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A few weeks ago I proposed a contest (you can read about it here), and to my surprise people actually entered it, just like in the old cereal box-top days. Anyway, the contest was really just an excuse to hear people’s thoughts and drum up a little interest, but actually, it was quite a pleasant (if exhausting) experience. The premise of the contest was this: write about three things that changed or improved your magic…

The entries covered an eclectic and diverse range of ideas, and it was ridiculously hard to choose the winners. After much cogitation, I reached a decision and here are the names of the winners:

First Prize: Joe McKay of Durham City, England. He chose Worlds Beyond by Paul Curry from the magic grab bag for his prize.

Second Prize: Danny Doyle of Missouri and parts South. From the magic grab bag he chose The Lost Works of Bro. John Hamman DVDs

Third Prize: David Jelinek of Ye Olde Upper East Side in New York City. He chose Harry Lorayne’s Deck-Sterity.

And really, Honorable Mention to everyone else who entered! My choices were necessarily the ideas that, selfishly, would improve my own magic. But there were lots of great ideas that could benefit many. Everyone who entered will be sent today a pdf compilation of all the entries. I think this is the best prize of all.

Some readers expressed profound sorrow, regret, mental anguish, and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over not getting their entries in on time; so in the spirit of something or other, I have the following proposition: Go back and check the contest rules, submit an entry, and I’ll put you in the next edition of the pdf. You’ll be on the email list to get a copy of the new compilation whenever I bring it out again. You won’t be eligible this time for the other prizes, but you’ll enjoy the pdf. You’re on your honor to submit something that you’ve spent some time thinking about, and that you think could be valuable for others, not just something dashed off. Of course, those who already entered will get a copy of the new edition as well.

Here’s a bonus for readers of this blog: The following is just the first part of Joe McKay’s winning entry:

MAKE ROOM IN YOUR REPERTOIRE FOR AT LEAST ONE TRUE MIRACLE

Most magicians perform tricks and not miracles.

What is the difference? Well, the real miracles in magic often taken quite a bit more preparation.

For example you may have to plan the miracle a few days in advance.

Or perhaps the miracle doesn’t even take much preparation. But in these cases, it may not work every time. So some other effect will need to be ready as an “out”.

Or perhaps the miracle cannot be performed all the time, but only when the conditions are just right.

Attempting miracles does have drawbacks. But they are not drawbacks that should bother the 99% of magicians who do not perform professionally. Since you have total control over your performing conditions.

And even for those who do perform professionally—it is worth it for that special occasion. I remember reading about Ricky Jay making a named card appear inside a wine bottle at a dinner party when asked to do “something special” for an unimpressed guest. He also once made a giant block of ice appear when discussing his obsession with the magic of Malini with a newspaper journalist who was equally fascinated by the work of Malini. That trick reduced the woman to tears.

‪I often wonder why magicians are so lazy? For some reason, most magicians are just too lazy to tear up a dollar bill and post it to a friend abroad in order to do attempt a miracle. (See The Jerx).

‪Magicians are often more concerned with the practicalities of the method than with the effect that will be created in the spectator’s mind. As such, whenever a trick requires a bit too much “work” they shy away from it in order to find a trick which is easier, simpler or more fun to perform, even if it means performing a trick that is not as strong.

‪This is a trap many magicians fall into. I will mention some more “miracles” so as to give some pointers to those rare effects scattered through the magic literature that attempt something truly miraculous.

Some examples of effects I like would be an impossibly clean bill divination that Oliver Meech published. It is an adaptation of the legendary “bill in cash register” scam. When the stars are aligned, you can walk up to somebody, ask them to pull out a five-dollar bill, and tell them the serial number without ever coming close to the bill.

Or take a trick like “Angel Cake” by Paul Harris. You take a five-dollar bill off a spectator and turn it into a twenty dollar bill. And you let them keep the money. Plus, the magician is none the poorer thanks to the sneaky method involved.

Then again why should this matter?

Personally, I think it is worth giving away nineteen bucks in order to create the impression of real magic when performing for somebody special. Take a one-dollar bill—turn it into a twenty-dollar bill. Hand it back. And then walk off. An investment of nineteen dollars to create a memory that will last a lifetime.

John Kennedy has a wonderful floating matchbox routine in which a match lights itself on the box as they float in mid-air. The match then floats up to light the cigarette. Yeah, you say, but I don’t smoke and the method is awkward and rather annoying.

So what? Why should you let irrelevant concerns get in the way of a miracle?

David Harkey has an incredible close-up effect involving a torn up dollar bill reappearing inside a light bulb inside a lamp. The light bulb is then smashed open to reveal the dollar bill. Remarkably the light bulb is then restored and placed back inside the lamp—and the lamp is switched back on and shining light again. A true miracle. Yet most magicians looking at the method will have sighed and then turned the page in search of something simpler.

Or take an effect like “Freak Out” which was published a couple of years ago in MAGIC Magazine. You lay a card face down on the table, and have the spectator name any card.

You then show that the card on the table is the freely chosen card. It really is that clean.

However the method is so bizarre (and shocking and offensive) that most magicians will shy away from ever performing the trick, even though it will bring them closer to a genuine miracle than just about any other trick in magic.

Or take “Murder By Mail” by Kenton Knepper. You predict the death of somebody. It is that simple. This effect is so strong you run a fair chance of being questioned by the police.

TA Waters has a wonderful effect where the image of a spectator vanishes from a Polaroid photograph that she herself posts to her own house.

Lubor Fiedler has an effect where a spectator disappears whilst looking in a mirror. Paul Harris has a trick where you convince somebody he is now invisible. Strange effects with methods that just might not work. But what if they do? Isn’t it worth having at least one ‘moon shot’ in your repertoire?

If you have a miracle that may only come off one time in ten, isn’t it worth having that on hand? Since if you perform a hundred times—that means ten miracles! And you can be sure that the story of such miracles will spread to many of those who never saw it.

Most magicians would rather work on the next trick involving that sleight they just mastered, rather than try and capture some of the inspiration that made them want to be a magician in the first place, back when they thought anything could be possible with magic.

And so, if I had a piece of advice for you to take away, it would be for you to find a strong piece of magic that has a method which is so inconvenient or so “location dependent” that you may never get a chance to perform it. But in doing so, you will give yourself a chance of one day pulling off a miracle. And having that possibility in your repertoire will act as a constant reminder as to why it is you fell in love with magic in the first place.

Joe McKay

Thanks again to all who participated! Again, for those who would like to be part of the next edition, and get a copy of the pdf in the process, here are the contest rules.