# Magic tricks with David Blaine

On Jimmy Fallon’s show, the magician does some incredible tricks.

NOTE: People who have ideas of how these tricks were done are welcome to post them in the comments and those who would rather not know should avoid them.

1. OverlappingMagisteria says

Great tricks!

Are you the type that likes to figure out how they are done, or do you prefer to let the mystery remain? I have a few ideas that might explain parts of some of the tricks, though I certainly cannot not explain any of them in full. However, I would not want to spoil it for anyone if you want to avoid explanations.

2. Mano Singham says

I like figuring out how they are done but in this case I have no idea at all. So let me see your suggestions and I’ll put a warning in the post that there my be spoilers in the comments.

3. Matt says

At 7:11 he puts seven cards on top of the deck when he interrupted the person counting to 13 (he did it at the moment the counter got to 10), so that the 13 card deck turned in to 20. But I’m not sure how he got the first three additional cards in to that pile. And even though we know how he put the 7 extra cards in that deck, he still had to convince the guy holding that pile that it was larger than it was when he first held it, and he had to get the other two guys to end up picking 7 as the sum of their two numbers (although my guess there is that he has a series of different ways to either add more to the deck or to guide them to come up with 7). And of course I have no idea about that frog…

4. OverlappingMagisteria says

For the first trick… I got nothin’… the man’s a psychic or something.

Second Trick, I noticed that he had Jimmy flip the deck over before drawing the second card (around 4:30). I’d bet that he had two 9 of Diamonds cards: one on top, the other is second from the bottom. If Jimmy had said “first position” he would have not had him flip the deck and just looked at he top card. Jimmy said “second position” so he has him flip the deck first and get the second from the bottom. How he knew about the 9 of diamonds… uhh…the man’s a psychic or something…

He starts off placing 10 cards face up on the table. He ends up sneaking in an extra 3 to that, face down at the bottom. You can see the slight of hand: he flips his extra cards at 5:24, then slides the 10 on top of them at 5:40, and gives 13 to the skeptical guy on his left. So when the guy counted the cards, he only counted the 10 face up cards, reached the face down card and thought he went all the way through. (what gave that part away for me was David’s insistence that the guy count in that very specific fashion.)

So the guy already has 13 cards against his heart, but thinks he has 10. David makes sure that the 3 card comes up using his…. psychic powers or something. Then pretends to magically send 3 cards to the guy.

At 7:10, while the guy is counting the cards, David says “Ten’s your original number” and pats the deck, sneakily adding an extra 7 to the pile. (I just noticed on this viewing, at 6:55, he probably counts out those 7 cards for himself while demonstrating). So when the guy puts the cards back in his jacket, everyone thinks he has 13, but he really has 20.

So how does he know that the two numbers that he asks of people will add up to 7? He doesn’t, but he doesn’t need to. For this part, the key thing to notice is that he asks the others for numbers, but doesn’t tell them what he will do with them until after. He gathers all his data before revealing the method. This is because he will change the method as needed to ensure that he somehow gets to 7.

He asks for a number between 1 to 10. If the guy had said 7, David would have ended it right there and “sent” 7 cards to him. (bit of psychology: people are most likely to pick 7 when asked for a “random” number from 1-10) But he said 4, so David fishes for another number. This time he limits it from 1-5 so it doesn’t go too high. After getting a 4, he decides that he can add to get a total of 7, so that is the method that he decides to use. I’d bet that if needed, he would’ve asked for a third number, and used subtraction if necessary in order to somehow reach a result of 7. Gather some data, invent a method as needed to get your result. (I know a card trick that uses a similar idea: I ask someone to point to a card but I don’t tell them whether I will keep or remove that card until they do.)

Then just pretend to zap 7 cards over. The guy already has 20. Let him count.

He has also trained a frog to survive extreme conditions with the same methods that he uses to survives living in a block of ice. Or something…

5. OverlappingMagisteria says

#3: We think alike!

I don’t think he has to convince him that the deck feels larger. I don’t think many people would notice the difference between 13 and 20 cards by touch on their own. The guy may noticed when David suggested that it got larger, or may have been influenced by his suggestion to think it felt larger, or was playing along.

6. sonofrojblake says

My thing with magic tricks is this: if you like the trick, if you enjoyed the performance and the effect don’t think too hard about how it was done.

A magician is NOT trying to fool you, they are (or should be) trying to delight you. They (mostly) make no pretence that what they’re doing is anything other than trickery -- mechanical devices, sleight of hand, psychology, misdirection and general cheating. All of that deception is (or, as I say, should be) in the service of giving you a cathartic experience of wonder and mystery. If they’ve done it right, knowing how they’ve done it usually (in my experience) detracts from it. This is because many of the methods are mundane and disappointing. I used to do a fair bit of magic for friends, and when they’d say “How do you do that?”, my standard response was to make a silk hanky vanish in front of their eyes, then reappear. I’d then break the cardinal rule of magic, and do it again. And again. And again. And I’d keep doing it, slower, and slower and slower, until they eventually cottoned on to how I did it (it usually takes six or seven goes). And invariably the response was “Is that IT??”, and they understood why it was better not to ask.

7. John Morales says

My thing with magic tricks is this: if you like the trick, if you enjoyed the performance and the effect don’t think too hard about how it was done.

Obviously, not true of actual magicians.

sonofrojblake:

… And I’d keep doing it, slower, and slower and slower, until they eventually cottoned on to how I did it (it usually takes six or seven goes). And invariably the response was “Is that IT??”, and they understood why it was better not to ask.

I have no need to ask; you’ve just told me outright.

Why is it supposedly delightful to know it’s trickery but to not know how it’s done?

(I really don’t get it; it’s the skill I admire, not the supposed delight at not knowing)

8. OverlappingMagisteria says

If they’ve done it right, knowing how they’ve done it usually (in my experience) detracts from it. This is because many of the methods are mundane and disappointing.

I’m sure it depends on the person. For me, figuring out how a trick is done is like a puzzle. And finding out that the method is mundane doesn’t detract. I think its cool to find out that such an amazing effect can be produced from the stupidest little thing. But of course, others prefer the mystery and that’s perfectly fine!

9. Marshall says

Amazingly, the frog “trick” isn’t actually a trick. He hunted down a man over a couple of years to learn how to store a huge amount of water in your stomach and regurgitate it at will. He actually had a frog in there.

Here’s a screencap of when he slips the extra 7 cards into the stack: http://i.imgur.com/MIZ1zIJ.jpg

10. says

sonofrojblake -- A few years ago I bought a simple little magic trick that was still quite delightful. I was doing it at work and when done, I showed a co-worker the secret. She was visibly disappointed and actually said “That’s not magic.”

Of course it’s not magic! It doesn’t exist! But I think some people who watch magicians truly want to believe the magic is real.

On the other hand, I enjoy watching a good illusion but I also love finding out how it was done because the work that goes into some of them and the way some of them play with the faults in human perception are amazing.

11. Johnny Vector says

The definition of “mundane” certainly does depend on the person. I have enough magician friends that I know how most common tricks are done. And yes, it’s a small number of simple things, that in some sense are mundane, but really just try them sometime. How many tricks consist of a lot of talking plus a double lift (appearing to take one card but actually getting two)? But man, I’ve spent a little time trying to do that (and I have big hands), with no success. And her my much smaller friend Karen can do it with 100% success day after day.

Ever seen Teller do the cups and balls trick with clear cups? Yeah, you can see “how it’s done”, in the same sense as Jimi’s fingers are always visible in those films from Woodstock. Doesn’t make either any less amazing. I guess not everyone appreciates the kind of control it takes to do that, or the beauty of building a 4-minute routine out of two simple tricks that have to be obvious if you think about it. But for those of us who do, knowing how it’s done adds to the enjoyment as often as it detracts.

12. Turi says

@8. OverlappingMagisteria

I also never understood the “when you know it it becomes boring” argument. I always think of (e)Sport. Nothing i see on screen is something i could not do and often i already did it. But I can not do it in the same way. I am slower or less precise. This difference in skill is what awes me.
With magic there is the additional element of finding out what happend. But even if i know what did happend, the pure display of skill is enough to keep me watching.
But this is a matter of taste in the end.

13. deepak shetty says

@Overlapping magisteria

And finding out that the method is mundane doesn’t detract.

Well it probably detracts from the next viewing. If you know for e.g. how the magician made the big elephant disappear are you really that excited when you see someone make a jet disappear ?

14. John Morales says

deepak shetty:

If you know for e.g. how the magician made the big elephant disappear are you really that excited when you see someone make a jet disappear ?

Jets are much bigger than elephants; more to the point, perhaps there is more than one way to make something apparently disappear.

(This is the old Romantic conceit that, were one to know how a rainbow occurs, its wonder would thereby diminished)

15. sonofrojblake says

@John Morales, 7:

Why is it supposedly delightful to know it’s trickery but to not know how it’s done? […]it’s the skill I admire

Because part of the trickery is making you think what you’re seeing is skill, rather than cheating. I make the hanky vanish and reappear, and the person watching KNOWS (unless they’re an utter dolt) that I’ve tricked them in some way, but BELIEVES that I’ve done so by some method involving some really excellent sleight of hand. They’re impressed, imagining what I’ve just done took hours or months of practice, and delighted. And when they find out that that is not the case, that there’s practically no skill involved at all, and that in fact they could do the exact same trick with five minutes’ practice, if they were prepared to lash out some paltry amount on the right equipment, they feel cheated.

The readership of this blog is probably unusual, in that it is more than averagely likely to contain people who really would take delight in knowing the methods, regardless of how mundane or cheaty they are. Some people do appreciate engineering. But in my experience, those people are a small minority, and most people are like Tabby Lavalamp’s colleague -- they want to believe in magic, or at the very least to believe that it takes something more than a cheapass \$5 gimmick to fool them.

@Turi:
How would you feel if you watched someone competing in the high jump, were impressed with their athleticism and skill… then found out that there was a pneumatic ram under the bit of ground where they took off? Really quite a lot of magic consists of making you believe that what they’re doing is skillful, rather than flatout cheating.

The HUGE exception to this is Teller’s routine with the red ball. If anything, when you know how it’s done, it’s MORE impressive, to the extent that it’s almost wasted on the audience. I think it’s for that reason that Penn has made no secret of not liking it.

16. Jenora Feuer says

Me, I’m one of those people who enjoys the show, even if I know how it’s done. (And I used to do stage magic myself, so I know some of the specific tricks and a number of the general principles.) A good magic show isn’t just about the trick, it’s about the performance and the showmanship. Even if the magician is ‘cheating’, how they get away with that is part of the fun.

If anything, when you know how it’s done, it’s MORE impressive, to the extent that it’s almost wasted on the audience. I think it’s for that reason that Penn has made no secret of not liking it.

As if I needed another reason to consider Penn Jillette an asshole.

17. John Morales says

sonofrojblake, thanks for the response.

18. sonofrojblake says

Derren Brown has written a couple of really good books about this stuff -- “Pure Effect” and “Absolute Magic”. They contain explanations of some of his routines, but the more important parts concern the business of what it is you’re trying to achieve as a magician, not in terms of making a thing appear or disappear or whatever, but in terms of creating for the audience an anecdote they’ll be telling for years. Highly recommended if you can get hold of them.

19. sonofrojblake says

I don’t think Penn’s attitude to the red ball is asshole behaviour. In this case, he has a street juggler’s sensibility. Anyone who (like me) has spent any great length of time practicing throwing things up and catching them will know the pain of the gap between how hard a juggling trick is to do, and how impressive an audience finds it. You spend hours and hours, over months and years, and eventually bust out your five ball cascade. It’s smooth, it doesn’t get away from you any more, and you can finish cleanly. And you show it to someone, and they nod appreciatively… then say, “I saw a guy once juggling three apples, and he ATE ONE WHILE HE JUGGLED THEM! OMG!”. And a little bit of you dies, because you learned that one in your first week. I used to know a guy who could juggle three clubs, in a reverse cascade (throws up the outside, catches down the middle), with reverse spin. I was amazed on two levels: first, because it’s hard to describe how insanely difficult that trick is to do AT ALL, let alone as smoothly as he could do it; and secondly because here was a thing that must have taken him at a minimum months, and more likely YEARS of practice, and the only people to whom it was impressive in any way was other club jugglers. To anyone else, even someone reasonably decent at juggling balls, it just looked like a straightforward twist to the basic pattern. I hugely admired his commitment. Most people who juggle for money, however, are interested only in how impressive an audience finds a trick, because that’s what gets them putting their hands in their pockets. Clever stuff you do for yourself won’t pay the rent, and Teller’s red ball routine is the magical equivalent of the reverse-spin reverses cascade with clubs -- something self-indulgent done as much or more for the satisfaction of the performer as for the entertainment of the audience. I can understand Penn’s philosophical difficulty with it, although as you might imagine I don’t agree with him. And I’m still working on the reverse-spin reverse cascade.