This "coin bending in a participant's hand" has become a signature piece for me. It is a powerful, intimate, almost ceremonial, theatre for me. The Qi theme (pronounced approximately as "chi") emerged from my nearly four-decade obsession with the Chinese martial arts. As in many effects that are highly meaningful to the mage, the mechanics of the method are very simple. Conviction and sincerity of performance are the real sellers of this effect.
"If we didn't have Qi, we would be dead. Qi is the Chinese term for life-energy. It is an amazing stream of power that circulates throughout our bodies. What's most amazing about it is it's directed by our minds. And, when we learn its secrets, we can do wonderful things. Let's do something wonderful now."
The mage brings out two coins, a dime and a penny, and places them on the palm of his left hand. A coin is openly placed into the palm of each of a participant's hands. She closes her hands into fists and turns them palm down. Both of the mage's hands are now seen to be empty. The mage pauses, iooks at the fists and smiles. "You haven't studied the martial arts, have you?"
"No," the participant replies with a laugh.
"Ah. Perhaps, we will just use the dime." The participant and observers laugh again as the mage
retrieves the penny, puts it aside and corrects the participant on how she is to form her fist to promote Qi flow.
The mage now recruits several other volunteers, "To contribute more Qi and more minds to the process." He directs one volunteer to place his hand on top of the fist holding the penny while the next places their hand under it. Other volunteers do likewise standing like the spokes of a wheel with the coin-holder's fist as the hub.
Addressing the coin holder the mage says, "Something wonderful, and a little strange, is about to happen in your hand and even without looking at your hand, I will know exactly when this strange thing is happening." To the entire group he says, "I'm going to place a pleasant idea into all of your minds to focus and direct your Qi to a single point. The point which is the coin in this hand: I want you to imagine, what would happen to the coin there in the hand, if it were made of — [a significant pause] — chocolate."
A warm smile spreads across the face of the participants. Pointing to the smiles, the mage says, "See, it's happening!"
One of the volunteers points out that the dime would melt if it were made of chocolate. The mage concurs and directs the volunteers to remove their hands, one at a time, from the participant's.
Finally, the fist holding the dime is slowly opened to reveal that the dime has bent and curled. Method
The dime is pre-bent by clamping it in a vise and bending it with a pair of pliers. The vise and pliers are padded with strips of business card taped into place. The switch is accomplished through the use of the familiar "Dime and Penny" set. This is a set of gaffed coins which is comprised of a double sided, dime/penny coin which nests and locks into a penny shell. When nested, the dime vanishes leaving a penny, which can be handled.
As you say, "Let's do something wonderful now," bring the two halves of the gaffed coin set out of your pocket at the finger tips of your right hand [fig. 1 view from above]. The dime is sitting on top of the penny shell so that they will not nest. The bent dime is finger palmed in the same hand [fig. 2 view from under].
Place the two halves onto your left palm and have your participant bring her hands up, palms open. As she does this, absently, pick up the penny shell and cover half of the double. Pick up the two pieces with your right fingers and let the halves nest together keeping the bent dime finger palmed. Place the nested penny onto the palm of the participant's right hand, and then, as you place the bent dime onto her left hand, direct attention at her right hand and ask her to close her fists. Help her to close them a bit and guide her to turn them both palm down. This will prevent her from later opening the hand holding the bent dime. Casually show your hands are empty. There is no duplicate coin to ditch.
At this point, look at how she has formed her fists. If she has made the type of fist that most people make [fig. 3 or 4] then say, "You don't study martial arts do you?" This usually gets a pleasant laugh and provides the justification for taking the penny away, i.e., she does not know how to form a fist properly so we had better just use one coin. You correct her left thumb to the position shown in fig. 5, and then make your comment about using only one coin. [NOTE: The figures show UNDERNEATH views of the thumb positions. Remember that the fists will be palm down.] Retrieve and pocket the penny and continue as described above.
If your participant actually knows how to make a fist [fig. 5], then ask, "Have you studied the martial arts?" Regardless of her reply, compliment her on her correct form and say, "Let's focus all that energy onto one coin and see what happens." Continue as above.
Selling the Effect
You do not have to believe in the existence of Qi to perform this effect with sincerity and conviction, but it helps. If Qi, (Ki in Japan and Prana in India) sounds like mumbo-jumbo to you, read up on the phenomenon. It is a fascinating concept with endless theme applications to magic and mental-ism. Variations of the Qi concept are at the root of countless of healing, psychic and martial arts systems.
The effect can be performed with as few as two participants but I much prefer to perform it with a group of at least 4. Six or eight people are even better. I've done this with a group of more than a dozen young adults! When the volunteers are organized around the hand holding the dime in an "all for one and one for all" arrangement, you have created an intimate theatre-like audience who are watching each other for an indication that something is happening to the penny.
It is important to pause before saying "chocolate." The pause should be long enough for the group to begin to consciously wonder what is about to happen. You have not actually mentioned what is actually going to happen other than, "something strange and wonderful." When they hear, "Chocolate," the coin-holder will suddenly get the idea of what the whole play is about as well as their role in it: a coin is melting in their hand. They always smile at this realization; they can't help it. And the smile becomes the expected indicator of something strange and wonderful happening in their hand.
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