Assumptions are propositions or notions that are taken for granted to be true.
Assumptions may be a large part of what makes the magic work and Michael Close has an excellent essay on assumptions in Workers 5 of his series. Close discusses how magicians can use assumptions that audience members may have to their advantage. For example, if a deck of cards is handed out for examination, the audience will assume that it is a normal deck.
Magicians should ensure that assumptions are not questioned by not giving them a reason (body language, stating the obvious, etc.), even if unconsciously.
Roberto Giobbi touches on this topic in his Theory section of Card College, Vol. 2 as "Prejudices and Expectations" and states "In this regard, magic should be very easy, since our spectators fool themselves. All you need do is avoid any words, thoughts or actions that interrupt this tendency"
- 1 General Assumptions
- 1.1 The Method Happens During The Effect
- 1.2 Time To Relax
- 1.3 Dual Reality
- 1.4 There Is No Method
- 1.5 Number Of People Watching An Effect Is Greater Than The Number Of People 'In On The Secret'
- 1.6 Any Money Apparently Burned/Destroyed In A Trick Isn't Really Damaged
- 1.7 The Magician Is Unprepared For A Spontaneous Challenge From The Audience
- 1.8 Instant Stooge
- 1.9 A Stooge Involved In A Trick Will Assume He Is The Only Stooge Taking Part
- 1.10 A Volunteer Will Not Confirm Incorrect Statements
- 1.11 The Method Exposed Is The Same As The One Used
- 1.12 Very Expensive (or Labor Intensive) Methods Would Not Be In Use
- 1.13 The Method Won't Involve An Important New Scientific Discovery That Has Being Kept Secret For The Sake Of It's Use In Magic
- 1.14 The Method Involved For A Trick Involving An Animal/Human Won't Result In The Death Of The Animal/Human
- 1.15 The Magician Is The Magician
- 1.16 Geek Magic / There must be a trick to it
- 1.17 The Effect Looks Like Magic
- 1.18 He's Lying
- 1.19 Its All Rehearsed
- 1.20 A hand holding something is only holding that one thing
- 1.21 If it looks important, it must have something to do with the method
- 1.22 Something noticed by accident, must be true
- 1.23 Anything repeated enough times becomes uninteresting
- 1.24 When A Trick Is Repeated The Same Method Is Used
- 1.25 A Single Method Is Used
- 2 Something borrowed would not be gaffed or gimmicked
- 3 Card Magic/Close-up Assumptions
- 4 Far-fetched Assumptions
- 5 References
Example of assumptions (This is a partly academic list, so one or two of the suggestions may seem a bit dumb, but are included for the sake of completion).
Feel free to add more, debate, provide scientific explanations or examples.
The Method Happens During The Effect
From a Michael Vincent DVD. The audience does not assume that the method for a trick is done after the trick is completed. Most audiences relax at the end of a trick which allows you to perform a move, which at this time would either be to set up for a forthcoming effect or to clean up from the previous effect. Often used with 'kicker endings' and multiple climaxes, just as one climax finishes the audience relaxes and they are taken 'off guard' by the next climax.
An example trick would be Francis Carlye 'Card To Pocket'. The card is produced from a pocket (the spectator assumes it is his card). The trick seems to be over. However, at the same time the magician secretly palms the selection from the deck and then produces it from the pocket (thus switching the card on display for the spectator's selection). Another example would be from Michael Vincent's 'The Classical Magic Of Michael Vincent Vol. 1' which details a sleight-of-hand method for Brainwave in which the method is completed AFTER the climax of the trick.
Another example would be the 'Folded Card to Ringbox' by Bruno Hennig. The card that appears in the ringbox (signaling the climax of the effect) is switched seconds later for the spectator's folded playing card. Thus the method is completed AFTER the spectator thinks the trick has ended.
Also check out GRASSHOPPER by Paul Harris (AoA Vol. 1). It has a lovely structure in which the method is completed after the climax to the effect.
Closely related to "It's Time To Relax" assumption below.
Time To Relax
Most magic effects have relaxation areas in them, stages where the audience need not focus. An audience member will normally assume that they can relax while you are not paying attention to them or on any magic happenings, for example: while you retrieve something from an audience member or from your pocket. This would be the ideal time to execute a move, as the audience is not expecting anything to happen.
Another relaxation area is just after or during a comedic moment. In my old manipulation act I used this assumption a lot; in fact most of my steals and switches are accomplished by the "It's Time To Relax" principle.
Spectators assume that everybody witnessing the same performance are witnessing the same effect.
Different people also remember different things and find different meanings in the same conversations.
There Is No Method
Sometimes an effect will rely on luck to work - as such there is no method to try and figure out. This could be the magician who is prepared to openly risk failure and just hope for the best e.g. Lay a playing card on the table and ask the spectator to name any card (and hope that your 1 in 52 chance pays off). Another example is in effects which have more then one out. Euan Bingham has a brilliant approach for doing 'The Smiling Mule' by Roy Walton. Before the trick takes place he loads 4 or 5 cards into different locations (e.g. both pockets, the card-case, inside both shoes). When the effect takes place, he has the spectator name any card. Should it be one of the cards that is pre-loaded, he ditches the Roy Walton effect and just shows that the card has vanished from the deck and re-produces it from one of his prepared locations. If such a card is not named, he then just continues with the original Walton trick (which is a great trick by the way). About ten percent of the time such an effect will have a stunning conclusion in which luck is the only method.
Number Of People Watching An Effect Is Greater Than The Number Of People 'In On The Secret'
The above is my way of summarizing an idea associated with Joseph Dunninger. The idea that is worth having 99 stooges in an audience in order to fool the 1 spectator.
Any Money Apparently Burned/Destroyed In A Trick Isn't Really Damaged
In their book for the general public ('Penn And Teller's How To Play In Traffic'), P&T explain a destroyed and reproduced bank note. The method actually involves (genuinely) destroyed a borrowed bank note. Such a trick costs the magician money to perform and P&T encourage the reader to destroy as large an amount of money so as to strengthen the illusion that the magician wouldn't actually destroy such a large bill.
The Magician Is Unprepared For A Spontaneous Challenge From The Audience
Pit Hartling has a brilliant essay in his book Card Fictions. He talks about trying to induce challenges from the spectator (which the magician is secretly prepared to tackle). Imagine you had a trick where the spectator could shuffle the deck before the trick starts. Instead of allowing them to just shuffle the deck - it might be more effective to try and act suspiciously with the deck in the hopes that they will challenge the magician to let the spectator shuffle the deck (which of course they can).
A spectator assumes that even if a stooge is involved in the method, then the stooge must have being prepared by the magician before the show even starts.
Derren Brown may use this (the idea touches on Juan Tamariz' 'Theory Of False Solutions'). We mention a possible method in order to show we don't use that method. Well - imagine you went to a great deal of trouble (eg. throwing a Frisbee into an audience of hundreds of spectators in order to pick - at random - a volunteer) to show you couldn't possibly be using a stooge. Well - this introduces and subsequently eliminates the idea of stooges to the people watching. What better time to then make use of the INSTANT STOOGE principle later on in the effect? This might seem an obvious idea to many - but it has only occurred to me now as I read through the original list. It is quite rare that I get something concrete and usable when considering magic theory.
A Stooge Involved In A Trick Will Assume He Is The Only Stooge Taking Part
In '52 Memories', Jack Parker details a wildly ingenious magician fooler which makes use of this assumption.
A Volunteer Will Not Confirm Incorrect Statements
Some of the recent work in mentalism (think Luke Jermay) involves subtly pressuring a volunteer to agree to statements which whilst they are in front of an audience and under the spotlights they may feel shy about contradicting. A more subtle approach to this is one involving Max Maven on a TV Show many years ago (I read about it in a UK magic magazine). At the end of an effect he asks a spectator to confirm that the liquid involved in the trick now smells of peppermint. This is quite subtle since the spectator will feel unsure as to how strong the smell should be, how strong their own sense of smell is and will have had little experience of sniffing for a peppermint smell. As such, on the spur of the moment, they will confirm that a glass of water now smells of peppermint.
The Method Exposed Is The Same As The One Used
I remember Penn and Teller doing a wonderful stunt. It was on a UK TV show and was an attempt at the world's most expensive card trick. Penn stopped a spectator on the street in Leicester Square, London. He had a card selected and whilst the card was removed he fanned the deck of cards (now missing a card) to the camera. Back in the TV Studio, Teller used a computer program to scan through the image of the 51 card fan. It quickly found the missing card which he then typed into a computer. This then sent the message to a giant electronic advertising board behind the spectator. Penn then glanced at this board to find what the chosen card was. He then told the spectator what his card was. The spectator was impressed and had no idea of the technology and thousands of pounds involved. A very amusing stunt for the viewer at home. However - in a later interview - P&T said they just used a stooge to achieve the effect. So, the expensive and involved method involved was just for the amusement of the people watching at home and wasn't the true method involved.
Very Expensive (or Labor Intensive) Methods Would Not Be In Use
This touches on the example above. Surely - a spectator would discount the possibility that thousands (millions?) of pounds are involved in the successful carrying off of a magic trick. Imagine how badly Bill Gates could fool you if he decided to blow a billion pounds on an incredible "pick a card, any card" trick...
The same goes for the amount of trouble someone would go to just to fool someone. For example, laymen assume that a magician would not go through the amount of work required to memorize the order of a deck of cards just to do some card tricks.
The Method Won't Involve An Important New Scientific Discovery That Has Being Kept Secret For The Sake Of It's Use In Magic
Robert Houdin used the principle of electro-magnets (then a recent scientific invention) to fool people in the nineteenth century. Imagine how much more impossible these tricks would have being if the scientist who made the discovery decided not to release his results to the scientific community, and instead decided to use them as a new method for magic tricks. Fe people would imagine that a scientist would fore go academic acclaim and prizes (e.g. The Nobel Prize) for the sake of being able to fool people with an unknown scientific principle.
Dai Vernon in his memoirs (Vol. 4 of 'The Vernon Chronicles') mentioned that he believed that Dr. Hooker (who was a chemist) had discovered a new scientific principle which allowed him to perform this astonishing effect (ie 'The Hooker Rising Cards').
The Method Involved For A Trick Involving An Animal/Human Won't Result In The Death Of The Animal/Human
I remember reading that 40/50 years ago, some of the dove workers would use methods for the disappearance of doves that involved the killing or injuring (i.e. broken legs) of the bird. In theory this could be extended to other animals - i.e. making a rabbit disappear from a box by using a hidden compartment which crushes the animal out of view (a lot of mechanical force may be required). This is an example of what could be achieved if you had no morals for the welfare of animals (which I abhor, but may have being an attitude that existed the fringes of magic a few decades ago). This idea can be extended to humans. Surely no-onw would assume the murder of a human being was the secret to an effect, but I note that this is an assumption that Ricky Jay played with when he guest-starred in an episode of the 'X-Files' ('The Great Maleeni'). A combination of this assumption and the assumption involving the use of luck as a method could be used for a version of 'Russian Roulette'. Imagine if a lunatic decided to genuinely perform 'Russian Roulette' in the middle of a magic act. If he were lucky, he would get the cedit for an impossibly clean effect. Equally, evil regimes (like Nazi Germany) with an utter disregard for human life could use inhumane methods in the creation of impossible seeming illusions...
The Magician Is The Magician
This cryptic statement is my way of summarizing the following idea. Alot of incredibly clean and strong magic can be done if we pick somebody who everybody knows not to be a magician and let them be the star. Imagine being in a group of people (who don't realize you have an interest in magic) and then allowing somebody else to perform a trick for you. You can use sleight of hand as you shuffle the deck and pick a card in order to let them receive the credit for impossibly clean sandwich effects or whatever else you fancy (cutting the four aces?). This idea can be extended in a bunch of ways and requires the magician to give up a piece of his ego in order to let somebody else take the credit. Think of it as working undercover.
Geek Magic / There must be a trick to it
You fool them by actually doing what they think you are only pretending to do. Imagine you decided to eat a packet of lit cigarettes and pretended it was a magic effect. This could fool people.
This eating cigarettes example has an ironic touch to it. I read somewhere that Tom Mullica was once denied a magic prize (at FISM?) because the judges believed he was actually eating the lit cigarettes involved (he was actually only pretending to - the method involved a clever mix of psychology and sleight-of-hand).
A reverse assumption "He's known as an expert, so he would not revert to gaffs or tricks". This assumption is used by expert magicians to fool other magicians. Harry Lorayne is known to occasionally use a trick to perform a memory stunt, even though he is well known for being able to do it using real memory techniques. If you are an expert at cheating with cards and the audience assumes you are doing a gambling moves like a double deals, but could actually be doing some other magic sleights to accomplish the same effect.
The Effect Looks Like Magic
Penn and Teller use this assumption in their classic 'Lighting A Cigarette Routine'. Apparently - Teller walks on stage, lights a cigarette and throws away the match. It is later revealed that he has used intricate sleight-of-hand and illusion to achieve this 'non-effect'.
This was discussed in passing by Mike Close in Workers 5 but not highlighted as a specific assumption. If I say, "I will shuffle the normal pack of cards so they are fully mixed," this is causing too much attention to the fact that the cards are normal it will only have the audience believe that they are, in fact gimmicked.
So if we do not lie to the audience they cannot make as many negative assumptions. The cards are a 'deck of cards,' not a 'regular pack of playing cards' - this small difference could help as a massive advantage. There are many other negative assumptions that we, as magicians, must battle against.
Its All Rehearsed
Another of Mike Close's assumptions is "Polished Prestidigitation," which basically says that the performer rehearses so that no mistakes are made. However, Close's thoughts were that mistakes could be faked in order to distract the audience so that a secret action can be executed.
On the other hand, if a genuine mistake was made the audience automatically assumes that you will have no way back. They do not imagine that you would have thought about where mistakes could be made and that you have already thought about fixing a mistake, should one happen.
Mistakes can also be faked, if not overacted, to reinforce the assumption that the magician could not know what was going to happen. For example, a prediction is arrived at combining two cards that have been selected, the 6 of clubs (for the value) and 8 of Spades (for the suit). You declare result, incorrectly, to be the 9 of Spades. The audience will correct you, that it's the 6 of Spades.
A hand holding something is only holding that one thing
For some reason if you see someone pick up something and hold it, your mind assumes it's the only thing in the hand. Wands have been used to enforce this assumption. Dai Vernon uses this principle in his cups and balls routine.
If it looks important, it must have something to do with the method
I believe it was Al Baker that said "Don't run when no one is chasing you" and Dai Vernon has often been credited with saying ""Don't make unimportant things important."
Many times magician end up over-proving something that should be unimportant and left as an assumption.
Something noticed by accident, must be true
If you let the audience discover something on their own, they are more apt to assume it's true. This also goes back to over-proving or pointing something out. Many use this technique by "flashing" what they want to audience to see, rather then displaying it.
Anything repeated enough times becomes uninteresting
If you do something the same way all the time, it will be assumed that nothing is going on. This is one of the reasons why we are taught to always turn over the cards the same way, whether you are turning over one card or doing a double lift. After turning over a single card the same way enough times, the spectators starts to assume this is the way you always turn over cards and starts to lose focus on it.
When A Trick Is Repeated The Same Method Is Used
A magician may repeat the trick under challenge conditions (but switch methods) and apparently rule out various methods. 'The Tuned Deck' by R.W. Hull is a good example of this.
A Single Method Is Used
A good way to strengthen a method is to combine more than one principle. Laypeople naturally try to explain effects as being down to a single thing (e.g. it went up the sleeves, mirrors, threads, magnets). Using multiple methods in the same effect is a good way of sidetracking this assumption. Tommy Wonder touches on this in Volume One of 'The Books Of Wonder'. On Page 316, he has an interesting essay called 'The Three Pillars'. In this essay he writes about trying to combine more than one of the three principles of magic (which he classifies as mechanical, psychological and sleight-of-hand), in order to increase the deceptiveness of our effects.
Something borrowed would not be gaffed or gimmicked
Examples: Inserting gaffs into a borrowed deck is a great way to achieve miracles (a popular approach at magic conventions). As for stacks - I remember reading in Vol. 1 of the Alex Elmsley book (written by Stephen Minch) that Alex was once fooled when Ricky Jay scanned through his deck and culled cards for a set-up for his following trick (he did this under the guise of checking out the cards used in Britain). A few minutes later he borrowed Alex's cads and then demonstrated a remarkably clean gambling demonstration. Another idea (this applies to magicians) is that when borrowing a fellow magician's deck, the deck will often already be set up in some way i.e. the 4 aces on top of the deck. This is because a lot of magicians carry decks which are already set up for their next trick - this can be used to great effect.
Card Magic/Close-up Assumptions
A Spectator's Shuffle Will Destroy Any Order In The Deck
Tricks such as those using The Gilbreath Principle makes use of this assumption. An even better example of this kind of thinking is 'Carter's Fooler' by Peter Duffie.
If A Deck Is Shuffled The Deck Must Contain Different Playing Cards
A great way leading spectator's minds away from the idea that you are using a deck that contains 52 identical playing cards (ie a one-way forcing deck) is to casually shuffle it. Alternatively - you could do a bad false shuffle in order to give the appearance you are trying to preserve a stack of cards. Or you could insist they can cut the cards as many times as possible (but not shuffle it). All these stratagems plant the idea that the deck in use is not one in which every card is the same.
The deck matches the case
If you pull a face-up deck out of the red card case, will they assume that it's a red-backed deck of cards?
A Trick Involving A Celebrity Won't Make Use Of Identical Twins.
What if a famous celebrity had an identical twin that either few people knew about, or was deliberately kept secret. Such a twin (or celebrity lookalike?) could be used to good effect in any stage illusions involving identical twins.
The Method Won't Involve Actual Magic Powers
I once knew a guy at a magic club. He told me had actual magic powers (he was quite serious about this) and planned to use these supernatural powers to achieve ordinary magic tricks. Instead of using sleight-of-hand as the method for an Ambitious Card Routine, he would use actual magic powers and then take the credit for his clever use of sleight-of-hand. The guy could probably be described as mad (although his ambitious card routine was mighty clean!) - however, it is can still be classed as a hidden assumption that spectator's make.
- From Chapter 3 of "Understanding Magic Essay" Grey Matters - "If astonishment is the 'blood' of magic, then these hidden assumptions are the 'veins'"]
- Discovering Importance by Jamy Ian Swiss in Antinomy, Third Quarter 2005