Revealing magic tricks

Teller (the silent partner of the Penn & Teller magic duo) has long had a magic trick called ‘Shadows’ which is really beautiful and no one had seemingly figured out how he did it or if they had did not reveal it. I discussed it a couple of months ago but here it is again.

Now another magician claims to have solved the illusion and has said that he will tell anyone how it is done for a price. Teller has sued to stop him.

I like magic and while I like to try and figure out how the trick is done, it is even better when I cannot because I can just enjoy the illusion. I think it is despicable to sell another magician’s secrets. The value of a trick lies not only in the solution but in also coming up with the idea.


  1. Francisco Bacopa says

    I bet the magician just figured out a different way to do it and then Teller can just modify his trick to show he’s not doing it the way the audience thinks it is being done.

  2. jamessweet says

    I think it’s despicable to sell another magician’s secrets, but giving it away is less clear. A lot of Penn and Teller’s best routines are in “telling you how the trick is done” (and then taking it to the next level).

  3. Cuttlefish says

    This is, and has always been, my favorite P&T bit. By far (ok, this and the one with the bag of blood). The artistry is magnificent; whether it is simple or complex, the way the sell it is just perfect, and they deserve to protect their intellectual property.

    What is amusing to me is that the Daily Mail repeatedly refers to “Teller” (his real, and legal, name) as a pseudonym, as if somehow revealing the name that was on his birth certificate will make his magic disappear. His former name is mentioned twice, though neither time does it add the slightest bit to the story. Like a toddler who has just learned the word “no!”, though, the Daily Mail trots out Teller’s former name as often as they can.

    When P&T “revealed” a trick, they took old and tired bits with several possible methods and made one of those methods into art. No one was fooled. Although “secrets” were exposed, actual and real secrets were not. Not that anyone cares, but I am on Teller’s side 100% in this.

  4. Tim says

    I love watching Teller. He follows the long tradition of greats like Harpo Marx.

    Or maybe I’m just jealous, ’cause I’d love a job where I would never have to talk. 😀

  5. Sergio Sider says

    Since I was a child, I was always curious about how magic tricks were done; it fascinated me. I humbly would like to know why is it despicable to expose how things are done.

    I really fail to see magic tricks, or another art, as sacred. Is it despicable to show how a classic artist used colors and shadows (as a trick) to make some wonderful effect? Isn’t it the same thing?

  6. itzac says

    For me, the fun part is figuring out for myself how I could do the trick. I like to brag that I know how P&T’s Cowboy trick works, but I never actually tell anyone because I don’t think they’ll appreciate just how much effort goes into the trick until they figure it out for themselves. I also have an idea about how the Shadows trick works.

    I do definitely have a problem with someone trying to sell this secret. It’s not theirs to sell, and I wonder if that’s not why Teller is suing.

  7. Mano Singham says

    I think the reason is that you are taking someone else’s idea for your own benefit. The real work is not so much in how the trick was done (I suspect that itzac below and other magicians can figure it out) but in coming up with the idea and implementing it. I see nothing wrong with the other magician doing the trick. That is how magicians work. It seems wrong to sell the secret.

  8. Peter says

    I also have an idea of how it might be done, but I strongly doubt I’m right. For one thing I think one of the interviewees mentioned that it’s simple. My method is devilishly tricky to get right, so I wouldn’t categorize it as simple.

    I frequently have to come up with stuff like this in my job (props & effects), but none of the stuff we do is as spare as this. I’d love to see it live.

  9. Sergio Sider says

    I see. I was leaving the “sell for profit” out of the equation, and I agree.

    Just out of curiosity: If there was no money involved, would you think revealing a trick is still a bad thing to do?

  10. says

    His left hand he keeps hidden from view at the beginning, and he delicately moves around the plant. If you pay particular attention to the plant at around 1:43, you can see that it shakes gently at the top. It’s probably just really thin strings attached to the plant (probably going down the stem, even) that are being pulled in corresponding order to what he does to the shadow.

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