The Critical Interval

What is the most dangerous moment in any effect in which to perform trickery? Most magicians would probably answer, "When the audience is watching most closely." This answer, however, only raises the question: when is the audience going to be watching most closely? To answer that question, we have to return to Ascanio's definition of a magic effect. You'll recall that it is the difference between the initial condition and the final condition. If you're going to change an apple into an orange, showing the apple is the initial condition and revealing the orange is the final condition. (These roughly correspond to what in Strong Magic I called the expository phase and the magical phase. For discussing presentation I think those terms are more useful. For discussing effect design I think Ascanio's terms are more useful.)

The riskiest moment for trickery is the time between the audience's last view of the initial condition and their first view of the final condition. If you have to cover the apple with a handkerchief to change it into an orange, the danger period extends from the moment you cover the apple to the moment you uncover the orange. This time period is so central to all our subsequent discussions that it deserves a name. I call it "the critical

This is exactly the kind of effect that will lead a spectator to didn't do anything!' In fact, you do quite a bit before droppin ^ X ^ cards on top of the deck. You even do quite a bit before introdu^ two stranger cards. But you don't do anything during the brief p ^ matters to the audience. One moment there is no card between*? ^ stranger cards. The next moment there is. And nothing happened •

it perfect critical interval has made the effect an instant ^ "the reasons the Oil and Water plot has a bad reputation' iiiagn.rn.ii .s that most routines have tremendously cluttered critiCa vals. After the reds and blacks have been alternated, the perform i -l----1----------.¡^ . r mergratu-

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^^One of the reasons the Oil and Water plot has a bad reputation a^', magicians is that most routines have tremendously cluttered critical intcr vals \fter the reds and blacks have been alternated, the perfortr itoushr spreads the cards, re-counts all the cards, re-counts the top fQU[ cards," replaces the counted-ofF cards, ad nauseam. When he then shov,, that the reds and blacks have separated, there isn't much mystery as l0 how or when it happened. Only the exact details remain obscure and chat's something only another card man would care about.

By contrast, René Lavand's and Juan Tamariz's Oil and Water routines are so memorable precisely because there is no handling during the critical interval. There are moves before (and sometimes after). But between the time the colors are alternated and the time they are shown to be separated, the performer does nothing. Another outstanding routine in this regard is Derek Dingle's Oil and Vinegar. Once the cards are alternated, you do nothing except turn them face up and show that the colors have separated.

In Scams & Fantasies with Cards, 1 have a routine called Ultimau Oil and Water that builds on the Dingle routine. The red and black packets are alternated and magically separated twice, each time with a moveless critical interval. The third time, the colors start separated but magically alternate. What sets the routine apart is what happens next. I pick up the deck, which a spectator has previously shuffled. I give it one shuffle, and spread out the cards to show that the entire deck has separated into reds and blacks. I then scoop up the segregated deck and, after a magical gesture, re-spread it. The audience sees that the reds and blacks now alternate perfectly throughout the deck. What makes this memorable is that there is absolutely no handling between the time that the deck is shown separated ■nto reds and blacks and the time that it's shown alternating in color. One moment the colors are separated; the next moment they alternate.

II mention just one more example that will be familiar to most of you^Lchael Skinner's Ultimate Three-Card Monte is widely recognized as a modem classic. What makes it special? The cards ; " "

S are laid out and there is n0 further handling- One moment, the ace is here. The next moment, it's re A perfect critical interval. 1 Each of these effects will elicit gasps or astonished laughter at the climax But what really produces those reactions is what happened in the moments before the climax: absolutely nothing. If nothing happened between the last view of the initial condition and the first view of the final condition, nothing can account for the change from one to the other. It can only be magic.

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