Nicodemus (nicodemusrat) wrote,

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What Makes a Good Magic Trick?

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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