Time and Light

Magicians have a tradition of exploiting technology long before the public gets to hear about it and it is a tradition David proudly upholds. His own personal enthusiasm for gadgetry led to the construction of several routines that David was able to use before the underlying technology became public domain.

One favourite feat was often used in the middle of another routine. David would ask a spectator to choose any time between one and three minutes. "Give me minutes and seconds," said David. The spectator responded, choosing for example, one minute twelve seconds. "Good. I'm going to continue working but any time you like call out 'Now!' Invariably the spectator would immediately shout, "Now," thinking David's instructions were over.

They were, but he pretended they weren't in order to produce a laugh. "Give me a chance," he said, "It's not that easy. I've got to concentrate." He then took a stopwatch from his pocket and asked the spectator to press the stopwatch as soon as he said "Now." Naturally the false start led to a moment of humorous tension with David and the other spectators glancing towards the man with the stopwatch in anticipation of his call.

Eventually he gave the signal and set the stopwatch in motion. Time passed and David carried on with whatever it was he was doing; a routine, lecture or casual chat. Suddenly David called "Stop!" and asked that the stopwatch be halted. "What time did you choose?" asked David. "One minute twelve seconds," came the reply. "And what time does the stopwatch show?" As you may have guessed, it was precisely one minute twelve. This effect was repeated two or three times during the show using different chosen times.

The ability to calculate the passing of time was, like the feat of writing the alphabet forwards whilst reciting it backwards, the sort of supernormal ability expected of David. The method was simple enough, a miniature digital watch hidden in the ballpoint pen he was holding. A glance at the readout display on the side of the pen enabled him to keep track of time while doing other things and without ever glancing at his watch. When David performed the routine the digital pen had not been distributed to the public. The concept behind the routine is as strong as ever but everyone knows about digital pens and similar devices and you'd have to come up with additional touches to convince your audience that you weren't using any of them.

Another routine that David stopped performing as soon as the technology it employed became well known was what he called his Light Detector. He performed this a number of times on television as well as in cabaret and it's worth recording here because the routine demonstrates once again how the technology can be concealed beneath a good effective presentation.

David had several different routines for The Light Detector. One of them was a form of pseudo graphology. Six men were invited onto the stage. Each of them was asked to write down the name of their first girlfriend on a file card. As soon as they started to write, David said, "No, I mean your first real girlfriend." There was a hint of suggestiveness in his voice and the audience laughed. He paused a beat then added, "But if your wife is in the audience maybe you'd better put her name down," which was guaranteed to get smiles from the men on stage.

The slightly risqué atmosphere was no indulgence. David was making the routine emotionally important and setting the scene for what was to follow. The file cards were collected and shuffled by the men before being returned to David. He told the men to keep a straight face and not to give themselves away. Then he went to each one and read out a name from one of the cards. "Anna Marie," said David, "Anna Marie," he repeated. He checked the faces of the men for any signs of recognition. So did the audience. "I don't know if you have discovered who it was," he said. "I'm watching for body language. A narrowing of the eyes, dilation of the pupils, a short intake of breath." He'd walk back and forth along the line of men before turning on one and saying, "I think it's you. Am I right?" And, of course, he was.

As in the usual graphology or pseudo psychometry routines the cards were secretly marked and David knew exactly who had written the name of which girl. He discovered the author of the second card in the same manner, leaving just four men to deal with. It was at this point that the technology was introduced. He handed each of the six men a plastic rod and asked them to hold it between their hands. Then he read out the name from another file card. No response from the men. So he asked the men to bend the rods and hold them above their heads. As he read out the name again a strange thing happened. The rod held by one of the men began to glow brightly. More laughter from the audience. When the man lowered the rod he too was amazed to see it glowing. Sure enough the name on the file card was that of his first girlfriend.

You'll recognise the glowing tube as a light stick, the kind used for nautical rescues and now sold at festivals, pop concerts and dance venues. The tube is made of flexible plastic and contains a chemical fluid. Inside the fluid is another tube this time made of fragile glass. When the plastic tube is bent the glass phial breaks and releases a second chemical, which mixes with the first to produce an eerie green glow. The glow lasts several hours before the chemical reaction is depleted. For this routine only one of the sticks worked and he made sure it was given to the man whose card he was going to read out. When David used the routine the public had yet to see these rods and it was years before some enterprising individuals decided to offer them for public sale.

The glowing rod was such a surprise that David swiftly brought the effect to a close, handing the remaining two cards to the correct authors as quickly as possible. It was the most effective way of capitalising on the audience reaction to the earlier discovery and what was undoubtedly the highlight of the routine.

There was something subtly suggestive about the glowing rod and David devised another version of the same routine. In this second version a woman from the audience joined the six men on stage. The men lined up across the stage while David addressed the woman. "I want you to choose one of these men but not by looking at them. Maybe you are attracted to one man in particular who you think might be your type. So let's choose someone at random." David handed her a die and asked her to think of any number on it, a number from one to six. She then walked across the stage to a small box and dropped the die into it, all the time she was concentrating on her chosen number. She popped the lid on the box making sure no one had any idea what number she was thinking of.

She was brought centre stage and faced forward, her back to the men. To some lively music the men then shuffled themselves about so that the woman had no way of knowing who was where in the line up. When they were finished, David asked the woman to turn around and face them.

"You have a number in mind now," said David to the woman. He then walked along the row, counting the men as he went and giving each a number from one to six. "Look at the men one at a time. I want you to think of the man at your number in a very special way," said David "In fact when you look at them I want you to give that number one of your special looks. Do you know what I mean?" She did. So did the audience.

"But try not to give yourself away," cautioned David. She looked along the line of men, thinking whatever thoughts came to mind. When she had finished, she turned around and faced the audience. David asked the men to hold the rods up and bend them. One of the rods started to glow. The audience started to laugh but the woman didn't know why. "I think we know which man she was thinking of. Need she tell us? What number was it?" She called out the number she'd been thinking of. It's the same number as the man with the glowing light stick. "Really? Well turn around." She did and finally understood what had caused the audience's laughter.

The routine made use of the electronic die marketed by Anverdi. When the die was placed in the box the woman was asked to place it with her thought of number uppermost. It was a trick die and box and the apparatus electronically transmitted the chosen number to a readout display in David's pocket. As soon the number was known he was able to give out the light sticks. The men were simply asked to take a stick and it appeared to be an unimportant choice because the sticks all looked identical. As in the previous version of this routine only one of the sticks actually worked, the rest having expired. As soon as the right man had the working stick David would convince the audience that the men had a free choice by saying, "Choose any stick you like," when distributing the remaining sticks. It wasn't necessary to indulge in any special forcing techniques. The men would take whatever stick you offered them.

A final point to note is the subtle use of the Anverdi die. It is a marvellous piece of gimmickry but is often poorly used. Here the die was incidental to the routine. The box was never opened to reveal the chosen number and was never mentioned again. Sometimes, when working cabaret, David would hide the box under a tablecloth so the audience never even saw it. The tablecloth apparently acted as a shield so that no one could see the woman's chosen number. She raised the cloth on the table, dropped the die in the box and then covered it with the cloth again. And the table was off stage, sometimes across the other side of the room. It's a small point with major consequences for the routine. The final impression was that the men shuffled themselves into any order, chose any stick and the woman thought of any number. An impossible routine grounded in an entertaining presentation and made possible only by some impressive but subtly concealed technologies.

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