Magic Formula Generates New Tricks


To create a new magic plot, observe a [physical] law and then combine it with an imaginary situation using everyday objects. This leaves you with a problem in need of a solution. When you solve the problem, the plot becomes the magic and the method becomes the trick. Alas, a new magic trick.

If we look at every unsolved problem in this way, then we have a lot of “magic” just hanging around amazing us. We can solve basic problems in unsophisticated ways, yet impress our friends and family with the results.

Magic = Physical Law + Imaginary Situation [M=PL+IS]
Trick = Magic ÷ (Solution + Secret) [T=M/(SL+SE)]

In a magic trick, the physical law still exists. Outside of Hawking’s Point of Singularity, the physical law remains unbreakable, even to the most Copperfield among us. But thanks to the imaginary situation, the solution appears to circumvent the physical law to a point in which it is a puzzle, openly solved in secret.

Jazz it up a bit, adding an entertaining performance, and the solved problem becomes an amazing new magic trick.

Imagine the simple dilemma of drinking water from a stream. You squat down, cup your hands in the water, bring them to your mouth and drink the nourishing liquid.

Problem solved. Life lived.

But if you walk away from the stream, you cannot simply squat next to it and drink the water with cupped hands. Thus, no matter how common it is today, drinking water from a distant source is magical.

The need for water led to the invention of the bucket, a technological marvel of its day, and from there, the invention of the cup and the canteen. Before long, we had barrels. Then aqueducts, pipes, water towers, wells, pumps, and desert mega-cities.

All leading up to Jeff McBride’s Rice Bowls performance.

Of course, I am only joking about McBride’s Rice Bowls, as that is a problem already bound to an imaginary situation. Being thirsty at a great distance from water is a real problem. Whereas, in McBride’s awesome performance, he is, in reality, close to the water he produces. The situation is only imaginary. Illusionary.

As a magician, we are rarely concerned with solving simple problems such as the stream dilemma (world thirst). We have big things on our list, such as restoring a woman freshly cut in half for no other reason than to restore her, floating a table that is more useful resting sturdy on the ground, or vanishing a human from one “ordinary” life-size brightly painted box to another one of equal normality.

Don’t get me wrong, those are fine endeavors, created in the moment by clever problem solvers, but the fact that we magicians keep coming up with better ways of solving the same problems means we are actually better at solutions than the problems themselves.

Magicians are often blind to how simple magic can be.

In fact, I would hazard to guess that most new magic tricks, at least as far as plot goes, are discovered accidentally. The idea just pops into the magician’s head, and viola! A trick is born.

It happens to me, even while I’m sleeping.

Borrowed & Tied, the trick by yours truly, where the magician ties and unties a knot in an ordinary toothpick, came to me in a dream as a joke about a 2×4. In the dream, I was on stage and said, “I bought a board from the lumber yard, but there was a knot in it.” Then I showed a huge board tied in a knot. When I woke up, I consciously made the effort to produce a closeup version.

So let’s give it a try… an impromptu trick, good enough to perform in the moment, created using the formula described at the beginning of this article:

Magic = Physical Law + Imaginary Situation [M=PL+IS]
Trick = Magic ÷ (Solution + Secret) [T=M/(SL+SE)]

First, I need some inspiration. I look outside and see it might rain today. Rain is a normal thing. Happens all the time. But if we add a little curiosity to it, we might ask, “What’s the opposite of the real situation? What would be the imaginary situation?”

Outside. Rain. What about indoor rain?

Closeup Indoor Rain = Condensation + Control of Dew Point
Trick = Rain ÷ (water + hidden under a napkin)

Now we have a new magic trick, but it is still in puzzle form. Here’s how I jazz it up a bit:

The magician lays a napkin down on the table. He waves his empty hand above the napkin to gather moisture from the air. He pretends to sprinkle, or rain the water down on the napkin, as actual drops of water appear on the cloth or paper. He takes the spectator’s hand, makes the same motions, and more water droplets appear from their hand!

My unrefined method from the equation is to secretly hide water droplets on the table and then lay the napkin over the water, keeping the napkin raised above the liquid. As I pull the corner of the napkin towards me during the trick, the napkin flattens, makes contact with the water, which bleeds through and reveals itself.

If we delve in a bit deeper, we might move the napkin using a thread loop so we’re not visibly touching it. Maybe a modified Glorpy (Haunted Hanky) would work in this instance. Instead of rain, one could pretend to cry. If you notice a circle of condensation from a water glass, toss the napkin over it and pretend to set an invisible glass down on the napkin, making the ring appear at the same time.

For a more sophisticated method, perhaps we add the water droplets to one side of a thick napkin and then freeze it. As the water thaws during performance, the liquid will become visible again.

I have only spent ten minutes on this for the sake of the article, so you will want to take it from here if you feel it is a trick worthy of further development. Alternatively, you may forget about this trick, then one day, perform it “as is” in a moment where it fits like no other puzzle piece can.

However the trick turns out, the concept of creating magic is the same, and more importantly, replicable: brand new magic born from a simple formula of problem solving. Like most things MRGADFLY, it all started with a little curiosity. Innovating old tricks is a valuable pursuit, but adding future classics to the art here and there is a vital necessity.

Continue the adventure…

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  • Wilhelm Eberhard

    Your formula is realy important because times change, and the needs of our audiences also change. We need to be creative and adaptative.

    I read this somewhere in a marketing book: “people don’t need drills, what they really need are holes”. If you manufacture drills and focus on making better drills, instead of on making better holes, you will be out of business the day someone invents a way to make holes with something easier to use than a drill. This is exactly what happened to Kodak, for example. They focused on their traditional product (films) instead of focusing on what their customers really needed (pictures).

    The same happens to magicians. We need to find ways to create magical experiences for the audience; we should not focus on sleights or tricks (except for amateur magicians, they can do whatever they want).

    This is why your formula is important. But to use it, we must rid ourselves of our cognitive biases, such as anchoring and functional fixedness. This is why I think that many magicians are not ready for it yet.

    Functional fixedness (a cognitive bias) has severely affected magic for more than a century.(Maskelyne and Fitzkee already criticized the lack of creativity in magic a long time ago).

    Today (and maybe also decades ago) the cause (or one of the causes) of this problem is, in my opinion, that young magicians think that they must imitate famous magicians they see, instead of being original. As a consequence, there is a sort of “functional fixedness”, specially in relation to card sleights. Magic has other principles besides manipulative principles (optical, mechanical and psychological principles, for example). Many young magicians consider that magic is limited to the ability to perform sleights (ignoring the other principles) and they also imagine that “being a card magician” is a sort of identity that will cause them to be “cool” (they want to be like Dufie, Lavand, Giobbi or Tamariz). This manner of thinking prevents them from seeing other possibilities and apply your formula, which requires one to analyze basic principles and think of new uses for new things.

    “Being creative” does not consist in finding uses for exotic sleights. Professional magicians should not waste time trying to apply rare sleights to barroque variations of classic card plots that could be presented more effectively using simpler (and tried and tested procedures), as many amateurs do. I know that doing this is challenging (and therefore fun and enticing) :D. But we should focus on producing a really good show that will interest and please the particular audience for which we work. We need to focus on the real audiences’ needs (fun, amazement), instead of the current “product” we use to satisfy those needs (tricks and sleights). And this means that we need to find ways to produce superior fun and superior amazement, instead of focusing on producing superior sleights and superior tricks.

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