The Love Boat

The Love Boat was a long-running television program, reruns of which may still be playing years from the time I write this. The premise of the show remains the same throughout its episodes. People board a luxury cruise liner, conflicts among the passengers and crew develop, and at the end of each installment everything is resolved and the passengers leave the ship in happy couples.

The show is never about just one couple, but about several. When you analyze this popular series, it is clear that several stories are being told simultaneously. These stories are usually independent of each other. The scenes in the show could be rearranged to tell three or four complete and separate stories, one following another.

However, if you viewed these stories independendy, you would see that they are very simple, ridiculously simple in fact. The stories are so simple when viewed independendy, they are silly. These stories have very few twists to them, when there is a twist at all. Now how can such a show be so popular?

The trick is in the intermingling of several stories. You get a scene from each story as you move through the stories in rotation. Since you are watching several stories develop piecemeal but in unison, the stories become more interesting. This switching from story to story suggests a certain depth that really isn't there. Simultaneous development compensates for the lack of plot twists and interesting ideas.

This deceptive formula has been used with great success for years, not only on television, but in books, plays and films; and I think it quite ingenious. These writers have found a method for presenting several rather dull stories that makes them seem interesting. The detective tries to catch the villain while, as a secondary plot, he romances a beautiful girl.

The use of double plot-lines is not totally unknown in magic, as witnessed by the Leipzig presentation just cited. However, it isn't used all that often. That's a pity, since it could make many tricks much more interesting.

Of course, this is not the only way to dress up an effect. Suppose when you lift the cone in the Stack of Pence trick, one coin is seen sticking partially from the back of the spectator's hand! The last coin wasn't able to penetrate completely as the others did. So you quickly place the cone aside, then press down on the half of the coin still visible, making it fall through the spectator's hand!

Here we have one plot, not two: coins penetrating through the hand of a spectator. But now the plot no longer goes straight from Point A to Point B; there is a twist, a little problem, some conflict, something unexpected, which gives the trick its interest.

From this I hope you can see that plots with only two points are not just simple; they can be too simple to be interesting. Twists and double plot-lines that add tension, surprise and variety may not seem simple, but when they are presented clearly, they are often far more dramatic, interesting and entertaining. Simplicity is not always a virtue.

HILE in Calgary, Alberta, Canada several years ago, a local magician (whose name I regret I can't recall) and I found ourselves discussing the Cigarette Through Quarter trick; the one that uses the popular trapdoor-coin invented by Pressley Guitar. This trick, as most readers will know, requires that the gim-micked coin and a borrowed quarter be switched twice, once before its penetration by a cigarette, and once afterward. Since these switches are crucial to the success of the illusion, they must be indetectable and completely unsuspected.

My Canadian acquaintance showed me a sequence he had worked out for disposing of the gimmicked coin following the second switch. His idea was to go to his pocket for a cigarette lighter, secretly leaving behind the gaff as he brought out the lighter and lit his cigarette. The problem I saw with this approach was that, while he had developed an inno-cent-seeming motivation for going to his pocket, that motivation wasn't made clear to the audience soon enough to avoid arousing suspicion, and therefore drew undesirable attention to itself. After having passed the cigarette through the coin, the spectators' attention is still keenly focused on your actions. Going to your pocket at this time must seem suspicious unless an innocent motivation is provided beforehand, one that makes the action appear trivial; for trivial actions don't register in the minds of onlookers and therefore aren't recalled. Explaining the action beforehand with some comment like "Oh, where is that lighter?" or "I think I'll light my cigarette now" will hardly do. Aside from the awkwardness of such statements, they serve only to draw attention to an action you desire to be inconspicuous.

The problem to be surmounted, then, was to frame the actions in such a way that the spectators understand why you are going to your pocket before you do so, and this outward reason must seem to have no significance to the effect just witnessed. After giving the problem some thought, I devised the following handling sequence, which I think does exactly what is needed.

I'll not go into the construction and operation of the Pressley Guitar gimmick (a dealer item), as these are standard. We will assume that you are standing behind a table while you perform this trick. As you begin the effect, ask if someone has a quarter you can borrow for

a few moments. While the spectators search their pockets and purses to oblige you, casually take out a cigarette and remove your cigarette lighter from your left pocket (trousers or jacket). As you do this, secredy obtain the gimmicked coin in left-hand finger palm. Place the cigarette in your mouth, preparing to light it.

By this time someone should be holding out a quarter for you. Since your left hand is holding the lighter, you accept the quarter with your right hand. Immediately display it to the spectators on your right.

You now wish to show the coin to those on your left too. But at the same time you want to light your cigarette. To achieve both these desires it is logical that you exchange the items you're holding, taking the coin in your left hand—making it convenient to display it to the spectators on your left—and the lighter in your right hand. You accomplish this as follows:

Set the lighter down well to your left on the table, freeing your left hand, and appar-endy pass the borrowed quarter from right hand to left. In reality you perform a clean shutde pass, finger palming the borrowed coin in your right hand as you bring the gimmicked coin into view on the left fingers. Of course, no attention is focused on these actions. They are done casually as you make some pleasant or humorous comment and look at the spectators.

You now turn the audiences attention to the gimmick in your left hand as you maneuver it into "French-drop position", held by its opposite edges between the thumb and second finger. At the same time, without looking at it, pick up the cigarette lighter in your right hand and raise it toward your mouth to light the cigarette. But interrupt this action as the thought occurs to you that a particular spectator on your extreme left might like to see the

You are proving nothing. The trick is over—and in your mind there is nothing to justify. Don t look at the coin in your right hand. Your attention is on the lighter, which your left hand now picks up and raises to light your cigarette. However, just before you complete this task, it suddenly occurs to you that someone might be curious about the coin. You now momentarily turn your gaze to a person on your right, then down to your right hand.

"Oh, perhaps you'd like a look at it?" As you say this, casually toss the coin onto the table to your right, letting your right hand be seen incidentally empty as you make this nonchalant gesture. Immediately turn your attention back to the lighter in your left hand and finally light your cigarette. Then place the lighter into your left pocket, leaving behind the gimmick as well. At the same time that your left hand is putting away the lighter, with your right hand remove the cigarette from your mouth, having just taken your first drag. This perfecdy natural action distracts attention from the left hand's activity.

Notice how all movements after the penetration are relaxed and reflect a complete disinterest in proving anything, silently suggesting that you are doing nothing covert and thus have nothing to hide. The magic is over. This outward indifference and the tight control of attention through your gaze are the keys to concealing the switch and getting rid of the gimmick without detection. Unlike the handling that was my starting point, the motivation for putting your hand in your pocket is now clear from the outset, and therefore creates no suspicion and becomes "psychologically invisible". And that is exactly what is called for at this point to ensure that the tracks of our method are completely covered, leaving only the mystery to be pondered.

O often one can hear amateurs, who have obviously not developed a properly written text, say things like, "And here I have a glass, and here is a small empty box..as they name each prop they show. This springs from a lack of having something better to say. Such a practice is loathed by many performers. After all, why say that you have a glass when everybody can plainly see that you do?

On the other hand, though, it can be argued that this is really not such a bad practice in certain circumstances. The use of obvious expository patter does have its good points. When you bring out a prop, even when it is a normal everyday object, it may not always be immediately clear what the object is. In such cases the spectator might wonder what you are taking from your pocket or the table. Just what is that?

This momentary uncertainty can be beneficial at times. You may want to have the audience wonder what it is you are holding; you may want them to be preoccupied for a split second; it could be helpful to your goals. However, most often it is better to avoid such situations. If, for instance, it should happen frequendy in your act that people are in doubt about what you are holding or are wondering what is going on, the general impression given would be that your show was unclear and difficult to follow. In most circumstances you want to avoid any sort of wondering or doubt.

Lets say you need to introduce a knife. Holding up a knife and saying, "And here I have a knife," is rather simplistic. So much so that it might antagonize the audience, making them wonder whether you think they are idiots or perhaps blind. A less obvious way of making things clear would be to introduce the object verbally before you bring it into view. In this example you might say something like, "Now here I have a knife," just before you remove it from your pocket and show it.

Done this way, not only do you avoid any potential confusion about what you are taking from your pocket, but you also eliminate any confusion about why you are going to your pocket and what you are doing there.

And as we have just seen in the preceding handling of the Cigarette Through Quarter, when you wish to leave some palmed object secretly in the pocket, openly giving some other reason why you are going to the pocket may prevent suspicions from arising, thus helping to conceal your secret action.

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