Party Tricks

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org & Knatz.com / Personal / Stories / pk by Age / Ack! Jobs /
@ K. 2005 10 30

early 1970s

The fewer dollars FLEX produced the more Hilary begged me to get an income-producing job. Eventually I yielded and became assistant director at Midtown Galleries. Even worse was my brief stint as assistant to the director of Continuing Education for Stone and Webster, Inc., nuclear plant engineers. I was still trying to run FLEX (still am these decades later), but the difficult to impossible became daily steeper.

Along in there bk and I discovered an amazing toy store on Fifth Avenue. I think we went in to look at model trains, but I lingered longest at the magic department. The trains filled a whole floor; the magic was shoved into a tiny closet, but some geek was there to demonstrate the tricks, most of which could be purchased for eighty cents to a dollar. I bought a few, performed them for a bk I think fifth birthday party. (The kids savagely tried to refute everything, spoil every trick; but then were always amazed, bewildered, anyway. Knowing what people will misperceive is an ancient business.) In one trick you magically passed a quarter through a rubber membrane and into a glass. (The trick was that the quarter was really underneath, not on top of, the membrane all along.)

My favorite though, the one I had the most lasting success with, was a trick where you ask somebody for a coin, a quarter being a good size for the trick, ask them to mark in some way that will ID it for all, some way that you, the magician, cannot anticipate, take the quarter from them, put it into your pocket, and in the reciprocation of the same movement, remove from your pocket a little red bag wrapped in rubber bands. You hand the bag to the person from whom you got the quarter and invite them to open it. Inside the bag, also wrapped in rubber bands, is another bag. Inside that, again banded, is a paper wrapper. And inside the wrapper is their quarter.

The trick itself, like just about any trick, was contemptible, once you saw the device of the trick. The whole point of magic is you don’t show the device. Then you relish the public bewilderment.

And everyone was stunned by this trick.

The founder of FLEX, the deschooler, the disciple of Ivan Illich, the (co-)inventor of the internet … was not happy standing around while engineers were drilled in the most elementary physics: presented not as physics, but as high school shop class. When opportunities to do other things arose I grabbed them: a ping-pong tournament … The Director did not approve of my wandering. If I did nothing in the room that housed the AV equipment, that was fine; if I was seen talking about movies, that was not. Nevertheless, though I kept my deschooling out of my conversation while on the job, I could not altogether stifle my anarchism. And I found a group of gals and did the quarter trick.

Never before, nor since, have I had such an audience. They were astonished. They made me do it again and again. One time the quarter was marked with crayon: someone’s initials. Another time they put a triangle of medical tape on it. Then they tried black tape.

Finally I challenged the prettiest of them to let me show them with her wedding ring.

I was slightly surprised when she agreed. Her ring would “disappear” for a moment. It would be OFF her finger. What if I couldn’t get it back to her? What if I switched it?

The gal showed everybody her ring, showed us the inscription inside! Now that was something I couldn’t possible have a double for: could I?

I took the ring, and the same second handed her back the packaged red bag. She removed the rubber bands. She opened the inner bag. She opened the paper packet. And there was her ring, inscription and all. It fit right back on her finger!

Then they all had to beg me to tell them how it was done.

“A magician never reveals his secrets,” I intoned.

Unless he’s some geek selling them in a toy store on Fifth Avenue.

Magicians can’t show their trick devices; because they’d be tarred and feathered. People would be furious to discover the little claptrap, nickel’s worth of nothing device that had deceived them.

But I’ll tell the trick here: the “secret” is a little tin wedge. Like many a trick it has to be prepped in advance.

You take the wedge, like a little coal chute — wide at the top, narrow at the bottom, and wrap the bottom end in the paper wrapper, band it. Then you slide the inner bag over the wrap, band it. Then add the outer bag. Etc. You pin it in your pocket so that the top, wide end of the chute is uppermost, the open, receiving side facing the gripping side of your fingers. When given the quarter, or whatever, you don’t just put it in your pocket: you slide it down the chute, into all the wrappings. The chute holds all of rubber bands adequately expanded. Then you push the bag, now containing whatever object, downward in your pocket, freeing it of the chute. The rubber bands naturally tighten on all packages, and you whip out your hand, presenting the mystery.


I just very much enjoyed the movie Restoration. There’s a scene where Robert Downey’s jerk doctor tells recovering patient (Meg Ryan) that he must provide them with some money. He then proceeds to lose his shirt to a three-card monte player. (Never mind that three-card monte wouldn’t be invented for another century or more.) The dealer shows three cards: two aces and a queen. He shuffles the cards face down. If you pick the queen, you win.

A gambler might think that his chances are one in three, abetted by his conviction that he followed where the queen went in the shuffle: so he actually thinks that his chances approach a certainty. But his mathematics mislead him. Is the payoff three to one? Not likely? Besides, it’s not random at all. The dealer has practiced misdirection in his shuffling.

The gambler will loose far more often than two out of three times if the misdirection is successful. And if the dealer actually has the queen up his sleeve, or palmed … the gambler will never win. (Thus, the dealer would subtract the queen from the three cards, substituting a duplicate ace, and only read the queen (subtracting the duplicate ace) when show time comes.

But the dealer whose misdirection has any mastery will win almost all bets anyway.

Then Meg takes over and she wins everything back, and then some.

It frustrated me that the movie didn’t disclose how she did it. The plot did assume though that it was an “honest” game: the queen was actually always there: one of the three face-down cards.

Stories by Age by Theme by Others

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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