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  1. #1
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    Post of the week: Impossible vs. Improbable

    Some time ago, I was showing some magic tricks to my brother. He is one of those people that does not like to be shown tricks often, and finds them dumb and boring. Before this time, I had shown him a few card tricks, most of which were "Pick a card, find that card". This time, however, I decided to show him Tagged by Rich Ferguson. If you are unfamiliar with the effect, a word from a book is chosen, and suddenly appears on the person's arm.

    I performed the effect, and at the end when he saw the word on his arm, he was simply amazed. He said "Wow! I don't even want to know how you did that!" in a tone which showed he was greatly amused. Based on the reaction, I wasn't even sure if he was my brother.

    Later that night, I asked him, "Why was that trick so good compared to the other tricks I had showed you? Why did you like it so much?" He replied, saying something I had never thought of before: "All the tricks I've seen you and other people show me, they are simply improbable. There is a 1 in 52 chance that you will find my card, or there are ways you can secretly shuffle the deck to get to the aces. But for that trick, you did something impossible. That's why I was amazed."

    After thinking about what he said, I came to a stunning conclusion: Magic starts where reality ends. Doing an improbable effect may give you applause and "good job"s for a trick well done, but once an "impossible" effect is completed, it stops being a mere trick, and starts to become magic.

    From this point on, I am challenging myself, and I encourage others, to select and make tricks impossible, as opposed to improbable.

    I am certain that this revelation has occurred to a lot, if not most, magicians. Let this thread simply serve as a reminder to those who do not instill a sense of disbelief (with a positive connotation) into their spectators.

    Thanks for your time, and I hope this is useful to someone.

    ~Var
    Last edited by Joe Hadsall; 08-31-2009 at 02:30 AM. Reason: Changed title to reflect awesomeness

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    Thank you for that. That is some serious philosophical stuff. One of the best card tricks is "out of this world." It mixes the possibility of improbability with impossibility. From a magic standpoint, if there is any possible way for them to figure out the trick they will. I once read that Ortiz postulated if someone figures out 5% of the effect they will not be entertained. If a magician figures out 5% of the effect they will be entertained for sure. Just basics in learning magic, the most important thing is giving 0% to work with. In that way you escape both categories.

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    Great point Sir FansAlot. If I may continue on your line of thought, even if the spectator thinks that they know how part of a trick is done, as false and ridiculous as it may be, their reaction will be severely dampened. After all, perception is reality. So if I may elaborate on my statement, to reach impossibility we must eliminate all possible explanations. Doing so leave the spectator with nowhere to turn, except to the explanation of magic.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sir FansAlot View Post
    Thank you for that. That is some serious philosophical stuff. One of the best card tricks is "out of this world." It mixes the possibility of improbability with impossibility. From a magic standpoint, if there is any possible way for them to figure out the trick they will. I once read that Ortiz postulated if someone figures out 5% of the effect they will not be entertained. If a magician figures out 5% of the effect they will be entertained for sure. Just basics in learning magic, the most important thing is giving 0% to work with. In that way you escape both categories.
    Last edited by Var18; 08-27-2009 at 07:51 PM. Reason: diction

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    Var18, you bring up a good point. We want to attempt to anticipate the explanations a layman might conceive of for an effect and eliminate them ahead of time.

    However, keep in mind that some "magic" tricks are intended to be demonstrations of skill, not magic, even though the demonstrated skill is being faked. For example, there are a number of routines for a fake center deal, or a mentalist claiming to discover a chosen item by muscle reading, aka Hellstromism, when in fact the item was forced.

    In either case, we want to direct the minds of the audience towards our intended explanation, or rather interpretation of what happens in an effect. One could play off a pick-a-card trick as an exercise in mind reading or in reading the reactions of a spectator's face, all depending on what the performer wants to achieve.

    Just my $0.02.

  5. #5
    Joe Hadsall's Avatar :: Content developer
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kovax View Post
    In either case, we want to direct the minds of the audience towards our intended explanation, or rather interpretation of what happens in an effect. One could play off a pick-a-card trick as an exercise in mind reading or in reading the reactions of a spectator's face, all depending on what the performer wants to achieve.
    You're reminding me of a post a while back about mentalist Stuart Cumberland and how the mystery is gone in magic. In a nutshell (and yes, I DO get a bonus every time I write the words "in a nutshell), it argued that feats of mentalism explained away as science, or reading, or any number of fancy, scientific explanations do a great service to the mentalists who say they are actually reading minds like they were Maxim magazine.

    Back to the topic at hand, I would argue that presentation can go a long way toward making something seem impossible instead of improbable. Can a story or patter eliminate improbability? Gotta admit: This thread is making me rethink some of what I argued in the other thread.
    “What’s the point of that, I wonder? I mean, I get how they did it. I just ain’t seeing the why.”
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    Joe, when you say that presentation can turn an effect into an impossible one, are you talking about subtleties or the "story"? Subtleties, like reminding the spectator that they had a free choice, even if they did not, can eliminate certain explanations.

    But can patter be used not only for amplifying entertainment, but eliminate explanations as well? I'm not so sure. It can certainly eliminate the sense of "Magician vs. Spectator", but can it make the spectator believe something happened when it really didn't (or vice versa)? I'm not so sure, and that also is about perception vs. reality... Good food for thought :).

    EDIT:

    The first sentence should be "Joe, when you say that patter can turn an effect into an impossible one, are you talking about subtleties or the "story"?
    Last edited by Var18; 08-28-2009 at 03:35 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Var18 View Post
    Joe, when you say that presentation can turn an effect into an impossible one, are you talking about subtleties or the "story"? Subtleties, like reminding the spectator that they had a free choice, even if they did not, can eliminate certain explanations.

    But can patter be used not only for amplifying entertainment, but eliminate explanations as well? I'm not so sure. It can certainly eliminate the sense of "Magician vs. Spectator", but can it make the spectator believe something happened when it really didn't (or vice versa)? I'm not so sure, and that also is about perception vs. reality... Good food for thought :).
    I think Joe is talking about everything involved with the effect. The way you move, talk, create the story, setting, intention... everything is part of the presentation. I believe a card trick even with the "52:1" probability can still me make to be impossible. Look at here then there, with the right presentation and good exicution of the "moves" you can get people to flip out and see the impossible nature of it. Even a good ACR will have that same effect, it just depends on how you bring it to the table (get it?? card table??... nevermind)

    I think everyone forgets most of the time that the effect is only a third of your magic while the presentation (the other 2/3) is what makes it really magical. It's what gets people to remember what you want them to remember, see what you want them to see, and understand only what you want them to understand.

    Here's a clip from an article by Eugene Burger (get some of his books... amazing stuff)

    "It seems to me the same magic trick that generates that kind of response can generate a very different kind of response. Why is that? Part of it is people watch magic with two minds. The aim of a magician, if he or she is a good magician, is to upgrade one and downgrade the other. It is to get you out of the analytical frame of mind so that you are able to experience this amazing effect. If I'm a good magician, by my definition, I am trying to get you to suspend your analytic frame of mind. Not for ever and ever, because you need that mind, for instance, when you cross the street, when you sign up for classes, when you take final exams, and so on. It's not a matter of your getting rid of something, rather it's about seeing that the human psyche is more than simply rationality"

    The rest of the article can be found on his website.

    But I think he brings up an awesome point... If you can get someone to suspend that frame of mind where everything has a rational explaination, then every effect you perform will be impossible.
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    Joe Hadsall's Avatar :: Content developer
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    Yes, I'm saying that patter can be used to enhance impossibility. Here's an example; when you get to about 2:42, you'll see a good example of me trying to use my patter to increase impossibility. That recording was greatly influence by the first three chapters of Darwin Ortiz's "Strong Magic."

    I may be wrong, and I'm glad to be told wrong by one of the mods or elites -- they've made more money off their magic than I have. :)
    “What’s the point of that, I wonder? I mean, I get how they did it. I just ain’t seeing the why.”
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    -This thread moved to a stand alone thread (A little bit of improvement)-
    Last edited by Darek123; 08-28-2009 at 09:01 PM.

  10. #10
    Joe Hadsall's Avatar :: Content developer
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    After a week's worth of posts, this is still a pretty strong thread. You know what? I'm slapping this on it.

    Congrats, Var18!
    “What’s the point of that, I wonder? I mean, I get how they did it. I just ain’t seeing the why.”
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    Wow, thanks Joe! That means a lot to me.

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    Regarding the use of patter to increase impossibility, the immediate thing that comes to mind is an Ambitious Card routine.

    We are trying to convince them that with every step we are making it more impossible for the card to rise to the top

    "Look, if I put the card in FACE UP, then there is no way it can get to the top without you seeing, it would have to travel through 26 other cards"

    It makes no difference if we do a pass with the card face up or face down to us, but we can't say that, we build how impossible it's going to be

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    Nice job Var18 on making a heck of a good topic to contemplate on. I'll definitely add some more thoughts later on.

    [Edited: (Later on)]

    We get into that "what if he did this?" "What if it turned out the way I would choose?" Magicians and laypeople alike have some of the same qualities. Namely, it is impossible not to WONDER while experiencing good magic. How many times have we seen a total beginner fool the heck out of us? That alone borders on the impossible rather than the improbable. And goes hand in hand with the improbable.

    That is to say it's more likely impossible than it is improbable to watch a beginner fool you. I'd object that the idea is as close to magicians as it is to laymen.
    Last edited by Sir FansAlot; 08-31-2009 at 11:40 PM.

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    After reading this thread a few times, watching a few videos, thinking about a few tricks id like to learn, then watching again, and reading again. Man thats a lot of reading and writing. oh, right, the point. Improbability will get you a chuckle and a "nice trick" but taking a step forward and doing something "impossible" gives you that jaw dropping, "wait wait wait wait, how the heck did you DO that!?!" A dvd i started watching before CC was Sleight of hand with cards by Jay Sankey, and he takes simple card replacements and makes them jaw dropping with creative use of sharpie and drawings. makes simple stuff awesome. Like sprinkles on your already tasty ice cream cone :)

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    Yea!

    yes i do agree with you, i found that people think it is just a stupid card trick, cards can be set up there are moves which can be done to find the card and people know this, but at the moment i am trying to start with something simply (cards) when i got the hang of it i will start doing Impossible magic.

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