What goes into inventing a magic trick?
That’s a question we are trying to answer as we develop, possibly for sale, an effect that could be popular with close-up magicians. Because that’s what we do, close-up magic, it seemed natural to make commercial offerings of the tricks we do for audiences in the amateur rooms at The Magic Castle.
So we have this trick that audiences seem to enjoy and it really just depends on sleight of hand invented by our forbears. We don’t know who invented the classic force – perhaps Johann Hofzinser back in the 1800s or someone more recent. We want to credit the right person and so we search. We can tell you one thing for sure, do not look up “Classic Force” on Google from your work computer. Wow. There is something not right with this world.
The second part of the trick involves a false pass of an object. Who invented that? Maybe one of Hofzinser’s friends or students or maybe it was T. Nelson Downs (“The King of Koins”). We want to credit this move to its rightful owner as well.
But inventing a trick means more than giving credit to the right person. We found we needed to write instructions for magicians wishing to practice the effect and performing it to maximum effect. We are not big on giving a link to the magician and letting him or her find the instruction video on-line. It seems impersonal and an easy way out. We’re more of a UF Grant kind of organization with illustrated instructions covering each move and describing how to perform said move.
Let’s assume we get past the crediting and the instruction writing, the next step will be to come up with a name that grabs users’ attention. We never had a name for this trick. It was always just the effect we working on. We’ll have to work on that as well.
Finally, we have to write ad copy that doesn’t mislead potential buyers. We want to be honest about the effect to be presented from the audience’s point of view, the skills necessary to perform the effect, any angle issues, and whether the performer will need to practice to perform.
Let’s assume we get the ad copy correct and have no blatant lies in our listing, we will have to get friends and associates to write one sentence, objective recommendations for the effect. We know some influential people and maybe they would be kind enough to write such praise. We’d like some of the praise to follow the current trend of “fooled me badly,” “the kind of trick you will carry always” “I was floored” “Not since biblical times has such a miracle been seen,” “I rank the inventions as Sliced Bread, [the yet to be named trick] and the cotton gin,” “if I could buy only one trick that I would use constantly it would be …” “the finest trick of its kind anywhere” or the ever popular “I wish this wasn’t being sold so I could be the only one who had it.”
Then comes the pricing. We don’t know how to price an ordinary deck of cards (with which one can perform second deals) and the special gimmicks that make the trick possible. We’re thinking the cards could be supplied by the performer so we would only need to send the gimmicks. They don’t weight too much – maybe a couple of ounces but they are specially made and cost us about $14 each. So we’re looking at a total cost of $30 or so. By checking mark-up of similar effects, we figure that means we should charge anywhere from $45 to $75.
Of course the second we launch the effect, we’ll learn from the various forums that the trick was actually invented by someone either a year ago or back in the 1920s. We’ll feel terrible, apologize and take it off the market.
That’s just how we work. We believe in not stealing effects, even if it is done without actual knowledge. We don’t steal jokes either. In fact, we have a non-stealing philosophy about most things – we’ll steal a kiss from our sweetie or steal fake fruit from a movie set if the script calls for it – but otherwise we’re this side of taking things we don’t own outright.
We wonder how so many magicians can invent new tricks, take the criticism of theft that comes from the magic public; or worse, failure to properly credit the innovators who invented parts of the trick. They must have iron constitutions. It would send us into a shame spiral – and not a good kind where you’re ashamed that you won a beauty contest over someone who came in second only because she couldn’t remember a good answer to one of those questions asked by celebrity judges. A bad kind of shame spiral where you doubt everything you have ever done and assume no one like you.
We thought about copyrighting, patenting or trademarking the trick to prevent theft – assuming we are the inventor of the trick but our research shows that none of these intellectual property laws would help. Copyright goes to the expression of an idea on paper or in action. We could copyright our instructions but someone could come along with a new set of instructions and avoid a copyright claim. A trademark only protects indications of origin of the effect. As long as the thief differentiated the source with a new trademark or name for the trick – which right now would be easy because it doesn’t have a name – he or she would be scott-free. A patent would not help because we would have to expose the secret to the patent office and to the world. There would be nothing to sell, the secret would be out. There are plenty of examples of patented magic tricks. We would normally link such things but do not want to give away secrets — even very old ones.
Maybe we’ll keep the trick in our act, teach magicians we know if they ask, and watch as they improve upon it in their performances. No shame spiral is likely and pride is almost certain to come.
If you see us and want to know the trick (assuming you are a bona fide magician) we’ll share it with you if it isn’t already obvious from our performance. Sharing is caring and we care deeply about our wonderful art and the friends we have met. The same friends we would have imposed upon to write glowing reviews such as “I literally lost control of my bodily functions upon seeing the effect,” or “this is the kind of trick with which you can start a cult.”