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Monthly Update #9 (September 2023)
More performable puzzles, a review of "The Intuition Test" by Larry Hass, and a new Juan Tamariz documentary.
In this month’s newsletter, I’m excited to share my thoughts on pub tricks, Larry Hass’s “The Intuition Test”, and the upcoming documentary on Juan Tamariz.
If you didn’t read last month’s update, performable puzzles are designed to be performed in front of a live audience. They’re a unique and engaging type of entertainment that combines the challenge of a puzzle with the wonder of magic. In this update, I’ve collected some entertaining pub tricks (more commonly known as bar bets) for you to learn. These sneaky stunts are a great way to capture attention, spark curiosity, and get your spectators thinking and interacting with you. By learning a few of these classic bar bets, you’ll have an arsenal of amusing tricks up your sleeve to impress and engage any crowd. And you might also win yourself a couple of pints down your local! 🍻 😉
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Larry Hass’s “The Intuition Test” is a clever and well-constructed magic trick that’s based on an ingenious mathematical principle by Bob Hummer. It’s a great example of how magic can be used to create a more profound sense of wonder and mystery in the minds of your audience.
Juan Tamariz is one of the world’s most respected and innovative magicians. He’s known for his unique style, his brilliant routines, and his passion for the art of magic. I’m thrilled to learn about the upcoming documentary, directed by R. Paul Wilson, on Juan’s life and work, and I can’t wait to see what it reveals.
I hope you enjoy this month’s newsletter. As always, please let me know if you have any questions or feedback.
Learn Some Classic Pub Tricks
In my previous update, I discussed the benefits of having some performable puzzles in your magic repertoire. Upon further reflection, I realised I omitted one major advantage: performing a puzzle as an opener can help calm your nerves before you do more traditional, dexterity-based magic tricks. Unlike standard illusions, which rely on secrecy, puzzles openly challenge the audience to solve a mystery. There’s no danger of accidentally exposing a method since puzzles have no hidden mechanics to give away. Starting with an interactive puzzle allows you to warm up and build confidence before progressing to tricks that depend on misdirection and sleight-of-hand. An opening puzzle gets you comfortable engaging with your audience so you can relax and focus when it’s time for more technical illusions. Puzzles also help new magicians overcome the fear of being “found out” by allowing them to start their act in an open, low-stakes way.
In my previous article, I didn’t discuss pub tricks, also known as bar bets—wagers designed so you can win drinks off your friends. 🍺🍺🍺 With bar bets, you bet your participant that they can’t perform some seemingly simple challenge. Some of these tricks are genuinely impossible to win, rigged, so you’re guaranteed to come out on top. Bar stunts make great icebreakers and get people engaged in trying to outsmart you. And if your spectator takes the bait and loses, they owe you a round! Just be sure not to scam your friends too often—you want them to keep playing along! 😉
Adding a few pub tricks to your repertoire is a fun way to win over audiences in social settings like pubs, bars and parties. However, there’s no reason why you cannot include them as part of a more formal magic act. Performing some bar bets, such as coin or matchstick puzzles, is an excellent way to build confidence before doing more intricate magic tricks. For example, here’s a classic puzzle shared in a YouTube video by the British newspaper The Telegraph, part of their series on fun pub tricks (this one is relatively easy to solve).
If you’d like to learn more bar bets, you can watch The Telegraph’s entire Pub Tricks playlist. There are 16 tricks, a few of which were new to me. A particular favourite of mine was the Tower of Coins because it leaves you with enough pennies to perform “The Lynn Pennies” by Terry Lynn.1 Curtis Kam has a beautiful variation of this trick called “Quartermaster”, which he teaches in his first Penguin LIVE lecture, and has been in my working repertoire for a while (if you’re a coin worker and you haven’t checked out Curtis Kam’s magic, then you really should).
An easy coin puzzle, like the Tower of Coins, makes an excellent opener. It should be noted that although ten coins are used in the video, the stunt will also work with fewer coins, such as seven. Or you could start with this classic seven-coin conundrum I first learned from long-time YouTuber Eric Berg (Ericsurf6).
After your participant solves the puzzle (or you reveal the solution), you can then progress to a more interactive coin trick like “The Lynn Pennies” or even the classic Sheep and Thieves (interestingly, this trick can also be performed with match sticks). Something with a lot of audience interaction works best. I like performing “The Lynn Pennies” or Sheep and Thieves because both echo the structure of a traditional coin puzzle.
End your act by challenging spectators with another, more difficult coin puzzle, such as “Sherlock’s Seven Cent Solution”, Diamond Jim Tyler’s spin on a classic seven-penny puzzle. If no one solves it, provide a paper handout with a copy of the puzzle printed on it that they can take home, along with a QR code and a short link to an online solution video. This keeps them invested in your performance well after the event (or after you’ve left their table in a strolling environment), extending the experience into the digital realm.
Starting with an easy puzzle, then moving on to a magic trick before ending with a final mental challenge creates a natural progression which takes advantage of the classic three-act structure. This allows you to showcase a range of skills while building confidence and engaging the audience throughout the act. The paper handout drives traffic to your online content for further promotion. If you perform paid gigs, you can also include marketing material in the video (or its description) to strengthen your personal brand and generate more business.
More Matchstick and Coin Puzzles
Matchstick and coin puzzles are particularly practical for amateur and professional magicians alike because the props take up very little pocket space, and many published magic tricks also use these items (the first book written by the famous mathemagician Martin Gardner, was MATCH-IC, which includes over seventy impromptu tricks with matches).2
There are tons of engaging matchstick and coin puzzles, suitable for live performance, that you can learn on YouTube. Check out Brian Brushwood’s Top 9 Matchstick Stumpers video on the Scam Nation channel for more matchstick brain teasers. The Ten Coin Pyramid Puzzle also makes a great interactive opener, followed by a similar ten-coin puzzle that builds off the first.
Likewise, Eric Berg has an entertaining playlist of Puzzles & Brain Teasers with unique coin, match and number challenges. Quirkology, hosted by psychologist and magician Richard Wiseman, features numerous creative puzzles. With this wealth of tutorial content online, you’ll have no shortage of interactive puzzles to add to your act and capture your audience’s attention before transitioning into more technical magic. Starting with puzzles helps build a participatory dynamic that pays off when later performing tricks that require psychology, misdirection and sleight of hand.
A fun trick I’ve used over the years is a classic head-or-tails prediction effect based on simple mathematics. You can see the principle in action in this Scam School Remix video from Brian Brushwood and this video tutorial from Totally Magic. I do the flipping differently, though: instead of secretly counting the number of flips, I ask people to turn over the coins in pairs (they can do this as many times as they wish). My excuse for this procedure is that I want them to engage both sides of their brain simultaneously; a fun piece of nonsense that connects to popular left-brain/right-brain research, much of which has been proven to be wrong. This mixing feels random but maintains the initial odd/even parity.
If you’re thinking “odd” when you turn your back, an odd number after mixing indicates that the coin under your participant’s hand is tails-side-up. If the number is even, then the hidden coin must be heads. An easy way to remember this is if the state has changed, e.g. from odd to even or vice versa, the coin will always be heads-up. While the logic that makes this work is simple, it is a little counterintuitive and can be confusing. So you’ll need to practice it on yourself until you can work out whether the coin is heads or tails without too much mental effort.
This trick is surprisingly effective and becomes more intriguing when it is repeated. I usually dress this trick up as a telepathic experiment, even though most people understand that there is some trick to it.
The great thing about this trick is that it works with any number of coins, and the denomination is unimportant.
A Real Hummer-dinger of a Trick!
If you’ve been reading the Ruseletter for a while, you’ll know that I love card tricks that make creative use of mathematics. The principle behind Bob Hummer’s “The Magic Separation” has always fascinated me. However, I’ve never been fully satisfied with the trick itself.
The basic effect is that some face-up cards are mixed into a pile of face-down cards by the magician. A spectator then shuffles the combined stack. The magician takes the cards behind his back momentarily, then divides them into two piles. Amazingly, each pile contains the exact same number of face-up cards.
You can learn more about this principle by watching this video by Michael Stevens (Vsauce on YouTube). Michael talks about red and black cards rather than face-up and face-down cards, but the concept remains the same.
The full video is available on TikTok. In it, Michael teaches “The Magic Separation” using ten cards. Disappointingly, while he thanks “math” for the trick, he fails to credit its inventor, Bob Hummer.3
While the principle is clever, the actual method and presentation leave something to be desired. The brief separation behind the back feels contrived, and your spectator doesn’t get to actively participate beyond a shuffle. There’s also no compelling reason for the magician to divide the cards out of sight (apart from concealing the method). The effect is also a little lacklustre (even so, I have performed it in the past, and it does go down well with the public, so maybe I’m worrying about nothing).
Luckily, Larry Hass—magician, author and Dean of Jeff McBride’s Magic & Mystery School—has devised a trick called “The Intuition Test” that makes much better use of the same principle. In the routine, a member of the audience shuffles a deck of cards. The magician places two business cards on the table and asks the participant to choose one. The performer then slowly deals cards onto the table, stopping when instructed to do so. The cards are shuffled again and then divided into two groups. The participant is encouraged to freely exchange cards between the two piles to ensure they’re randomised. Finally, the prediction is read aloud and is found to match the condition of the two piles exactly!
I’ve written a detailed review of “The Intuition Test”, which you can read on my blog. If you already own the trick, I’ve included some tips and suggestions to make the prediction even more impossible.
If you like the trick, you can buy it from Penguin Magic. “The Intuition Test” is one of five “borrowed card stunners” designed to astonish non-magicians that Larry has released through Penguin Magic. You can buy them individually for $9.95 each, or you can purchase all five in the “Borrowed Card Stunners” bundle for $24.95, saving yourself almost $25 (approx. 50% off). If you like Larry’s style of card magic, I’d recommend you buy the bundle. As well as “The Intuition Test, it also includes the following card tricks:
My Way Out of this World - This is Larry’s version of Paul Curry’s classic card effect “Out of This World”. A borrowed shuffled deck is sorted into four groups of red and black cards by your audience!
One Card and One Card Only - A diabolically fair location effect that can be performed at a moment’s notice with any deck.
Pure Magic - Larry’s “supercharged” version of Jim Steinmeyer’s “Nine Card Problem”.
The Friendship Game - A miraculous double prediction effect that doesn’t involve any sleight of hand.
If you cannot afford to buy new magic, I have a solution. I have created a web-based ebook of Half-A-Dozen-Hummers, written by Bob Hummer (the booklet is in the public domain). Although the descriptions of the tricks might seem a bit dry, this classic magic book contains some truly great ideas and some excellent effects. I particularly like the two-card transposition, which doesn’t require any duplicate cards.
Love & Magic
I’m very excited about an upcoming documentary on Juan Tamariz, the legendary Spanish magician. Tamariz is considered a maestro of magic, renowned for his skilful card techniques and innovative illusions. The documentary aims to be a film about magic, art, kindness and generosity (things the world desperately needs more of at the moment).
Unfortunately, the associated Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to license TV footage didn’t meet its goal. But I’m still eagerly anticipating the film’s release, as it promises an intimate portrait of this master magician’s life and career. Tamariz has inspired generations of magicians, so this documentary should provide fascinating insights.
R. Paul Wilson—the Scottish magician, writer, filmmaker and director—is the driving force behind the project. He’s working with Flying Djinn Productions, and according to the information they’ve shared on Kickstarter, the film is tantalisingly close to being completed. The team is legally bound by the demands of broadcasters, streaming platforms (like Netflix) and distributors. This means that they must keep the film under wraps until these issues have been dealt with. They have promised to keep backers updated, so if I hear anything about the documentary’s release, I’ll let you all know.
More information and a sneak peek video are still available on the Love & Magic Kickstarter page. Even if the production continues to face funding challenges, I hope the filmmakers find a way to complete this important profile of Juan Tamariz. If you think you can help out in any way, I’d encourage you to contact the team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s all for this monthly update.
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Arthur H. Buckley, Principle and Deceptions (The Williamson Press, Inc., 1948), 83.
Gardner, Martin, MATCH-IC. Chicago: Ireland Magic Co., 1935.
As an uptight Englishman with a strong sense of precision, I believe that the correct spelling of mathematics is math with an "s". My reasoning is that since mathematics is plural and ends with an "s", then “maths” should be its abbreviation. However, I understand that although it ends with an "s", mathematics can also be a mass noun, and it usually takes the form of a singular verb (e.g., Mathematics is my best subject). Despite this, I still hold on to my belief that all you Americans and Canadians and saying and spelling it incorrectly! 😉