while palming it?
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[User Picture]From: vermillionfox
2005-12-11 06:20 am (UTC)
Elmsley ghost count is to overcount items as method of disappearing something. Mostly when I've seen someone use it they will have four cards, but make the spectator visibly see and count five. Then one poofs out and reappears somewhere else. Oddly, it requires almost no sleight to do it and people are caught off guard every time. =^.^=

I always feel bad though as tv wants to put up magicians I don't like very much such as David Blaine with digitally embellished work, yet reallllllly good sleight ones never make tv. If you ever are able to find any video of Dan Sylvester, Tom Mullica, or Rory Coby.... *drool*
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[User Picture]From: nicodemusrat
2005-12-12 05:25 pm (UTC)
Cool. I think I've seen that technique (but I'm not sure, since I didn't know what to watch for!;)

Yeah, Blaine is way overrated. I'm a big fan of stylish magic that actually takes work. No funny camera angles; just the good stuff. (Though I also have a fondness for some of the nutball acts like The Amazing Jonathan.)
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[User Picture]From: furahi
2005-12-09 03:02 am (UTC)
I used to like to do some magic tricks wen I was lil'
I was never very good x.x
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[User Picture]From: flint_otter
2005-12-09 07:37 am (UTC)
My very favorite I saw performed live when Penn and Teller were at the Flint Center. They did somehting similar to the cup and balls routine but he was using a lit cigarrette, first facing the audience and then with his back to them. Some of the best slight of hand I have ever seen.

And man those guys are cool. They literally hung out after the show first signing autographs and then just bullshitting with the fans that still hung around. Very very cool guys.

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[User Picture]From: nicodemusrat
2005-12-09 04:57 pm (UTC)
Ooo, yes, I got to see them do that one, too. Penn's playing a bassline and narrating all of the moves as Teller does them, first obscured then exposed. Also a great one!

I don't know if they do it at their Vegas shows, but on the tour shows they do seem to make a point of hanging out in the lobby for fans afterwards. They seem like genuinely nice and friendly guys.
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