The Genii Forums, where magicians keep magic secret in public

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The first rule of Magic Club is you do not talk about Magic Club.


The Second Rule of <$Hobby> is you do not talk about how much Adolf loved your <$Hobby>.


I’m not sure what part of that thread hurts more… the argument that there is One Correct Way to get into magic, or the one where explanations of some tricks ruins all magic because someone in the audience might think you did the trick differently from how you actually did it.

I totally understand people wanting to protect their livelihoods, but come on.


Wow. I wonder what those guys… [ahem] you guys think of Penn and Teller.

That’s some hateful elitist Slytherin bullshit right there. I bet the whole forum is filled with casual anti-muggle epithets like “mudblood” and “illusionist.”

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Sounds like some of them are not happy with the Boing Boing posts. I don’t really get that though, as a scientist I’m always excited when anyone shows any interest in what we do. Learning about how a trick works just makes it all the more interesting, where you can appreciate the cleverness of its mechanics.


Nowadays it is no longer secret. It is just a giant hobby and trivialised beyond redemption.

I honestly don’t get it. They’re like, if you know how a magic trick works you won’t appreciate a good performance of the trick. That’s like saying if you know how to play the 12 bar blues you will never appreciate a blues performance.


There are two reasons why I really enjoy knowing the way a trick works.

The first reason is because I usually enjoy the cleverness of the trick more then the mystery of the not knowing and it’s usually still a fun challenge figuring out which basic technique is the basis for a certain performance.

The second reason is more important to me, knowing how you can be fooled can prevent people other then magicians from fooling you. Think about mediums (Char), street scam performers, pickpockets, mystics. All over the world there are people claiming they have actual magic powers and use that belief to scam you out of money. Maybe in return for a easy win (Three-card Monte) or contact with deceased relatives (Char and the like) or to lure you into a religion (this is actually used in India to convince people magic exists).

When you know the various ways a magician can fool you you can also protect yourself against frauds using the same library of tricks.

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The Genii Forum is like a lot of internet forums – it has some people who really know what they are talking about, some folks who mean well but are ignorant, and some trolls who bring up Hitler.

A casual read of the thread might come off as magicians saying, “Durrh, durrh, he told a secret he’s bad!!!” Most good magicians have a little more sophisticated view than that, though.

The thing that makes magic different from most all other performing arts is that it attempts to create an emotional response in the viewer by showing something that appears impossible. The reason that (in general) revealing secrets can be a bad thing is that it prevents the viewer from having that specific emotional response – show the invisible thread, and the illusion of dancing object is destroyed – it devolves to a stick on a string (and never mind that most dancing cane routines are so poorly performed that it looks like a stick on as string anyway; there are many ways to reveal a secret, and poor performance is one of the most egregious).

Most magicians believe that taking this opportunity for a particular emotional reaction from a spectator is a bad thing. That’s why they/we are against the revelation of secrets. Not because it affects livelihoods.

And the sad thing is, it doesn’t even have to be an accurate description of a particular secret. Once you know about trick decks, trick decks become a possible explanation for any card trick – “Oh, he’s got one of them stripper decks – I know how he did it” when in fact it was sophisticated sleight of hand. The illusion is destroyed either way.

True, some folks don’t care if they know the secret, and can still appreciate a good magic routine after they know how it is done (albeit from a different direction). Magicians are aware of this, and cater to these people as well. Many magicians offer lectures and workshops (for a fee, natch!) where they will explain their creations and teach how to perform them. But the point is, there is a filtering process in place to make sure that the average audience member doesn’t get “the sekrit knowledge” that would ruin the trick. You have to be a member of IBM or SAM. You have to show some entry level skill yourself. You have to pay a nominal amount to attend. You have to know the secret knock. Whatever the filter, it makes sure that the person learning has proactively decided “I want to be in the know” rather than have the information blithely thrown at them. Think of it as a a spoiler warning on steroids.

I’ve been a serious student of magic for nearly 20 years. As I’ve learned about the craft, my appreciation for it has changed from “how did he do that” to “oh, he did that so well”. It’s different, and I miss the slackjawed experience of being totally slammed by a good magic trick. And there are a few that still fool me, and I would be totally pissed if someone ruined them for me.

That’s why some magicians don’t particularly care for exposure on the internet. As a wise magician said, “we don’t protect secrets from the audience, we protect secrets for the audience.”


Have you seen Penn and Teller in the past 15 years or so? They start with the best trick ever. It’s a simple acrylic box inside a wooden crate that Teller will escape from. The audience is invited up before the show to inspect at the boxes. But the trick is, Teller’s not going to go behind a curtain. He’s going to do the escape in full stage lighting.

Penn goes on to explain that magic is important because you know you’re being fooled, you know it’s a trick, and the question is which is more important to you, knowing how it’s done or having a feeling of disbelief, that anything is possible. That if you see a trick that you’re in disbelief of for sixty years and someone eventually tells you how it was done, does that ruin how you see magic and illusion for the past sixty years?

And so he’s going to play the upright bass while Teller does the escape. And when Teller is done, he’ll join in on flute. So everyone who wants to watch can, they just have to promise to never tell anyone next to them who had their eyes closed, the ones who want to believe in magic and have that rush of amazement forever.

As a result, there are bits they do that I have no idea how they are done and never want to know. Shadows I find the most amazing piece and even if I watched it ten times a day I wouldn’t try to figure out how it’s done. That is exists, that it happens in performance and blows my scientific lighting mind every single time is what I love about it.


People have known about mirrors in magic for, what, over 30 years* now? Why is it that people are still surprised by those tricks that rely on them?

I’m pretty sure that “there’s a string tied to it” isn’t all that amazing an idea for people, especially for anything levitating. The amazing part is in thinking that’s the answer, but still not being able to see it. Or, having a method that fools people into thinking that maybe what they thought isn’t actually the method after all…

* says the phrase “smoke and mirrors” dates to 1980, but I’m pretty sure it’s been around a lot longer than that

[quote=“Nonentity, post:12, topic:66690”]
The amazing part is in thinking that’s the answer, but still not being able to see it.
[/quote]This, right here. They tell you there’s a string. It’s obvious that it has to be a string, but Teller sells you on his performance so well that you end up believing there’s no string.

The trick, in the end, is always the result of someone alone in a room for a few weeks, some gaffer’s tape, thread, and the ability to sell you on looking there while they do something clever there. Finding out how things are done is always kind of a let down, because the answer is “I spent a lot of time alone flipping a card back and forth with my two middle fingers” or something similar. But the magic, the part that’s amazing, is in the performance as a whole to sell you on that as a way to bend reality and break physics.

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I’d like to say that you should be talking about Magic Camp though, great doc.

Ugh, what you’re calling a “discussion” on the Genii Forum is really an argument between 2 or 3 people who like to argue. My take on BB’s magic posting is decidedly mixed. I appreciate the historical posts and the theoretical posts. Not so much a fan of posts that expose secrets in current use. Not particularly interested in arguing about it on the Genii Forum, however.

I’m more concerned with the gross commodification of the whole BB experience. Most of the magic posts are (undisclosed) ads for tricks in which BB gets a cut. The most damaging secret about BB is that they sold out their readers’ eyeballs for a few shekels.


Wait until you see the exchange rate.

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