One of the hardest things in magic is to come up with a new plot. I hadn’t heard of Reohm before I came across this clip of him on Penn & Teller’s Fool Us, but I enjoyed this pretty glass-themed magic routine a lot.
More from Jospeh Reohm at JosephReohm
In 2013 I attended my first magic convention. I was very enthusiastic, and I got to all the events a little bit early. I was also kind of lonely, not knowing anyone, so I was happy to strike up a conversation with the young man seated next to me in the auditorium. We exchanged pleasantries and then got into an interesting conversation. He told me that he used to be a concert pianist, and that he had also tried his hand at film making. What he did not tell me at that time, though, was that in a few minutes he would be up on stage performing!
It was only then that I learned that his name was Shin Lim, and that he was one of the most amazingly creative card magicians to come along in this decade. He soon became very well known among magicians, and went on to fool Penn & Teller on their television show, Fool Us.
The act that he used to fool Penn & Teller was the same one I had seen back in 2013. Stick with the routine until the end—you may think you know how parts of it are done, but I assure you that by the end you too will be amazed.
Steve Brundage is a very clever magician whom you may have seen fool Penn and Teller on their show Fool Us. Steve’s act is unique to him—at least for the short term. He does astounding things with a Rubik’s cube, performing with a mixture of brains and ballsiness, wrapped up in a very unassuming persona. Actually, P and T’s show was not the best venue for him, even though he was very impressive there. I think Steve’s real talent comes out best in his busking performances, which you can find on YouTube (I posted a link to quite an engaging street performance of his, here, down in the comments section).
The reason I say his act is unique for the short term is this:uh–wait, if you’re not a magician, close your eyes and pretend that the next few paragraphs is a Marxist-Leninist deconstruction of Miley Cyrus’s capitalist guitar chord progressions, which you’re not really that interested in anyway.
Okay. Just us? So Brundage has decided to release his work on the Rubik’s cube to the general magic buying public. Now he actually started work on this quite a bit before his Fool Us outing, but synchronistically for all of us, the release of this happened just now. If Brundage is smart—and who am I kidding, he’s super smart—he’ll stop selling this, or he’ll have to change his act completely and move on to solving 10×10 KenKens in his head. I figured he might change his mind and pull this off the market quickly, so I grabbed it. But maybe it’s not a problem for him anyway—because the secret to Steven’s success is not a secret that everyone is going to be happy with. The secret is: you have a long road of work ahead of you if you want to accomplish what Steve does with a cube.
Amazingly enough, the magic effects that Steve has created do not depend on a gaffed cube. They can all be achieved with a regulation cube, and a lot of muscle memory. What Steven does provide you with is a high quality cube, which turns silently and quickly (both important virtues here) and two DVDs worth of information and explanation. The way I purchased it was through a download, and I’m waiting for the cube itself to arrive by snail mail. Fortunately, I have a few cubes in the house, so I was able to jump in immediately.
The first of the DVDs is devoted to solving the cube. Now strictly speaking, for all of Steven’s effects you don’t necessarily need to know how to solve the cube; but you’ll look like a dork if you can’t solve it if someone challenges you—or even if you mess up and need to start from the solved position. So even though you might be tempted to shortcut it, you need to learn this. Over the years, I’ve managed through YouTube videos and booklets to eke out a way of solving the cube, but I’ve never practiced it intensely, so I didn’t remember much when I started reviewing this material. Let me say that Steve’s DVD is hands down the best way for a beginner to learn to solve the cube. The high quality video is extremely professional, the explanations are very clear, very detailed, the camera point of view is from many angles, and there is a lot of redundancy in terms of the directions and examples given. All in all, if you want to learn how to solve the cube, I pretty much guarantee you will be able to do it by following the directions here.
But it will take work and time. How much time? Well, this kind of thing varies for everyone, but let’s say in a lot less time than it take to learn a good classic pass or even a good palm. The method of solving the cube here is not the fastest, nor is it unique to Steven, but it is quite agreeable for beginners. In this method, you solve the cube layer by layer until all three layers of the 3x3x3 cube are in the correct orientation. Conservatively, I estimate that within two days, most people will learn to solve the first layer quickly. In the next two days, most will be able to do the second layer. The hard part, admittedly, is the last layer. It’s much more complex and requires much more memorization. Steven provides a couple of pdf cheat sheets to help you along as you’re learning, but of course eventually you’ll have to do without those crutches. Based on what I know about myself, I’d say I could learn that third layer in a week or two if I applied myself each day. Now admittedly, I have a knack for this kind of memorization, but if you don’t, what the hell, give yourself the rest of the month off to get it down.
Now your speed won’t be great, but for these effects, the speed in solving the cube is not really the issue. It’s just important that you’re able to get the cube back into solved position, as that is the default home position for most of the effects that Brundage has created.
So having mastered solving the cube, now you’re ready to move on to DVD #2, which is where Brundage teaches his brand of Rubik magic. The effects are basically variations on the theme Shuffle Cubed to Solved Cube—Instantly. For example, the magician puts a shuffled cube in a paper bag, shows it again to be shuffled, reaches in and pulls out a solved cube. Or this: the cube is shuffled; a quick one-handed toss behind the back and the cube lands solved. There are a few effects where the change is achieved more in slow motion, and one that mimics an Erdnase Color Change. They are all quite stunning. I’m not sure you would want to include all of these effects in the same act, but they are all suitable for walkaround and impromptu, assuming that impromptu means you’re in a house that has a Rubik’s Cube—which is fairly likely, since according to Brundage, the Rubik’s Cube is the best-selling toy of all time.
What will it take to perform these effects? Given that you’re able to solve the cube, surprisingly, the additional skills you’ll need to perform these effects require no more difficulty. And since I think anyone can eventually learn to solve the cube, I think these effects are accessible to any magician, again, who puts in some focused practice and attention.
Steven Brundage has been very generous to release this material, and you can see he has done it in such a way as to do justice to his work. I think this is a great item to add to your bag of tricks, and it certainly packs small and plays very big.
Addendum: I see on the magic boards that while Brundage has been the most visible magician explaining magic effects with the Rubik’s cube, there are a few others too, including Karl Hein, Henry Harrius, and Takemiz Usui. There have been crediting questions among the different parties, which now appear to have been cleared up for the most part.
Magicians Penn and Teller, who have been fooling us for forty years, last night premiered the first episode of the new season of their CW network television show, Fool Us. It’s packed full of magic (and commercials), but it’s certainly entertaining for both magicians and non-magicians alike. The format of the show remains the same as in the past; that is, several performers, often well-known magicians in the magic community, perform tricks for Penn and Teller and the live audience. The performers’ goal is to fool P&T about the methods used to accomplish the magic. Teller, in particular, has a vast knowledge of the history and methods of magic, so that’s not an easy proposition.
Now the fun part for the magic-savvy audience tuning in, is that P&T have seemingly painted themselves into a corner: for if they know how the trick is done, how do they prove to the performer that they know the method? They can’t just outright say the method, because that would violate one of the venerable tenets of magic: magicians may not expose how tricks are done without very good reason to do so. So the fun for the at-home magician is watching P&T speak in a coded language that makes it very apparent to the challenging performers that P&T have caught them out. The performers understand right away that they’ve been busted when they hear P&T say, as they did last night, that “the trick took my breath away” or “we think we’re one ahead of you” and so on. When the performers hear such comments, they metaphorically hang down their heads, signaling that they’ve been busted; they have to admit to the audience that indeed P&T know exactly how their tricks were done.
So, yes, it’s fun for magicians and hobbyists, it makes us feel like we’re smart and on the inside. In fact, most likely, we are consciously being pandered to. Because at least two of the effects on last night’s show would not have fooled anyone with even the most basic knowledge of magic. There is no way in hell that the performers could have actually thought that P&T wouldn’t know their methods. Really, without exaggerating, the methods of two of the magicians in last night’s show could be found in many children’s magic books. I guess it’s nice for the performers to get national exposure, I’m not knocking them for that, but really what were the producers of the show thinking when they selected them? I can only think that it was to increase the number of viewers who could feel like they, too, were in on the joke.
That said, there were some fine performances. The highlight of the show was Steve Brundage, a very clever and engaging young man who does a signature routine with a Rubik’s Cube. He tosses a mixed cube behind his back, and when he catches it, the cube is restored to its solved state. A very pretty effect. But the kicker was when he appeared to have failed, only to reveal that the cube was now in precisely the same mixed state as another mixed cube sitting between Teller’s previously closed palms. P&T had no clue as to method, and over here, I’m certainly still scratching my head.
But truth be told, I don’t want to know. It would only disappoint me. Much better to live with that feeling of amazement.
To round out each of their episodes, P&T do a trick of their own, and last night it was the ancient mystery of the “Cellphone to Tilapia’s Entrails.” It’s a classic in the P&T repertoire, but it’s always fun to see them work.
There’s much discussion about the show in the magic community, and the more negative comments seem to center around two things: first, though P&T generally do not expose any magician’s tricks on the air (except their own), they have been known in past episodes to be particularly rough on those who claim to be mentalists. Unless you clearly mark yourself as a comedy mindreader, as the performer in last night’s episode did, you can expect to get skewered—and exposed—by P&T.
The second criticism of the show—which I think is a very fair one—is that by naming the show Fool Us, P&T are inviting potential magic audiences to look upon magic as only a puzzle to be solved. Now there’s much intellectual satisfaction in trying to solve a clever puzzle, there’s no doubt about that. But magic is so much more than “the method.” In fact, a clever method is no guarantee at all that the effect is any good. In magic we don’t care if the method is clever or not—it only has to fool the audience, not Penn and Teller. Strangely enough, there is no correlation between a method’s ingeniousness and how good a trick is. The puzzle is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the performance of strong magic. What a magician cares about is the overall impact that the magic will have on a spectator. If clever puzzles were all that were necessary and sufficient, then magicians could hand out copies of the Sunday Times Cryptic Crossword Puzzle and go home.
But no, Our Magic (that is, stage conjuring) is a branch of the theatrical arts, albeit a very specialized one, and it’s subject to the theatre’s constraints and glories. In a magic performance, there are many other considerations that contribute to the overall effect and impact: acting, pacing, character, staging, music, lights, premise, participation, engagement, scripting, likability are all as important as “method” to the audience’s ultimate experiencing of a feeling of magic. And Fool Us, with it’s emphasis on puzzle-solving, neatly elides all those factors. “The method” is not the method. That’s the big secret. And watching Fool Us, you would never know that. You think you’re on the inside track, only you’re not. But you can be sure that P&T understand that as much as anybody. They show you their empty hands, while their other hands remain hidden. Clever boys, those rascals, Penn and Teller.